Friday, December 28, 2007
Smoke and Mirrors
...Given all that, it may seem churlish to suggest that firefighters might not deserve the lofty pedestal we so insistently place them on. We lionize them, regard them as unsullied by base motivations, see them as paragons of manliness (and very tough womanliness). They're easily our most-admired public servants, and in the public's eye probably outrank just about anyone except the most highly publicized war veterans. But the "hero" label is tossed around a little too often when the subject is firefighting. Here's why:...
...None of this is meant to dispute that firefighters are valuable to the communities in which they work. They are. But our society is packed with unheralded heroes—small-town physicians, teachers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, people who work in dirty, dangerous jobs like coal-mining to support a family. A firefighter plunging into a burning house to retrieve a frightened, smoke-blinded child is a hero. But let's save the encomiums for when they are truly deserved, not when they just show up to do their job.
Just How Dangerous Is Police Work?
...So just how dangerous is police work? Generally, police are about three times as likely to be killed on the job as the average American. It isn't among the top ten most dangerous professions, falling well behind logging, fishing, driving a cab, trash collecting, farming, and truck driving. Moreover, about half of police killed on the job are killed in traffic accidents, and most of those are not while in pursuit of a criminal or rushing to the scene of a crime. I don't point this out to diminish the tragedy of those cops killed in routine traffic accidents. My point is that the number of annual on-the-job police fatalities doesn't justify giving cops bigger guns, military equipment, and allowing them to use more aggressive and increasingly militaristic tactics. A military-issue weapon isn't going to prevent traffic accidents. In this context, then, it makes sense to remove from consideration deaths not directly attributable to the bad guys.
So take out traffic accidents and other non-violent deaths, and you're left with 69 officers killed on the job by criminals last year. That's out of about 850,000 officers nationwide. That breaks down to about 8 deaths per 100,000 officers, or less than twice the national average of on-the-job fatalities. ...
...Twice the national average means police work certainly carries added risk. But is it the kind of risk that justifies, for example, a more than 1,000 percent increase in the use of SWAT teams over the last 25 years?...
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Editorial: Guilty until proven innocent
Luther Ricks Sr., to put it mildly, is living the American Nightmare. What else can you call it when police take your money because they’re suspicious you’re selling drugs, then fail either to file charges or to return your money?
Public pressure isn’t likely to help Ricks get back what is his. Ricks needs a lawyer — but the government has depleted his means of hiring one. What he also needs is his congressman to try to intervene on his behalf. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, should involve himself in pressing the FBI to return the money to his constituent.
The Lima Police Department, which originally seized Ricks’ money, cannot get it back from the FBI.
Two robbers broke into his home June 30, attacking Ricks and his son. One of the robbers stabbed Ricks’ son. Ricks broke free and shot to death one of the attackers, 22-year-old Jyhno Rock.
A man’s home is his castle, after all — well, at least when it’s not the government that’s doing the busting in. The American Nightmare has only begun.
Lima police took $402,767 Ricks had in his house because they found a small amount of marijuana, which Ricks said he uses to manage pain from arthritis, shingles and a hip replacement. Ricks, 63, said he and his wife, Meredith, saved the money over their lifetimes, during which both worked but never opened a bank account.
The American Nightmare continues.
The FBI then took the money from the Lima Police Department. Ricks has not been charged with a crime for the marijuana. He has been cleared in the shooting death of Rock. Yet the FBI doesn’t intend to give him his money back.
Jeff Gamso, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told The Lima News that Ricks has a tough fight ahead of him. “The law of forfeiture basically says you have to prove you’re innocent. It’s a terrible, terrible law,” Gamso said. That’s not hopeful — for Ricks or for the American tradition....
Has global warming stopped?
'The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 and every year since 2001'
Global warming stopped? Surely not. What heresy is this? Haven’t we been told that the science of global warming is settled beyond doubt and that all that’s left to the so-called sceptics is the odd errant glacier that refuses to melt?
Aren’t we told that if we don’t act now rising temperatures will render most of the surface of the Earth uninhabitable within our lifetimes? But as we digest these apocalyptic comments, read the recent IPCC’s Synthesis report that says climate change could become irreversible. Witness the drama at Bali as news emerges that something is not quite right in the global warming camp.
With only few days remaining in 2007, the indications are the global temperature for this year is the same as that for 2006 – there has been no warming over the 12 months.
But is this just a blip in the ever upward trend you may ask? No.
The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 as well as every year since 2001. Global warming has, temporarily or permanently, ceased. Temperatures across the world are not increasing as they should according to the fundamental theory behind global warming – the greenhouse effect. Something else is happening and it is vital that we find out what or else we may spend hundreds of billions of pounds needlessly....
...The period 1980-98 was one of rapid warming – a temperature increase of about 0.5 degrees C (CO2 rose from 340ppm to 370ppm). But since then the global temperature has been flat (whilst the CO2 has relentlessly risen from 370ppm to 380ppm). This means that the global temperature today is about 0.3 deg less than it would have been had the rapid increase continued.
