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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bonjwa Voyage
on: December 22, 2011, 07:46:17 AM
First time I've encountered this source; his CV is certainly interesting. I'm no slouch when it comes to making a desktop computer do my bidding, but my kids multitask digitally in manners that amaze me: they keep a lot of different balls in the air while still working on a primary task, often gaming. This gent thinks they might have what it takes to be a next generation war fighter:
The Future of Drone Warfare
Over half of Air Force UPT (undergraduate pilot training) grads are now assigned to pilot drones rather than a real aircraft.* The big question is why are drone pilots, guys that fly robots remotely from a computer terminal, going to a very expensive year of pilot training? I can understand why the Air Force has chosen to send drone jockeys to pilot training:
A shift to piloting drones rather than real aircraft is an assault on organizational culture of the Air Force. In the Air Force, pilots do the fighting and as a result take most of the leadership positions.
A transition to robotics upends that arrangement, and is why the USAF has strenuously resisted taking control of the drone mission until recently.
In this light, sending these drone jockeys to a very expensive year of UPT is an attempt to ease the cultural transition.
However, culture aside, is it the best training?
Drone Pilots Today
I suspect it isn't. Here's why. The assumption that combat with drones is going to be the same as combat without them is flawed. It's going to be VERY different. So far, it's hard to see that. Most engagements today involve:
a drone flying leisurely over a village in Pakistan controlled by a pilot at a terminal in Las Vegas/Nellis,
waiting for five or more armed men to assemble in a single house (which is a terrorist "signature" that green lights authorization to eliminate the threat), and
then pushing a button and holding a cursor over the house until it disappears.
That's not going to last long.
How does the addition of drones change the nature of combat/conflict? Why? The tech is moving too fast. Here are some of the characteristics we'll see in the near future:
Swarms. The cost and size of drones will shrink. Nearly everyone will have access to drone tech (autopilots already cost less than $30). Further, the software to enable drones to employ swarm behavior will improve. So, don't think in terms of a single drone. Think in terms of a single person controlling hundreds and thousands.
Intelligence. Drones will be smarter than they are today. The average commercial chip passed the level of insect intelligence a little less than a decade ago (which "magically" resulted in an explosion of drone/bot tech). Chips will cross rat intelligence in 2018 or so. Think in terms of each drone being smart enough to follow tactical instructions.
Dynamism. The combination of massive swarms with individual elements being highly intelligent puts combat on an entirely new level. It requires a warrior that can provide tactical guidance and situational awareness in real time at a level that is beyond current training paradigms.
Training Drone Bonjwas
Based on the above requirements, the best training for drones (in the air and on land) isn't real world training, it's tactical games (not first person shooters). Think in terms of the classic military scifi book, "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card. Of the games currently on the market, the best example of the type of expertise required is Blizzard's StarCraft, a scifi tactical management game that has amazing multiplayer tactical balance/dynamism. The game is extremely popular worldwide, but in South Korea, it has reached cult status. The best players, called Bonjwas, are treated like rock stars, and for good reason:
Training of hand/eye/mind. Speeds of up to 400 keyboard mouse (macro/micro) tactical commands per minute have been attained. Think about that for a second. That's nearly 7 commands a second.
Fight multi-player combat simulations for 10-12 hours a day. They live the game for a decade and then burn out. Mind vs. mind competition continously.
To become a bonjwa, you have to defeat millions of opponents to reach the tournament rank, and then dominate the tournament rank for many years. The ranking system/ladder that farms new talent is global (Korea, China, SEA, North America, and Europe), huge (millions of players), and continuous (24x7x365).
Currently, the best Starcraft bonjwa in the world is Flash. Here's his ELO rating.
Nearly all of the above would likely apply to cyber warfare too. http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/12/drone-bonjwas.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Dreaded Equasty & Déjà Vu All Over Again
on: December 21, 2011, 11:17:18 AM
A book review: http://reason.com/archives/2011/12/20/modern-day-prohibition
The eternal temptation to ban things that give people pleasure
Jeff Stier from the January 2012 issue
The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition Since 1800, by Christopher Snowdon, Little Dice, 246 pages, $19.99
The new Ken Burns and Lynn Novick documentary Prohibition is a five-and-a-half-hour missed opportunity to demonstrate why bans on substances are doomed from the start. Fortunately, for those who want to understand the irresistible lure of all types of prohibitions, there is Christopher Snowdon’s The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition Since 1800. Although Snowdon’s comprehensive history will never reach as many people as the PBS series, The Art of Suppression makes the case that Burns seems to go out of his way to avoid: that prohibition of products that people desire, whether alcohol a century ago or Ecstasy today, is bound to fail miserably.
Deploying a colorful cast of characters, Snowdon, a British journalist whose first book, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist (2009), documented the history of anti-tobacco campaigns, tells the story of prohibition’s broader context. He brings to the task the stinging humor reminiscent of H.L. Mencken, whom he quotes in describing one of the book’s central villains, the Anti-Saloon League lawyer Wayne Bidwell Wheeler: “He was born with a roaring voice, and it had the trick of inflaming half-wits.” Wheeler was a prototypical activist, Snowdon says, “the undisputed master of pressure politics…no one was more skillful or less scrupulous in applying pressure to wavering politicians.”
Just as it is today, Ohio was a battleground state in the early 1900s, when Wheeler targeted popular Republican Gov. Myron T. Herrick, who had the audacity to challenge provisions of a prohibitionist Anti-Saloon League bill. Wheeler, Snowdon writes, held hundreds of dry rallies in favor of Herrick’s opponent and “scurrilously accused Herrick of being in the pocket of the drinks industry.” Seeking to make an example of the governor, Wheeler marshaled tens of thousands of churchgoers, who flooded into the polls and bounced Herrick out of office.
The result? Practical political hypocrisy on the issue of alcohol. Wheeler’s effort, Snowdon explains, was “a bleak warning to wet politicians that it was safest to drink in private and support prohibition in public.…Politicians knew that they could placate their tormentors by supporting dry laws, but they also knew they could placate drinkers by failing to enforce them.”
The wet/dry debate was a key issue in American politics for the quarter centuries before and after 1900. Issues as varied as women’s suffrage, race relations, urban vs. rural life, and religious tensions all played out in the context of alcohol prohibition.
Wheeler’s mad female counterpart was known as “Christ’s bulldog,” the “hatchet-wielding vigilante” Carrie Amelia Moore, whose 1877 marriage of convenience to David Nation gave her a “striking name that she viewed as a sign of providence.” Arriving in officially dry Wichita, Kansas, on January 21, 1901, Carrie A. Nation assumed leadership of the militant wing of the so-called temperance movement, declaring loudly, “Men of Wichita, this is the right arm of God and I am destined to wreck every saloon in your city!” Together with three Woman’s Christian Temperance Union colleagues, Snowdon writes, “she set to work on two ‘murder shops’ with rocks, iron rods and hatchets, only stopping when the owner of the second saloon put a revolver to her head.” Vandalizing illegal saloons didn’t get Nation arrested, but attacking a policeman in a hotel lobby eventually did. “Showing considerable leniency, the chief of police released the teetotal delinquent on bail on the condition that she smash no more saloons until noon the following day. Nation’s first act as a free woman was to stand on the steps of the police station and inform the waiting crowd that she would recommence her reign of terror as soon as the clock struck twelve.” As it turned out, she could not wait even that long.
Nation, who was widely believed to suffer from mental illness, may not have been a typical prohibitionist, but her antics made her one of the more conspicuous ones. Her visibility allowed outlets such as The New York Times to position themselves as moderate by condemning her tactics but not her underlying stance.
Today’s prohibitionists are less colorful but no less determined. Consider the sad story of psychopharmacologist David Nutt’s brief term as chairman of the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Shortly after he was appointed to the position in May 2008, the Sun reported that Nutt thought Ecstasy and LSD should be removed from the legal category ostensibly reserved for the most dangerous drugs, kicking off a Fleet Street frenzy.
Instead of backing down, Nutt doubled down. In a satirical article published by the Journal of Psychopharmacology in January 2009, he analyzed “an addiction called ‘Equasy’ that kills ten people a year, causes brain damage and has been linked to the early onset of Parkinson’s disease.” Nut added that Equasy “releases endorphins, can create dependence and is responsible for over 100 road traffic accidents every year.”
Had Nutt not revealed that Equasy was simply the time-honored sport of horseback riding, activists certainly would have rushed to introduce a ban. Nutt pointed out that since Equasy causes acute harm to one out of 350 riders, it is far riskier than Ecstasy, for which the fraction is one out of 10,000. His point, of course, was that prohibition has less to do with risk than with the importance society attaches to a risky activity. As Snowdon puts it, “If the cultural baggage is put to one side, and activities are assessed on the basis of mortality rather than morality, there are glaring inconsistencies in the way laws deal with different hazards.” In October 2009, British Home Secretary Alan Johnson fired Nutt for failing to recognize that “his role is to advise rather than criticise.”
While The Art of Suppression does not include a chapter on marijuana legalization, Snowdon leaves no doubt about his position on the issue. “Legal highs may not be as good as the real thing,” he writes, “and they are often more dangerous, but at least users don’t have to worry about being arrested.”
Snowdon describes a cycle in which so-called “killer drugs” receive an inordinate amount of tabloid media attention, driving up consumer interest until the substance is finally banned based on sensationalistic claims about its dangers. Yet as soon as one chemical is banned, a newer one—often more dangerous—is created to elude the ban. “In the restless pursuit of hedonistic diversions,” Snowdon writes, “human beings will try almost any substance if more appealing avenues of pleasure are closed off.”
In addition to sardonic humor, Snowdon offers new reporting on how distorted science and unfounded health claims are driving lesser-known prohibitions in the modern world, such as the 1986 European ban on all oral tobacco products, including Swedish snus. Snowdon documents in detail how a 2003 scientific report funded by the European Commission and the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, intended to provide legal and scientific justification for the ban, was altered after leaving the hands of the scientists who wrote it. Among the many questionable editorial changes in the report was one that glossed over the fact that snus, unlike less refined oral tobacco products, does not cause oral cancer. While the original version said “there can be no doubt that the current ban on oral tobacco is highly arbitrary,” that phrase was missing from the published report.
In response to accumulating evidence supporting the use of snus as a harm-reducing alternative to cigarettes, supporters of the E.U. ban have become more brazen. Based on information from Asa Lundquist, the tobacco control manager for the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, the Swedish press reported that snus (which remains legal in Sweden) causes impotence and infertility. Luckily, Swedes, who have suffered through decades of similar scares, insisted on seeing the study behind the allegations. As it turns out, the scare itself was impotent. The supposed source, the Karolinska Institute, admitted “there is no such study.” Rather, “we have a hypothesis and plan to conduct a study among snus users after the new year.”
Here in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to exercise its authority to ban menthol cigarettes, even though studies repeatedly have found that they are no more harmful than non- mentholated cigarettes. Drunk with power, regulators and those encouraging them are using catchy slogans such as “Menthol: it helps the poison go down easier.”
Prohibitionists ignore or belittle concerns that a ban on menthol cigarettes would turn citizens into criminals, increase unregulated youth access to cigarettes, and even encourage people to make their own mentholated cigarettes (all it takes is a regular cigarette, a cough drop, and a ziplock bag).
It is hard to miss the similarities between current prohibition campaigns and their historical predecessors. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s “stated desire was to ‘reform, so far as possible, by religious, ethical, and scientific means the drinking classes.’ ” Likewise today, says Snowdon, self-righteous activists and their allies in government do not seek to improve public health by following the dictates of science but rather use pseudoscientific arguments and “subtle deceit” to advance laws that dictate how we live.
It is easy now, as Ken Burns has masterfully done, to ridicule the prohibition of alcohol. But Snowdon does the heavy lifting of catching modern-day Carrie Nations in the act. Despite a long history of failure, the public always seems ready to enlist in prohibitionist campaigns, perhaps believing, as Snowdon puts it, that “utopia is only ever one ban away.”
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People (Gun rights stuff )
on: December 21, 2011, 11:13:27 AM
Sigh. Arming the most violent and criminal gangs in the hemisphere resulting in hundreds of deaths with no rational means of interdiction available = nothing to see here, move along in JDN land. Agent testimony that they were specifically instructed to ignore standard investigatory procedures for this case and no other = a random case of directed incompetence in JDN land. Moving all the supervisors into into cushy, high paying desk jobs while firing or harassing all the whistle blowers and others who testified off the talking points = some sort of crazy coincidence in JDN land. Arming foreign entities engaged in hostilities against your nation that then kill your citizens and law enforcement officers with those arms would be construed as an act of war by numerous nations and leaders going back thousands of years, except in JDN land where it is no doubt an invitation to engage in meaningful dialog or some other twaddle.
You, sir, are a troll. There is no point in engaging you. Quote that in a manner that turns it's meaning around 180 degrees and insert my moniker in it to cement your trolling credentials.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Can't Track what you Aren't Watching
on: December 21, 2011, 09:11:41 AM
Hmm, very interesting memo that was written the day before the DOJ withdrew its false letter to Grassley. JDN's equivocations aside (by the way, dude, quit citing me as the source when in fact you are [inaccurately] referring to source material I posted) the "no surveillance teams" info strikes me as incredibly damning:
U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,Firearms and Explosiveswww.atf.gov
February 3, 2011
MEMORANDUM TO: Special Agent in Charge, Dallas Field Division
THRU: Resident Agent in Charge , Lubbock Field Office
FROM: Gary M. Styers, Special Agent, Lubbock Field Office
SUBJECT: Contact with Congressional Investigators
On February 2, 2011, at approximately 1500 hours, ATF Special Agent Gary Styers was contacted telephonically by Robert Donovan and Brian Downey, representing United States Senator Chuck Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Downey and Donovan after identifying themselves asked Special Agent Styers if he would be willing to answer some questions regarding the time Special Agent Styers spent on a detail to the Phoenix Field Division, Phoenix Group VII Office. Special Agent Styers said he would be willing to answer questions to the best of his knowledge.
Special Agent Styers was asked if he was familiar with the large firearms trafficking case in Phoenix Group VII and Special Agent Styers said he was. Downey and Donovan asked if Special Agent Styers knew the name of the case and he responded that it was "Fast and Furious". Downey and Donovan then asked if Special Agent Styers knew who the case agent was and Special Agent Styers said it was Special Agent Hope McAllister. Special Agent Styers was also asked who the supervisor of the group was and Special Agent Styers said it was Group Supervisor David Voth. Downey and Donovan also asked who helped Special Agent McAllister, Special Agent Styers said that Special Agent McAllister had a CoCase Agent from hnmigration and Customs Enforcement CICE) as well as an agent from Group VII. Downey and Donovan asked who was the Agent from ICE and Special Agent Styers told them it was Lane France.
Downey and Donovan asked Special Agent Styers ifhe knew what the agents were assigned to do on the investigation. Special Agent Styers explained that a group of agents were assigned to the case and that since the case was in the stage of an active wiretap, some agents were working within the group and others were working at various functions related to the wire. Special Agent Styers further said that he did not specifically know the role of each individual agent.
Downey and Donovan inquired as to the role that Special Agent Styers had in this case and Special Agent Styers advised that he had assisted with some surveillance operations with the case. Special Agent Styers was asked to describe the operations and relayed that one of the operations was a suspected transaction that was to occur at a gas station and detailed agents were asked to cover the transaction. While positioning to observe the suspects, Special Agent Styers and other detailed agents were told by Special Agent McAllister that agents were too close and would burn the operation. Special Agent McAllister told all the agents to leave the immediate area. While the agents were repositioning, the transaction between the suspects took place and the vehicle that took possession of the firearms eventually left the area without agents following it.
Downey and Donovan asked Special Agent Styers ifhe ever saw guns actually go into Mexico. Special Agent Styers said he did not see any firearms cross the border to Mexico. They also asked if Special Agent Styers had worked with any agencies in Mexico, Special Agent Styers relayed that he had not, but had knowledge that other agents within Group VII spoke of communication with other ATF Special Agents assigned in Mexico.
Downey and Donovan then asked if Special Agent Styers had any knowledge that Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) were reporting suspected straw purchasers. Special Agent Styers explained that FFLs were indeed reporting such situations and that Special Agent Styers had numerous contacts with FFLs in the Phoenix area and had also worked inside of an FFL in an undercover capacity, while an individual attempted a large scale straw purchase. Special Agent Styers told Downey and Donovan that in speaking with the FFL holder and owner of the gun shop, he told Special Agent Styers that he had asked ATF to install cameras inside his shop and to have an undercover agent inside on a more regular basis. Downey and Donovan inquired as to what the procedures were and who handled the calls from the FFLs when they reported such suspected transactions. Special Agent Styers told them that he had no knowledge of any special procedures. If the FFLs called during normal business hours, Special Agent Styers assumed that, if they called the office number, their call was handled by the Group Supervisor.
Special Agent Styers also told Downey and Donovan that if the FFLs were calling individual agents within the group, he had no direct knowledge of those calls and what the ATF response was to those reports. However, Special Agent Styers did tell Downey and Donovan that he had heard from within the group that FFLs were calling case agents.
With regards to statistics and reporting, Downey and Donovan, questioned Special Agent Styers as to whether he had any knowledge of "padding of statistics or inconsistent reporting". Special Agent Styers advised them that he had no knowledge of a wide scale effort to skew statistics. However, Special Agent Styers relayed that he did question the Group Supervisor as to why he wanted Special Agent Styers to trace firearms that had not been recovered. Special Agent Styers was assigned to the investigation and provided the ATF Form 4473s, the Firearms Transaction Record, and told to trace said frrearms. Special Agent Styers asked as to why, when ATF has the Suspect Gun Database, which is designed for such firearms that have yet to be recovered by law enforcement. Group Supervisor Voth said he wanted them traced so that if someone else traced the firearms, they would know the firearms were connected to the case Special Agent Styers was assigned. Special Agent Styers relayed that even though he disagreed with the requested procedures, he follow the request of Group Supervisor Voth. Special Agent Styers also informed Donovan and Downey that he asked several agents also assigned to Group VII if they had to submit similar firearms traces and they replied that they in fact also were told to trace all firearms in a similar fashion.
Special Agent Styers was then asked about his general impression of the Fast and Furious case. Special Agent Styers stated that the case had systematically divided and isolated agents from the group. The case agent had solicited the advice of numerous experienced agents, inclucding Special Agent Styers, regarding how to conduct and end the wiretap operations and case overall. Special Agent Styers gave the case agent his honest opinion and advice since Special Agent Styers had worked two wiretap investigations in his career. Special Agent Styers felt that his advice and opinions, as well as other agents' advice and opinions were widely disregarded. Along with other agents within the group, Special Agent Styers explained that he was no longer asked to assist with Fast and Furious and concentrated on his assigned cases and provided necessary assistance to fellow agents within the detail and group.
Downey and Donovan asked Special Agent Styers what he felt was incorrect about the way the Fast and Furious case was conducted. Special Agent Styers explained that first and foremost, it is unheard of to have an active wiretap investigation without full time dedicated surveillance units on the ground. Special Agent Styers relayed that no agents in the group were assigned to surveillance on the Fast and Furious case. Special Agent Styers said that other agencies or task force officers may have been used to conduct surveillance and respond to calls of FFLs, but it seemed that either the case agent or Group Supervisor would poll the office for agents who were available to respond at short notice.
Secondly, Special Agent Styers said that it appeared odd to have a majority of ATF Agents working on a wiretap investigation, who had never worked such a case. Especially, when numerous, permanent Group VII agents and detailers had previous wiretap experience.
Special Agent Styers was provided with contact information for Downey and Donovan and the conversation was ended. Special Agent Styers contacted the Lubbock Resident Agent in Charge, Jim Luera at 1545 hours after the conversation with Downey and Donovan ended, to inform him of the contact. Special Agent Styers was later asked to document the conversation herein and attempted to do so to the fullest extent possible.
Gary M. Styers
Special Agent, ATF
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Administrative Compliance & the Fifth
on: December 16, 2011, 03:59:49 PM
The EPA vs. the Constitution
The Supreme Court prepares the hear a major Fifth Amendment case.
Damon W. Root | December 15, 2011
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This means that if the government infringes on your rights, you are entitled to mount a timely and meaningful defense of those rights in court. It’s one of the cornerstones of our entire legal system, with roots dating back at least as far as the Magna Carta, which declared, “No free man...shall be stripped of his rights or possessions...except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prefers a less venerable form of justice, as the Supreme Court will hear next month during oral arguments in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. At issue is the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act through so-called administrative compliance orders, which are government commands that allow the agency to control the use of private property without the annoyance of having to subject its actions to judicial review.
The case started four years ago when a married couple named Mike and Chantell Sackett received an EPA compliance order instructing them to stop construction on what was supposed to be their dream home near Priest Lake, Idaho. The government claimed their .63-acre lot was a federally-protected wetland, but that was news to the Sacketts, who had procured all the necessary local permits. Their lot, which is bordered by two roads and several other residential lots, was in fact zoned for residential use.
The Sacketts contend that the compliance order was issued erroneously and they would like the opportunity to make their case in court. Yet according to the terms of the Clean Water Act, they may not challenge the order until the EPA first seeks judicial enforcement of it, a process that could take years. In the meantime, the Sacketts risk $32,500 in fines per day if they fail to comply. And complying doesn’t just mean they have to stop building; they must also return the lot to its original condition at their own expense.
Moreover, if they did eventually prevail under the current law, the Sacketts would then need to start construction all over again. By that point they would have paid all of the necessary compliance costs plus double many of their original building expenses. And who knows how much time would have been lost. Where’s the due process in that? The Sacketts understandably want the right to challenge the government’s actions now, not after it’s become too late or too expensive for them to put their property to its intended use.
For its part, the EPA argues that old-fashioned judicial review would simply get in the way. As the agency states in the brief it submitted to the Supreme Court, “A rule that broadly authorized immediate judicial review of such agency communications would ultimately disserve the interests of both the government and regulated parties, by discouraging interactive processes that can obviate the need for judicial action.”
Of course, the whole point of due process is that people sometimes do have “the need for judicial action” against overreaching government officials. Why should those people have to give up that right to the EPA? More to the point, why should the Supreme Court allow it to happen?
As the Institute for Justice observes in the friend of the court brief it filed on behalf of the Sacketts, “If other governmental agencies were to adopt an enforcement mechanism like that used by the Environmental Protection Agency in this case, the constitutional guarantee of due process under the law would be severely harmed and the ability to own and use private property would be subject to the unrestrained and unreviewed orders of government officials.” There’s a term for that sort of unchecked government power, and it’s not interactive processes.
This case boils down to the protection of a fundamental constitutional right. It’s not about hamstringing bureaucrats or overturning environmental laws. The Supreme Court simply needs to ensure that the Sacketts—and all other property owners—get their day in court by ruling that administrative compliance orders are subject to judicial review. Due process demands nothing less.
Damon W. Root is a senior editor at Reason magazine.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: We the Well-armed People (Gun rights stuff )
on: December 14, 2011, 05:32:44 PM
Jeepers, maybe everyone who favors limiting second amendment protections by any means at hand calls this false flag operation a "sting" because they don't want the general public to know it's really a false flag operation. Too bad they were so ham fisted about it.
Be that as it may, giving criminals money with which to buy guns to give to other, violent, criminals so that they use those guns in numerous crimes including 300 murders that can then be blamed on American gun stores as an opening gambit to subvert the second amendment is not only many kinds of criminal act, but can be construed as an act of war. Any other conclusion is equivocation of the rankest sort.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / One Year Ago Today
on: December 14, 2011, 01:06:02 PM
Second post. The Washington Post's role in this passion play, as noted below, is particularly chilling.
