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151  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Khmer Crimes on: April 06, 2015, 12:06:01 AM
Never Forget
Once upon a time—1975, actually, in Cambodia—there was a regime so evil that it created an antisociety where torture was currency and music, books, and love were abolished. This regime ruled for four years and murdered nearly 2 million of its citizens, a quarter of the population. The perversion was so extreme, the acts so savage, that three decades later, the country still finds itself reeling.
July 2009



ON THE DAY THE MAN was reunited with his wife (thinking her already dead), how could he have known that she had just seventeen more hours before disappearing? They were prisoners of the Khmer Rouge, herded in different groups, in the last hours of the regime, chaotically fleeing the Vietnamese. Even now, he remembers first seeing her again, the heightened metabolic state of happiness, and though he revealed no emotion (even the act of smiling—something Cambodians do so readily—was thought by the Khmer Rouge to be unrevolutionary), he watched her carefully as she walked ahead with their small son, both dressed as he was: in black pajamas. When the guards were at a distance, he spoke to her once about the scenery.

They did not touch.


AT THAT TIME—during the nearly four-year reign of Angkar lasting from April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979—the killing was so random and widespread across Cambodia that death became a near certainty, especially if you were sent to the prison camp known as S-21. While the odds were roughly one in four of dying—and worse depending on your demographic (for instance, adult men died in much higher percentages)—your chance of survival at S-21 was .04 percent.

Or put the opposite way, the odds of your death were 99.96 percent.

Before death, though, a prisoner confessed, over and over again, until he’d named sometimes hundreds of “traitors,” in order to stop the pain of torture. The man who would soon lose his wife and who, as it turned out, was a mechanic with dexterous hands, had been named and arrested, taken away blindfolded to the place where 15,000 others were sentenced and exterminated in nearby pastureland famously known as the Killing Fields. But then, as fate would have it, he would emerge as one of only seven survivors from the prison camp. He became living proof that somehow surviving the absolute certainty of your own death can be as horrific as murder itself. For in the end, you’re the only one left to carry the memory of 15,000 terrors.


THE MAN WAS 44 years old when the body of his wife disappeared, the same age as I am right now. There is no equivalence; this is only a fact.

And one other: At this same age, though I have three children, he’d already lost four.


FROM THE BOOK of Atrocities, the evil fable begins like this: Once upon a time, a group of men educated in Paris and steeped in communist ideology had a dream for their homeland. To create a Cambodian society that surpassed the greatness of Angkor, the kingdom that reached its pinnacle under the god-king Suryavarman II in the twelfth century with the construction of Angkor Wat. From the jungles—where their leaders had fled to escape the repressive measures of Prince Sihanouk in 1963—they fought a guerrilla war, led by a soft-spoken, enigmatic schoolteacher named Saloth Sar. These communists, however, did not believe in gods, kings, or culture, as it turned out, but they were good at biding their time. In the vacuum of power left after the eight-year American bombing of Cambodia, they swept east across the lowlands to the capital, Phnom Penh, finally wresting control from the corrupt U.S.-supported regime in 1975. (The premier, Lon Nol, had already fled to Hawaii.) Their first act was to evacuate the city, hurrying the populace under the pretense that the Americans were coming to bomb again, emptying hospitals, setting millions of people—including the elderly, lame, and pregnant—walking on the roads that led to the countryside, a scene of hunger and corpses straight out of Brueghel.

What the Khmer Rouge had in store was a radical agrarian revolution, one with the professed aim of completely renovating society while giving the peasants a better life, of evening the rewards and feeding the hungry, of bringing a rational and utilitarian nation-state into being. At first, without the world knowing their real intentions, they were partially applauded, even by American journalists and politicians. Prince Sihanouk assured Congress that the Khmer Rouge would establish “a Swedish type of kingdom,” and Senator George McGovern believed that the new regime would be “run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.” But almost immediately the Khmer Rouge’s revolutionary pretenses gave way to the sickening irrationality of brutes. In that first spasm of violence, everyone wearing glasses was killed. Everyone who spoke a foreign language was killed. Everyone with a university education was killed. Word was sent to expats living abroad to come home and join the new Cambodia; when a thousand or so arrived on special flights from Beijing, they were killed. Monks, so revered in Cambodian society and long the voice of conscience there, were killed. Lawyers, doctors, and diplomats were killed. Bureaucrats, soldiers, and policemen, even factory workers (who in the minds of the Khmer Rouge were equivalent to industrialization itself), were killed.

In that first moment, the lucky ones were directed to keep walking to their home villages—some traveled for months this way—where they were sorted, sent to collectives, and worked from sunup to twilight. A person’s worth was eventually measured by his ability to move cubic yards of earth. “To keep you is no profit,” said the executioners to the unworthy before killing them, “to destroy you is no loss.”


THE MAN WHO would survive S-21 but lose his wife—the man named Chum Mey—realized that the troops first entering Phnom Penh were mostly lost boys from the jungle, dirty and ragged with blank expressions, who, within hours of being greeted as liberators by cheering crowds, turned on the masses with their AK-47’s. In the south of the city, they fired warning shots; in the northwest sector, they fired on people. Never having seen toilets before, the soldiers drank from them as if they were cisterns, shat on the floor, wiped themselves with sticks that they left strewn about abandoned houses.

It was April, the hottest month. Fires ringed the city, the roads were so packed you could only progress in baby steps, parents were separated from their children, the sick and old laid themselves down, moaning. The man had his wife and children. At night he went down to the river to get water for them and found himself standing on bodies, and then in the water surrounded by bodies, so thick in places you couldn’t drink.

Funny, a repugnant memory such as that clung with an almost humid fondness now, thirty-five years later, for as horrible as the moment was, his family was still gathered about him. When he carried the water back, there was still thirst to quench, voices calling for their father and husband: Here, Pa! Here! Terrible things gathered around them, but lying down for the night, he could whisper to his wife:

Is this really happening?


THE LEADERS of the revolution were designated as Brother Number One (Pol Pot), Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea), Brother Number Three (Ieng Sary), and so on. And they were nothing if not ambitious in trying to build a new society. The Brothers abolished courts and banks. They abolished money and holidays and love. They abolished time and history, setting everything back to Year Zero. And they abolished the four things Cambodians hold most dear: food, family, village, and Buddhism. Those who hailed from the city were branded with the designation “New People,” versus “Old People,” who were from the country. New People were those most often badly punished. The entire populace was forced to wear black pajamas, the women Maoist bobs. So secretive were the Brothers that for a year no one knew who was running the country. Until Saloth Sar emerged under his new revolutionary name of Pol Pot, it was as if the faceless godhead Angkar decided all.

When it came to song, workers were only occasionally allowed to sing from a menu of revolutionary anthems like “Struggling to Build Dam and Dig Canals” or “Bravery of Construction Revolutionary Soldiers” or “Best Wishes to People in Northwestern Zone.” But a jingle secretly murmured by workers at the time spoke the truth: “Angkar kills but does not explain.”


ON THE ROAD from Phnom Penh during those first days, a Khmer Rouge cadre said to the man with dexterous fingers, who would soon lose his wife: “See nothing, say nothing, do nothing against Angkar and you may survive.”


I FIRST WENT TO Cambodia in 2002, primarily, as it turned out, to change diapers. My wife had work in Phnom Penh, and thus left with her driver and translator early each morning and returned later each night, while I took care of our firstborn son, who was 2 at the time. Initially, I thought we’d have some cultural moments out in the city, but soon realized that we were destined to spend an abnormal amount of time eating grilled-cheese sandwiches by the pool.

When we ventured out of the hotel, I pushed him in a stroller along the Mekong River, drifting with the hordes to the center of town, to a park there, where under a brutal sun, in the sticky, soaking heat, one could ride an elephant for a dollar. With son in arms, I climbed a rickety metal ladder, sat warily on the huge beast (his legs were chained to each other), and one with the pachyderm now, we lumbered the circumference of the park while my son, in silent panic, clutched me like a snake-spooked chimpanzee. Everyone—the mothers clutching their own babies, the fathers hand in hand with their daughters—pointed and smiled at us.

Back at the hotel, we ate our sandwiches, swam in the pool, went to bed. We understood nothing, of course. Our ignorance was willful. We tried to sleep but couldn’t. I lay awake, remembering all the smiles in that park. Why had everyone been smiling? It made me suddenly paranoid. Was there something I hadn’t known about that elephant, that park, that set of operators? Was the joke on me? And if so, what was the joke?

Or had they merely smiled because they could?


I WAS TO HAVE one afternoon to myself in Phnom Penh, after my wife had completed her work. I scoured the guidebook—the Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom, a drink at Le Royal—but got stuck on S-21, the famous prison camp located in a former school called Tuol Sleng. Even Lonely Planet couldn’t bring itself to recommend a visit to the site, which had been turned into a museum. Here’s what it said:

“Altogether, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience. The sheer ordinariness of the place makes it even more horrific: the suburban setting, the plain school buildings, the grassy playing area where today children kick around balls, rusted beds, instruments of torture and wall after wall of harrowing black and white portraits conjure up images of humanity at its worst. Tuol Sleng is not for the squeamish.”

So that’s where I went.


IT WAS SILENT when I arrived, and I was trying to gauge that silence at the same time that I was guarding against it, with the same active ambivalence I’ve had visiting other holocaust museums and concentration camps. The mind glimmers with trepidation: How bad will this get? Which is another way of asking: Just how deep and dark goes the human animal? And: Am I willing to participate, even if just bearing witness? Which itself is a defense: bearing witness. After all, we are the animals, too, bearing witness to our accomplishment.

Tuol Sleng had all the Gulag charm of any nondescript cement-block three-story building complex blooming with mold, humidity stains, and the sickening presence of evil in the unwashable blood marked into the umber-and-white-tile-checked floor. People, tourists like me, moved through the old school in ghostly ministrations—as if the guards of yore—and in the background, seemingly far away, came the low rustle of the city.

S-21 had been directed by a man named Kaing Guek Eav, whose revolutionary name was Comrade Duch (pronounced “doik”). Once a teacher of mathematics, he’d first been conscripted by the Khmer Rouge to run a jungle prison camp, where he’d studiously refined his ideas about torture, and was then put in charge of S-21. It was here that he condoned “living autopsies” (the slicing and flaying of victims); that he demanded the extended use of torture to

obtain confessions (including near drownings, the removal of toe- and fingernails followed by a dousing of alcohol, electric shocks applied to genitals, suffocation with plastic bags, and forcing prisoners to eat human excrement); that he ordered the murder of at least 15,000 people, who were taken to the Killing Fields and shot or bludgeoned (with iron rods, shovels, and axes) and then dumped into mass graves.

Operating from 1975 to 1979, S-21 became the most infamous of 196 such prison camps the Khmer Rouge established throughout Cambodia, primarily because so many of its prisoners were the purged party loyal—and because Duch’s methods were so stunningly brutal. In 1979, when the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge from power, they happened upon Tuol Sleng because of the stench of rotting corpses.

Now Tuol Sleng was a museum—and perhaps the most potent symbol of the Khmer Rouge’s dystopia. As I crossed the courtyard, the leaves of the palm trees and banyans shifted benevolently in a breeze, and detaching the scene from its history, one might have imagined this courtyard at a swank hotel in Honolulu: pleasant, tropical, hushed. But instead of someone taking drink orders, there was a billboard posted with security regulations. They began with their own warm welcome:
1. You must answer accordingly to my questions. Don’t turn them away.
2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.



PRISONERS WERE HOOKED up to a pump and IV line and had all of their blood drained for use in the hospitals. According to witnesses, the breathing turned to gasps, then wheezing, until the victim’s eyes rolled back in his head, leaving only the whites. Bloodless, the corpses were then thrown in pits.


AT TUOL SLENG, you drift from room to empty room. Here stands that iconic rusted frame of a bed, used to bind prisoners. (6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.) Here the bolts that helped shackle up to fifty prisoners at a time, in holding cells, the bodies laid out on the floor like soon-to-be-gutted tuna. (7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders.…) In some rooms are photographs of the very same rooms, taken by the Vietnamese on the day they discovered the prison camp, a decomposed body left on the bed, a slit neck bled out in nearly black puddles. There are shackles and metal boxes that once held excrement for feeding. There’s a map of Cambodia on one wall, made from 300 skulls, and barbed wire on the upper balconies, put there, after a rash of suicides, to keep the prisoners from jumping. But it’s the empty eeriness of the rooms that fills the imagination; the tranquility that calls up the shrieking opposite. (8. Don’t make pretexts about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your jaw of traitor.)

Located on the first floor of the middle building are some of the most famous death masks in the world, those black-and-white photographs taken of living prisoners upon admission to Tuol Sleng. And yet the captured already know they’re dead. (10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.) The fear and resignation, the dark epiphany that the flashbulb brings—some have already been beaten, some have babies clinging to them, some stand unflinching, in their last moment of public dignity before Duch’s men have their way—is made more poignant by the fact that they are trapped inside an unsolvable koan. Their confusion is writ large beneath their defeat. What they’re about to confirm, during the hours and days of interrogation that will soon follow, is that there are no right answers. That they have become victims, as one visitor put it, of an “irrational radicalism” or, more plainly, of an absolutely absurd universe, one in which the sanctity of the body is torn down again and again to a diamond-hard point, void of ideals and emotion, where ultimately dying becomes less painful than living.”


AMONG THOSE WHO died under Duch were members of the Khmer Rouge’s own Standing Committee (caught in the spin cycle of Pol Pot’s ever increasing paranoia, more and more high-ranking officials were thought to be turncoats) and at least eleven Westerners: four Americans, three French, two Australians, a Brit, and a New Zealander. How any of them ended up at S-21 in the first place must be seen as a horrifically random act of cosmic bad luck. In the case of two American men who were sailing from Singapore to Hawaii, they mistakenly ended up in Cambodian waters and were apprehended by Khmer Rouge patrols.

Besides these special cases, the killing at S-21 was indiscriminate and nearly complete, including the equal-opportunity elimination of laborers, teachers, factory workers, artists, monks, diplomats, cyclo drivers, and on and on. When one thinks of the loss of life, one wonders again at those who made it out alive.

One way was this: The Party, in imitation of Mao’s cult of personality, decided it needed portraits of Pol Pot, and two of the prisoners happened to be painters. Thus they were offered the chance to paint for their lives. (On the list of those to die, next to the painter named Vann Nath, Duch had scribbled the words: Leave for using.) Meanwhile, the prison camp needed a good mechanic, and in the case of Chum Mey, the man who would lose his wife, he knew how to fix things, and his turn to die coincided with a broken sewing machine used for repairing the guards’ uniforms.

And so the spinning wheel’s needle landed on the sliver-wedge that bore their names—and that’s how they lived.



TO MAKE LOVE out of wedlock meant certain death, and a boy who had just reached puberty, who was confused and desperate, was caught in the act with a water buffalo. The next day everyone from his collective—from the youngest to the oldest—was gathered. The boy was paraded before the crowd, strung up, then taunted, tortured, and killed. As odd as the case sounds, survivors of the Khmer Rouge recall public executions—full of redress and mockery, disembowelment and cannibalism—as being a part of the daily schedule. “Better to destroy ten innocent people,” was another saying, “than to let one enemy go free.”


A VISIT TO S-21 leaves an inconsolable feeling. It rides with you in the taxi back to the unreality of the hotel, through the streets of Phnom Penh, buzzing with markets and families, with the ramshackle grandeur of golden stupas and crumbling colonial architecture. And yet somewhere still behind it, one rearrives at the skeleton: the images just after the Khmer Rouge took the capital, a city drained of all human life, the colonial buildings empty and echoing, the pagodas ransacked and used to hold grain, piles of television sets and radios, burnt cars and all other machines of modern life strewn in the streets, twisting columns of smoke rising from the wreckage. Behind the normalcy of today, even the veneer of progress, lurks that desolation (…it is still happening).

In my case, the aftermath of a visit to S-21 left me with (a) a suffusion of paranoia and (b) a feeling of utter futility. It was the futility that stuck with me, though, the gut-wrenching realization that somehow the Khmer Rouge had gotten away with their experiment and that they had razed a country of its lawyers and leaders, intellectuals and activists (all those who might have had the expertise and wherewithal to hold them accountable for their crimes). By “smashing” (their word) the populace, by pathologically replacing the individual with the collective (and making sure that the collective knew how to do only one thing: grow rice), they’d instilled a paralysis and fear that had so far, thirty years later, saved them from retribution. They’d effectively lobotomized their own country.

It was astonishing, really. In the annals of the century’s great crimes against humanity, the Nazi leadership had been tried—and many of them executed—in fairly short order, as had the Japanese war criminals. Guilty parties convicted of genocide in Rwanda, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia were imprisoned and in some cases executed. Those responsible for apartheid in South Africa were subjected to a truth commission, which at least demanded confession and supplication.

Meanwhile, after being forced from power, the Khmer Rouge leadership set up on the border of Thailand, in the jungle stronghold of Pailin. From there, Pol Pot and his minions carried on their killing (including taking the lives of Western backpackers visiting the Angkor Wat temple complex) and tried to muster a second revolution. (It was said that between ordering the murder of his top lieutenants, Pol Pot, who was never pursued as a criminal, enjoyed Cognac, Pringles, and reading Paris Match, a French celebrity rag.) During this time, the Khmer Rouge continued to occupy Cambodia’s seat at the U.N. and receive foreign delegations in the jungle. The regime was so deeply entrenched that even the United States couldn’t cut final ties until 1991, a decade after learning the worst about it. Meanwhile, a number of high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders were invited back to Phnom Penh and given villas by the government.

The mystery to me, and many others, was also a pique: What was the exact purpose of all this accommodation? And more: When was someone going to pay?


NOT LONG AFTER returning from Cambodia that first time, I had coffee with an editor in Manhattan. As happens at such meetings, an air of false importance hovered over the proceedings as we discussed “big stories” that seemed to have been overlooked by the media, even though we were the media. When I brought up the untried Khmer Rouge leaders, pointing out the 1.7 million dead from nearly thirty years ago, his eyes glazed. Yes—but no: More than that, he wanted to talk about Hollywood. “What people tend to miss,” he said, “is that George Clooney’s much more than an actor.”


THEY DID NOT believe in gods, kings, or culture. In fact, it’s fair to say that in spite of their communist doctrine, they believed in very little at all except a very dark, dominating kind of nihilism. They abolished schools, sport, toys, free time. They banned words like beauty, colorful, and comfort from the radio. They forced all children 7 or older from their parents, placing them in packs called “mobile units” to help with the rice harvest. (It was a “vagrant life,” said one survivor, “like that of a plant floating in the ocean.”) They abolished happiness, as it was their supreme belief that in order to purge individuality, the people must be made to suffer, and having suffered, would be void of dreams and expectations. That is, without minds of their own, they’d be perfect revolutionaries.


THE KHMER ROUGE were so busy killing people, they didn’t mince words. Here are a few of their sayings:

“He who protests is an enemy; he who opposes is a corpse.”

“Angkar has [the many] eyes of the pineapple.”

“Hunger is the most effective disease.”


IT’S STILL HAPPENING, PA. You’re an old man now, and it is still happening. The thugs have turned out the nearly 2 million residents of Phnom Penh, and as you walk along that road with your whole family, and as others lie dying, as others are shot and beaten and literally steamrolled (one body you see has been mashed to the thickness of a pancake, oozing clear syrup and viscera), your youngest contracts a high fever, then diarrhea.

You bury her one night in a heavy rain and keep going.

Sometime during that death march, the soldiers demand that all the mechanics identify themselves. You are guileless and want to please in order to save your family. They assure you that your family will be safe, and when they pull you from the line, you look back once at them. Then you are sent to the city, where you begin that first month repairing the boats they use to transport Khmer Rouge soldiers up-country along the Mekong. Your next assignment is two years in the capital, scurrying through ghostly streets, going from abandoned house to abandoned house, retrieving and then fixing, by your count, 40,000 sewing machines—40,000 broken belts and bobbins—all of which go to the factories where the women work, making the same black pajamas that you will be wearing on the day your wife disappears.



IF SOMEONE required killing, it was common practice to kill their children. If a parent died of starvation or disease, the children might also be killed. At the Killing Fields, babies were held by their feet and smashed against a designated tree, the Baby-Smashing Tree.

Duch would later admit, while explaining why he ordered the death of so many children, that those that came to S-21 with their parents were seen as dangerous agents, potential enemies of the state who would ultimately seek revenge for the death of a parent. “You must pull the weed at the root” went the saying. Or: Kill now before you, too, are killed.


EVERYONE HAD A THEORY, real or half-baked, about why it had been nearly impossible to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. For some, American guilt rode high on the list. That is, the Americans were loathe to reexamine the sordid details of their eight-year secret bombing of the country—which killed somewhere between 150,000 and 500,000 civilians—and were unwilling to accept their role in the destabilization of society that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. For others, the prime minister, Hun Sen, didn’t want his own Khmer Rouge résumé dredged up. (“We should dig a hole and bury the past,” he was quoted as saying in 1998, rejecting the idea of trials.) And then the international community didn’t seem to have much desire for it, either; being resource-poor and of no geopolitical advantage, Cambodia had nothing to offer. Meanwhile, the money that was earmarked for eventual trials, money that poured in through various NGOs and foreign governments, created a lucrative cottage industry for certain corrupt local officials who were motivated to drag out the process as long as possible.

And yet as time sludged forward, an agreement was finally forged in 2003 between the Cambodian government and the U.N. to inaugurate the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea, or the ECCC. A formal indictment followed in 2007, charging Duch with crimes against humanity as well as war crimes. In addition, the top Khmer Rouge leaders who remained alive were arrested and imprisoned, including Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea) and Brother Number Three (Ieng Sary). But up until Duch took the stand in March of this year to begin the first trial, there were still those who doubted such a day would ever come—and others, mostly those born after 1979, who didn’t understand why there should be a trial for these mythical old men at all. Why did it matter? Or: Was it better left forgotten?

In writing the introduction to the trials in a handbook distributed to the Cambodian people, Hun Sen put it most simply. “The crimes of the Khmer Rouge period were not just committed against the people of Cambodia,” he wrote, “but against all humanity.”


DECEMBER 9, 1970: Feeling frustrated by the changing tide of the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon calls his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, to discuss closing down North Vietnamese supply routes through Cambodia. “I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them,” says the president. “There is no limitation on mileage, and there is no limitation on budget.” Throughout the conversation, Nixon seems agitated, peeved. “The whole goddamn Air Force over there farting around,” he says. “It is a disgraceful performance.… Get them off their asses and get them to work now.”