For the past decade the world has not warmed. Global warming has stopped. It’s not a viewpoint or a sceptic’s inaccuracy. It’s an observational fact. Clearly the world of the past 30 years is warmer than the previous decades and there is abundant evidence (in the northern hemisphere at least) that the world is responding to those elevated temperatures. But the evidence shows that global warming as such has ceased. ...
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.
"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.
A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old....
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Heat From Earth's Magma Contributing To Melting Of Greenland Ice
ScienceDaily (Dec. 18, 2007) — Scientists have discovered what they think may be another reason why Greenland 's ice is melting: a thin spot in Earth's crust is enabling underground magma to heat the ice....
A Fiscal Picture That Calls for Exclamation Points
...The federal government's total liabilities and unfunded commitments for future benefits payments promised under the current Social Security and Medicare programs are now estimated at $53 trillion, in current dollar terms, up from about $20 trillion in 2000. This translates into a defacto mortgage of about $455,000 for every American household and there's no house to back this mortgage! In other words, our government has made a whole lot of promises that, in the long run, it cannot possibly keep without huge tax increases.
The Medicare program alone represents about $34 trillion of our current $53 trillion fiscal gap. If there is one thing in particular that could bankrupt America, it's runaway health care costs. And don't forget, the first "baby boomers" will begin to draw their early retirement benefits under Social Security in a couple of weeks! And, just three years later, they will be eligible for Medicare. When "baby boomers" begin to retire in big numbers, it will bring a tsunami of spending that, unlike most tsunamis, will never recede. ...
Monday, December 17, 2007
Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada
...The extent of Canada’s health system dysfunction was
documented in a 2000 Fraser Institute study that
examined the impact of increases in government
health spending. The study’s analysis revealed that
provinces spending more on health care per person
had neither shorter (nor longer) total waiting times
than those spending less. In addition, those provinces
spending more had no higher rates of surgical specialist
services (consultations plus procedures) and had
lower rates of procedures and major surgeries (Zelder,
2000b). A follow-up study in 2003 found that increased
spending was actually correlated with increases in waiting
times unless those increases in spending were targeted
to physicians or pharmaceuticals (Esmail, 2003).
Finally, the promise of the Canadian health care system
is not being realized. On the contrary, a profusion of
research reveals that cardiovascular surgery queues
are routinely jumped by the famous and politically connected,
that suburban and rural residents confront
barriers to access not encountered by their urban
counterparts, and that low-income Canadians have
less access to specialists, particularly cardiovascular
ones, are less likely to utilize diagnostic imaging, and
have lower cardiovascular and cancer survival rates
than their higher-income neighbours....
...A second qualification is that non-price rationing of a
vital product such as medical services is fair and is perceived
to be fair by society. To the extent that fairness
is an objective, one might argue that non-price rationing
provides collective benefits that outweigh the inefficiencies
identified above. However, depending upon
how the non-price rationing occurs, the resulting distribution
of benefits may not be any improvement
upon the price-rationing outcome. In fact, many inequities
have been discovered in the current system.
Preferential access to cardiovascular surgery on the
basis of “nonclinical factors” such as personal prominence
or political connections is common (see Alter,
Basinski, and Naylor, 1998). As well, residents of suburban
Toronto and Vancouver have been found to experience
longer waiting times than do their urban
counterparts (Ramsay, 1997) and residents of northern
Ontario receive substantially lower travel reimbursement
from the provincial government than do southern
Ontarians when travelling for radiation treatment
(Priest, 2000; and Ombudsman Ontario, 2001). Finally,
low-income Canadians are less likely to visit medical
specialists, including cardiac specialists (Dunlop,
Coyte, and McIsaac, 2000), are less likely to utilize
diagnostic imaging (Demeter et al., 2005), and have
lower cardiac and cancer survival rates (Alter, et al.
1999; Mackillop, 1997) than higher-income Canadians.
This evidence indicates that rationing by waiting is
often a facade for a system of personal privilege, and
perhaps even greater inequality than rationing by
How Poor are the Poor?
...And a closer look at the numbers reveals that even those Americans described as poor aren't as impoverished as the media and many politicians would have us believe. According to my colleague Robert Rector, a Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy, the typical American defined as "poor" by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer and a microwave. He also has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. And in case you are wondering, Rector draws this information from various (and all available to the public) government and public expenditure reports....
Don't fight, adapt
We should give up futile attempts to combat climate change
...Contrary to the impression left by the IPCC Summary reports:
Recent observations of phenomena such as glacial retreats, sea-level rise and the migration of temperature-sensitive species are not evidence for abnormal climate change, for none of these changes has been shown to lie outside the bounds of known natural variability.
The average rate of warming of 0.1 to 0. 2 degrees Celsius per decade recorded by satellites during the late 20th century falls within known natural rates of warming and cooling over the last 10,000 years.
