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201  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Only in California on: November 09, 2011, 04:56:26 PM
Police weapon exemptions in spotlight

Officers can buy guns usually not available to public
Associated Press
Posted: 11/09/2011 01:50:18 AM PST
Updated: 11/09/2011 01:50:19 AM PST

SACRAMENTO — A federal investigation into weapons dealing by officers in three Sacramento-area law enforcement agencies has shined a light on provisions in California law that allow peace officers to buy guns, high-capacity magazines and assault weapons that are illegal for the public.

Officers only need show their law enforcement credentials to buy ammunition clips that exceed the 10-round limit and buy guns not available to others. Their police chief or sheriff can give them permission to buy an assault weapon or avoid the 10-day waiting period for buying a gun and undergoing a background check.

There is no statewide data available to show the extent of the practice, what weapons officers are buying or why they need them. Policies on applying the law vary among law enforcement agencies.

Exemptions in state law drew attention last week with the disclosure that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating deputies in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and officers in the Roseville and Sacramento police departments for selling weapons most civilians can't legally buy and sell.

Federal agents served search warrants, but no one has been arrested or charged. Authorities haven't disclosed what weapons were being sold or to whom, but officers and deputies have access to weapons prohibited to others.

"Under the law, all they have to do is show their law enforcement credential to a dealer. That's enough to purchase an off-list handgun or high-capacity magazine," said Steve Lindley, chief of the state Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms.

There are more restrictions on assault rifles, which must be registered with the state and sold or returned to the local law enforcement agency when the officer or deputy retires or leaves law enforcement. The assault rifle is supposed to be "deregistered" with the state, although in practice authorities say it can easily be converted so it no longer meets the legal definition of an assault rifle.

Weapons permitted under the law are semiautomatics, meaning they fire one bullet with each pull of the trigger. Fully automatic weapons that fire continuously are not permitted without meeting much stricter federal regulations.

Officers or deputies must get permission from their chief or sheriff to buy assault weapons, but in many cases there are few checks or policies that limit officers' purchase of the weapons.

Sacramento sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos said his department has an informal practice of letting deputies buy one assault rifle during their career, with the approval of the sheriff and the captain in charge of weapons and training.

"A guy can't be in the habit of every year or two buying another one," Ramos said. "You can't just be out buying these cool weapons."

On the other hand, the department provides its own assault weapons for qualified deputies, so Ramos said the department's 1,245 deputies have no need to buy the guns for official reasons.

"It's more really for personal interest," Ramos said.

The department permits 25 to 30 assault weapon purchases this year.
202  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Kulaks Don't Need No Stinking 4th Amendment on: November 08, 2011, 09:20:52 AM
Farm-to-Fork Dinner Fiasco
By Laura Bledsoe | October 24, 2011

When an over-zealous regulator shows up at a farm dinner demanding that food be destroyed as hungry guests await, who do you call? Here's Laura's account written as a letter to her guests who had come to Quail Hollow Farm expecting a meal of foods harvested from local small family farms.

This incident shows the value of the 24/7 legal hotline for farmers like Laura who need help...even on a Friday night!  A member benefit like the hotline is available thanks to the financial support of the many FTCLDF members and donors.

Dearest Guests, (You have all become dear to us!)

What an evening we had this last Friday night!  It had all the makings of a really great novel: drama, suspense, anticipation, crisis, heroic efforts, villains and victors, resolution and a happy ending.

The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our young interns were teaching and sharing their passion for farming and their role in it.  (A high hope for our future!)  The pig didn’t get loose. 

Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely.  The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good. 

And then, …

for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down.  As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.

Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved.  I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit”.

If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine.

Stunned, we immediately complied. 

We were in the middle of our harvest day for our CSA shares, a very busy time for us, but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee.  (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?)  Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out. 

She came literally while our guests were arriving!

In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals.  The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.

Susan deemed our food unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because: 

1. Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them.  (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.) 

2.  Some of the meat was not USDA certified.  (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)

3.  Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)

4.  Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.

5.  We did not have receipts for our food.  (Reminder!  This food came from farms not from the supermarket!  I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)

At this time Monte, trying to reason with Susan to find a possible solution for the problem, suggested turning this event from a “public” event to a “private” event by allowing the guests to become part of our farm club, thus eliminating any jurisdiction or responsibility on their part.  This idea infuriated Susan and threatened that if we did not comply the police would be called and personally escort our guests off the property.  This is not the vision of the evening we had in mind!  So regretfully, again we complied.

The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the food.

I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can.

Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away!  I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food.

We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day.  (A personal family choice to use our own food.)  We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health.  I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).

I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs.  (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food.  We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.)

Again, a call to Susan and another negative response.

Okay, so let me get this right.

So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?! 

Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?

Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.   

Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death.  Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill!

At some point in all of this turmoil Monte reminded me that I had the emergency phone number for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on our refrigerator.  I put it there never really believing that I would ever have to use it.   We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion.

The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America!  May I mention that not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms!  The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment!  Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown!  I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates.

Well, I made the call, told my story and within a short period of time received a phone call back from the FTCLDF’s General Counsel, Gary Cox.   When told the story, he simply suggested that we apply our fundamental constitutional right to be protected against “unlawful search and seizure.”  I simply had to ask Mary two questions.  “Do you have a search warrant?”  “Do you have an arrest warrant?”

With the answers being “No”, I politely and very simply asked her to leave our property.  As simple as that!  She had no alternative, no higher power, no choice whatsoever but to now comply with my desire. She left in a huff making a scene shouting that she was calling the police. She left no paperwork, no Cease and Desist order, no record of any kind that implicated us for one thing, (we had complied to all their orders) only empty threats and a couple of trash cans full of defiled food.  I will get back to “the inspector” and her threats shortly.  Let’s get to where it really gets good.

While I am on the verge of a literal breakdown, Monte and Gio get creative. All right, we have just thrown all of this food away, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, what CAN we do?  Well, we have a vegetable farm and we do have fresh vegetables. (By the way, we were denied even using our fresh vegetables until I informed our inspector that I do have a Producers Certificate from the Nevada Department of Agriculture allowing us to sell our vegetables and other farm products at the Farmers Market.  Much of our produce has gone to some of the very finest restaurants in Las Vegas and St. George.)

The wind taken out of the inspector's sails, Gio and his crew got cookin’. It just so happened that we had a cooled trailer full of vegetables ready to be taken to market the following day. Monte hooked on to the trailer and backed it up right next to the kitchen. Our interns who were there to greet and serve now got to work with lamp oil and began harvesting anew. Knives were chopping, pots of pasta and rice from our food storage were steaming, our bonfire was now turned into a grill and literal miracles were happening before our eyes!

In the meantime, Monte and I had to break the news to our guests. Rather than go into the details here, you can see the video footage on Mark Bowers and Kiki Kalor’s (our friends and guests) website at:

We explained the situation, offered anyone interested a full refund, and told them that if they chose to stay their dinner was now literally being prepared fresh, as just now being harvested.  The reaction of our guests was the most sobering and inspirational experience of the evening.

In an instant we were bonded together.

They were, of course, out-raged at the lack of choice they were given in their meal.

Out-raged at the arrogance of coming to a farm dinner and being required to use only USDA (government inspected) meats.

Outraged at the heavy handedness of the Health Department into their lives. 

Then there was the most tremendous outpouring of love and support.

One of our guests, Marty Keach, informed us that he was an attorney and as appalled as everyone else offered his support and counsel if need be, even if it be to the Supreme Court.  He was a great comfort in a tense time.

With their approval, Giovanni and crew got cooking and the evening then truly began. The atmosphere turned from tense and angry to loving and supportive. As soon as I heard my brother Steve sit down and begin strumming his guitar, I knew something special was happening.  Paid guests volunteered their services. Chef Shawn Wallace, a guest, joined Gio and his team his knife flying through the eggplant and squash.  Wendy and Thierry Pressyler and so many that I am not even aware of, were helping to grill and transport dishes.  Jason and Chrissy Doolen offered to run quick errands.  Jeanne Frost, a server for the Wynn hotel, didn’t take a seat and began serving her fellow guests.

Before long we were seated at the beautiful table and the most incredible  dishes began coming forth.  It was literally “loaves and fishes” appearing before our very eyes!  We broke bread together, we laughed, we talked, we shared stories, we came together in the most marvelous way.

Now this is what I had dreamed, only more marvelous than I could have ever imagined!  The sky being bright with glittering stars, we had the telescopes out and invited any guests who desired to look into our starry heaven.  While we were looking into the heavens, heaven was looking down upon us!  I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the hand of providence helping us in the work of this farm.

As hard and demanding as this work is, I KNOW that this is what we are meant to do.

I KNOW that it is imperative that we stand up for our food choices.

I KNOW that local, organic, sustainable food produced by ourselves or by small family, local farms is indispensible to the health and well-being of our families and our communities now and in the future! If this work were not so vitally important, the “evil forces” would not be working so hard to pull it down.

We were victorious, we will be victorious, we must be!   Our grandchildren’s future is at stake!

Back to the inspector. She did call the police. You must remember that we live in a small town. We know these officers. They responded to the call dutifully but were desperately trying to figure out why they had been called. Never in all of their experience had they ever received a call like this.

Mary, the inspector, demanded that they give us a citation. The officer in charge said that she was to give us the citation, she responded that no, they were to give us the citation, which they then asked her for what violation. Even with the help of her superior on the phone she could not give them a reason. They asked her to leave which she did. The police were very kind and apologetic for the intrusion. All of this was done without fanfare and out of sight of our guests. The police officers are commended for their professionalism!

Now that we have come to the last chapter of our novel, I realize that it ends with a cliff-hanger. As happy as the ending was, it isn’t “happily ever after” yet.  This will remain to be seen in the ensuing days, weeks and even years ahead.

Tom Collins, our County Commissioner, furious by the events that took place, having formerly been a board member for the Southern Nevada Health District is putting together a meeting with himself, the current board members and ourselves to make sense of all this mess.

As so many of you have related verbally and through emails your desire to help and be involved, we will keep you informed as events take place.  I feel that we have been compelled to truly become active participants in the ongoing battle over our food choices.  This is just one small incident that brings to our awareness how fragile our freedoms are.  We are now ready to join the fight!

We would encourage all of you who can to contribute and to become a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.  They are not only fighting for the farmers, they are fighting for the consumers to have the right to choose.  You can find them at

As I close, I am reminded of the passage written so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:   
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

The same battle continues.   I pray the result of the battle will be the same, that we have been “endowed by our Creator with … life and liberty”.

We love you all, and thank you with all our souls for your continued love and support!  We will stay in touch.
With warmest wishes for you and your families,
Monte and Laura Bledsoe
Written from Quail Hollow Farm
October 24, 2011
Email Laura at
203  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Settled Science on: November 08, 2011, 09:16:09 AM
Global Warming: The View from China

Volume 14, Number 45: 9 November 2011

"Global climate change," in the words of Fang et al. (2011), "is one of the biggest challenges to human society in the 21st century." And noting that "carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and land use change are considered the main factors causing global warming," plus the fact that "carbon emissions affect social and economic development," they correctly state that "climate change has been shifted from an academic topic to an international political, economic, and diplomatic issue."
The five Chinese researchers - all of whom are associated with the Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education at Peking University in Beijing, and two of whom are also associated with the Climate Change Research Center of the Academic Divisions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences - introduce their review of the climate change issue by noting that the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been the primary voice of those who support the thesis that rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been responsible for a worrisome increase in global temperature that is claimed to produce "a series of negative effects on natural systems, including snow and ice melt, sea-level rising, and disturbances in the hydrological cycle," as well as "the acidification of sea water," all of which phenomena are claimed by the IPCC to directly or indirectly threaten terrestrial and marine ecosystems and social systems.

More recently, however, Fang et al. state that the claims of the last IPCC report "have been largely questioned," noting that "the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), established in 2007, has introduced a number of controversial and divisive debates," citing Singer et al. (2008) and Idso et al. (2009). They also write that "the 'Climate-gate' and 'Glacier-gate' scandals have especially questioned the public credibility of the report," citing Hefferman (2009) and Schiemeier (2010). And as a result, they state that "the IPCC report is no longer the most authoritative document on climate changes, as it is restricted by its political tendencies and some errors and flaws."

In their own review of the subject, Fang et al. come to the following conclusions. First, "global warming is an objective fact," but there is "great uncertainty in the magnitude of the temperature increase." Second, "both human activities and natural factors contribute to climate change, but it is difficult to quantify their relative contributions." Third, with regard to the IPCC claim that "the increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (including CO2) is the driving force for climate warming," they note the following four problems: (1) "it remains unclear how the human and natural factors, especially the aerosols, affect the global temperature change," (2) "over the past century, the temperature change has not always been consistent with the change of CO2 concentration," since "for several periods, global temperatures decreased or were stable while the atmospheric CO2 concentration continuously increased," (3) "there is no significant correlation between the annual increment of the atmospheric CO2 concentration and the annual anomaly of annual mean temperature," and (4) "the observed significant increase of the atmospheric CO2 concentration may not be totally attributable to anthropogenic emissions because there are great uncertainties in the sources of CO2 concentration in [the] atmosphere."

This is but one view of the subject, albeit an important one, simply because it comes from China, the world's most populous country. Many different groups have many different ideas about the topic; and that is the nature of the long-running controversy: there is no agreement on these and other core issues. Consequently, and contrary to what the IPCC crowd continually contends, the science of global climate change is definitely not "settled."

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Fang, J.Y., Zhu, J.L., Wang, S.P., Yue, C. and Shen, H.H. 2011. Global warming, human-induced carbon emissions, and their uncertainties. Science China Earth Sciences 54: 1458-1468.

Heffernan, O. 2009. Climate data spat intensifies. Nature 460: 787.

Idso, C.D. and Singer, S.F. 2009. Climate Change Reconsidered; 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Schiermeier, Q. 2010. IPCC flooded by criticism. Nature 463: 596-597.

Singer, S.F. 2008. Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate: Summary for Policymakers of the Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
204  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Karma and Green Dogma on: November 03, 2011, 01:48:34 PM
Update: Fisker Karma Electric Car Gets Worse Mileage Than an SUV

 73 comments, 28 called-out + Comment now

Electric Car for the 1%.  Image via Wikipedia

The Fisker Karma electric car, developed mainly with your tax money so that a bunch of rich VC’s wouldn’t have to risk any real money, has rolled out with an nominal EPA MPGe of 52 in all electric mode (we will ignore the gasoline engine for this analysis).

Not bad?  Unfortunately, it’s a sham.  This figure is calculated using the grossly flawed EPA process that substantially underestimates the amount of fossil fuels required to power the electric car, as I showed in great depth in an earlier article.  In short, the EPA methodology leaves out, among other things, the conversion efficiency in generating the electricity from fossil fuels in the first place [by assuming perfect conversion of the potential energy in the fuel to electricity, the EPA is actually breaking the 2nd law of thermodynamics].

In the Clinton administration, the Department of Energy (DOE) created a far superior well to wheels MPGe metric that honestly compares the typical fossil fuel use of an electric vs. gasoline car, using real-world power plant efficiencies and fuel mixes to figure out how much fuel is used to produce the electricity that goes into the electric car.

As I calculated in my earlier Forbes article, one needs to multiply the EPA MPGe by .365 to get a number that truly compares fossil fuel use of an electric car with a traditional gasoline engine car on an apples to apples basis.  In the case of the Fisker Karma, we get a true MPGe of 19.  This makes it worse than even the city rating of a Ford Explorer SUV.

Congrats to the Fisker Karma, which now joins corn ethanol in the ranks of heavily subsidized supposedly green technologies that are actually worse for the environment than current solutions.

Postscript:  I will say, though, that the Fisker Karma does serve a social purpose — Hollywood celebrities and the ultra rich, who want to display their green credentials, no longer have to be stuck with a little econobox.   They can now enjoy a little leg room and luxury.

Updates: Just to clarify, given some email I have gotten.   Most other publications have focused on the 20 mpg the EPA gives the Karma on its backup gasoline engine (example), but my focus is on just how bad the car is even in all electric mode.    The calculation in the above article only applies to the car running on electric, and the reduction in MPGe I discuss is from applying the more comprehensive DOE methodology for getting an MPG equivalent, not from some sort of averaging with gasoline mode.  Again, see this article if you don’t understand the issue with the EPA methodology.

Press responses from Fisker Automotive highlight the problem here:  electric vehicle makers want to pretend that the electricity to charge the car comes from magic sparkle ponies sprinkling pixie dust rather than burning fossil fuels. Take this quote, for example:

a Karma driver with a 40-mile commute who starts each day with a full battery charge will only need to visit the gas station about every 1,000 miles and would use just 9 gallons of gasoline per month.

This is true as far as it goes, but glosses over the fact that someone is still pouring fossil fuels into a tank somewhere to make that electricity.  This seems more a car to hide the fact that fossil fuels are being burned than one designed to actually reduce fossil fuel use.  Given the marketing pitch here that relies on the unseen vs. the seen, maybe we should rename it the Fisker Bastiat.

Update #2: I suppose it is too late for this plea, commenters who wish to hypothesize on methodological flaws are highly encouraged to read the original linked post explaining the math.  For example, a number of folks have suggested I missed the fact that refining takes substantial energy as well.  In fact, the DOE methodology used doesn’t just penalize electric cars for combustion inefficiencies in the power plant, it also penalizes gasoline cars for the energy in gasoline refining and transportation.

Update #3: Here is a special bonus, Ray Lane, Chairman of Fisker Automotive, did an interview in 2009 praising the Obama Administration as the first time he has seen government successfully making private investments.  His one example:  Solyndra!
205  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / How Many Little Tyrannies Equal Tyranny? on: November 03, 2011, 01:04:02 PM
On Tyranny and Liberty
Would the Founders approve of the nation we’ve made?


A U.S. Supreme Court justice recounted over cocktails a while ago his travails with his hometown zoning board. He wanted to build an addition onto his house, containing what the plans described as a home office, but he met truculent and lengthy resistance. This is a residential area, a zoning official blustered—no businesses allowed. The judge mildly explained that he would not be running a business from the new room; he would be using it as a study. Well, challenged the suspicious official, what business are you in? I work for the government, the justice replied. Okay, the official finally conceded—grudgingly, as if conferring an immense and special discretionary favor; we’ll let it go by this time. But, he snapped in conclusion, don’t ever expletive-deleted with us again.

Isn’t that sort of petty tyranny? I asked.

Yes, the justice replied; there’s a lot of it going around.

Tyranny isn’t a word you hear often, certainly not in conversations about the First World. But as American voters mull over the election campaign now under way, they’re more than usually inclined to ponder first principles and ask what kind of country the Founding Fathers envisioned. As voters’ frequent invocations of the Boston Tea Party recall, the Founding began with a negation, a statement of what the colonists didn’t want. They didn’t want tyranny: by which they meant, not a blood-dripping, rack-and-gridiron Inquisition, but merely taxation without representation—and they went to war against it. “The Parliament of Great Britain,” George Washington wrote a friend as he moved toward taking up arms several months after the Tea Party, “hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket without my consent, than I have to put my hands into your’s, for money.”

With independence won, the Founders struggled to create a “free government,” fully understanding the novelty and difficulty of that oxymoronic task. James Madison laid out the problem in Federalist 51. “Because men are not angels,” he explained, they need government to prevent them, by force when necessary, from invading the lives, property, and liberty of their fellow citizens. But the same non-angelic human nature that makes us need government to protect liberty and property, he observed, can lead the men who wield government’s coercive machinery to use it tyrannically—even in a democracy, where a popularly elected majority can gang up to deprive other citizens of fundamental rights that their Creator gave them. In writing the Constitution, Madison and his fellow Framers sought to build a government strong enough to do its essential tasks well, without degenerating into what Continental Congress president Richard Henry Lee termed an “elective despotism.” It’s to ward off tyranny that the Constitution strictly limits and defines the central government’s powers, and splits up its power into several branches and among many officers, all jealously watching one another to prevent abuse.