Minutes later Kissinger is speaking to Alexander Haig: “I just talked to our little friend,” says Kissinger. “[H]e wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order; it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?”

On the transcript, the response is described as follows: “Couldn’t hear but sounded like Haig laughing.”


OVER AND OVER and over, in past, present, and future, it’s happening, has happened, will happen again. Like this:

In 146 b.c., the Romans attacked Carthage, jealous of its wealth and refinement. After giving up their weapons to avoid war, the Carthaginians were asked to abandon their beloved city and, when they refused, were set upon, beaten, and burned alive. Over the course of a week, Roman soldiers employed all manner of killing—using swords for stabbing and spears for impaling. They lofted bodies from rooftops to the cobbles below and buried children and old people alive or stampeded them beneath their horses. According to one account, bodies were “torn asunder into all kinds of horrible shapes, crushed and mangled.” When the Carthaginian commander, Hasdrubal, finally surrendered, his wife appeared before him at a burning temple with their children and, reproaching him for his cowardice, she “slew her children, flung them into the fire, and plunged in after them.”

Witnessing it all, the Roman commander Scipio clasped the hand of one of his lieutenants. “A glorious moment, Polybius,” he said, “but I have a dread foreboding that someday the same doom will be pronounced upon my own country.”

Or in other words, our own genocide forever comes next.


BEFORE RETURNING TO Cambodia during the phase of Duch’s pretrial hearings, I was reading a lot. Books about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Books about torture and genocide. I sat in a room, in the middle of winter, ice shagging the windows, staring at pictures of the Brothers Khmer (oddly bloated while everyone else starved)—and some of their 1.7 million victims (fed on teaspoons of gruel; you could see their ribs). I read and took notes. By the time I recorded the details of one horrific happening, it was subsumed by the details of the next. It was hard to accept the incomprehensibility of the feat, the sheer creativity of Angkar’s sadism. But there it was, in the pictures taken at S-21, in the still-alive faces flashing with death.

During this time, I thought that perhaps if you applied logic (for instance, a syllogism) to something illogical (for instance, a genocide), you might reach, well, the beginning of understanding. One afternoon, poring over my notes, a couple of disparate lines unmended themselves, floated up, and spun down again. It was a beginning:

Language is the only means to reconciliation.
Pain destroys language.
For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.


MY FIRST MORNING in Phnom Penh, I met at the hotel with a defense attorney for Comrade Duch named François Roux. The ECCC was set up in such a way that for every Cambodian attorney, there was also a corresponding international attorney. Roux shared his defense duties with a Cambodian lawyer named Kar Savuth, who himself had lost two brothers and nearly his own life to the Khmer Rouge.

Roux had spent thirty years doing this work, traveling the world to defend the accused from Rwanda to French Polynesia. He’d defended José Bové, the man who tore down a McDonald’s in France protesting genetically modified crops. Here in the United States he’d helped save the so-called twentieth hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, from the death penalty. “I like being on the side of the accused,” he said. “I find it edifying."

At the hotel, he waved off the sumptuous five-star buffet, a cornucopia of pancakes and dumplings, pho and shrimp lo mein, and instead drank a single cup of orange-pekoe tea. He was a diminutive, impish man with quick, intelligent brown eyes, clad in a slightly ill-fitting black blazer and ironed white shirt. He’d spent so much time in Cambodia lately, he’d taken a little house to live in, and he found his life completely entwined with Duch, whom he met with every day. Yes, they had formed a bond, he said, a client-attorney bond, but a human bond nonetheless. “I wouldn’t say we are friends,” said Roux, “but we have an understanding, a very good understanding.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly. Was Roux here to act as an apologist for Duch, to report that he’d looked into the man’s soul and seen something that the rest of humanity had somehow missed? Somewhere along the way, Duch had converted to Christianity, but thirty years and 15,000 dead bodies later was it okay to say, “Oh yeah, that stuff back there, that was a big mistake”?

I’m sure it wasn’t the first time Roux had been mistaken for one of his clients, and he tried his best to explain, but for a moment I held tightly to my own syllogism:

Duch was evil.

Roux had a bond with Duch.

Roux had a bond with evil.

The Frenchman’s mouth kept moving—“due process…accepted responsibility…true justice…”—but I lost track of what he was saying. Only later, when I went back to the transcript, did I hear his voice again, almost plaintive in its individuation.

“I’m only here to try to make something fair out of something unfair,” he said.


AT S-21, when Duch had once been omnipotent, when it seemingly hadn’t occurred to him to question his own actions or seek expiation from his god for the sins he was committing, he preferred whips and electric shocks to waterboarding in order to keep his prisoners alive.

To an interrogator under his command, he gave these words of advice: “Beat [the prisoner] until he tells everything. Beat him to get at the deep things.”


AT OUR MEETING, Roux had spoken eloquently about how it could be that we might allow someone like Duch back into “our human community.” He went on to point out how the trial would allow his client to make his amends with the Cambodian people, how the criminal was always bigger than his crimes, that Duch had undergone a conversion. He was now a Christian, but more than that he was changed somehow.

Changed how? By sudden guilt? After the Vietnamese had poured into Phnom Penh in January of 1979, effectively ending the rule of the Khmer Rouge, Comrade Duch had stayed at S-21 until the final second in order to oversee the killing of the last of the prisoners (the ones photographed by the Vietnamese, bodies bound on the rusted metal bedframes, throats slashed, bled out on the umber-and-white floor); then he’d disappeared into the jungle, eventually making his way to China to teach Khmer. He returned to the jungle to work for Pol Pot as a bureaucrat and then taught school again in a small village, where he was regarded as a good teacher with a mean temper. Later, after his conversion, he became a lay minister and worked in the countryside with the Christian relief agency World Vision, which is where he was found in 1999, under an assumed name, by a young journalist whose own initial visit to Tuol Sleng had led him on a personal manhunt for Comrade Duch. Would he have ever come forward if he hadn’t been discovered?

I admit I had a hard time buying the tale of his full conversion, especially from the French defense attorney whose advantage it was to sell that particular narrative, however passionate and personable Roux was, however much I trusted Roux’s intentions and his absolute faith in the process of justice. “Every case needs someone to defend,” he had said. He implied that even someone like Duch could be saved.

But if, as Roux insisted, the criminal was always bigger than his crime, I wanted to know this: Wasn’t the victim much bigger than both?


ROUX, WHO WAS rushing to catch a plane to Rwanda, insisted that I speak to Kar Savuth, the other defense attorney. And so we set a meeting for a few nights later at the hotel bar. In 1994, Savuth had taken his oath as one of the first lawyers in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge, completing a dream that had been delayed twenty years: He’d been a law student when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. Instead of seeking revenge, a victim of the Khmer Rouge was defending them.

When he appeared, I would have guessed him to have been anywhere from 45 to 65 years old (he was 77), wearing a gray shirt and gray slacks, flashing a gold watch and diamond ring, and carrying three cell phones, which he laid out before him on the table. We took a seat in the far corner with my translator, a woman named Veasna, and beneath the rotating paddle fans that hung from the ceiling, drinking seltzer, Kar Savuth wanted to make something very clear. He saw himself as a medical doctor, with Duch as his patient. He understood his obligation to his client. But he was not willing to forget.

He was not willing to forget how they’d killed his brothers.

He was not willing to forget how they’d killed his cousin’s entire family. He could not forget his own feelings of survivor’s guilt. He could not forget watching a woman killed in front of him, her liver removed, cooked, and eaten by the soldiers…then her hip meat…then her breast.

Kar Savuth sat on the cushion edge of the rattan chair as he spoke, straight at attention, his face a mask. He said all of it without a trace of emotion. His strength seemed almost severe. When he himself had been interrogated, he told them he was a cyclo driver, and then they asked him the distance between two hospitals in the city. A month later, three months later, a year, and three years later, they asked him the same question over and over again. What is the distance between the two hospitals? If he’d changed his answer, they would have killed him.

And of course, he remembered nearly starving to death, being so sick that his hair had fallen out. He’d playacted that he was clumsy so they might take pity—and ever after, he’d been clumsy, unable to relearn how to ride a bike, for instance. He’d even unlearned how to read. “It took a long time to become a human being again,” he said.

And yet, he said, when he first met Duch, the former Khmer Rouge commandant had cried, overwhelmed by guilt, then gathered himself, pointing out that the first commandant of S-21 had been killed and that he knew it was only a matter of time before he himself would have been killed, too. Duch asked Kar Savuth a question: If they told you they were going to kill your family, what would you have done?

And Kar Savuth said, “I would have done exactly what you did.”


THERE HAVE BEEN many myths about the trials: one is that the Cambodians don’t want them, that the two-thirds of the population born after 1979 think of the Khmer Rouge as a scary bedtime story they’d rather not hear, while the other third would rather not recall the actual horrors they actually survived, suffering still as they are from PTSD and ungovernable fear. Another is that they won’t be able to handle the trials, that the idea of Western justice is foreign enough to the populace at large that a sentence other than life in prison (the death penalty is forbidden) will open the masses to spasms of violence. And yet these misreadings—or half readings (of course, a third of the population does live in fear, but their Buddhist faith prohibits revenge killing)—by outsiders are just a continuation of centuries of farang misapprehension.

Despite the constant whiff of Western condescension that has hung over the country since the French made it theirs in 1863, the years leading up to the trials, and now the first trial, the Duch trial, have forced an important if uneasy reckoning. And in large part that reckoning was begun for his people by Youk Chhang.

Chhang was 16 when the Khmer Rouge controlled the country and his sister was murdered before him. Accused of stealing rice, she had her stomach slit open to prove her treachery (there was no rice there) and died a slow, painful death. After that—after becoming a refugee and making his way to America, to Texas—all Chhang wanted was revenge, Buddhism be damned.

An English teacher who befriended him, and who couldn’t help but notice his anger, gave him a book about Cambodia by a man named Ben Kiernan with an inscription in her hand that read:

My friend Youk,
Happy birthday. May you understand your country’s history and may it help your dreams come true.…

As it turned out, Kiernan was a professor at Yale, Chhang sent him a letter, the two became friends, and when Kiernan received a half-million-dollar grant from the U.S. government to research the Khmer Rouge, he bought Chhang a plane ticket back to Cambodia—leaving Friday, January 13, 1995, a date Chhang will never forget—to begin compiling what became the largest archive of evidence chronicling the Pol Pot regime, and what became the foundation for the prosecution of its leaders. Without the two of them, it’s fair to say there might not have been any trials at all.

“He changed my life,” says Chhang of Kiernan today, sitting among the piles of books and folders, dossiers and files in his cluttered office on the third floor of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Chhang, 48, wears a white pressed shirt and chinos. Before he had a staff and assistants, he worked virtually alone, going from village to village with a field recorder, interviewing victims but also interviewing the Khmer Rouge cadres (the farmers and shopkeepers, the teachers and laborers who executed, quite literally, the commands of their superiors). In the process, and as he collected letters, documents, ephemera of all sorts, he was able to map Angkar and its chains of command, the web of killing and unapologetic doctrine. In some villages, murderers and survivors lived across the street from each other, and he’d interview both—sometimes in each other’s presence. But of the more than 10,000 Khmer Rouge cadres he and his fellow researchers have interviewed to date, only one has ever admitted to killing anyone, and in that case, only “five or six people.”

“We haven’t begun to reintegrate ourselves with each other,” says Chhang. “And that won’t happen until the victims accept ownership of the atrocities—and the perpetrators claim responsibility.”


IN A RARE INTERVIEW at the end of Pol Pot’s life, he rejected the idea that he had ordered a genocide, that he had anything to do with the deaths of nearly 2 million people, claiming that it was the work of unhinged elements—radicals, the Khmer Krom, the Vietnamese, etc.—and that his conscience was clear. “When things get quiet, I go to bed at 6 p.m.,” he said. “I sleep under the mosquito net by myself. My wife and my daughter live apart from me. Sometimes I do nothing, putting up with mosquitoes and insect bites. I get bored, but I’m used to it.”

One mother, feeling herself being sucked away by Angkar, dying slowly in a work camp, turned to her daughter and said, “You will have to learn to live without me now.”

On the surface, Chum Mey had a typical story—if one measured such stories by torture endured, family members lost, atrocities witnessed, if one could ever accept the ingenious methods the Khmer Rouge had of robbing people of their dignity. Now he was an old man who no longer had the eyes or dexterity to repair sewing machines, and he walked slowly, carrying all of those invisible things bundled on his shoulders.

And yet he was almost natty, wearing a white watch cap, gray wool pants, a collared button-down short-sleeve shirt, and from the country that produced garments for some of the world’s best-known labels, a faux Versace belt. His face was open and almond-shaped, his eyes brown. He betrayed no hint of having been blindfolded for two straight weeks or stripped and hung like an animal from the crossbar as they’d whipped him with electric cords. I forced out the image of that metal bed and the pliers they’d used to remove his toenails or the electrodes they’d put to his ears until they’d shocked him unconscious. He’d begged a 20-year-old kid for another two weeks to let him live (the boy called him by the vulgar form of you, hein). He had no idea what CIA or KGB stood for, but they wanted him to confess to being an agent for one or the other. He prayed to the spirits of his mother and father to protect him. On the day the other mechanics, his friends, were taken to the Killing Fields, there’d been a broken sewing machine. And here he was, one of only seven to have survived S-21. Seven out of 15,000. How many times had he wondered why he’d been permitted to live?

As it was, he’d been too afraid to meet in a public place. He claimed his life had been in danger for years, all because he’d been willing to tell his story, and there were those, the relatives of those headed to trial, who wanted him silenced. Who could question his paranoia? Who could blame him for relaying the intimate details of his trauma as if he were watching himself from very far away? So there we sat in Veasna’s living room, in her new white house in a subdivision at the edge of the city as the land movers and bulldozers groaned outside, adding another walled ring to Phnom Penh as they excavated the skeletal past. Then, suddenly, the machines went silent. Lunch.

Chum Mey looked at his watch, worn on the wrist of the hand that the Khmer Rouge had broken when he raised it to block the bamboo stick whistling for his face. He looked blurrily at the frosted-glass window as if trying to see out, unsure perhaps if it was his eyes or the window itself that disallowed transparency.

“Eleven o’clock,” he said. “This was always the time of day when the screaming was worst of all.”



DEATH BECAME a pestilence: arbitrary, ravaging, and contagious. And it became a strange performance, too, the killers trying to outdo each other: At S-21, living prisoners were cut open with knives and scorpions were let loose inside their bodies.


THE MAN PAINTING the same image over and over, feverishly, incessantly—green stroke, black stroke, the flesh-colored—his name was Vann Nath. He, too, had lost a wife and two children. He, too, had been shackled at S-21, until they released him (leave for using) and brought him downstairs to a room where there were two other painters and a sculptor. He was given paints and a canvas and three days to regain his strength. He was handed a photograph and asked to make a “realistic, clear, correct, and noble reproduction” of it. He did not know, at first, that it was Pol Pot. For weeks, he woke at dawn and worked until midnight. When Duch arrived to evaluate his first painting, Vann Nath knew quite well that his life hung in the balance. The commandant looked at it for a time, then asked the opinion of another, who said it didn’t exactly match the photograph.

“It’s all right,” responded Duch.

And that’s how he lived.


WE’D MET WITH Vann Nath at his art gallery, which was attached to a restaurant his family ran on a busy street. Clad in a dirty gray dress shirt and green pants, he was 63 years old now, with a head of snowy hair, baleful eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a caramel complexion. During his time at S-21, he’d produced eight portraits and one sculpture of Pol Pot. After surviving the Khmer Rouge, he’d kept painting, feverishly, incessantly, but this time he depicted the scenes of torture at S-21. He painted Pol Pot’s dystopia: the sweltering cell block with fifty bodies in shackles; a prisoner having his fingernails removed in a torrent of blood; the whippings and near drownings; the starvation and degradation; throats slit and babies taken.

He had remarried, as many of the survivors had. After the decimation, after the sudden disappearance of the Khmer Rouge (one S-21 survivor, Chim Math, said her first act after freedom had been to eat three bowls of rice and then to break down weeping), they’d clung to each other; they’d tried as hard as they could to put it all behind them. But Vann Nath still had nightmares about Duch.

“For me, it’s the wound that can’t be healed. I knew the meaning and deepest horror of the Khmer Rouge. I lost my wife and children. When I think about it, I lose all my energy, all my bearings. It’s only my grandchildren that can take away the deepest wound now.”


“HE WHO PROTESTS is an enemy; he who opposes is a corpse.” One starless night, late, I went out to the hotel pool after the lights had been shut off. While the courtyard was silent, I could hear the faint late-night noise of the city, like the distant breaking of glass. I lowered myself in the warm water and floated for what seemed like an hour, trying to process all the raw data of genocide as I did, and yet I felt nothing. No sense of agency or emergency. No point of connection. No language in the end to describe the fugue state that the country seemed to inhabit. Hyacinth and smoke mingled in the air. Cambodia kept passing me by in windows, but there was no way through. I felt utterly defeated: Who was I kidding, being here, as if to find a unified theory, practicing my own unknowing brand of exceptionalism—as if only I could figure it out? I floated like this for some time, letting it all stream out until I emptied my mind, until drifting off in the deep end, until Duch’s question came back: If you’d been threatened with the death of your family, what would you have done?

What would I have done?



THERE WERE SO MANY ways they killed—it goes on and on—and none were ever tender. No method was somehow better than any other, more humane or considerate. This was murder, of course, but of the most heinous sort. Their acts came from the darkest part of the soul. In this instance, there was a soldier with a knife who cut the clothes off a pregnant woman. A deep incision was made in the flesh of the belly, there were screams and whispers and, finally, the stillness of death. That is, what came next, what was taken and hung by the neck, was as innocent as the act was unspeakable. They hung it with the others, in rows along the rafters, to ward off evil spirits. These were the Smoke Children.


CHUM MEY SAT in silence for a moment, looked up from his watch at 11:01 a.m., and began speaking again, at first in a dull monotone. He spoke directly to Veasna and only occasionally met my eye. When I asked him questions, he sat looking straight ahead at the window. Then he spoke.

As the Vietnamese approached Phnom Penh, you could hear bombs going off, locked in a room with twenty others, and then you were herded with the last group from S-21, up the same road that people had disastrously traveled when evacuating Phnom Penh nearly four years earlier. At about 7 a.m., your group met up with another group of prisoners being herded by the Khmer Rouge, and in that group, in one of those strange moments of fate, were your wife and son, whom you hadn’t seen in at least a year.

You watched her carefully as she walked ahead with your small son, both dressed as you were: in black pajamas. When the guards were at a distance, you spoke to her once about the scenery.

You did not touch.

By nightfall, it was clear you were being led to your deaths; members of the group were taken away, then gunfire erupted. When they took your wife and child, she screamed your name. She screamed it over and over and over again: They want to kill us! Chum Mey, run!

Her voice stopped when two reports filled the air. And then you ran.


THERE CAN ONLY be so much unmending of the body before one turns away.

In Long Beach, California, ten years after the war, at least 150 female Cambodian refugees were diagnosed with psychosomatic blindness, an otherwise incredibly rare occurrence. Doctors were perplexed: Their eyes were fine, yet they couldn’t see. According to the therapists who studied the group, their blindness was “linked to a dissociated cluster of primitive meanings, horrific images, and behavioral responses or muscular representations loosely organized around the incomprehensibility of the events and the desire or ‘need not to see.’”

As one survivor put it, “My family was killed in 1975, and I cried for four years. When I stopped crying, I was blind.”


ULTIMATELY, DUCH, TOO, disappeared: to the jungle, to China, back to the jungle again. And then, unlike those he ordered to be tortured and murdered, he reappeared. He became a Christian. He was haunted and repentant. In 1999 he was arrested and later given counsel; François Roux and Kar Savuth were chosen to defend him.

By the rules of the ECCC, the pretrial discovery phase called for the accused to return to the scene of his alleged crime and stand before his accusers. And so on a February day in 2008, amid the rusted bedframes and blood-stained floor, Duch had stood before Vann Nath and Chum Mey and a number of other guards and survivors. He seemed so small, said Vann Nath afterward. But the painter was still filled with so much fear, he couldn’t look him in the eye.

And yet however one chooses to look upon it, something remarkable happened that day. Duch tried to speak to them as human beings. “I ask for your forgiveness,” he said. “I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might,” he said before breaking down on the shoulder of one of his guards. And after everything that had transpired, after all the atrocity, one of those gathered said, “I’ve been waiting thirty years for those words.” But the other survivors said nothing.


WHEN THE ECCC officially commenced this past March and Duch took the stand to begin a trial that will likely last until the new year, he looked tired. His face was swollen, and his eyes were red. He sat at a raised podium while Kar Savuth and Roux sat slightly below in black robes and white-frilled kerchiefs. To hear Kar Savuth tell it, Duch has spent an awful lot of time crying over the past year.

So far, in the first phase of the trial, the defense’s strategy has seemed somewhat straightforward. Duch denies little, shares what he can, tries to set the record straight. He has discussed his reasons for employing torture (“I never believed the confessions I received told the truth,” he said. “At most they were 40 percent true”) and the killing of babies (“I didn’t remember it until I saw the pictures, but I am criminally responsible for killing babies, children, and teenagers”). He has discussed his beloved leader (“Pol Pot was a murderer. He was the greatest criminal father of Cambodia”) and the fact that, steeped in Khmer Rouge propaganda, he honestly never knew that torture was illegal, had never heard of the Geneva Conventions until he’d been charged.

And he continues to apologize. Discussing the fact that he tortured two prisoners himself but asked his minions “to smash” many others, killing them by cutting their throats, he has said, “The burden is still on me—it’s my responsibility. I would like to apologize to the souls of those who died.”

Meanwhile, Roux and Kar Savuth continue to insist that Duch is being scapegoated, that he should be released from prison, that it’s really Nuon Chea—Brother Number Two, the one from whom Duch ultimately took orders—who bears full responsibility for issuing the orders that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. (His trial is slated to begin in 2010.) They claim their client faced execution if he didn’t follow instructions. They seem to ask the same question Duch asked Kar Savuth when they first met: What would you have done?

And yet if this is the beginning of Comrade Duch’s redemption, as Roux so insists, one wonders if he, the steely commandant of S-21, will finally have the stomach for it. Or if the ruination he sees in the mirror will finally crush him, too.



For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.

For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.

For those in pain, there is no means to reconciliation.