Leading scientists, including some senior IPCC representatives, acknowledge that today's computer models cannot predict climate. Consistent with this, and despite computer projections of temperature rises, there has been no net global warming since 1998. That the current temperature plateau follows a late 20th-century period of warming is consistent with the continuation today of natural multi-decadal or millennial climate cycling....
Sunday, December 16, 2007
WHY WE TORTURE....Responding to yesterday's post about the conservative moral justification for the use of waterboarding, stress positions, etc. against detainees in American custody, one of my conservative correspondents wrote to me this morning to explain why he supports the torture of suspected terrorists...
Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry
WASHINGTON — For months, the Bush administration has waged a high-profile campaign, including personal lobbying by President Bush and closed-door briefings by top officials, to persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting companies from lawsuits for aiding the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.
But the battle is really about something much bigger. At stake is the federal government’s extensive but uneasy partnership with industry to conduct a wide range of secret surveillance operations in fighting terrorism and crime.
The N.S.A.’s reliance on telecommunications companies is broader and deeper than ever before, according to government and industry officials, yet that alliance is strained by legal worries and the fear of public exposure.
To detect narcotics trafficking, for example, the government has been collecting the phone records of thousands of Americans and others inside the United States who call people in Latin America, according to several government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program remains classified. But in 2004, one major phone carrier balked at turning over its customers’ records. Worried about possible privacy violations or public relations problems, company executives declined to help the operation, which has not been previously disclosed. ...
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Mapping a gunman’s path (updated)
When it comes to covering the Youth With A Mission shootings, journalists in the mainstream media are still searching for a template to use.
What’s a template? It’s a pattern, an intellectual road map, a set of guiding principles for coverage based on years of experience and previous coverage (especially the coverage in major newsrooms that set the standards for other journalists across the nation).
For example: Let’s say that a heavily armed conservative Christian guns down some worshippers in a congregation affiliated with the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church after days or weeks of spewing violent, anti-gay language on the Internet. This fits the “hate crime” template.
A white racist blows up a predominantly African-American church. This fits the racism and “hate crime” template.
A Christian attacks a local mosque. Hate crime. A Muslim attacks a local synagogue. This act is transfered over to a more complex template linked to terrorism. It is not simply a hate crime.
If ex-gay activists disrupted a same-sex union in an Episcopal parish, that would be a hate crime. If gay-rights activists disrupt a Mass in a Catholic parish, that fits into a civil-rights protest template. It is not a hate crime....
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
YOUNG LIFE Puts the "Scat" in Eschatology
Police were called when a Christian youth group, Young Life, staged what amounted to an adult baby (ab/dl, or paraphilic infantilism) contest with its young members.
The teenaged boys were taken to a restroom and told put on adult diapers and baby bonnets. They were then instructed to sit in the laps of girls, who spoonfed them baby food, and gave them baby bottles full of soda pop. Whoever finished first would be declared the winner.
The national spokesman for the group, O.J. Wandrisco, called these "icebreakers."
At a previous meeting girls were asked to eat chocolate pudding out of diapers....
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Our Second Amendment: The Founders’ Intent"
...The Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” For almost two centuries, the understanding was that law-abiding individuals had a right to possess rifles, pistols, and shotguns. This would promote a militia of all able-bodied citizens, which, unlike a standing army, was seen as securing a free country.
The agenda to pass firearms prohibitions led to the invention of the “collective rights” view by the 1960s. Under this view, the Amendment protects only the power of states to have militias. A variation asserts that it guarantees a right to bear arms in the militia, nothing more. These attempts to deconstruct ignore that “the people” means you and me, not the states, and that no “right” exists to do anything in a military force—a militiaman does what is commanded....
Monday, December 10, 2007
Official identifies Colorado attacker as man who `hated Christians'...
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) A law enforcement official in Colorado says the deadly shootings at a megachurch and a missionary training school are believed to have been carried out by the same person.
The official identified the gunman to The Associated Press as 24-year-old Matthew Murray, the son of a distinguished neurologist who is a prominent researcher on multiple sclerosis.
The official says Murray is a suburban Denver man who "hated Christians." ...
...Matthew Murray lived there along with a brother, Christopher, 21, a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.
A neighbor, Cody Askeland, 19, said the brothers were home-schooled, describing the whole family as "very, very religious."...
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Bali: no more jaw-jaw, this is climate war
...There are those, however, who think a bit of impoverishment is absolutely necessary - and they justify their argument by invoking the spirit and images of war. Madeleine Bunting, writing in Monday’s Guardian, declared that we need to move to ‘a low-consumption economy oriented towards facilitating the real sources of human fulfilment’. She continues:
‘Hearteningly, we know it can be done - our parents and grandparents managed it in the Second World War. This useful analogy, explored by Andrew Simms in his book Ecological Debt, demonstrates the critical role of government. In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved… by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of twenty-first century politics - something that, right now, all the main political parties are much too scared to admit.’ ...