When we ask how our current political state of affairs measures up to the Founders’ standard, we usually find ourselves discussing whether a given law or program is constitutional, and soon enough get tangled in precedents and lawyerly rigmarole. But let’s frame the question a little differently: How far does present-day America meet the Founders’ ideal of free government, protecting individual liberty while avoiding what they considered tyranny? A few specific examples will serve as a gauge.

The Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision is notorious enough, but it bears recalling in this connection, for the whole episode is objectionable in so many monitory ways. In the year 2000, the frayed Connecticut city had conceived a grandiose project to redevelop 90 waterfront acres, in conjunction with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s plan to build an adjoining $300 million research center. A conference hotel—that inevitable (and almost inevitably uneconomic) nostrum of urban economic-development authorities—would rise, surrounded by upscale housing, shopping, and restaurants, all adorned with a marina and a promenade along the Thames River. Promising to create more than 3,000 new jobs and add $1.2 million in revenues to the city’s declining tax rolls, the redevelopment authority set about buying up the private houses, mostly old and modest, on the site.

Several homeowners refused to sell, however. They loved their houses and their water views. In response, the determined city seized their property under its power of eminent domain. One resident, Susette Kelo, wasn’t giving up her little pink house without a fight, though, and she, along with a few neighbors (including one who’d lived in her house since 1918), sued the city in the state courts, claiming that its action violated the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The trial court agreed with Kelo’s reasonable assertion of the government’s fundamental duty to protect rather than invade private property, but the state appeals court disagreed, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the city’s seizure, 5–4.

The Supreme Court’s opinions, on both sides, lay out a dreary history of how a fundamental liberty shriveled. The justices cite a 1954 precedent that imperiously expanded the rationale for eminent domain from the Fifth Amendment’s public use to public purpose to justify urban-renewal projects that tore down vast swathes of supposedly blighted property in order to turn the land over to private developers of better housing. Even if you grant the constitutionality of the new rationale, argued the petitioner in this case—who owned a prospering, unblighted department store within the redevelopment area—creating a “better balanced, more attractive community” was not a valid public purpose. Wrong, said the Supremes, in Justice William O. Douglas’s trademark fatuously whimsical language: the legislature, invoking values that are “spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary,” has the power “to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced as well as carefully patrolled.” Nor need officials, evidently empowered to define public purposes beyond the Constitution’s limited and enumerated scope, deal with property owners on an individual basis in imposing their aesthetic vision on already existing property, so the department-store owner’s liberty and property rights merit no protection from the redevelopment juggernaut.

The Kelo Court also cited a precedent, appropriately from 1984, that is hard to distinguish from a Latin American Communist-imposed land-reform scheme. Because the government owned 49 percent of Hawaii’s land and 72 private landlords owned another 47 percent of it, the state legislature passed a law forcing the private property owners to sell their land to their lessees, for just compensation. The public purpose of this social-engineering megaproject: “eliminating the ‘social and economic evils of a land oligopoly.’ ” Trying to explain his notion of “the tyranny of the majority,” the great democratic danger that he’d designed the Constitution to prevent, Madison began by observing that “those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society.” As the propertyless will always outnumber the propertied, the essence of democratic tyranny is for the poorer many to expropriate the richer few by such “improper or wicked” schemes as voting “an equal division of property,” the furthest-out extreme of tyranny that the Father of the Constitution could imagine. What would he have said about the Hawaii legislature’s property-redistribution edict and the U.S. Supreme Court that ratified it on such a rationale?

Kelo, as the dissenting justices pointed out, makes almost limitless the government’s eminent-domain power. While the Fifth Amendment envisioned transferring one private owner’s property to another—for reasonable compensation—for a turnpike or a canal to which the entire citizenry had access (or, later, a railroad or electricity-transmission line), the 1954 and 1984 precedents that the Court cites at least claimed that the transfer accomplished the direct public purpose of ending a harmful use of property, if only by association in the case of the unblighted department store surrounded by blight. But no one claims that Susette Kelo’s house—or her neighbors’—is blighted, the dissenters observed. The public purpose of “tak[ing] private property currently put to ordinary private use, and giv[ing] it over for new, ordinary private use” is the indirect, secondary one of raising New London’s tax base, meaning that government could order any property razed for a higher-value one, sweeping away single-family houses (especially humble ones) for apartment buildings, churches for stores, or small businesses for national chains. And, the dissenting justices might have added, it makes government officials interested, rather than neutral, parties, since more tax revenue means better pay, health care, and pensions for them.

In 1812, the nation’s retired first chief justice, John Jay, commented on a proposal to take by eminent domain some fields near his Westchester farm and flood them to make a millpond to turn a factory waterwheel. “When a piece of ground is wanted for a use important to the State, I know that the State has a right to take it from the owner, on paying the full value of it; but certainly the Legislature has no right to compel a freeholder to part with his land to any of his fellow-citizens, nor to deprive him of the use of it, in order to accommodate one or more of his neighbours in the prosecution of their particular trade or business,” he wrote. “Such an act, by violating the rights of property, would be a most dangerous precedent.” As for flooding the fields: “It may be said that the pond, by facilitating manufactures, will be productive of good to the public; but will it not produce more loss than gain, if any of the essential rights of freemen are to be sunk in it?” By 1885, however, many states had passed “mill acts,” permitting just such a use of eminent domain to power gristmills—required, like turnpikes and railroads, to serve all comers.

As it happened, getting rid of Susette Kelo’s house—ultimately, New London moved it from its waterfront site rather than demolish it—produced no gain to anyone. In the wake of a merger, Pfizer moved its research facility elsewhere; the redevelopment agency couldn’t raise the necessary financing for the rest of the project, which Pfizer’s withdrawal rendered problematic; and the land sits vacant, generating not a nickel of tax revenue. The only good the decision produced was a slew of laws in many other states severely limiting the use of eminent domain for economic development. In New York, one of eight states without such limits, the official wresting of unblighted property from one ordinary private owner to another politically powerful one for private use continues unabated.

In framing the Constitution, once the Revolution had stopped the tyranny of taxation without representation, Madison realized that even in a self-governing republic, taxes remained the chief source of potential abuse. “The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property, is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality,” he wrote, “yet there is perhaps no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party, to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling with which they overburden the inferior number, is a shilling saved to their own pockets.” A steeply “progressive” tax system, in which the rich pay not just a higher amount but pay at a higher rate than the less affluent, would have troubled him as much as a system whose loopholes allow some rich citizens to pay proportionally less, and he would have heard with dismay—though not with total astonishment, since it was just this kind of danger he knew the country faced—that 47 percent of tax filers now pay no income tax.

But what he could never have imagined is that judges—rather than the legislature—would impose a new system of taxation without representation, a modern tyranny of which the most outrageous of several examples is the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke case, still going on after more than a quarter-century. Based on the state constitution’s boilerplate call for the legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years,” the court, in a string of 21 decisions starting in 1985, set out to use the schools to rescue the children of New Jersey’s urban underclass, cost be damned.

The court claimed to know just how Herculean a task it was taking on. Inner-city kids in Newark, Trenton, Camden, and so on had “needs that palpably undercut their capacity to learn,” the judges noted. “Those needs go beyond educational needs[;] they include food, clothing and shelter, and extend to lack of close family and community ties and support and lack of helpful role models.” The children live “in an environment of violence, poverty, and despair, . . . isolated from the mainstream of society. Education forms only a small part of their home life,” and dropping out of school “is almost the norm. . . . The goal is to motivate them, to wipe out their disadvantages as much as a school district can, and to give them an educational opportunity that will enable them to use their innate ability.”

What will accomplish this vast work of cultural and social repair? The judges had read their Jonathan Kozol, they noted, and what they took away from the fanciful, far-left education ideologue’s Savage Inequalities, which compares some of the worst urban high schools—including one in Camden, New Jersey—with some of their very best suburban counterparts, is that the chief difference between successful schools and failed ones is money.

So, flinging aside the concept of separation of powers, the court ordered the legislature to hike its support for specified inner-city districts—and not by the relatively modest amount that the legislature calculated would help these schools meet performance standards it thought reasonable, but rather by the huge amount of money needed to make their per-pupil expenditure equal that of the state’s richest suburban districts. In fact, the court reasoned, the 31 so-called Abbott districts should receive more than the rich districts, because inner-city kids have “specific requirements for supplemental educational and educationally-related programs and services that are unique to those students, not required in wealthier districts, and that represent an educational cost.” Before long, the court had included in these extra programs all-day kindergarten, half-day preschools for three- and four-year-olds (though the state constitution calls for free education to start at age five), and special transition programs to work or to college, plus a ton of money to improve “crumbling and obsolescent schools,” since “we cannot expect disadvantaged children to achieve when they are relegated to buildings that are unsafe”—and that, as Jonathan Kozol would say, contemptuously proclaim that a racist society doesn’t value the kids it dumps there.

Perhaps not averse to shoveling lots more money to unionized teachers and construction workers while claiming to have no other choice, the legislature didn’t resist the court’s encroachment on its constitutional prerogative to set taxes and spending priorities, and it obediently began to fleece the Garden State’s taxpayers with abandon, pushing New Jersey’s state and local tax burden to 12.2 percent of the average taxpayer’s income, the highest in the nation in the Tax Foundation’s latest ranking. As spending on the Abbott districts skyrocketed from 8.9 percent of the state budget in 1985 to 15.5 percent of a much bigger budget last year, suburban taxpayers found themselves paying for two school systems: their own, through property taxes (higher since the suburbs now get much less state aid); and the Abbott schools, through their state income taxes—to the tune of almost $37 billion in the decade from 1998 to 2008, according to a Federalist Society study. Suburbanites with kids in private or parochial school shoulder a third system as well. To fund construction of gleaming new inner-city schools, the legislature authorized $8.6 billion in bonds that pirouetted around constitutionally mandated voter approval—and that covered only half the ultimate cost, given the inefficiency and corruption that riddles the contracting process. And last spring, the court demanded yet another half-billion dollars for the Abbott archipelago, at a time when the sagging national economy makes curbing out-of-control government spending, and separating essential from frivolous efforts, more than usually urgent.

What are New Jersey taxpayers accomplishing with the $22,000 to $27,000 they spend per pupil each year in the big inner-city districts? On test scores and graduation rates in Newark, the needle has scarcely flickered. As the E3 education-reform group’s report Money for Nothing notes, high schools in the state’s biggest city can’t produce substantial numbers of juniors and seniors who can pass tests of eighth-grade knowledge and skills, and the report quotes testimony to the same effect before the state legislature about Camden’s schools.

A remark the Jersey justices made in one of their Abbott decisions suggests why. “Approximately twenty security guards are required to ensure the safety of high school students in Trenton,” the judges say, compared with three or fewer in a suburban school. What kind of school culture does this statement imply? The judges know that “many poor children start school with an approximately two-year disadvantage compared to many suburban youngsters”—because, even with court-mandated preschool, they have vocabularies a fraction the size of middle-class children’s, and they lack a middle-class-level mastery of cognitive concepts like cause and effect, or social skills like sharing, taking turns, sitting still, and paying attention, or a middle-class knowledge base of everything from dinosaurs and donkeys to Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin.

And money for a 20-man troop of guards is supposed to help shrink that disadvantage rather than expand it, as the schools do now? To work that rescue, the schools need a vast reformation in their institutional culture so that, as in much less costly parochial schools that succeed with the same youngsters whom the public schools fail, kids behave not because they have a phalanx of guards coldly eyeing them but because they identify internally with the purposes of the school and genuinely want to meet its standards. They need teachers rewarded for merit, not longevity, and a curriculum that stresses skills, knowledge, and striving, not grievance and unearned self-esteem. They need a school culture that expands their sense of opportunity and possibility strongly enough to counteract the culture of militant ignorance and failure that surrounds them in the narrow world they know.

Laudable ends generally don’t justify improper means; but when illegitimate means come nowhere near achieving their indisputably noble goal—when, to paraphrase Chief Justice Jay, government drowns our liberties in a pond that can’t even turn a mill wheel—what justification can there be?

One of the greatest dramas of President Washington’s first term was the showdown between House of Representatives leader James Madison and Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton over how to interpret the Constitution of which Madison was the moving spirit, and which he and Hamilton had defended and explicated together in The Federalist. Hamilton wanted the government to charter a national bank; Madison argued that doing so would be unconstitutional because chartering a bank was not one of the limited and enumerated powers given to the federal government. It was no good, he said, for Hamilton to claim that the Constitution’s clause empowering Congress to make any law “necessary and proper” for carrying out its enumerated powers would permit it to charter the bank, since a bank wasn’t “necessary” but merely “convenient.” Once you start saying that the Constitution’s “necessary and proper” clause, or commerce clause, or clause to provide for the general welfare gives Congress implied powers, you are setting off on a course that will in the end “pervert the limited government of the Union, into a government of unlimited discretion, contrary to the will and subversive of the authority of the people.”

Nonsense, replied Hamilton: the “criterion of what is constitutional . . . is the end to which the measure relates as a mean. If the end be clearly comprehended within any of the specified powers, & if the measure have an obvious relation to that end, and is not forbidden by any particular provision of the constitution—it may safely be deemed to come within the compass of the national authority.” Congress and President Washington agreed; the bank, once established, sparked an era of golden prosperity; and even Madison learned when he became president that a central bank was indeed necessary, and that interpreting the Constitution requires “a reasonable medium” between trying to “squeeze it to death” and “stretch it to death.” Men of goodwill can disagree on where the line is that would “convert a limited into an unlimited Govt,” but all agree that one can’t overstep that line.

So it was with a certain astonishment that one heard then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s reply, when asked two years ago whether President Obama’s health-care plan, which she and her colleagues had just passed into law, was constitutional. “Are you serious?” she said with incredulous contempt. “Are you serious?” With apparently no idea of where her authority came from, she seemed to assume that Congress had power to do whatever it wanted, though her office later announced that the power to force citizens to buy health insurance was implicit in the Constitution’s commerce clause. Congress has, of course, grotesquely stretched the doctrine of implied powers many times since Madison conceded such a thing existed, but here, almost unthinkingly, it stretched it to the breaking point and left the Constitution in fragments on the legislative floor. A year later, federal judges in Florida and Virginia declared the requirement to buy health insurance unconstitutional, as did a Pennsylvania judge this September: the commerce clause, they held, can’t be stretched to make people buy something. If it could, wrote Florida federal judge Roger Vinson, “Congress could require that everyone above a certain income threshold buy a General Motors automobile—now partially government-owned—because those who do not . . . are adversely impacting commerce and a taxpayer-subsidized business.” Now that one federal appellate court has backed Judge Vinson and two others have upheld the requirement to buy health insurance, it will be for the Supreme Court, which received two appeals in the case in late September, to declare whether this time Madison’s nightmare of “unlimited” government finally becomes real.

Nor is this Obamacare’s sole constitutional outrage. To rein in Medicare spending, Obamacare has authorized an appointed panel of 15 “experts,” the Independent Payment Advisory Board, whose power, said Obama’s ex-OMB director, Peter Orszag, will represent “the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve.” To control costs, the board will set reimbursement rates for doctors—which in effect will ration care for Medicare beneficiaries, though the Orwellian law simultaneously forbids explicit rationing—and Congress can overturn the board’s edicts only if it legislates another way to cut Medicare by the same amount. Under some circumstances, which the murkily ambiguous law sets forth in a confusingly vague and broad way, even that congressional tinkering could require 60 votes in the Senate. Nor can Congress kill the board (which, unlike other such agencies as the FCC or SEC, needn’t be even nominally bipartisan) unless it introduces a resolution in January 2017 and enacts it by mid-August by a three-fifths supermajority of all members in both houses—and even then, the resolution can’t take effect until 2020. The Obamacare law isn’t embarrassed to call the executive-branch board’s edicts “legislation,” and it exempts them from judicial or administrative review. So much for the separation of powers.

There’s indeed a lot of petty tyranny going around. The question is, at what point do many little tyrannies add up to Tyranny? Likely voters suggested a troubling answer in an August Rasmussen poll: 69 percent of them said they didn’t think today’s U.S. government enjoys the consent of the governed. And in September, 49 percent of respondents, an unprecedented high, told Gallup pollsters that “the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”

Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and the author of The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass.
206  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Moon Dust Up on: November 03, 2011, 12:56:15 PM
Reason Magazine

NASA Freaks Out Little Old Lady, Claims Ownership of Every Single Speck of Moon Dust

Katherine Mangu-Ward | October 26, 2011

Speaking of making money on the moon: You can't. Ever. So don't even think about it, granny.

The target [of a sting by NASA to recover a tiny speck of moon dust], Joann Davis, a grandmother who says she was trying to raise money for her sick son, asserts the lunar material was rightfully hers, having been given to her space-engineer husband by Neil Armstrong in the 1970s....

When officers in flak vests took a hold of her, the 4-foot-11 woman said she was so scared she lost control of her bladder and was taken outside to a parking lot, where she was questioned and detained for about two hours.

NASA's official position is that it owns every last lunar artifact, and that even samples that are given away—as hundreds have been my NASA itself—technically remain government property. I get it—since we can't manage to get our sorry butts back to Old Luna, there's a limited supply of the grey stuff. But this story is basically the nerd equivalent of a full-scale SWAT raid to turn up one dried up joint.

And how did the crack investigators at NASA find this errant bit o' moon?:

The case was triggered by Davis herself....She emailed a NASA contractor May 10 trying to find a buyer for the rock, as well as a nickel-sized piece of the heat shield that protected the Apollo 11 space capsule as it returned to earth from the first successful manned mission to the moon in 1969.

"I've been searching the internet for months attempting to find a buyer," Davis wrote. "If you have any thoughts as to how I can proceed with the sale of these two items, please call."

They did call, and made a false offer of $1.7 million for the moon shards, only to snag her (and it) out of a booth in a California family restaurant. No changes have been filed, but the NASA investigators kept the moon bit.
207  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: The American Creed: Our Founding Fathers: on: November 03, 2011, 12:43:27 PM
RIOT, n. A popular entertainment given to the military by innocent bystanders.

Ambrose Bierce
The Devil's Dictionary
208  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Modeling Perfect Failure on: November 03, 2011, 12:40:30 PM
A Modest Proposal—Forget About Tomorrow
Posted on October 31, 2011 by Willis Eschenbach
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

There’s a lovely 2005 paper I hadn’t seen, put out by the Los Alamos National Laboratory entitled “Our Calibrated Model has No Predictive Value” (PDF).

The paper’s abstract says it much better than I could:

Abstract: It is often assumed that once a model has been calibrated to measurements then it will have some level of predictive capability, although this may be limited. If the model does not have predictive capability then the assumption is that the model needs to be improved in some way.

Using an example from the petroleum industry, we show that cases can exist where calibrated models have no predictive capability. This occurs even when there is no modelling error present. It is also shown that the introduction of a small modelling error can make it impossible to obtain any models with useful predictive capability.

We have been unable to find ways of identifying which calibrated models will have some predictive capacity and those which will not.

There are three results in there, one expected and two unexpected.

The expected result is that models that are “tuned” or “calibrated” to an existing dataset may very well have no predictive capability. On the face of it this is obvious—if we could tune a model that simply then someone would be predicting the stock market or next month’s weather with good accuracy.
The next result was totally unexpected. The model may have no predictive capabilitydespite being a perfect model. The model may represent the physics of the situation perfectly and exactly in each and every relevant detail. But if that perfect  model is tuned to a dataset, even a perfect dataset, it may have no predictive capability at all.

The third unexpected result was the effect of error. The authors found that if there are even small modeling errors, it may not be possible to find any model with useful predictive capability.

To paraphrase, even if a tuned (“calibrated”) model is perfect about the physics, it may not have predictive capabilities. And if there is even a little error in the model, good luck finding anything useful.