FINALLY, IN VEASNA’S living room, Chum Mey needed money to get home. He said he’d moved six times since the start of the pretrial hearings and now lived quite far away. He put on his white watch cap. His once broken hand was crooked. His eyesight was going. Veasna offered him a ride, but when he refused, she gave him a few small bills.

Earlier I’d had a meeting with a top-level diplomat who’d said that the best Cambodians might hope for now was that this generation, both the perpetrators and the ones that had been so traumatized by the Khmer Rouge, might die off and with them gone, the country might start over again, afresh.

And here was one of the last of that generation, fading before me. The man who’d lost his wife and two children, Pa to his family, the one who’d gone house to house in the ghost town of Phnom Penh collecting sewing machines to fix, the one who’d lost virtually everything and now moved again from house to house in utter fear and paranoia to keep ahead of his supposed enemies—how could one ever reach this man?

Veasna had something upstairs that she needed to retrieve before we left, too. So I went to the door and waited for Chum Mey to catch up. The room was blinding white, and since I couldn’t speak Khmer, I kept smiling as he approached. And he kept smiling as he shuffled toward me until I realized he had no intention of stopping, until he had gently walked into me, and wrapped his arms around, and rested his head on my chest.


MICHAEL PATERNITI is a GQ correspondent.
152  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Publication Pollution on: April 05, 2015, 03:15:48 PM
I suspect social activism disguised as science and pressure to be one with the homogenous herd lest one be labeled a "denier" has a lot to do with this:
153  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sky's not Falling as Fast as we Thought on: March 28, 2015, 08:42:37 PM
154  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Irrational Orthodoxy on: January 23, 2015, 11:39:04 AM
Hot Stuff, Cold Logic
Politically correct climate change orthodoxy has completely destroyed our ability to think rationally about the environment.

Climate change is sometimes called humanity’s biggest problem. Ban Ki-moon, Christine Lagarde, and John Kerry have all said as much recently. The mainstream Western media often discuss climate change in catastrophic, or even apocalyptic, terms. Indeed, if you take newspaper headlines seriously, the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change came accompanied by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; predictions of famine, pestilence, war, and death proliferated hither and yon. Conversely, when, on November 11, 2014, the United States and China inked an agreement on climate whose actual consequences are at best liable to be indistinct, banner headlines broke out, as though messianic times were nigh.

Assuming it falls somewhat short of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, how serious will the impact of climate change be really? How much do we know about these impacts? What are the implications for policy?

It’s helpful to recall here that climate change means a lot more than just different temperatures. It means more or less rain, snow, wind, and clouds in various places. It means different outcomes for plants, whether direct or, since plants compete for resources, indirect. It means changes for the animals that eat those plants. And this includes changes for everything that hitches a ride on those plants and animals, and hence changes for all sorts of pathogens. Nature, agriculture, forestry, and health will all be different in the future. The seas will rise as water expands and glacial ice melts, affecting coastlines and everyone and everything that resides there. Water supplies will be affected by changing rainfall patterns, but water demand will also be altered by changing temperatures. Energy demands will change, too; there may be less need to heat houses in winter and perhaps greater need to cool them in summer. Traffic, transport, building, recreation, and tourism, too, will all feel the impact of a changing climate.

For some, the mere fact of these impacts is reason enough for governments, businesses, and individuals to exert themselves to reduce greenhouse gases to minimize the change. That is strange logic, however. Change, after all, can be for the better or the worse, and at any rate it is inevitable; there has never been a lengthy period of climate stasis.

Just as there is no logical or scientific basis for thinking that climate change is new, there is no self-evident reason to assume that the climate of the past is “better” than the climate of the future. With just as little logic, we might assume that women’s rights, health care, or education were necessarily better in the past. Any such judgment also contradicts Hume’s Law and, perhaps worse, is grounded in a fallacious appeal to nature understood in a very slanted way.
There is no prima facie reason to assume that any given past climate was better than the prospective one. The climate of the 21stcentury may well be unprecedented in the history of human civilization; the number of people living in countries with free and fair elections is unprecedented, too. So what? “Unprecedented” is not a synonym for “bad.”

Others argue that the impacts of climate change are largely unknown but may be catastrophic. The precautionary principle thus enjoins that we should work hard, if not do our utmost, to avoid even the slim possibility of catastrophe. This logic works fine for one-sided risks: We ban carcinogenic material in toys because we do not want our kids to get cancer. Safe materials are only slightly more expensive, and there is no likely or even imaginable “upside” to children having cancer. Climate policy, on the other hand, is about balancing risks, and there are risks to climate policies as well as risks caused by climate change. Sharp increases in energy prices have caused devastating economic recessions in the past, for example. Cheap energy fueled the industrial revolution, and lack of access to reliable energy is one factor holding back economic growth in most developing countries. In the short run, we rely on fossil fuels to keep us warm and keep the lights on, to grow our food, and to purify our drinking water. So there is a cost to human well-being in constraining fossil fuel use.

What this means is that, instead of assuming the worst, we should study the impacts of climate change and seek to balance them against the negative effects of climate policy. This is what climatologists and economists actually have done for years, but their efforts have been overshadowed by the hysteria of the Greens and the Left, and the more subtle lobbying of companies yearning for renewables subsidies and other government hand-outs. It is especially important to maintain an objective attitude toward the tradeoff between possible dangers and the costs of policy, because estimating the impacts of climate change has proven to be remarkably hard. Past climate change is not much of a guide. The climate supposedly changed much less over the previous century than it is projected to do over the current one, but global mean surface air temperature has barely moved over the past two decades—and this is the period with the best data, in which almost all climate change impact studies have been done.

Besides, the faint signal of past climate change is drowned out by all the other things that have changed. If one tries to study the impacts of climate change on crops, for example, one must factor in the impact of new seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and a host of other confounding variables such as air pollution and atmospheric deposition of nutrients. If one is interested in commercial agriculture, one needs to consider subsidies and international trade. If one studies the impacts of climate change on health, one needs to control for progress in medical technology, different diets, changes in work and leisure, aging, migration, and so on and so forth. If one studies the impacts of sea-level rise, one needs to cope with subsidence and tectonic movements, changing land use, shifting priorities in coastal zone management, eutrophication, and more besides. The same is true for all past climate change impacts: Many things are changing, often much faster than the climate, and in ways that confound all unifactoral explanations potentially relevant to policy.

The same is true for the impacts of future climate change. The confounding factors will not go away. In academic papers, we typically do the scientifically respectable thing and change one variable at a time. Controlled experiments make great science—even if done in silico—and since we cannot observe the future, experiments with computer models are the only option available to study the impacts of climate change. Controlled experiments make for poor predictions, however. The future is not ceteris paribus. It’s ceteris imparibus. Change happens, pretty much all the time.

We know a lot about some of the impacts of climate change, such as those on agriculture, human health, and coastal zones. Other impacts are not as well understood even to the point of opacity, such as those on transport, production, and water resources. This partly reflects the differences in the complexity of the impact. Projections of future sea-level rise agree on the direction of the change and its order of magnitude. Projections of future rainfall, however, are all over the place. But our differential knowledge also reflects variations in attention. Academic incentives do not help. It is much easier to publish a paper in a good journal if it improves on a previous one. It is much easier to get funding if you have a track record on a particular subject. Papers or proposals that are genuinely new are often ill-regarded. This implies that some impacts of climate change have been extensively studied whereas other impacts have been largely ignored.

Impacts of climate change are so many and so diverse, varying over space, over time, between impacts, and across scenarios, that it makes no sense to speak of “the” impact of climate change. People have tended to produce two solutions for this problem. Some just write about their favorite impact (or perhaps about the impact that supports their political position), pretending that this impact is somehow representative of all other impacts. Others add up impacts. This exercise is just as fraught as adding up all those proverbial apples and oranges, but it at least reflects the sum total of our knowledge, and the inescapably subjective elements in aggregation are well understood. (Below I use human welfare to add up impacts.)

Understanding what the science of climate does and does not enable us to do readily in a policy vein is hard enough for some people. If one adds to that a requirement to know some basic economics, a good number of deeply concerned people appear to be rendered completely incapable of anything we should wish to bless with the term “thought.” And indeed, many an otherwise intelligent economist has lost his marbles when confronted with global warming.

In a barter economy, one needs to know the price of everything relative to everything else. How many eggs for a liter of milk? How many slices of bread for a liter of beer? How many iPads for a yacht? In a monetary economy, however, one needs to know the price of everything in money only. In a barter economy, there are n2-2n prices (with n being the number of goods and services for sale). In a monetary economy, there are only n prices. That is why, at some time in the deep past, many human civilizations of diverse origins independently invented money.

If one knows the prices of the things one wishes to buy, and one knows one’s own budget, informed trade-offs become possible. Most of us have to make choices. We cannot go on expensive holidays, send our kids to posh schools, drive fancy cars, and quit work all at the same time. In our daily life, we constantly choose among things that are otherwise incomparable. We may choose to pay more for a product because it says on the tin that it is good for the environment. We may opt to buy products that we think are good for our health. The same is true in the public domain. We vote for politicians who promise to do more (or less) for environmental protection and health care. From this, we can deduce our willingness to pay for a better environment or a healthier life. We can then apply these “prices” to the impacts of climate change.

Studies, assessed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest report, that have used such methods find that the initial, net impacts of climate change are small (about 1 percent of income) and may even be positive. Many people, including supposedly objective academics, find it hard to admit that climate change can have positive impacts. But, as already noted, warmer winters mean less money spent on heating. They also mean fewer people dying prematurely of cold. Carbon dioxide makes plants grow, and makes them more drought-tolerant, a boon particularly to poorer countries. In the short run, these positive impacts may well be larger than the negative impacts.

In the long run, however, negative impacts may surge ahead of positive ones. The positive impacts saturate quickly; one cannot save more on winter heating than one spends. The negative impacts do not saturate quickly; air conditioning bills will keep rising as summers get hotter. The long-run impacts are what matter most for policy. The climate responds only slowly to changes in emissions, and emissions respond only slowly to changes in policy. The climate of the next few decades is therefore largely beyond our control. It is only in the longer term that our choices affect climate change, and by then its impacts are likely to be negative on net. This implies that climate change is an economic problem, and that if economics could be rid of politics, greenhouse gas emissions should be taxed.

The economic case for emission reduction is thus remarkably simple and robust. We only need to argue that in the long run unabated climate change will do more harm than good. If so, we need to start moving away from using fossil fuels. The question is therefore not whether there is an economic case for climate policy; it’s how much emission reduction can be justified at given losses to social welfare. To answer that question, we need to understand the size of the impacts of climate change. The current evidence, weak and incomplete as it may be, as summarized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggests that moderate warming—say, what we might expect around the year 2075—would make the average person feel as if she had lost 0.2 to 2.0 percent of her income.
 In other words, a century worth of climate change is about as bad as losing a year of economic growth.

Larger climate change would have more profound impacts. Negative surprises are more likely than positive surprises. But even if we take this into account, a century of climate change is not worse than losing a decade of growth. So if, as Bjørn Lomborg has been at pains to point out, we “spend” the equivalent of a decade of growth or more trying to mitigate climate change, we will not have spent wisely.

Climate change is a problem, but at least as an economics problem, it is certainly not the biggest problem humankind faces. The euro crisis knocked off a third of the income of the people in Greece in five years’ time. Climate change does not even come close. And the people of Syria wish their problems were as trivial as those of the Greeks. Climate change is not even that large compared to other environmental problems. Urban air pollution kills millions of people per year in Asia. Indoor air pollution kills millions of people per year in Africa. The health problems related to climate change are unlikely to cause similar carnage before the end of the century.

The estimates of the total impact of climate change call for a modest tax on greenhouse gas emissions—or perhaps a cap-and-trade system with a generous allocation of emission permits. The best course of action is to slowly but surely move away from fossil fuels, and in that, as usual, both markets and the parameters governments invariably set for markets to function have roles to play.

Many disagree with this plan of action, of course, calling for a rapid retirement of fossil fuel use. Economically, their justification rests on assuming that we should care more about the future than we do in contexts other than climate change, that we should care more about small risks than we do, or that we should care more about poor people than we do. These justifications rest in politics or raw moral logic, not economics. Each of these arguments would affect not just climate policy but other areas, too. If one argues we should care more about the future, one argues not just for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also, logically, in pensions, in education, in health care, and so on. If one argues we should be more wary of risk, one argues not only for increased investment in greenhouse gas-emission reduction, but also in road safety, in food safety, in meteorite detection, and whatnot. Ditto for concern about the poor.

Speaking of the poor: Poorer countries are notably more vulnerable to climate change than richer ones. They tend to have a larger share of their economic activity in areas that are directly exposed to the weather, particularly agriculture. Poorer countries often lack access to modern technology and institutions that can protect against the weather; for example, air conditioning, malaria medicine, crop insurance. Poorer countries may lack the ability, and sometimes the political will, to mobilize the resources for large-scale infrastructure—irrigation and coastal protection, for example.

Bangladesh and the Netherlands are two densely populated, low-lying countries at risk from flooding by river and sea. Bangladesh is generally seen to be very vulnerable to climate change, whereas most think that the Netherlands will be able to cope; the Netherlands is famous for thriving below sea level, after all. The Netherlands started its modern, large-scale dike building program only in 1850. Before that, dike building was local, primitive, and not very effective: The country was regularly plagued by devastating floods. In 1850, the Netherlands was only slightly richer than Bangladesh is now, but Bangladesh now of course has access to much better technology than the Netherlands did then.

However, the main difference between the Netherlands in 1850 and Bangladesh in 2014 is political. In response to the European Spring of 1848, the Netherlands adopted a new constitution in 1849 that introduced a powerful central government broadly representative of the population (or rather, the male Protestant part of the population). The new Dutch government promptly went after public enemy number one: floods.

Bangladesh is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and its political elite is more interested in partisan fights and self-enrichment than in the well-being of its citizens. Floods primarily hurt the poor, who live near the river and the coastal flats where land is cheap. There is no political reason to protect them; after all, floods are thought to be an act of Allah rather than a consequence of decisions made or not made by incompetent and indifferent politicians. As long as this is the case, Bangladesh will be vulnerable to climate change.

The disproportionate exposure to climate change of those most vulnerable is a good reason to be cautious about greenhouse gas emissions. The case has been exaggerated, however.
It is peculiar to express great concern about the plight of the poor when it comes to climate but not in other policy domains. Levels of charitable giving and official development aid suggest that we are actually not that bothered. Our trade and migration policies would even suggest that we like to see them suffer. More importantly, there are two ways to mitigate the excessive impact of climate change on the poor: Reduce climate change, and reduce poverty.

In the worst projections, climate change could cut crop yields in Africa by half. At present, subsistence farmers often get no more from their land than one-tenth of what is achieved at model farms working the same soil in the same climate. The immediate reason for the so-called yield gap is a lack of access to high-quality seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, tools, and things like that. The underlying causes include a lack of access to capital and product markets due to poor roads and insecure land tenure. Closing the yield gap would do more good sooner than climate change would do harm later. If one really wants to spend money to help farmers in Africa, one should invest in the land registry rather than in solar power.

Indeed, modernizing agriculture in Africa would also make it less vulnerable to climate change. African farming is particularly vulnerable, because isolated, undercapitalized farmers struggle to cope with any change, climatic or otherwise. Infectious diseases illustrate the same point. There were outbreaks of malaria in Murmansk until the 1920s. Sweden suffered malaria epidemics in the 1870s, and the disease was endemic in Stockholm. George Washington did not want the new capital to be built in the estuary of the Potomac because of the malaria risk. Nowadays, malaria only occasionally returns to these places by plane, and it rarely kills.

Largely as a consequence, malaria has become a tropical disease. Many fear that climate change would spread malaria because the parasite is more vigorous in hot weather and mosquitoes thrive in hotter and wetter places. However, in the rich world, habitat reduction, mosquito control, and medicine long ago tamed malaria. Mosquitoes need warm, still-standing water to breed. As we roofed houses, paved roads, and drained wetlands, their habitats disappeared. Clouds of DDT helped bring about the demise of the mosquito as well. Malaria medicine stops one from getting (seriously) ill, and from infecting others.

These things cost money. A dose of malaria medicine costs $100—small change in the United States but a fortune in South Sudan. Therefore, malaria is first and foremost a disease of poverty. We can spend our money on combatting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing malaria risks for future generations. We can also spend our money on insecticides and bed nets, reducing malaria risks today. We can also invest in medical research. A malaria vaccine holds the prospect of a world free of this awful disease, regardless of climate. If our resources were unlimited, we could do all things worthwhile. With a limited budget, we should focus on those investments with the greatest return.

These three examples—of coastal protection, agriculture, and malaria—show that development and vulnerability to climate change are closely intertwined. Slowing economic growth to reduce climate change may therefore do more harm than good. Concentrating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in rich countries will not solve the climate problem. And slower growth in rich countries means less export from and investment in poor countries.

There is an even more direct link between climate policy and development. Cheap and abundant energy fueled the industrial revolution. Sudden increases in the price of oil caused many of the economic recessions since World War II. Lack of (reliable) electricity retards growth in poor countries, not just today through its effect on production, but also in the future, as electric light allows kids to do their homework after sunset.

A fifth of official development aid is now diverted to climate policy. Money that used to be spent on strengthening the rule of law, better education for girls, and improved health care, for instance, is now used to plug methane leaks and destroy hydrofluorocarbons. Some donors no longer support the use of coal, by far the cheapest way to generate electricity. Instead, poor people are offered intermittent wind power and biomass energy, which drives up the price of food. But the self-satisfaction environmentalists derive from these programs does not put food on poor peoples’ tables.

In sum, while climate change is a problem that must be tackled, we should not lose our sense of proportion or advocate solutions that would do more harm than good. Unfortunately, common sense is sometimes hard to find in the climate debate. Desmond Tutu recently compared climate change to apartheid.1 Climate experts Michael Mann and Daniel Kammen compared it to the “gathering storm” of Nazism in Europe before World War II.2 That sort of nonsense just gets in the way of a rational discussion about what climate policy we should pursue, and how vigorously we should pursue it.

1Tutu, “We Fought Apartheid. Now Climate Change Is Our Global Enemy”, Guardian, September 20, 2014.

2Mann and Kammen, “The Gathering Storm”, Huffington Post, September 19, 2014.

Richard Tol teaches economics at the University of Sussex and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is a veteran of four assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
155  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Stupid Citizens need “Climate Grubering” on: November 16, 2014, 10:31:03 AM
New term: ‘Grubering’ and how it applies to Climate Alarmism
Guest Blogger / 4 hours ago November 16, 2014
WUWT reader M. Paul writes: Sometimes a new word emerges that neatly encapsulates a set of complex ideas.  We have recently seen such a word enter the lexicon: Grubering.

For those of you who missed it, an MIT Professor named  Jonathan Gruber has been caught on video describing all the various ways that he helped the Obama Administration to deceive the public regarding the true nature of Obamacare.

People are now referring to what the Obamacare campaigners did as “Grubering”.  Grubering is when politicians or their segregates engage in a campaign of exaggeration and outright lies in order to “sell” the public on a particular policy initiative.  The justification for Grubering  is that the public is too “stupid” to understand the topic and, should they be exposed to the true facts, would likely come to the “wrong” conclusion.  Grubering is based on the idea that only the erudite academics can possibly know what’s best of the little people.  Jefferson would be turning in his grave.

I think that no other word describes what we have seen in the climate debate quite as well as Grubering.  The Climategate emails are full of discussions about how to “sell” the public on CAGW through a campaign of lies and exaggerations.  There are many discussion about how the public could not possibly understand such a complex subject.

The late Steven Schneider puts it succinctly:

"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Our critics sometimes dismiss skeptics as “conspiracy theorists” noting how unlikely it would be that thousands of  scientists would collude.   They miss the point.  We now know that Grubering takes place — we see it laid bare in the Obamacare campaign.  It was not strictly a “conspiracy”.  Rather it was an arrogant belief that lying was necessary to persuade a “stupid” public to adopt the policy preferences of the politicians and the academics in their employ.  Its Noble Cause Corruption, not conspiracy, that is at the root of this behavior.

“Climate Grubering” — its a powerful new word that can help us to describe what’s been going on.
156  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Not the Sort of Trials the Founders Foresaw on: November 13, 2014, 02:28:31 PM
Why Innocent People Plead Guilty
Jed S. Rakoff

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.

The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.

In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.

While corresponding statistics for the fifty states combined are not available, it is a rare state where plea bargains do not similarly account for the resolution of at least 95 percent of the felony cases that are not dismissed; and again, the plea bargains usually determine the sentences, sometimes as a matter of law and otherwise as a matter of practice. Furthermore, in both the state and federal systems, the power to determine the terms of the plea bargain is, as a practical matter, lodged largely in the prosecutor, with the defense counsel having little say and the judge even less.

It was not always so. Until roughly the end of the Civil War, plea bargains were exceedingly rare. A criminal defendant would either go to trial or confess and plead guilty. If the defendant was convicted, the judge would have wide discretion to impose sentence; and that decision, made with little input from the parties, was subject only to the most modest appellate review.

After the Civil War, this began to change, chiefly because, as a result of the disruptions and dislocations that followed the war, as well as greatly increased immigration, crime rates rose considerably, and a way had to be found to dispose of cases without imposing an impossible burden on the criminal justice system. Plea bargains offered a way out: by pleading guilty to lesser charges in return for dismissal of the more serious charges, defendants could reduce their prison time, while the prosecution could resolve the case without burdening the system with more trials.

The practice of plea bargaining never really took hold in most other countries, where it was viewed as a kind of “devil’s pact” that allowed guilty defendants to avoid the full force of the law. But in the United States it became commonplace. And while the Supreme Court initially expressed reservations about the system of plea bargaining, eventually the Court came to approve of it, as an exercise in contractual negotiation between independent agents (the prosecutor and the defense counsel) that was helpful in making the system work. Similarly, academics, though somewhat bothered by the reduced role of judges, came to approve of plea bargaining as a system somewhat akin to a regulatory regime.

Thus, plea bargains came to account, in the years immediately following World War II, for the resolution of over 80 percent of all criminal cases. But even then, perhaps, there were enough cases still going to trial, and enough power remaining with defense counsel and with judges, to “keep the system honest.” By this I mean that a genuinely innocent defendant could still choose to go to trial without fearing that she might thereby subject herself to an extremely long prison term effectively dictated by the prosecutor.