One Year Ago, Holder's Operation Fast and Furious Came Undone
Terry's death stopped the star-crossed gun walking program.by Neil W. McCabe12/13/2011
Brian A. Terry
One year ago today, The Washington Post published its “Hidden Life of Guns” article exposing how under-regulated gun sales along the Mexican border were sending firearms into that country feeding its crime and instability.
The paper’s four-reporter team operated as full-partners of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives PR department receiving internal statistics, documents and even an interrogation video.
One of the two gun stores were correctly singled out by the Post: Lone Wolf in Arizona and Carter Country in Texas. But, one year later, we know it was for the wrong reasons.
It was on a Dec. 13 Houston's KRIV-TV news broadcast that the lawyer for Carter Country, responding to that morning's report in the Post, made the outrageous charge that agents from the BATFE actively encouraged reluctant Carter Country employees to sell weapons to suspected “straw purchasers.”
The charges were ignored by The Washington Post and everyone else, and would have stayed ignored, if not for the events of the following night.
During the overnight of December 14 into 15, an AK-47 sold to a straw purchaser with the blessing of the ATF at the Lone Wolf gun store was used in the firefight that cut down Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry.
Within a few hours, four men who fired upon Terry were wrapped up, while a fifth was tracked down the next day in a manhunt that included federal agents on horseback and in helicopters.
Within 24 hours of Terry’s death, federal officials had traced the AK-47 to Fast and Furious.
Behind the scenes, ATF and other federal agents aware of the gun walking program called Operation Fast and Furious, staged a mutiny and the operation was shut down.
In the next week, two cabinet officers visited Arizona, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., for the funeral and Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano, to meet with members of Terry’s special tactics unit, known as BorTac. Holder’s Justice Department oversees the BATFE and Napolitano’s department includes the Border Patrol.
By Napolitano’s December 18 visit, both she and Holder, who both were aware of Fast and Furious, knew that Terry was killed with a Fast and Furious AK-47. They were both fully briefed on Fast and Furious, and though the operation was still a secret, they had both touted in public speeches the overall program it was a part of called Operation Gun Runner.
Conceivably, Napolitano was even better informed than Holder because her former gubernatorial chief of staff Dennis K. Burke was the U.S. Attorney for the Arizona Department. It is fair to guess, that Burke briefed his former boss, who sponsored his appointment.
Burke was a useful part of the Fast and Furious cover-up and damage control. After waiting more than two weeks to charge the men who killed Terry, he charged them with unrelated gun violations. This move allowed him to deny Terry’s parents' request for victims-of-crime rights. Under federal law, victims of crimes are afforded special briefings about the progress of investigations and prosecutions.
Burke also saw to it that the Terry case was sealed and all press relations were handled through the local FBI office that he controlled rather than through Border Patrol public information officers.
One year later, the Post has published the obligatory articles about Fast and Furious, and the various hearings and shuffling of personnel. But, it may not get the Pulitzer it was gunning for when it launched its blowout expose on the wrong side of the story.
The poor Carter County clerk, whose indictment for facilitating illegal guns sales the paper celebrated as validation of its crusade, had all charges dismissed—lest he explain in court what really happened.
Holder and Napolitano have weathered the storm and still enjoy the confidence and support of the President. But, Burke has resigned and awaits what other shoes may drop.
One year ago today, we had no idea that the Obama administration was funneling guns to Mexico at the same time it blamed under-regulated gun sales for destabilizing our neighbor to the south. We have learned many of the details in the last year, but there is still so much that does not make sense or add up.
Most troubling of all, if Terry knew the full extent of what his government was doing, the 6-foot, 4-inch former Marine and Iraq veteran might have had a better chance.
Neil W. McCabe is the editor of Guns & Patriots. McCabe, was a reporter and photographer at The Pilot, Boston's Catholic newspaper for several years. An Army reservist, he served 14 months in Iraq as a combat historian. Follow him on Twitter http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=48088
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Playing Pattycake with Cartels
on: December 14, 2011, 11:51:12 AM
In response to JDN above, where he asks if people should be held responsible for gun sales, my thought would be that, if it's in furtherance of criminal enterprise, of course they should. Straw purchases by private citizens are a serious matter: folks who make such purchases should be prosecuted. Curiously, those sorts of prosecutions are declining under the current administration.
Should a government provide guns in furtherance of criminal enterprise, it should be held accountable. A piece I posted earlier note that there are specific laws forbidding the State Department from making weapons sales that further drug cartel interests. If F&F turns out to have been designed to provide guns to nasty people who would then rack up a murder count traceable back to gun store-sold firearms it strikes me that there are several prosecutable offenses contained in that set of circumstances.
As that may be, the Feds have played pattycake with cartels more than once. You'd think they'd learn:
Feds Palling Around With Mexican Cartels
Posted by Juan Carlos Hidalgo
Two years ago the Washington Post reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency brought dangerous Mexican drug traffickers to the U.S. who, while continuing their criminal activities in Mexico and the U.S., also served as informants to the federal authorities in their war on drugs.
In June, Operation Fast and Furious came to light where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed suspicious straw-purchasers of firearms to buy weapons in the U.S. and smuggle them into Mexico. The purpose was to track the guns all the way to the ultimate buyer—a Mexican drug trafficking organization. Overall, the ATF facilitated the purchase of hundreds of guns by Mexican cartels. Many were later found in crime scenes in Mexico, including one where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was assassinated.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the Drug Enforcement Agency has been laundering millions of dollars for Mexican cartels. The goal of the undercover mission is to follow the money all the way up to the top ranks of the criminal organizations. However, as the NYT notes, “So far there are few signs that following the money has disrupted the cartels’ operations and little evidence that Mexican drug traffickers are feeling any serious financial pain.”
So there we have it: in the name of the war on drugs, the federal government has provided safe havens to Mexican drug traffickers, facilitated their purchase of powerful firearms, and has even laundered millions of dollars for the cartels.
After spending millions of dollars toward fighting the drug war in Mexico, the United States has little to show for its efforts. It seems Washington is becoming more desperate each year to produce new leads and results. These three incidents display a stunning lack of foresight and borders on the federal government aiding the Mexican drug cartels, with little to show in return. The unintended consequences of these programs aimed at dismantling the cartels would be laughable were it not for the thousands that have died in Mexico’s drug related violence.
It is time for the United States to rethink the war on drugs and consider policies that will successfully undermine the Mexican drug cartels.http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/feds-palling-around-with-mexican-cartels/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / How Doctors Die
on: December 14, 2011, 11:41:44 AM
How Doctors Die
It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be
by Ken Murray
Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient’s five-year-survival odds—from 5 percent to 15 percent—albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn’t spend much on him.
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.
Of course, doctors don’t want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone. They’ve talked about this with their families. They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen—that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that’s what happens if CPR is done right).
Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call “futile care” being performed on people. That’s when doctors bring the cutting edge of technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly, “Promise me if you find me like this that you’ll kill me.” They mean it. Some medical personnel wear medallions stamped “NO CODE” to tell physicians not to perform CPR on them. I have even seen it as a tattoo.
To administer medical care that makes people suffer is anguishing. Physicians are trained to gather information without revealing any of their own feelings, but in private, among fellow doctors, they’ll vent. “How can anyone do that to their family members?” they’ll ask. I suspect it’s one reason physicians have higher rates of alcohol abuse and depression than professionals in most other fields. I know it’s one reason I stopped participating in hospital care for the last 10 years of my practice.
How has it come to this—that doctors administer so much care that they wouldn’t want for themselves? The simple, or not-so-simple, answer is this: patients, doctors, and the system.
To see how patients play a role, imagine a scenario in which someone has lost consciousness and been admitted to an emergency room. As is so often the case, no one has made a plan for this situation, and shocked and scared family members find themselves caught up in a maze of choices. They’re overwhelmed. When doctors ask if they want “everything” done, they answer yes. Then the nightmare begins. Sometimes, a family really means “do everything,” but often they just mean “do everything that’s reasonable.” The problem is that they may not know what’s reasonable, nor, in their confusion and sorrow, will they ask about it or hear what a physician may be telling them. For their part, doctors told to do “everything” will do it, whether it is reasonable or not.
The above scenario is a common one. Feeding into the problem are unrealistic expectations of what doctors can accomplish. Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. I’ve had hundreds of people brought to me in the emergency room after getting CPR. Exactly one, a healthy man who’d had no heart troubles (for those who want specifics, he had a “tension pneumothorax”), walked out of the hospital. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming. Poor knowledge and misguided expectations lead to a lot of bad decisions.
But of course it’s not just patients making these things happen. Doctors play an enabling role, too. The trouble is that even doctors who hate to administer futile care must find a way to address the wishes of patients and families. Imagine, once again, the emergency room with those grieving, possibly hysterical, family members. They do not know the doctor. Establishing trust and confidence under such circumstances is a very delicate thing. People are prepared to think the doctor is acting out of base motives, trying to save time, or money, or effort, especially if the doctor is advising against further treatment.
Some doctors are stronger communicators than others, and some doctors are more adamant, but the pressures they all face are similar. When I faced circumstances involving end-of-life choices, I adopted the approach of laying out only the options that I thought were reasonable (as I would in any situation) as early in the process as possible. When patients or families brought up unreasonable choices, I would discuss the issue in layman’s terms that portrayed the downsides clearly. If patients or families still insisted on treatments I considered pointless or harmful, I would offer to transfer their care to another doctor or hospital.
Should I have been more forceful at times? I know that some of those transfers still haunt me. One of the patients of whom I was most fond was an attorney from a famous political family. She had severe diabetes and terrible circulation, and, at one point, she developed a painful sore on her foot. Knowing the hazards of hospitals, I did everything I could to keep her from resorting to surgery. Still, she sought out outside experts with whom I had no relationship. Not knowing as much about her as I did, they decided to perform bypass surgery on her chronically clogged blood vessels in both legs. This didn’t restore her circulation, and the surgical wounds wouldn’t heal. Her feet became gangrenous, and she endured bilateral leg amputations. Two weeks later, in the famous medical center in which all this had occurred, she died.
It’s easy to find fault with both doctors and patients in such stories, but in many ways all the parties are simply victims of a larger system that encourages excessive treatment. In some unfortunate cases, doctors use the fee-for-service model to do everything they can, no matter how pointless, to make money. More commonly, though, doctors are fearful of litigation and do whatever they’re asked, with little feedback, to avoid getting in trouble.
Even when the right preparations have been made, the system can still swallow people up. One of my patients was a man named Jack, a 78-year-old who had been ill for years and undergone about 15 major surgical procedures. He explained to me that he never, under any circumstances, wanted to be placed on life support machines again. One Saturday, however, Jack suffered a massive stroke and got admitted to the emergency room unconscious, without his wife. Doctors did everything possible to resuscitate him and put him on life support in the ICU. This was Jack’s worst nightmare. When I arrived at the hospital and took over Jack’s care, I spoke to his wife and to hospital staff, bringing in my office notes with his care preferences. Then I turned off the life support machines and sat with him. He died two hours later.
Even with all his wishes documented, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my unplugging of Jack to the authorities as a possible homicide. Nothing came of it, of course; Jack’s wishes had been spelled out explicitly, and he’d left the paperwork to prove it. But the prospect of a police investigation is terrifying for any physician. I could far more easily have left Jack on life support against his stated wishes, prolonging his life, and his suffering, a few more weeks. I would even have made a little more money, and Medicare would have ended up with an additional $500,000 bill. It’s no wonder many doctors err on the side of overtreatment.
But doctors still don’t over-treat themselves. They see the consequences of this constantly. Almost anyone can find a way to die in peace at home, and pain can be managed better than ever. Hospice care, which focuses on providing terminally ill patients with comfort and dignity rather than on futile cures, provides most people with much better final days. Amazingly, studies have found that people placed in hospice care often live longer than people with the same disease who are seeking active cures. I was struck to hear on the radio recently that the famous reporter Tom Wicker had “died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.” Such stories are, thankfully, increasingly common.
Several years ago, my older cousin Torch (born at home by the light of a flashlight—or torch) had a seizure that turned out to be the result of lung cancer that had gone to his brain. I arranged for him to see various specialists, and we learned that with aggressive treatment of his condition, including three to five hospital visits a week for chemotherapy, he would live perhaps four months. Ultimately, Torch decided against any treatment and simply took pills for brain swelling. He moved in with me.
We spent the next eight months doing a bunch of things that he enjoyed, having fun together like we hadn’t had in decades. We went to Disneyland, his first time. We’d hang out at home. Torch was a sports nut, and he was very happy to watch sports and eat my cooking. He even gained a bit of weight, eating his favorite foods rather than hospital foods. He had no serious pain, and he remained high-spirited. One day, he didn’t wake up. He spent the next three days in a coma-like sleep and then died. The cost of his medical care for those eight months, for the one drug he was taking, was about $20.
Torch was no doctor, but he knew he wanted a life of quality, not just quantity. Don’t most of us? If there is a state of the art of end-of-life care, it is this: death with dignity. As for me, my physician has my choices. They were easy to make, as they are for most physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good night. Like my mentor Charlie. Like my cousin Torch. Like my fellow doctors.
Ken Murray, MD, is Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at USC.http://zocalopublicsquare.org/thepublicsquare/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/read/nexus/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science
on: December 08, 2011, 09:33:45 AM
And this anecdote is related to pathological science how? Perhaps it instead demonstrates there are more people building in more places expecting more recompense for poor siting decision while more media is available to document the results? There was a flood in a Virginia neighborhood earlier this year that lead to residents calling for tens of millions of dollars in remediation. I remember watching one news report where a resident complained "the same thing happened here eight years ago; how many times do we have to get flooded out before somebody fixes the problem?" My response: don't buy land on a flood plain and you won't have to worry about regularly being flooded out.
As that may be, an alternate explanation from that denier bastion, University of Wisconsin, Madison:http://www.news.wisc.edu/20095
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Throwing Money at the Wrong Threat
on: December 08, 2011, 09:23:15 AM
Insider: $56 Billion Later, Airport Security Is Junk
By Spencer Ackerman Email Author December 6, 2011 | 6:30 am | Categories: Crime and Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security has spent billions since 9/11 trying to keep dangerous people and dangerous explosives off airplanes, and treating us all air travelers like potential terrorists in the process. But according to a former security adviser to a leading airline, the terrorists have changed the game — and the government hasn’t yet caught on.
According to Ben Brandt, a former adviser to Delta, the airlines and the feds should be less concerned with what gels your aunt puts in her carry-on, and more concerned about lax screening for terrorist sympathizers among the airlines’ own work force. They should be worried about terrorists shipping their bombs in air cargo. And they should be worried about terrorists shooting or bombing airports without ever crossing the security gates.
Brandt says aviation security needs a fundamental overhaul. Not only is the aviation industry failing to keep up with the new terrorist tactics, TSA’s regimen of scanning and groping is causing a public backlash. “From the public’s perspective, this kind of refocusing would reduce the amount of screening they have to put up with in the United States,” Brandt tells Danger Room, “and refocus it where it’s needed.”
In the new issue of the CTC Sentinel, a wonky security newsletter published by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Brandt all but indicts his former industry and its government protectors. “Government regulators suffer from a lack of imagination in anticipating and mitigating emergent and existing threats” to air travel, he writes.
Think first about what aviation security is. Since 9/11, it’s largely been a line of defense ahead of a departure gate to keep dangerous people and dangerous materials off a plane. By Brandt’s calculations, it’s cost $56 billion since 9/11. In one sense, it’s worked as planned: No planes have been blown up or hijacked for a decade.
But the last several years’ worth of plots on the friendly skies indicate the terrorists have switched their game plans. In January, a suicide bomber didn’t try to board a plane at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. He detonated before going through security, in the crowded entranceway, killing 35 people and wounding over 150 more. Last fall, al-Qaida’s Yemen branch skipped the boarding call and shipped bombs packed in printer cartridges back to the States.
Less conspicuously, terrorists have started to infiltrate the airlines and airports themselves. Rajib Karim, for instance, worked as an IT specialist for British Airways. But inspired by al-Qaida YouTube preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, Karim offered to help al-Qaida sneak bombs aboard planes at London’s Heathrow airport, and claimed to have support from sympathetic airport workers. The airlines and airports barely conduct employee background checks, Brandt claims — and of course, none of those employees need to go through a “porno scanner,” get a pat-down or have their luggage rifled through.
Speaking of those scanners: We all remember how on Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab packed explosives into his underwear and headed on a flight to Detroit. That plot that failed only because of Abdulmutallab’s inability to light himself on fire. That’s how we got the invasive new scanners, which seek to catch the explosives or components that traditional metal detectors miss. But Brandt says they’re not so great: They “detect only two popular explosive compounds,” he writes. (He declines to name them in the interest of public safety; the Department of Homeland Security opted not to comment on Brandt.) Explosives detection equipment “is also not designed to detect the components of improvised incendiary devices (IIDs), making the use of these correspondingly attractive to terrorists.”
TSA is trying to get away from its stigma of being the guys who grope and photograph you. It’s taking the porno out of the scanners by getting rid of the “nude” imaging displays. Its director, John Pistole, talks about becoming an “intelligence driven” agency that compiles behavioral profiles of potential terrorists and — someday — targeting its toughest screening on only those who fit the profile. Kids no longer have to take their shoes off before boarding a plane.
Just one problem, according to Brandt: The behavioral science is no panacea. “The scientific community is divided as to whether behavioral detection of terrorists is viable,” he writes. According to the Government Accountability Office, TSA put together a behavioral profiling program “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment.” Even if the science was sound, the office found last year, TSA officers “lack a mechanism to input data on suspicious passengers into a database used by TSA analysts and also lack a means to obtain information from the Transportation System Operations Center on a timely basis.”
Pistole talks about creating a “robust and multi-layered system” of defense, in case a certain measure fails. That’s a worthy effort, but it needs even more layers, Brandt argues. Abdulmutallab boarded his flight in Amsterdam — taking advantage of its relatively lax security, a harbinger of threats to come. ”Given that most aviation-focused attacks are likely to originate outside the U.S., it would seem to make more sense to upgrade screening for U.S. airline operations at those airports,” Brandt says.
None of this is going to be easy, or cheap. Brandt proposes that the government subsidize airlines for better employee background checks or explosives detection tech. But that’s could strike taxpayers as a bailout.
On the other hand, he and Pistole actually share the same headspace, so it’s possible that TSA will buy his overall critique. “The best defense is still developing solid intelligence on terrorist groups interested in targeting aviation,” Brandt says. Beats treating us all like terrorists.http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/12/unsafe-skies/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Your Science Might be Junk If. . . .
on: December 07, 2011, 11:13:35 AM
Seven Eight Warning Signs of Junk Science
I’ve written before about scientific error cascades and the pernicious things that happen when junk science becomes the focus or rationale of a political crusade.
The worst example of this sort of thing in my lifetime, and arguably in the entire history of science, has been the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) panic. Now that the wheels are falling off that juggernaut, I’m starting to hear ordinary people around me wonder how I knew it was bullshit and hot air so much in advance…
Some of the answer to that is complicated and not easily replicable. I happened to have the right sort of knowledge base to know that, for example, specific AGW-panicker claims about historical climate were impossible to reconcile with primary evidence – wine grapes grown at 59 degrees north around the year 1000, that sort of thing. This motivated me to dig for other problems with their narrative well before they were really on the public’s radar.
But a lot of it was more general. I’ve seen a lot of “scientific” panics ginned up from nonexistent or scanty evidence over the last several decades. There’s a pattern to these episodes, a characteristic stench that becomes recognizable after a while. I’ll describe some of the indicia, which I’ve culled from episodes like the Alar scare, the ozone-hole brouhaha, the AIDS panic (are you old enough to remember when it was predicted to become endemic among heterosexuals in the U.S.?), acid rain, and even the great global cooling flap of 1975.
So. Here is a non-exclusive list of seven eight symptoms to watch out for:
Science by press release. It’s never, ever a good sign when ‘scientists’ announce dramatic results before publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. When this happens, we generally find out later that they were either self-deluded or functioning as political animals rather than scientists. This generalizes a bit; one should also be suspicious of, for example, science first broadcast by congressional testimony or talk-show circuit.
Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of eschatological panic. When the argument for theory X slides from “theory X is supported by evidence” to “a terrible catastrophe looms over us if theory X is true, therefore we cannot risk disbelieving it”, you can be pretty sure that X is junk science. Consciously or unconsciously, advocates who say these sorts of things are trying to panic the herd into stampeding rather than focusing on the quality of the evidence for theory X.
Rhetoric that mixes science with the tropes of moral panic. When the argument for theory X slides from “theory X is supported by evidence” to “only bad/sinful/uncaring people disbelieve theory X”, you can be even more sure that theory X is junk science. Consciously or unconsciously, advocates who say these sorts of things are trying to induce a state of preference falsification in which people are peer-pressured to publicly affirm a belief in theory X in spite of private doubts.
Consignment of failed predictions to the memory hole. It’s a sign of sound science when advocates for theory X publicly acknowledge failed predictions and explain why they think they can now make better ones. Conversely, it’s a sign of junk science when they try to bury failed predictions and deny they ever made them.
Over-reliance on computer models replete with bugger factors that aren’t causally justified.. No, this is not unique to climatology; you see it a lot in epidemiology and economics, just to name two fields that start with ‘e’. The key point here is that simply fitting historical data is not causal justification; there are lots of ways to dishonestly make that happen, or honestly fool yourself about it. If you don’t have a generative account of why your formulas and coupling constants look the way they do (a generative account which itself makes falsifiable predictions), you’re not doing science – you’re doing numerology.
If a ‘scientific’ theory seems tailor-made for the needs of politicians or advocacy organizations, it probably has been. Real scientific results have a cross-grained tendency not to fit transient political categories. Accordingly, if you think theory X stinks of political construction, you’re probably right. This is one of the simplest but most difficult lessons in junk-science spotting! The most difficult case is recognizing that this is happening even when you agree with the cause.
Past purveyers of junk science do not change their spots. One of the earliest indicators in many outbreaks of junk science is enthusiastic endorsements by people and advocacy organizations associated with past outbreaks. This one is particularly useful in spotting environmental junk science, because unreliable environmental-advocacy organizations tend to have long public pedigrees including frequent episodes of apocalyptic yelling. It is pardonable to be taken in by this the first time, but foolish by the fourth and fifth.
Refusal to make primary data sets available for inspection. When people doing sound science are challenged to produce the observational and experimental data their theories are supposed to be based on, they do it. (There are a couple of principled exceptions here; particle physicists can’t save the unreduced data from particle collisions, there are too many terabytes per second of it.) It is a strong sign of junk science when a ‘scientist’ claims to have retained raw data sets but refuses to release them to critics.
It would be way, way too easy to list the ways these symptoms have manifested with respect to the AGW panic. It’s a more useful exercise for the reader to think back and try to recognize them in previous junk-science flaps. Go and learn. And don’t get fooled again.http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3974#more-3974
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / REINSing in Regulatory Spending
on: December 07, 2011, 10:51:28 AM
Going Off the Rails Against the REINS Act
Jonathan H. Adler • December 7, 2011 8:52 am
Today the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the REINS Act, a bill to enhance political accountability over regulatory decisions. The bill has two essential features. First, it bars new “major” regulations (those anticipated to cost more than $100 million annually) from taking effect unless approved by both houses of Congress. Second, it creates an expedited review process that forces each house to vote on each major rule. So while requiring Congressional approval, REINS prevents members of Congress from ducking their responsibility to vote yay or nay.