...The war talk over global warming also reflects an increasing desperation on the part of eco-activists, commentators and official environment departments. For them, governments and voters are simply not responding with sufficient panic to this apparent planetary emergency. So they are adopting an hysterical tone to try to get people’s attention. But the bottom line is that most people - quite rightly - do not wish to live under austerity measures. We’re actually rather keen on our material wealth, thank you very much, and we’d rather not live in a society where all sorts of punitive state action can be undertaken in the name of saving the planet....
Who's Afraid of 'Gun Culture'
...It is worth removing the mystique from guns in order to stop the irrational and emotive discussion about them. How dangerous are they? It may sound shocking to note that in 2004 there were 11,624 gun-related homicides in the United States. However, the overall US homicide rate (0.043 deaths per 1000 people per year) is lower than many other countries, including EU members Poland (0.056) and Bulgaria (0.045). And if we compare other statistics in this large country, a clearer picture emerges. There were twice as many unintentional poisonings in 2004 as gun homicides and there were more deaths by falling, too. Why not launch a campaign against oysters or ladders? Statistically, adding a swimming pool to your house is far more dangerous than keeping a gun there. The chances of children being shot at school are less than being struck by lightning at school. As Gary Kleck has pointed out, instead of metal detectors in schools, it would make more sense to equip children with lightning rods (2).
Nor do guns turn people into killers with their magic powers. A survey of state prisoners shows that approximately 50 percent of ‘intimate’ crimes are committed under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Half of those had been drinking for at least six hours. In a study of the victims of near-fatal domestic shootings and stabbings, 78 per cent of the victims volunteered a history of hard-drug use, and 16 per cent admitted using heroin the day of the incident. These were not ordinary people arguing about what television programme to watch (3).
Significantly, fewer than one gun owner in 3,000 commits homicide; and that one killer is far from a typical gun owner. Studies have found two-thirds to four-fifths of homicide offenders have prior arrest records, frequently for violent felonies. A study by the pro-control Police Foundation of domestic homicides in Kansas City in 1977 revealed that in 85 per cent of homicides among family members, the police had been called in before to break up violence. In half the cases, the police had been called in five or more times. State prisoners serving time for ‘intimate’ violence, two-thirds had a prior conviction history. Forty per cent of convicted violent offenders had a ‘criminal justice status’ while committing the crime (eg, on bail or parole).
Besides the myth that guns turn ordinary people into homicidal maniacs, there is the myth that making firearms available to more people raises the homicide rate. By using historical and international comparisons, this myth is easily dispatched. In the first 30 years of the twentieth century, US per capita handgun ownership remained stable, but the homicide rate rose tenfold. Subsequently, between 1937 and 1963, handgun ownership rose by 250 per cent, but the homicide rate fell by 35.7 per cent. Canada and Norway, both with a high percentage of gun ownership, have a lower homicide rate per 100,000 than does the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom had far lower homicide rates in Victorian times – when any man, woman, or child could walk into a shop and buy a gun legally – than in the period since 1920, when it was no longer deemed a right to own a firearm (4).
Another oft-repeated myth is that the sole purpose of a gun is to kill people. This is simply not true. There are between 100 million and 140 million guns in the United States, a third of them handguns. The ratio of people who commit handgun crimes each year to handguns is 1:400 (keep in mind that a handgun crime can involve accidentally walking into an airport with a gun); the ratio of handgun homicides to handguns is 1:3,600. Turning the statistics around, in the United States, well over 99 per cent of guns have never been used in any crime (5).
Also, if the sole purpose of a handgun is to kill people, why don’t gun-control enthusiasts target the guns of the police in order to prevent gun deaths?...
Monday, December 03, 2007
Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts
A decade after the Pentagon declared a zero-tolerance policy for racist hate groups, recruiting shortfalls caused by the war in Iraq have allowed "large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists" to infiltrate the military, according to a watchdog organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist and right-wing militia groups, estimated that the numbers could run into the thousands, citing interviews with Defense Department investigators and reports and postings on racist Web sites and magazines.
"We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," the group quoted a Defense Department investigator as saying in a report to be posted today on its Web site, www.splcenter.org. "That's a problem."...
...The groups are being abetted, the report said, by pressure on recruiters, particularly for the Army, to meet quotas that are more difficult to reach because of the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq.
The report quotes Scott Barfield, a Defense Department investigator, saying, "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don't remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members."
Mr. Barfield said Army recruiters struggled last year to meet goals. "They don't want to make a big deal again about neo-Nazis in the military," he said, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they'll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."...
Friday, November 23, 2007
The Tragedy of the Commons
...When the Pilgrims first settled the Plymouth Colony, they organized their farm economy along communal lines. The goal was to share everything equally, work and produce.
They nearly all starved. ...
..."So as it well appeared that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented," wrote Gov. William Bradford in his diary. The colonists, he said, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length after much debate of things, [I] (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land."
The people of Plymouth moved from socialism to private farming. The results were dramatic.
"This had very good success," Bradford wrote, "for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many. "...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Property right wrongly taken
...Despite owning the land, despite living only 200 yards from the property, despite hiking past it every week with their three dogs, despite spraying for weeds and fixing fences, despite paying homeowner association dues and property taxes each year, someone else had taken a shine to it. Someone powerful.