This was a very clean experiment. There were only three tunable parameters. So it looks like John Von Neumann was right, you can fit an elephant with three parameters, and with four parameters, make him wiggle his trunk.

I leave it to the reader to consider what this means about the various climate models’ ability to simulate the future evolution of the climate, as they definitely are tuned or as the study authors call them “calibrated” models, and they definitely have more than three tunable parameters.

In this regard, a modest proposal. Could climate scientists please just stop predicting stuff for maybe say one year? In no other field of scientific endeavor is every finding surrounded by predictions that this “could” or “might” or “possibly” or “perhaps” will lead to something catastrophic in ten or thirty or a hundred years. Could I ask that for one short year, that climate scientists actually study the various climate phenomena, rather than try to forecast their future changes? We still are a long ways from understanding the climate, so could we just study the present and past climate, and leave the future alone for one year?

We have no practical reason to believe that the current crop of climate models have predictive capability. For example, none of them predicted the current 15-year or so hiatus in the warming. And as this paper shows, there is certainly no theoretical reason to think they have predictive capability.

The models, including climate models, can sometimes illustrate or provide useful information about climate. Could we use them for that for a while? Could we use them to try to understand the climate, rather than to predict the climate?

And 100 and 500 year forecasts? I don’t care if you do call them “scenarios” or whatever the current politically correct term is. Predicting anything 500 years out is a joke. Those, you could stop forever with no loss at all

I would think that after the unbroken string of totally incorrect prognostications from Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren and James Hansen and other failed serial doomcasters, the alarmists would welcome such a hiatus from having to dream up the newer, better future catastrophe. I mean, it must get tiring for them, seeing their predictions of Thermageddon™ blown out of the water by ugly reality, time after time, without interruption. I think they’d welcome a year where they could forget about tomorrow.

Regards to all,

209  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces on: November 03, 2011, 12:08:22 PM
Uhm, 'cause as the article I posted states "authorities" are claiming the geriatric terrorists were inspired by an online novel written by the guy who has broken a lot of the "Gunwalker" story.
210  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Opaque Transparency on: November 03, 2011, 12:05:50 PM
Reason Magazine

File Not Found

Why does the most open and transparent administration in history prefer to lie about government records?

Jacob Sullum | November 2, 2011

When he took office, Barack Obama promised "an unprecedented level of openness in Government." As a major part of that commitment, he pledged fidelity to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which he called "the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government."

It is hard to reconcile these lofty memos with the Justice Department's proposed rule instructing federal agencies to falsely deny the existence of records sought under FOIA. But at least the Obama administration is open about its desire to mislead us.

Enacted in 1966, FOIA "encourages accountability through transparency," as Obama put it in his 2009 memo. The law created a general assumption that Americans have a right to information about their government unless there is a good reason to withhold it, such as when disclosure would violate people's privacy, undermine a criminal investigation, or threaten national security.

Congress amended FOIA in 1986, adding Section 552(c), which addresses situations where confirming the existence of records would tip off the target of a criminal investigation, compromise a confidential informant, or reveal classified information. In such cases, agencies "may treat the records as not subject to the requirements of" FOIA, which the courts and leading members of Congress have long understood to mean issuing a response that neither confirms nor denies the records' existence.

But the Obama administration prefers to lie. Under the rule proposed by the Justice Department, an agency with records believed to be exempt under Section 552(c) "will respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist."

As the American Civil Liberties Union,, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington note in their comments on the rule, it would "dramatically undermine government integrity by allowing a law designed to provide public access to government information to be twisted to permit federal law enforcement agencies to actively lie to the American people." The rule also would impede judicial review of agencies' decisions to withhold records, since requesters would be led to believe that no records were being withheld.

Since requesters cannot demand a justification for withholding records they do not know exist, agencies would not have to convince a court that the information they believe qualifies for a FOIA exemption actually does. And while the lies supposedly would be limited to the three situations described in Section 552(c), agencies would be sorely tempted to deny the existence of any records they would rather not reveal.

Obama himself suggested where such unbridled discretion can lead. "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," he declared in 2009. But who can say whether that is happening if agencies can evade oversight by lying?

The ACLU suggests a FOIA response that avoids disclosing information shielded by Section 552(c) but is nevertheless accurate and preserves the possibility of judicial review: "We interpret all or part of your request as a request for records which, if they exist, would not be subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to section 552(c), and we therefore will not process that portion of your request." In an October 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, demands to know why that option is unsatisfactory and threatens to block the Obama administration's mendacious alternative.

It may be too late for that. Last spring U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney rebuked the government for falsely denying the existence of records sought under FOIA, not only to the requesters but to him. Carney noted that "it is impossible for the court to determine compliance with the law and to protect the public from Government misconduct if the Government misleads the Court." The Justice Department says its new rule merely codifies a practice dating to the Reagan administration, which means they've been lying to us all along.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.
211  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces on: November 03, 2011, 11:31:11 AM
So, there is no way the "Geezers" were actually planning on murdering anyone?

Something of on non-sequtur there. Think my preface to the piece conveys my feelings. Is there some part of it I need to explain for you?
212  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Entering La La Land on: November 03, 2011, 10:30:09 AM
So I usually don't have much use for conspiracy theories as most turn into tail chasing enterprises in which few verifiable facts can be found. And though I've been following Sipsey Street Irregulars through a lot of the Fast and Furious/Gunwalker horrific foolishness, I confess his strident tone gets on my nerves and think he'd serve his ends better by hyperventilating less. As that may be, now that our geriatric terrorists have been lead off in cuffs, we've got "authorities" claiming their antics were inspired by an online novel written by Sipsey Street blogger Mike Vanderboegh. 300 million plus people in the US many of whom must be talking to others about doing violence inspired by the federal foolishness, yet this administration manages to only roll out right wing kooks, in this instance ones said to be inspired by a major thorn in their side. Credulity is starting to be strained:

Alleged Plot to Attack U.S. Officials Was Inspired by Online Anti-Government Novel, Authorities Say
Published November 02, 2011 |

An alleged plot to attack federal and state officials by suspected members of a fringe north Georgia militia group was inspired by an online anti-government novel, authorities said.

Court documents state that 73-year-old Frederick Thomas, a suspected member of the group, told others that he intended to model their actions on the online novel "Absolved," which involves small groups of citizens attacking U.S. officials.

The four suspected members, who federal authorities arrested Tuesday, were expected to appear in court Wednesday.

They were part of a group that also tried to obtain an unregistered explosive device and sought out the complex formula to produce Ricin, a biological toxin that can be lethal in small doses, according to a federal complaint.

Authorities said the group intended to use the plot of the novel "Absolved," written by Mike Vanderboegh, a blogger who has closely followed the botched federal investigation known as "Fast and Furious." He also runs a whistleblower website called Sipsey Street Irregulars.

During a phone interview with on Wednesday, Vanderboegh claimed he was not responsible for the alleged plot.

"What kind of moron uses the phrase 'save the Constitution and then goes out to try and distribute Ricin?" Vanderboegh said. "This has got to be the Alzheimer's gang. What political point is made there? I don't understand what was going on in the minds of these Georgia idiots."

The four listed in the indictment are Thomas; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68. The men live in the north Georgia towns of Cleveland and Toccoa.

They had been talking about "covert" operations since at least March, according to court records, discussing murder, theft and using toxic agents and assassinations to undermine the state and federal government.

In one of the indictments obtained by, authorities said Thomas is recorded saying, "Let's shoot the bastards that we discover are anti-American. And to me the best way to do that is to walk up behind them with a suppressed .22."

"I am of the, uh, old school, Mafia; one behind the ear with a .22 is all you need," Thomas allegedly said. "Of course a .40 Smith and Wesson or .45 ACP is just as good, even better, cause it makes the whole head explode."

Investigators also say Thomas openly discussed creating a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he felt needed to be "taken out."

"I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again," he told an undercover investigator, according to the records.

Thomas' wife, Charlotte, called the charges "baloney."

"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

Thomas and Roberts are accused of buying what they believed was a silencer and an unregistered explosive from an undercover informant in May and June. Prosecutors say he discussed using the weapons in attacks against federal buildings.

Prosecutors say Crump also discussed making 10 pounds of Ricin and dispersing it in Atlanta and various cities across the nation, suggesting it can be blown out of a car speeding down an interstate highway.

Adams, meanwhile, is accused of showing an informant the formula to make Ricin and identifying the ways to obtain the ingredients.

Thomas is accused of driving to Atlanta with a confidential informant on May 24 and scoping out an IRS building there and an ATF building "to plan and assess for possible attacks," the indictment states.

"We'd have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh," Thomas said during the trip to Atlanta, the indictment states.

Charlotte Thomas said her husband was arrested in a restaurant in Cornelia, Ga., and federal agents were at her home when she returned from the grocery store Tuesday afternoon. She said the agents wouldn't let her in her home.

"They tore up my house," Charlotte Thomas said.

She said her husband doesn't have an attorney yet.

Margaret Roberts of Toccoa said FBI agents showed up with a search warrant and went through her home, handcuffing her and taking a computer and other items. She said her husband is retired from the sign business and lives on pensions.

"He's never been in trouble with the law. He's not anti-government. He would never hurt anybody," she said.

Listed numbers for the other two suspects could not be found.

Attorneys for the men were not identified, and the federal defender's office had no immediate comment.

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the case is a reminder that "we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security."
213  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Political Rants & interesting thought pieces on: November 03, 2011, 08:41:51 AM
Yes, I suppose "watering the tree of liberty" is too vague a reference.
214  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Logical Conclusions Looming? on: November 03, 2011, 08:31:56 AM
Read this piece out loud with a couple people in the room and perhaps you too can get your own right wing terrorist perp walk:

Gunwalker exposed: not a law enforcement operation, but something far worse

Whether or not the asshats at Fox News or the Drudge Report want to give credit where credit is due, we here in the gun community know that it was David Codrea at the Gun Rights Examiner and Mike Vanderboegh at Sipsey Street Irregulars that broke the damning news that Operation Fast and Furious was a gun-running operation that used taxpayer dollars to purchase firearms and deliver them directly to the Mexico drug cartels. I was fortunate enough to contribute in some small way by giving them some of the traffic they rightfully deserve and corroborating their exclusive after the fact.

The more I think about the hundreds of lives lost and the families destroyed with weapons provided  by our government, the more upset I become. Almost every law enforcement agency of the executive branch and scattered across four cabinet level agencies (Justice, State, Treasury, and Homeland Security) has a role in arming some of the most violent criminals on earth with the apparent goal of destabilizing an ally on the edge of a civil war and undermining the Constitution of our own nation.

In my opinion, what we are witnessing is a massive crime, and quite probably the legal definition of international terrorism as defined in U.S. Law. I don’t think we are in the range of hyperbole anymore when we wonder whether or not President Obama’s government is guilty of terrorism and acts of war against an ally. I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say with great concern that it appears that the actions of our Executive branch walk right up to the line of what the Constitution considers treason, and perhaps crosses it.

Chairman Issa, Senator Grassley, and others have trod very deliberately and carefully since the very beginning of Operation Fast and Furious, always very measured with their words and careful in their allegations. Now that we know some of what they know, it is all too apparent why they have proceeded with such caution.

They have before them evidence that a substantial portion of one branch of federal government, led by high-ranking political appointees and elected officials, has apparently broken the most sacred trust, shattered their oaths, caused the deaths of hundreds and committed an act of war in an attempt to undermine our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

This is the largest scandal in American political history, which may eventually lead to the President and his closest advisors facing federal charges in two nations relating to terrorism, multiple murders, arms trafficking, and treason.

I lack the vocabulary to properly relate my astonishment and anger at the betrayal of this nation by the majority of “professional” media that would let the greatest crime in our nation’s history go unreported, or in the case of the Washington Post and New York Times, attempt to slander and libel those who would bring justice to a criminal regime.

We are rapidly approaching a juncture in history where we will either see justice served in a court of law, or tyranny run through the barrel of the gun. The Obama Administration has firmly indicated their favor for the latter.

Let us hope that the Courts and Congress can counteract that criminal tendency, so that we are not forced to water the tree of liberty ourselves.
215  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / More Rain on the Carbon Trading Parade on: November 03, 2011, 08:03:14 AM
This tinkles on a climate narrative or two:

Who are the world’s worst “polluters”? According to a new high-spectral-resolution Japanese satellite — it’s developing countries.

Who knew detailed spectroscopic data on Earth’s atmosphere was available to figure out where the CO2 and other greenhouse gases are being produced and absorbed?

In January 2009, a Japanese group launched a satellite “IBUKI” to monitor CO2 and methane spectral bands around the world to establish exactly where the world’s biggest sources and sinks of greenhouse gases were. With climate change being the perilous threat to millions, this data would seem so essential you might wonder why didn’t someone do it before. As it happens, NASA tried — it launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory in Feb 2009, which was designed to do exactly the same thing, but it crashed on launch. Oddly, NASA don’t seem to be prioritizing the deadly climate threat, as it will take NASA four years to figure out why the Taurus XL rocket failed and relaunch it.

The results from from Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)  show that Industrialized nations appear to be absorbing the carbon dioxide emissions from the Third World. (Can we get carbon credits for that?) The satellite shows that levels of CO2 are typically lower in developed countries than in air over developing countries.

If the evil modern polluters were producing more CO2 (and it mattered to the global flux), then we’d see higher levels of CO2 (more red dots) over the first world. Right? But CO2 levels are lower than average (see the blue dots). The highest emissions, at least on this graph are predominantly in China, and central Africa.)

Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US midwest earn Gold Star environment awards for their low carbon dioxide levels.

Likewise, the methane picture is remarkably similar.

Cheifio sums up the Japanese results: “For now, I think it’s pretty clear that the “CO2 From the Evil Western Polluters” meme has a serious hole in it… “

Chiefio (E.M Smith) goes on to say:

This isn’t that much of a surprise to me. I’d figured out some time ago that trees and bamboo could consume far more CO2 than I “produce” via burning oil and gas. I’ve also pointed out that The West is largely letting trees grow, while mowing our lawns and having the clippings “sequestered” in land fills (along with an untold tonnage of phone books and junk mail…) while the 3rd world is busy burning and cutting down their forests. The simple fact is that “jungle rot” will beat out my “gallon a day” of Diesel any time. Basically, we in the west grow far more wheat, corn, soybeans, wood, lawns, shrubs, etc. than we burn oil. In the 3rd world, they burn their sequestering plants. (And it takes one heck of a lot more wood to cook a meal than it does coal via a highly efficient furnace / electric generator / microwave oven.) But it’s nice to see it documented in aggregate in the “facts in the air”.

You can see in the graph on the right (click if you want to look up close) that the Japanese satellites have got a seriously high quality spectroscope to figure out the levels of greenhouse gases.

These are the kind of results they are getting, the spectral bands over the south pacific in March 2009. Click to enlarge. Gawk at the detail. They are serious graphs. Source

Chiefio has also posted a truly beautiful animated graphic. Watch as those Siberian forests, suck up CO2 in summer as they grow, thus reducing the levels to 360 ppm in  August 2009 (but curiously not as much in August 2010).

Man-made emissions are only 4% of the total
Since 96% of all CO2 emissions are natural, those sinks and sources will make or break any theory based on whether man-made emissions are problematic.

This topic fits in with Murry Salby’s work — could it be that changes in the natural sources of CO2  drive the global level, rather than our emissions?
216  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: November 02, 2011, 05:15:53 PM
A part of the indictment of the geriatric gang. You do have to be a special kind of stupid to launch these sorts of conspiracies, particularly with what appears to be a fifth person in the room recording you, but I'm getting kinda tired of these half-fannyed "right wing" fruit loops being rolled out for the cameras. Aren't there any left wing folks running their mouths about violent stuff?


5. On March 17, 2011 the government's confidential human source (CHS1) consensually recorded a clandestine meeting involving members of a fringe group of a known militia organizationl with the fringe group calling itself the "covert group." The meeting occurred at the residence of Frederick W. Thomas (THOMAS) located at 2265 Dean Mountain Road, Cleveland, Georgia, 30528 1 and attendees at the meeting included THOMAS, Emory Dan Roberts (ROBERTS), and others. At the outset of this meeting, the attendees began discussing and then displaying various weapons each one was carrying on his person. THOMAS mentioned to the group that he had enough weapons to arm everyone at the table. ROBERTS and CHSl either did not have weapons, or did not make them visible.

6. THOMAS became the primary speaker for the meeting and began discussing overt and covert operations for the group. He mentioned a fictional novel he had read on-line in which an antigovernment group killed a large number of federal Department of Justice attorneys, and then he stated, "Now of course, that's just fiction, but that's a damn good idea. 1I THOMAS described a scenario in which he felt would be the "line in the sand" that would result in the activation of militias. THOMAS believed that soon, during a protest action, a protestor would be shot. It is his opinion the militias would act and respond by openly attacking the police. He then openly discussed having compiled what he called the "Bucket List" which is a list of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he feels needed to be "taken out" to "make the country right again." THOMAS told the group he sent the list to a web blog.

7. During the meeting, THOMAS made the following statements:

a. "The right people have to be taken down, and taken down soon."
b. "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly highly illegal. Murder. That's fucking
illegal, but it's gotta be done."
c. "When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die."

8. When murder was mentioned, ROBERTS said he knew people in Habersham County [Georgia] who had a substance that could kill people with a very small amount. CHS1 suggested ROBERTS was talking about ricin, and someone else agreed, adding that ricin is made from castor beans. The conversation then went into a discussion about castor beans and possible ways to obtain them.

9. THOMAS spoke of the need for the group to acquire more weapons, ammo, food, and survival gear and then discussed the need for the group to establish a silent means of taking people out. THOMAS suggested silencers for handguns, stating, "In order to do what we want to do, take out the right people, we have to have some silent means of doing it. That means suppressors on handguns."

10. THOMAS stated they needed to find a machinist with the ability to manufacture silencers and not register them with the ATF. THOMAS said this was necessary to prevent them from being traced back to an owner if they were lost. THOMAS also mentioned a gun store near the Georgia/South carolina border that manufactures silencers and he commented that they should consider "hitting the truck," meaning they should steal the silencers from the trucks.

11. On April 3, 2011, CHSI consensually recorded a meeting with THOMAS and ROBERTS at a restaurant in northeast Georgia. The attendees talked about acquiring ammunition and equipment, particularly silencers for firearms. THOMAS suggested that they buy, steal, make, or attack a manufacturer's truck in order to obtain the silencers. THOMAS also talked again about his "Bucket List" of people he thought should be killed. During the meeting, THOMAS stated that he thought they could "fight off a SWAT team." He also stated, "I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again."

12. On April 16, 2011, CHSI consensually recorded another meeting of the "covert group, /I again at the residence of THOMAS located at 2265 Dean Mountain Road, Cleveland, Georgia, 30528. Attendees included CHSl, THOMAS, ROBERTS and others. During the meeting THOMAS discussed the need for the group to start moving forward with taking action in some of their previously discussed plans, including a number of assassinations on various government officials.

13. THOMAS also explained to the others present that he intended to model their actions on the plot of an online novel called Absolved. The plot of Absolved involves small groups of citizens attacking United States federal law enforcement
representatives and federal judges. THOMAS expressed his belief that they should conduct a number of assassinations on various government officials, and he particularly expressed a desire to kill Department of Justice (DOJ) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees.

14. During the meeting, THOMAS made the following statements:
a. "Civilian government operatives is who we're going to be shooting at: IRS, ATF, FBI, and the COpS."
b. "Who is the primary topics, targets? DOJ. Everybody in DOJ. That includes judges, ATF, IRS, and the hierarchy thereof."
c. "I could shoot ATF and IRS all day long. All the judges and the DOJ and the attorneys and prosecutors."