REINS is a controversial bill, in part because it effectively limits the delegation of broad regulatory authority to federal agencies, but to read some critics, REINS would usher in an anti-regulatory armageddon. While I support the legislation, for reasons detailed in these posts (and summarized in this NRO piece), I recognize that there are reasonable arguments to be made on the other side. What’s so interesting watching this debate, however, is how many opponents refuse to make them, relying instead on inaccurate and fanciful characterizations of the bill. It’s telling when opponents of legislation are unable or unwilling to describe it accurately when making their case.
To take one example, US PIRG’s Ed Mierzwinski argues that the REINS Act would lead to unsafe toys on the market and emasculate the CPSC.One bill, the REINS Act, would not only allow but require congressional meddling in the implementation of all public health and safety rules. A single member of Congress, at the behest of some powerful special interest or campaign contributor, could block the public database, block science-based lead standards for children’s products, block crib safety rules or any number of protections that provide a safer consumer marketplace.
The idea that REINS would allow a single member of Congress to block new regulations is a common claim. The Center for American Progress makes it here. It’s also false. The bill expressly limits debate, waives procedural objections, and requires a vote on the merits. Under REINS, if some members of Congress wish to block needed safety rules at the behest of a special interest, they will have to do it out in the open, and will only succeed if they can win a majority vote. How could this undermine legislative accountability? It’s true REINS requires that legislative approval occur within a set period of time, but it also ensures the vote occurs before the deadline expires.
The NYT worries REINS will “undermine the executive branch.” Really. Why? Because it will be too easy for a majority in either House to prevent a President from rewriting regulatory requirements. The NYT also argues REINS is “deeply undemocratic.” Got that? Requiring legislative votes on major regulations — that two or three of the most consequential regulatory decisions made by federal agencies — is “undemocratic,” whereas allowing agencies to rely upon decades-old statutes to remake industries and reconfigure whole sectors of the economy is not.
The REINS Act would dramatically alter how major rules are made, but it would do so by making sure the people’s representatives have a greater say on — and greater accountability for — the major regulatory actions our federal government takes. If the public wants greater regulation of environmental or other problems, REINS won’t stand in the way. Only if the public is skeptical of such regulations, or unconcerned by legislative vetoes of proposed rules, will REINS slow down the adoption of new rules. And perhaps that’s what the REINS Act’s opponents are truly afraid of: A regulatory process that more accurately reflects what the public wants.
UPDATE: For unhinged commentary on the REINS Act, it’s hard to do better than this piece which, among other things, claims the Act would “essentially return environmental regulation to 1890s standards – when corporations polluted with impunity.” That’s an astounding charge given that REINS a) does not have any effect whatsoever to regulations already on the books and b) would apply equally to deregulatory initiatives, such as any effort by a future President to repeal existing regulations.http://volokh.com/2011/12/07/going-off-the-rails-against-the-reins-act/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Another Shoe?
on: December 06, 2011, 08:40:46 PM
Oh goody, Sharyl Attkisson, who has done some of the best MSM Gunwalking reporting, now sets her sights on the State Department. One can only hope this trend continues. Anyone want to make book on what percentage of the "guns not submitted for trace" were funneled to Mexico by State? Wouldn't it be great if there was a memo somewhere that stated "please don't submit guns obtained through 'direct commercial sales' lest we have to end the program"?
Legal U.S. gun sales to Mexico arming cartels
By Sharyl Attkisson
(CBS News) Selling weapons to Mexico - where cartel violence is out of control - is controversial because so many guns fall into the wrong hands due to incompetence and corruption. The Mexican military recently reported nearly 9,000 police weapons "missing."
Yet the U.S. has approved the sale of more guns to Mexico in recent years than ever before through a program called "direct commercial sales." It's a program that some say is worse than the highly-criticized "Fast and Furious" gunrunning scandal, where U.S. agents allowed thousands of weapons to pass from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels.
CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson discovered that the official tracking all those guns sold through "direct commercial sales" leaves something to be desired.
One weapon - an AR-15-type semi-automatic rifle - tells the story. In 2006, this same kind of rifle - tracked by serial number - is legally sold by a U.S. manufacturer to the Mexican military.
Three years later - it's found in a criminal stash in a region wracked by Mexican drug cartel violence.
That prompted a "sensitive" cable, uncovered by WikiLeaks, dated June 4, 2009, in which the U.S. State Department asked Mexico "how the AR-15" - meant only for the military or police - was "diverted" into criminal hands.
And, more importantly, where the other rifles from the same shipment went: "Please account for the current location of the 1,030 AR-15 type rifles," reads the cable.
There's no response in the record.
The problem of weapons legally sold to Mexico - then diverted to violent cartels - is becoming more urgent. That's because the U.S. has quietly authorized a massive escalation in the number of guns sold to Mexico through "direct commercial sales." It's a way foreign countries can acquire firearms faster and with less disclosure than going through the Pentagon.
Here's how it works: A foreign government fills out an application to buy weapons from private gun manufacturers in the U.S. Then the State Department decides whether to approve.
And it did approve 2,476 guns to be sold to Mexico in 2006. In 2009, that number was up nearly 10 times, to 18,709. The State Department has since stopped disclosing numbers of guns it approves, and wouldn't give CBS News figures for 2010 or 2011.
With Mexico in a virtual state of war with its cartels, nobody's tracking how many U.S. guns are ending up with the enemy.
"I think most Americans are aware that there's a problem in terms of the drug traffickers in Mexico, increases in violence," said Bill Hartung, an arms control advocate with the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. "I don't think they realize that we're sending so many guns there, and that some of them may be diverted to the very cartels that we're trying to get under control."
The State Department audits only a tiny sample - less than 1 percent of sales - but the results are disturbing: In 2009, more than a quarter (26 percent) of the guns sold to the region that includes Mexico were "diverted" into the wrong hands, or had other "unfavorable" results.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation's Larry Keane, who speaks for gun manufacturers, said he understands the potential for abuse.
"There have been 150,000 or more Mexican soldiers defect to go work for the cartels, and I think it's safe to assume that when they defect they take their firearms with them," Keane told CBS News.
But Keane said the sales help the U.S.
"These sales by the industry actually support U.S. national security interests," Keane told Attkisson. "If they didn't, the State Department wouldn't allow them."
"Do they need better oversight?" asked Attkisson.
"It's certainly for the State Department and the Mexican government to try to make sure that the cartels don't obtain firearms that way," he replied. "But that's really beyond the control of the industry."
Mexico is now one of the world's largest purchasers of U.S. guns through direct commercial sales, beating out countries like Iraq. The State Department office that oversees the sales wouldn't agree to an interview. But an official has told Congress their top priority is to advance national security and foreign policy.http://liten.be//jAOkC
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Originalism & the 14th
on: December 05, 2011, 04:55:58 PM
Interesting meditation on originalism and the 14th Amendment:
The original meaning of the 14th Amendment regarding interracial marriage
from The Volokh Conspiracy by David Kopel
Over at Balkinization, Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern) has an interesting and thoughtful post on the state of originalism. Synthesizing analysis by Jamal Greene and Jack Balkin, Koppelman writes, “Originalism is fundamentally about a narrative of rhetorical self-identification with the achievements of a founding historical moment. That is the real basis of its power. An originalist argument will be powerful to the extent that can persuade its audience that it can keep faith with that identification.”
Thus, “Originalist argument is an artifact designed to recall the Constitution’s origin and connect what we are doing now with that origin. Once this functional definition of originalism is understood, it follows that the range of possible original arguments is quite broad. It is not, however, infinite.” So, argues Koppelman, the fact that originalists differ among themselves in many important details about what “originalism” really is, is not a fatal flaw. Simiilarly, there are many different things called “aspirin” (e.g., Excedrin, generic products, St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin, etc.), but they all contain acetylsalicylic acid, and they all have a generally similar function. Which particular one you use at a given time will depend on the particular purposes for which it is needed.
I do want to quibble, though, with one particular legal history claim that Koppelman makes: “Thus originalists struggle with the problem whether the general purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, to mandate the legal equality of blacks, should trump the framers’ specific intention to permit school segregation and miscegenation laws.” Michael McConnell and Randy Barnett have written on the school segregation issue, but I’d like to add something on miscegenation. I don’t think that the historical record unambiguously supports the claim of a specific intent in the 14th Amendment to allow the continuation of laws against interracial marriage.
We do know for certain that one very specific intention of the 14th Amendment framers was to provide a solid constitutional foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1866. According to the Act: “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens. . .”
Early exposition by courts is one source of original public meaning. (Although this source is not always guaranteed to be reliable. See, e.g., the Slaughter-House majority’s dicta). In 1872, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 1866 constitutional ban on miscegenation violated the “cardinal principle” of the Civil Rights Act and of the Equal Protection clause. Burns v. State, 48 Ala. 195 (1872). That same year, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 14th Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities clause and Equal Protection clause had “abrogated” the old state law against miscegenation Bonds v. Foster, 36 Tex. 68 (1872). As detailed in Peggy Pascoe’s book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (2010), in the years after the Civil War, eleven states repealed their bans on interracial marriage.
It was the Indiana Supreme Court that figured out the way to evade the clear statutory language about the equal right of contract. According to the court, marriage is “more than a mere civil contract”; it is an institution fundamental to society. The Indiana court insisted at length that the 14th Amendment had not limited the traditional police power of the states. If Congress could ban states from imposing racial discrimination in the right to enter a marriage contract, then Congress would (supposedly) have the power to legislate on all aspects of marriage. State v. Gibson, 36 Ind. 389 (1871).
I don’t find the Indiana court’s 1871 reasoning persuasive, and, apparently, neither did the Alabama and Texas Supreme Courts in 1872. But courts cannot stand forever against the sustained will of the electorate. After four losses, the proponents of anti-miscegenation won on their fifth try in the Alabama Supreme Court. When the courts in the various states finally acquiesced to anti-miscegenation laws, Gibson was the essential citation, because it came from a state where slavery had never legally existed. The Texas intermediate Court of Appeals provided the legal reformulation that marriage was “status” and not “contract,” and was therefore not covered by the Civil Rights Act: “Marriage is not a contract protected by the Constitution of the United States, or within the meaning of the Civil Rights Bill. Marriage is more than a contract within the meaning of the act. It is a civil status, left solely by the Federal Constitution and the laws to the discretion of the states, under their general power to regulate their domestic affairs.” Frasher v. State, 3 Tex.App. 263, (Tex. Ct. App. 1877). (The regressive Frasher decision is one more data point in support of the observation in Henry Sumner Maine’s great 1861 book Ancient Law: “we may say that the movement of the progressive societies has hitherto been a movement from Status to Contract.” Maine’s book elaborates in great detail why marriage law fits this paradigm.)
By the time that Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in 1896, the Supreme Court majority, which was willfully oblivious to contemporary social reality (e.g., if blacks consider a segregation mandate to be a “a badge of inferiority,” that is “solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it”) , was also lazily ignorant of legal history: “Laws forbidding the intermarriage of the two races may be said in a technical sense to interfere with the freedom of contact, and yet have been universally recognized as within the police power of the state.” The sole citation for this allegedly “universal” recognition was State v. Gibson. The Court was right that as of 1895, miscegenation laws were constitutionally safe, but the Court seemed quite unaware that during the first years when the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act were the law of the land, the issue was in dispute.
Although the late Professor Pascoe’s book is suffused with critical race/gender theory, readers who find such theories useless will still find Pascoe’s book to be enormously useful. It is an excellent legal history of anti-miscegenation laws and cases, and not just during Reconstruction. You will learn about the national panic to spread such laws during the early 20th century because the black boxer Jack Johnson (who defeated a string of opponents who were billed as “the Great White Hope”) notoriously consorted with white women; how courts struggled with interpreting miscegenation laws in the West (which were mainly aimed at Asians, and which raised questions such as whether a ban on white marriage to “the Mongolian or Malay races” applied to Filipinos); the NAACP’s political opposition to new miscegenation laws coupled with its great reluctance to mount legal challenges to existing ones; and the extremely risky litigation (not endorsed by NAACP) which led to the landmark 1948 California Supreme Court Perez v. Lippold decision (won mainly on arguments of void for vagueness, the fundamental unenumerated right to marry, and First Amendment free exercise of religion, rather than a categorical attack on all racial discrimination).
Justice Carter’s concurrence in Perez is a good illustration of the main thesis of Koppelman’s post, and of the point made by the second Justice Harlan (and also by Jack Balkin) that our “tradition is a living thing,” in which our national understanding of the original meaning can be deepened by new experiences. Rebutting respondent’s collection of social scientists who contended that race-mixing was destructive to the health of the white race, Justice Carter quoted some essentially similar claims from Hitler’s Mein Kampf’. Justice Carter continued: “To bring into issue the correctness of the writings of a madman, a rabble-rouser, a mass-murderer, would be to clothe his utterances with an undeserved aura of respectability and authoritativeness. Let us not forget that this was the man who plunged the world into a war in which, for the third time, Americans fought, bled, and died for the truth of the proposition that all men are created equal.” And so, “In my opinion, the statutes here involved violate the very premise on which this country and its Constitution were built, the very ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the very issue over which the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Second World War were fought, and the spirit in which the Constitution must be interpreted in order that the interpretations will appear as ‘Reason in any part of the World besides.’”http://volokh.com/2011/12/05/the-original-meaning-of-the-14th-amendment-regarding-interracial-marriage/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Kingpin Act" & Gunwalker?
on: December 05, 2011, 11:26:12 AM
Gunwalker: Justice Dept. Violated U.S. Laws Beyond Those Being Investigated
I know, because I was the principal drafter of some of the legislation.
JAMES K. STINEBOWER
December 5, 2011 - 12:00 am
As we continue to watch the general uproar over the Operation Fast and Furious program, and specifically what Attorney General Holder knew and when he knew it, it needs to be noted that perjury is not the only apparent violation of law to have occurred.
I refer to the apparent violation of at least one (probably two) major U.S. laws by the Holder Justice Department. A few years ago, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701, the follow-on to the Trading with the Enemy Act) was expanded in order to criminalize any transactions between U.S. entities — to include departments and agencies of the U.S. government — and all foreign drug cartels.
I am familiar with these prohibitive statues because several years ago, while serving as the senior drug analyst for the Senate Intelligence Committee, I was tasked to initiate and became the principal drafter of legislation which became known as the Kingpin Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 1901-08). The Kingpin Act is an extension of the highly successful IEEPA sanctioning program specifically targeting Colombian drug cartels. It expands sanctions authority against various drug cartel operations worldwide — including Mexico — which have been determined by the president to be threats to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.
A violation of any of the IEEPA sanctioning programs or the Kingpin Act carries stiff penalties, both criminal and civil, and potentially totaling decades in prison and tens of millions of dollars in fines. It is not necessary that an individual or governmental entity be shown to have “knowingly” violated any of these programs: it is illegal for any U.S. entity or individual to aid, abet, or materially assist — or in the case of Operation Fast and Furious, to facilitate others to aid, abet, or materially assist — designated drug traffickers. There are no exceptions within IEEPA programs for unlicensed U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency operations.
Based on the July 5, 2010, memo to Eric Holder, it would appear that Fast and Furious facilitated the delivery of weapons to — at a minimum — the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, which administers both the IEEPA and Kingpin Act programs, has designated numerous members of the Sinaloa cartel under both programs. IEEPA prohibitions apply to the U.S. government as well as to individuals, and as stated there are no exceptions within IEEPA programs for unlicensed U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency operations.
There is a provision in the Kingpin Act for “authorized” law enforcement and intelligence activities, however the only procedure by which an Operation Fast and Furious program could have been “authorized” under the Kingpin Act was by the U.S. attorney general requesting a waiver (known within the Treasury Department as a Specific License), prior to any such operation being undertaken. To illustrate and emphasize this point: even during the run-up to war in Iraq, the U.S. secretary of Defense had to obtain waivers (specific licenses) from the Treasury Department to allow U.S. Special Forces and their necessary equipment (to include weapons, intelligence gathering, and targeting gear) to go into Iraq, as Iraq at the time was under separate IEEPA sanctions.
As an aside: having spent many hours in discussions and negotiations over the exception in the Kingpin Act for authorized law enforcement and the intelligence community, I can assure the reader that the intent of this provision was not to allow for the transfer of thousands of semi-automatic weapons to cartel members. The intent of this portion of this particular Act is to allow for cash payments by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to confidential informants and intelligence sources within cartels to aid in their dismantlement, and not to facilitate the transfer of weapons used to murder hundreds of innocent civilians in Mexico and a U.S. Federal Border Agent.
As part of Congress’ ongoing investigation, as well as its constitutionally mandated oversight activities, it should be asked of Attorney General Holder if any such specific licenses were requested or granted by the Treasury Department. Additionally, Treasury Secretary Geithner should explain whether his Department has begun an investigation into these apparent violations of IEEPA and the Kingpin Act.
Interestingly, and of serious note — if Secretary Geithner finds that the laws and programs which his Department administers have been violated, Treasury procedures mandate that the matter be referred to Eric Holder’s Justice Department for enforcement!
Perhaps the appointment of a special prosecutor is necessary after all.
Mr. Stinebower is a former Navy Intelligence Officer, Professional Staff Member to the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Naval Attache.http://pjmedia.com/blog/gunwalker-justice-dept-violated-us-laws/?singlepage=true
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Who's Counting Correctly?
on: December 01, 2011, 02:44:06 PM
Which November Jobs Report Estimate Is Wrong?
By Robert HolmesSenior Writer | TheStreet.com – 2 hours 23 minutes ago
BOSTON (TheStreet) -- After the best three-day winning streak for stocks since March 2009, there's a lot riding on Friday's employment report. Unfortunately, investors are faced with two separate estimates that paint two very different pictures about the U.S. labor market.
After yesterday's announcement of coordinated action by central banks around the globe to add liquidity to the banking system, the S&P 500 surged 4.3%, capping a 7.6% gain over three days. Amid the euphoria, investors cheered the ADP Employment Report, which estimated that the private sector added 206,000 jobs in November, double that of previous months. For investors, it was a loud signal to buy stocks.
"November's increase in employment normally would be associated with a decline in the unemployment rate," Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers, said in a statement Wednesday. "An acceleration of employment is consistent with data showing that GDP growth, which slowed sharply around the turn of the year, is gradually recovering."
ADP's estimate compares with economists' consensus of 126,000, according to a survey by Bloomberg. TrimTabs Investment Research is even more cautious. The company said Wednesday that the U.S. economy likely added only 64,000 jobs in November, an estimate that went unnoticed by investors caught up in the exuberance of a nearly 500-point gain on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
"The sharp deceleration in job growth in November has us concerned," says Madeline Schnapp, director of macroeconomic research at TrimTabs. "It appears that hiring managers have rolled up the welcome mat due to the raging debt crisis in Europe."
How could two firms measuring employment come to such disparate figures? The difference between ADP's call of 206,000 and TrimTabs' 64,000 is a staggering 142,000. For some context, the Bureau of Labor statistics said the U.S. economy added only 80,000 jobs in October.
ADP says its estimate for private payrolls growth is derived from actual payroll data. Chances are that your paystub has the ADP logo in the top right corner, which means the firm is measuring jobs in the most direct way it can.
TrimTabs' employment estimates are based on an analysis of daily income-tax deposits to the U.S. Treasury from all salaried U.S. employees. Schnapp says that while the measure isn't perfect, it's a better view than a survey subject to revision.
"Everybody looks to the BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics as the be-all, end-all when those numbers are substantially revised," Schnapp says. "We have no idea what the BLS is going to publish. We just look at how much money is in people's pockets. That's a measure of wages and salaries. Ultimately, that will determine how good the economy is."
TrimTabs says estimates using tax deposits are historically more accurate than initial estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Schnapps says that once the government is through with revisions, TrimTabs' estimates are usually within 10% of the final figure.
So how did Schnapp react when she saw the ADP Employment Report show a substantially greater increase to private payrolls than her firm's estimates?
"It is frustrating because it moves the markets," she says of the ADP report. "One of us is going to be closer to the truth. Everyone looks at how close you are to the BLS. I can only call what the numbers are telling me."
The numbers are telling Schnapp that there was a "pretty substantial decay in November." To explain the difference between her estimate and ADP's, Schnapp says that companies may have postponed their tax deposits until December because of the Thanksgiving holiday, although that should be followed by a bounce in tax-withholding data that we haven't seen yet.
"It could also be that people changed their withholdings, but that doesn't happen until January," she says. "We're all over tax increases, so I doubt that's a factor. So you get back to that the tax withholdings are weaker. Considerably weaker. Unless there's something we don't know could be impacting the data. We'll find out tomorrow."
ADP didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But as the chart below shows, the total employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't always match up perfectly to the private sector employment data ADP collects.
Even though the government's nonfarm payrolls data will be released at 8:30 a.m. New York time Friday, investors may not ultimately find out who was closest until all revisions to the data come in. As we've seen, it took the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than a year to revise employment data for the months during the financial crisis, which isn't a big help to investors.
-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Which-November-Jobs-Report-tsmf-3215130537.html?x=0
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Interview w/ Vernon Smith
on: November 29, 2011, 12:22:34 PM
‘We Don’t Face Any Good Options’
Nobel Prize–winning economist Vernon Smith on the financial crisis, Adam Smith’s underrated insights, and his journey from socialist to libertarian
Nick Gillespie from the December 2011 issue
“I remember the ’30s like it was yesterday,” says economist Vernon Smith. And he’s not kidding. In 1935, when the future Nobel Prize winner was 7 years old, his family decamped to their Kansas farm to wait out the hard times. “On the farms,” Smith explains, “you can eat.” His parents only made it to eighth grade, but “they were people who read,” and they expected their son to go to college. They got their wish—and then some.
Smith’s higher education began with remedial work at a local Quaker college (“I was not a good student in high school,” he says) but eventually took him from a Caltech electrical engineering degree to an economics Ph.D. at Harvard. Beginning at Purdue University, and then at the University of Arizona and George Mason University, Smith founded and developed the pioneering field of experimental economics, which studies actual human behavior—a major breakthrough in a discipline obsessed with abstract models. This work culminated in 2002, when Smith was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences “for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms.”
Over that time span, Smith’s political views evolved in tandem with his economic insights. He left behind the socialism he learned at his mother’s knee for a more libertarian outlook. He says “experimental economics destroyed whatever was left in me of the notion that somehow you could do better than to find institutions that organized this decentralized information and create.” Now continuing his lab work at Chapman University, Smith is riding out the second most serious economic crisis of his 84 years in sunny California.
In July, Smith sat down with reason.tv Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie to discuss his ideological journey, how FDR (and perhaps George W. Bush) saved capitalism, why some of Adam Smith’s most important intellectual contributions are overlooked, and what experimental economics has to say about the collapse of the housing market.
reason: We’re sitting in your office at Chapman University, a beautiful campus in Orange County, California. Tell us about your setup here, what kind of experiments you’re running, and what you’re hoping to find with them.
Vernon Smith: We’re asking some questions that came out of the economic crisis. We started doing asset-trading experiments in the ’80s and discovered bubbles, quite unintentionally.
reason: In your experiments, you were able to create bubbles, or did they just pop up?
Smith: They popped up. We thought we would create bubbles, but we never had to.
reason: How does a bubble take place?
Smith: Right now, we don’t understand why people get caught up in self-reinforcing expectations of rising prices. The first time you’re in this experiment, you may have bought early and you may have sold before the break. Bring those same people back in another two or three days, put them in the same environment, and we get a lower-volume bubble. Typically, it booms earlier and crashes earlier; they are expecting a bubble. Bring them back a third time, and they tend to trade fairly close to fundamental value.
reason: How does this type of experiment map onto, say, the last five years in America?