All this changed in the 1970s and 1980s, and once again it was in reaction to rising crime rates. While the 1950s were a period of relatively low crime rates in the US, rates began to rise substantially in the 1960s, and by 1980 or so, serious crime in the US, much of it drug-related, was occurring at a frequency not seen for many decades. As a result, state and federal legislatures hugely increased the penalties for criminal violations. In New York, for example, the so-called “Rockefeller Laws,” enacted in 1973, dictated a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment for selling just two ounces (or possessing four ounces) of heroin, cocaine, or marijuana. In addition, in response to what was perceived as a tendency of too many judges to impose too lenient sentences, the new, enhanced sentences were frequently made mandatory and, in those thirty-seven states where judges were elected, many “soft” judges were defeated and “tough on crime” judges elected in their place.

At the federal level, Congress imposed mandatory minimum sentences for narcotics offenses, gun offenses, child pornography offenses, and much else besides. Sometimes, moreover, these mandatory sentences were required to be imposed consecutively. For example, federal law prescribes a mandatory minimum of ten years’ imprisonment, and a maximum of life imprisonment, for participating in a conspiracy that distributes five kilograms or more of cocaine. But if the use of a weapon is involved in the conspiracy, the defendant, even if she had a low-level role in the conspiracy, must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum of fifteen years’ imprisonment, i.e., ten years on the drug count and five years on the weapons count. And if two weapons are involved, the mandatory minimum rises to forty years, i.e., ten years on the drug count, five years on the first weapons count, and twenty-five years on the second weapons count—all of these sentences being mandatory, with the judge having no power to reduce them.

In addition to mandatory minimums, Congress in 1984 introduced—with bipartisan support—a regime of mandatory sentencing guidelines designed to avoid “irrational” sentencing disparities. Since these guidelines were not as draconian as the mandatory minimum sentences, and since they left judges with some limited discretion, it was not perceived at first how, perhaps even more than mandatory minimums, such a guidelines regime (which was enacted in many states as well) transferred power over sentencing away from judges and into the hands of prosecutors.

One thing that did become quickly apparent, however, was that these guidelines, along with mandatory minimums, were causing the virtual extinction of jury trials in federal criminal cases. Thus, whereas in 1980, 19 percent of all federal defendants went to trial, by 2000 the number had decreased to less than 6 percent and by 2010 to less than 3 percent, where it has remained ever since.

The reason for this is that the guidelines, like the mandatory minimums, provide prosecutors with weapons to bludgeon defendants into effectively coerced plea bargains. In the majority of criminal cases, a defense lawyer only meets her client when or shortly after the client is arrested, so that, at the outset, she is at a considerable informational disadvantage to the prosecutor. If, as is very often the case (despite the constitutional prohibition of “excessive bail”), bail is set so high that the client is detained, the defense lawyer has only modest opportunities, within the limited visiting hours and other arduous restrictions imposed by most jails, to interview her client and find out his version of the facts.

The prosecutor, by contrast, will typically have a full police report, complete with witness interviews and other evidence, shortly followed by grand jury testimony, forensic test reports, and follow-up investigations. While much of this may be one-sided and inaccurate—the National Academy of Science’s recently released report on the unreliability of eyewitness identification well illustrates the danger—it not only gives the prosecutor a huge advantage over the defense counsel but also makes the prosecutor confident, maybe overconfident, of the strength of his case.

Against this background, the information-deprived defense lawyer, typically within a few days after the arrest, meets with the overconfident prosecutor, who makes clear that, unless the case can be promptly resolved by a plea bargain, he intends to charge the defendant with the most severe offenses he can prove. Indeed, until late last year, federal prosecutors were under orders from a series of attorney generals to charge the defendant with the most serious charges that could be proved—unless, of course, the defendant was willing to enter into a plea bargain. If, however, the defendant wants to plead guilty, the prosecutor will offer him a considerably reduced charge—but only if the plea is agreed to promptly (thus saving the prosecutor valuable resources). Otherwise, he will charge the maximum, and, while he will not close the door to any later plea bargain, it will be to a higher-level offense than the one offered at the outset of the case.

In this typical situation, the prosecutor has all the advantages. He knows a lot about the case (and, as noted, probably feels more confident about it than he should, since he has only heard from one side), whereas the defense lawyer knows very little. Furthermore, the prosecutor controls the decision to charge the defendant with a crime. Indeed, the law of every US jurisdiction leaves this to the prosecutor’s unfettered discretion; and both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer know that the grand jury, which typically will hear from one side only, is highly likely to approve any charge the prosecutor recommends.

But what really puts the prosecutor in the driver’s seat is the fact that he—because of mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines (which, though no longer mandatory in the federal system, are still widely followed by most judges), and simply his ability to shape whatever charges are brought—can effectively dictate the sentence by how he publicly describes the offense. For example, the prosecutor can agree with the defense counsel in a federal narcotics case that, if there is a plea bargain, the defendant will only have to plead guilty to the personal sale of a few ounces of heroin, which carries no mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of less than two years; but if the defendant does not plead guilty, he will be charged with the drug conspiracy of which his sale was a small part, a conspiracy involving many kilograms of heroin, which could mean a ten-year mandatory minimum and a guidelines range of twenty years or more. Put another way, it is the prosecutor, not the judge, who effectively exercises the sentencing power, albeit cloaked as a charging decision.

Brittany Murray/Long Beach Press-Telegram/AP Images
Brian Banks and his lawyer from the Innocence Project at the dismissal of his wrongful conviction on rape and kidnapping charges, Long Beach, California, May 2012. Banks, who had been a high school football star with a scholarship to USC at the time of his arrest, served five years in prison for a crime he never committed after accepting a plea bargain under the advisement of his original lawyer.
The defense lawyer understands this fully, and so she recognizes that the best outcome for her client is likely to be an early plea bargain, while the prosecutor is still willing to accept a plea to a relatively low-level offense. Indeed, in 2012, the average sentence for federal narcotics defendants who entered into any kind of plea bargain was five years and four months, while the average sentence for defendants who went to trial was sixteen years.

Although under pressure to agree to the first plea bargain offered, prudent defense counsel will try to convince the prosecutor to give her some time to explore legal and factual defenses; but the prosecutor, often overworked and understaffed, may not agree. Defense counsel, moreover, is in no position to abruptly refuse the prosecutor’s proposal, since, under recent Supreme Court decisions, she will face a claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel” if, without consulting her client, she summarily rejects a plea bargain simply as a negotiating ploy.

Defense counsel also recognizes that, even if she thinks the plea bargain being offered is unfair compared to those offered by other, similarly situated prosecutors, she has little or no recourse. An appeal to the prosecutor’s superior will rarely succeed, since the superiors feel the need to support their troops and since, once again, the prosecutor can shape the facts so as to make his superior find his proposed plea acceptable. And there is no way defense counsel can appeal to a neutral third party, the judge, since in all but a few jurisdictions, the judiciary is precluded from participating in plea bargain negotiations. In a word, she and her client are stuck.

Though there are many variations on this theme, they all prove the same basic point: the prosecutor has all the power. The Supreme Court’s suggestion that a plea bargain is a fair and voluntary contractual arrangement between two relatively equal parties is a total myth: it is much more like a “contract of adhesion” in which one party can effectively force its will on the other party.

As for the suggestion from some academics that this is the equivalent of a regulatory process, that too is a myth: for, quite aside from the imbalance of power, there are no written regulations controlling the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power and no established or meaningful process for appealing his exercise of that power. The result is that, of the 2.2 million Americans now in prison—an appalling number in its own right—well over two million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by the government’s prosecutors, who effectively dictate the sentences as well.

A cynic might ask: What’s wrong with that? After all, crime rates have declined over the past twenty years to levels not seen since the early 1960s, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that our criminal justice system, by giving prosecutors the power to force criminals to accept significant jail terms, has played a major part in this reduction. Most Americans feel a lot safer today than they did just a few decades ago, and that feeling has contributed substantially to their enjoyment of life. Why should we cavil at the empowering of prosecutors that has brought us this result?

The answer may be found in Jefferson’s perception that a criminal justice system that is secret and government-dictated ultimately invites abuse and even tyranny. Specifically, I would suggest that the current system of prosecutor-determined plea bargaining invites the following objections.

First, it is one-sided. Our criminal justice system is premised on the notion that, before we deprive a person of his liberty, he will have his “day in court,” i.e., he will be able to put the government to its proof and present his own facts and arguments, following which a jury of his peers will determine whether or not he is guilty of a crime and a neutral judge will, if he is found guilty, determine his sentence. As noted, numerous guarantees of this fair-minded approach are embodied in our Constitution, and were put there because of the Founding Fathers’ experience with the rigged British system of colonial justice. Is not the plea bargain system we have now substituted for our constitutional ideal similarly rigged?

Second, and closely related, the system of plea bargains dictated by prosecutors is the product of largely secret negotiations behind closed doors in the prosecutor’s office, and is subject to almost no review, either internally or by the courts. Such a secretive system inevitably invites arbitrary results. Indeed, there is a great irony in the fact that legislative measures that were designed to rectify the perceived evils of disparity and arbitrariness in sentencing have empowered prosecutors to preside over a plea-bargaining system that is so secretive and without rules that we do not even know whether or not it operates in an arbitrary manner.

Third, and possibly the gravest objection of all, the prosecutor-dictated plea bargain system, by creating such inordinate pressures to enter into plea bargains, appears to have led a significant number of defendants to plead guilty to crimes they never actually committed. For example, of the approximately three hundred people that the Innocence Project and its affiliated lawyers have proven were wrongfully convicted of crimes of rape or murder that they did not in fact commit, at least thirty, or about 10 percent, pleaded guilty to those crimes. Presumably they did so because, even though they were innocent, they faced the likelihood of being convicted of capital offenses and sought to avoid the death penalty, even at the price of life imprisonment. But other publicized cases, arising with disturbing frequency, suggest that this self-protective psychology operates in noncapital cases as well, and recent studies suggest that this is a widespread problem. For example, the National Registry of Exonerations (a joint project of Michigan Law School and Northwestern Law School) records that of 1,428 legally acknowledged exonerations that have occurred since 1989 involving the full range of felony charges, 151 (or, again, about 10 percent) involved false guilty pleas.

It is not difficult to perceive why this should be so. After all, the typical person accused of a crime combines a troubled past with limited resources: he thus recognizes that, even if he is innocent, his chances of mounting an effective defense at trial may be modest at best. If his lawyer can obtain a plea bargain that will reduce his likely time in prison, he may find it “rational” to take the plea.

Every criminal defense lawyer (and I was both a federal prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer before going on the bench) has had the experience of a client who first tells his lawyer he is innocent and then, when confronted with a preview of the government’s proof, says he is guilty. Usually, he is in fact guilty and was previously lying to his lawyer (despite the protections of the attorney–client privilege, which many defendants, suspicious even of their court-appointed lawyers, do not appreciate). But sometimes the situation is reversed, and the client now lies to his lawyer by saying he is guilty when in fact he is not, because he has decided to “take the fall.”

In theory, this charade should be exposed at the time the defendant enters his plea, since the judge is supposed to question the defendant about the facts underlying his confession of guilt. But in practice, most judges, happy for their own reasons to avoid a time-consuming trial, will barely question the defendant beyond the bare bones of his assertion of guilt, relying instead on the prosecutor’s statement (untested by any cross-examination) of what the underlying facts are. Indeed, in situations in which the prosecutor and defense counsel themselves recognize that the guilty plea is somewhat artificial, they will have jointly arrived at a written statement of guilt for the defendant to read that cleverly covers all the bases without providing much detail. The Supreme Court, for its part, has gone so far (with the Alford plea of 1970) as to allow a defendant to enter a guilty plea while factually maintaining his innocence.

While, moreover, a defendant’s decision to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit may represent a “rational,” if cynical, cost-benefit analysis of his situation, in fact there is some evidence that the pressure of the situation may cause an innocent defendant to make a less-than-rational appraisal of his chances for acquittal and thus decide to plead guilty when he not only is actually innocent but also could be proven so. Research indicates that young, unintelligent, or risk-averse defendants will often provide false confessions just because they cannot “take the heat” of an interrogation. Although research into false guilty pleas is far less developed, it may be hypothesized that similar pressures, less immediate but more prolonged, may be in effect when a defendant is told, often by his own lawyer, that there is a strong case against him, that his likelihood of acquittal is low, and that he faces a mandatory minimum of five or ten years in prison if convicted and a guidelines range of considerably more—but that, if he acts swiftly, he can get a plea bargain to a lesser offense that will reduce his prison time by many years.

How prevalent is the phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty? The few criminologists who have thus far investigated the phenomenon estimate that the overall rate for convicted felons as a whole is between 2 percent and 8 percent. The size of that range suggests the imperfection of the data; but let us suppose that it is even lower, say, no more than 1 percent. When you recall that, of the 2.2 million Americans in prison, over 2 million are there because of plea bargains, we are then talking about an estimated 20,000 persons, or more, who are in prison for crimes to which they pleaded guilty but did not in fact commit.

What can we do about it? If there were the political will to do so, we could eliminate mandatory minimums, eliminate sentencing guidelines, and dramatically reduce the severity of our sentencing regimes in general. But even during the second Obama administration, the very modest steps taken by Attorney General Eric Holder to moderate sentences have been met by stiff opposition, some from within his own department. For example, the attorney general’s public support for a bipartisan bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for certain narcotics offenses prompted the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys to send an “open letter” of opposition, while a similar letter denouncing the bill was signed by two former attorney generals, three former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and eighteen former US attorneys.

Reflecting, perhaps, the religious origins of our country, Americans are notoriously prone to making moral judgments. Often this serves salutary purposes; but a by-product of this moralizing tendency is a punitiveness that I think is not likely to change in the near future. Indeed, on those occasions when Americans read that someone accused of a very serious crime has been permitted to plea bargain to a considerably reduced offense, their typical reaction is one of suspicion or outrage, and sometimes not without reason. Rarely, however, do they contemplate the possibility that the defendant may be totally innocent of any charge but is being coerced into pleading to a lesser offense because the consequences of going to trial and losing are too severe to take the risk.

I am driven, in the end, to advocate what a few jurisdictions, notably Connecticut and Florida, have begun experimenting with: involving judges in the plea-bargaining process. At present, this is forbidden in the federal courts, and with good reason: for a judge to involve herself runs the risk of compromising her objectivity if no bargain is reached. For similar reasons, many federal judges (including this one) refuse to involve themselves in settlement negotiations in civil cases, even though, unlike the criminal plea bargain situation, there is no legal impediment to doing so. But the problem is solved in civil cases by referring the settlement negotiations to magistrates or special masters who do not report the results to the judges who handle the subsequent proceedings. If the federal rule were changed, the same could be done in the criminal plea bargain situation.

As I envision it, shortly after an indictment is returned (or perhaps even earlier if an arrest has occurred and the defendant is jailed), a magistrate would meet separately with the prosecutor and the defense counsel, in proceedings that would be recorded but placed under seal, and all present would be provided with the particulars regarding the evidence and issues in the case. In certain circumstances, the magistrate might interview witnesses or examine other evidence, again under seal so as not to compromise any party’s strategy. He might even interview the defendant, under an arrangement where it would not constitute a waiver of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The prosecutor would, in the meantime, be precluded from making any plea bargain offer (or threat) while the magistrate was studying the case. Once the magistrate was ready, he would then meet separately with both sides and, if appropriate, make a recommendation, such as to dismiss the case (if he thought the proof was weak), to proceed to trial (if he thought there was no reasonable plea bargain available), or to enter into a plea bargain along lines the magistrate might suggest. No party would be required to follow the magistrate’s suggestions. Their force, if any, would come from the fact that they were being suggested by a neutral third party, who, moreover, was a judicial officer that the prosecutors and the defense lawyers would have to appear before in many other cases.

Would a plan structured along these lines wholly eliminate false guilty pleas? Probably not, but it likely would reduce their number. Would it present new, unforeseeable problems of its own? Undoubtedly, which is why I would recommend that it first be tried as a pilot program. Even given the current federal rules prohibiting judges from involving themselves in the plea-bargaining process, I think something like this could be undertaken, since most such rules can be waived and the relevant parties could here agree to waive them for the limited purposes of a pilot program.

I am under no illusions that this suggested involvement of judges in the plea-bargaining process is a panacea. But would not any program that helps to reduce the shame of sending innocent people to prison be worth trying?
157  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A Warmist Debunks Extremists on: October 15, 2014, 07:18:10 PM
Very nice job of tearing asunder a current warmist treatise:
158  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A Powerful Screed on: September 26, 2014, 07:25:13 PM
Watts up with Mann?
Sep 26, 2014
Climate: Sceptics
This is a guest post by Katabasis.

It’s been an interesting few days, having attended both the Cook and Mann talks and have some valuable meetings (many for the first time) with other climate sceptics. I wanted to share a perspective that deviates somewhat from what appears to be an emerging – er – ‘consensus’ among a number of the people I had the pleasure to spend time with over the last week or so. There has been discussion in person, here and over at WUWT regarding the pursuit of some kind of rapprochement with the mainstream of climate science and climate scientists. A significant feature of the conversation thus far appears to be concern over the fractious nature of the debate, especially online. In particular there have been concerns raised regarding the effect on, and perception of, sceptics more generally as a result of the more angry and impassioned amongst us.

I want to offer something of a counterpoint. I want to, instead, make a few points in defence of angry sceptics.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to the arguments made thus far in favour of maintaining calm, polite discourse. However, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t control other people’s reactions – and that’s where most of the anger resides, anger in response to perceived provocations. Moreover I don’t think the anger is going to let up any time soon, even if some of us ‘angry sceptics’ mellow somewhat – new sceptics are joining the fold every day, and many of them are pissed off from the moment they’ve ‘turned’ to climate realism.


Let’s review the two Cabot Institute talks. First we had Cook repackaging his “97% consensus” propaganda for the hapless Bristol audience. I say ‘hapless’ because at no point in his presentation was there even the slightest acknowledgement that his work – and the prior efforts that had inspired it – had come under such severe and comprehensive criticism that it was holed below the waterline. If one of my papers had received that kind of criticism I think I would have been embarrassed to even mention it in public, never mind carry out high profile presentations of it, hoping that mere repetition of memes would carry me through.

As I mentioned over at WUWT,[1] I found the whole presentation highly offensive. Cook continues the proud tradition of the ‘team’ where they paint a cartoon image of a sceptic in crayon on the wall and then go through a clown-dancing performance of `dialogue' with the gurning visage of primary colours they’ve splattered in front of them. Just the criticisms and points Cook received in the Q & A afterwards should have shattered that image of ‘sceptics’ as defined by the Skeptical Séance team for the undecided in the audience. Or at least one would hope. His presentation was largely fact free drivel and assertion that his research was right. It was the classic ‘team’ bait and switch of asserting an authoritative consensus over a modest area (the ‘basic physics’ of CO2) and then arguing through direct implication that this applied to an astronomically wider domain (catastrophic outcomes).  This is despite his work having been comprehensively monstered by José Duarte[2] and many others.  I even cited Duarte’s work in my own question to Cook, highlighting the inclusion of numerous, ridiculously inappropriate, papers in the measure of the ‘consensus’.  A point which, like all of the others, he airily dismissed whilst going on to trail the politician’s path of answering the question he would have preferred you had asked.

Then there was Mann. There has already been significant commenting here and elsewhere regarding the bizarrely short Q and A at the end. James Delingpole[3] has noted that Mann even posted about it on Facebook. As I noted in the comments, Mann and his sychophants  are backslapping eachother over how it `speaks volumes',  that `there were no questions at all from the climate change denier contingent that supposedly had come out in force'. There weren’t many hands up it is true, but I know for sure that mine and Barry’s were two of them.   I noticed that Mann had also taken the liberty of deleting Barry’s perfectly polite and reasonable replies on that thread.

The primary thrust of Mann’s talk, prior to slating as many perceived enemies as he could, was ‘going large’ on the bait and switch I mentioned above. He even used an identical slide to Cook on the `many lines of evidence' that support AGW. He emphasised the venerability of the ‘basic science’ and then machine gunned the audience with imagery of extreme weather. Every single damn point he made about extreme weather from then on in, as far as I can tell, is unsupported by AR5. And yet the audience lapped it up. There must have been dozens of academics in the audience who just swallowed it uncritically. There was no mention of the ‘hiatus’ (his x axis stopped shortly after the year 2000 on temperature graphs); Cook on the other hand explicitly denied it using the famous Sceptical Séance ‘escalator graph'.[4].  This is despite the fact that the ‘hiatus’ is now a major topic of discussion in the ‘mainstream’ of climate science – I can verify this personally as it was brought up regularly by the IPCC scientists present at the ‘RSclimate’ event last year.[5]

Cook, Mann and many of the other members of ‘the team’ are wilfully deceptive. They should have been laughed off the stage, not applauded. I’m not willing to accept the ‘Noble cause corruption’ narrative and neither, it seems, are some others.  This isn’t just individual failure, it’s institutional. And that’s where it really sticks in the craw for me. And it drives much of my anger, as well as that of the people who I have successfully introduced to climate scepticism/realism.

The wellspring of that anger deserves proper articulation. There’s a quote attributed to Martin Luther King that I have always liked that is apposite:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

If any of those reading consider themselves part of the ‘climate mainstream’, then I urge you to meditate on the above carefully when reading what follows as it applies to you on several levels.

When I am introducing someone to the sceptical range of views an exercise I often use  is to give them a link to the IPCC WG1 report (now AR5, previously I linked them to AR4). I then invite them to pick three chapters at random – any three whatsoever (other than the Summary for Policymakers (SPM)) – and skim them (or read them in full if they have the time) and come back to me with their impressions. I experience the same response every time and indeed, it matches my own. Reading the report’s individual chapters (sans the SPM), one comes away with the impression of a scholarly, ponderous document. Lots of caveats, uncertainties, doubts, gaps and so on are clearly articulated. In short, it is what one generally expects from academic output. Then the anger flows in. It is a painfully sharp contrast to the mainstream narratives. Within those there’s disaster lurking at any moment, around every corner. It’s always ‘worse than we thought’. The climate science establishment are unanimous in agreeing that thermageddon is imminent – they’re 95% certain, in fact! About every aspect of the topic!