15. On April 29, 2011 and April 30, 2011, CHS1 consensually recorded conversations between, CHS1, THOMAS and ROBERTS while traveling to and from a meeting held in south Georgia on 04/30/2011. During a conversation on April 30, 2011, THOMAS mentioned that, while at the meeting, he spoke to a second confidential source (CHS2) about acquiring silencers. THOMAS reiterated the need for the group to obtain silencers to shoot people quietly. THOMAS suggested they obtain unregistered, .22 caliber long rifles, cut them down and thread them to accommodate a silencer. During the ride, THOMAS asked ROBERTS whether he (ROBERTS) thought they should try to grow their group larger, "or stick to what we are planning on, assassinating 4 or 5 guys and that's it?" ROBERTS replied, "I think probably we need both."

16. On May 17, 2011, CHS1 met with THOMAS and ROBERTS to further discuss the group's plans. (This meeting was not recorded. ) CHS1 reported that THOMAS indicated the group was ready to move forward with acquiring silencers. At some point in the conversation, explosives were mentioned and THOMAS became very excited and said the group really needed to get some explosives. THOMAS mentioned that he is very disgruntled with the IRS and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). THOMAS indicated that he was considering driving to the Atlanta area to survey/locate IRS and ATF buildings.
217  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Homeland Security and American Freedom on: November 02, 2011, 11:27:17 AM
I wonder if they conspired with the Huatree Militia.  rolleyes

So they got four geriatric gentlemen on conspiracy, what's the chance that one of them is an informer? Or was there some other intel gathered on their castor bean research?
218  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The 34 Percent Non-Solution on: November 02, 2011, 10:08:06 AM
GOP Wastes Obamacare Opportunity by Michael D. Tanner
from Cato Recent Op-eds
A new poll released last week shows that support for Obamacare has reached an all-time low. According to the poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has traditionally found more support for the health-care law than other groups, just 34 percent of Americans now support the law. In fact, barely half of Democrats support the signature achievement of a Democratic president.

It's not hard to see why. Among the revelations in recent weeks:

Insurance premiums are rising. President Obama once promised that the health-care bill would save each of us as much as $2,500 annually on our premiums. But a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows family premiums increasing by a whopping 9 percent this year, three times more than the previous year's increase. The average family policy now costs more than $15,000 per year. Not only has Obamacare failed to slow premium growth, but at least two percentage points of that increase is directly attributable to the health-care law's provisions.

Consumers have fewer choices. Obamacare is driving insurance companies out of the market, meaning there will be less competition and fewer choices. Just last month, two health-insurance companies announced that they were leaving Florida's individual-insurance market because of provisions in the law, most notably the medical-loss-ratio requirement that insurers must spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care or give customers rebates. And in Iowa, Des Moines–based American Enterprise Group announced last week that it will also pull out of the individual major-medical-insurance market, making it the 13th company to pull out of some portion of Iowa's health-insurance business since June 2010.

More debt, fewer taxpayers. A new study from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the subsidies in the bill will add $1.36 trillion to the national debt over the first seven years after the bill is fully implemented. And at a time when 47 percent of Americans already pay no income tax, the bill's tax credits will remove as many as 8.1 million more Americans from the tax rolls.

CLASS Act dies (sort of). And how can we forget that the administration itself had to announce it was pulling the plug on the CLASS Act, the bill's Ponzi-like long-term-care program? At the same time, however, the administration came out against any effort to actually repeal the program that they believe is actuarially unsound.

Yet Republicans have seemed strangely quiet about the issue of late. So much so, in fact, that the Washington Times was led to wonder if Republicans have "given up" on repeal. There certainly does not appear to be much evidence that Republicans are still making repeal a top priority. The House hasn't taken a vote on Obamacare since trying to change the bill's graduate-medical-education funding back in May. There isn't even an all-out effort to get behind a repeal of the CLASS Act, despite Democratic defections on the issue.

And the Republican presidential candidates have relatively little to say as well. This seems especially odd, given that any Republican not named Mitt Romney should be hammering on the issue almost daily. But lately there seems to be more attention paid to the nationality of Romney's gardener than to his continued defense of Romneycare.

As for Romney himself, if he hopes to persuade Republican voters that there is a difference between Obamacare and the Massachusetts health plan — and, more important, that he can be trusted to repeal Obamacare — he should be saying so very frequently and very loudly.

This is one of those times when good policy makes good politics. But Republicans seem content to blow this golden opportunity.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.
219  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trans-Atlantic Financial Crisis on: November 02, 2011, 09:55:00 AM
Why We Can't Escape the Eurocrisis by Gerald P. O'Driscoll Jr.
from Cato Recent Op-eds

When is a bailout not a bailout? When the bailor is short of funds. The recently announced debt plan in the European Union comes up short in almost all respects.

The debt crisis is not just an EU problem, but a trans-Atlantic financial crisis. The overwhelming debt problems on either side of the pond are interlinked through the banking system.

First to the EU. The underlying dilemma is that governments have promised their citizens more social programs than can be financed with the tax revenue generated by the private sector. High tax rates choke off the economic growth needed to finance the promises. Economic activity gets driven into the underground economy, where it often escapes taxation.

Nowhere is this truer than in Greece, which has a long history of sovereign defaults in the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a bloated public sector, and competitive private enterprise is hobbled by regulation and government barriers to entry. Successive Greek governments ran chronic budget deficits, and the Greek banks lent to the government. Banks in other EU countries, such as France, lent to the Greek banks.

In Greece and elsewhere in the EU, the banks support the government by purchasing its bonds, and the government guarantees the banks. It is a Ponzi scheme not even Bernie Madoff could have concocted. The banks can no longer afford to fund budget deficits, yet they cannot afford to see governments default. Governments cannot make good on their guarantees of the banks.

Details differ by country. In Ireland, problems began with an overheated property sector that brought down the banks. The economy went into depression, which threw the government's budget into deficit. Further aggravating the deficit was the government's decision to guarantee bank deposits, converting private, financial-sector debt into public-sector debt. The details differ from Greece, but the linkage between the government and the banks is the common factor.

France's growth is weak to nonexistent. Germany's economy has performed well since the recession, but concerns are growing regarding its banks' exposure to greater EU risk. And U.S. banks and financial institutions are exposed to EU banks through funding operations, issuance of credit default swaps and unknown exposure in derivatives markets.

The Federal Reserve has engaged in currency swaps with the European Central Bank to support the dollar needs of EU banks. The ECB deposits euros (or euro-denominated assets) with the Fed and receives dollars in return. It promises to repay dollars plus interest.

The Fed maintains they cannot lose money because the ECB promises to repay the swaps in dollars. And yet, with the world awash in greenbacks, it is unclear why the Fed and the ECB even needed to engage in these transactions—except that it suggests funding problems at some EU banks. And if neither EU banks nor the ECB can secure enough needed dollars in global markets, there is a serious counterparty risk to the Fed. The ECB can print euros but not dollars. Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, was correct to raise concerns about the Fed's policy last week. Losses on the Fed's balance sheet hit the U.S taxpayer, not EU citizens.

The sad fact is that there is not enough money in the EU to pay off the public debts incurred by the governments. Most countries have long since squeezed as much tax revenue from their citizens as they can. That is why they have toyed with a tax on financial transactions, the one remaining untaxed activity in all of Europe.

Greece is the first of other sovereign defaults to come. With last week's bailout, the EU leaders might have bought time, perhaps a year. But at some point, the ECB will cave and monetize the debt, leading to euro-zone inflation.

The debt calculus changed dramatically this week with the announcement of a Greek referendum on the bailout agreement next January. If voters reject the agreement, the ultimate outcome is unpredictable.

Americans must not be smug about the suffering of Europeans—our financial system is thoroughly integrated with theirs. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund will most likely be involved in the event of future bailouts and will likely need large funds from its members, which ultimately means the taxpayers.

And, of course, the U.S. has its own large and growing public debt burden. We have not gone as far down the road to entitlements, but we are catching up. If you want to know how the debt crisis will play out here, watch the downward spiral in the EU.

Meanwhile, expect more volatility in financial markets. U.S. traders in particular simply have not grasped the enormity of the EU debt crisis.

Gerald P. O'Driscoll, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is a former vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and later Citibank.
220  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Greeks to Bid the Euro Adieu? on: November 02, 2011, 08:18:01 AM
Greek referendum is coin-flip on euro exit
The Greek referendum call is, while it lasts, effectively a plebiscite on euro membership.

Papandreou announced on Monday that he would put a hard-fought rescue deal to a referendum
I say "while it lasts" because the opposition is mobilising a parliamentary manoeuvre to bring down the government, which may succeed - returning Europe to its status quo of containable trauma.

If Greeks reject the 50% controlled default on the debts they owe to the banking sector, then the arithmetic I revealed on Newsnight on the eve of the Euro summit comes into play - without a 50% haircut, and a further 130bn euro bailout, on top of 110bn, Greek debt spirals out of control and the country goes bust.

At this point, the value of the debt falls to maybe 10% of its face value and Greece has broken all the rules of euro membership.

The euro leaders will be faced with the option of a forced transfer of taxpayers' money to shore up the entire Greek economy with no surety, and no "local representatives" as currently planned. Or Greece leaves the euro.

Most political economists I speak to believe this has been the logic all along, and brave though it has been for Prime Minister George Papandreou to try and buy time to do a proper structural reform of Greece, the implosion of Spain and Italy has robbed him of that time.

Greeks - even those fiercely opposed to Pasok from the left and right - are resigned to the fact that the country faces years of painful restructuring. The real question at issue is a) under whose control and b) in whose interest?

It is for this reason that, while the Greek CP wants out of the euro, the growingly influential far left parliamentary group SYRIZA does not, and neither does the hard-right religious party LAOS. Everybody can see that an external devaluation will be chaotic, painful and cause its own kind of social unrest, just as the attempted internal devaluation is doing.

But events are moving fast. Even as the Greek centre-left toys with the concept of repudiating "odious" debt, as per Latin America in the 1990s, the debt is being concentrated into the hands of other sovereigns - the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), other governments…

The reason the markets are scared is not just because of the difference between 50% and 90% default, it is because in the old scenario (AKA the one we agreed on last Thursday morning!) this sovereign-held debt was out of the reckoning. An "Oxi" vote (it means "No" and was scrawled on thousands of banners hung from balconies last Thursday) would signal default across the whole range of debt, causing new turmoil for European states.

What caused Mr Papandreou's sudden move? Even some of the MPs closest to him had no idea it was going to happen.

Many of my Twitter correspondents suggest it was the vehemence of "Oxi Day" last week, leading to clashes between parading soldiers and protesters and local Pasok politicians getting hounded off the parades.

Pasok remains a very well rooted social democratic party, with multi-generational networks inside every village. If the village guys start ringing up and saying - there is no way we can hold it - Mr Papandreou is politician enough to hear this.

Another potential reason is capital flight. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Greek elite are buying up property in London just as fast as they can find berths in Poole for their yachts. They are voting with their spinnakers, on the basis that the game is up. In any future Greece on offer, they will have to start paying taxes and they do not want to.

One banker told me the Greek super-rich have mostly left.

The one thing governments have that investment banks do not is intelligence services with the power to wiretap people. If you ever wonder why serving politicians go grey so quickly, it is in part because they see the intelligence. So Mr Papandreou may have looked at the file and said, I can't sell this to my party, nor to my voters, and the business elite are emigrating en masse, so throw the dice.

Referendums are, always, basically a coin-toss, an all-chips on the black romantic gesture. Right now, the scale of EU-level mobilisiation to dissuade Mr Papandreou is huge.

But if Greece votes no - and goes for euro-exit - there are several plans in the process of being published that explain what you have to do. Close the banks for days, ration food and energy, institute strict capital controls - with most probably a few fast patrol boats at Glyfada harbour to check every departing yacht for cash and bonds.

Later, you get massive devaluation, with inflation; your non-sovereign debts become instantly doubled so you cannot pay them (i.e., the stock of Greek private debt to external lenders, for example, or, intra-corporate debts).

Finally, you get the chance to become competitive again. (I base this on SOAS professor Costas Lapavitsas' upcoming document, which he has verbally outlined to me).

However, despite this very, very unappealing prospect, you are at least in control of your own economy and you do not have foreign civil servants dictating what ministers can do.

One reason so many Greeks have told me this route is impossible is because there is no Kirchner - no left-leaning autarchic politician who can pose as the tribune of the nation and create a narrative around the default process, as Nestor Kirchner did in Argentina. Nobody on the right wants to do it either. And that is Mr Papandreou's gamble - that nobody outside the KKE will present a coherent alternative to a yes vote, and that the KKE does not want power.

That is how it looks from the balcony of a small hotel in Cannes this morning. When the politicians get here, I will let you know what the whites of their eyes are telling me.
221  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Scientific Heresy on: November 01, 2011, 08:26:09 PM
A self confessed "luke warmer" frames what is wrong with climate apocalypse orthodoxy:

I'm grateful to Matt Ridley for allowing me to post the text of his Angus Millar lecture at the RSA in Edinburgh.

It is a great honour to be asked to deliver the Angus Millar lecture.

I have no idea whether Angus Millar ever saw himself as a heretic, but I have a soft spot for heresy. One of my ancestral relations, Nicholas Ridley* the Oxford martyr, was burned at the stake for heresy.

My topic today is scientific heresy. When are scientific heretics right and when are they mad? How do you tell the difference between science and pseudoscience?

Let us run through some issues, starting with the easy ones.

Astronomy is a science; astrology is a pseudoscience.

Evolution is science; creationism is pseudoscience.

Molecular biology is science; homeopathy is pseudoscience.

Vaccination is science; the MMR scare is pseudoscience.

Oxygen is science; phlogiston was pseudoscience.

Chemistry is science; alchemy was pseudoscience.

Are you with me so far?

A few more examples. That the earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare is pseudoscience. So are the beliefs that Elvis is still alive, Diana was killed by MI5, JFK was killed by the CIA, 911 was an inside job. So are ghosts, UFOs, telepathy, the Loch Ness monster and pretty well everything to do with the paranormal. Sorry to say that on Halloween, but that’s my opinion.

Three more controversial ones. In my view, most of what Freud said was pseudoscience.

So is quite a lot, though not all, of the argument for organic farming.

So, in a sense by definition, is religious faith. It explicitly claims that there are truths that can be found by other means than observation and experiment.

Now comes one that gave me an epiphany. Crop circles*.

It was blindingly obvious to me that crop circles were likely to be man-made when I first starting investigating this phenomenon. I made some myself to prove it was easy to do*.

This was long before Doug Bower and Dave Chorley fessed up to having started the whole craze after a night at the pub.

Every other explanation – ley lines, alien spacecraft, plasma vortices, ball lightning – was balderdash. The entire field of “cereology” was pseudoscience, as the slightest brush with its bizarre practitioners easily demonstrated.

Imagine my surprise then when I found I was the heretic and that serious journalists working not for tabloids but for Science Magazine, and for a Channel 4 documentary team, swallowed the argument of the cereologists that it was highly implausible that crop circles were all man-made.

So I learnt lesson number 1: the stunning gullibility of the media. Put an “ology” after your pseudoscience and you can get journalists to be your propagandists.

A Channel 4 team did the obvious thing – they got a group of students to make some crop circles and then asked the cereologist if they were “genuine” or “hoaxed” – ie, man made. He assured them they could not have been made by people. So they told him they had been made the night before. The man was poleaxed. It made great television. Yet the producer, who later became a government minister under Tony Blair, ended the segment of the programme by taking the cereologist’s side: “of course, not all crop circles are hoaxes”. What? The same happened when Doug and Dave owned up*; everybody just went on believing. They still do.

Lesson number 2: debunking is like water off a duck’s back to pseudoscience.

In medicine, I began to realize, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is not always easy.  This is beautifully illustrated in an extraordinary novel by Rebecca Abrams, called Touching Distance*, based on the real story of an eighteenth century medical heretic, Alec Gordon of Aberdeen.

Gordon was a true pioneer of the idea that childbed fever was spread by medical folk like himself and that hygiene was the solution to it. He hit upon this discovery long before Semelweiss and Lister. But he was ignored. Yet Abrams’s novel does not paint him purely as a rational hero, but as a flawed human being, a neglectful husband and a crank with some odd ideas – such as a dangerous obsession with bleeding his sick patients. He was a pseudoscientist one minute and scientist the next.

Lesson number 3. We can all be both. Newton was an alchemist.

Like antisepsis, many scientific truths began as heresies and fought long battles for acceptance against entrenched establishment wisdom that now appears irrational: continental drift, for example. Barry Marshall* was not just ignored but vilified when he first argued that stomach ulcers are caused by a particular bacterium. Antacid drugs were very profitable for the drug industry. Eventually he won the Nobel prize.

Just this month Daniel Shechtman* won the Nobel prize for quasi crystals, having spent much of his career being vilified and exiled as a crank. “I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying.”

That’s lesson number 4: the heretic is sometimes right.

What sustains pseudoscience is confirmation bias. We look for and welcome the evidence that fits our pet theory; we ignore or question the evidence that contradicts it. We all do this all the time. It’s not, as we often assume, something that only our opponents indulge in. I do it, you do it, it takes a superhuman effort not to do it. That is what keeps myths alive, sustains conspiracy theories and keeps whole populations in thrall to strange superstitions.

Bertrand Russell* pointed this out many years ago: “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”

Lesson no 5: keep a sharp eye out for confirmation bias in yourself and others.

There have been some very good books on this recently. Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain”, Dan Gardner’s “Future Babble” and Tim Harford’s “Adapt”* are explorations of the power of confirmation bias. And what I find most unsettling of all is Gardner’s conclusion that knowledge is no defence against it; indeed, the more you know, the more you fall for confirmation bias. Expertise gives you the tools to seek out the confirmations you need to buttress your beliefs.

Experts are worse at forecasting the future than non-experts.

Philip Tetlock did the definitive experiment. He gathered a sample of 284 experts – political scientists, economists and journalists – and harvested 27,450 different specific judgments from them about the future then waited to see if they came true. The results were terrible. The experts were no better than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.

Here’s what the Club of Rome said on the rear cover of the massive best-seller Limits to Growth in 1972*:

“Will this be the world that your grandchildren will thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts.”

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts", said Richard Feynman.

Lesson 6. Never rely on the consensus of experts about the future. Experts are worth listening to about the past, but not the future. Futurology is pseudoscience.

Using these six lessons, I am now going to plunge into an issue on which almost all the experts are not only confident they can predict the future, but absolutely certain their opponents are pseudoscientists. It is an issue on which I am now a heretic. I think the establishment view is infested with pseudoscience. The issue is climate change.

Now before you all rush for the exits, and I know it is traditional to walk out on speakers who do not toe the line on climate at the RSA – I saw it happen to Bjorn Lomborg last year when he gave the Prince Philip lecture – let me be quite clear. I am not a “denier”. I fully accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the climate has been warming and that man is very likely to be at least partly responsible. When a study was published recently saying that 98% of scientists “believe” in global warming, I looked at the questions they had been asked and realized I was in the 98%, too, by that definition, though I never use the word “believe” about myself. Likewise the recent study from Berkeley, which concluded that the land surface of the continents has indeed been warming at about the rate people thought, changed nothing.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that you can accept all the basic tenets of greenhouse physics and still conclude that the threat of a dangerously large warming is so improbable as to be negligible, while the threat of real harm from climate-mitigation policies is already so high as to be worrying, that the cure is proving far worse than the disease is ever likely to be. Or as I put it once, we may be putting a tourniquet round our necks to stop a nosebleed.

I also think the climate debate is a massive distraction from much more urgent environmental problems like invasive species and overfishing.

I was not always such a “lukewarmer”. In the mid 2000s one image in particular played a big role in making me abandon my doubts about dangerous man-made climate change: the hockey stick*. It clearly showed that something unprecedented was happening. I can remember where I first saw it at a conference and how I thought: aha, now there at last is some really clear data showing that today’s temperatures are unprecedented in both magnitude and rate of change – and it has been published in Nature magazine.