Smith: If you think about the housing bubble, buyers, sellers, borrowers, lenders, real estate agents, government regulators—everybody believed that prices would rise and continue to rise. And that is the essence of a bubble. Suppose a regulator in 2003 or 2004 said, “Hey, this thing is not sustainable. We’ve got to do something to stop it.” I think he’d have been fired. If the bubble had been stopped in 2003 or 2004, it probably would have been a lot less damaging. But who’s going to know that?
(Interview continues below video.)
reason: Why has it taken so long for economics to become more seriously empirical in its operations? It really seems like it’s taken forever for economists to want to observe actual human beings trading either in an experimental setting or in the real world.
Smith: Economics enjoyed a major breakthrough in the 1870s: the marginal revolution.
reason: Give us the short definition of the marginal revolution.
Smith: If you go back to Adam Smith, he was puzzled as to why diamonds command a higher price than water, whereas water is more useful. The key idea he didn’t have is the notion of marginal utility or marginal value. Unfortunately, I think we lost a lot of the other insights of Adam Smith because we’d solved this intellectual problem of understanding better the determination of prices. Equilibrium economics really [took] the driver’s seat.
reason: Which holds…
Smith: The idea is an economy consists of preferences and technology for producing goods. This gives you a conjunction of supply and demand where demand depends not on the price of this particular good but the price of the alternatives, because the concept of opportunity cost comes in on both the demand side and the supply side. So it’s a complex problem mathematically and intellectually, but this problem got solved and it helped them to understand the operation of a static, equilibrium world.
Of course the great insight of [economist F.A.] Hayek and his criticism of equilibrium theory was that it began with a bunch of givens that are not, in fact, given to any one mind in the economy. The essential thing about a real economy is that all this information is dispersed. So the name of the game is how people discover this equilibrium. And that’s where I think the experimental work has importantly dramatized the essence of Hayek’s critique. Given the institutions of trading, people are very good in the laboratory at finding these equilibria that they don’t have any understanding of—and they get there by repetition.
reason: You say you’re a libertarian with a lot of reservations. The experiments you have run and the research you’ve done over the years really argue that institutions create good and bad behavior.
Smith: As a libertarian, I’d like to emphasize the property rights aspect of it. People say what we need is more regulation. All markets are regulated in terms of property rights, the dos and don’ts. The important thing is that those property rights provide people with the right incentives. What was so devastating in the mortgage market is this separation of mortgage originations from the lender without properly incentivizing the mortgage originator. What’s your incentive to do due diligence if you get your fee up front and then it goes out the back door and down the line?
reason: You say we got away from understanding that everyone needs to have skin in the game. What was driving that loss of knowledge? Was it federal policy? Was it collective amnesia?
Smith: The way I would describe it is: We created new mortgage and financial institutions too fast. No one had an incentive to think it through. Not only were there bad incentives up front with mortgage origination, but those mortgages then would be packaged, mortgage-backed securities issued, and then they were rated and “insured.” But they weren’t collateralized. They were exempt, you see. And exempt meant that they were exempt from the property rights rules that would have applied if derivatives had been classified as securities.
reason: This has been a very long recession, and whether it has ended or not, we’re facing slow economic growth and high unemployment. What are the forces extending this crisis?
Smith: The main thing is the negative equity problem in households. Or near negative equity. You have something like 22 percent of homeowners now who owe more on their house than the current market value. You don’t feel like spending money; you’re paying down debt.
reason: What do you do? Do you just sit it out until enough of the debt is paid down?
Smith: That’s probably the way we’re going to do it. It was a mistake to subsidize new home buyers. Existing homeowners—many of them have been given a break in their payments, but they’ve done it by giving them a lower interest rate and stretching the loans. They haven’t even changed the principal.
reason: But that’s a disturbing intervention, isn’t it?
Smith: Of course it’s disturbing! Forgiving debt is not a good idea. But you have to realize we don’t face any good options. If it hadn’t been done, the banking system likely would have collapsed. We’d have the same problem we had in the ’30s.
reason: If this is the second worst economic crisis—except for the Great Depression—how does it stack up?
Smith: I remember the ’30s like it was yesterday. See in 1932, I was 5 years old. My father worked for the Bridgeport Machine Company in Wichita, Kansas. He was a machinist. We had a farm. So in 1935 we moved to that farm. In times of stress there often is this reverse migration from cities to farms, because on the farms you can eat. We grew our own vegetables, chickens, hogs, all of that. They were very, very difficult years in terms of wheat harvests and that sort of thing.
reason: You grew up in Kansas in the ’30s and then, in terms of high school—
Smith: I finished high school in January 1944. I was working at Boeing at the time and continued until the following August, and then I went to Friends University, a Quaker college not many blocks from where I lived. And the reason that I went there was to make up for my high school education. I was not a good student in high school, and I did not have the math, physics, chemistry that I needed if I was going to go into science. I made up for all of that at Friends University.
reason: Did either of your parents go to college?
reason: So how did you gravitate to even thinking of that as a possibility?
Smith: My parents always expected it of me, even though they only had an eighth-grade education. They were people who read. My mother was a socialist and was a political activist.
reason: When you say socialist—she believed that the means of production should be collectively owned by the state, etc.?
Smith: Oh, yes! But that was really common of people in the 1930s.
reason: Especially in that part of the country.
Smith: Oh, yes.
reason: You got a master’s in economics from Kansas, and then you went to Harvard for your Ph.D. What were they teaching in economics classes?
Smith: General equilibrium theory. The course I took from Wassily Leontief, which was the first-year theory class at Harvard, was a very good one. We read Irving Fisher. I’m still a great admirer.
reason: What do you like about him?
Smith: Fisher was a very clear writer. I remember a student once asked Leontief in class why there was no school of economics built around Fisher. And Leontief said: Well, it’s because he wrote so clearly—everyone could understand what he was saying.
reason: Were people free market enthusiasts at that point? Or were they all talking about a command economy?
Smith: I think the only clear-cut free market enthusiast at Harvard would have been Gottfried Haberler. He’d come out of the Austrian school. There was a tremendous exodus, of course, out of Germany and Austria of not only physicists but economists—Fritz Machlup, Jacob Marschak, [Joseph] Schumpeter, of course. And when I got to Harvard, Schumpeter had died only two years earlier and his legacy was very strong.
reason: Was there a sense that FDR’s economic policies had succeeded and that economists could just sort of follow through on that project?
Smith: Yes. Roosevelt, in a way, kind of saved capitalism.
reason: Just like George Bush did more recently.
Smith: Yeah. He kind of saved it. In fact, my grandfather, my mother’s father, who had been a supporter of Eugene Victor Debs in 1932, became a Roosevelt fan, and I think that tells you a lot about what happened in the ’30s.
reason: Let’s talk about that then. It’s also a personal journey for you. And I know you said your first presidential vote went to Norman Thomas, the Socialist in 1948. And then the other presidential vote that was easy for you to make was Ed Clark in 1980, the Libertarian candidate. In a way, your journey—as demarcated by those votes—is part of a larger American story of leaving behind a kind of rule by elites, or control by elites, where “we’ll take care of everything,” to a much more individualistic understanding that it’s a libertarian country.
Smith: Experimental economics destroyed whatever was left in me of the notion that somehow you could do better than to find institutions that organized this decentralized information and create. That’s the engine of wealth creation.
reason: In America since 1950, there’s been a vast increase in the appreciation of and understanding of economics. Will we be better at not being stupid about how we’re acting if we know more about economics?
Smith: The work that has to be done to keep us from getting off track has to be expressed in terms of institutional constraints, when what we do has serious implications for innocent other parties. Margin rules in the stock market confine the damage for the people who are doing it. There’s no external blindsiding of all kinds of people that are innocent. I see it as a property rights problem. And you know what? We got it right in most markets. The vast majority of markets work fine. And the reason why they work is that you can’t steal; you have to trade. Essentially, what we’re doing is asking whether there was a type of theft going on that was not being controlled by the right property rights regime.
reason: Federal spending is currently 25 percent of the economy, a figure that hasn’t been seen since World War II. Deficits loom large in absolute numbers as well as a percentage of the economy. Is that a form of theft as well? Is that something that concerns you and needs to be reined in?
Smith: We’re primarily going to solve that problem by inflating out of it.
reason: I’m very sorry to hear that.
Smith: I’m sorry to say it! But I think that will be the way we reduce the burden of the debt. It won’t be intended. [Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke talks about the tools he has. One of the tools he has is to raise the interest rate he pays on excess reserves—in other words, pay them to not expand loans rapidly. But right now he’s got the other problem.
reason: But is this also the delusion of the economic planner, that once things start happening—he’s very smart, he’s going to be able to control this? We’ve seen this before, where inflation isn’t a problem until it’s beyond control.
Smith: It’s really interesting to look at the Federal Open Market Committee press releases in 2007. On August 7, 2007, the press release said the housing market is going through an adjustment; we’re still concerned about inflation. Three days later, because of the collapse in the credit default market, that completely changed. The Federal Reserve, Bernanke realized they had a financial crisis on their hands. That’s how quickly it happened, and the signal came from a market. It did not come from the econometric models. I think to Bernanke’s credit that he changed. He turned on a dime. How many times had he said it was not the business of the Federal Reserve to rescue investors from the consequences of their own decisions? That’s exactly what he ended up doing. I don’t believe he wanted to do it. I think he meant the earlier statements, but he had no choice.
reason: If we hadn’t bailed out the banks, if we hadn’t passed TARP, the economy would have ceased to exist?
Smith: I think the more important thing is what the Federal Reserve did, not the Treasury program. You can always go back and say, well things should have been done earlier to prevent that from happening. Yes, yes, I agree. But the point is, what do you do in that case? Here it is, in spite of whatever mistakes had been made before. And Bernanke is testing the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis right now—that if the Fed had acted and flooded the system with liquidity in the early ’30s, that we’d have prevented the Great Depression.
reason: Economists enjoy a possibly unprecedented kind of cultural power now. They can write best-selling books. They can run the world economy. Where does economics as a serious discipline need to be moving next?
Smith: To me, the major problem in economic theory is the preoccupation with modeling for its own sake and not asking the fundamental questions. These fundamental questions have to do with dynamics; they have to do with property rights. Basic questions like: “How can it be that specialization, exchange, and property rights came about?” You can’t have one without the other. We think today of property rights as something that comes from the state. That couldn’t possibly be how they originated. Our small-group experiments are trust games. Imagine a trust game in which I’m a first mover and you’re the second mover. I move first. I can choose $10 for each of us, or I can pass to you. If I pass to you, the $20 becomes $40. You can give me 15 and keep 25, or you can give me nothing and get the whole 40. Game theory says I should never pass to you, because if you’re self-interested, you’ll take the 40. But what’s remarkable is half the people we recruit in the undergraduate lab—half of the first movers [pass] to the second. And two-thirds to three-quarters reciprocate with 15/25—they don’t take the total. You can’t understand that with game theory. You can understand it by reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
reason: Is that a learned behavior, or is that an innate behavior? Or is that dichotomy not really relevant?
Smith: It’s Adam Smith! He says imagine a human being is brought up in complete isolation from any member of the species. That person can’t have an idea of what it means for his mind to be deformed any more than he has an idea for what it means for his face to be deformed. Bring him into society, and you give him the mirror he needs. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith is saying munificence is the only thing that requires reward. You don’t reward justice; what you do is punish injustice. Justice is what’s left over after you prevent injustice. Property rights come out of human sociality and then eventually get into civil government. But they arise originally in small groups.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Pathological Science
on: November 28, 2011, 01:31:17 AM
Uhm, JDN you cite a site set up to debunk Watt's Up With That, and then attribute the link to me. On the real Watts site I can't find criticism of Goddard, rather they cite other posts that cite his work, though I only clicked on the first half dozen links or so.
Not sure how one flubs a link so badly that it's conflated with its antithesis; either you are very sloppy or truly trolling.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sorta Like Recycling
on: November 27, 2011, 04:59:16 PM
There's been an 800 pound gorilla lurking just out of range or most Gunwalking reporting: how many of the firearms being used criminally in Mexico were first sold by the State Department to the Mexican government? This piece outlines the broad parameters:
U. S. Government May Be Primary Suppliers of Mexican Drug Cartel Guns
by Tom Stilson
With Operation Fast and Furious headlining the news, there is no doubt civilian arms have been trafficked into Mexico. However, many of the arms used by Mexican cartels are NOT supplied by civilian gun outlets in the United States. Based upon the statistics I have compiled, our State and Defense Departments may be the premier suppliers of weaponry to Mexican drug cartels — not the US civilian.
From 2003-2009, over 150,000 Mexican soldiers deserted from their ranks. Drug cartels became so confident in their recruitment of military personnel that they posted help wanted ads for hit men, traffickers, and guards. When these soldiers desert, their US-supplied weapons (grenades, sniper rifles, assault weapons, etc.) often accompany them over to the cartels. In 2008 and 2009, 13,792 and 20,530 small arms were exported to Mexico from the US. Over 92% of these arms were civilian legal semi-automatic or non-automatic firearms, a number eerily similar to the debunked 90% number echoed by the ATF. A 2008 State Department memo to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi shows a $1,000,000 shipment of select fire M4A2 assault rifles to the Mexican Federal Police Force, (AKA Federales) one of the most corrupt Mexican government agencies.
The most recent numbers from 2010 show the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) — the State Department agency responsible for overseeing the exportation of military goods — authorized the transfer of 2.5 million units of small arms, weapon optics, silencers, and related components. In that same year, over 11 million units of ammunition and 127,000 units of explosive ordnance were cleared for exportation to Mexico. This amounted to $25 million worth of small arms, ammunition, and explosives shipped to Mexico authorized by our State Department.
In recent months, allegations have surfaced that the State Department’s US Direct Commercial Sales Program and DDTC may have directly shipped arms to the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel’s hit squad. The Zetas were at one time trained and supplied with American weaponry by our own 7th Special Forces Group in the early 1990s. These claims against the State Department arose even after the DDTC recognized the Americas Region in 2009 as having the highest rate of unfavorable traces for their Blue Lantern Program. The Blue Lantern Program involves traces performed by the DDTC to ensure exported military weaponry does not end up with an unauthorized nation or organization. For the Americas, 80% of traces where unauthorized end users were identified involved small arms. Data specifically for Mexico was unavailable from the State Department.
From 2008 to 2009, when President Obama entered office, Defense Department expenditures to Mexico have increased from $12 million to $34,000,000 and State Department expenditures increased from $7.2 million to $356 million. While 2010 data is currently unavailable, it appears our foreign aid to Mexico has continued to increase for 2011. These statistics imply the State and Defense Departments may very well be the top suppliers of small arms to Mexico’s drug cartels and not civilians. Only the information obtained from ATF Firearms Traces will tell. However, those records are not public. After the DOJ and the White House knowingly pursued attemphttp://biggovernment.com/tstilson/2011/11/21/u-s-government-may-be-primary-suppliers-of-mexican-drug-cartel-guns/ts
at new gun control legislation, we are left to ask the question; is this just another case of government stupidity or is this something more premeditated?
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Climategate 2.0
on: November 27, 2011, 04:24:59 PM
I've been off in the boonies supporting cave science and so missed when this came out earlier in the week. It is, however, a treasure trove, and goes a long way towards demonstrating many on the looming climate apocalypse side of the argument have fewer scruples then the theoretical high school students JDN cites above:http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/22/climategate-2-0/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Hobbesian Hipsters
on: November 09, 2011, 05:22:07 PM
Post reporter spends an in‘tents’ night amid anarchy in Zuccotti Park
By CANDICE M. GIOVE
Last Updated: 12:02 PM, November 6, 2011
Posted: 1:46 AM, November 6, 2011
The cheap walkie-talkie crackles inside a crowded downtown McDonald’s, stopping the gathered mass mid-sip from their Kombucha bottles and cups of corporate coffee.
“There’s a situation,” a vagabond gumshoe dubbed “Conscience” tells me after the static-filled communique arrives over the air at around 3 a.m.
Cornered on the other side of the fast-food joint is Fisika Bezabeh, 27, a Zuccotti squatter who inexplicably returned to the eatery after allegedly clobbering a manager with a credit-card reader earlier in the night.
“We can’t take him in by ourselves,” yells another OWS security-force member.
The Zuccotti “cops” had just spent an hour and a half tracking Bezabeh through goat paths in the park armed with a description from the manager.
“We cannot take him in by ourselves, the cops have to come!” reiterates the OWS security force member.
They call the NYPD -- and it becomes abundantly clear that the cops down there are sick of the antics.
“Every single night it’s the same thing. I mean, some guy was a victim of rape!” an officer snarls. “There comes a time when it’s over. This is a disaster. It’s all we’re doing, every two seconds, is locking somebody up every time. It’s done.
“It’s done,” he repeats. “Occupy Wall Street is no longer a protest.”
Scenes like this -- and far worse -- have been playing out since the Zuccotti Park “occupation” began on Sept. 17.
The parcel is now a sliver of madness, rife with sex attacks, robberies and vigilante justice.
It’s a leaderless bazaar that’s been divided into state-like camps -- with tents packed together so densely that the only way to add more would be to stack them.
And despite an NYPD watchtower overhead and the entire north side of Zuccotti lined with police vehicles, it is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous places in New York City.
I arrive in the Financial District after dark on Thursday lugging a backpack, a sleeping bag and layers upon layers of clothes.
It’s 8 p.m., and the suits and ties fill the bars. They glare at my overstuffed bag as I walk from the E train to a 7-Eleven for a few last-minute items for my night in Zuccotti Park.
The anti-bacterial soap and powder are nearly out. Naturally, the condoms are fully stocked.
Outside, an old-man Occupier in a plaid earflap hat is screaming at people in the crosswalk at Church and Barclay.
“Why are you afraid of bunny rabbits? Whyyyyy?”
As I cautiously walk the Zuccotti perimeter, picking up photocopied literature on anarchy, there is a poster on a tent bearing a set of park rules that includes: “If you want to hook up, go to a singles bar.”
There is literally no space to unfold my sleeping bag. I ask around for help.
Out of nowhere, a man pushing a shopping cart with his friend inside rammed the thing “Jackass”-style into a police barrier and walked off laughing like a hyena.
A woman emerges from a makeshift tent that looks more like a layer cake -- a clear tarp draped over a sleeping bag that is on top of a filthy mattress. It even has a welcome mat missing the “m” and the stench of a vagrant.
“There’s not much space left,” she said and walked off into the darkness.
Every camp tent is like its own state. There is “Camp Anonymous,” the group best known for anti-Scientology protests.
It’s neighbored by a tent full of vampires, the “Class War” tent and the “Occupy Paw Street” tent, whose residents hand out treats to occupying pets.
There’s also “Camp France” and the “Nic at Night” tent, which supplies the protest with smokes.
I settle on a sliver near Broadway by an OWS library -- which frighteningly has a children’s section. On a bulletin board, there are personal messages like, “Call your sister!”
I’m wedged between a newbie from Brooklyn and some guy from Toronto, who preferred the experience of urban camping to his buddy’s couch or a hotel.
“My knees will crush you,” a hulking squatter shouts. “I don’t want to hurt you.
“You’re in my doorway. I’m going to crush you.”
Someone takes offense and yells, “Manners!”
He’s much kinder when he emerges later from his green tent and hands me a shiny Mylar blanket for extra warmth. “It’s going to get cold,” he said.
This spirit of generosity and the naivete of the original OWS protesters is devolving into a state of distrust and paranoia, however.
They speak of theft, about government infiltrators and tales of Rikers Island castoffs being dropped off to roam and ravage the site.
From underneath my blanket, I hear allegations of financial corruption and intimidation over sexual orientation.
“I’m in a tent that keeps getting flooded, ransacked and robbed,” fumes a transgender group leader -- a female who identifies as a male.
He said that the transgender group would create its own police force for transgender protesters and females, since an immense distrust loomed over the OWS-created authority.
That group is also demanding financial transparency amid growing concern over the use of the $750,000 war chest.
They have a point. I notice supply-station cupboards are dangerously lacking any blankets, tents, tarps or Mylar.
“Someone forgot to get that stuff out of storage,” an attendant claimed.
“We have three-quarters of a million dollars in the bank and all these f--king people are not doing financial accounting while we’re calling for it from the larger corporations,” says the transgender leader. “A lot of good people are quitting.”
A day later, a female-only “safety tent” would be erected to shield women from predators.
Organizers plan to add a medical tent, as well as others designed to provide safe sleeping for gay, transgender and co-ed groups.
The threat of rape is very real here -- for women and men.
Sitting in the McDonald’s just moments after Bezabeh was hauled off in cuffs, Lauren DiGioia, 26, tells me about how she became one of the growing number of victims on her very first night in the park.
“I was forced into a very tight space,” she says. “He kind of moved up against me.
“ ‘Oh, let me warm you up. It’s cold out here,’ ” the creep told her, she said. “He kept pursuing me, and he started becoming aroused, and I could tell that he was becoming aroused,” she said. “I just tried to shield myself.”
He allegedly groped her, pulled her and tried to get on top of her.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘In the morning, I am going to get this guy arrested,’ but in the morning, he was gone,” she said.
DiGioia, who is from Clifton, NJ, was shocked to see her alleged attacker’s image in The Post about a week later -- and she identified him to the police.
She is now offering counsel to other victims, as new ones crop up every day.
“I just talked to two gentlemen who were raped last night, and they don’t want to press charges because [authorities] wanted to take them in an ambulance and . . . do a rape kit,” she said.
She passed on their account to the security force, while encouraging them to press charges.
“There was another girl raped by the same man,” she said from a table in the McDonald’s, which has become the headquarters of the revolution.
It’s a place to meet, to get warm, to scarf down dollar-menu grub and to use the bathroom that becomes increasingly vile as the night goes on.
I’m ultimately invited to spend the night in a Camp Anonymous tent instead of solo in a sleeping bag.
I spend the rest of the night awake against the wall of a tent built for four -- but packed with six.
My bunkmates include an anarchist, a sexual-assault victim, two security-force members, a girl dressed like the devil and her kitten -- the “Anarkitty.”
“We are a microcosm of all of society’s defects and the failing economy,” DiGioia said. “Just because we’re here under a microscope, everybody’s going to come and throw up their arms and say we have to shut this place down.”http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/my_in_tents_night_amid_anarchy_of_ush5s5NscUZincUN0tF0yO#ixzz1d8ggpmqc
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / US v. Jones Musings
on: November 09, 2011, 05:02:08 PM
Reflections on the Oral Argument in United States v. Jones, the GPS Fourth Amendment Case
from The Volokh Conspiracy by Orin Kerr
I was at the Supreme Court this morning for the oral argument in United States v. Jones, the GPS case. In this post, I want to blog my reactions to the argument: I’m going to update the post as I go, so general readers can get the important stuff first at the top and then general readers can get the rest down the page.
1) My basic reaction was that the outcome was too close to call. The Justices gave both sides a very hard time, and few Justices tipped their hand. The Justices pushed Michael Dreeben (arguing for the United States) on the consequences of his argument: If the Government was right, they noted, then the government can install a GPS device on all the Justices’ cars and watch them, too, along with everybody else. They pushed Steve Leckar (arguing for Jones) on the difficulty of identifing a clear Fourth Amendment principle to distinguish visual surveillance from GPS surveillance. The votes were hard to count, but if you had to summarize a reaction of the Court as a whole, I would say that the Justices were looking to find a principle to regulate GPS surveillance but unconvinced (at least as of the argument) that there was a legal way to get there without opening up a Pandora’s Box of unsettling lots of long settled practices.