Former Boulder District Judge, Boulder Mayor, RTD board member - among other elected positions - Richard McLean and his wife, attorney Edith Stevens, used an arcane common law called "adverse possession" to claim the land for their own.
All McLean needed was to develop an "attachment" to it.
Undoubtedly, his city connections couldn't have hurt, either.
In the court papers, McLean and his family admit to regularly trespassing on the Kirlins' property.
They created paths. They said they put on a political fundraiser and parties on it (though not a single photograph of these events surfaced in court documents).
This habit of trespassing developed into an affection.
If we take McLean at his word, he should have been treated appropriately: like a common criminal. Instead, the former judge demanded a chunk of the land for himself - and implausibly he got it.
How did the Kirlins learn this travesty was afoot? Susie Kirlin was warned about it at a Boulder High School football game. Be cautious, her neighbor warned, someone has designs on your property.
"I laughed when I first heard it. I really didn't know that anyone had an emotional attachment to our land," Kirlin tells me. "I was quite surprised. I was even more surprised that someone could claim our land. But my neighbor told me this was a well- connected person and I should take it seriously."
When the couple began building a fence on the land - which is within Boulder city limits, not out in the wilderness - McLean was able, according to the Kirlins, to obtain a restraining order in an exceptionally speedy 2 1/2 hours. ...
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Is Heaven Populated Chiefly by the Souls of Embryos?
What are we to think about the fact that Nature (and for believers, Nature's God) profligately creates and destroys human embryos? John Opitz, a professor of pediatrics, human genetics, and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Utah, testified before the President's Council on Bioethics that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in women's normal menstrual flows unnoticed. This is not miscarriage we're talking about. The women and their husbands or partners never even know that conception has taken place; the embryos disappear from their wombs in their menstrual flows. In fact, according to Opitz, embryologists estimate that the rate of natural loss for embryos that have developed for seven days or more is 60 percent. The total rate of natural loss of human embryos increases to at least 80 percent if one counts from the moment of conception. About half of the embryos lost are abnormal, but half are not, and had they implanted they would probably have developed into healthy babies.
So millions of viable human embryos each year produced via normal conception fail to implant and never develop further. Does this mean America is suffering a veritable holocaust of innocent human life annihilated? Consider the claim made by right-to-life apologists like Robert George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, that every embryo is "already a human being." Does that mean that if we could detect such unimplanted embryos as they leave the womb, we would have a duty to rescue them and try to implant them anyway?
"If the embryo loss that accompanies natural procreation were the moral equivalent of infant death, then pregnancy would have to be regarded as a public health crisis of epidemic proportions: Alleviating natural embryo loss would be a more urgent moral cause than abortion, in vitro fertilization, and stem-cell research combined," declared Michael Sandel, a Harvard University government professor, also a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.
As far as I know, bioconservatives like Robert George do not advocate the rescue of naturally conceived unimplanted embryos. But why not? In right-to-life terms, normal unimplanted embryos are the moral equivalents of a 30-year-old mother of three children.
Of course, culturally we do not mourn the deaths of these millions of embryos as we would the death of a child—and reasonably so, because we do in fact know that these embryos are not people. Try this thought experiment. A fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you have a choice: You can save a three-year-old child or a Petri dish containing 10 seven-day old embryos. Which do you choose to rescue?
Stepping onto dangerous theological ground, it seems that if human embryos consisting of one hundred cells or less are the moral equivalents of a normal adult, then religious believers must accept that such embryos share all of the attributes of a human being, including the possession of an immortal soul. So even if we generously exclude all of the naturally conceived abnormal embryos—presuming, for the sake of theological argument, that imperfections in their gene expression have somehow blocked the installation of a soul—that would still mean that perhaps 40 percent of all the residents of Heaven were never born, never developed brains, and never had thoughts, emotions, experiences, hopes, dreams, or desires. ...
Monday, November 19, 2007
IPCC: separating fact from fright
...However, behind the more alarmist statements made in press conferences, the actual IPCC working group reports – certainly as regards the physical basis for climate change – have at least engaged to some extent with alternative explanations and forecasts for warming, and have couched their assessments more carefully and cautiously than either the public pronouncements of IPCC officials or popular discussion of climate change would suggest.
So, for example, while the headlines would suggest that the Greenland ice sheet is about to melt, catastrophically resulting in sea level rises of seven metres, the report makes clear that this process would take millennia. The report actually suggests that sea level will rise over the next century by 18-59 centimetres. Meanwhile, the report says: ‘Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and gain mass due to increased snowfall.’ In other words, unless great chunks fall off the edge of the South Pole’s ice sheet, the mass of ice is likely to get bigger. While the overall rise in sea levels could still be damaging to very low-lying coastal areas, there will be no need to build an ark any time soon. ...