At this point the brakes screech. The red lights start flashing. As I get older each year, the people I introduce to sceptical books, blogs and insights become ever younger.  They move ever closer to that group of young men and women just entering adulthood who have not seen global warming for their entire lives. Yet they’ve been indoctrinated right from the very start. Many come out of our education fearful for the future, as our host has amply demonstrated.[6]

They are told incessantly that the world is dying, there isn’t much hope without urgent and extreme action, and it’s all their fault for living with some creature comforts.  We’re drowning in something, but it isn’t rising sea levels. It’s prognostications of doom in a legion of screaming litanies that continually fail to occur as advertised. Why hasn’t action been taken? It’s those evil ‘deniers’ and their tobacco/oil/[insert idiocy] industry backing spreading doubt and preventing action. Except it isn’t. The ‘mainstream’ of climate science is chock full of doubts, including about the hysterical prophecies of the reverend Al Gore and sychophants. The heart rate rises, respiration increases. A state of low level adrenal emergency is entered.  Why didn’t they tell us? Why have our school teachers, our media, our parents, our climate science establishment not reined in the irresponsible activist-scientists and their supporters in advocate groups? Angry? You bet.

And that’s just among the general public. What of those of us who have, or have had, a continuing relationship with academia? Some of the reactions I’ve witnessed there have eclipsed even my white hot reaction.

Of my friends and family who take an interest in sincere discussion on these issues, those with a more political bent I sent to Pointman’s blog.[7] Those of a more philosophical to Ben Pile’s.[8] For those of my friends pursuing academic careers however, I sent them to Duarte’s holdout. Duarte does two things particularly well – he provides a comprehensive and scholarly critique of recent Cook and Lewandowsky offerings. He also proffers a very particular kind of outrage. That of the academic betrayed.

I felt exactly the same when I turned fully to climate scepticism/realism. As I discussed this week with Barry Woods and Richard Drake, I was working in a lab at the time. I still regarded the scientific and academic establishments as the last hold out for hope. It didn’t matter that political and economic wrangling was hopelessly fragged. Science and the quest for an ever clearer insight into the ways of the world, led by paragons of integrity, would see us through. Or so I naively believed.  Discovering that a substantive area of science had let itself be presented in such a monstrous form in the public eye was an extremely bitter pill to swallow indeed.

I discovered that being a climate sceptic in the ivory towers was dangerous. It’s why I maintain a veneer of pseudonymity still. I can’t express the anger or bitterness at the sense of extreme betrayal in the written word, though I’ve often burst my top with expletives on the subject online and off. To find that the bladder bursting conniptions of our literati concerning our imminent doom as a result of our carbon sins is in fact an exaggeration of the facts off the scale even when compared to the famous UK ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraq was, for a budding academic, the worst betrayal.

I didn’t sign up for this. Duarte didn’t sign up for this. Nor did any of my friends and colleagues in my age group who planned a career either in, or closely related to academia. The covenant has been broken. It’s precisely this kind of hyperbole that they should exist in order to rein in, to let cooler heads prevail. But there’s no ponderous pontification here, the overheated chicken littles run the roost whilst the ‘mainstream’ of climate science appears to sit comfortably, keeping eggs warm for the future.  I’ve met a few of you in person now. You tell me, quietly, that you don’t agree with the hysteria at all, and that it’s clear from your published work.

Not good enough.

Some of you may remember from my report on the ‘RSclimate’ event that I challenged Mat Collins on this issue.  That’s the same Mat Collins who is the Joint Met Office Chair in Climate Change.  When I asked why he and others didn’t attempt to rein in the hysterics, who do not represent what the IPCC actually says, he said it wasn’t his responsibility. More recently, at the Walker Institute annual lecture, on climate change communication, myself and Barry Woods questioned none other than the government’s chief scientific adviser himself, Mark Walport. I put it to him that AR5 did not support catastrophic conclusions with any certainty. He responded that when he said climate change was going to be ‘bad’ he did not mean ‘catastrophic’. He failed to provide a definition of ‘bad’. This was the keynote lecture for a climate change communication outfit. If he can’t communicate something so important that is so very easily misconstrued into the worst case scenario to someone like myself who is relatively well informed on the topic, what hope the general public?

In short, there seems to be no stomach amongst the ‘mainstream’ climate establishment to do anything very much to counter the incredibly pernicious effect of our Cooks, Manns, Lewandowskys and Hansens. You don’t seem to realise that the public already lumps all of you together and some of us who know better are at the end of their tether in trying to maintain that distinction.  The effort is a law of diminishing returns – why should we attempt to lift you out of a hole you continue to keep digging deeper? History won’t care what your inscrutable paywalled article actually said. Neither will the general public. They’ll care that you didn’t speak out when you should have. That you allowed everyone who raised objections be painted as part of some shady conspiracy funded by billions in filthy lucre.  That you allowed their children to be terrified by a vision of monstrous and hopeless futures. The anger is going to continue to grow until a significant portion of the climate mainstream steps up to the plate, and would be well advised to do so before the leash well and truly snaps.

Whilst I’m loathe to use a Socialist Worker Party slogan here, this one is entirely apt:

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?











Original URL:
159  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Unseen Puzzle on: August 30, 2014, 03:14:18 PM
No, I'm not rejoining the fray as interminable, circular, didactic internet arguments have lost their charm. And this piece could be posted in more that one place here, and perhaps ought to be. It is a rare examination of Israel reporting in context by someone who was there and neatly fits many pieces of a generally unseen puzzle together:
160  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: March 04, 2014, 01:22:57 AM

Breaking not-so-bad? I guess all the really horrific things I've seen from meth never really happened.

Yes because anecdote justifies a war on drugs that has utterly failed by any sane measure. Let us double down on failed methods using the same propaganda techniques over and over that always prove grossly inflated in hindsight. For the children.
161  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The Panopticon is Upon Us on: March 04, 2014, 01:19:24 AM

Or subsequently sharing that data with the NSA, who then pretend the act isn't extra-constitutional as the Brits did it, most likely with tools the NSA "shared."
162  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / "Peer Review is Hindering Science" on: March 04, 2014, 01:17:09 AM
Fascinating interview with profound critiques of science starting about halfway through.
163  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Panopticon is Upon Us on: March 01, 2014, 12:56:57 AM
164  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Meth Myths & Misinformation on: February 23, 2014, 10:55:13 AM
Meth Mouth and Other Meth Myths
Jacob Sullum|Feb. 23, 2014 8:00 am

Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush's attorney general, called it "the most dangerous drug in America." A physician quoted by The New York Times described it as "the most malignant, addictive drug known to mankind." A police captain told the Times it "makes crack look like child's play, both in terms of what it does to the body and how hard it is to get off."

Meanwhile, doctors routinely prescribe this drug and others very similar to it for conditions such as narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If these drugs are as dangerous as Gonzales et al. claim, how can millions of Americans—including schoolchildren—safely consume them on a regular basis?

Columbia neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart explores that puzzle in a new report that aims to separate fact from fiction on the subject of methamphetamine. Hart and his two co-authors—University of North Carolina at Wilmington philosopher Don Habibi and Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program—argue that hyping the hazards posed by meth fosters a punitive and counterproductive overreaction similar to the one triggered by the crack cocaine panic of the 1980s, the consequences of which still afflict our criminal justice system. "The data show that many of the immediate and long-term harmful effects caused by methamphetamine use have been greatly exaggerated," Hart et al. write, "just as the dangers of crack cocaine were overstated nearly three decades ago."

The report, published by the Open Society Foundations, begins by considering the addictive potential of methamphetamine. Despite all the talk of a "meth epidemic," the drug has never been very popular. "At the height of methamphetamine's popularity," Hart et al. write, "there were never more than a million current users of the drug in the United States. This number is considerably lower than the 2.5 million cocaine users, the 4.4 million illegal prescription opioid users, or the 15 million marijuana smokers during the same period." Furthermore, illicit methamphetamine use had been waning for years at the point when Newsweek identified "The Meth Epidemic" as "America's New Drug Crisis."

Although methamphetamine is commonly portrayed as irresistible and inescapable, it does not look that way when you examine data on patterns of use. Of the 12.3 million or so Americans who have tried it, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 1.2 million (9.4 percent) have consumed it in the last year, while less than half a million (3.6 percent) have consumed it in the last month (the standard definition of "current" use). In other words, more than 96 percent of the people who have tried "the most addictive drug known to mankind" are not currently using it even as often as once a month. A 2009 study based on NSDUH data found that 5 percent of nonmedical methamphetamine consumers become "dependent" within two years. Over a lifetime, Hart et al. say, "less than 15 percent" do.

Even heavy methamphetamine users have more self-control than is commonly thought, as Hart's own research shows:

Under one condition, methamphetamine-dependent individuals were given a choice between taking a big hit of methamphetamine (50 mg) or $5 in cash. They chose the drug on about half of the opportunities. But when we increased the amount of money to $20, they almost never chose the drug.

Laboratory research also has found that "d-amphetamine and methamphetamine produce nearly identical physiological and behavioral effects," Hart et al. write. "They both increase blood pressure, pulse, euphoria, and desire to take the drug in a dose-dependent manner. Essentially, they are the same drug." That observation helps put methamphetamine's risks in perspective, since d-amphetamine, a.k.a. dextroamphetamine, is one of the main ingredients in Adderall, a stimulant widely prescribed for ADHD. Hart et al. note that methamphetamine, like dextroamphetamine, increases heart rate and blood pressure, but "well below levels obtained when engaged in a rigorous physical exercise."

When given to research subjects, "the drug didn't keep people up for consecutive days, it didn't dangerously elevate their vital signs, nor did it impair their judgment." Contrary to tales of meth-induced murder and mayhem, "There is no empirical evidence that suggests that even long-term users of methamphetamine pose a threat to those around them." Hart et al. note that "incredible anecdotes are usually disseminated uncritically by the popular press and accepted as sound evidence by an undiscerning public." One example from my book Saying Yes: In 1994 Reader's Digest described the rape and murder of an 18-month-old girl in California as a "meth-related child killing." Yet neither newspaper coverage of the case nor the California Supreme Court's 87-page decision rejecting the murderer's appeal made any mention of the drug.

What about long-term effects? Shocking as it may be to anyone who has accepted at face value the gruesome images featured in anti-meth propaganda, the drug does not make you ugly. "Meth mouth"—the extreme tooth decay supposedly characteristic of heavy users—is said to be caused by meth-induced dry mouth. Yet widely consumed prescription stimulants such as Adderall produce the same side effect, Hart et al. note, and "there are no published reports of unattractiveness or dental problems associated with their use." Allegedly meth-related physical characteristics such as rotten teeth, thinning hair, and bad complexions, they say, "are more likely related to poor sleep habits, poor dental hygiene, poor nutrition and dietary practices."

Hart also questions research linking heavy methamphetamine use to brain damage. He argues that studies in which large doses are repeatedly given to animals that have never been exposed to the drug before bear little resemblance to human consumption patterns, which feature gradual escalation. "This difference is not trivial," Hart et al. write, "because the harmful neurobiological and behavioral changes that occur in response to repeated large doses of methamphetamine can be prevented with prior exposure to several days of escalating doses."

In studies of people, Hart says, researchers exaggerate the practical significance of their findings and fail to properly control for pre-existing difference between meth users and the general population. "The brain imaging literature is replete with a general tendency to characterize any brain differences as dysfunction caused by methamphetamine," Hart et al. write, "even if differences are within the normal range of human variability."

Over-the-top warnings about methamphetamine—encapsulated in the slogan "Meth: Not Even Once"—aim to scare people away from a drug that might harm them (but probably won't). By contrast, Hart argues, exaggerating the hazards posed by methamphetamine causes definite damage by encouraging harsh criminal penalties (such as a five-year mandatory minimum for five grams), fostering distrust of accurate warnings about drugs, suppressing useful information that could reduce drug-related harm, driving users toward more dangerous routes of administration (as efforts to reduce meth purity, if successful, predictably would do), and justifying ineffective policies that impose substantial costs on large numbers of people for little or no benefit (such as restrictions on the methamphetamine precursor pseudoephedrine, a cheap, safe, and effective decongestant that is now absurdly difficult to obtain). In other words, hyperbole hurts.

This article was originally published by Forbes.
165  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Whistling Past the "Settled" Graveyard on: February 21, 2014, 12:46:39 PM
166  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Straight Scares on: February 17, 2014, 07:03:50 PM
167  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / 2013: No Skies Fell on: February 04, 2014, 11:53:23 AM
168  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: January 28, 2014, 01:37:26 PM
169  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Podesta Model on: January 26, 2014, 09:00:53 AM
170  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Causes of False Confessions on: January 25, 2014, 08:32:56 PM
An interesting exploration of the roots of false confessions that reinforces my belief that, post incident, clamming up and demanding a lawyer are the legal route:
171  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) and the 4th & 9th Amendments on: January 24, 2014, 10:30:30 PM
Johns Hopkins is near an ugly part of town. The drive out requires traversing the west side of Baltimore--a place that gives Detroit a run for its money (think The Wire)--and several dozen traffic signals. Without copping to any putative crimes, it annoys the bejesus out of me to have to chose between being able to effectively protect me and mine in ugly neighborhoods and getting my wife the best eye care available.
172  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Kronies on: January 24, 2014, 10:23:45 PM
173  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / This Traffic Stop Brought to you by the Letters DHS on: January 22, 2014, 08:23:36 PM
Hmm, looks like every time I drive my wife to the eye clinic at Johns Hopkins the trip will turn into a Big Brother crapshoot:
174  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Medium is the Message on: January 04, 2014, 10:41:30 PM
Interesting exploration of how the Party Line re the Stuck Ship diverges from some of the tweeting/blogging going on re the same:
175  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / I've got yer "Replicable" Right Here on: December 21, 2013, 03:25:23 PM
The Vast Majority of Raw Data From Old Scientific Studies May Now Be Missing

Image via Flickr user dabblelicious
One of the foundations of the scientific method is the reproducibility of results. In a lab anywhere around the world, a researcher should be able to study the same subject as another scientist and reproduce the same data, or analyze the same data and notice the same patterns.

This is why the findings of a study published today in Current Biology are so concerning. When a group of researchers tried to email the authors of 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 and ask for the raw data, they were dismayed to find that more 90 percent of the oldest data (from papers written more than 20 years ago) were inaccessible. In total, even including papers published as recently as 2011, they were only able to track down the data for 23 percent.

“Everybody kind of knows that if you ask a researcher for data from old studies, they’ll hem and haw, because they don’t know where it is,” says Timothy Vines, a zoologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the effort. “But there really hadn’t ever been systematic estimates of how quickly the data held by authors actually disappears.”

To make their estimate, his group chose a type of data that’s been relatively consistent over time—anatomical measurements of plants and animals—and dug up between 25 and 40 papers for each odd year during the period that used this sort of data, to see if they could hunt down the raw numbers.

A surprising amount of their inquiries were halted at the very first step: for 25 percent of the studies, active email addresses couldn’t be found, with defunct addresses listed on the paper itself and web searches not turning up any current ones. For another 38 percent of studies, their queries led to no response. Another 7 percent of the data sets were lost or inaccessible.

“Some of the time, for instance, it was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks, so no one could access it, because they no longer had the proper drives,” Vines says. Because the basic idea of keeping data is so that it can be used by others in future research, this sort of obsolescence essentially renders the data useless.

These might seem like mundane obstacles, but scientists are just like the rest of us—they change email addresses, they get new computers with different drives, they lose their file backups—so these trends reflect serious, systemic problems in science.

And preserving data is so important, it’s worth remembering, because it’s impossible to predict in which directions research will move in the future. Vines, for instance, has been conducting his own research on a pair of toad species native to Eastern Europe that seem to be in the process of hybridizing. In the 1980s, he says, a separate team of researchers was working on the same topic, and came across an old paper that documented the distribution of these toads in the 1930s. Knowing that their distribution had changed relatively little over the intervening decades allowed the scientists to make all sorts of calculations that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. “That original data being available, from a very small old study written in Polish, was incredibly useful to researchers that came along 70 years later,” he says.

There’s also the fact that so much of this research is paid for with public funding, much of it coming through grants that stipulate that resulting data be made freely available to the public. Additionally, field data is affected by the circumstances of the environment in which it’s collected—thus, it’s impossible to perfectly replicate later on, when conditions have changed.

What’s the solution? Some journals—including Molecular Ecology, of which Vines is a managing editor—have adopted policies that require authors to submit raw data along with their papers, allowing the journal itself to archive the data in perpetuity. Although journals, like people, are susceptible to changing email addresses and technological obsolescence, these problems can be much more easily managed at the institutional scale.
176  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Likely to Die of Old Age if you Live to be Old on: October 21, 2013, 05:15:37 PM
This takedown made me laugh:

Vitamin D And Cancer
Posted on 21 October 2013 by Briggs
This is our second big week focusing on colorectual cancer. Three weeks makes a streak. We’ll see.

Our paper is Mapping Vitamin D Deficiency, Breast Cancer, and Colorectal Cancer by Sharif Mohr, including four authors whose surnames suspiciously begin with G.

Paper is making the rounds with people concerned that they ought to be popping Vitamin D (VD for short?) pills to stave off the big C (today’s post sponsored by the letters C, D, G, and V).

Idea is that there’s more sun the closer to the equator you get, therefore the more opportunity there is for your body to produce VD. Why is this important? Because statistics appear to show that people who live in equatorial lands have lower rates of breast and colorectal cancer.

Rates of colorectual cancer countries classed by latitude.

This picture from their paper gives you the idea. Shows the rates of colorectal cancer (found in various and variable public data sources) by about 200 different countries classed by latitude (not all countries are labeled). Paper has a similar picture for breast cancer.

Seems plausible that the further from the sun you get the more at risk you are of cancer, no?

No. Those equatorial countries are places like the Democratic (don’t laugh) Republic of Congo, life expectancy 45; Equatorial Guinea, life expectancy 48, and so on and such forth (data source; from 2000).

This is versus sunlight depraved countries like Finland, life expectancy 78; Denmark, life expectancy 78; and on and on.

Now the longer you live the higher the chance you’ll develop one of these “old age” cancers (you have to die of something, after all). Most people are diagnosed north of 50. So if you die before 50, you don’t have much chance of getting these cancers. This is my “theory”, which has the benefit of parsimoniously explaining the observed data.

This explanation was much too simple for Mohr and the Four Gs, who show no sign of having thought of it. They instead developed complicated regression models of solar irradiance, optical depth, population density and, oh, I don’t know what all else. They got the wee p-values they sought, which was all the proof they needed.

And, hey, it could be that their vastly more complicated hypothesis is true and mine false. Plus, they have a wee p-value and I don’t. I can’t even get one! So, as the authors say (as they always say), “More research is clearly needed.”
177  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Future is Certain; Only the Past is Unpredictable on: October 08, 2013, 08:32:36 AM
The Computer says NO – The IPCC 2013 Summary for Policymakers
Posted on October 7, 2013    by Anthony Watts
By Tom Quirk

The IPCC use of computer models to predict temperatures, rain fall, sea level rises and other weather related events either global or regional has comprehensively failed to predict most of the observations made in the last twenty years and ignores any analysis that suggests natural variability as the main driver of climate. Ad hoc effects are put forward in order to explain why the model predictions parted company from the observations. This is most obvious in looking at the components of radiative (temperature) forcing (Figure SPM.5) where such effects as aerosols appear as contributions with 100% uncertainty. This is not a statistically derived uncertainty but rather an “expert” opinion on an effect that is needed to “balance the books”. Yet all the uncertainties are combined as if they are all well behaved statistical errors.

The report is best summed up by the classic Polish saying from Soviet times – The future is certain only the past is unpredictable.

There are a series of points that one can take immediate objection to:

The temperature plateau from 2000 to the present year is dismissed as of no consequence. The report has borrowed the reply of Chou En Lai who, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, replied that “It was too early to tell”. Yet in 1988 James Hansen appearing before a Congressional committee said he was 99% certain that the temperature rise from 1977 was not a natural variation.

The oceans that have been ignored up to now have suddenly become centre stage as the lodging place for the heat that should have raised the global temperature. The extra infra-red radiation from the increasing atmospheric CO2 is absorbed in the top 2 millimetres of the ocean. This is then mixed by wave motion through the top 100 to 200 metres of the oceans. But the sea surface temperature is in equilibrium with the air surface temperatures so how has the heat energy achieved this avoidance. Of course the deep ocean from 1,000 to 4,000 metres is at 40C or less and any overturning of the deep ocean would cause no end of trouble. This looks like another ad hoc explanation.

Sea level rises are forecast to be as much as 1 metre by 2100 yet the measurements show quite different annual rises in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Indeed a good pair of gumboots should get our grandchildren through 2100 with the present measured annual increases.

Methane is referred to as reaching unprecedented levels in the atmosphere with no suggestion that its annual increases have fallen by a factor of eight since 1995[2]. Three of the scenarios (now called trajectories) have reasonable methane concentrations out to the year 2100 but the fourth (RCP 8.5) is an echo of the early extreme scenario A1FI and a little more borrowed from another earlier scenario of the IPCC 2007 report. The main justification for the more than doubling of the present methane level of 1750 ppb to 3750 ppb in 2100 may be to keep the highest temperature and sea level rise predictions in play. This last scenario is of course used by the CSIRO to predict the end of Sydney and Brisbane airports.

There is a reference (Figure SPM.4 (a)) to the long running time series measurements of atmospheric CO2 at the South Pole (black line) and Mauna Loa (red line). What has not been pointed out is that in 1958 to 1960, there is no difference in these measurements between the two stations but it remains unexplained. Also there is a modest bump in 1990 that had the Point Barrow measurements at latitude 710N been included would have shown a modest 2 year plateau in CO2 concentration. This, when properly analysed, shows that about 2.5 GtC of CO2 entered and left the Northern Hemisphere atmosphere in the space of 4 years when fossil fuel CO2 emissions were 6 GtC in 1990 with 90% occurring in the Northern Hemisphere.. Yet we are taught that fossil fuel emissions are absorbed with great difficulty by the land and oceans.. This is at the time of the Mount Pinatubo eruption but the CO2 output has been estimated at only 0.015GtC so volcanic activity is not the cause.

The temperature plateau from 2000 to the present has been variously explained by heat disappearing into the oceans, volcanic activity and a lessening of solar radiation (dismissed in this IPCC report). The failure to acknowledge the impact of the oceans that cover 70% of the surface of the earth not only on the temperature behaviour but also CO2 is extraordinary[3]. But the explanation may be that we do not understand what triggers the phase changes in the oceans where up-welling cold water displaces warmer water and of course the reverse. So it is not possible to model such events and this would be an admission of complete failure of the computer models.

Regional models should not be regarded as having any useful predictive power if the global models have been unsuccessful. There is a problem with regional modelling over land as the assumption that the mean temperature is the average of the minimum and maximum temperatures can increase temperatures by up to 0.50C. This distorts the heat load over the land and thus would cause a systematic error in computer modelling results.