2) The Justice who most clearly showed his cards was Justice Scalia. Justice Scalia made clear that he would overrule Katz v. United States; make common law of trespass the test for what is a search; and say that the installation of the device was a search because it was a technical trespass. Even if Katz can’t be overturned, Scalia indicated, at the very least the common law of trespass should be a floor of Fourth Amendment protection: Katz should be allowed to go beyond the original Fourth Amendment but not erode it. Cf. Kyllo v. United States. At the same time, Justice Scalia made equally clear that he thought the use of the device after installation was not a Fourth Amendment problem. What is invasive and scary isn’t a search, Scalia emphasized, and the kind of line-drawing as to when use of a GPS device should be allowed is quintessentially a legislative question. So Scalia is on board for saying that installation of the device is a search, but no more. (As an aside, it’s not at all clear that the original public meaning of the Fourth Amendment operated on a common law of trespass principle. Warren Court opinions liked to describe pre-Warren Court decisions as adopting such a principle, and that has led many to believe that the Fourth Amendment underwent a transition in the 1960s from protecting property to protecting privacy. But if you go back and read the cases, that narrative — pushed most strongly by justice Brennan in Warden v. Hayden — is plainly inaccurate. The early cases usually rejected common law trespass as a principle, much as post–Katz cases do. More on that in a future post.)
3) Other justices gave a more mixed reaction to Justice Scalia’s idea of regulating the installation of the device as a search under the technical trespass doctrine. Justices Alito and Kagan seemed particularly skeptical. Both pointed out that this solution wouldn’t necessarily work in the long run: If technology advanced and the government created a new surveillance tool that could obtain the same information without a technical trespass, then the government would have the same power as before. Alito and Kagan also both pressed Leckar on whether it would be a search or seizure to attach an inert device to a suspect’s car (that is, a device with no monitoring system). Leckar conceded that this would be a different case, which drew a comment from Justice Kagan that Leckar was really focused on the use of the GPS device, not the installation.
4) Justice Breyer’s reaction was about as far from Scalia’s as you could get. Justice Breyer didn’t buy the technical trespass doctrine, and he wanted to bypass the question of what is a “search” or “seizure” and just ask what is “reasonable.” Breyer seemed to think that the earlier decisions like Karo and Knotts had been about that, as well, which was mistaken: Those cases were primarily about what is a “search,” not when a search is reasonable. (It’s true that the test for what is a search is whether the government conduct violated a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” but that’s a term of art used interchangeably with the phrase “legitimate expectation of privacy” — the word “reasonable” in that term of art is very different from the general balancing test of reasonableness that applies once a search or seizure has been identified.) Anyway, Breyer was therefore looking for some sort of way to say when GPS monitoring was reasonable and desirable, rather than what was a constitutional search or seizure. I don’t think he really found an answer that satisfied him on either side.
5) Justice Sotomayor and Ginsburg were both very worried about the Big Brother implication of using GPS devices: I counted 5 or so references to Orwell’s 1984. At the same time, both were struggling to identify exactly what the constitutional rule was that would regulate GPS monitoring. Merely watching a suspect in a city street was obviously not a search or seizure. Does that change if you switch to video cameras? Lots of cameras? Beepers? GPS devices? Where do you draw the line? Counsel for Jones suggested that the Court could say that this case was a search or seizure but leave open the other cases, but the Justices wanted clearer answers than that. And there was some frustration at the inability to draw constitutional lines from the defendant’s side: At one point Justice Sotomayor responded to one of the defense’s proposed lines by proclaiming, “What an unworkable rule tethered to no principle!”
6) The “mosaic theory” adopted by the D.C. Circuit didn’t seem to go anywhere with the Justices. I think the only Justice who mentioned it during Dreeben’s argument was Chief Justice Roberts. Roberts’ question was straight out of the defense-side briefs, arguing that GPS surveillance over a long period allowed the government to assemble a mosaic, and was much cheaper and easier for the government than the beeper surveillance in Knotts. At the same time, I couldn’t tell if Roberts was asking those questions just to see Dreeben’s response or because he genuinely was sympathetic to the defense side. The mosaic theory came up a bit during Leckar’s argument, but the Justices were mostly very skeptical: As Justice Scalia proclaimed, echoing Judge Sentelle below in his dissent from denial of rehearing en banc, “100 times zero is still zero.” Leckar took the hint and didn’t press the mosaic theory much during his argument.
7) One of the major questionsin the case is how the Justices view the prospect of future statutory regulation. It was clear that a lot of the Justices were deeply worried about the 1984 scenario, and were looking to find a sensible way to regulate GPS surveillance with a constitutional rule if it’s necessary to avoid 1984. Arguing for the government, one of Dreeben’s responses was that these were just the kind of problems that Congress could deal with: If everyone is spooked by the possibility of GPS surveillance, then that is all the more reason for the elected branches to act. It was hard to know exactly what the Justices thought of this: They know they can’t control if Congress acts. If they decide that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply because they expect statutory regulation to deal with this, what happens if they are wrong? I tend to think that it’s very likely that Congress would act pretty swiftly to regulate GPS surveillance for the reasons explained in this article, but it’s an question of guessing what the future might look like and I suspect different Justices will look at it differently.http://volokh.com/2011/11/08/reflections-on-the-oral-argument-in-united-states-v-jones-the-gps-fourth-amendment-case/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Only in California
on: November 09, 2011, 04:56:26 PM
Police weapon exemptions in spotlight
Officers can buy guns usually not available to public
By DON THOMPSON
Posted: 11/09/2011 01:50:18 AM PST
Updated: 11/09/2011 01:50:19 AM PST
SACRAMENTO — A federal investigation into weapons dealing by officers in three Sacramento-area law enforcement agencies has shined a light on provisions in California law that allow peace officers to buy guns, high-capacity magazines and assault weapons that are illegal for the public.
Officers only need show their law enforcement credentials to buy ammunition clips that exceed the 10-round limit and buy guns not available to others. Their police chief or sheriff can give them permission to buy an assault weapon or avoid the 10-day waiting period for buying a gun and undergoing a background check.
There is no statewide data available to show the extent of the practice, what weapons officers are buying or why they need them. Policies on applying the law vary among law enforcement agencies.
Exemptions in state law drew attention last week with the disclosure that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating deputies in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and officers in the Roseville and Sacramento police departments for selling weapons most civilians can't legally buy and sell.
Federal agents served search warrants, but no one has been arrested or charged. Authorities haven't disclosed what weapons were being sold or to whom, but officers and deputies have access to weapons prohibited to others.
"Under the law, all they have to do is show their law enforcement credential to a dealer. That's enough to purchase an off-list handgun or high-capacity magazine," said Steve Lindley, chief of the state Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms.
There are more restrictions on assault rifles, which must be registered with the state and sold or returned to the local law enforcement agency when the officer or deputy retires or leaves law enforcement. The assault rifle is supposed to be "deregistered" with the state, although in practice authorities say it can easily be converted so it no longer meets the legal definition of an assault rifle.
Weapons permitted under the law are semiautomatics, meaning they fire one bullet with each pull of the trigger. Fully automatic weapons that fire continuously are not permitted without meeting much stricter federal regulations.
Officers or deputies must get permission from their chief or sheriff to buy assault weapons, but in many cases there are few checks or policies that limit officers' purchase of the weapons.
Sacramento sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos said his department has an informal practice of letting deputies buy one assault rifle during their career, with the approval of the sheriff and the captain in charge of weapons and training.
"A guy can't be in the habit of every year or two buying another one," Ramos said. "You can't just be out buying these cool weapons."
On the other hand, the department provides its own assault weapons for qualified deputies, so Ramos said the department's 1,245 deputies have no need to buy the guns for official reasons.
"It's more really for personal interest," Ramos said.
The department permits 25 to 30 assault weapon purchases this year.http://www.montereyherald.com/state/ci_19296231
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kulaks Don't Need No Stinking 4th Amendment
on: November 08, 2011, 09:20:52 AM
Farm-to-Fork Dinner Fiasco
By Laura Bledsoe | October 24, 2011
When an over-zealous regulator shows up at a farm dinner demanding that food be destroyed as hungry guests await, who do you call? Here's Laura's account written as a letter to her guests who had come to Quail Hollow Farm expecting a meal of foods harvested from local small family farms.
This incident shows the value of the 24/7 legal hotline for farmers like Laura who need help...even on a Friday night! A member benefit like the hotline is available thanks to the financial support of the many FTCLDF members and donors.
Dearest Guests, (You have all become dear to us!)
What an evening we had this last Friday night! It had all the makings of a really great novel: drama, suspense, anticipation, crisis, heroic efforts, villains and victors, resolution and a happy ending.
The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our young interns were teaching and sharing their passion for farming and their role in it. (A high hope for our future!) The pig didn’t get loose.
Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely. The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good.
And then, …
for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down. As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.
Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved. I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit”.
If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine.
Stunned, we immediately complied.
We were in the middle of our harvest day for our CSA shares, a very busy time for us, but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee. (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?) Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out.
She came literally while our guests were arriving!
In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals. The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.
Susan deemed our food unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because:
1. Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them. (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.)
2. Some of the meat was not USDA certified. (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)
3. Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)
4. Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.
5. We did not have receipts for our food. (Reminder! This food came from farms not from the supermarket! I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)
At this time Monte, trying to reason with Susan to find a possible solution for the problem, suggested turning this event from a “public” event to a “private” event by allowing the guests to become part of our farm club, thus eliminating any jurisdiction or responsibility on their part. This idea infuriated Susan and threatened that if we did not comply the police would be called and personally escort our guests off the property. This is not the vision of the evening we had in mind! So regretfully, again we complied.
The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the food.
I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can.
Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away! I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food.
We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day. (A personal family choice to use our own food.) We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health. I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).
I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs. (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food. We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.)
Again, a call to Susan and another negative response.
Okay, so let me get this right.
So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?!
Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?
Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.
Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death. Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill!
At some point in all of this turmoil Monte reminded me that I had the emergency phone number for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on our refrigerator. I put it there never really believing that I would ever have to use it. We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion.
The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America! May I mention that not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms! The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment! Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown! I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates.
Well, I made the call, told my story and within a short period of time received a phone call back from the FTCLDF’s General Counsel, Gary Cox. When told the story, he simply suggested that we apply our fundamental constitutional right to be protected against “unlawful search and seizure.” I simply had to ask Mary two questions. “Do you have a search warrant?” “Do you have an arrest warrant?”
With the answers being “No”, I politely and very simply asked her to leave our property. As simple as that! She had no alternative, no higher power, no choice whatsoever but to now comply with my desire. She left in a huff making a scene shouting that she was calling the police. She left no paperwork, no Cease and Desist order, no record of any kind that implicated us for one thing, (we had complied to all their orders) only empty threats and a couple of trash cans full of defiled food. I will get back to “the inspector” and her threats shortly. Let’s get to where it really gets good.
While I am on the verge of a literal breakdown, Monte and Gio get creative. All right, we have just thrown all of this food away, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, what CAN we do? Well, we have a vegetable farm and we do have fresh vegetables. (By the way, we were denied even using our fresh vegetables until I informed our inspector that I do have a Producers Certificate from the Nevada Department of Agriculture allowing us to sell our vegetables and other farm products at the Farmers Market. Much of our produce has gone to some of the very finest restaurants in Las Vegas and St. George.)
The wind taken out of the inspector's sails, Gio and his crew got cookin’. It just so happened that we had a cooled trailer full of vegetables ready to be taken to market the following day. Monte hooked on to the trailer and backed it up right next to the kitchen. Our interns who were there to greet and serve now got to work with lamp oil and began harvesting anew. Knives were chopping, pots of pasta and rice from our food storage were steaming, our bonfire was now turned into a grill and literal miracles were happening before our eyes!
In the meantime, Monte and I had to break the news to our guests. Rather than go into the details here, you can see the video footage on Mark Bowers and Kiki Kalor’s (our friends and guests) website at: http://www.reallyvegasphoto.com/Events/CSA-Farm-Government-Inspection/19707296_v2zFML#1546717636_dJJDZjw
We explained the situation, offered anyone interested a full refund, and told them that if they chose to stay their dinner was now literally being prepared fresh, as just now being harvested. The reaction of our guests was the most sobering and inspirational experience of the evening.
In an instant we were bonded together.
They were, of course, out-raged at the lack of choice they were given in their meal.
Out-raged at the arrogance of coming to a farm dinner and being required to use only USDA (government inspected) meats.
Outraged at the heavy handedness of the Health Department into their lives.
Then there was the most tremendous outpouring of love and support.
One of our guests, Marty Keach, informed us that he was an attorney and as appalled as everyone else offered his support and counsel if need be, even if it be to the Supreme Court. He was a great comfort in a tense time.
With their approval, Giovanni and crew got cooking and the evening then truly began. The atmosphere turned from tense and angry to loving and supportive. As soon as I heard my brother Steve sit down and begin strumming his guitar, I knew something special was happening. Paid guests volunteered their services. Chef Shawn Wallace, a guest, joined Gio and his team his knife flying through the eggplant and squash. Wendy and Thierry Pressyler and so many that I am not even aware of, were helping to grill and transport dishes. Jason and Chrissy Doolen offered to run quick errands. Jeanne Frost, a server for the Wynn hotel, didn’t take a seat and began serving her fellow guests.
Before long we were seated at the beautiful table and the most incredible dishes began coming forth. It was literally “loaves and fishes” appearing before our very eyes! We broke bread together, we laughed, we talked, we shared stories, we came together in the most marvelous way.
Now this is what I had dreamed, only more marvelous than I could have ever imagined! The sky being bright with glittering stars, we had the telescopes out and invited any guests who desired to look into our starry heaven. While we were looking into the heavens, heaven was looking down upon us! I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the hand of providence helping us in the work of this farm.
As hard and demanding as this work is, I KNOW that this is what we are meant to do.
I KNOW that it is imperative that we stand up for our food choices.
I KNOW that local, organic, sustainable food produced by ourselves or by small family, local farms is indispensible to the health and well-being of our families and our communities now and in the future! If this work were not so vitally important, the “evil forces” would not be working so hard to pull it down.
We were victorious, we will be victorious, we must be! Our grandchildren’s future is at stake!
Back to the inspector. She did call the police. You must remember that we live in a small town. We know these officers. They responded to the call dutifully but were desperately trying to figure out why they had been called. Never in all of their experience had they ever received a call like this.
Mary, the inspector, demanded that they give us a citation. The officer in charge said that she was to give us the citation, she responded that no, they were to give us the citation, which they then asked her for what violation. Even with the help of her superior on the phone she could not give them a reason. They asked her to leave which she did. The police were very kind and apologetic for the intrusion. All of this was done without fanfare and out of sight of our guests. The police officers are commended for their professionalism!
Now that we have come to the last chapter of our novel, I realize that it ends with a cliff-hanger. As happy as the ending was, it isn’t “happily ever after” yet. This will remain to be seen in the ensuing days, weeks and even years ahead.
Tom Collins, our County Commissioner, furious by the events that took place, having formerly been a board member for the Southern Nevada Health District is putting together a meeting with himself, the current board members and ourselves to make sense of all this mess.
As so many of you have related verbally and through emails your desire to help and be involved, we will keep you informed as events take place. I feel that we have been compelled to truly become active participants in the ongoing battle over our food choices. This is just one small incident that brings to our awareness how fragile our freedoms are. We are now ready to join the fight!
We would encourage all of you who can to contribute and to become a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. They are not only fighting for the farmers, they are fighting for the consumers to have the right to choose. You can find them at farmtoconsumer.org
As I close, I am reminded of the passage written so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
The same battle continues. I pray the result of the battle will be the same, that we have been “endowed by our Creator with … life and liberty”.
We love you all, and thank you with all our souls for your continued love and support! We will stay in touch.
With warmest wishes for you and your families,
Monte and Laura Bledsoe
Written from Quail Hollow Farm
October 24, 2011
Email Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org://farmtoconsumer.org/quail-hollow-farm-dinner.htm
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Settled Science
on: November 08, 2011, 09:16:09 AM
Global Warming: The View from China
Volume 14, Number 45: 9 November 2011
"Global climate change," in the words of Fang et al. (2011), "is one of the biggest challenges to human society in the 21st century." And noting that "carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and land use change are considered the main factors causing global warming," plus the fact that "carbon emissions affect social and economic development," they correctly state that "climate change has been shifted from an academic topic to an international political, economic, and diplomatic issue."
The five Chinese researchers - all of whom are associated with the Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education at Peking University in Beijing, and two of whom are also associated with the Climate Change Research Center of the Academic Divisions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences - introduce their review of the climate change issue by noting that the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been the primary voice of those who support the thesis that rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been responsible for a worrisome increase in global temperature that is claimed to produce "a series of negative effects on natural systems, including snow and ice melt, sea-level rising, and disturbances in the hydrological cycle," as well as "the acidification of sea water," all of which phenomena are claimed by the IPCC to directly or indirectly threaten terrestrial and marine ecosystems and social systems.
More recently, however, Fang et al. state that the claims of the last IPCC report "have been largely questioned," noting that "the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), established in 2007, has introduced a number of controversial and divisive debates," citing Singer et al. (2008) and Idso et al. (2009). They also write that "the 'Climate-gate' and 'Glacier-gate' scandals have especially questioned the public credibility of the report," citing Hefferman (2009) and Schiemeier (2010). And as a result, they state that "the IPCC report is no longer the most authoritative document on climate changes, as it is restricted by its political tendencies and some errors and flaws."
In their own review of the subject, Fang et al. come to the following conclusions. First, "global warming is an objective fact," but there is "great uncertainty in the magnitude of the temperature increase." Second, "both human activities and natural factors contribute to climate change, but it is difficult to quantify their relative contributions." Third, with regard to the IPCC claim that "the increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (including CO2) is the driving force for climate warming," they note the following four problems: (1) "it remains unclear how the human and natural factors, especially the aerosols, affect the global temperature change," (2) "over the past century, the temperature change has not always been consistent with the change of CO2 concentration," since "for several periods, global temperatures decreased or were stable while the atmospheric CO2 concentration continuously increased," (3) "there is no significant correlation between the annual increment of the atmospheric CO2 concentration and the annual anomaly of annual mean temperature," and (4) "the observed significant increase of the atmospheric CO2 concentration may not be totally attributable to anthropogenic emissions because there are great uncertainties in the sources of CO2 concentration in [the] atmosphere."
This is but one view of the subject, albeit an important one, simply because it comes from China, the world's most populous country. Many different groups have many different ideas about the topic; and that is the nature of the long-running controversy: there is no agreement on these and other core issues. Consequently, and contrary to what the IPCC crowd continually contends, the science of global climate change is definitely not "settled."
Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso
Fang, J.Y., Zhu, J.L., Wang, S.P., Yue, C. and Shen, H.H. 2011. Global warming, human-induced carbon emissions, and their uncertainties. Science China Earth Sciences 54: 1458-1468.
Heffernan, O. 2009. Climate data spat intensifies. Nature 460: 787.
Idso, C.D. and Singer, S.F. 2009. Climate Change Reconsidered; 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Schiermeier, Q. 2010. IPCC flooded by criticism. Nature 463: 596-597.
Singer, S.F. 2008. Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate: Summary for Policymakers of the Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA.http://www.co2science.org/articles/V14/N45/EDIT.php
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karma and Green Dogma
on: November 03, 2011, 01:48:34 PM
Update: Fisker Karma Electric Car Gets Worse Mileage Than an SUV
73 comments, 28 called-out + Comment now
Electric Car for the 1%. Image via Wikipedia
The Fisker Karma electric car, developed mainly with your tax money so that a bunch of rich VC’s wouldn’t have to risk any real money, has rolled out with an nominal EPA MPGe of 52 in all electric mode (we will ignore the gasoline engine for this analysis).
Not bad? Unfortunately, it’s a sham. This figure is calculated using the grossly flawed EPA process that substantially underestimates the amount of fossil fuels required to power the electric car, as I showed in great depth in an earlier Forbes.com article. In short, the EPA methodology leaves out, among other things, the conversion efficiency in generating the electricity from fossil fuels in the first place [by assuming perfect conversion of the potential energy in the fuel to electricity, the EPA is actually breaking the 2nd law of thermodynamics].
In the Clinton administration, the Department of Energy (DOE) created a far superior well to wheels MPGe metric that honestly compares the typical fossil fuel use of an electric vs. gasoline car, using real-world power plant efficiencies and fuel mixes to figure out how much fuel is used to produce the electricity that goes into the electric car.
As I calculated in my earlier Forbes article, one needs to multiply the EPA MPGe by .365 to get a number that truly compares fossil fuel use of an electric car with a traditional gasoline engine car on an apples to apples basis. In the case of the Fisker Karma, we get a true MPGe of 19. This makes it worse than even the city rating of a Ford Explorer SUV.
Congrats to the Fisker Karma, which now joins corn ethanol in the ranks of heavily subsidized supposedly green technologies that are actually worse for the environment than current solutions.
Postscript: I will say, though, that the Fisker Karma does serve a social purpose — Hollywood celebrities and the ultra rich, who want to display their green credentials, no longer have to be stuck with a little econobox. They can now enjoy a little leg room and luxury.
Updates: Just to clarify, given some email I have gotten. Most other publications have focused on the 20 mpg the EPA gives the Karma on its backup gasoline engine (example), but my focus is on just how bad the car is even in all electric mode. The calculation in the above article only applies to the car running on electric, and the reduction in MPGe I discuss is from applying the more comprehensive DOE methodology for getting an MPG equivalent, not from some sort of averaging with gasoline mode. Again, see this article if you don’t understand the issue with the EPA methodology.
Press responses from Fisker Automotive highlight the problem here: electric vehicle makers want to pretend that the electricity to charge the car comes from magic sparkle ponies sprinkling pixie dust rather than burning fossil fuels. Take this quote, for example:
a Karma driver with a 40-mile commute who starts each day with a full battery charge will only need to visit the gas station about every 1,000 miles and would use just 9 gallons of gasoline per month.
This is true as far as it goes, but glosses over the fact that someone is still pouring fossil fuels into a tank somewhere to make that electricity. This seems more a car to hide the fact that fossil fuels are being burned than one designed to actually reduce fossil fuel use. Given the marketing pitch here that relies on the unseen vs. the seen, maybe we should rename it the Fisker Bastiat.
Update #2: I suppose it is too late for this plea, commenters who wish to hypothesize on methodological flaws are highly encouraged to read the original linked post explaining the math. For example, a number of folks have suggested I missed the fact that refining takes substantial energy as well. In fact, the DOE methodology used doesn’t just penalize electric cars for combustion inefficiencies in the power plant, it also penalizes gasoline cars for the energy in gasoline refining and transportation.
Update #3: Here is a special bonus, Ray Lane, Chairman of Fisker Automotive, did an interview in 2009 praising the Obama Administration as the first time he has seen government successfully making private investments. His one example: Solyndra!http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2011/10/20/update-fisker-karma-electric-car-gets-worse-mileage-than-an-suv/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / How Many Little Tyrannies Equal Tyranny?
on: November 03, 2011, 01:04:02 PM
On Tyranny and Liberty
Would the Founders approve of the nation we’ve made?
THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC
A U.S. Supreme Court justice recounted over cocktails a while ago his travails with his hometown zoning board. He wanted to build an addition onto his house, containing what the plans described as a home office, but he met truculent and lengthy resistance. This is a residential area, a zoning official blustered—no businesses allowed. The judge mildly explained that he would not be running a business from the new room; he would be using it as a study. Well, challenged the suspicious official, what business are you in? I work for the government, the justice replied. Okay, the official finally conceded—grudgingly, as if conferring an immense and special discretionary favor; we’ll let it go by this time. But, he snapped in conclusion, don’t ever expletive-deleted with us again.