Yet it has been utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. I urge you to read Andrew Montford’s careful and highly readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion*. Here is not the place to go into detail, but briefly the problem is both mathematical and empirical. The graph relies heavily on some flawed data – strip-bark tree rings from bristlecone pines -- and on a particular method of principal component analysis, called short centering, that heavily weights any hockey-stick shaped sample at the expense of any other sample. When I say heavily – I mean 390 times.

This had a big impact on me. This was the moment somebody told me they had made the crop circle the night before.

For, apart from the hockey stick, there is no evidence that climate is changing dangerously or faster than in the past, when it changed naturally.

It was warmer in the Middle ages* and medieval climate change in Greenland was much faster.

Stalagmites*, tree lines and ice cores all confirm that it was significantly warmer 7000 years ago. Evidence from Greenland suggests that the Arctic ocean was probably ice free for part of the late summer at that time.

Sea level* is rising at the unthreatening rate about a foot per century and decelerating.

Greenland is losing ice at the rate of about 150 gigatonnes a year, which is 0.6% per century.

There has been no significant warming in Antarctica*, with the exception of the peninsula.

Methane* has largely stopped increasing.

Tropical storm* intensity and frequency have gone down, not up, in the last 20 years.

Your probability* of dying as a result of a drought, a flood or a storm is 98% lower globally than it was in the 1920s.

Malaria* has retreated not expanded as the world has warmed.

And so on. I’ve looked and looked but I cannot find one piece of data – as opposed to a model – that shows either unprecedented change or change is that is anywhere close to causing real harm.

No doubt, there will be plenty of people thinking “what about x?” Well, if you have an X that persuades you that rapid and dangerous climate change is on the way, tell me about it. When I asked a senior government scientist this question, he replied with the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. That is to say, a poorly understood hot episode, 55 million years ago, of uncertain duration, uncertain magnitude and uncertain cause.

Meanwhile, I see confirmation bias everywhere in the climate debate. Hurricane Katrina, Mount Kilimanjaro, the extinction of golden toads – all cited wrongly as evidence of climate change. A snowy December, the BBC lectures us, is “just weather”; a flood in Pakistan or a drought in Texas is “the sort of weather we can expect more of”. A theory so flexible it can rationalize any outcome is a pseudoscientific theory.

To see confirmation bias in action, you only have to read the climategate emails, documents that have undermined my faith in this country’s scientific institutions. It is bad enough that the emails unambiguously showed scientists plotting to cherry-pick data, subvert peer review, bully editors and evade freedom of information requests. What’s worse, to a science groupie like me, is that so much of the rest of the scientific community seemed OK with that. They essentially shrugged their shoulders and said, yeh, big deal, boys will be boys.

Nor is there even any theoretical support for a dangerous future. The central issue is “sensitivity”: the amount of warming that you can expect from a doubling of carbon dioxide levels. On this, there is something close to consensus – at first. It is 1.2 degrees centigrade. Here’s* how the IPCC put it in its latest report.

“In the idealised situation that the climate response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 consisted of a uniform temperature change only, with no feedbacks operating…the global warming from GCMs would be around 1.2°C.” Paragraph

Now the paragraph goes on to argue that large, net positive feedbacks, mostly from water vapour, are likely to amplify this. But whereas there is good consensus about the 1.2 C, there is absolutely no consensus about the net positive feedback, as the IPCC also admits. Water vapour forms clouds and whether clouds in practice amplify or dampen any greenhouse warming remains in doubt.

So to say there is a consensus about some global warming is true; to say there is a consensus about dangerous global warming is false.

The sensitivity of the climate could be a harmless 1.2C, half of which has already been experienced, or it could be less if feedbacks are negative or it could be more if feedbacks are positive. What does the empirical evidence say? Since 1960 we have had roughly one-third of a doubling, so we must have had almost half of the greenhouse warming expected from a doubling – that’s elementary arithmetic, given that the curve is agreed to be logarithmic. Yet if you believe the surface thermometers* (the red and green lines), we have had about 0.6C of warming in that time, at the rate of less than 0.13C per decade – somewhat less if you believe the satellite thermometers (the blue and purple lines).

So we are on track for 1.2C*.  We are on the blue line, not the red line*.

Remember Jim Hansen of NASA told us in 1988 to expect 2-4 degrees in 25 years. We are experiencing about one-tenth of that.

We are below even the zero-emission path expected by the IPCC in 1990*.

Ah, says the consensus, sulphur pollution has reduced the warming, delaying the impact, or the ocean has absorbed the extra heat. Neither of these post-hoc rationalisations fit the data: the southern hemisphere has warmed about half as fast as the northern* in the last 30 years, yet the majority of the sulphur emissions were in the northern hemisphere.

And ocean heat content has decelerated, if not flattened, in the past decade*.

By contrast, many heretical arguments seem to me to be paragons of science as it should be done: transparent, questioning and testable.

For instance, earlier this year, a tenacious British mathematician named Nic Lewis started looking into the question of sensitivity and found* that the only wholly empirical estimate of sensitivity cited by the IPCC had been put through an illegitimate statistical procedure which effectively fattened its tail on the upward end – it hugely increased the apparent probability of high warming at the expense of low warming.

When this is corrected, the theoretical probability of warming greater than 2.3C is very low indeed.

Like all the other errors in the IPCC report, including the infamous suggestion that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 rather than 2350, this mistake exaggerates the potential warming. It is beyond coincidence that all these errors should be in the same direction. The source for the Himalayan glacier mistake was a non-peer reviewed WWF report and it occurred in a chapter, two of whose coordinating lead authors and a review editor were on WWF’s climate witness scientific advisory panel. Remember too that the glacier error was pointed out by reviewers, who were ignored, and that Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, dismissed the objectors as practitioners of “voodoo science”.

Journalists are fond of saying that the IPCC report is based solely on the peer-reviewed literature. Rajendra Pachauri himself made that claim in 2008, saying*:

“we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry [the] credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don't settle for anything less than that.”

That’s a voodoo claim. The glacier claim was not peer reviewed; nor was the alteration to the sensitivity function Lewis spotted. The journalist Donna Laframboise got volunteers all over the world to help her count the times the IPCC used non-peer reviewed literature. Her conclusion is that*: “Of the 18,531 references in the 2007 Climate Bible we found 5,587 - a full 30% - to be non peer-reviewed.”

Yet even to say things like this is to commit heresy. To stand up and say, within a university or within the BBC, that you do not think global warming is dangerous gets you the sort of reaction that standing up in the Vatican and saying you don’t think God is good would get. Believe me, I have tried it.

Does it matter? Suppose I am right that much of what passes for mainstream climate science is now infested with pseudoscience, buttressed by a bad case of confirmation bias, reliant on wishful thinking, given a free pass by biased reporting and dogmatically intolerant of dissent. So what?

After all there’s pseudoscience and confirmation bias among the climate heretics too.

Well here’s why it matters. The alarmists have been handed power over our lives; the heretics have not. Remember Britain’s unilateral climate act is officially expected to cost the hard-pressed UK economy £18.3 billion a year for the next 39 years and achieve an unmeasurably small change in carbon dioxide levels.

At least* sceptics do not cover the hills of Scotland with useless, expensive, duke-subsidising wind turbines whose manufacture causes pollution in Inner Mongolia and which kill rare raptors such as this griffon vulture.

At least crop circle believers cannot almost double your electricity bills and increase fuel poverty while driving jobs to Asia, to support their fetish.

At least creationists have not persuaded the BBC that balanced reporting is no longer necessary.

At least homeopaths have not made expensive condensing boilers, which shut down in cold weather, compulsory, as John Prescott did in 2005.

At least astrologers have not driven millions of people into real hunger, perhaps killing 192,000 last year according to one conservative estimate, by diverting 5% of the world’s grain crop into motor fuel*.

That’s why it matters. We’ve been asked to take some very painful cures. So we need to be sure the patient has a brain tumour rather than a nosebleed.

Handing the reins of power to pseudoscience has an unhappy history. Remember eugenics. Around 1910 the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals agreed that nationalizing reproductive decisions so as to stop poor, disabled and stupid people from having babies was not just a practical but a moral imperative of great urgency.

“There is now no reasonable excuse for refusing to face the fact,” said George Bernard Shaw*, “that nothing but a eugenics religion can save our civilization from the fate that has overtaken all previous civilizations.’’ By the skin of its teeth, mainly because of a brave Liberal MP called Josiah Wedgwood, Britain never handed legal power to the eugenics movement. Germany did.

Or remember Trofim Lysenko*, a pseudoscientific crank with a strange idea that crops could be trained to do what you wanted and that Mendelian genetics was bunk. His ideas became the official scientific religion of the Soviet Union and killed millions; his critics, such as the geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, ended up dead in prison.

Am I going too far in making these comparisons? I don’t think so. James Hansen of NASA says oil firm executives should be tried for crimes against humanity.  (Remember this is the man who is in charge of one of the supposedly impartial data sets about global temperatures.) John Beddington, Britain's chief scientific adviser, said this year that just as we are "grossly intolerant of racism", so we should also be "grossly intolerant of pseudoscience", in which he included all forms of climate-change scepticism.

The irony of course is that much of the green movement began as heretical dissent. Greenpeace went from demanding that the orthodox view of genetically modified crops be challenged, and that the Royal Society was not to be trusted, to demanding that heresy on climate change be ignored and the Royal Society could not be wrong.

Talking of Greenpeace, did you know that the collective annual budget of Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth was more than a billion dollars globally last year? People sometimes ask me what’s the incentive for scientists to exaggerate climate change. But look at the sums of money available to those who do so, from the pressure groups, from governments and from big companies. It was not the sceptics who hired an ex News of the World deputy editor as a spin doctor after climategate, it was the University of East Anglia.

By contrast scientists and most mainstream journalists risk their careers if they take a skeptical line, so dogmatic is the consensus view. It is left to the blogosphere to keep the flame of heresy alive and do the investigative reporting the media has forgotten how to do. In America*, Anthony Watts who crowd-sourced the errors in the siting of thermometers and runs;

In Canada*, Steve McIntyre, the mathematician who bit by bit exposed the shocking story of the hockey stick and runs

Here in Britain,* Andrew Montford, who dissected the shenanigans behind the climategate whitewash enquiries and runs

In Australia*, Joanne Nova, the former television science presenter who has pieced together the enormous sums of money that go to support vested interests in alarm, and runs

The remarkable thing about the heretics I have mentioned is that every single one is doing this in his or her spare time. They work for themselves, they earn a pittance from this work. There is no great fossil-fuel slush fund for sceptics.

In conclusion, I’ve spent a lot of time on climate, but it could have been dietary fat, or nature and nurture. My argument is that like religion, science as an institution is and always has been plagued by the temptations of confirmation bias. With alarming ease it morphs into pseudoscience even – perhaps especially – in the hands of elite experts and especially when predicting the future and when there’s lavish funding at stake. It needs heretics.

Thank you very much for listening.
222  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant on: November 01, 2011, 08:22:42 PM
I'm back, sorta.

I've started a Masters program that is the focus of most my thoughtful keyboard time these days, while at the same time doing a lot more shooting instruction and range safety work. As such I don't have a lot of time left over for internet meanderings, particularly ones that devolve into circular discussions. Don't be surprised, therefor, if "I don't have time to do another lap around this track" becomes a common refrain where I'm concerned.
223  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Commensurate Scruples on Parade on: June 24, 2011, 12:54:11 PM

Dont dish it out if you can't deal with it.

Post whatever you want, but be prepared to have it criticized. Mass transit has and will continue to be a target for terrorists. It's reasonable to take steps to prevent that from happening rather than just sweep up the body parts and hope the terrorists get tired of mass slaughter.

Cogent criticism I have no qualm with. Circular criticism full of smoking holes in the landscape justifying myriad governmental transgressions are more often than not non-responsive hyperbole.

As far as VIPR, there are Federal Air Marshals and others with law enforcement status doing the actual law enforcement, not just TSA screeners who are not LEOs.

Non-responsive yet again. The feds are cordoning off areas where armed citizens are sure to be. My experience and that of many others is that LEOs don't have particularly high regard for armed citizens, see them as a potential threat, and hence tend to take things in a cuff 'em up and kneel on their head direction. Let me know if you need me to partake of your habit of citing case after case of this sort of behavior since cutting, pasting, asking stark questions and posting snide comments seem to be your preferred method of tangling.

Spied on? Nice inflammatory language but not exactly accurate. Where exactly is there a constitutional protection of counterfeiting?

I know you are not so dense as to think I'm arguing for counterfeiting so who is it that is being inflammatory? I'm arguing against the ability of the government to associate every given piece of paper printed or photocopied to a particular machine at a particular time and hence to particular people. There have been a lot of times and places where mere possession of certain political printed matter was good for a trip to the gulag or gas chamber, free speech protections ought to extend to printed material one expects to keep anonymous, and it's not hard to imagine a chilling effect once the American populace as a whole understands that just about every sheet of paper can be traced back to them.

If a policy is so critical that it must be so widely applied than there ought to be an argument made for it to the electorate. And if it is suspected that said electorate wouldn't sit still for this sort of snooping perhaps that ought to inform the thinking of those who scurry about launching these silent, complex schemes.

Did you know your phone has something called a "phone number"? It's a number that starts with an "area code" that gives an approximate geographic area of where you live. Even worse, there are things called "phone books" that list names and the actual phone number assigned by the phone company, sometimes even with an actual street address as well!

Did you know that there are private companies that actually print up these "phone books" and give them away? Even worse, they give them to law enforcement agencies!!!!

Oh when will the spying end? This used to be a free country before phones!

Hey GM:

Did you know there are these things called principles upon which this nation is founded? Perhaps you should review the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, found here:

For each of the "long train of abuses and usurptations" there is a modern day American analogue, and for each there was no doubt a snotty 1770s Crown official who could condescendingly explain why all those concerns should be dismissed. Well fornicate that; me and mine have an inalienable right to go about our business without the proboscis of Big Government being inserted in our collective affairs and if that means some Fed actually has to work for a living rather than running a search through all the data they should not be collecting, well boo-hoo.

Indeed, let me dispose of another argument you all too often use to excuse all sorts of intrusions. I loathe golf. My first cooking gig was at a public golf course where I discovered quite quickly that the game attracts a lot of unpleasant human beings. As such I know little about the game, and have no desire to learn more. However, should I be flipping through the channels and happen to see Tiger Woods slicing a shot into the rough I'm allowed to say "Whoa, he sure shanked that one."

Should I post that comment to a blog somewhere I'm relatively confident a bunch of golf pros won't show up and argue I can't say "Tiger Woods shanked a shot," unless I'm able tell Tiger how to improve his game. I don't know if he should keep his elbow flexed or bent, his head up or down, his hips square or canted, and so on, but I can tell when a shot is shanked and can't think of a reason I shouldn't say so.

Well the TSA regularly shanks shots. Feeling up little girls in a manner that would be defined as sexual assault in any other context is a shanked shot. Taking a plastic hammer from and autistic person is a shanked shot. Not allowing a father to assist his son as the son removes a cast is a shanked shot. And so on. This principle extends to MD mayors who mistakenly endure SWAT raids where their dogs get shot, to federal habits of vacuuming up all manner of commo that they then store and cross reference in a manner utterly devoid of oversight, to VIPR round ups, et al. All those activities are in fundamental conflict with the founding principles of this nation and thus ought not to occur and I don't have to come up with a better plan before saying so.

And you know what, if an LEO is so inept and unable to investigate or prevent a crime without tinkling all over the founding principles of this nation he or she ought to have his or her fanny fired. And if law enforcement agencies make similar arguments they ought to be disbanded for trying to kill the very thing they are sworn to protect and serve. Devolve those duties to the 50 states, let those laboratories of democracy find out what works, and then export those best practices to other agencies. And I, as a citizen, don't have to come up with any plan better than that before I can say this or that law enforcement agency shanked the bejesus out of a shot.

Maybe that makes this constitutional environment to hostile for some LEOs to do there job. Fortunately there are other opportunities in other environs where those pesky constitutional protections don't apply. For instance, I understand Gaddafi is hiring so all ought to have employment opportunities commensurate with their scruples.
224  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Okay as Long as the Deaths were South of the Border on: June 24, 2011, 11:25:05 AM
A Functional Definition of "Racism"

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.

-- U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
February 18, 2009

CBS is reporting another death directly attributed to "Fast & Furious" guns, this one the brother of a Mexican state Attorney General, who was tortured and killed by cartel terrorists.

The majority view of ATF's "Fast & Furious" -- jolly pirate names for the jolly pirate club -- is now that it was a purely political operation, part of President Barack Obama's "under the radar" gun control effort. As I have said from the beginning of this fiasco, "Fast & Furious" makes no sense any other way. It was not a law enforcement operation, as made clear in testimony before Congress, because the ostensible law enforcement goals, "rolling up" the entire cartel gun smuggling operation or getting warrants against the mass murderers who head the Mexican cartels, was nonsensical even to the brave agents who have stepped forward to testify.

Those hero agents who stepped forward told their bosses the same thing they told s -- that people were going to die as a direct result of "Fast & Furious."

Apparently, the brass at the ATF and their handlers at the Department of Justice, including Attorney General Eric Holder, were okay with that, as long as it was Mexican nationals doing the dying. Let's be clear about this...all the people involved in "Fast & Furious" knew people were going to die. Their own experienced agents told them so. The cartels have routinely slaughtered family members of people opposed to them, and the concept of "innocent bystander" simply doesn't exist south of the U.S. border.Providing the cartel with a new, easy source of guns was guaranteed to have lethal results.

But wouldn't that just play into the meme? ATF leaders were happy, even described as "giddy," when "Fast & Furious" guns began turning up at Mexican crime scenes.

225  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Even Lapdogs See what's Coming on: June 24, 2011, 09:10:41 AM
CBO’s Long-Term Budget Outlook

Posted by Tad DeHaven

The Congressional Budget Office released the latest edition of its annual forecast of where the federal government’s budget is headed. The numbers are new but the message is the same: the budget is on an unsustainable path. According to the CBO’s more politically-realistic “alternative scenario,” federal debt as a share of GDP will hit 109 percent in 2021 and would approach 190 percent in 2035.

For those mistaken souls who believe that merely eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government programs can solve the problem, the CBO has news for you:

In the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) long-term projections of spending, growth in noninterest spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) is attributable entirely to increases in spending on several large mandatory programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and (to a lesser extent) insurance subsidies that will be provided through the health insurance exchanges established by the March 2010 health care legislation. The health care programs are the main drivers of that growth; they are responsible for 80 percent of the total projected rise in spending on those mandatory programs over the next 25 years.

Others believe that “tax cuts for the rich” are the source of the problem. But according to the CBO’s alternative scenario, if the Bush tax cuts are extended and the Alternative Minimum Tax continues to be patched, federal revenues as a share of GDP will still exceed the post-war average by the decade’s end. Under the CBO’s standard baseline, which assumes that those policies will not be continued, federal revenues as a share of GDP will go zooming by the historic average. That might be good for politicians, bureaucrats, and other “tax eaters,” but it wouldn’t be good for the country’s economic welfare.

The problem is clearly spending and the GOP has rightly made spending cuts a key condition to lifting the debt ceiling. The magic number being reported is $2 trillion in cuts. That sounds like a lot of money – and it is – but it’s likely that those cuts are to be achieved over 10 years. According to the CBO’s most recent estimates, the federal government will spend almost $46 trillion over the next 10 years. And as Chris Edwards has been repeatedly warning (see here, here, and here), there’s a possibility that the cuts will be of the “phony” variety.
226  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Press "Print" and Self-Incriminate on: June 24, 2011, 08:57:57 AM
It's just so tragic that counterfeiters face this horrific oppression.