This report from the IPCC should be its last. Not only has the climate science research community extracted billions of dollars from politicians but tens if not hundreds of billions have been invested in schemes to reduce CO2 emissions with little to show by way of reductions.

The last word should be left to Jonathon Swift who brilliantly satirized the Royal Society in Gulliver’s Travels[4]. Gulliver is taken to the country of Balnibarbi whose enlightened rulers have adopted new methods of agriculture and building but the country appears to be in ruins as “the only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection”.

[1] Catch phrase from Little Britain BBC TV series


[3] See

178  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / The Scope of Surveillance on: September 29, 2013, 12:53:39 PM
179  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The Cognitive Dissonance of His Glibness on: September 28, 2013, 11:14:00 AM
180  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ice Yachting on: August 30, 2013, 01:28:32 PM
North West Passage blocked with ice - yachts caught


'North West Passage - showing ice blockages'    © Environment Canada

The Northwest Passage after decades of so-called global warming has a dramatic 60% more Arctic ice this year than at the same time last year. The future dreams of dozens of adventurous sailors are now threatened. A scattering of yachts attempting the legendary Passage are caught by the ice, which has now become blocked at both ends and the transit season may be ending early. Douglas Pohl tells the story:

The Passage has become blocked with 5/10 concentrated drifting sea ice at both the eastern and at the western ends of Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. At least 22 yachts and other vessels are in the Arctic at the moment. Some who were less advanced have retreated and others have abandoned their vessels along the way. Still others are caught in the ice in an unfolding, unresolved drama.

The real question is if and when the Canadian Coast Guard(CCG) decides to take early action to help the yachts exit the Arctic before freeze-up... or will they wait until it becomes an emergency rescue operation?

The first blockage area is at Prince Regent Inlet in position 73.7880535N, -89.2529297W which became blocked on 27th August with 5/10 ice concentration with 7/10 ice pushing.

This effectively closes the 2013 Northwest Passage without Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker escorts for transit. The alternative is a very technical and risky southern navigation through Fury & Hecla Strait mostly blocked with sea ice.

Currently there is a commercial cruise ship on a west to east passage which will reach Prince Regent Inlet in another day. It is unknown if there is a CCG icebreaker in the area to provide assistance since government ships do not provide Automatic Identification Service (AIS) to public AIS websites.

Since one of the Canadian Coast Guard’s prime missions is to provide icebreaking for commercial shipping it will be interesting to see if Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Government views this as an opportunity for good public relations to help recreational yachts transiting the Northwest Passage.

Another choke-point stopping marine traffic is on the western Canadian Arctic at Cape Bathurst in position 70.6672443N, -128.2763672W which became blocked on 26th August with 2/10 ice concentration and quickly filled with 5/10 ice on 27th August and today has 8/10 ice pushing towards Cape Bathurst. Latest word is the ice is retreating at an agonizing 1 nautical mile per day northward.

Empiricus - one of the ice-blocked yachts, still smiling -  © Environment Canada 

There are a number of yachts known to be in the Cambridge Bay area heading west: ACALEPHE (CA), ISATIS (NEW CALEDONIA), LA BELLE EPOQUE (DE), LIBELLULE (CHE), NOEME (FRA), and TRAVERSAY III (CA). PAS PERDU LE NORD (DE) was ahead by 10 days and has already gone on to Arctic Alaska waters. While BALTHAZAR (CA) departed from Inuvik a month ago and is now on the hard in Nome Alaska.

The following yachts are enroute from the west to the east: ANNA (?), rowboat ARCTIC JOULE (CA), DODO'S DELIGHT (GBR), EMPIRICUS (USA). rowboat FAIRMONT's PASSION (USA), tandem-kayak IKIMAYIA (CA), in Russian sea ice is LADY DANA (POL), POLAR BOUND (GBR), rowboat ROWING ICE (FRA), in Russian sea ice is TARA (FRA), and a group of jetskis known as DANGEROUS WATERS (USA) reported east of Gjoa Haven.

Several updates on known others:
LE MANGUIER (FRA) is wintering over in the ice at Paulatuk. Motor Yacht Lady M II (Marshal Islands) was escorted by CCGS icebreaker HENRY LARSEN through Bellot Strait eastbound on 20130824. ARCTIC TERN (GBR) and TOOLUKA (NED) retreated to the east towards Greenland/Newfoundland away from Bellot Strait on 20130822 with the opinion that the Arctic ice was finished melting and freeze-up would prevent them from reaching the Northwest Passage finish line at the Arctic Circle in the Bering Strait.

Watch this space for ongoing news about the situation.

Douglas Pohl is a USCG licensed ocean master of motor and steam vessels, fifth issue, retired. Doug and Michelle now live their dreams cruising aboard their 55' steel motor yacht GREY GOOSE and provide yacht routing, satcom and wifi communications consulting. He can be contacted by e-mail at: douglas_pohl (at) yahoo (dot) com
181  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rooskie Evac? on: August 29, 2013, 11:47:46 AM
182  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / "Weather Cooking" on: August 27, 2013, 12:50:43 PM
Seeing how "global warming" seems to have lost some of it's lexicographic shizzle leaving a gap "climate change" doesn't have the spark to fill, perhaps the doomsayers should give "weather cooking" a whirl. Hey, not only has it worked before, but if we manage to dispense with modern follyswaddles we could inspire those rotten deniers to STFU:
183  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / A Quick Drive By on: August 12, 2013, 10:35:26 AM
State-Funded Science: It’s Worse Than You Think!

By Patrick J. Michaels
Response Essays
August 12, 2013
Terence Kealey’s insightful essay is likely to provoke a vigorous debate among libertarians on the utility of publicly funded science. He concludes that “the public funding of research has no beneficial effects on the economy.”  I will argue that the situation, at least in a prominent environmental science, is worse, inasmuch as the more public money is disbursed, the poorer the quality of the science, and that there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

This is counter to the reigning myth that science, as a search for pure truth, is ultimately immune from incentivized distortion.  In fact, at one time James M. Buchanan clearly stated that he thought science was one of the few areas that was not subject to public choice influences. In his 1985 essay The Myth of Benevolence, Buchanan wrote:

Science is a social activity pursued by persons who acknowledge the existence of a nonindividualistic, mutually agreed-on value, namely truth…Science cannot, therefore, be modelled in the contractarian, or exchange, paradigm.”

In reality, public choice influences on science are pervasive and enforced through the massive and entrenched bureaucracies of higher education.  The point of origin is probably President Franklin Roosevelt’s November 17, 1944 letter to Vannevar Bush, who, as director of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development, managed and oversaw the Manhattan Project.

Roosevelt expressed a clear desire to expand the reach of the government far beyond theoretical and applied physics, specifically asking Bush, “What can the Government do now and in the future to aid research activities by public and private organizations.”  In response, in July, 1945, Bush published Science, The Endless Frontier, in which he explicitly acknowledged Roosevelt’s more inclusive vision, saying,

It is clear from President Roosevelt’s letter that in speaking of science that he had in mind the natural sciences, including biology and medicine…

Bush’s 1945 report explicitly laid the groundwork for the National Science Foundation, the modern incarnation of the National Institutes of Health, and the proliferation of federal science support through various federal agencies.  But, instead of employing scientists directly as the Manhattan Project did, Bush proposed disbursing research support to individuals via their academic employers.

Universities saw this as a bonanza, adding substantial additional costs.  A typical public university imposes a 50% surcharge on salaries and fringe benefits (At private universities the rate can approach 70%.)

These fungible funds often support faculty in the many university departments that do not recover all of their costs; thus does the Physics Department often support, say, Germanic Languages. As a result, the universities suddenly became wards of the federal government and in the thrall of extensive programmatic funding. The roots of statist “political correctness” lie as much in the economic interests of the academy as they do in the political predilections of the faculty.

As an example, I draw attention to my field of expertise, which is climate change science and policy.  The Environmental Protection Agency claims to base its global warming regulations on “sound” science, in which the federal government is virtually the sole provider of research funding.  In fact, climate change science and policy is a highly charged political arena, and its $2 billion/year public funding would not exist save for the perception that global warming is very high on the nation’s priority list.

The universities and their federal funders have evolved a codependent relationship.  Again, let’s use climate change as an example. Academic scientists recognize that only the federal government provides the significant funds necessary to publish enough original research to gain tenure in the higher levels of academia. Their careers therefore depend on it. Meanwhile, the political support for elected officials who hope to gain from global warming science will go away if science dismisses the issue as unimportant.

The culture of exaggeration and the disincentives to minimize scientific/policy problems are an unintended consequence of the way we now do science, which is itself a direct descendent of Science, The Endless Frontier.

All the disciplines of science with policy implications (and this is by far most of them) compete with each other for finite budgetary resources, resources that are often allocated via various congressional committees, such as those charged with responsibilities for environmental science, technology, or medical research. Thus each of the constituent research communities must engage in demonstrations that their scientific purview is more important to society than those of their colleagues in other disciplines.  So, using this example,   global warming inadvertently competes with cancer research and others.

Imagine if a NASA administrator at a congressional hearing, upon being asked if global warming were of sufficient importance to justify a billion dollars in additional funding, replied that it really was an exaggerated issue, and the money should be spent elsewhere on more important problems.

It is a virtual certainty that such a reply would be one of his last acts as administrator.

So, at the end of this hypothetical hearing, having answered in the affirmative (perhaps more like, “hell yes, we can use the money”), the administrator gathers all of his department heads and demands programmatic proposals from each.  Will any one of these individuals submit one which states that his department really doesn’t want the funding because the issue is perhaps exaggerated?

It is a virtual certainty that such a reply would be one of his last acts as a department head.

The department heads now turn to their individual scientists, asking for specific proposals on how to put the new monies to use. Who will submit a proposal with the working research hypothesis that climate change isn’t all that important?

It is a virtual certainty that such a reply would guarantee he was in his last year as a NASA scientist.

Now that the funding has been established and disbursed, the research is performed under the obviously supported hypotheses (which may largely be stated as “it’s worse than we thought”).  When the results are submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, they are going to be reviewed by other scientists who, being prominent in the field of climate change by virtue of their research productivity, are funded by the same process. They have little incentive to block any papers consistent with the worsening hypothesis and every incentive to block one that concludes the opposite.

Can this really be true?  After all, what I have sketched here is simply an hypothesis that public choice is fostering a pervasive “it’s worse than we thought” bias in the climate science literature, with the attendant policy distortions that must result from relying upon that literature.

It is an hypothesis that tests easily.

Let us turn to a less highly charged field in applied science  to determine how to test the hypothesis of pervasive bias, namely the pedestrian venue of the daily weather forecast.

Short-range weather models and centennial-scale climate models are largely based upon the same physics derived from the six interacting “primitive equations” describing atmospheric motion and thermodynamics.  The difference is that, in the weather forecasting models, the initial conditions change, being a simultaneous sample of global atmospheric pressure, temperature, and moisture in three dimensions, measured by ascending weather balloons and, increasingly, by downward-sounding satellites. This takes place twice a day.  The “boundary conditions,” such as solar irradiance and the transfer of radiation through the atmosphere, do not change.  In a climate model, the base variables are calculated, rather than measured, and the boundary conditions—such as the absorption of infrared radiation in various layers of the atmosphere (the “greenhouse effect”) change over time.

It is assumed that the weather forecasting model is unbiased—without remaining systematic errors—so that each run, every twelve hours, has an equal probability of predicting, say, that it will be warmer or colder next Friday than the previous run.  If this were not he case, then the chance of warmer or colder is unequal. In fact, in the developmental process for forecast models, the biases are subtracted out and the output is forced to have a bias of zero and therefore an equal probability of a warmer or colder forecast.

Similarly, if the initial results are unbiased, successive runs of climate models should have an equal probability of producing centennial forecasts that are warmer or colder than previous one, or projecting more or less severe climate impacts. It is a fact that the climate change calculated by these models is not a change from current or past conditions, but is the product of subtracting the output of the model with low greenhouse-gas concentrations from the one with higher ones.  Consequently the biasing errors have been subtracted out, a rather intriguing trick. Again, the change is one model minus another, not the standard “predicted minus observed.”

The climate research community actually believes its models are zero-biased. An amicus brief in the landmark Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, by a number of climate scientists claiming to speak for the larger community, explicitly stated this as fact:

Outcomes may turn out better than our best current prediction, but it is just as possible that environmental and health damages will be more severe than best predictions…”

The operative words are “just as possible,” indicating that climate scientists believe they are immune to public choice influences.

This is testable, and I ran such a test, publishing it in an obscure journal, Energy & Environment, in 2008.  I, perhaps accurately, hypothesized that a paper severely criticizing the editorial process at Science and Nature, the two most prestigious general science journals worldwide, was not likely to be published in such prominent places.

I examined the 115 articles that had appeared in both of these journals during a 13-month period in 2006 and 2007, classifying them as either “worse than we thought,” “better,” or “neutral or cannot determine.”  23 were neutral and removed from consideration. 9 were “better” and 83 were “worse.” Because of the hypothesis of nonbiased equiprobability, this is equivalent to tossing a coin 92 times and coming up with 9 or fewer heads or tails. The probability that this would occur in an unbiased sample can be calculated from the binomial probability distribution, and the result is striking. There would have to be 100,000,000,000,000,000 iterations of the 92 tosses for there to be merely a 50% chance that one realization of 9 or fewer heads or tails would be observed.

In subsequent work, I recently assembled a much larger sample of the scientific literature and, while the manuscript is in preparation, I can state that my initial result appears to be robust.

Kealey tells us that there is no relationship between the wealth of nations and the amount of money that taxpayers spend on scientific research.  In reality, it is in fact “worse than he thought.”  At least in a highly politicized field such as global warming science and policy, the more money the public spends, the worse is the quality of the science.
184  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: May 11, 2013, 04:28:30 PM
185  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: March 8-10, 2013 DBMA Training Camp on: March 01, 2013, 08:59:02 AM
Excited to be signed up and attending. Trust my aging and out of shape carcass will manage to keep up.

Plan to stay at the hotel, but won't be able to book it until I'm sure a potential complication isn't going to sneak up on me. If worse comes to worse, got a couple of trees I can hang a hammock from? I backpack a lot and it's my preferred way of snoozing in the field.

More than happy to share my shower if I do manage to book a room. Look forward to training with y'all.
186  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Draft IPCC Report Leaked on: December 13, 2012, 09:26:51 PM
Hmm, a little sunlight goes a long way it appears:  

IPCC AR5 draft leaked, contains game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing
Posted on December 13, 2012 by Guest Blogger
UPDATE1: Andrew Revkin at the NYT weighs in, an semi endorses the leak, see update below – Anthony

UPDATE2: Alternate links have been sent to me, should go faster now.  – Anthony

Full AR5 draft leaked here, contains game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing

(Alec Rawls) I participated in “expert review” of the Second Order Draft of AR5 (the next IPCC report), Working Group 1 (“The Scientific Basis”), and am now making the full draft available to the public. I believe that the leaking of this draft is entirely legal, that the taxpayer funded report report is properly in the public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, and that making it available to the public is in any case protected by established legal and ethical standards, but web hosting companies are not in the business of making such determinations so interested readers are encouraged to please download copies of the report for further dissemination in case this content is removed as a possible terms-of-service violation. My reasons for leaking the report are explained below. Here are the chapters:


Summary for Policymakers
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface
Chapter 3: Observations: Ocean
Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere
Chapter 5: Information from Paleoclimate Archives
Chapter 6: Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles
Chapter 7: Clouds and Aerosols
Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing
Chapter 8 Supplement
Chapter 9: Evaluation of Climate Models
Chapter 10: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional
Chapter 11: Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability
Chapter 12: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility
Chapter 13: Sea Level Change
Chapter 14: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change
Chapter 14 Supplement
Technical Summary

Why leak the draft report?

By Alec Rawls (email) [writing at ]

General principles

The ethics of leaking tax-payer funded documents requires weighing the “public’s right to know” against any harm to the public interest that may result. The press often leaks even in the face of extreme such harm, as when the New York Times published details of how the Bush administration was tracking terrorist financing with the help of the private sector Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), causing this very successful anti-terror program to immediately collapse.

That was a bad leak, doing great harm to expose something that nobody needed to know about. With the UN’s IPCC reports the calculus is reversed. UN “climate chief” Christina Figueres explains what is at stake for the public:

… we are inspiring government, private sector, and civil society to [make] the biggest transformation that they have ever undertaken. The Industrial Revolution was also a transformation, but it wasn’t a guided transformation from a centralized policy perspective. This is a centralized transformation that is taking place because governments have decided that they need to listen to science.

So may we please see this “science” on the basis of which our existing energy infrastructure is to be ripped out in favor of non-existent “green” energy? The only reason for secrecy in the first place is to enhance the UN’s political control over a scientific story line that is aimed explicitly at policy makers. Thus the drafts ought to fall within the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Obama administration implicitly acknowledged this when it tried to evade FOIA by setting up private “backdoor channels” for communications with the IPCC. If NCAR’s Gerald Meehl (a lead author of AR5′s chapter on near-term climate change), has working copies of the draft report (and he’s only one of dozens of U.S. government researchers who would), then by law the draft report (now finished) should be available to the public.

The IPCC’s official reason for wanting secrecy (as they explained it to Steve McIntyre in  January 2012) is so that criticisms of the drafts are not spread out across the internet but get funneled through the UN’s comment process. If there is any merit to that rationale it is now moot. The comment period ended November 30th so the comment process can no longer be affected by publication.

As for my personal confidentiality agreement with the IPCC, I regard that as vitiated by the systematic dishonesty of the report (“omitted variable fraud” as I called it in my FOD comments). This is a general principle of journalistic confidentiality: bad faith on one side breaks the agreement on the other. They can’t ask reviewers to become complicit in their dishonesty by remaining silent about it.

Then there is the specific content of the Second Order Draft where the addition of one single sentence demands the release of the whole. That sentence is an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission that completely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole.

Lead story from the Second Order Draft: strong evidence for solar forcing beyond TSI now acknowledged by IPCC

Compared to the First Order Draft, the SOD now adds the following sentence, indicated in bold (page 7-43, lines 1-5, emphasis added):

Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system (e.g., Bond et al., 2001; Dengel et al., 2009; Ram and Stolz, 1999). The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link. We focus here on observed relationships between GCR and aerosol and cloud properties.

The Chapter 7 authors are admitting strong evidence (“many empirical relationships”) for enhanced solar forcing (forcing beyond total solar irradiance, or TSI), even if they don’t know what the mechanism is. This directly undercuts the main premise of the report, as stated in Chapter 8 (page 8-4, lines 54-57):

There is very high confidence that natural forcing is a small fraction of the anthropogenic forcing. In particular, over the past three decades (since 1980), robust evidence from satellite observations of the TSI and volcanic aerosols demonstrate a near-zero (–0.04 W m–2) change in the natural forcing compared to the anthropogenic AF increase of ~1.0 ± 0.3 W m–2.

The Chapter 8 authors (a different group than the Chapter 7 authors) are explicit here that their claim about natural forcing being small compared to anthropogenic forcing is based on an analysis in which the only solar forcing that is taken into account is TSI. This can be verified from the radiative forcing table on page 8-39 where the only solar variable included in the IPCC’s computer models is seen to be “solar irradiance.”

This analysis, where post-1980 warming gets attributed to the human release of CO2 on the grounds that it cannot be attributed to solar irradiance, cannot stand in the face of the Chapter 7 admission of substantial evidence for solar forcing beyond solar irradiance. Once the evidence for enhanced solar forcing is taken into account we can have no confidence that natural forcing is small compared to anthropogenic forcing.

The Chapter 8 premise that natural forcing is relatively small leads directly to the main conclusion of the entire report, stated in the first sentence of the Executive Summary (the very first sentence of the entire report): that advances since AR4 “further strengthen the basis for human activities being the primary driver in climate change” (p.1-2, lines 3-5). This headline conclusion is a direct descendant of the assumption that the only solar forcing is TSI, a claim that their own report no longer accepts.

The report still barely hints at the mountain of evidence for enhanced solar forcing, or the magnitude of the evidenced effect. Dozens of studies (section two here) have found between a .4 and .7 degree of correlation between solar activity and various climate indices, suggesting that solar activity “explains” in the statistical sense something like half of all past temperature change, very little of which could be explained by the very slight variation in TSI. At least the Chapter 7 team is now being explicit about what this evidence means: that some mechanism of enhanced solar forcing must be at work.

My full submitted comments (which I will post later) elaborate several important points. For instance, note that the Chapter 8 premise (page 8-4, lines 54-57) assumes that it is the change in the level of forcing since 1980, not the level of forcing, that would be causing warming. Solar activity was at historically high levels at least through the end of solar cycle 22 (1996), yet the IPCC is assuming that because this high level of solar forcing was roughly constant from 1950 until it fell off during solar cycle 23 it could not have caused post-1980 warming. In effect they are claiming that you can’t heat a pot of water by turning the burner to maximum and leaving it there, that you have to keep turning the flame up to get continued warming, an un-scientific absurdity that I have been writing about for several years (most recently in my post about Isaac Held’s bogus 2-box model of ocean equilibration).

The admission of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing changes everything. The climate alarmists can’t continue to claim that warming was almost entirely due to human activity over a period when solar warming effects, now acknowledged to be important, were at a maximum. The final draft of AR5 WG1 is not scheduled to be released for another year but the public needs to know now how the main premises and conclusions of the IPCC story line have been undercut by the IPCC itself.

President Obama is already pushing a carbon tax premised on the fear that CO2 is causing dangerous global warming. Last week his people were at the UN’s climate meeting in Doha pretending that Hurricane Sandy was caused by human increments to CO2 as UN insiders assured the public that the next IPCC report will “scare the wits out of everyone” with its ramped-up predictions of human-caused global warming to come, but this is not where the evidence points, not if climate change is in any substantial measure driven by the sun, which has now gone quiet and is exerting what influence it has in the cooling direction.

The acknowledgement of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing should upend the IPCC’s entire agenda. The easiest way for the UN to handle this disruptive admission would be to remove it from their final draft, which is another reason to make the draft report public now. The devastating admission needs to be known so that the IPCC can’t quietly take it back.

Will some press organization please host the leaked report?

Most of us have to worry about staying within cautiously written and cautiously applied terms-of-service agreements. That’s why I created this new website. If it gets taken down nothing else gets taken with it. Media companies don’t have this problem. They have their own servers and publishing things like the draft IPCC report is supposed to be their bailiwick.