Isn’t that sort of petty tyranny? I asked.
Yes, the justice replied; there’s a lot of it going around.
Tyranny isn’t a word you hear often, certainly not in conversations about the First World. But as American voters mull over the election campaign now under way, they’re more than usually inclined to ponder first principles and ask what kind of country the Founding Fathers envisioned. As voters’ frequent invocations of the Boston Tea Party recall, the Founding began with a negation, a statement of what the colonists didn’t want. They didn’t want tyranny: by which they meant, not a blood-dripping, rack-and-gridiron Inquisition, but merely taxation without representation—and they went to war against it. “The Parliament of Great Britain,” George Washington wrote a friend as he moved toward taking up arms several months after the Tea Party, “hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket without my consent, than I have to put my hands into your’s, for money.”
With independence won, the Founders struggled to create a “free government,” fully understanding the novelty and difficulty of that oxymoronic task. James Madison laid out the problem in Federalist 51. “Because men are not angels,” he explained, they need government to prevent them, by force when necessary, from invading the lives, property, and liberty of their fellow citizens. But the same non-angelic human nature that makes us need government to protect liberty and property, he observed, can lead the men who wield government’s coercive machinery to use it tyrannically—even in a democracy, where a popularly elected majority can gang up to deprive other citizens of fundamental rights that their Creator gave them. In writing the Constitution, Madison and his fellow Framers sought to build a government strong enough to do its essential tasks well, without degenerating into what Continental Congress president Richard Henry Lee termed an “elective despotism.” It’s to ward off tyranny that the Constitution strictly limits and defines the central government’s powers, and splits up its power into several branches and among many officers, all jealously watching one another to prevent abuse.
When we ask how our current political state of affairs measures up to the Founders’ standard, we usually find ourselves discussing whether a given law or program is constitutional, and soon enough get tangled in precedents and lawyerly rigmarole. But let’s frame the question a little differently: How far does present-day America meet the Founders’ ideal of free government, protecting individual liberty while avoiding what they considered tyranny? A few specific examples will serve as a gauge.
The Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision is notorious enough, but it bears recalling in this connection, for the whole episode is objectionable in so many monitory ways. In the year 2000, the frayed Connecticut city had conceived a grandiose project to redevelop 90 waterfront acres, in conjunction with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s plan to build an adjoining $300 million research center. A conference hotel—that inevitable (and almost inevitably uneconomic) nostrum of urban economic-development authorities—would rise, surrounded by upscale housing, shopping, and restaurants, all adorned with a marina and a promenade along the Thames River. Promising to create more than 3,000 new jobs and add $1.2 million in revenues to the city’s declining tax rolls, the redevelopment authority set about buying up the private houses, mostly old and modest, on the site.
Several homeowners refused to sell, however. They loved their houses and their water views. In response, the determined city seized their property under its power of eminent domain. One resident, Susette Kelo, wasn’t giving up her little pink house without a fight, though, and she, along with a few neighbors (including one who’d lived in her house since 1918), sued the city in the state courts, claiming that its action violated the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The trial court agreed with Kelo’s reasonable assertion of the government’s fundamental duty to protect rather than invade private property, but the state appeals court disagreed, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the city’s seizure, 5–4.
The Supreme Court’s opinions, on both sides, lay out a dreary history of how a fundamental liberty shriveled. The justices cite a 1954 precedent that imperiously expanded the rationale for eminent domain from the Fifth Amendment’s public use to public purpose to justify urban-renewal projects that tore down vast swathes of supposedly blighted property in order to turn the land over to private developers of better housing. Even if you grant the constitutionality of the new rationale, argued the petitioner in this case—who owned a prospering, unblighted department store within the redevelopment area—creating a “better balanced, more attractive community” was not a valid public purpose. Wrong, said the Supremes, in Justice William O. Douglas’s trademark fatuously whimsical language: the legislature, invoking values that are “spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary,” has the power “to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled.” Nor need officials, evidently empowered to define public purposes beyond the Constitution’s limited and enumerated scope, deal with property owners on an individual basis in imposing their aesthetic vision on already existing property, so the department-store owner’s liberty and property rights merit no protection from the redevelopment juggernaut.
The Kelo Court also cited a precedent, appropriately from 1984, that is hard to distinguish from a Latin American Communist-imposed land-reform scheme. Because the government owned 49 percent of Hawaii’s land and 72 private landlords owned another 47 percent of it, the state legislature passed a law forcing the private property owners to sell their land to their lessees, for just compensation. The public purpose of this social-engineering megaproject: “eliminating the ‘social and economic evils of a land oligopoly.’ ” Trying to explain his notion of “the tyranny of the majority,” the great democratic danger that he’d designed the Constitution to prevent, Madison began by observing that “those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society.” As the propertyless will always outnumber the propertied, the essence of democratic tyranny is for the poorer many to expropriate the richer few by such “improper or wicked” schemes as voting “an equal division of property,” the furthest-out extreme of tyranny that the Father of the Constitution could imagine. What would he have said about the Hawaii legislature’s property-redistribution edict and the U.S. Supreme Court that ratified it on such a rationale?
Kelo, as the dissenting justices pointed out, makes almost limitless the government’s eminent-domain power. While the Fifth Amendment envisioned transferring one private owner’s property to another—for reasonable compensation—for a turnpike or a canal to which the entire citizenry had access (or, later, a railroad or electricity-transmission line), the 1954 and 1984 precedents that the Court cites at least claimed that the transfer accomplished the direct public purpose of ending a harmful use of property, if only by association in the case of the unblighted department store surrounded by blight. But no one claims that Susette Kelo’s house—or her neighbors’—is blighted, the dissenters observed. The public purpose of “tak[ing] private property currently put to ordinary private use, and giv[ing] it over for new, ordinary private use” is the indirect, secondary one of raising New London’s tax base, meaning that government could order any property razed for a higher-value one, sweeping away single-family houses (especially humble ones) for apartment buildings, churches for stores, or small businesses for national chains. And, the dissenting justices might have added, it makes government officials interested, rather than neutral, parties, since more tax revenue means better pay, health care, and pensions for them.
In 1812, the nation’s retired first chief justice, John Jay, commented on a proposal to take by eminent domain some fields near his Westchester farm and flood them to make a millpond to turn a factory waterwheel. “When a piece of ground is wanted for a use important to the State, I know that the State has a right to take it from the owner, on paying the full value of it; but certainly the Legislature has no right to compel a freeholder to part with his land to any of his fellow-citizens, nor to deprive him of the use of it, in order to accommodate one or more of his neighbours in the prosecution of their particular trade or business,” he wrote. “Such an act, by violating the rights of property, would be a most dangerous precedent.” As for flooding the fields: “It may be said that the pond, by facilitating manufactures, will be productive of good to the public; but will it not produce more loss than gain, if any of the essential rights of freemen are to be sunk in it?” By 1885, however, many states had passed “mill acts,” permitting just such a use of eminent domain to power gristmills—required, like turnpikes and railroads, to serve all comers.
As it happened, getting rid of Susette Kelo’s house—ultimately, New London moved it from its waterfront site rather than demolish it—produced no gain to anyone. In the wake of a merger, Pfizer moved its research facility elsewhere; the redevelopment agency couldn’t raise the necessary financing for the rest of the project, which Pfizer’s withdrawal rendered problematic; and the land sits vacant, generating not a nickel of tax revenue. The only good the decision produced was a slew of laws in many other states severely limiting the use of eminent domain for economic development. In New York, one of eight states without such limits, the official wresting of unblighted property from one ordinary private owner to another politically powerful one for private use continues unabated.
In framing the Constitution, once the Revolution had stopped the tyranny of taxation without representation, Madison realized that even in a self-governing republic, taxes remained the chief source of potential abuse. “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property, is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality,” he wrote, “yet there is perhaps no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party, to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.” A steeply “progressive” tax system, in which the rich pay not just a higher amount but pay at a higher rate than the less affluent, would have troubled him as much as a system whose loopholes allow some rich citizens to pay proportionally less, and he would have heard with dismay—though not with total astonishment, since it was just this kind of danger he knew the country faced—that 47 percent of tax filers now pay no income tax.
But what he could never have imagined is that judges—rather than the legislature—would impose a new system of taxation without representation, a modern tyranny of which the most outrageous of several examples is the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke case, still going on after more than a quarter-century. Based on the state constitution’s boilerplate call for the legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years,” the court, in a string of 21 decisions starting in 1985, set out to use the schools to rescue the children of New Jersey’s urban underclass, cost be damned.
The court claimed to know just how Herculean a task it was taking on. Inner-city kids in Newark, Trenton, Camden, and so on had “needs that palpably undercut their capacity to learn,” the judges noted. “Those needs go beyond educational needs[;] they include food, clothing and shelter, and extend to lack of close family and community ties and support and lack of helpful role models.” The children live “in an environment of violence, poverty, and despair, . . . isolated from the mainstream of society. Education forms only a small part of their home life,” and dropping out of school “is almost the norm. . . . The goal is to motivate them, to wipe out their disadvantages as much as a school district can, and to give them an educational opportunity that will enable them to use their innate ability.”
What will accomplish this vast work of cultural and social repair? The judges had read their Jonathan Kozol, they noted, and what they took away from the fanciful, far-left education ideologue’s Savage Inequalities, which compares some of the worst urban high schools—including one in Camden, New Jersey—with some of their very best suburban counterparts, is that the chief difference between successful schools and failed ones is money.
So, flinging aside the concept of separation of powers, the court ordered the legislature to hike its support for specified inner-city districts—and not by the relatively modest amount that the legislature calculated would help these schools meet performance standards it thought reasonable, but rather by the huge amount of money needed to make their per-pupil expenditure equal that of the state’s richest suburban districts. In fact, the court reasoned, the 31 so-called Abbott districts should receive more than the rich districts, because inner-city kids have “specific requirements for supplemental educational and educationally-related programs and services that are unique to those students, not required in wealthier districts, and that represent an educational cost.” Before long, the court had included in these extra programs all-day kindergarten, half-day preschools for three- and four-year-olds (though the state constitution calls for free education to start at age five), and special transition programs to work or to college, plus a ton of money to improve “crumbling and obsolescent schools,” since “we cannot expect disadvantaged children to achieve when they are relegated to buildings that are unsafe”—and that, as Jonathan Kozol would say, contemptuously proclaim that a racist society doesn’t value the kids it dumps there.
Perhaps not averse to shoveling lots more money to unionized teachers and construction workers while claiming to have no other choice, the legislature didn’t resist the court’s encroachment on its constitutional prerogative to set taxes and spending priorities, and it obediently began to fleece the Garden State’s taxpayers with abandon, pushing New Jersey’s state and local tax burden to 12.2 percent of the average taxpayer’s income, the highest in the nation in the Tax Foundation’s latest ranking. As spending on the Abbott districts skyrocketed from 8.9 percent of the state budget in 1985 to 15.5 percent of a much bigger budget last year, suburban taxpayers found themselves paying for two school systems: their own, through property taxes (higher since the suburbs now get much less state aid); and the Abbott schools, through their state income taxes—to the tune of almost $37 billion in the decade from 1998 to 2008, according to a Federalist Society study. Suburbanites with kids in private or parochial school shoulder a third system as well. To fund construction of gleaming new inner-city schools, the legislature authorized $8.6 billion in bonds that pirouetted around constitutionally mandated voter approval—and that covered only half the ultimate cost, given the inefficiency and corruption that riddles the contracting process. And last spring, the court demanded yet another half-billion dollars for the Abbott archipelago, at a time when the sagging national economy makes curbing out-of-control government spending, and separating essential from frivolous efforts, more than usually urgent.
What are New Jersey taxpayers accomplishing with the $22,000 to $27,000 they spend per pupil each year in the big inner-city districts? On test scores and graduation rates in Newark, the needle has scarcely flickered. As the E3 education-reform group’s report Money for Nothing notes, high schools in the state’s biggest city can’t produce substantial numbers of juniors and seniors who can pass tests of eighth-grade knowledge and skills, and the report quotes testimony to the same effect before the state legislature about Camden’s schools.
A remark the Jersey justices made in one of their Abbott decisions suggests why. “Approximately twenty security guards are required to ensure the safety of high school students in Trenton,” the judges say, compared with three or fewer in a suburban school. What kind of school culture does this statement imply? The judges know that “many poor children start school with an approximately two-year disadvantage compared to many suburban youngsters”—because, even with court-mandated preschool, they have vocabularies a fraction the size of middle-class children’s, and they lack a middle-class-level mastery of cognitive concepts like cause and effect, or social skills like sharing, taking turns, sitting still, and paying attention, or a middle-class knowledge base of everything from dinosaurs and donkeys to Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin.
And money for a 20-man troop of guards is supposed to help shrink that disadvantage rather than expand it, as the schools do now? To work that rescue, the schools need a vast reformation in their institutional culture so that, as in much less costly parochial schools that succeed with the same youngsters whom the public schools fail, kids behave not because they have a phalanx of guards coldly eyeing them but because they identify internally with the purposes of the school and genuinely want to meet its standards. They need teachers rewarded for merit, not longevity, and a curriculum that stresses skills, knowledge, and striving, not grievance and unearned self-esteem. They need a school culture that expands their sense of opportunity and possibility strongly enough to counteract the culture of militant ignorance and failure that surrounds them in the narrow world they know.
Laudable ends generally don’t justify improper means; but when illegitimate means come nowhere near achieving their indisputably noble goal—when, to paraphrase Chief Justice Jay, government drowns our liberties in a pond that can’t even turn a mill wheel—what justification can there be?
One of the greatest dramas of President Washington’s first term was the showdown between House of Representatives leader James Madison and Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton over how to interpret the Constitution of which Madison was the moving spirit, and which he and Hamilton had defended and explicated together in The Federalist. Hamilton wanted the government to charter a national bank; Madison argued that doing so would be unconstitutional because chartering a bank was not one of the limited and enumerated powers given to the federal government. It was no good, he said, for Hamilton to claim that the Constitution’s clause empowering Congress to make any law “necessary and proper” for carrying out its enumerated powers would permit it to charter the bank, since a bank wasn’t “necessary” but merely “convenient.” Once you start saying that the Constitution’s “necessary and proper” clause, or commerce clause, or clause to provide for the general welfare gives Congress implied powers, you are setting off on a course that will in the end “pervert the limited government of the Union, into a government of unlimited discretion, contrary to the will and subversive of the authority of the people.”
Nonsense, replied Hamilton: the “criterion of what is constitutional . . . is the end to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, & if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the constitution—it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.” Congress and President Washington agreed; the bank, once established, sparked an era of golden prosperity; and even Madison learned when he became president that a central bank was indeed necessary, and that interpreting the Constitution requires “a reasonable medium” between trying to “squeeze it to death” and “stretch it to death.” Men of goodwill can disagree on where the line is that would “convert a limited into an unlimited Govt,” but all agree that one can’t overstep that line.
So it was with a certain astonishment that one heard then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s reply, when asked two years ago whether President Obama’s health-care plan, which she and her colleagues had just passed into law, was constitutional. “Are you serious?” she said with incredulous contempt. “Are you serious?” With apparently no idea of where her authority came from, she seemed to assume that Congress had power to do whatever it wanted, though her office later announced that the power to force citizens to buy health insurance was implicit in the Constitution’s commerce clause. Congress has, of course, grotesquely stretched the doctrine of implied powers many times since Madison conceded such a thing existed, but here, almost unthinkingly, it stretched it to the breaking point and left the Constitution in fragments on the legislative floor. A year later, federal judges in Florida and Virginia declared the requirement to buy health insurance unconstitutional, as did a Pennsylvania judge this September: the commerce clause, they held, can’t be stretched to make people buy something. If it could, wrote Florida federal judge Roger Vinson, “Congress could require that everyone above a certain income threshold buy a General Motors automobile—now partially government-owned—because those who do not . . . are adversely impacting commerce and a taxpayer-subsidized business.” Now that one federal appellate court has backed Judge Vinson and two others have upheld the requirement to buy health insurance, it will be for the Supreme Court, which received two appeals in the case in late September, to declare whether this time Madison’s nightmare of “unlimited” government finally becomes real.
Nor is this Obamacare’s sole constitutional outrage. To rein in Medicare spending, Obamacare has authorized an appointed panel of 15 “experts,” the Independent Payment Advisory Board, whose power, said Obama’s ex-OMB director, Peter Orszag, will represent “the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve.” To control costs, the board will set reimbursement rates for doctors—which in effect will ration care for Medicare beneficiaries, though the Orwellian law simultaneously forbids explicit rationing—and Congress can overturn the board’s edicts only if it legislates another way to cut Medicare by the same amount. Under some circumstances, which the murkily ambiguous law sets forth in a confusingly vague and broad way, even that congressional tinkering could require 60 votes in the Senate. Nor can Congress kill the board (which, unlike other such agencies as the FCC or SEC, needn’t be even nominally bipartisan) unless it introduces a resolution in January 2017 and enacts it by mid-August by a three-fifths supermajority of all members in both houses—and even then, the resolution can’t take effect until 2020. The Obamacare law isn’t embarrassed to call the executive-branch board’s edicts “legislation,” and it exempts them from judicial or administrative review. So much for the separation of powers.
There’s indeed a lot of petty tyranny going around. The question is, at what point do many little tyrannies add up to Tyranny? Likely voters suggested a troubling answer in an August Rasmussen poll: 69 percent of them said they didn’t think today’s U.S. government enjoys the consent of the governed. And in September, 49 percent of respondents, an unprecedented high, told Gallup pollsters that “the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”
Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and the author of The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass.http://www.city-journal.org/2011/21_4_tyranny-and-liberty.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Moon Dust Up
on: November 03, 2011, 12:56:15 PM
NASA Freaks Out Little Old Lady, Claims Ownership of Every Single Speck of Moon Dust
Katherine Mangu-Ward | October 26, 2011
Speaking of making money on the moon: You can't. Ever. So don't even think about it, granny.The target [of a sting by NASA to recover a tiny speck of moon dust], Joann Davis, a grandmother who says she was trying to raise money for her sick son, asserts the lunar material was rightfully hers, having been given to her space-engineer husband by Neil Armstrong in the 1970s....
When officers in flak vests took a hold of her, the 4-foot-11 woman said she was so scared she lost control of her bladder and was taken outside to a parking lot, where she was questioned and detained for about two hours.
NASA's official position is that it owns every last lunar artifact, and that even samples that are given away—as hundreds have been my NASA itself—technically remain government property. I get it—since we can't manage to get our sorry butts back to Old Luna, there's a limited supply of the grey stuff. But this story is basically the nerd equivalent of a full-scale SWAT raid to turn up one dried up joint.
And how did the crack investigators at NASA find this errant bit o' moon?:The case was triggered by Davis herself....She emailed a NASA contractor May 10 trying to find a buyer for the rock, as well as a nickel-sized piece of the heat shield that protected the Apollo 11 space capsule as it returned to earth from the first successful manned mission to the moon in 1969.
"I've been searching the internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote. "If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call."
They did call, and made a false offer of $1.7 million for the moon shards, only to snag her (and it) out of a booth in a California family restaurant. No changes have been filed, but the NASA investigators kept the moon bit.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Modeling Perfect Failure
on: November 03, 2011, 12:40:30 PM
A Modest Proposal—Forget About Tomorrow
Posted on October 31, 2011 by Willis Eschenbach
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
There’s a lovely 2005 paper I hadn’t seen, put out by the Los Alamos National Laboratory entitled “Our Calibrated Model has No Predictive Value” (PDF).
The paper’s abstract says it much better than I could:Abstract: It is often assumed that once a model has been calibrated to measurements then it will have some level of predictive capability, although this may be limited. If the model does not have predictive capability then the assumption is that the model needs to be improved in some way.
Using an example from the petroleum industry, we show that cases can exist where calibrated models have no predictive capability. This occurs even when there is no modelling error present. It is also shown that the introduction of a small modelling error can make it impossible to obtain any models with useful predictive capability.
We have been unable to find ways of identifying which calibrated models will have some predictive capacity and those which will not.
There are three results in there, one expected and two unexpected.
The expected result is that models that are “tuned” or “calibrated” to an existing dataset may very well have no predictive capability. On the face of it this is obvious—if we could tune a model that simply then someone would be predicting the stock market or next month’s weather with good accuracy.
The next result was totally unexpected. The model may have no predictive capabilitydespite being a perfect model. The model may represent the physics of the situation perfectly and exactly in each and every relevant detail. But if that perfect model is tuned to a dataset, even a perfect dataset, it may have no predictive capability at all.
The third unexpected result was the effect of error. The authors found that if there are even small modeling errors, it may not be possible to find any model with useful predictive capability.
To paraphrase, even if a tuned (“calibrated”) model is perfect about the physics, it may not have predictive capabilities. And if there is even a little error in the model, good luck finding anything useful.
This was a very clean experiment. There were only three tunable parameters. So it looks like John Von Neumann was right, you can fit an elephant with three parameters, and with four parameters, make him wiggle his trunk.
I leave it to the reader to consider what this means about the various climate models’ ability to simulate the future evolution of the climate, as they definitely are tuned or as the study authors call them “calibrated” models, and they definitely have more than three tunable parameters.
In this regard, a modest proposal. Could climate scientists please just stop predicting stuff for maybe say one year? In no other field of scientific endeavor is every finding surrounded by predictions that this “could” or “might” or “possibly” or “perhaps” will lead to something catastrophic in ten or thirty or a hundred years. Could I ask that for one short year, that climate scientists actually study the various climate phenomena, rather than try to forecast their future changes? We still are a long ways from understanding the climate, so could we just study the present and past climate, and leave the future alone for one year?
We have no practical reason to believe that the current crop of climate models have predictive capability. For example, none of them predicted the current 15-year or so hiatus in the warming. And as this paper shows, there is certainly no theoretical reason to think they have predictive capability.
The models, including climate models, can sometimes illustrate or provide useful information about climate. Could we use them for that for a while? Could we use them to try to understand the climate, rather than to predict the climate?
And 100 and 500 year forecasts? I don’t care if you do call them “scenarios” or whatever the current politically correct term is. Predicting anything 500 years out is a joke. Those, you could stop forever with no loss at all
I would think that after the unbroken string of totally incorrect prognostications from Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren and James Hansen and other failed serial doomcasters, the alarmists would welcome such a hiatus from having to dream up the newer, better future catastrophe. I mean, it must get tiring for them, seeing their predictions of Thermageddon™ blown out of the water by ugly reality, time after time, without interruption. I think they’d welcome a year where they could forget about tomorrow.
Regards to all,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Opaque Transparency
on: November 03, 2011, 12:05:50 PM
File Not Found
Why does the most open and transparent administration in history prefer to lie about government records?
Jacob Sullum | November 2, 2011
When he took office, Barack Obama promised "an unprecedented level of openness in Government." As a major part of that commitment, he pledged fidelity to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which he called "the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government."
It is hard to reconcile these lofty memos with the Justice Department's proposed rule instructing federal agencies to falsely deny the existence of records sought under FOIA. But at least the Obama administration is open about its desire to mislead us.
Enacted in 1966, FOIA "encourages accountability through transparency," as Obama put it in his 2009 memo. The law created a general assumption that Americans have a right to information about their government unless there is a good reason to withhold it, such as when disclosure would violate people's privacy, undermine a criminal investigation, or threaten national security.