...In truth, when global leaders suggest that we must make swingeing emissions cuts, they almost certainly do so in bad faith. Such cuts are not desirable or achievable at present. However, the current concern about the environment provides leaders with a moral mission through which they can prop up political life. In an era when There is No Alternative to the free market, and the future is usually envisaged as a bleaker version of the present, politics – perhaps even society itself – appears to have no purpose. Trying to avoid global catastrophe seems the nearest thing to a big idea that can bring us all together, even if the underlying message – ‘humans are screwing up the planet’ – is a misanthropic one.
Hence the heat and bitterness with which IPCC reports are dissected and discussed. Because if the problem seems anything less than urgent, then there’s the possibility that it will be ignored by the mass of the population, or, more likely, carefully compared to other problems to see which are the most pressing. Thus, the IPCC process is a thoroughly politicised one, and it has been been since day one, as Tony Gilland has before noted on spiked (see Digging up the roots of the IPCC). The widely publicised policy documents are the result of scientific reviews being scrutinised by a rag-tag of political appointees and campaigners to produce a statement that suits a variety of agendas. Ironically, after years in which the IPCC reports have been accused of being hijacked by greens, green campaigners are now arguing that the reports are being watered down for political ends.
The reason the IPCC matters so much in public debate is not because it provides us with a summary of current climate science (which the workgroup reports do attempt to do, for better or worse), but because it provides leaders, commentators and activists with something else entirely: ‘The Science.’ This product may look like a set of scientific statements, but is in many ways the exact opposite of science. ‘The Science’ is ‘unequivocal’ rather than sceptical and cautious in its conclusions; ‘The Science’ is built on an artificial consensus rather than on a real battle of competing ideas that admits the possibility that current thinking could be completely wrong; ‘The Science’ very strongly implies a particular direction for policy (greenhouse gas emission reductions) which is apparently above politics, rather than merely informing a political debate about how we take society forward on the basis of human need and desire.
Armed with ‘The Science’, campaigners and politicians demand all sorts of sacrifices based on one of the few remaining sources of authority that still cuts any ice with the majority of the population. Perversely, the very success of science in improving our lives is being latched on to as a means of potentially making our lives worse in the future. ...
FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes
Hundreds of defendants sitting in prisons nationwide have been convicted with the help of an FBI forensic tool that was discarded more than two years ago. But the FBI lab has yet to take steps to alert the affected defendants or courts, even as the window for appealing convictions is closing, a joint investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" has found.
The science, known as comparative bullet-lead analysis, was first used after President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The technique used chemistry to link crime-scene bullets to ones possessed by suspects on the theory that each batch of lead had a unique elemental makeup.
In 2004, however, the nation's most prestigious scientific body concluded that variations in the manufacturing process rendered the FBI's testimony about the science "unreliable and potentially misleading." Specifically, the National Academy of Sciences said that decades of FBI statements to jurors linking a particular bullet to those found in a suspect's gun or cartridge box were so overstated that such testimony should be considered "misleading under federal rules of evidence."
A year later, the bureau abandoned the analysis.
But the FBI lab has never gone back to determine how many times its scientists misled jurors. Internal memos show that the bureau's managers were aware by 2004 that testimony had been overstated in a large number of trials. In a smaller number of cases, the experts had made false matches based on a faulty statistical analysis of the elements contained in different lead samples, documents show....
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Lives of Others
...As Sartwell notes, one of the central ironies--or, let's be charitable, paradoxes--of theories of the state as either an arbiter of justice or a guarantor of rights is that the state inevitably becomes the largest violator of its espoused principles of justice and subverter of rights. The state that claims it exists to protect the right to life arrogates itself of the right to take life, and so on. There are common good arguments here--that in order to protect the greatest number of lives, for instance, it's necessary to take a few; that agents of the state, conceived as essentially external to humanity and therefore immunized against the required protection of this or that right, must act in such capacity for the greater good. I find these arguments almost transparently silly, but I'm not going to address that here. The germane point is this: that violating human rights even up to the point of death, and that approving of or acceding to such violations are conditions authorized by states.
It may well be that if a state of war or conflict didn't exist between Iraq (or elements in Iraq) and the United States, then people would react with relative indifference to news of a crew of Americans massacring a lot of innocent Iraqis, but I think it's wrong to believe that there would be no outrage. In the absence of state sanction, such actions would rightly be seen as murder and condemned. In fact, we can see the operations of this very dynamic in the developing case of the Blackwater mercenaries. As the impression that their actions were sanctioned in war diminishes and the idea that they were acting outside of the violence permitted by our state grows, the domestic American reaction has increasingly been one of shock, horror, dismay, and disapproval--as if they had, indeed, committed murder. We might pause to note the sad supporting evidence that every day American troops, American pilots, American actions do kill dozens of innocents and otherwise violate their basic rights, and these actions are met with indifference or approval because they are state-sanctioned. And of course, it's worth noting that the very conditions which allowed the Blackwater guards to conduct themselves as they did--right or wrong--were 100% dependent on American state actions....
Monday, November 12, 2007
What happens when the boys in blue get too close to their keyboards.