If the press has First Amendment protection for the publication of leaked materials even when substantial national security interests are at stake (the Supreme Court precedent set in the Pentagon Papers case), then it can certainly republish a leaked draft of a climate science report where there is no public interest in secrecy. The leaker could be at risk (the case against Pentagon leaker Daniel Ellsberg was thrown out for government misconduct, not because his activity was found to be protected) but the press is safe, and their services would be appreciated.

United States taxpayers have funded climate science to the tune of well over 80 billion dollars, all channeled through the funding bureaucracy established by Vice President Albert “the end is nigh” Gore when he served as President Clinton’s “climate czar.”  That Gore-built bureaucracy is still to this day striving to insure that not a penny of all those taxpayer billions ever goes to any researcher who is not committed to the premature conclusion that human contributions to atmospheric CO2 are causing dangerous global warming (despite the lack of any statistically significant warming for more than 15 years).

Acolytes of this bought “consensus” want to see what new propaganda their tax dollars have wrought and so do the skeptics. It’s unanimous, and an already twice-vetted draft is sitting now in thousands of government offices around the world. Time to fork it over to the people.


UPDATE1: Andrew Revkin writes in a story at the NYT Dot Earth today:

It’s important, before anyone attacks Rawls for posting the drafts (this is distinct from his views on their contents), to consider that panel report drafts at various stages of preparation have been leaked in the past by people with entirely different points of view.

That was the case in 2000, when I was leaked a final draft of the summary for policy makers of the second science report from the panel ahead of that year’s round of climate treaty negotiations. As I explained in the resulting news story, “A copy of the summary was obtained by The New York Times from someone who was eager to have the findings disseminated before the meetings in The Hague.”

Here’s a question I sent tonight to a variety of analysts of the panel’s workings over the years:

The leaker, Alec Rawls, clearly has a spin. But I’ve long thought that I.P.C.C. was in a weird losing game in trying to boost credibility through more semi-open review while trying to maintain confidentiality at same time. I’m sympathetic to the idea of having more of the I.P.C.C. process being fully open (a layered Public Library of Science-style approach to review can preserve the sanity of authors) in this age of enforced transparency (WikiLeaks being the most famous example).

I’ll post answers as they come in.

Full story at DotEarth


UPDATE2: Alternative links for AR5 WG1 SOD. At each page click on the button that says “create download link,” then “click here to download”:

Summary for Policymakers

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface

Chapter 3: Observations: Ocean

Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere

Chapter 5: Information from Paleoclimate Archives

Chapter 6: Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles

Chapter 7: Clouds and Aerosols

Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing

Chapter 8 Supplement

Chapter 9: Evaluation of Climate Models

Chapter 10: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional

Chapter 11: Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability

Chapter 12: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility

Chapter 13: Sea Level Change

Chapter 14: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change

Chapter 14 Supplement

Technical Summary
187  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Carbon Sequestration Masks on: December 05, 2012, 08:12:52 AM
At climate talks in Qatar (something of an oxymoron to begin with) participants are duped into wearing a "carbon sequestration" mask. Critical thinking does not seem to be something the participants caught here are endowed with:
188  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Temporary Takings on: December 05, 2012, 08:08:36 AM
Supreme Court Rules That Temporary Government-Induced Flooding of Private Property Can Qualify as a Taking
Ilya Somin • December 4, 2012 2:51 pm

Today, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States. The case involved a claim by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission that the federal government’s repeated deliberate flooding of its property between 1993 and 2000 constituted a taking requiring compensation under the Fifth Amendment, which mandates that the government pay “just compensation” for takings. The flooding caused extensive damage to forest land owned by the Commission.

Today’s opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rules that temporary flooding can qualify as a taking at least sometimes, but tells us very little about how to determine whether a given case of flooding qualifies as a taking or not:

We rule today, simply and only, that government-induced flooding temporary in duration gains no automatic exemption from Takings Clause inspection. When regulation or temporary physical invasion by government interferes with private property, our decisions recognize, time is indeed a factor in determining the existence... of a compensable taking....

Also relevant to the takings inquiry is the degree to which the invasion is intended or is the foreseeable result of authorized government action.... So, too, are the character of the land at issue and the owner’s “reasonable investment-backed expectations” regarding the land’s use.... Severity of the interference figures in the calculus as well.

So far as it goes, I think the Court’s decision is clearly correct. For reasons I discussed here, there is no good reason to hold that temporary flooding can never count as a taking. This is especially true if the flooding was deliberate and inflicted permanent damage on the property owner’s land. Temporary physical invasions qualify as takings in many other contexts (e.g. – overflights by aircraft), and there is nothing special about flooding that should lead the Court to create a categorical exception. To the contrary, allowing the government to temporarily flood private property without paying any compensation whatsoever would severely undermine the purpose of the Just Compensation Clause, which is, as a 1960 decision puts it, to “bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”

Unfortunately, the Court gives very little guidance on how to determine whether a given case of flooding is a taking or not. The opinion lists several factors that might be relevant, but does not explain how many need to be present before a taking can be said to have occurred, or what to do if some factors cut one way and some the other. It also says nothing about how much deference, if any, is due to the government in such cases. The Court does not even address the federal government’s extremely dubious argument that damage inflicted by flooding on downstream owners is categorically excluded from qualifying as a taking, even though the justices expressed great skepticism about this claim at the oral argument. These and other issues will have to be dealt with by the lower court on remand.

I suspect that the justices bought unity at the expense of clarity here. In the meantime, it seems clear that Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is going to result in further litigation in the lower courts, as property owners and government agencies advance competing interpretations of the Court’s vague standards for determing whether a temporary flood qualifies as a taking or not.

That said, the Court did take an important step in decisively rejecting the federal government’s extreme position that temporary flooding can never be a taking. The case is therefore joins Sackett v. EPA as a rare unanimous victory for property rights in the Supreme Court.

UPDATE: In this post, I explained why the Court is applying the Just Compensation Clause to this case despite the fact that it involves the flooding of government-owned land, while the text of the Fifth Amendment specifies that it applies only to “private property.” Under longstanding current Supreme Court precedent, the Takings Clause applies to both private and state-owned land. I have some doubts about the correctness of those decisions, but the Court is unlikely to overrule them anytime soon.

UPDATE #2: Brian Hodges of the Pacific Legal Foundation comments on this post here:

Professor Ilya Somin.... praised today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States as “a rare unanimous victory for property rights” and “an important step in rejecting the federal government’s extreme position that temporary flooding can never be a taking....”

Professor Somin highlights, however, a couple a paragraphs toward the end of the decision that injected unnecessary confusion into an otherwise clear opinion....

While I agree that the language is unclear, I am not so sure that the quoted passage will cause too much confusion in future litigation. The passage lists, without differentiation, various tests, developed over the years, to determine regulatory and/or physical takings. For example, the Court recites the “intent or foreseeability” and “character of the invasion” tests from Ridge Line, Inc. v. United States (2003) and Portsmouth Harbor Land & Hotel v. United States (1922)—both are tests that have never been applied to regulatory takings....

Although some may be tempted to argue that the Court created a chimera from blended regulatory and physical takings tests, the Court did not intend to do so. Instead, the Court stated that its decision was narrow, “We rule today, simply and only, that government induced flooding temporary in duration gains no automatic exemption from Takings Clause inspection.” And elsewhere, in Tahoe-Sierra Preservation Council, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (2002), the Court advised that it is “inappropriate to treat cases involving physical takings as controlling precedents for the evaluation of a claim that there has been a ‘regulatory taking’ and vice versa.” The upshot being that the tests that control physical invasion takings still control physical takings cases, and the tests that control regulatory takings still only apply in regulatory takings cases.

I continue to believe that the opinion is clear in rejecting the government’s extreme claim that temporary flooding can never be a taking, but unclear as to the standards that determine when temporary flooding is a taking. As Hodges notes, the Court lists a grab bag of relevant factors drawn from both regulatory and physical takings cases. So it is by no mean clear which set of precedents applies here. Of course one can argue that the language listing possible relevant factors is just dictum and that the sole holding is, as the Court puts it, “only... that government induced flooding temporary in duration gains no automatic exemption from Takings Clause inspection.” But if the list of factors is just dictum, that makes the opinion less clear, not more, as lower courts would have even less guidance on the question of how to figure out whether a given case of temporary flooding qualifies as a taking or not.

UPDATE: Robert H. Thomas of the Inverse Condemnation blog rounds up other reactions to the decision here.
189  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / How Many are Too Many? on: November 28, 2012, 08:41:18 AM
You seem unfamiliar with the concept of deterrence. Using your logic, the razor wire and gun towers that guard the perimeters of medium/high security prisons are unneeded, as they rarely have prisoners try to escape that way.

Poor analogy. Razor wire demonstrably keeps felons in prison, security theater demonstrably does not keep box cutters out of secure airport areas.

Because the American public demands security and also demands convenience and the USG lunges for every high tech "solution" drug before it in an attempt to placate the citizens.

Correct, and thanks for making my security theater argument for me, though I wouldn't characterize the current autocratic regimen as "convenient."

You kind of gloss over how important it is to keep flammibles and explosives off of aircraft, as well as firearms.

While you gloss over how easy it's proven to get the same past the TSA. Is effectiveness not something we can demand, or is confusing gross and ineffective intrusions for security acceptable to you?

BTW, as I've already mentioned, a bomb placed up a person's rectum has been used in an assassination attempt, while rumors abound regarding explosive breast implants. By you logic shouldn't Americans be dropping trou, bending over, and coughing or getting mammograms before boarding an aircraft? Your security uber alles take on things would seem to necessitate those sorts of intrusions. Why are you not making arguments for those measures? You're not weighing the benefits and costs of doing so while taking me to task for suggesting the same, are you?

What's the libertarian solution to this threat?

Get the vast, ineffective, bumbling, autocratic TSA out of the picture and let private firms run security as they are all ready doing at other airports with measurably better results. I'd also start talking to the American people like adults, rather than treating them like sheep, telling them that we live in a violent world with violent people and that it is not possible to anticipate or address all possible threats, and indeed that attempts to do so in fact play in to the hands of our enemies as those measures create the exact kinds of disruptions our enemies intended. I would make the actuarial point that the amount of time currently spent in line awaiting security theater performances greatly exceeds the number of life hours lost in past attacks and so some sort of rational benefit/risk assessment has to come into play as it does in all other activities from driving to walking into a 7/11 at night.

I note, by the way, when we get into these exchanges you regularly disparage my Libertarian creed, and I confess that grates on me as it doesn't seem too far removed from denigrating someone's religion or heritage. You've made it abundantly clear that you feel the founding values of this nation are an inconvenience where security is concerned and that extra-constitutional end runs are therefor more than justified; as such I understand you view my embrace of liberty as a trifling thing to be dismissed with disdain, along with all those dead white guys who attempted to found a nation based on inexpedient principles of liberty. While doing so, however, it'd be nice if you could find a way to be dismissive based less on my creed and more on the issue at hand.

As that may be, is it safe to assume you have no issue with 250 Americans dying a month directly due to TSA's onerous and ineffective measures? If so, how many Americans are too many to kill to keep Americans safe?
190  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / High Sticking on: November 28, 2012, 07:32:23 AM
Nice overview of sundry hockey stick foolishness.

Doomed Planet

“Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”

Vaclav Klaus
Blue Planet in Green Shackles

Speak loudly and carry a busted hockey stick

by Walter Starck

November 19, 2012

The average temperature for the Earth, or any region or even any specific place is very difficult to determine with any accuracy.  At any given time surface air temperatures around the world range over about 100°C. Even in the same place they can vary by nearly that much seasonally and as much as 30°C or more in a day. Weather stations are relatively few and located very irregularly. Well maintained stations with good records going back a century or more can be counted on one’s fingers. Even then only maximum and minimum temperatures or ones at a few particular times of day are usually available.  Maintenance, siting, and surrounding land use also all have influences on the temperatures recorded.

The purported 0.7°C of average global warming over the past century is highly uncertain. It is in fact less than the margin of error in our ability to determine the average temperature anywhere, much less globally. What portion of any such warming might be due to due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions is even less certain. There are, however, numerous phenomena which are affected by temperature and which can provide good evidence of relative warming or cooling and, in some cases, even actual temperatures. These include growth rings in trees, corals and stalactites, borehole temperature profiles and the isotopic and biologic signatures in core samples from sediments or glaciers. In addition, historical accounts of crops grown, harvest times, freezes, sea ice, river levels, glacial advances or retreats and other such records provide clear indication of warming and cooling.

Recent Warming Nothing Unusual

The temperature record everywhere shows evidence of warming and cooling in accord with cycles on many different time scales from daily to annual, decadal, centennial, millennial and even longer. Many of these seem to correlate with various cycles of solar activity and the Earth’s own orbital mechanics. The temperature record is also marked by seemingly random events which appear to follow no discernable pattern.

Over the past 3000 years there is evidence from hundreds of independent proxy studies, as well as historical records, for a Minoan Warm period around 1000 BC, a Roman Warm Period about 2000 years ago, a Medieval Warm Period (WMP) about 1000 years ago and a Modern Warm Period now developing. In between were markedly colder periods in the Dark Ages and another between the 16th and 19th centuries which is now known as the Little Ice Age (LIA). The warmer periods were times of bountiful crops, increasing population and a general flourishing of human societies. The cold periods were times of droughts, famines, epidemics, wars and population declines. Clearly life has been much better in the times of warmer climate, and there is nothing to indicate that the apparent mild warming of the past century is anything other than a return of this millennial scale warming cycle.

Good News Unwelcome to Alarmists

This rather good news about a possibly warmer climate has not met with hopeful interest from those who purport to be so concerned about the possibly dangerous effects of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). On the contrary, their reaction has overwhelmingly been a strong rejection of any beneficial possibility. It is apparent that their deepest commitment is to the threat itself and not to any rational assessment of real world probabilities or the broader consequences of any of their proposed remedies.

Fabricating a Hockey Stick from Hot Air

This blanket rejection of any possibility other than the hypothetical threat of AGW has led to some strange behaviour for people who modestly proclaim themselves to be the world’s top climate scientists.  Not only have they ignored and dismissed the hundreds of studies indicating the global existence of a Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, they have set out to fabricate an alternate reality in the form of a graph purporting to represent the global temperature for the past thousand years. It portrays a near straight line wiggling up and down only a fraction of a degree for centuries until it begins an exponential rise gradually starting at the beginning of the 20th century and then shooting steeply up in the latter part of that century. This hockey stick-shaped graph was then heavily promoted as the icon of AGW. It appeared on the cover of the third climate assessment report of the IPCC published in 2003 and was reproduced at various places in the report itself.

Among the emails between leading climate researchers released in the Climategate affair were a number which revealed a concerted effort to come up with some means to deny the existence of the MWP. The implement chosen to do this became known as the Hockey Stick Graph.

The methodology used to construct the graph involved the use of estimates of temperatures from a very small sample of tree growth rings from the Yamal Peninsula in far northern Siberia and ancient stunted pine trees from near the tree line in the High Sierras of California. This data was then subjected to a statistical treatment later shown by critics to produce a hockey stick form of graph even when random numbers were used as raw input data. To make matters even worse, the same tree ring data also indicated a significant decline in temperature for the 20th century, but this was hidden by burying it in a much larger number of data points from instrument measurements. The resulting study was published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature in 1998. Remarkably, this very small, highly selected and deceptively manipulated graph was proclaimed to be an accurate representation of global temperatures and the extensive body of contrary evidence was simply ignored.

Continuing the Game With a Busted Stick

 When serious shortcomings of the hockey stick study began to be exposed and questioned the climate alarmists closed ranks and proclaimed their preeminent authority and expertise but refused to engage in any genuine scientific debate with their critics. Instead, they appealed to a supposed consensus of experts, peer review, and personal denigration of any who dared to disagree.

All of the name calling, pissing contests over credentials and abstruse statistical manipulations made it difficult for the general public to come to any conclusion. Regardless of various provable errors and conflicting evidence, the alarmists could and did simply ignore it all and claim the HS graph as gospel truth.

Then came Climategate. Obvious scams, lies and connivance are something that doesn’t require a computer model or a PhD to recognise. In the Climategate emails discussion of things like things like “…Mike’s Nature trick…,”, manipulations to “…hide the decline”,  requests to destroy correspondence, efforts to supress publication of conflicting studies, vilification of critics, and abuse of peer review were matters anyone could see were not ethical. Certainly they were not the kind of behaviour we should expect from high level scientists whose advice we are being asked to accept in policies that could be expected to have major effects on the prosperity of our entire society.

The loss of public trust and credibility resulting from Climategate was immense and has been compounded by additional ongoing exposures of misconduct, repeated failures of alarmist predictions and the slow motion economic train wreck of green energy initiatives.

Although one might rationally expect that the obvious collapse of alarmist momentum would have them reassessing their approach and perhaps even the validity of their earlier assumptions, it seems that the idea that they may have been wrong in any respect must be be inconceivable to them. Instead, their response to conflicting reality and declining credibility has been only to declare still greater certainty and ratchet up the alarm to an even less believable level of hype.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Repeat the Failure

Introduction of the carbon tax in Australia was supposed to lead the world along the path of righteousness toward cheap renewable energy and environmental correctness. Unfortunately for the current government both economic reality and climate itself have not co-operated. The intended good example is becoming one of an obvious foolishness to be avoided and nobody is following. Ongoing exposure of scientific misconduct by alarmist researchers and repeated failure of their predictions haven’t helped either. The alarmist community is in disarray and becoming increasingly shrill in the tone of their pronouncements. The need for strong new scientific evidence to reinforce the shredded remnants of their discredited claims is becoming desperate.

CSIRO has tried to help with a series of increasingly dire predictions but having become a heavily bureaucratised and politicised institution they have been careful to cover their backsides with qualifiers and disclaimers which dull the sharp edge of hype, certainty and urgency needed by government. However, through generous grants government has also bought and paid for reliable cadres of university based academics whose funding and even whole careers are now based on research into Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). Although science may aspire to value free objectivity, it is observable fact that when generous funding is provided to study a purported problem, one thing is certain. It will never be found that there really wasn’t one.

In early June this year a new research report announced the finding of a distinct hockey stick shaped graph for Australian climate over the past millennium. If correct, this would be of great value in supporting the faltering case for CAGW. As the original HS graph was based entirely on data from the northern hemisphere, finding the same pattern from the Southern Hemisphere would bolster the claim that the recent warming is indeed global and unprecedented. Based on different much more extensive data and free of the inappropriate statistical treatment of the original HS study, this new one would also greatly bolster the tattered credibility of the original study.

The new study appeared in Journal of Climate under the title, "Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium". It was authored by Joelle Gergis, Raphael Neukom, Ailie Gallant, Steven Phipps and David Karoly.   In mid-May 2012 it was made available online in preprint form, having been peer reviewed and accepted for print publication in an upcoming issue of the journal. In a number of key aspects what followed has been a rerun of the original HS story. Shortly after the online preprint appeared, the Canadian statistician Steve McIntyre pointed out that a statistical procedure which was stated in the Gergis et al. study to have been applied had not in fact been used.

Not coincidentally, it was McIntyre who exposed the statistical shortcomings in the original HS study.

Although advanced statistical analysis is widely used in science, very few researchers have a thorough mathematical understanding of what they are doing in this regard. Most are simply following a recipe. However, there is little risk of having to justify the validity of anything as their peers are not statisticians either. McIntyre has an unfair advantage in this. He is a genuine expert in statistics critiquing the work of researchers who are really not very skilled in his discipline.

What ensued in subsequent critical discussion on the Internet and in emails between the authors, their colleagues and the journal editors was a litany of shifting denial, obfuscation, excuses, trivialisation and denigration that could have been borrowed from the original HS script. Without going into the tedious and tawdry details (readily available on the net), the key points of the story are that in response to McIntyre’s finding of the statistical problem the authors announced they had already discovered it themselves the day before McIntyre pointed it out, and that it was really just an oversight in the data processing routine which could quickly be corrected and would have no effect on the overall findings of the study. The journal editors accepted this and gave the authors a deadline with sufficient time to rerun the data routine and make any necessary corrections to the MS.

After much speculation in the blogosphere and varying opinion among the authors and their supporters about what to do and how it might affect the outcome, the deadline passed without a corrected MS being received by the journal. The editors then asked for the study to be withdrawn. Such a request is the scientific equivalent of hara-kiri, a dishonour so great that the only honourable atonement is what amounts to ritual scientific suicide.

If, as publically maintained, all that was involved was a data processing error which could easily be corrected and would have no important effect on the outcome, surely the correction would have been made. However, email correspondence between the authors (which became available through an FOI request) revealed a concern that if properly applied the omitted data processing routine would not result in the desired HS graph or, if it did so, would at best yield only highly uncertain results.

The direct cost of this fiasco to taxpayers is reported to have totalled some $950,000 in research grants from 2009 to 2012. To further this failed work the latest Australian Research Council grants announcement also lists another $350,000 in funding to the lead author approved for 2013 – 2015.  The climate gravy train can provide a sumptuous ride for those whose work shows promise of producing what the government wants.

Climatology - Science or Ideology?

Climatology is no longer recognisable as a science but has morphed into a fundamentalist ideology of a millenarian nature. Science only serves it to enhance claims of authority and certainty. Scientific ethics and evidence are employed selectively in accord with the noble cause of saving the planet from the corruptions of humanity and capitalism. Any conflicting reason or evidence is never sufficient for doubt but is only a test of faith to be overcome. Any opposing argument is not simply incorrect but driven by wilful evil, in league with big business if not Satan himself.

For third rate academics CAGW has much to offer. One doesn’t need to be particularly capable to speculate about some dire consequence of warming, receive widespread publicity and be treated as an important expert. Unlike in real science, no colleagues will dispute them and the few sceptics willing to question anything will generally be ignored and denigrated by all their peers. The news media will describe them as experts and provide the public attention they know they deserve but somehow had never been recognised by anyone else until they climbed onto the climate bandwagon. Grants then flow and jetting off to attend important conferences in attractive places with all expenses paid provides frequent welcome breaks from the tedium of academia. Perhaps best of all, is a delicious feeling of importance and moral superiority over all of the high achievers striving so hard to discover something of consequence about the real world.  The only personal cost is to one’s own scientific integrity and that’s not worth much if one is just another unrecognised minor league academic no one had ever heard of before they joined into the climate alarm. In any case, saving the planet is the noblest of all causes and absolves any tinge of guilt in such regard.