Congress amended FOIA in 1986, adding Section 552(c), which addresses situations where confirming the existence of records would tip off the target of a criminal investigation, compromise a confidential informant, or reveal classified information. In such cases, agencies "may treat the records as not subject to the requirements of" FOIA, which the courts and leading members of Congress have long understood to mean issuing a response that neither confirms nor denies the records' existence.
But the Obama administration prefers to lie. Under the rule proposed by the Justice Department, an agency with records believed to be exempt under Section 552(c) "will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."
As the American Civil Liberties Union, OpenTheGovernment.org, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington note in their comments on the rule, it would "dramatically undermine government integrity by allowing a law designed to provide public access to government information to be twisted to permit federal law enforcement agencies to actively lie to the American people." The rule also would impede judicial review of agencies' decisions to withhold records, since requesters would be led to believe that no records were being withheld.
Since requesters cannot demand a justification for withholding records they do not know exist, agencies would not have to convince a court that the information they believe qualifies for a FOIA exemption actually does. And while the lies supposedly would be limited to the three situations described in Section 552(c), agencies would be sorely tempted to deny the existence of any records they would rather not reveal.
Obama himself suggested where such unbridled discretion can lead. "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," he declared in 2009. But who can say whether that is happening if agencies can evade oversight by lying?
The ACLU suggests a FOIA response that avoids disclosing information shielded by Section 552(c) but is nevertheless accurate and preserves the possibility of judicial review: "We interpret all or part of your request as a request for records which, if they exist, would not be subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to section 552(c), and we therefore will not process that portion of your request." In an October 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, demands to know why that option is unsatisfactory and threatens to block the Obama administration's mendacious alternative.
It may be too late for that. Last spring U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney rebuked the government for falsely denying the existence of records sought under FOIA, not only to the requesters but to him. Carney noted that "it is impossible for the court to determine compliance with the law and to protect the public from Government misconduct if the Government misleads the Court." The Justice Department says its new rule merely codifies a practice dating to the Reagan administration, which means they've been lying to us all along.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Entering La La Land
on: November 03, 2011, 10:30:09 AM
So I usually don't have much use for conspiracy theories as most turn into tail chasing enterprises in which few verifiable facts can be found. And though I've been following Sipsey Street Irregulars through a lot of the Fast and Furious/Gunwalker horrific foolishness, I confess his strident tone gets on my nerves and think he'd serve his ends better by hyperventilating less. As that may be, now that our geriatric terrorists have been lead off in cuffs, we've got "authorities" claiming their antics were inspired by an online novel written by Sipsey Street blogger Mike Vanderboegh. 300 million plus people in the US many of whom must be talking to others about doing violence inspired by the federal foolishness, yet this administration manages to only roll out right wing kooks, in this instance ones said to be inspired by a major thorn in their side. Credulity is starting to be strained:
Alleged Plot to Attack U.S. Officials Was Inspired by Online Anti-Government Novel, Authorities Say
Published November 02, 2011 | FoxNews.com
An alleged plot to attack federal and state officials by suspected members of a fringe north Georgia militia group was inspired by an online anti-government novel, authorities said.
Court documents state that 73-year-old Frederick Thomas, a suspected member of the group, told others that he intended to model their actions on the online novel "Absolved," which involves small groups of citizens attacking U.S. officials.
The four suspected members, who federal authorities arrested Tuesday, were expected to appear in court Wednesday.
They were part of a group that also tried to obtain an unregistered explosive device and sought out the complex formula to produce Ricin, a biological toxin that can be lethal in small doses, according to a federal complaint.
Authorities said the group intended to use the plot of the novel "Absolved," written by Mike Vanderboegh, a blogger who has closely followed the botched federal investigation known as "Fast and Furious." He also runs a whistleblower website called Sipsey Street Irregulars.
During a phone interview with FoxNews.com on Wednesday, Vanderboegh claimed he was not responsible for the alleged plot.
"What kind of moron uses the phrase 'save the Constitution and then goes out to try and distribute Ricin?" Vanderboegh said. "This has got to be the Alzheimer's gang. What political point is made there? I don't understand what was going on in the minds of these Georgia idiots."
The four listed in the indictment are Thomas; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68. The men live in the north Georgia towns of Cleveland and Toccoa.
They had been talking about "covert" operations since at least March, according to court records, discussing murder, theft and using toxic agents and assassinations to undermine the state and federal government.
In one of the indictments obtained by FoxNews.com, authorities said Thomas is recorded saying, "Let's shoot the bastards that we discover are anti-American. And to me the best way to do that is to walk up behind them with a suppressed .22."
"I am of the, uh, old school, Mafia; one behind the ear with a .22 is all you need," Thomas allegedly said. "Of course a .40 Smith and Wesson or .45 ACP is just as good, even better, cause it makes the whole head explode."
Investigators also say Thomas openly discussed creating a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he felt needed to be "taken out."
"I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again," he told an undercover investigator, according to the records.
Thomas' wife, Charlotte, called the charges "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Thomas and Roberts are accused of buying what they believed was a silencer and an unregistered explosive from an undercover informant in May and June. Prosecutors say he discussed using the weapons in attacks against federal buildings.
Prosecutors say Crump also discussed making 10 pounds of Ricin and dispersing it in Atlanta and various cities across the nation, suggesting it can be blown out of a car speeding down an interstate highway.
Adams, meanwhile, is accused of showing an informant the formula to make Ricin and identifying the ways to obtain the ingredients.
Thomas is accused of driving to Atlanta with a confidential informant on May 24 and scoping out an IRS building there and an ATF building "to plan and assess for possible attacks," the indictment states.
"We'd have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh," Thomas said during the trip to Atlanta, the indictment states.
Charlotte Thomas said her husband was arrested in a restaurant in Cornelia, Ga., and federal agents were at her home when she returned from the grocery store Tuesday afternoon. She said the agents wouldn't let her in her home.
"They tore up my house," Charlotte Thomas said.
She said her husband doesn't have an attorney yet.
Margaret Roberts of Toccoa said FBI agents showed up with a search warrant and went through her home, handcuffing her and taking a computer and other items. She said her husband is retired from the sign business and lives on pensions.
"He's never been in trouble with the law. He's not anti-government. He would never hurt anybody," she said.
Listed numbers for the other two suspects could not be found.
Attorneys for the men were not identified, and the federal defender's office had no immediate comment.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the case is a reminder that "we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security."http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/11/01/4-suspected-us-militia-members-charged-in-plot/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Logical Conclusions Looming?
on: November 03, 2011, 08:31:56 AM
Read this piece out loud with a couple people in the room and perhaps you too can get your own right wing terrorist perp walk:
Gunwalker exposed: not a law enforcement operation, but something far worse
Whether or not the asshats at Fox News or the Drudge Report want to give credit where credit is due, we here in the gun community know that it was David Codrea at the Gun Rights Examiner and Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars that broke the damning news that Operation Fast and Furious was a gun-running operation that used taxpayer dollars to purchase firearms and deliver them directly to the Mexico drug cartels. I was fortunate enough to contribute in some small way by giving them some of the traffic they rightfully deserve and corroborating their exclusive after the fact.
The more I think about the hundreds of lives lost and the families destroyed with weapons provided by our government, the more upset I become. Almost every law enforcement agency of the executive branch and scattered across four cabinet level agencies (Justice, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security) has a role in arming some of the most violent criminals on earth with the apparent goal of destabilizing an ally on the edge of a civil war and undermining the Constitution of our own nation.
In my opinion, what we are witnessing is a massive crime, and quite probably the legal definition of international terrorism as defined in U.S. Law. I don’t think we are in the range of hyperbole anymore when we wonder whether or not President Obama’s government is guilty of terrorism and acts of war against an ally. I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say with great concern that it appears that the actions of our Executive branch walk right up to the line of what the Constitution considers treason, and perhaps crosses it.
Chairman Issa, Senator Grassley, and others have trod very deliberately and carefully since the very beginning of Operation Fast and Furious, always very measured with their words and careful in their allegations. Now that we know some of what they know, it is all too apparent why they have proceeded with such caution.
They have before them evidence that a substantial portion of one branch of federal government, led by high-ranking political appointees and elected officials, has apparently broken the most sacred trust, shattered their oaths, caused the deaths of hundreds and committed an act of war in an attempt to undermine our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
This is the largest scandal in American political history, which may eventually lead to the President and his closest advisors facing federal charges in two nations relating to terrorism, multiple murders, arms trafficking, and treason.
I lack the vocabulary to properly relate my astonishment and anger at the betrayal of this nation by the majority of “professional” media that would let the greatest crime in our nation’s history go unreported, or in the case of the Washington Post and New York Times, attempt to slander and libel those who would bring justice to a criminal regime.
We are rapidly approaching a juncture in history where we will either see justice served in a court of law, or tyranny run through the barrel of the gun. The Obama Administration has firmly indicated their favor for the latter.
Let us hope that the Courts and Congress can counteract that criminal tendency, so that we are not forced to water the tree of liberty ourselves.http://guncounter.bob-owens.com/2011/09/gunwalker-exposed-not-a-law-enforcement-operation-but-something-far-worse/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Rain on the Carbon Trading Parade
on: November 03, 2011, 08:03:14 AM
This tinkles on a climate narrative or two:
Who are the world’s worst “polluters”? According to a new high-spectral-resolution Japanese satellite — it’s developing countries.
Who knew detailed spectroscopic data on Earth’s atmosphere was available to figure out where the CO2 and other greenhouse gases are being produced and absorbed?
In January 2009, a Japanese group launched a satellite “IBUKI” to monitor CO2 and methane spectral bands around the world to establish exactly where the world’s biggest sources and sinks of greenhouse gases were. With climate change being the perilous threat to millions, this data would seem so essential you might wonder why didn’t someone do it before. As it happens, NASA tried — it launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory in Feb 2009, which was designed to do exactly the same thing, but it crashed on launch. Oddly, NASA don’t seem to be prioritizing the deadly climate threat, as it will take NASA four years to figure out why the Taurus XL rocket failed and relaunch it.
The results from from Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) show that Industrialized nations appear to be absorbing the carbon dioxide emissions from the Third World. (Can we get carbon credits for that?) The satellite shows that levels of CO2 are typically lower in developed countries than in air over developing countries.
If the evil modern polluters were producing more CO2 (and it mattered to the global flux), then we’d see higher levels of CO2 (more red dots) over the first world. Right? But CO2 levels are lower than average (see the blue dots). The highest emissions, at least on this graph are predominantly in China, and central Africa.)
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US midwest earn Gold Star environment awards for their low carbon dioxide levels.
Likewise, the methane picture is remarkably similar.
Cheifio sums up the Japanese results: “For now, I think it’s pretty clear that the “CO2 From the Evil Western Polluters” meme has a serious hole in it… “
Chiefio (E.M Smith) goes on to say:
This isn’t that much of a surprise to me. I’d figured out some time ago that trees and bamboo could consume far more CO2 than I “produce” via burning oil and gas. I’ve also pointed out that The West is largely letting trees grow, while mowing our lawns and having the clippings “sequestered” in land fills (along with an untold tonnage of phone books and junk mail…) while the 3rd world is busy burning and cutting down their forests. The simple fact is that “jungle rot” will beat out my “gallon a day” of Diesel any time. Basically, we in the west grow far more wheat, corn, soybeans, wood, lawns, shrubs, etc. than we burn oil. In the 3rd world, they burn their sequestering plants. (And it takes one heck of a lot more wood to cook a meal than it does coal via a highly efficient furnace / electric generator / microwave oven.) But it’s nice to see it documented in aggregate in the “facts in the air”.
You can see in the graph on the right (click if you want to look up close) that the Japanese satellites have got a seriously high quality spectroscope to figure out the levels of greenhouse gases.
These are the kind of results they are getting, the spectral bands over the south pacific in March 2009. Click to enlarge. Gawk at the detail. They are serious graphs. Source http://www.eorc.jaxa.jp/en/imgdata/topics/2009/tp090319.html
Chiefio has also posted a truly beautiful animated graphic. Watch as those Siberian forests, suck up CO2 in summer as they grow, thus reducing the levels to 360 ppm in August 2009 (but curiously not as much in August 2010).
Man-made emissions are only 4% of the total
Since 96% of all CO2 emissions are natural, those sinks and sources will make or break any theory based on whether man-made emissions are problematic.
This topic fits in with Murry Salby’s work — could it be that changes in the natural sources of CO2 drive the global level, rather than our emissions?http://joannenova.com.au/2011/11/co2-emitted-by-the-poor-nations-and-absorbed-by-the-rich-oh-the-irony-and-this-truth-must-not-be-spoken/
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom
on: November 02, 2011, 05:15:53 PM
A part of the indictment of the geriatric gang. You do have to be a special kind of stupid to launch these sorts of conspiracies, particularly with what appears to be a fifth person in the room recording you, but I'm getting kinda tired of these half-fannyed "right wing" fruit loops being rolled out for the cameras. Aren't there any left wing folks running their mouths about violent stuff?
BACKGROUND OF THE INVESTIGATION
5. On March 17, 2011 the government's confidential human source (CHS1) consensually recorded a clandestine meeting involving members of a fringe group of a known militia organizationl with the fringe group calling itself the "covert group." The meeting occurred at the residence of Frederick W. Thomas (THOMAS) located at 2265 Dean Mountain Road, Cleveland, Georgia, 30528 1 and attendees at the meeting included THOMAS, Emory Dan Roberts (ROBERTS), and others. At the outset of this meeting, the attendees began discussing and then displaying various weapons each one was carrying on his person. THOMAS mentioned to the group that he had enough weapons to arm everyone at the table. ROBERTS and CHSl either did not have weapons, or did not make them visible.
6. THOMAS became the primary speaker for the meeting and began discussing overt and covert operations for the group. He mentioned a fictional novel he had read on-line in which an antigovernment group killed a large number of federal Department of Justice attorneys, and then he stated, "Now of course, that's just fiction, but that's a damn good idea. 1I THOMAS described a scenario in which he felt would be the "line in the sand" that would result in the activation of militias. THOMAS believed that soon, during a protest action, a protestor would be shot. It is his opinion the militias would act and respond by openly attacking the police. He then openly discussed having compiled what he called the "Bucket List" which is a list of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he feels needed to be "taken out" to "make the country right again." THOMAS told the group he sent the list to a web blog.
7. During the meeting, THOMAS made the following statements:
a. "The right people have to be taken down, and taken down soon."
b. "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly highly illegal. Murder. That's fucking
illegal, but it's gotta be done."
c. "When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die."
8. When murder was mentioned, ROBERTS said he knew people in Habersham County [Georgia] who had a substance that could kill people with a very small amount. CHS1 suggested ROBERTS was talking about ricin, and someone else agreed, adding that ricin is made from castor beans. The conversation then went into a discussion about castor beans and possible ways to obtain them.
9. THOMAS spoke of the need for the group to acquire more weapons, ammo, food, and survival gear and then discussed the need for the group to establish a silent means of taking people out. THOMAS suggested silencers for handguns, stating, "In order to do what we want to do, take out the right people, we have to have some silent means of doing it. That means suppressors on handguns."
10. THOMAS stated they needed to find a machinist with the ability to manufacture silencers and not register them with the ATF. THOMAS said this was necessary to prevent them from being traced back to an owner if they were lost. THOMAS also mentioned a gun store near the Georgia/South carolina border that manufactures silencers and he commented that they should consider "hitting the truck," meaning they should steal the silencers from the trucks.
11. On April 3, 2011, CHSI consensually recorded a meeting with THOMAS and ROBERTS at a restaurant in northeast Georgia. The attendees talked about acquiring ammunition and equipment, particularly silencers for firearms. THOMAS suggested that they buy, steal, make, or attack a manufacturer's truck in order to obtain the silencers. THOMAS also talked again about his "Bucket List" of people he thought should be killed. During the meeting, THOMAS stated that he thought they could "fight off a SWAT team." He also stated, "I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again."
12. On April 16, 2011, CHSI consensually recorded another meeting of the "covert group, /I again at the residence of THOMAS located at 2265 Dean Mountain Road, Cleveland, Georgia, 30528. Attendees included CHSl, THOMAS, ROBERTS and others. During the meeting THOMAS discussed the need for the group to start moving forward with taking action in some of their previously discussed plans, including a number of assassinations on various government officials.
13. THOMAS also explained to the others present that he intended to model their actions on the plot of an online novel called Absolved. The plot of Absolved involves small groups of citizens attacking United States federal law enforcement
representatives and federal judges. THOMAS expressed his belief that they should conduct a number of assassinations on various government officials, and he particularly expressed a desire to kill Department of Justice (DOJ) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees.
14. During the meeting, THOMAS made the following statements:
a. "Civilian government operatives is who we're going to be shooting at: IRS, ATF, FBI, and the COpS."
b. "Who is the primary topics, targets? DOJ. Everybody in DOJ. That includes judges, ATF, IRS, and the hierarchy thereof."
c. "I could shoot ATF and IRS all day long. All the judges and the DOJ and the attorneys and prosecutors."
15. On April 29, 2011 and April 30, 2011, CHS1 consensually recorded conversations between, CHS1, THOMAS and ROBERTS while traveling to and from a meeting held in south Georgia on 04/30/2011. During a conversation on April 30, 2011, THOMAS mentioned that, while at the meeting, he spoke to a second confidential source (CHS2) about acquiring silencers. THOMAS reiterated the need for the group to obtain silencers to shoot people quietly. THOMAS suggested they obtain unregistered, .22 caliber long rifles, cut them down and thread them to accommodate a silencer. During the ride, THOMAS asked ROBERTS whether he (ROBERTS) thought they should try to grow their group larger, "or stick to what we are planning on, assassinating 4 or 5 guys and that's it?" ROBERTS replied, "I think probably we need both."
16. On May 17, 2011, CHS1 met with THOMAS and ROBERTS to further discuss the group's plans. (This meeting was not recorded. ) CHS1 reported that THOMAS indicated the group was ready to move forward with acquiring silencers. At some point in the conversation, explosives were mentioned and THOMAS became very excited and said the group really needed to get some explosives. THOMAS mentioned that he is very disgruntled with the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). THOMAS indicated that he was considering driving to the Atlanta area to survey/locate IRS and ATF buildings.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The 34 Percent Non-Solution
on: November 02, 2011, 10:08:06 AM
GOP Wastes Obamacare Opportunity by Michael D. Tanner
from Cato Recent Op-eds
A new poll released last week shows that support for Obamacare has reached an all-time low. According to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has traditionally found more support for the health-care law than other groups, just 34 percent of Americans now support the law. In fact, barely half of Democrats support the signature achievement of a Democratic president.
It's not hard to see why. Among the revelations in recent weeks:
Insurance premiums are rising. President Obama once promised that the health-care bill would save each of us as much as $2,500 annually on our premiums. But a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows family premiums increasing by a whopping 9 percent this year, three times more than the previous year's increase. The average family policy now costs more than $15,000 per year. Not only has Obamacare failed to slow premium growth, but at least two percentage points of that increase is directly attributable to the health-care law's provisions.
Consumers have fewer choices. Obamacare is driving insurance companies out of the market, meaning there will be less competition and fewer choices. Just last month, two health-insurance companies announced that they were leaving Florida's individual-insurance market because of provisions in the law, most notably the medical-loss-ratio requirement that insurers must spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care or give customers rebates. And in Iowa, Des Moinesâ€“based American Enterprise Group announced last week that it will also pull out of the individual major-medical-insurance market, making it the 13th company to pull out of some portion of Iowa's health-insurance business since June 2010.
More debt, fewer taxpayers. A new study from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the subsidies in the bill will add $1.36 trillion to the national debt over the first seven years after the bill is fully implemented. And at a time when 47 percent of Americans already pay no income tax, the bill's tax credits will remove as many as 8.1 million more Americans from the tax rolls.
CLASS Act dies (sort of). And how can we forget that the administration itself had to announce it was pulling the plug on the CLASS Act, the bill's Ponzi-like long-term-care program? At the same time, however, the administration came out against any effort to actually repeal the program that they believe is actuarially unsound.
Yet Republicans have seemed strangely quiet about the issue of late. So much so, in fact, that the Washington Times was led to wonder if Republicans have "given up" on repeal. There certainly does not appear to be much evidence that Republicans are still making repeal a top priority. The House hasn't taken a vote on Obamacare since trying to change the bill's graduate-medical-education funding back in May. There isn't even an all-out effort to get behind a repeal of the CLASS Act, despite Democratic defections on the issue.
And the Republican presidential candidates have relatively little to say as well. This seems especially odd, given that any Republican not named Mitt Romney should be hammering on the issue almost daily. But lately there seems to be more attention paid to the nationality of Romney's gardener than to his continued defense of Romneycare.
As for Romney himself, if he hopes to persuade Republican voters that there is a difference between Obamacare and the Massachusetts health plan — and, more important, that he can be trusted to repeal Obamacare — he should be saying so very frequently and very loudly.
This is one of those times when good policy makes good politics. But Republicans seem content to blow this golden opportunity.
Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13819
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trans-Atlantic Financial Crisis
on: November 02, 2011, 09:55:00 AM
Why We Can't Escape the Eurocrisis by Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr.
from Cato Recent Op-eds
When is a bailout not a bailout? When the bailor is short of funds. The recently announced debt plan in the European Union comes up short in almost all respects.
The debt crisis is not just an EU problem, but a trans-Atlantic financial crisis. The overwhelming debt problems on either side of the pond are interlinked through the banking system.
First to the EU. The underlying dilemma is that governments have promised their citizens more social programs than can be financed with the tax revenue generated by the private sector. High tax rates choke off the economic growth needed to finance the promises. Economic activity gets driven into the underground economy, where it often escapes taxation.
Nowhere is this truer than in Greece, which has a long history of sovereign defaults in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a bloated public sector, and competitive private enterprise is hobbled by regulation and government barriers to entry. Successive Greek governments ran chronic budget deficits, and the Greek banks lent to the government. Banks in other EU countries, such as France, lent to the Greek banks.
In Greece and elsewhere in the EU, the banks support the government by purchasing its bonds, and the government guarantees the banks. It is a Ponzi scheme not even Bernie Madoff could have concocted. The banks can no longer afford to fund budget deficits, yet they cannot afford to see governments default. Governments cannot make good on their guarantees of the banks.
Details differ by country. In Ireland, problems began with an overheated property sector that brought down the banks. The economy went into depression, which threw the government's budget into deficit. Further aggravating the deficit was the government's decision to guarantee bank deposits, converting private, financial-sector debt into public-sector debt. The details differ from Greece, but the linkage between the government and the banks is the common factor.
France's growth is weak to nonexistent. Germany's economy has performed well since the recession, but concerns are growing regarding its banks' exposure to greater EU risk. And U.S. banks and financial institutions are exposed to EU banks through funding operations, issuance of credit default swaps and unknown exposure in derivatives markets.
The Federal Reserve has engaged in currency swaps with the European Central Bank to support the dollar needs of EU banks. The ECB deposits euros (or euro-denominated assets) with the Fed and receives dollars in return. It promises to repay dollars plus interest.
The Fed maintains they cannot lose money because the ECB promises to repay the swaps in dollars. And yet, with the world awash in greenbacks, it is unclear why the Fed and the ECB even needed to engage in these transactions—except that it suggests funding problems at some EU banks. And if neither EU banks nor the ECB can secure enough needed dollars in global markets, there is a serious counterparty risk to the Fed. The ECB can print euros but not dollars. Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, was correct to raise concerns about the Fed's policy last week. Losses on the Fed's balance sheet hit the U.S taxpayer, not EU citizens.
The sad fact is that there is not enough money in the EU to pay off the public debts incurred by the governments. Most countries have long since squeezed as much tax revenue from their citizens as they can. That is why they have toyed with a tax on financial transactions, the one remaining untaxed activity in all of Europe.