And that all Americans can be spied on by their government without their knowledge and contrary to my understanding of constitutional protections.
227  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Show Us Your Papers on: June 24, 2011, 08:53:54 AM
Thus far, the courts have upheld administrative searches as part of screening passangers in mass transit, so this isn't just "rounding up citizens".

A finding which I think is fundamentally unAmerican and do not support, hence my posts. Or does disagreeing with any finding any court has ever made preclude us from posting?

I'm not sure what this has to do with VIPR teams. So, having officers without advanced tactical training serving search warrants is better?

My original point regarded the roving TSA checkpoints, with the piece in question citing one such cordoning effort occurring in Florida. You can't imagine an encounter with an armed citizens occurring in FL? You think TSA agents are qualified to navigate that sort of scenario? If so, you have a far higher regard for their training and leadership than I do.

228  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Press "Print" and Self-Incriminate on: June 24, 2011, 08:43:01 AM
Why you can't print counterfeit money on a color laser printer
by Melissa Riofrio, PCWorld   Jun 24, 2011 9:00 am

Could you print counterfeit money, certificates, or other official documents on a color laser or LED printer? Some current printer models are indeed capable of creating reasonable facsimiles. The authorities, however, have already taken steps to thwart such activity.

Print any nontext image on your printer, and take a very close look at it under bright light: You might just be able to make out a subtle pattern of yellow dots covering the page. Those dots are a microscopic code that allows government agencies to trace the page back to the printer that created it—making the person who pressed the Print button pretty easy to find.

How is the code printed, and what data does it contain? That's secret, of course—printer vendors remain tight-lipped about the details. In 2005, the Electronic Frontier Foundation cracked the anticounterfeiting code on a Xerox color laser printer; the documents the EFF examined were date- and time-stamped, and could be traced to the location of the printer. Digging further in 2008, the EFF used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain hundreds of pages of documents on the use of printer-tracing technology from the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. According to EFF staff technologist Seth Schoen, "the strategy of the government agencies that have worked on this technology—both U.S. and foreign governments--is mainly to keep as quiet as possible and hope that as little information as possible gets out."

As color laser printers become affordable enough for small or home offices, this tracing technology is coming closer to where we all live. "We were able to buy a low-end Dell color laser that was targeted to home users for just a few hundred dollars," Schoen notes, "and it included tracking dots. It seems like they're a part of the printers that more and more people use every day."

Consumers who discover the dots are understandably surprised. Brahm's Yellow Dots, a blog dating from 2008, chronicles the efforts of Brahm Neufeld, a student at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, to communicate with his printer's vendor, Lexmark, after a friend told him about the yellow dots. To Lexmark's credit, the company eventually acknowledged what was going on and even offered to refund Neufeld for his printer. Neufeld, now an electrical engineer, remains concerned about the technology and the extreme discretion that printer vendors are exercising around it. "My motivation was always to document my experience—as a consumer--trying to get printer companies to fess up to this somewhat-shady practice."

What does all of this mean for you and your beloved color laser or LED printer? Unfortunately, you can do nothing about it, even though it means that almost anything you print on a compliant laser printer could, theoretically, be traced back to you. Consider, too, that when PCWorld reported on the yellow-dot controversy in 2004, the technology was already about 20 years old. "There's almost certainly a new-generation tracking technology that does not use yellow dots," warns Schoen. As if we needed more reasons to be paranoid.
229  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 22, 2011, 10:56:09 AM
You know, once upon a time, you could fly with a nuclear device or radiological materials and not get hassled by the MAN! First they came for the nukes......

Uhm, nowhere in that piece did the feds cordon off an area, subject all within it to ID checks and then feel up citizens going about their business so your point is?
230  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 22, 2011, 10:53:34 AM
Oh my god! The feds are looking for illegal aliens and threats to national security! Cue the hysterical sobbing from Libertarians.

. . . by cordoning off and then rounding up all citizens in an area and then patting them down and doing ID checks despite the fact the only thing resembling probable cause is that said people were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a CCW holder who doesn't have a high regard for the skills most LEOs bring to encounters with legally armed citizens I suspect it's just a matter of time before SWAT wannabe "operators" shoot an otherwise innocent taxpayer who had the misfortune to look like a threat when the "team" crashed through the often times wrong door.
231  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Marsupial "Justice" on: June 22, 2011, 10:46:47 AM
Feds crack down on campus flirting and sex jokes

By: Michael Barone | Senior Political Analyst Follow Him @MichaelBarone | 06/21/11 8:05 PM

When I was growing up it was widely believed that colleges and universities were the part of our society with the widest scope for free expression and free speech. In the conformist America of the 1950s, the thinking ran, few people dared to say anything that went beyond a broad consensus. But on campus anyone could say anything he liked.
Today we live in an America with enormous cultural variety in which very few things are considered universally verboten. But on campus it's different. There saying something considerably milder than some of the double entrendres you heard in cable news coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal can get you into big trouble.

These reflections are inspired by a seemingly innocuous 19-page letter on April 4 from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to colleges and universities. The letter was given prominence by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has done yeoman work opposing restrictive speech codes issued by colleges and universities.

OCR's letter carries great weight since there are few things a university president fears more than an OCR investigation, which can lead to loss of federal funds -- which amount to billions of dollars in some cases.

The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof for deciding cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.

That's far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes involve charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).

All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?

Given the prevailing attitudes among faculty and university administrators, it's not hard to guess who will be the target of most such proceedings. You only have to remember how rapidly and readily top administrators and dozens of faculty members were ready to castigate as guilty of rape the Duke lacrosse players who, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded, were absolutely innocent.

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude. "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen would approve.

As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other options. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.

Lukianoff and FIRE have an admirable record of defending students' and faculty members' free speech regardless of their point of view, but anyone familiar with their work knows that the most frequent targets of campus disciplinary groups are male, conservative, religious or some combination thereof.

I wonder whether there is some connection between this and the dwindling percentage of men who enroll in and graduate from college. Are we allowing -- and encouraging -- our university administrators to create an atmosphere so unwelcoming and hostile to males that we are missing out on the contributions they could make with a college or graduate degree?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has shown an admirable openness to argument and intellectual debate. Perhaps someone will ask him whether he wants his department to be encouraging kangaroo courts and marsupial justice on campuses across the country.

Michael Barone, The Examiner's senior political analyst, can be contacted at His column appears Wednesday and Sunday, and his stories and blog posts appear on
232  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Double Dipping Double Dealing on: June 22, 2011, 10:05:45 AM
A lot of doomsaying scientists have outside sources of income directly related to their doomsaying pulpit, which is often times a job paid for by taxpayers. "Deniers" are often subjected to all sorts of specious attacks due to their tangential associations, now it appears the panic mongers are contending with investigations of their direct conflicts of interest and double dipping:

NASA’s Hansen asked to account for outside activities
Posted on June 21, 2011 by Anthony Watts
Gavin Schmidt’s time spent on editing during working hours apparently was the trigger for a broader investigation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Contacts: Christopher Horner,  Paul Chesser,

ATI Law Center Asks Court to Force NASA to Produce Ethics-Related, Outside Employment Records of Dr. James Hansen

The American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center today filed a lawsuit in federal district court in the District of Columbia to force the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to release ethics records for taxpayer-funded global warming activist Dr. James Hansen, specifically records that pertain to his outside employment, revenue generation, and advocacy activities.

ATI seeks to learn whether NASA approved Hansen’s outside employment, which public financial disclosures and other documents reveal to have brought him at least $1.2 million in the past four years. This money comes on top of and, more troubling from an ethics and legal perspective, is all “related to” and sometimes even expressly for his taxpayer-funded employment, all of which outside employment commenced when Hansen stepped up his “global warming” activism from his perch at NASA.

On January 19, ATI filed a Freedom of Information Act request (PDF) with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which sought records detailing NASA’s and Hansen’s compliance with applicable federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations and with NASA Rules of Behavior. Thus far the agency has denied ATI’s request for Hansen’s Form 17-60 “Application for permission for outside employment and other activity”, and internal discussions about same.

Arguing that release would constitute a “clearly unwarranted violation of Hansen’s privacy rights” NASA claims that ATI’s pages of explanation failed to establish that the one-page applications — if they exist, which ATI has reason to doubt — would“contribute to the public’s understanding of the activities of the Government, or how it would shed light on NASA’s performance of its statutory duties.”

This despite that whether NASA complies with ethics laws is patently of public interest, and that Hansen’s position requires him to file vastly more detailed Public Financial Disclosure filings, or Form SF 278, which are made available to the public on request. Both are for the simple reason that a senior employee’s outside revenue-generating activities are inherently in the public’s interest according to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.

Dr. Hansen engages in high-profile public advocacy with regard to global warming and energy policy, directly trading on his platform as a NASA astronomer to gain interest and attention. This outside employment and other activities relating to his work have included consulting, highly compensated speeches, six-figure “prizes”, a commercial book, advising Al Gore on his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” and, lately, advising litigants on suing states and the federal government.

Since escalating the “provocative” (in Hansen’s word) nature of his advocacy in a 2006 “60 Minutes interview”, these outside activities have become extraordinarily lucrative — yielding on average more than a quarter of a million dollars per year in extra income between 2007 and 2010 from outside sources, all relating to the work he is paid by the taxpayer to perform for NASA.

ATI’s director of litigation Christopher Horner says, “Under federal statutes and NASA rules, employees may not privately benefit from public office; outside income must be disclosed, certain activities avoided, andpermission must be applied for before engaging in permissible outside employment or activities. ATI’s Request seeks official documents which — if they in fact exist — would inform the public about NASA’s and Hansen’s adherence to all such rules which compliance, given records already obtained and the public record, is in doubt.”

Dr. Hansen has admitted that lucrative offers of “prizes” and “awards” for his public service began flowing after that “60 Minutes” interview, in which he accused the Bush Administration of “censoring” his global warming views. Records show a sudden spike in highly compensated speeches on the subject of his work, as well.

NASA has already provided Form 17-60 documents for Dr. Hansen’s subordinate Gavin Schmidt to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Schmidt writes for and edits the climate alarmism blog, during normal business hours. That Hansen and NASA had not required Schmidt to file Form 17-60 seeking permission for these activities, until NASA was asked about this matter, triggered ATI’s inquiry into whether Hansen, too, was avoiding this requirement. Other records obtained by CEI and posted on ATI’s Web site indicate that Dr. Hansen has also used NASA staff for his own commercial activities.

The President and the Attorney General have made clear their commitment to transparency and a high standard of ethical behavior by government employees. NASA needs to clear the air by releasing the documents about Dr. Hansen and about whether he had permission to wear his government hat when engaging in a lucrative effort to sway government policy, said Dr. David Schnare, Director of the ATI Environmental Law Center.

See ATI Environmental Law Center’s Complaint and Prayer for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in federal court in its Freedom of Information Act case against NASA (PDF).
233  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Cast a Big Enough Net you Catch just about Everything on: June 22, 2011, 10:00:04 AM
2nd post:

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

The peril of vague criminal statutes

Harvey Silverglate from the July 2011 issue

The Soviet Union enacted an infamous law in 1922 that criminalized “hooliganism.” The crime was in the eye of the beholder, the beholder of consequence being the Soviet secret police. Because it was impossible for dissidents to know in advance whether they were violating this prohibition, they were always subject to arrest and imprisonment, all ostensibly according to law.

In the United States, we have legal safeguards against Soviet-style social controls, not least of which is the judicial branch’s ability to nullify laws so vague that they violate the right to due process. Yet far too many federal laws leave citizens unsure about the line between legal and illegal conduct, punishing incorrect guesses with imprisonment. The average working American adult, going about his or her normal life, commits several arguable federal felonies a day without even realizing it. Entire lives can change based on the attention of a creative federal prosecutor interpreting vague criminal laws.

Mail Fraud for Art Supplies

Consider the federal prohibition of “mail fraud,” which mainly describes the means of a crime (“through the mails”) rather than the substantive acts that violate the law (“a scheme or artifice to defraud”). In 2004, Steven Kurtz, an art professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, was indicted on mail fraud charges for what boiled down to a paperwork error. Federal agents, after learning that Kurtz was using bacteria in his artwork to critique genetic engineering, launched a full-scale bioterrorism investigation against him. Finding nothing pernicious about the harmless stomach flora, they resorted to a creative interpretation of the mail fraud statute. Because Kurtz had ordered the bacteria through a colleague at the University of Pittsburgh Human Genetics Laboratory, his “scheme” to “defraud” consisted of not properly indicating on the order form that the bacteria were meant for his own use.

Or consider the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 law whose prohibitions—accessing a computer “without authorization,” for example—have been stretched to cover a wide swath of activity never envisioned when the bill was passed. In 2008, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles won a conviction in an online harassment case based on the theory that violating a website’s “terms of service” is a crime under this law. Thankfully, the judge rejected this interpretation and threw out the jury’s conviction.

The most dangerously far-reaching statutes tend to result from knee-jerk congressional reactions to the threat du jour. Stopping bullies, for example, is all the rage in legislatures as well as classrooms, especially given all the new ways Americans can transmit unpleasant messages. In April 2009, Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) proposed the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, which would have made it a felony, punishable by up two to years in prison, to transmit by electronic means any message “with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.” Sánchez named the bill after a 13-year-old Missouri girl who took her own life in 2006 after being taunted by a middle-aged woman who had assumed the online identity of a teenage boy (which led to the aforementioned online harassment case). Testifying in favor of the bill at a September 2009 hearing, Judi Westberg Warren, president of Web Wise Kids, said “speech that involves harm to others is wrong.”

That may be so, but using the criminal law to punish upsetting messages is also wrong, as well as inconsistent with constitutional freedom of speech. At the same hearing, testifying on behalf of the Cato Institute, I pointed out that the bill’s open-ended language extended far beyond adolescent (or middle-aged) bullies. Reporters, lawyers, even members of Congress are tasked daily, by virtue of their jobs, with what the bill defined as “cyberbullying.” A scathing online exposé, a stern letter emailed to an adversary, or a legislator’s principled stand articulated on Facebook might well cause someone, somewhere, to experience emotional distress. Prosecutors easily could argue that such a foreseeable effect was intended. And what about the time-honored American art of parody? If this law were passed, would Stephen Colbert be pulled off the air?

Fortunately, these and other common-sense objections seemed to hit home; the bill never made it out of committee, and it died with the 111th Congress. But the setback hasn’t stopped anti-bullying advocates, who last year introduced the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act in response to yet another high-profile tragedy, the 2010 death of a Rutgers freshman who killed himself after his roommate secretly recorded his sexual encounter with another man. Although the bill, which was reintroduced this year, would not create any new criminal provisions, it would dramatically expand the civil concept of peer-on-peer “harassment” at colleges and universities that accept federal funds. The archives of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization that I co-founded and currently chair, provide ample evidence that the elastic concept of harassment on campus is already the most abused tool in suppressing campus speech and expression.

While Congress has not passed anti-bullying legislation yet, it did react to the financial collapse of 2008 with a complex law that transforms many non-fraudulent financial practices into felonies. The 848-page behemoth known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act introduced dozens of new federal offenses, many of which do not include the crucial requirement of criminal intent. For instance, the bill criminalizes any “trading, practice, or conduct” that disregards “the orderly execution of transactions during the closing period.” It also criminalizes the practice commonly known as “spoofing”—bidding or offering with the intent to cancel before execution. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission will have to define “orderly executions” and decide when a canceled bid or offer amounts to “spoofing.” In other words, dense, changeable rules issued by an unelected regulatory body will determine the difference between a legitimate trader and a felon.

Peaceniks for Terrorism

The federal ban on providing “material support” to a terrorist group, the statute that the federal government uses most frequently in prosecuting terrorism cases, provides another example of how difficult it can be to stay on the right side of the law. In 1998 the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), a human rights organization based in Los Angeles, asked a federal judge whether the material support ban, which was first enacted in 1996, applied to its planned nonviolent advocacy on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, which appears on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations.” The HLP wanted to train the group’s members on how to peacefully resolve disputes through international law, including methods to obtain relief from the United Nations.

Although the HLP’s plans were limited to offering advice and training aimed at avowedly peaceful ends, the answer to its legal question was by no means clear. Originally enacted as part of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which passed with broad bipartisan support following the Oklahoma City bombing, the material support statute has been amended several times, most notably by the 2001 PATRIOT Act, which added prohibitions on providing “training,” “expert advice or assistance,” and “personnel.” HLP President Ralph Fertig did not want to risk a prison sentence in finding out what the various provisions meant.

Fertig got his answer about a dozen years after initially seeking authoritative guidance, when the Supreme Court ruled that the material support law did indeed cover instruction in peaceful advocacy. In a 6-to-3 decision handed down in June 2010, the Court ruled in Holder v. HLP that the statute was not unconstitutionally vague and did not violate the right to freedom of speech or freedom of association. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that helping terrorist organizations to resolve disputes through international bodies or obtain humanitarian relief from the United Nations inevitably would free up resources for other, more nefarious ends. Hence a “person of ordinary intelligence would understand” that such conduct constitutes “material support.”

In a vivid illustration that the material support ban is not nearly as clear as Roberts claims, Georgetown law professor David Cole, who represented the HLP before the Supreme Court, pointed out in a January 2011 New York Times op-ed that several hawks in the War on Terror may have unwittingly violated the statute. By speaking at a December 2010 conference in Paris organized by supporters of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former National Security Adviser Frances Townsend, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani arguably coordinated their speech with a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore, by the Supreme Court’s logic, provided it with “material support.”

These examples show that vague laws threaten Americans from all walks of life and all points on the political spectrum. Yet that depressing fact is actually encouraging, because it suggests the possibility of a broad coalition in support of much needed legal reforms, beginning with the basic principle that, absent a clearly stated prohibition, people must not be punished for conduct that is not intuitively criminal, evil, or antisocial. Otherwise we risk creating a modern American equivalent to the ban on hooliganism.

Harvey A. Silverglate (, a criminal defense and civil liberty lawyer in Boston, is the author of Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Encounter Books), which was just published in paperback. Kyle Smeallie helped him research and write this piece.
234  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Show Us Your Papers on: June 22, 2011, 09:52:21 AM
TSA Now Storming Public Places 8,000 Times a Year

By Tara Servatius
Americans must decide if, in the name of homeland security, they are willing to allow TSA operatives to storm public places in their communities with no warning, pat them down, and search their bags.  And they better decide quickly.

Bus travelers were shocked when jackbooted TSA officers in black SWAT-style uniforms descended unannounced upon the Tampa Greyhound bus station in April with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and federal bureaucrats in tow.

A news report by ABC Action News in Tampa showed passengers being given the signature pat downs Americans are used to watching the Transportation Security Administration screeners perform at our airports. Canine teams sniffed their bags and the buses they rode. Immigration officials hunted for large sums of cash as part of an anti-smuggling initiative.

The TSA clearly intends for these out-of-nowhere swarms by its officers at community transit centers, bus stops and public events to become a routine and accepted part of American life.

The TSA has conducted 8,000 of these security sweeps across the country in the past year alone, TSA chief John Pistole told a Senate committee June 14.  They are part of its VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program, which targets public transit related places.

All of which is enough to make you wonder if we are watching the formation of the "civilian national security force" President Obama called for on the campaign trail "that is just as powerful, just as strong and just as well funded" as the military.

The VIPR swarm on Wednesday, the TSA's largest so far, was such a shocking display of the agency's power that it set the blogosphere abuzz.

In a massive flex of muscle most people didn't know the TSA had, the agency led dozens of federal and state law enforcement agencies in a VIPR exercise that covered three states and 5,000 square miles. According to the Marietta Times, the sweep used reconnaissance aircraft and "multiple airborne assets, including Blackhawk helicopters and fixed wing aircraft as well as waterborne and surface teams."