Uncertainty and a Duty of Care

Recently an Italian court sentenced several scientists to jail terms in connection with a failed prediction regarding an earthquake. The court decision provoked widespread condemnation from the global scientific community because earthquakes are beyond the ability of current science to predict. However, the legal basis of their culpability was not in failing to predict the quake but in falsely asserting certainty in their own prediction. In this instance the scientists assured the local population that there was little risk of a dangerous event and that they should all go home, have a nice bottle of wine and not worry. A strong quake took place and several hundred people were killed.

The situation was perhaps exacerbated by a conflicting opinion from an independent researcher who had detected a sharp rise in radon gas in the air and felt this was evidence of an impending temblor. The government experts disagreed and assured everyone they were the experts and they were confident there was little or no risk.

If scientists are going to claim high levels of expert authority they have a duty of care to make clear the level of uncertainty in their predictions. This is especially so where there are potentially major detrimental consequences from following their advice should it prove to be incorrect. The essential difference between belief and science, or between alarmists and sceptics, is that the former assert certainty while the latter admit room for doubt. False claims of certainty and expertise by alarmist researchers have been a major obstacle to any rational public debate of the matter.

Fantasies vs. Reality

In the meantime, while we have been indulging the fantasies of activists and academics vying for our attention on the threat of CAGW, the economies of the developed world have come to teeter on the brink of financial chaos.

Democracies everywhere have voted for more government and more benefits than their productive sectors can support. Deficits are now chronic and blowing out while productive activity struggles under the burden of ever more government imposed restrictions and demands. The climate-alarmist push to penalise and restrict the use of fossil fuels and force the premature adoption of expensive, inadequate, unreliable renewable energy is a dagger to the very heart of our society at a time of great vulnerability. Ironically, if the alarmist aim is achieved they themselves, the urban non-producers, will be among the first to become truly unsustainable. The next few years look to become a decisive reality test. 

In news just in (and curiously ignored in the mainstream Western media) it is reported that for the first time since it began The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was not invited to attend an upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference. Could it be that in a global financial crisis nations have finally come to realise that climate hysterics are more of a problem than a solution?
191  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security, Border Protection, and American Freedom on: November 27, 2012, 09:23:16 AM
Smoking rubble filled with body parts where towers once stood is part of the cost, which is ignored by the article you posted. How many 9/11 attacks a week can we absorb until we move back to trying to secure aviation ? Or did I miss out on the al qaeda surrender ceremony?

An appeal to emotion. What a surprise. Remind me again how many terrorist plots the TSA has foiled. Some number less than one, yes?

And did you read the news about how the nudie scanners were prone to breakdown and generally gumming up the flow through security so they've been removed from large airports and sent to smaller ones . . . that are too small to accommodate them and so now that critical piece of infrastructure that formerly was all that stood between us and more postulated smoking holes sit in warehouses across the country. Couple billion burnt on the altar of security theater. Lovely planning abilities shown by the folks in charge of airport security. Confidence inspiring.

Then there's the fact the TSA regularly fails security audits, is currently unionizing, and regularly produces nasty employees that make it into the news. Hardly inspires confidence in the organization and its management abilities, either. Add to that the smoking holes were created by a couple smuggled box cutters; do you have any doubt that a couple more box cutters could be smuggled past these clowns? The TSA appears to be of the opinion American citizens are sheep that need to be herded on to aircraft, yet the only instances where Al Qaeda was foiled in their attempts occurred when non-sheep stepped up and shut the attacks the fornication down. But hey, let's keep trying to cow Americans into meekly submitting to "security" measures that in fact would do little to slow a committed terrorist down.

The reason there have not been more smoking holes is because our enemies have opted not to commit the resources to creating them. They have in fact succeeded in creating ongoing disruptions having enlisted the petty and short sighted bureaucrats of the TSA to impose ham-fisted security theater measures that regularly fail when audited and no doubt would do so again when dedicated terrorists get around to attacking the air travel infrastructure. But hey, in the interim let's kill 250 Americans a month on roads while wasting countless man hours standing in dubious security theater lines so the TSA can conjure and illusion of security while practicing DC CYA along the way. The bad guys need a good laugh every now and then too; I've little doubt the TSA provides them.
192  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security, Border Protection, and American Freedom on: November 26, 2012, 02:13:08 PM
Do the people in the buildings struck by hijacked aircraft get a voice in the matter?

No more voice than the 250 a month dying on the highways do as part of the TSA's ongoing production of Security Theater. Or are we in some sort of zone where benefits and costs aren't allowed to be weighed or even mentioned?
193  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / 242 Per Month on: November 21, 2012, 08:42:02 PM
How TSA Kills People
from John Stossel by John Stossel
There are plenty of news stories this Thanksgiving about TSA incompetence. But having to deal with lines, groping, and rude agents may not be the worst thing about the TSA. The worst thing may be that, to avoid the TSA, some people drive instead of fly - and that is far more likely to get them killed.

As Bloomberg writer Charles Kenney points out:

"To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month-which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day."

The trend towards driving instead of flying has grown since the TSA started. This Thanksgiving, AAA estimates that 4.5 million people will fly for the holiday and 31 million will drive. Before the TSA, on Thanksgiving AAA estimated there would be 6 million flyers and 28 million drivers.

Thanksgiving travelling


Flying.....6 million....4.5 million

Driving...28 million...31 million

Slate blogger Matt Yglesias is right to question whether the TSA is so bad that even having NO airport security might be better.

The best solution would be to allow airports and private companies to set their own security measures, as I reported in this segment.
194  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Snowballing on: November 16, 2012, 08:48:30 PM
195  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / No Percentage in Initiative on: November 16, 2012, 08:14:21 PM
Why the U.S. Job Market Remains Terribly Bleak
By John C. Goodman  |  Posted: Fri. November 16, 2012, 4:24pm PT
Also published in Forbes on Thu. November 15, 2012

Full time work is about to get scarcer. The reason? By hiring part-time workers who put in less than 30 hours per week, employers can avoid a mandate dictated by the new health reform law: either provide expensive health insurance or pay a fine equal to $2,000 per worker. Avoiding the mandate becomes even more attractive for low-wage employees, since they can get highly subsidized insurance in the newly created health insurance exchanges. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Darden Restaurants [parent of Red Lobster and Olive Garden] was among the first companies to say it was changing hiring in response to the health-care law.
Pillar Hotels & Resorts this summer began to focus more on hiring part-time workers among its 5,500 employees, after the Supreme Court upheld the health-care overhaul.
CKE Restaurants Inc., parent of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger chains, began two months ago to hire part-time workers to replace full-time employees who left.
Home retailer Anna’s Linens Inc. is considering cutting hours for some full-time employees to avoid the insurance mandate if the healthcare law isn’t repealed.
In a July survey, 32% of retail and hospitality company respondents told [Mercer] that they were likely to reduce the number of employees working 30 hours a week or more.
Clearly the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is a major factor holding back economic recovery. But it’s not alone. Other public policies enacted during the Obama administration’s first four years have been affecting the supply side of the market.

A new book by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan explains that through a major expansion of the welfare state we are paying people not to work:

n the matter of a few quarters of 2008 and 2009, new federal and state laws greatly enhanced the help given to the poor and unemployed—from expansion of food-stamp eligibility to enlargement of food-stamp benefits to payment of unemployment bonuses—sharply eroding (and, in some cases, fully eliminating) the incentives for workers to seek and retain jobs, and for employers to create jobs or avoid layoffs.

Mulligan gives the example of a two earner couple—each earning $600 a week. After the wife gets laid off she obtains a new job offer, paying $500 a week. But after deducting taxes and work related expenses her take home pay would be $257. Since untaxed unemployment benefits total $289, clearly she is better off not working.

All in all, Mulligan estimates that about half the precipitous 2007-2011 decline in the labor-force-participation rate and in hours worked can be blamed on easier eligibility rules for unemployment insurance, food stamps and housing aid.

As Steve Moore writes in a review of Mulligan’s book:

The annual value in average benefits for not working rose to $14,000 per recipient in 2011—the high was $16,000 in 2009—up from $10,000 in 2007. Such increases were inversely related to changes in average hours worked. On average, Americans worked a stunning 120 fewer hours in 2009 than in 2007—the largest contraction in work effort of any recession since the Depression. Since 2009, work hours and labor-force participation have remained at record lows even though the recession officially ended in June 2009.

Mulligan notes that it was the collapse of the housing market that set off the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession. But our problems are not confined to housing. They are systemwide. For every one job lost in construction, five others were lost is other sectors. One thing that affects all sectors, however, is overly generous incentives not to work.

Another frequently heard explanation for the slow recovery is the Keynesian idea that there has been a lack of consumer spending—which caused businesses to cut production and lay off workers. Yet:

Mulligan shows that, during the worst of the 2008-09 troubles, most sectors “outside of hard-hit construction and manufacturing…increased their use of production inputs other than labor hours.”…“Businesses perceive labor to be more expensive than it was before the recession began,” Mulligan writes. The reason for the added cost was that easier requirements for benefits—even as the government was pumping “stimulus” money into the economy— unwittingly reduced the supply of workers.

Meanwhile, health reform will require family coverage that is expected to average more than $15,000 a year. For $15 an hour employees, that sum equals more than half their annual wage. Unless they move to part-time employment or pay a hefty fine, employers of low-skilled workers are about to get hit with mandated benefit that will increase their labor costs by 50% or more.

To make matters worse, employers don’t really know what insurance they will have to provide or what it will cost. The $15,000 number I refer to is an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. And even though employers will have the option of paying a $2,000 fine, does anybody think the fine is likely to stay that low?

The uncertainty created by all this is possibly worse than the actual monetary burden.

John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and President and Kellye Wright Fellow in Health Care at the National Center for Policy Analysis. The Wall Street Journal and the National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”
196  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Frack Fears on: November 16, 2012, 05:00:49 PM
Merrill on “Fear of Fracking”
from The Volokh Conspiracy by Jonathan H. Adler
(Jonathan H. Adler)
This morning, Columbia’s Thomas Merrill delivered the keynote address at the Case Western Reserve Law Review symposium on “The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom.” His talk, “Fear of Fracking,” sought to addressed four important questions about fracking: 1) Why did fracking technology emerge in the United States rather than somewhere else? 2) Does fracking present any novel environmental risks? 3) Insofar as there are novel risks from fracking, how could they be best addressed? 4) What should a citizen concerned about climate change think about fracking?

These are important questions about an important topic. As Merrill noted, fracking has rapidly emerged as intensely polarizing environmental issue, celebrated by some as an economic and ecological savior and decried by others as a threat to landowners, local communities, and the environment. The Wall Street Journal believes fracking heralds the rise of “Saudi America,” while some environmental groups fear fracking will further feed America’s addiction to carbon-based fuels.

Whatever its ultimate ecological impact, the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling promises to dramatically increase domestic oil and gas reserves, drive down energy prices and fundamentally transform the energy sector. North Dakota now produces more oil than any state but Texas and the oil and gas boom in this state is enriching landowners tremendously. Every president since President Nixon has called for energy independence. Fracking’s rise could make this possible within the next few decades. Beyond that, fracking and the proliferation of cheap gas, Merrill suggested, likely means the end of the nuclear power industry in the United States and has thrown the coal industry into a tailspin. Cheap gas is a bigger threat to coal than any alleged “war on coal” waged by the Environmental Protection Agency. It also threatens the future of alternative energy technologies dependent upon government subsidies for their economic viability.

[My write-up of the rest of Professor Merrill’s remarks is continued below the fold.]

Why did fracking arise in the United States? Contrary to some analysts, Professor Merrill does not believe it is attributable to federally funded research and development. What little funding for drilling technologies the federal government has provided has been fairly tangential. This does not mean federal policy has been irrelevant, however. The federal government has provided special tax credits for the drilling of unconventional natural gas which almost certainly facilitated the early development of the technology as early frackers developed and improved fracking techniques.

Professor Merrill also doubts industry structure has much to do with fracking’s rise either. However much major oil companies like to tout their commitment to innovation, the majors played a minor role in developing this technology. It was largely developed by smaller players in the industry.

A more likely factor is the way U.S. law treats subsurface rights. The U.S. is something of an outlier in that subsurface minerals are the property of the landowner, and not the government. This results in decentralized ownership and control over subsurface rights facilitates experimentation and innovation in figuring out how to exploit and manage subsurface resources.

Further decentralization, and experimentation, results from the federalist regulatory structure. Different states have different regulatory approaches than others, creating opportunities for further innovation and the opportunity for jurisdictions to learn from one another. The existence of a few jurisdictions that will allow a new technology to be tried provides a laboratory from which others may learn, whereas under a more centralized regulatory structure such innovation is unlikely to get off the ground.

The existence of a relatively open infrastructure network – a pipeline system that is subject to common-carrier rules – also plays a role in facilitating entry into the market. These factors have a common theme: decentralization. Taken together, Merrill suggests, they are the most likely source of fracking’s rise in the Unites

Now that fracking is here, does fracking present any novel environmental risks? Insofar as fracking presents the same risks as any sudden surge of production, the traditional regulatory framework would seem up to the task, but is this the case? The biggest environmental risk cited by fracking’s critics is the potential for groundwater contamination by fracking fluid. This may be different in kind from the risks already addressed by existing regulatory programs. Other concerns range from stresses on local infrastructure to increased pollution accompanying development to earthquakes. Fracking has a voracious appetite for water, but this would seem to be manageable, particularly in the eastern United States. Earthquakes, on the other hand, would seem to be a novel concern definitely worth more serious attention, even if it is not unique to fracking.

To Professor Merrill, the potential threat of groundwater contamination is the most serious, and potentially most distinct, environmental threat posed by an upsurge in fracking. While there is little empirical evidence confirming that such contamination has occurred thus far, and energy experts often downplay such risks, concerns about groundwater are understandable. The uncontrolled nature of the subsurface injection in fracking is a source of legitimate apprehension, particularly since many of the potential effects are not fully understood. This counsels the development of some regulatory structure to address these risks.

Accepting that the risk to groundwater posed by fracking is relatively novel, how should it be addressed? In many cases, ex ante regulation of potentially polluting conduct is advisable. In this case, however, the nature and likelihood of the risks in question are not sufficiently known to make such a regulatory approach effective. Over time, consensus views about best practices will likely develop, but they have not yet because not enough is known. Adoption of a precautionary regulatory strategy would likely stop fracking in its tracks, as the problem is lack of knowledge about the technology that will only come from experience.

Under the current circumstances, Professor Merrill thinks the best way to regulate and control the potential groundwater risks from fracking is through an ex post liability system. Professor Merrill would encourage the adoption of a strict liability regime combined with administrative measures to facilitate the identification of and compensation for harms, including mandated baseline testing, bond posting, and the like. Legislative adoption of such a regime is unlikely, Merrill notes, as legislatures are unlikely to enact such a regime absent greater evidence that fracking is, in fact, a meaningful threat, i.e. until real damage is done. Common law tort liability might do, however, particularly if courts impose strict liability, following the lead of Rylands v. Fletcher, and adopt a presumption of causation if producers don’t take adequate ex ante precautions, such as testing water prior to initiating development.

What then about climate change? Does fracking help or hurt efforts to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases? Over the past five years, GHG emissions in Asia (where coal is the dominant power source) have continued to rise. In Europe, GHG emissions have remained rather stable, despite substantial subsidies and inducement for the use of renewable fuels. In the U.S., by contrast, GHG emissions have fallen. Some of this is due to the economic slump and improvements in fuel efficiency. But some is also due to the dramatic increase in natural gas usage. Declining gas prices, largely due to fracking, have helped displace the use of coal. This is a positive development, but unless similar trends can be replicated elsewhere it will not matter. Unless gas can displace coal overseas as well, the fracking boom will not do much to reduce global emissions, particularly if lower gas prices make it more difficult for renewables to compete.

On the whole, however, Merrill thinks those concerned about climate change should support fracking. While it undermines reliance on nuclear and renewables, cheap gas is a bigger threat to coal, and the displacement of coal is more important to get GHG emissions under control. Further if the development of fracking in the U.S. can be exported to other nations, it could help stem GHG emission increases in other nations with large coal reserves (e.g. China). Ultimately, however, Merrill believes GHG control requires substantial technological innovation, and suggests that a fracking-driven drop in energy prices might facilitate the adoption of policies that could encourage needed innovation, such as the adoption of a carbon tax. Whatever political obstacles there may be to the adoption of such a tax, lower energy prices make such measures more likely, even if only on the margin.
197  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: November 13, 2012, 06:16:15 PM
Liberty and democracy are eternal enemies, and every one knows it who has ever given any sober reflection to the matter. A democratic state may profess to venerate the name, and even pass laws making it officially sacred, but it simply cannot tolerate the thing. In order to keep any coherence in the governmental process, to prevent the wildest anarchy in thought and act, the government must put limits upon the free play of opinion. In part, it can reach that end by mere propaganda, by the bald force of its authority — that is, by making certain doctrines officially infamous. But in part it must resort to force, i.e., to law. One of the main purposes of laws in a democratic society is to put burdens upon intelligence and reduce it to impotence. Ostensibly, their aim is to penalize anti-social acts; actually their aim is to penalize heretical opinions. At least ninety-five Americans out of every 100 believe that this process is honest and even laudable; it is practically impossible to convince them that there is anything evil in it. In other words, they cannot grasp the concept of liberty. Always they condition it with the doctrine that the state, i.e., the majority, has a sort of right of eminent domain in acts, and even in ideas — that it is perfectly free, whenever it is so disposed, to forbid a man to say what he honestly believes. Whenever his notions show signs of becoming "dangerous," ie, of being heard and attended to, it exercises that prerogative. And the overwhelming majority of citizens believe in supporting it in the outrage. Including especially the Liberals, who pretend — and often quite honestly believe — that they are hot for liberty. They never really are. Deep down in their hearts they know, as good democrats, that liberty would be fatal to democracy — that a government based upon shifting and irrational opinion must keep it within bounds or run a constant risk of disaster. They themselves, as a practical matter, advocate only certain narrow kinds of liberty — liberty, that is, for the persons they happen to favor. The rights of other persons do not seem to interest them. If a law were passed tomorrow taking away the property of a large group of presumably well-to-do persons — say, bondholders of the railroads — without compensation and without even colorable reason, they would not oppose it; they would be in favor of it. The liberty to have and hold property is not one they recognize. They believe only in the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it.

H.L. Mencken, "Liberty and Democracy" in the Baltimore Evening Sun (13 April 1925), also in A Second Mencken Chrestomathy : New Selections from the Writings of America's Legendary Editor, Critic, and Wit (1994) edited by Terry Teachout, p. 35
198  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Abortion on: November 13, 2012, 01:41:06 PM
Mitt Romney 59 million, Gary Johnson 1 million, for one example, or almost any race, any state, any year.  That's all I was saying there.

Meh, apples and oranges where statist and statist lite suck up most the oxygen. Call it 100 to 1 once both sorts of statist are combined. Seeing as the statist market is cornered, perhaps another approach is in order assuming a different outcome is preferred?

You didn't address my question, liberty for whom - meaning who protects the unborn, the most innocent among us.

While you had little in the way of response to the Judith Jarvis Thompson piece I posted quite some time back that spoke to many of these distinctions far more eloquently than I will.

Be that as it may, I am intentionally avoiding getting into a "most innocent among us" argument because doing so feeds into the current dynamic. I'm asking instead what can shatter the current paradigm and lead to less statist outcomes? I don't see a way of getting from here to there with the abortion issue as the primary grail.
199  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Environmental issues on: November 13, 2012, 10:30:14 AM
What he said ^^^.

Worry not, the panic mongers can always roll out the polar bears.
200  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Embracing what we want to Beat? on: November 13, 2012, 10:25:21 AM
Doug sez:

1) Gallup May 2012 (from further up the thread): Pro-choice 41%, Pro-life 50%.  Speaking in general terms about respect for life including the unborn is not bad politics and did not cost Republicans the election.  To BBG, pro-life conservatism defeats 'unadulterated liberty' by about 50-1 in the electoral marketplace.  The question comes back to liberty for whom?  Libertarians can choose which party generally supports more liberty.  Pro-lifers don't give up that view over budget issues or political advantage.  It is mostly hard-care liberals who fully deny any value to unborn life, while the politically successful ones utter things like personally opposed, safe, legal and RARE to satisfy their own constituents.

I'm assuming the "50-1" is a typo as it certainly isn't reflected in any polling I've encountered. And despite any national polling to the contrary, the "War on Women" meme--which was used as a placeholder for abortion--swung significant segments of some constituencies. As someone who lives in a swing state I can assure you that Romney's pronouncements on Planned Parenthood and abortion where a theme relentlessly hammered on the airwaves; I don't think the opposition would be doing so if they did not think it would bear fruit.

(An aside: correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Planned Parenthood a private organization that receives public monies? The Dem. campaign seemed to purposely elevate PP to some sort of entitlement status; the Repubs had no effective response. It galled me that all the PP vilification occurred in an unanswered vacuum).

With that said, 50/41 national polling data speaks to a simplistic view of the electoral process. Grass roots activists tend to nominate candidates that then have to swing to the middle to get elected. Though there is plenty of nuance here, broadly stated the Repubs tend to nominate folks the Dems can cast as right wing abortion zealots, and that ability costs elections. Do you imagine this dynamic will change in the future or had folks who want to send statists packing best game out solutions?

Indeed, here's where the game gets pretty grim from my perspective: much of what is wrong with this nation is the results of a decades long statist evolution that's becoming ever more entrenched, with the alternatives, if not being flat out statist lite, at least containing statist litmus tests at the activist/nomination level. Where abortion is concerned most who would make that a litmus test would require statist structure enough to then enforce the proscription. Where security hawks are concerned anything that does not include an internal statist security structure is a non-starter. For drug zealots, anything that does contain draconian statist prohibition strictures won't work. And so on. The net effect is that every electoral battle becomes one over the degree of statism, with the hard core statists seizing on statist lite aspects of the opposition and then thrashing 'em over it.

Perhaps the lame idealism I'm always trying to disavow is gumming up my thinking, but should today's statism really be that hard to fight? Described in all it's folly by folks unimpeded by statist lite banners it really shouldn't be difficult to provide stark contrasts. It took generations to get to the current statist mess, and will likely require a similar time frame to cast off statist vestiges, but if the fight is worth having it's worth beginning sooner rather than later, and if it's worth starting it's worth winning. I don't see a winning path that embraces statist lite impulses, as such I think statism needs to be rejected in all it's forms if we are to successfully move toward a national ethos the framers would recognize.
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