Greece is the first of other sovereign defaults to come. With last week's bailout, the EU leaders might have bought time, perhaps a year. But at some point, the ECB will cave and monetize the debt, leading to euro-zone inflation.
The debt calculus changed dramatically this week with the announcement of a Greek referendum on the bailout agreement next January. If voters reject the agreement, the ultimate outcome is unpredictable.
Americans must not be smug about the suffering of Europeans—our financial system is thoroughly integrated with theirs. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund will most likely be involved in the event of future bailouts and will likely need large funds from its members, which ultimately means the taxpayers.
And, of course, the U.S. has its own large and growing public debt burden. We have not gone as far down the road to entitlements, but we are catching up. If you want to know how the debt crisis will play out here, watch the downward spiral in the EU.
Meanwhile, expect more volatility in financial markets. U.S. traders in particular simply have not grasped the enormity of the EU debt crisis.
Gerald P. O'Driscoll, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is a former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and later Citibank.http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13817
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Greeks to Bid the Euro Adieu?
on: November 02, 2011, 08:18:01 AM
Greek referendum is coin-flip on euro exit
The Greek referendum call is, while it lasts, effectively a plebiscite on euro membership.
Papandreou announced on Monday that he would put a hard-fought rescue deal to a referendum
I say "while it lasts" because the opposition is mobilising a parliamentary manoeuvre to bring down the government, which may succeed - returning Europe to its status quo of containable trauma.
If Greeks reject the 50% controlled default on the debts they owe to the banking sector, then the arithmetic I revealed on Newsnight on the eve of the Euro summit comes into play - without a 50% haircut, and a further 130bn euro bailout, on top of 110bn, Greek debt spirals out of control and the country goes bust.
At this point, the value of the debt falls to maybe 10% of its face value and Greece has broken all the rules of euro membership.
The euro leaders will be faced with the option of a forced transfer of taxpayers' money to shore up the entire Greek economy with no surety, and no "local representatives" as currently planned. Or Greece leaves the euro.
Most political economists I speak to believe this has been the logic all along, and brave though it has been for Prime Minister George Papandreou to try and buy time to do a proper structural reform of Greece, the implosion of Spain and Italy has robbed him of that time.
Greeks - even those fiercely opposed to Pasok from the left and right - are resigned to the fact that the country faces years of painful restructuring. The real question at issue is a) under whose control and b) in whose interest?
It is for this reason that, while the Greek CP wants out of the euro, the growingly influential far left parliamentary group SYRIZA does not, and neither does the hard-right religious party LAOS. Everybody can see that an external devaluation will be chaotic, painful and cause its own kind of social unrest, just as the attempted internal devaluation is doing.
But events are moving fast. Even as the Greek centre-left toys with the concept of repudiating "odious" debt, as per Latin America in the 1990s, the debt is being concentrated into the hands of other sovereigns - the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), other governments…
The reason the markets are scared is not just because of the difference between 50% and 90% default, it is because in the old scenario (AKA the one we agreed on last Thursday morning!) this sovereign-held debt was out of the reckoning. An "Oxi" vote (it means "No" and was scrawled on thousands of banners hung from balconies last Thursday) would signal default across the whole range of debt, causing new turmoil for European states.
What caused Mr Papandreou's sudden move? Even some of the MPs closest to him had no idea it was going to happen.
Many of my Twitter correspondents suggest it was the vehemence of "Oxi Day" last week, leading to clashes between parading soldiers and protesters and local Pasok politicians getting hounded off the parades.
Pasok remains a very well rooted social democratic party, with multi-generational networks inside every village. If the village guys start ringing up and saying - there is no way we can hold it - Mr Papandreou is politician enough to hear this.
Another potential reason is capital flight. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Greek elite are buying up property in London just as fast as they can find berths in Poole for their yachts. They are voting with their spinnakers, on the basis that the game is up. In any future Greece on offer, they will have to start paying taxes and they do not want to.
One banker told me the Greek super-rich have mostly left.
The one thing governments have that investment banks do not is intelligence services with the power to wiretap people. If you ever wonder why serving politicians go grey so quickly, it is in part because they see the intelligence. So Mr Papandreou may have looked at the file and said, I can't sell this to my party, nor to my voters, and the business elite are emigrating en masse, so throw the dice.
Referendums are, always, basically a coin-toss, an all-chips on the black romantic gesture. Right now, the scale of EU-level mobilisiation to dissuade Mr Papandreou is huge.
But if Greece votes no - and goes for euro-exit - there are several plans in the process of being published that explain what you have to do. Close the banks for days, ration food and energy, institute strict capital controls - with most probably a few fast patrol boats at Glyfada harbour to check every departing yacht for cash and bonds.
Later, you get massive devaluation, with inflation; your non-sovereign debts become instantly doubled so you cannot pay them (i.e., the stock of Greek private debt to external lenders, for example, or, intra-corporate debts).
Finally, you get the chance to become competitive again. (I base this on SOAS professor Costas Lapavitsas' upcoming document, which he has verbally outlined to me).
However, despite this very, very unappealing prospect, you are at least in control of your own economy and you do not have foreign civil servants dictating what ministers can do.
One reason so many Greeks have told me this route is impossible is because there is no Kirchner - no left-leaning autarchic politician who can pose as the tribune of the nation and create a narrative around the default process, as Nestor Kirchner did in Argentina. Nobody on the right wants to do it either. And that is Mr Papandreou's gamble - that nobody outside the KKE will present a coherent alternative to a yes vote, and that the KKE does not want power.
That is how it looks from the balcony of a small hotel in Cannes this morning. When the politicians get here, I will let you know what the whites of their eyes are telling me.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15539350
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Scientific Heresy
on: November 01, 2011, 08:26:09 PM
A self confessed "luke warmer" frames what is wrong with climate apocalypse orthodoxy:
I'm grateful to Matt Ridley for allowing me to post the text of his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh.
It is a great honour to be asked to deliver the Angus Millar lecture.
I have no idea whether Angus Millar ever saw himself as a heretic, but I have a soft spot for heresy. One of my ancestral relations, Nicholas Ridley* the Oxford martyr, was burned at the stake for heresy.
My topic today is scientific heresy. When are scientific heretics right and when are they mad? How do you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?
Let us run through some issues, starting with the easy ones.
Astronomy is a science; astrology is a pseudoscience.
Evolution is science; creationism is pseudoscience.
Molecular biology is science; homeopathy is pseudoscience.
Vaccination is science; the MMR scare is pseudoscience.
Oxygen is science; phlogiston was pseudoscience.
Chemistry is science; alchemy was pseudoscience.
Are you with me so far?
A few more examples. That the earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare is pseudoscience. So are the beliefs that Elvis is still alive, Diana was killed by MI5, JFK was killed by the CIA, 911 was an inside job. So are ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, the Loch Ness monster and pretty well everything to do with the paranormal. Sorry to say that on Halloween, but that’s my opinion.
Three more controversial ones. In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.
So is quite a lot, though not all, of the argument for organic farming.
So, in a sense by definition, is religious faith. It explicitly claims that there are truths that can be found by other means than observation and experiment.
Now comes one that gave me an epiphany. Crop circles*.
It was blindingly obvious to me that crop circles were likely to be man-made when I first starting investigating this phenomenon. I made some myself to prove it was easy to do*.
This was long before Doug Bower and Dave Chorley fessed up to having started the whole craze after a night at the pub.
Every other explanation – ley lines, alien spacecraft, plasma vortices, ball lightning – was balderdash. The entire field of “cereology” was pseudoscience, as the slightest brush with its bizarre practitioners easily demonstrated.
Imagine my surprise then when I found I was the heretic and that serious journalists working not for tabloids but for Science Magazine, and for a Channel 4 documentary team, swallowed the argument of the cereologists that it was highly implausible that crop circles were all man-made.
So I learnt lesson number 1: the stunning gullibility of the media. Put an “ology” after your pseudoscience and you can get journalists to be your propagandists.
A Channel 4 team did the obvious thing – they got a group of students to make some crop circles and then asked the cereologist if they were “genuine” or “hoaxed” – ie, man made. He assured them they could not have been made by people. So they told him they had been made the night before. The man was poleaxed. It made great television. Yet the producer, who later became a government minister under Tony Blair, ended the segment of the programme by taking the cereologist’s side: “of course, not all crop circles are hoaxes”. What? The same happened when Doug and Dave owned up*; everybody just went on believing. They still do.
Lesson number 2: debunking is like water off a duck’s back to pseudoscience.
In medicine, I began to realize, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is not always easy. This is beautifully illustrated in an extraordinary novel by Rebecca Abrams, called Touching Distance*, based on the real story of an eighteenth century medical heretic, Alec Gordon of Aberdeen.
Gordon was a true pioneer of the idea that childbed fever was spread by medical folk like himself and that hygiene was the solution to it. He hit upon this discovery long before Semelweiss and Lister. But he was ignored. Yet Abrams’s novel does not paint him purely as a rational hero, but as a flawed human being, a neglectful husband and a crank with some odd ideas – such as a dangerous obsession with bleeding his sick patients. He was a pseudoscientist one minute and scientist the next.
Lesson number 3. We can all be both. Newton was an alchemist.
Like antisepsis, many scientific truths began as heresies and fought long battles for acceptance against entrenched establishment wisdom that now appears irrational: continental drift, for example. Barry Marshall* was not just ignored but vilified when he first argued that stomach ulcers are caused by a particular bacterium. Antacid drugs were very profitable for the drug industry. Eventually he won the Nobel prize.
Just this month Daniel Shechtman* won the Nobel prize for quasi crystals, having spent much of his career being vilified and exiled as a crank. “I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying.”
That’s lesson number 4: the heretic is sometimes right.
What sustains pseudoscience is confirmation bias. We look for and welcome the evidence that fits our pet theory; we ignore or question the evidence that contradicts it. We all do this all the time. It’s not, as we often assume, something that only our opponents indulge in. I do it, you do it, it takes a superhuman effort not to do it. That is what keeps myths alive, sustains conspiracy theories and keeps whole populations in thrall to strange superstitions.
Bertrand Russell* pointed this out many years ago: “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”
Lesson no 5: keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others.
There have been some very good books on this recently. Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain”, Dan Gardner’s “Future Babble” and Tim Harford’s “Adapt”* are explorations of the power of confirmation bias. And what I find most unsettling of all is Gardner’s conclusion that knowledge is no defence against it; indeed, the more you know, the more you fall for confirmation bias. Expertise gives you the tools to seek out the confirmations you need to buttress your beliefs.
Experts are worse at forecasting the future than non-experts.
Philip Tetlock did the definitive experiment. He gathered a sample of 284 experts – political scientists, economists and journalists – and harvested 27,450 different specific judgments from them about the future then waited to see if they came true. The results were terrible. The experts were no better than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.
Here’s what the Club of Rome said on the rear cover of the massive best-seller Limits to Growth in 1972*:
“Will this be the world that your grandchildren will thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts.”
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts", said Richard Feynman.
Lesson 6. Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. Experts are worth listening to about the past, but not the future. Futurology is pseudoscience.
Using these six lessons, I am now going to plunge into an issue on which almost all the experts are not only confident they can predict the future, but absolutely certain their opponents are pseudoscientists. It is an issue on which I am now a heretic. I think the establishment view is infested with pseudoscience. The issue is climate change.
Now before you all rush for the exits, and I know it is traditional to walk out on speakers who do not toe the line on climate at the RSA – I saw it happen to Bjorn Lomborg last year when he gave the Prince Philip lecture – let me be quite clear. I am not a “denier”. I fully accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the climate has been warming and that man is very likely to be at least partly responsible. When a study was published recently saying that 98% of scientists “believe” in global warming, I looked at the questions they had been asked and realized I was in the 98%, too, by that definition, though I never use the word “believe” about myself. Likewise the recent study from Berkeley, which concluded that the land surface of the continents has indeed been warming at about the rate people thought, changed nothing.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be. Or as I put it once, we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.
I also think the climate debate is a massive distraction from much more urgent environmental problems like invasive species and overfishing.
I was not always such a “lukewarmer”. In the mid 2000s one image in particular played a big role in making me abandon my doubts about dangerous man-made climate change: the hockey stick*. It clearly showed that something unprecedented was happening. I can remember where I first saw it at a conference and how I thought: aha, now there at last is some really clear data showing that today’s temperatures are unprecedented in both magnitude and rate of change – and it has been published in Nature magazine.
Yet it has been utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. I urge you to read Andrew Montford’s careful and highly readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion*. Here is not the place to go into detail, but briefly the problem is both mathematical and empirical. The graph relies heavily on some flawed data – strip-bark tree rings from bristlecone pines -- and on a particular method of principal component analysis, called short centering, that heavily weights any hockey-stick shaped sample at the expense of any other sample. When I say heavily – I mean 390 times.
This had a big impact on me. This was the moment somebody told me they had made the crop circle the night before.
For, apart from the hockey stick, there is no evidence that climate is changing dangerously or faster than in the past, when it changed naturally.
It was warmer in the Middle ages* and medieval climate change in Greenland was much faster.
Stalagmites*, tree lines and ice cores all confirm that it was significantly warmer 7000 years ago. Evidence from Greenland suggests that the Arctic ocean was probably ice free for part of the late summer at that time.
Sea level* is rising at the unthreatening rate about a foot per century and decelerating.
Greenland is losing ice at the rate of about 150 gigatonnes a year, which is 0.6% per century.
There has been no significant warming in Antarctica*, with the exception of the peninsula.
Methane* has largely stopped increasing.
Tropical storm* intensity and frequency have gone down, not up, in the last 20 years.
Your probability* of dying as a result of a drought, a flood or a storm is 98% lower globally than it was in the 1920s.
Malaria* has retreated not expanded as the world has warmed.
And so on. I’ve looked and looked but I cannot find one piece of data – as opposed to a model – that shows either unprecedented change or change is that is anywhere close to causing real harm.
No doubt, there will be plenty of people thinking “what about x?” Well, if you have an X that persuades you that rapid and dangerous climate change is on the way, tell me about it. When I asked a senior government scientist this question, he replied with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That is to say, a poorly understood hot episode, 55 million years ago, of uncertain duration, uncertain magnitude and uncertain cause.
Meanwhile, I see confirmation bias everywhere in the climate debate. Hurricane Katrina, Mount Kilimanjaro, the extinction of golden toads – all cited wrongly as evidence of climate change. A snowy December, the BBC lectures us, is “just weather”; a flood in Pakistan or a drought in Texas is “the sort of weather we can expect more of”. A theory so flexible it can rationalize any outcome is a pseudoscientific theory.
To see confirmation bias in action, you only have to read the climategate emails, documents that have undermined my faith in this country’s scientific institutions. It is bad enough that the emails unambiguously showed scientists plotting to cherry-pick data, subvert peer review, bully editors and evade freedom of information requests. What’s worse, to a science groupie like me, is that so much of the rest of the scientific community seemed OK with that. They essentially shrugged their shoulders and said, yeh, big deal, boys will be boys.
Nor is there even any theoretical support for a dangerous future. The central issue is “sensitivity”: the amount of warming that you can expect from a doubling of carbon dioxide levels. On this, there is something close to consensus – at first. It is 1.2 degrees centigrade. Here’s* how the IPCC put it in its latest report.
“In the idealised situation that the climate response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 consisted of a uniform temperature change only, with no feedbacks operating…the global warming from GCMs would be around 1.2°C.” Paragraph 126.96.36.199.
Now the paragraph goes on to argue that large, net positive feedbacks, mostly from water vapour, are likely to amplify this. But whereas there is good consensus about the 1.2 C, there is absolutely no consensus about the net positive feedback, as the IPCC also admits. Water vapour forms clouds and whether clouds in practice amplify or dampen any greenhouse warming remains in doubt.
So to say there is a consensus about some global warming is true; to say there is a consensus about dangerous global warming is false.
The sensitivity of the climate could be a harmless 1.2C, half of which has already been experienced, or it could be less if feedbacks are negative or it could be more if feedbacks are positive. What does the empirical evidence say? Since 1960 we have had roughly one-third of a doubling, so we must have had almost half of the greenhouse warming expected from a doubling – that’s elementary arithmetic, given that the curve is agreed to be logarithmic. Yet if you believe the surface thermometers* (the red and green lines), we have had about 0.6C of warming in that time, at the rate of less than 0.13C per decade – somewhat less if you believe the satellite thermometers (the blue and purple lines).
So we are on track for 1.2C*. We are on the blue line, not the red line*.
Remember Jim Hansen of NASA told us in 1988 to expect 2-4 degrees in 25 years. We are experiencing about one-tenth of that.
We are below even the zero-emission path expected by the IPCC in 1990*.
Ah, says the consensus, sulphur pollution has reduced the warming, delaying the impact, or the ocean has absorbed the extra heat. Neither of these post-hoc rationalisations fit the data: the southern hemisphere has warmed about half as fast as the northern* in the last 30 years, yet the majority of the sulphur emissions were in the northern hemisphere.
And ocean heat content has decelerated, if not flattened, in the past decade*.
By contrast, many heretical arguments seem to me to be paragons of science as it should be done: transparent, questioning and testable.
For instance, earlier this year, a tenacious British mathematician named Nic Lewis started looking into the question of sensitivity and found* that the only wholly empirical estimate of sensitivity cited by the IPCC had been put through an illegitimate statistical procedure which effectively fattened its tail on the upward end – it hugely increased the apparent probability of high warming at the expense of low warming.
When this is corrected, the theoretical probability of warming greater than 2.3C is very low indeed.
Like all the other errors in the IPCC report, including the infamous suggestion that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 rather than 2350, this mistake exaggerates the potential warming. It is beyond coincidence that all these errors should be in the same direction. The source for the Himalayan glacier mistake was a non-peer reviewed WWF report and it occurred in a chapter, two of whose coordinating lead authors and a review editor were on WWF’s climate witness scientific advisory panel. Remember too that the glacier error was pointed out by reviewers, who were ignored, and that Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, dismissed the objectors as practitioners of “voodoo science”.
Journalists are fond of saying that the IPCC report is based solely on the peer-reviewed literature. Rajendra Pachauri himself made that claim in 2008, saying*:
“we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don't settle for anything less than that.”
That’s a voodoo claim. The glacier claim was not peer reviewed; nor was the alteration to the sensitivity function Lewis spotted. The journalist Donna Laframboise got volunteers all over the world to help her count the times the IPCC used non-peer reviewed literature. Her conclusion is that*: “Of the 18,531 references in the 2007 Climate Bible we found 5,587 - a full 30% - to be non peer-reviewed.”
Yet even to say things like this is to commit heresy. To stand up and say, within a university or within the BBC, that you do not think global warming is dangerous gets you the sort of reaction that standing up in the Vatican and saying you don’t think God is good would get. Believe me, I have tried it.
Does it matter? Suppose I am right that much of what passes for mainstream climate science is now infested with pseudoscience, buttressed by a bad case of confirmation bias, reliant on wishful thinking, given a free pass by biased reporting and dogmatically intolerant of dissent. So what?
After all there’s pseudoscience and confirmation bias among the climate heretics too.
Well here’s why it matters. The alarmists have been handed power over our lives; the heretics have not. Remember Britain’s unilateral climate act is officially expected to cost the hard-pressed UK economy £18.3 billion a year for the next 39 years and achieve an unmeasurably small change in carbon dioxide levels.
At least* sceptics do not cover the hills of Scotland with useless, expensive, duke-subsidising wind turbines whose manufacture causes pollution in Inner Mongolia and which kill rare raptors such as this griffon vulture.
At least crop circle believers cannot almost double your electricity bills and increase fuel poverty while driving jobs to Asia, to support their fetish.
At least creationists have not persuaded the BBC that balanced reporting is no longer necessary.
At least homeopaths have not made expensive condensing boilers, which shut down in cold weather, compulsory, as John Prescott did in 2005.
At least astrologers have not driven millions of people into real hunger, perhaps killing 192,000 last year according to one conservative estimate, by diverting 5% of the world’s grain crop into motor fuel*.
That’s why it matters. We’ve been asked to take some very painful cures. So we need to be sure the patient has a brain tumour rather than a nosebleed.
Handing the reins of power to pseudoscience has an unhappy history. Remember eugenics. Around 1910 the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals agreed that nationalizing reproductive decisions so as to stop poor, disabled and stupid people from having babies was not just a practical but a moral imperative of great urgency.
“There is now no reasonable excuse for refusing to face the fact,” said George Bernard Shaw*, “that nothing but a eugenics religion can save our civilization from the fate that has overtaken all previous civilizations.’’ By the skin of its teeth, mainly because of a brave Liberal MP called Josiah Wedgwood, Britain never handed legal power to the eugenics movement. Germany did.
Or remember Trofim Lysenko*, a pseudoscientific crank with a strange idea that crops could be trained to do what you wanted and that Mendelian genetics was bunk. His ideas became the official scientific religion of the Soviet Union and killed millions; his critics, such as the geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, ended up dead in prison.
Am I going too far in making these comparisons? I don’t think so. James Hansen of NASA says oil firm executives should be tried for crimes against humanity. (Remember this is the man who is in charge of one of the supposedly impartial data sets about global temperatures.) John Beddington, Britain's chief scientific adviser, said this year that just as we are "grossly intolerant of racism", so we should also be "grossly intolerant of pseudoscience", in which he included all forms of climate-change scepticism.
The irony of course is that much of the green movement began as heretical dissent. Greenpeace went from demanding that the orthodox view of genetically modified crops be challenged, and that the Royal Society was not to be trusted, to demanding that heresy on climate change be ignored and the Royal Society could not be wrong.
Talking of Greenpeace, did you know that the collective annual budget of Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth was more than a billion dollars globally last year? People sometimes ask me what’s the incentive for scientists to exaggerate climate change. But look at the sums of money available to those who do so, from the pressure groups, from governments and from big companies. It was not the sceptics who hired an ex News of the World deputy editor as a spin doctor after climategate, it was the University of East Anglia.
By contrast scientists and most mainstream journalists risk their careers if they take a skeptical line, so dogmatic is the consensus view. It is left to the blogosphere to keep the flame of heresy alive and do the investigative reporting the media has forgotten how to do. In America*, Anthony Watts who crowd-sourced the errors in the siting of thermometers and runs wattsupwiththat.com;
In Canada*, Steve McIntyre, the mathematician who bit by bit exposed the shocking story of the hockey stick and runs climateaudit.org.
Here in Britain,* Andrew Montford, who dissected the shenanigans behind the climategate whitewash enquiries and runs bishop-hill.net.
In Australia*, Joanne Nova, the former television science presenter who has pieced together the enormous sums of money that go to support vested interests in alarm, and runs joannenova.com.au.
The remarkable thing about the heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.
In conclusion, I’ve spent a lot of time on climate, but it could have been dietary fat, or nature and nurture. My argument is that like religion, science as an institution is and always has been plagued by the temptations of confirmation bias. With alarming ease it morphs into pseudoscience even – perhaps especially – in the hands of elite experts and especially when predicting the future and when there’s lavish funding at stake. It needs heretics.
Thank you very much for listening.http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/11/1/scientific-heresy.html
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant
on: November 01, 2011, 08:22:42 PM
I'm back, sorta.
I've started a Masters program that is the focus of most my thoughtful keyboard time these days, while at the same time doing a lot more shooting instruction and range safety work. As such I don't have a lot of time left over for internet meanderings, particularly ones that devolve into circular discussions. Don't be surprised, therefor, if "I don't have time to do another lap around this track" becomes a common refrain where I'm concerned.