"I crushed a dude's eye socket from repeatedly punching him in it and then I charged him with menacing and harassment (of me)."
"Seeing someone get Tasered is second only to pulling the trigger. That is money-puts a smile on your face."
Those are two of the statements posted by corrections deputy David B. Thompson of Multnomah County, Oregon to an Internet chat room. The inflammatory rhetoric sparked an ongoing investigation by the county sheriff's office, as well as reporting by the Portland Tribune and other local news outlets....
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Power, Privacy, and Government
I'm with you when you want to hold the telecos' feet to the fire for playing along with the Bush administration's nefarious eavesdropping ambitions. Really, I am.
But here's the thing: At last count, there were more than 3 million people working full time for the federal government. Every one of them has a telephone sitting on his desk. And an Internet connection. Many also have work-issued cell phones. I'm no math whiz, but by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, that amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
You can inveigh all you like against corporate power. But corporations by themselves can't force us to do anything we don't want to do. Only the government has the power to do that--or corporations with power on loan from the government.
The federal government is enormous. It has a massive and growing influence over what happens in the private sector. Witness (as I've pointed out many times before) the fact that the richest counties in America today aren't near the country's entrepreneurial epicenters, but in the D.C. suburbs, home to most of the country's federal employees and government contractors. Now as lefties, you may find all of this to be sweet potato pie. But know that a federal government of today's size and scope also gives whoever is controlling it enormous leverage to bend the private sector to his liking. That's great when your party is holding the reins. Not so good when it isn't....
...Shouldn't that tell you something about just how frighteningly large and influential the federal government has become? The telecos concluded it's better for their collective bottom lines to risk pissing off all of their other customers than to risk pissing off this one.
If you want to blame "corporate greed" for the telecos selling out their customers, go right ahead. But recognize the cause behind that greed for what it is: massive market distortion wrought by an enormous and growing federal government. Don't blame it on the "free market," or "privatization." The free market had nothing to do with it....
In Japan, policework not exactly like CSI
...But Saito's death has given credence to complaints by a group of frustrated doctors, former pathologists and ex-cops who argue that Japan's police culture is the main obstacle. Police discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher murder rate in their jurisdiction and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart failure, they allege.
Odds are, they say, that people are getting away with murder in Japan, a country that officially claims one of the world's lowest per capita murder rates.
"You can commit a perfect murder in Japan because the body is not likely to be examined," says Hiromasa Saikawa, a former member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police security and intelligence division.
He says senior police officers are "obsessed with statistics because that's how you get promotions" and strive to reduce the number of criminal cases as much as possible to keep their almost perfect solution rate.
Japan's annual police report says its officers made arrests in 96.6 percent of the country's 1,392 murders in 2005.
But Saikawa, who says he became disillusioned by "fishy" police practices, left the force in 1997 after 30 years. He claims that police try to avoid adding murders to their caseload unless the identity of the killer is obvious....
Friday, November 09, 2007
The Cancer From Within
...My son and I then made our way to the modernist aluminum chapel, where I expected to hear a welcome from one or two Air Force chaplains offering counsel, support and an open-door policy for any spiritual or pastoral needs of these future cadets. In 1966, the academy had six gray-haired chaplains: three mainline Protestants, two priests and one rabbi. Any cadet, regardless of religious affiliation, was welcome to see any one of these chaplains, who were reminiscent of Father Francis Mulcahy of “MASH” fame.
Instead, my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder. He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks. This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy. I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.
I no longer recognize the Air Force Academy as the institution I attended almost four decades earlier. At that point, I had no idea how invasive this extreme evangelical “cancer” had become throughout the entire military, that what I had witnessed was far from an isolated case of a few religious zealots. ...
...The academy chaplain staff had grown 300 percent while the cadet population had decreased by 25 percent: from six mainline chaplains to 18 chaplains, the additional 12 all evangelical. The academy even gained 25 reserve chaplains, also nonexistent in earlier times, for a total of 43 chaplains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chaplain for every 100 cadets.
In the following weeks, a uniformed Army Maj. Gen. William Boykin began sharing his Christian supremacist views from church pulpits around the country, declaring that he was “God’s Warrior” and that “America is a Christian nation.” He demeaned the entire Muslim world by stating that his God was bigger than a Muslim warlord’s god and that the Muslim’s god “was an idol.” He received little more than a token slap on the wrist. At the time, Joseph Schmitz, then the Department of Defense inspector general (Schmitz is currently the chief operating officer of Blackwater International), found that Boykin had committed no ethics violations....
...In what would have been my son’s academy summer encampment, chaplain Watties “suggested” that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would “burn in hell” if they did not receive Jesus as their savior. At the same time, the academy commandant, Weida, made a habit of including biblical passages in official e-mails and correspondence to subordinates and cadets. He had developed a secret “chant and response” with the cadets: When he yelled “Airpower,” the evangelical cadets in the know would respond “Rock, sir” in reference to the Bible story that Jesus built his house upon a rock.