When did the TSA get this powerful? Last year, Pistole told USA Today he wanted to "take the TSA to the next level," building it into a "national-security, counterterrorism organization, fully integrated into U.S. government efforts."

What few people realize is how far Pistole has already come in his quest. This is apparently what that next level looks like. More than 300 law enforcement and military personnel swept through a 100-mile stretch of the Ohio Valley alone, examining the area's industrial infrastructure, the Charleston Gazette reported.

Federal air marshals, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, the Office of Homeland Security and two dozen other federal, state and local agencies teamed up to scour the state's roads, bridges, water supply and transit centers under the TSA's leadership.

What is remarkable about these security swarms is that they don't just involve federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The TSA brings in squads of bureaucrats from state and federal agencies as well, everything from transportation departments to departments of natural resources.

The TSA had received no specific threats about the Tampa bus station before the April sweep, reporters were told.

They were there "to sort of invent the wheel in advance in case we have to if there ever is specific intelligence requiring us to be here," said Gary Milano with the Department of Homeland Security in an ABC News Action television report. "This way us and our partners are ready to move in at a moment's notice."

Federal immigration officials from Customs and Border Patrol swept the station with the TSA, looking for "immigration violations, threats to national security" and "bulk cash smuggling." (How the bulk cash smuggling investigation related to national security was never explained.)

"We'll be back," Milano told reporters. "We won't say when we'll be back. This way the bad guys are on notice we'll be back."

The TSA gave the same vague answers when asked about the three-state sweep this week. That sweep wasn't in response to any specific security threat, either.

The purpose was to "have a visible presence and let people know we're out here," Michael Cleveland, federal security director for TSA operations in West Virginia told the Gazette. "It can be a deterrent."

It might be -- if Americans are willing to live this way.

Tara Servatius is a radio talk show host. Follow her @TaraServatius and on Facebook.

Page Printed from: at June 22, 2011 - 09:51:53 AM CDT
235  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 22, 2011, 09:51:44 AM
So this is a benefit cost analysis free zone? As pointed out before, TSA's airport employee regimens are abysmal; why do we have to wait for a vulnerability to be exploited before it's addressed, and why do we fling tens of billions of dollars against threats unlikely to materialize as the next 9/11 style hijacking will generate an in-flight passenger response? Are you advocating against adaptability and for rigid structures that fail to address concrete threats?
236  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Grassley Gets his Dander Up on: June 22, 2011, 09:33:47 AM
BATFE has been releasing data with a very slanted, myopic cast through gun-grabber Diane Feinstein. Grassley responds:
237  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The War on Drugs on: June 21, 2011, 11:10:16 AM
Nanny state/Puritanism run amok at its finest.
238  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Commerce, not Conquest on: June 21, 2011, 11:09:02 AM
Not Stealing Palestine, but Purchasing Israel
The real history of Israel’s founding, and why it matters

Zionists stole Palestinian land: That’s the mantra both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas teach their children and propagate in their media. This claim has vast importance, as Palestinian Media Watch explains: “Presenting the creation of the [Israeli] state as an act of theft and its continued existence as a historical injustice serves as the basis for the PA’s non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist.” The accusation of theft also undermines Israel’s position internationally.

But is this accusation true?

No, it is not. Ironically, the building of Israel represents almost the most peaceable in-migration and state creation in history. Understanding why requires seeing Zionism in context. Simply put, conquest is the historical norm. Governments everywhere have been established through invasion and nearly all states came into being at someone else’s expense. No one is permanently in charge; everyone’s roots trace back to somewhere else.

Germanic tribes, Central Asian hordes, Russian tsars, and Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors remade the map. Modern Greeks have only a tenuous connection to the Greeks of antiquity. Who can count the number of times Belgium was overrun? The United States came into existence after the defeat of Native Americans. Kings marauded in Africa, Aryans invaded India. In Japan, Yamato-speakers eliminated all but tiny groups such as the Ainu.

The Middle East, due to its centrality and geography, has experienced more than its share of invasions, including the Greek, Roman, Arabian, Crusader, Seljuk, Timurid, Mongolian, and modern European. Within the region, dynastic froth caused the same territory — Egypt for example — to be conquered and re-conquered.

The land that now makes up Israel was no exception. In Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel, Eric H. Cline writes of Jerusalem: “No other city has been more bitterly fought over throughout its history.” He backs up that claim, counting “at least 118 separate conflicts in and for Jerusalem during the past four millennia.” He calculates Jerusalem to have been destroyed completely at least twice, besieged 23 times, captured 44 times, and attacked 52 times. The PA fantasizes that today’s Palestinians are descended from a tribe of ancient Canaan, the Jebusites; in fact, they are overwhelmingly the offspring of invaders and immigrants seeking economic opportunities.

Against this tableau of unceasing conquest, violence, and overthrow, Zionist efforts to build a presence in the Holy Land until 1948 stand out as astonishingly mild, mercantile rather than military. Two great empires, the Ottomans and the British, ruled Eretz Yisrael. In contrast, Zionists lacked military power. They could not possibly achieve statehood through conquest.

Instead, they purchased land. Acquiring property dunam by dunam, farm by farm, house by house, lay at the heart of the Zionist enterprise until 1948. The Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 to buy land in Palestine “to assist in the foundation of a new community of free Jews engaged in active and peaceable industry,” was the key institution — and not the Haganah, the clandestine defense organization founded in 1920.

Zionists also focused on the rehabilitation of what was barren and considered unusable. They not only made the desert bloom, but drained swamps, cleared water channels, reclaimed wasteland, forested bare hills, cleared rocks, and removed salt from the soil. Jewish reclamation and sanitation work precipitously reduced the number of disease-related deaths.

Only when the British Mandate of Palestine gave up power in 1948, followed immediately by an all-out attempt by Arab states to crush and expel the Zionists, did the latter take up the sword in self-defense and go on to win land through military conquest. Even then, as the historian Efraim Karsh demonstrates in Palestine Betrayed, most Arabs fled their lands; exceedingly few were forced off.

This history contradicts the Palestinian account that “Zionist gangs stole Palestine and expelled its people” which led to a catastrophe “unprecedented in history” (according to a PA twelfth-grade textbook) or that Zionists “plundered the Palestinian land and national interests, and established their state upon the ruins of the Palestinian Arab people” (writes a columnist in the PA’s daily). International organizations, newspaper editorials, and faculty petitions reiterate this falsehood worldwide.

Israelis should hold their heads high and point out that the building of their country was based on the least violent and most civilized movement of any people in history. Gangs did not steal Palestine. Merchants purchased Israel.

— Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
239  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Overstating Benefits while Blind to Costs on: June 21, 2011, 11:01:44 AM
Blind Terror, Dumb State by Deepak Lal
from Cato Recent Op-eds

Earlier this month coming back to Delhi after a month long trip to Argentina, my wife, who is a US citizen and has had ten-year multi-entry visas for India ever since we married nearly 40 years ago, was not allowed to board the flight from Heathrow as she was returning less than two months since her departure from Delhi, in early April. Despite my loud protests that there was no such restriction on her visa, she had to return to London, and after some pulling strings got a stamp on her passport to re-enter India signed by the Indian High commissioner. This 'new' visa policy, is of course the government's response to the David Headley affair and, as with so many responses in the 'war on terror', it is fighting the last war. The draconian screening of airline passengers did not prevent a Nigerian student from concealing a bomb in his underpants across airline scanners in three airports as late as December 2009. So, now airline passengers have to virtually strip to board a plane. What are the costs and benefits of these growing restrictions on personal liberty and increase in state power?

When the 'war on terror' was launched in 2001, John Mueller (now at Ohio State University) and I wrote papers on this issue for a book edited by Richard Rosecrance and Arthur Stein (No More States, Rowman and Littlefield, 2006). The direct costs to the US economy were miniscule ($100 billion — less than 0.8 per cent of its GDP).The most serious costs were the increase in the uncertainty associated with doing business, and from preventive measures taken as an overreaction to the terrorist threat. Thus, apart from the direct costs of homeland security, there are the costs imposed on travellers in terms of the opportunity costs of the time lost in security searches at airports. These were estimated in 2002 to be $16 and $32 billion annually for the US. A more recent estimate by Mueller and Mark Stewart (at Newcastle University in Australia) of these indirect costs to US travellers between 2002 and 2011 was $417 billion. Wilst the direct costs of extra homeland security was $690 billion. This expenditure would only have been cost effective, they estimate, if it had prevented or deterred four attacks every day like the one foiled in Times Square in New York.

Neither are the personal risks that citizens face from terrorism serious. Since 1960 till 2001, based on the US State department data, Mueller estimated that the number of Americans killed by international terrorism (including 9/11) is about the same as the number killed over the same period by lightning, or by accidental deer, or by severe allergic reaction to peanuts. While, including both domestic and international terrorism, "far fewer people were killed by terrorists in the entire world over the [20th century] than died in any number of unnoticed civil wars during the century" (pg 48).

What about the fears of future terrorist attacks using stolen chemical, biological and nuclear weapons? Of these, for various reasons, the danger of a 'dirty bomb' using stolen fissile materials is the most pertinent. Biological and chemical weapons are not easy to use by private agents. The damage from a 'dirty bomb' would be localised to the real estate in the area which was made radioactive. The personal danger from the likely 25 per cent increase in radiation over background radiation in the area is miniscule. "A common recommendation from nuclear scientists and engineers" notes Mueller, "is that those exposed should calmly walk away" (pg 62).

The costs of actual and potential terrorism have thus been considerably overblown. Worse, the 'war on terror' by inducing the unjustified panic which the terrorists seek to create, foster their aim of creating terror. Worse, by extending State powers and emasculating civil liberties they promote the very illiberal societies and 'police' states the jehadis themselves seek. A 'terror industry' develops with the same rent-seeking purposes as so many other state-sponsored attempts to create 'risk free' societies. Terrorism will always be with us. But, as for instance, given the known risks from driving, which causes over 40,000 deaths every year in automobile accidents in the US, Americans have not stopped driving. But, with the hysteria and panic created by the much smaller number of deaths from terrorism, they (and increasingly many across the world in liberal democracies) are willing to devote scarce resources to chasing horrendous phantoms. They would do better to remember the words of an earlier President." The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

How should the terrorist threat be dealt with? For many years I lived in London during the IRA's terrorist operations. The IRA not only succeeded in nearly killing Margret Thatcher and most of her cabinet in the Brighton bombing, but successfully launched a missile into John Major's cabinet room during a meeting. But during these Irish troubles, the British continued to follow the advice in an official Second World poster (to be issued in case of a German invasion): KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. They dealt with the IRA terrorists by hunting them down through the usual intelligence methods and incarcerating or killing them. Meanwhile, the economic chaos and insecurity the IRA caused in its 'homeland' — Northern Ireland — plus the growing realisation of the failure of terrorism to achieve its aims, led to the political settlement contained in the Good Friday agreement.

In dealing with the undeniable state-sponsored Pakistani terrorism in India, a similar policy is relevant. The only long-term solution is to change the Pakistan army's calculus that it can succeed in destroying India (or its economy) through its jihadi agents. As this tiger it has unleashed, increasingly turns( as it has) against its sponsors, and the growing distance between its citizens in a stagnant and those in the booming Indian economy becomes apparent to its people (as is happening), the 'rent seeking' soldiers might at last realise that it is in their interests to complete the deal, which Musharaff nearly completed with Dr Manmohan Singh. Meanwhile, intelligence remains vital in apprehending and forestalling ISI-sponsored terrorists. But this is not done through heavy handed suppression of civil liberties. When,with information from Western intelligence agencies, about the co-ordinates of suspicious boats moving to Bombay, along with mobile numbers of some terrorists, Indian intelligence failed to forestall the 26/11 attacks, it is absurd to believe that they can forestall future terrorist plots by preventing my 70-year-old American wife from coming back to India, a month after she had left our New Delhi home

Deepak Lal is the professor of international development studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
240  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 20, 2011, 02:51:15 PM
Uh, the concerns raised by the piece that started this latest circular dance, the one with the lede reading:

The New York Times‘s Charlie Savage reports that the FBI is preparing to release a new Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), further relaxing the rules governing the Bureau’s investigation of Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Emphasis added.
241  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Watered Down Methodology on: June 20, 2011, 02:48:57 PM
3rd post. Interesting. A blogger who usually finds himself on the catastrophic warming side of things is starting to realize how poorly reviewed IPCC reports are. Earlier he was commenting on the poor form involved in allowing a Greepeace employee to author a piece he then inserts into an IPCC report, for which he was also a reviewer of. Now Lynas is noting the same sort poor quality control where hydropower is involved:

New allegation of IPCC renewables report bias

20 June 2011 19 comments
Following the suggestion last week that a lead author from Greenpeace may have had undue influence over the outcome of the IPCC’s latest report on renewable energy, a new allegation has now been made regarding possible conflicts of interest amongst the lead authors of the report’s chapter on hydropower.

“The value of the IPCC report is weakened by the strongly biased treatment of hydropower,” says Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers, which campaigns to raise attention of the damaging effects large dams can have on riverine ecosystems. “At least half of the lead authors of the hydropower chapter are not independent scientists, but have a vested interest in the promotion of hydropower. This creates a conflict of interest, which is reflected throughout the report.”

All Working Groups of the IPCC have strict procedures for multiple reviews of draft chapters, including with the final product being approved line-by-line by the world’s governments. That these procedures might have failed to detect – or correct – a pro-hydro bias in the draft report is worrying, given the importance for the planet’s future of getting the right mitigation options for tackling climate change. The chapter on hydropower (PDF) suggests a ‘technical potential’ of four times the current 926 GW of installed capacity – of up to 3,721 GW. This would mean significantly encroaching on the natural flows of river basins in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The IPCC report states:

“Of the total technical potential for hydropower, undeveloped capacity ranges from about 47% in Europe and North America to 92% in Africa, which indicates large opportunities for continued hydropower development worldwide, with the largest growth potential in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

There is expected to be significant pressure for new hydropower development because water stored behind dams can balance out the intermittency challenge inherent in large-scale use of strongly-fluctuating solar and wind power in modern electricity grids. However, water released from behind dams tends to be at a lower and more stable temperature than the water in undammed rivers, altering ecological signals and damaging wildlife. Flow regimes also vary widely, according to the needs of electrical consumers rather than the seasonal signals of snowmelt, drought and flood. It is partly because dams can have devastating effects on riverine ecology that freshwater biodiversity is amongst the most endangered on Earth.

As with the issue of Greenpeace’s involvement with Chapter 10 of the report, the allegations of bias in Chapter 5 do not suggest that the report is totally one-sided or should be entirely rejected. There is a section dealing with ecological issues which points out the possible negative implications of hydropower, for example. Instead, the problem lies with the tone of the report and its headline conclusion. Says Bosshard from International Rivers:

“The hydropower chapter of the new report at time reads like a marketing brochure of the hydropower industry. It ignores or misrepresents the findings of the independent World Commission on Dams, and glosses over the findings of many scientific reports which came to conclusions that are not convenient for the hydropower industry.”

This is a serious allegation, which potentially adds to the loss of prestige the IPCC has faced over the Greenpeace/renewables issue. Yet Bosshard is not attacking the IPCC per se, as he makes clear:

We have high respect for the scientific rigor and independence of the IPCC. We were surprised and dismayed to see that the preparation of the new report’s chapter on hydropower was left to a group of authors of whom a majority has a vested interest in the promotion of hydropower. The nine lead authors include representatives of two of the world’s largest hydropower developers, a hydropower consultancy, and three agencies promoting hydropower at the national level.

We recognize the need to have hydropower expertise on the panel and do not question the personal integrity of the authors. Yet it is not appropriate for IPCC to commission individuals with a business or institutional interest in the subject matter to prepare a report that is supposed to be unbiased and independent. The resulting conflict of interest weakens the quality of the report’s hydropower section.

Of the two overall co-ordinating lead authors of the hydropower chapter, one – Tormod Schei – works for a large dam-building company, Norway’s Statkraft, which runs 277 hydropower plants in more than 20 countries, and is currently building the Kargi dam project in Turkey. In the wider lead author team, Jean-Michel Devernay is a senior director within the energy company EDF, and is also vice-president of the board of the International Hydropower Association, whose brief is to “advance sustainable hydropower’s role in meeting the world’s water and energy needs”, according to its mission statement.

According to the ‘planetary boundaries’ work published by Rockstrom et al in Nature, 2009 – which forms the backbone for my upcoming book – freshwater use is one of the planet’s key ecological limits which humans need to respect to protect the integrity of the Earth system. The quantified boundary proposed leaves little room for accelerated big dam development, suggesting that carbon emissions need to be reduced in ways which do not negatively affect the other proposed boundaries. Once again, this emphasises that we need to see the Earth in a more integral way, and focus on ways in which we can solve one global ecological problem without negatively affecting others.

As International Rivers’ Peter Bosshard aptly puts it:

Combating climate change must be part of a holistic effort to protect the world’s ecosystems. We cannot afford to sacrifice the planet’s arteries to save her lungs.
242  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why Dump the Plan when you can Issue Waivers? on: June 20, 2011, 12:12:16 PM
2nd post:
Reason Magazine

GAO Report: ObamaCare Waivers Issued to Prevent Premium Increases Caused By Health Law’s Mandates

Peter Suderman | June 15, 2011

For months, it’s been unclear how the Obama administration’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO)—the new bureaucracy set up to regulate health insurance under ObamaCare—was deciding whether to hand out waivers to businesses and unions seeking exemptions from some of the law’s requirements. Now, thanks to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), we have a somewhat better idea: The administration was handing out waivers in order to prevent large health insurance premium hikes that last year’s health care would have otherwise caused.

According to the GAO, which prepared its report with the help and guidance of CCIIO, the Obama administration’s new insurance regulators “granted waivers on the basis of an application’s projected significant increase in premiums or significant reduction in access to health care benefits.” It’s not a bright-line test, however; there’s still a discretionary element. As the report’s authors explain, “officials told us that they could not exclusively rely on specific numerical criteria to define a significant increase in premiums or a significant decrease in access to benefits, because applicant characteristics and circumstances varied widely.” So the process is still not fully transparent.

But what’s most important about the report is how it reveals, yet again, that the folks running the ObamaCare show are aware of the effects the law will have on the price of insurance. Like the Obama administration’s decision to grant the state of Maine a waiver from ObamaCare’s medical loss ratio requirement, the GAO’s description of the waiver process is about as straightforward an admission as anyone is likely to get fulfilling ObamaCare’s new insurance requirements does indeed drive up premium prices and/or reduce health insurance benefits.

Now, the administration would likely contest that argument as unfair. After all, they did issue waivers to businesses and union groups where the premium hikes or benefit losses were expected to be largest. But if anything, the waiver process simply shows that the Obama administration knows that, despite all of the president’s claims about bringing down the cost of both care and insurance premiums, the legislation, as passed, will make health insurance more expensive for a very large number of individuals—hence the issuance of 1,347 waivers covering more than 3 million people.

The result is an inherently unfair system in which some businesses and unions have to obey the rules and some don't, and the regulators get to decide who falls into which category. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again: If it's so clear that the provisions in question aren't working for so many people, why not just grant everyone waivers by ditching those requirements entirely?
243  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Maybe They Need a Five Year Plan (tm) on: June 20, 2011, 12:08:39 PM
A Hospital Drug Shortage Made In Washington

Posted by Walter Olson

As readers may know, I’ve been beating the drum for a while on the increasingly dangerous shortages that doctors are encountering in the availability of common, off-patent drugs used in hospital and clinical settings, including drugs that are important in chemotherapy, anesthesia, and infection control. Among the reasons for the shortages: the Food and Drug Administration has toughened its regulation of pharmaceutical makers in ways that lead to manufacturing line shutdowns and withdrawals from production.

John Goodman has a must-read blog post at Health Affairs Blog on the mounting crisis, amplified by a post by George Mason economist Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution, getting into further specifics. In particular:

• 246 drugs are now considered to be in shortage, a record high, and the number has been rising for years. Rationing of scarce chemotherapy drugs is now making a difference in which patients have a chance at survival. In the absence of familiar compounds, doctors are falling back on inexact substitutes, sometimes more dangerous and less effective.

• After “tainted drugs” scares a few years ago, the FDA stepped up its Good Manufacturing Practice regulations, which control the production of pharmaceuticals. In particular, it now proclaims zero tolerance, barbed by tough fines, for many technical infractions whose actual impact on patient risk is at best doubtful, and it is unafraid of shutting down production lines again and again for retooling until its regulations are satisfied to the letter. It also changes its formulation and manufacturing requirements often, with scant forgiveness for makers who have trouble retooling to the new specifications quickly.

• Remarkably, the feds have inserted themselves into the role of central planners of drug output. Goodman:

For example, a drug manufacturer must get approval for how much of a drug it plans to produce, as well as the timeframe. If a shortage develops (because, say, the FDA shuts down a competitor’s plant), a drug manufacturer cannot increase its output of that drug without another round of approvals. Nor can it alter its timetable production (producing a shortage drug earlier than planned) without FDA approval.

That the results might include many unpleasant surprises will surprise only those unfamiliar with the record of a century of central planning failure.

• Pre-1938 drugs are suffering particular disruptions because of a separate FDA program, long demanded by consumer groups, to subject these “grandfathered” compounds to regulatory oversight just as tough as newer drugs. The dictates of the Drug Enforcement Administration also contribute to problems with some controlled substances.

• Several leading professional organizations, including the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, collaborated on a meeting last November to raise the visibility of the issue and seek possible solutions. You can read its summary report here. Objectively, it’s a damning indictment, but be warned that — rather typically in a field where many key players live in fear of offending the FDA — the report refrains from outspoken criticism of the agency and in fact proposes widening the agency’s funding and powers.

Wouldn’t this make a good subject for hearings at the newly Waxman-liberated House Commerce Committee?
244  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Direct Feed on: June 20, 2011, 12:06:01 PM
Rumor has it BATFE director Melson is about to get tossed under the bus:

Issa leaks ATF emails

By Jordy Yager    - 06/15/11 11:58 AM ET
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee released copies of redacted emails on Wednesday that detail the involvement of the head of the nation's firearms law enforcement agency in a controversial gun-tracking program as early as March 2010.

The emails strike a stark contrast to letters the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have sent to lawmakers in which they denied selling assault weapons to known and suspected straw purchasers for drug cartels and claimed that they made every effort to prevent weapons from ending up in Mexico.

In one of the emails, released by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with the subject heading “Director’s questions,” the supervisor of the “Fast and Furious” operation wrote to the assistant special agent in charge of Phoenix field operations with an Internet Protocol address for one of the video monitoring units in a gun store which was authorized to sell guns to the suspects.
The emails seem to indicate that ATF acting director Kenneth Melson had asked for this information.

“With this information, acting Director Melson was able to sit at his desk in Washington and – himself – watch a live feed of the straw buyers entering the gun stores to purchase dozens of AK-47 variants,” said a Republican committee statement.

Earlier this year, in response to a letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to Melson asking him about his knowledge of the gun-tracking operation, the Justice Department wrote the senator, denying knowingly selling assault weapons to straw purchasers and stating that it made every effort to prevent weapons from ending up in Mexico.
In another email dated March 10, 2010, the assistant special agent in charge of Phoenix field operations wrote to the supervisor of the “Fast and Furious” operation and said, “Not sure if you know, but Mr. Melson and Mr. Hoover are being briefed weekly on this investigation and the recent success with [redacted] so they are both keenly interested in case updates.”

The release of the emails come as Issa was holding a hearing on the gun-tracking program with ATF agents.
245  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Federally Mandated Weakness Leaving the Body on: June 20, 2011, 12:03:37 PM
Back in my telephone hotline days there were several pharmacologists who worked the phones, too. Use to have interesting conversations with them about the subjective nature or many prescription drugs, with one man's analgesic being another's psychoactive experience. Because these men of science couldn't get inside a patient's head they had little they could measure to determine if a given substance was being used prescriptively on recreationally. Well good news, not the government is gonna try to work it out for us:

The Government's Top Minds Are Working Hard to Make Painkillers 'Tightly Regulated Yet Easily Available'
Jacob Sullum | June 15, 2011

Yesterday I noted a New York Times profile of Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, focusing on her simplistic, reductionist view of addiction. I should have mentioned that she and her amanuensis at the Times, Abigail Zuger, also had some woefully misguided things to say about the conflict between drug control and pain control:

Prescription drugs, she continued, have a double life: They are lifesaving yet every bit as dangerous as banned substances. "The challenges we face are much more complex," Dr. Volkow said, "because we need to address the needs of patients in pain, while protecting those at risk for substance use disorders."

In other words, these drugs must be somehow legal and illegal, encouraged yet discouraged, tightly regulated yet easily available.

How is that possible? It isn't. Because pain cannot be objectively verified, there is an unavoidable tradeoff between providing adequate treatment and preventing people from getting high. Even if you think the latter goal is a legitimate function of government, protecting one group of people from their own bad choices simply cannot justify forcing another group of people to live (or die) with horrible pain. Morally, this is a no-brainer: It is better to let 10 addicts trick doctors into prescribing them narcotics than to let one legitimate patient suffer needlessly.

That is not how the government, as channeled by Zuger, sees it:

Treating people with the prescription drug problems is particularly challenging, because, of course, for these particular drugs, physicians are the nation's pushers.

The number of prescriptions written for potentially addictive pain medications has soared in the last decade, reaching more than 200 million in 2010, Dr. Volkow said. Surveys asking teenagers where they get pills find that relatively few buy from strangers. Many have their own prescriptions, often from dental work. Even more are given pills by friends and relatives, presumably out of other legitimate prescriptions.

Doctors may be flooding the country with narcotics, but most have never learned much about pain control. Dr. Volkow said that some data suggests that medical schools devote considerably less time to the subject than veterinary schools do. The Obama administration addressed exactly this deficiency in April with a call for doctors to undergo special training before being allowed to prescribe some of the most addictive painkillers.

"Students and residents have gotten the message that pain is undertreated," said Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, an internist who directs the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "So they just prescribe higher and higher doses."

The official narrative that emerges from the Times article goes like this: Doctors used to be unnecessarily reluctant to prescribe opioids, but now they are erring in the other direction. Therefore we need to crack down on prescriptions, because too many people are using these drugs for nonmedical reasons. But such a crackdown inevitably hurts people in pain, because it encourages doctors to distrust their patients.

In an April column, I argued that the Obama administration's anti-diversion recommendations would limit access to pain treatment. More on pain treatment here.
246  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Liberty Loophole on: June 20, 2011, 11:52:20 AM
Is it just me, or are echos of the "argument" this pieces starts off with satirically found around here?

A Suicide Pact

Can the U.S. afford the Bill of Rights?

A. Barton Hinkle | June 17, 2011

Earlier this week the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published one of the more astounding documents of our age. It was written by Joaquin "the Hatchet" Zapata—a notorious enforcer for the Zetas drug cartel, which controls much of the cocaine trade across the border of southern Texas.

Resembling nothing so much as an army field manual for mules and midlevel traffickers, the "Instrucciones" on shipping cocaine include a lengthy section on what to do if captured by U.S. authorities. Going into great detail about the legal rights of criminal defendants in America, it advises couriers to clam up, ask for an attorney, claim irregularities in the search (the exclusionary rule won't allow tainted evidence in court), and so on.

Naturally, right-wingers have jumped on the story. "The pendulum has swung too far in the narcoterrorists' favor," intoned GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Michele Bachmann demanded that Democrats join Republicans in rolling back any "technicalities" that work in the drug lords' favor.

As usual, Sarah Palin went further than most: "The Constitution of this great country of ours that I love so much is not some kind of suicide deal," she said (misquoting the late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson), "and that is why I am urging our Congress today to repeal back the Fourth"—i.e., to draw a blue line through the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Palin is right. If drug dealers are exploiting our freedoms, then we no longer can afford them. Right?

Ha! Only kidding. None of that really happened. (Had you there for a second though, right?)

As you may have guessed by now, the foregoing is a rather ham-fisted parable. There are no Instrucciones, and Republicans have not been waving them about as proof that America should repeal the Bill of Rights.

Yet we are hearing just that sort of argument—in nature, if not in degree—from progressives right now.
Several days ago Adam Gadahn, an American-born spokesman for Al Qaeda, urged would-be jihadists to buy guns at gun shows: "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms," he said. "You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"

Within a couple of femtoseconds, progressive America began quoting Gadahn as proof that the U.S. needs to close the gun-show loophole. "There may never be a better spokesman" for doing so than Gadahn, opined The Washington Post—echoed by ThinkProgress, the New York Daily News, the Brady Campaign, and countless others.

This has to qualify as the Mount Everest of non sequiturs. The "loophole," as it is called, refers to the fact that private citizens who are not licensed gun dealers can sell their guns without conducting background checks—not only at gun shows, but anywhere. There are some sound arguments for closing the gun-show loophole, and there are some sound arguments for not closing it, and anyone who has followed the debate is familiar with most of them.

There are also some stupid arguments on both sides. Contending that the loophole should be closed because it might redound to the benefit of terrorists has to be one of the stupidest. Many of those making it simply cite Gadahn's words alone as sufficient proof—as though it were intuitively obvious that any policy potentially useful to Al Qaeda must be repealed at once.

If so, then Congress will be very busy. Because the so-called loophole is not the only policy potentially useful to Al Qaeda. So are a great many others. Among them: habeas corpus, which the Supreme Court reaffirmed in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld; the Fourth Amendment and its various progeny, such as the unique-to-America exclusionary rule; Miranda guarantees; the FISA court, which (some say) hamstrings counterintelligence efforts; and so on.

Indeed, during the Bush years you heard a lot of talk along just such lines: Many conservatives argued with perfectly straight faces that the blood of a hundred-thousand innocent people would be on the hands of anyone who let constitutional scruples get in the way of hunting terrorists down. Dissenting in Boumediene v. Bush, for example, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lamented that upholding the habeas rights of alleged enemy combatants "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Well. After the High Court struck down a Chicago gun-control law last year, The New York Times—which praised recognizing the habeas rights of suspected terrorists—condemned recognizing the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. The arguments in the Chicago ruling, it lamented, "were infuriatingly abstract, but the results will be all too real and bloody."

Constraints upon government meant to protect the innocent sometimes end up protecting the guilty as well. That is one of the prices we pay for our liberties, and in that regard Justice Jackson was wrong. In some ways, the Constitution is a suicide pact: We accept the dangers of liberty in return for not living in a police state.

Or at least that is how it is supposed to work. People tend to want to carve out exceptions, though. So while liberals and conservatives don't agree on much, they do agree on this: American lives are far too precious to squander in defense of any item of the Bill of Rights cherished by the other side.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
247  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 20, 2011, 11:47:27 AM
And hence we should not be concerned when an investigator mucks around in someone's life when there was no identifiable prerequisite act or probable cause because it does not end up in front of a judge? Somehow I suspect the founders would disagree. I'd feel better if all investigations did end up in front of a judge as that would establish a feedback loop that might dissuade inappropriate or unnecessary investigations. As I read these new rules, a lot of trees could fall in a lot of forests absolutely unheard.
248  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Pal Review on: June 20, 2011, 11:41:36 AM
2nd post.

Peer Review and "Pal Review" in Climate Science

by Patrick J. Michaels

Publishing in the scientific literature is supposed to be tough. Submit a manuscript to a reputable journal and it will go through "peer review," where your equals criticize your work, send their comments to a journal editor and then the editor will decide whether to accept your submission, reject it outright, or something in between.

In order to limit any bias caused by personal or philosophical animosity, the editor should remove your name from the paper and send it to other experts who have no apparent conflict of interest in reviewing your work. You and the reviewers should not know who each other are. This is called a "double blind" peer review.

Well, this is "the way it is supposed to be." But in the intellectually inbred, filthy-rich world of climate science, where billions of dollars of government research money support trillions of dollars of government policy, peer review has become anything but that.

Patrick Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of our Government and our Lives.

More by Patrick J. Michaels
There is simply no "double blindness." For reasons that remain mysterious, all the major climate journals leave the authors' names on the manuscripts sent out for review.

Economists, psychologists and historians of science all tell us (and I am inclined to believe them) that we act within our rational self-interest. Removing the double-blind restriction in such an environment is an invitation for science abuse.

What about if my professional advancement is dependent upon climate change monies (which applies to just about every academic or government climatologist)? I'm liable to really like a paper that says this is a horrible and important problem, and likely to rail against an author who says it's probably a bit overblown. May God have mercy on any manuscript that mentions the rather large elephant in the room, which is that we probably can't do much about it anyway.

Such "confirmation bias" has been noted and studied for years, but the response of science in general — and atmospheric science in particular — has only been to make things worse.

Peer review has become "pal review." Send a paper to one of the very many journals published by the American Geophysical Union — the world's largest publisher of academic climate science — and you can suggest five reviewers. The editor doesn't have to take your advice, but he's more likely to if you bought him dinner at the last AGU meeting, isn't he? That is, of course, unless journal editors are somehow different than government officials, congressmen, or you.

Or, if you get wind that someone is about to publish something threatening your gravy train, maybe you can cajole the editor to keep it out of print for a year while you prepare a counter-manuscript.

That's what the "Climategate" gang did with the International Journal of Climatology when University of Rochester's David Douglass submitted a paper. His work showed that a large warming at high altitudes in the tropics — one of the major ways in which the enhanced greenhouse effect is supposed to change the climate — isn't happening. For the gory details, click here. The story on this one is still unfolding as the journal has declined to publish a sequel to the counter-manuscript.

Or you could simply ignore manuscripts sent to you that find problems with temperature histories.

But there has to be a gold standard somewhere, right? Perhaps the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)?

Dream on. If you are a member of the National Academy, you can submit four manuscripts a year, called "contributed papers" as long as you do the "peer review" yourself! That's right: you send your manuscript to two of your friends, and then mail your paper along with their comments. Again, pal review.

The PNAS editor then rubber-stamps the results. In fact, the editor probably goes through quite a few rubber stamps a year, given that only 15 of the 800-odd contributed papers submitted in the last year were rejected. For comparative purposes, Nature would have accepted only about 50 out of that number.

A recent paper submitted to PNAS by National Academy member Richard Lindzen was afforded special treatment. The editor insisted that it be held to a different standard of review because of its "political implications." Lindzen's research found that carbon dioxide warming is likely to be much lower than what is being calculated by current climate models.

So what about the legion of alarmist papers from NASA firebrand James Hansen that PNAS publishes via pal review? Don't they have "political implications" too? In the mind of our National Academy, apparently some political implications are more equal than others.

There's a lot of confirmation bias working in Hansen's favor, because it's back to the back of the plane for ham-and-egger climate scientists if Lindzen is right. That's where the "political implications" get personal.

There's a lot more to this story. Lindzen eventually published his paper — which actually benefited from a real review — in an obscure journal. But the next time you think that peer review is unbiased, think of confirmation bias, pal review and Climategate, and try to figure a way out of the mess that climate science has gotten itself into.
249  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / "Can't Defend the Indefensible" on: June 20, 2011, 11:39:37 AM
White House’s Daley seeks balance in outreach meeting with manufacturers

By Peter Wallsten and and Jia Lynn Yang, Published: June 16

It was supposed to be the White House’s latest make-nice session with corporate America — a visit by Chief of Staff William M. Daley to a meeting with hundreds of manufacturing executives in town to press lawmakers for looser regulations.

But the outreach soon turned into a rare public dressing down of the president’s policies with his highest-ranking aide.

One by one, exasperated executives stood to air their grievances on environmental regulations and stalled free-trade deals. And Daley, the former banker tasked with building ties with industry, found himself looking for the right balance between empathy and defending his boss.

At one point, the room erupted in applause when Massachusetts manufacturing executive Doug Starrett, his voice shaking with emotion, accused the administration of blocking construction on one of his facilities to protect fish, saying government “throws sand into the gears of progress.”

Daley said he did not have many good answers, appearing to throw up his hands in frustration at what he called “bureaucratic stuff that’s hard to defend.”

“Sometimes you can’t defend the indefensible,” he said.

The exchange suggests the limits of the elaborate courtship of corporations begun by President Obama and his top aides after Democrats’ big losses in the 2010 elections — an effort that has taken on new urgency in recent weeks.

Top aides have been reaching out to business leaders as Obama’s reelection campaign seeks to expand its network of potential new donors and fundraisers. And the White House has hoped that a closer alliance with businesses would help spur job growth.

Even as the White House pledges more receptivity to corporate concerns, business continues to spar with the administration on numerous fronts.

Wall Street is lobbying to undo many of the new regulations signed into law last year. Manufacturers say environmental policies are hindering growth. And, in a high-profile case that tests the administration’s allegiances, aerospace giant Boeing is warring with labor regulators over its decision to open a plant in South Carolina, which is hostile to unions.

In his speech and during a question-and-answer session Thursday, Daley laid out the administration’s efforts to help business, promoting Obama’s support for changing the corporate tax structure and for new free trade agreements.

He pointed to the administration’s effort, led by regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, to identify hundreds of rules that could be costing businesses money and time.

When a paper company executive said Environmental Protection Agency regulations might cost her $10 million to $15 million to upgrade a mill, Daley said the number of rules and regulations “that come out of agencies is overwhelming.”

Later, he added: “We’re trying to bring some rationality to it.”

Daley’s appearance before Thursday’s meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers was an unusual public appearance for Obama’s relatively new chief of staff. He invited the executives to offer candid views and extended the question-and-answer session, at one point joking, “I’ll probably regret saying that.”

He acknowledged the touchy political calculation the White House faces as Obama tries to promote his economic record on the campaign trail while being sensitive to the reality that many Americans are struggling. This month, the White House was thrown a political curveball with a surprisingly glum jobs report in which the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent, giving several of Obama’s potential GOP rivals an opening to attack his leadership.

“You can’t sound Pollyannaish,” Daley told the business leaders. “I believe this economy of ours is better than the perception right now.”

Daley offered blunt assessments on key issues of interest to executives in the room.

On the status of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, he suggested politics was proving to be a challenge. He said there are “people who lose from these agreements” and urged businesses to lobby their workers to help overcome opposition on Capitol Hill.

“No politician loses an election because they voted against trade,” he said.

On lowering the corporate tax rate, a top goal of business groups, Daley said again, “there are winners and losers.” He warned that some small businesses might face a tax increase.

Mary Andringa, head of NAM, described the meeting as “constructive” and was “quite pleased” that Daley devoted more than an hour to the group’s concerns.

But some business executives in the room said they were unimpressed by the White House’s attempts to woo industry.

“We think there’s a thin facade by the administration to say the right things, but they don’t come close to doing things,” said Barney T. Bishop III, chief executive of the business group Associated Industries of Florida. He called the efforts to streamline regulations “immaterial.”

“We love the platitudes, but we want to see action,” Bishop said.

White House officials described Thursday’s encounter as part of a work in progress. Spokesman Eric Schultz described the meeting as a “frank and open conversation . . . about steps we can take to drive private-sector job growth.”

Daley said afterward that he’s sympathetic to the gripes he heard. “This is a practical world you’ve got to live in,” he said. “These people run businesses.”
250  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Privacy, Big Brother (State and Corporate) & the 4th Amendment on: June 20, 2011, 11:31:30 AM
The biggest problem in law enforcement, more often than not is the lack of quality leadership. The system tends to reward bureaucracy and risk aversion and lose sight of what the agency is supposed to be doing, like enforcing the law. If you have a remedy, I'd like to hear it.

Not my area of expertise so I do not have a remedy beyond not handing the foxes the keys to the chicken coops.
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