Coincidentally, at this time and at the invitation of the academy, the Yale Divinity School was observing the pastoral care program for sexual assault victims at the academy. Under the leadership of professor Kristen Leslie, the Yale team issued a stunning report on the divisive and strident evangelical pressures by leadership and staff at the academy.
The response from academy leaders was telling. They at first denied the reports of Watties’ “hell-fire” threats. Under media pressure, they later claimed the violations were committed by a visiting reserve chaplain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chaplain of the Year himself: Watties. In an interview after receiving his Chaplain of the Year award, Watties boasted of baptizing young soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s swimming pool. It is difficult to think of more inflammatory and Crusader-like behavior in an Arab nation. ...
...Then-DoD Inspector General Schmitz, noted for his Christian supremacist rhetoric in the book “Blackwater,” sent a team led by evangelical “born again” Lt. Gen. Roger Brady to investigate the academy. Schmitz had recently found no ethics violations in the actions of Gen. Boykin and allowed Boykin’s promotion to senior military officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and “extraordinary rendition.” The “Brady Report” found the academy only to have an “insensitivity” problem. Air Force Academy graduate Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, “silenced” and removed from the major general promotion list, was secretly promoted with back pay the following year at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. ...
...Here are just a few violations of that principle over the last three years: Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry hung a banner in the team locker room reading: “Competitor’s Creed: I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.” Baseball coach Mike Hutcheon, recruited from evangelical Christian Bethel College, forced players to lead team prayer during practice. When asked about locker room prayer in March 2007, Lt. Gen. John Regni, the academy superintendent, responded “we have chaplains that are attached to each of the teams and they are very important in that area.” In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, “...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” For over a decade, the official academy newspaper ran ads stating: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses....
...In December 2006, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought media focus to the Christian Embassy Evangelical Organization and its now famous video, which clearly showed the egregious ethics and constitutional violations of several flag officers and the breadth of the problem. Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who suggested in the film that his religious beliefs trump country and his oath to the Constitution, was cited last year for sending e-mails to military subordinates and contractors advocating they vote for a particular candidate for Congress, arguing that there are “not enough Christians in Congress.” West Point graduate and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, who was filmed stating “We are the aroma of Jesus Christ here in the Pentagon,” is now commandant of cadets at West Point. West Point graduate Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, another Christian Embassy star, was the “voice” and “face” of the press conferences at Qatar. His office is famous for the creation of the “Rambo” Jessica Lynch fabrications and the manipulation of the killing of Pat Tillman into a recruiting and media event. West Point graduate and evangelical Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, involved in the investigation of Tillman’s death, stated publicly that Pat Tillman’s family was not at peace with his death because they are atheists who believe their son is now “worm dirt.” Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, assigned as the senior U.S. military officer in Turkey at the time the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought the Christian Embassy into media focus, was questioned by Turkish officials about his membership in a radical evangelical cult.
Many are aware of the mercenary army, Blackwater USA, led by Eric Prince, former Ambassador Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz, the same Joseph Schmitz mentioned above. It is here where the ties become complex and suggestive of an even grander “crusade.”
As described by Jeremy Scahill in his book “Blackwater,” Prince, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy, comes from a wealthy theo-con family, is a “neo-crusader,” and a Christian supremacist. He has been given billions of dollars in federal contracts to create a private army. COO Schmitz, another Naval Academy graduate, is a member of the Order of Malta, a Christian supremacist organization dating back to the Crusades, and happens to be married to the sister of Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba. And Cofer Black, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department and former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, who was quoted by the BBC as saying “Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice,” brings his own skill set to the Blackwater team as vice chairman. ...
Sunday, November 04, 2007
America's Armageddonites Push for More War
Utopian fantasies have long transfixed the human race. Yet today a much rarer fantasy has become popular in the United States. Millions of Americans, the richest people in history, have a death wish. They are the new "Armageddonites," fundamentalist evangelicals who have moved from forecasting Armageddon to actually trying to bring it about.
Most journalists find it difficult to take seriously that tens of millions of Americans, filled with fantasies of revenge and empowerment, long to leave a world they despise. These Armageddonites believe that they alone will get a quick, free pass when they are "raptured" to paradise, no good deeds necessary, not even a day of judgment. Ironically, they share this utopian fantasy with a group that they often castigate, namely fundamentalist Muslims who believe that dying in battle also means direct access to Heaven. For the Armageddonites, however, there are no waiting virgins, but they do agree with Muslims that there will be "no booze, no bars," in the words of a popular Gaither Singers song.
These end-timers have great influence over the U.S. government's foreign policy. They are thick with the Republican leadership. At a recent conference in Washington, congressional leader Roy Blunt, for example, has said that their work is "part of God's plan." At the same meeting, where speakers promoted attacking Iran, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay glorified "end times." Indeed the Bush administration often consults with them on Mideast policies. The organizer of the conference, Rev. John Hagee, is often welcomed at the White House, although his ratings are among the lowest on integrity and transparency by Ministry Watch, which rates religious broadcasters. He raises millions of dollars from his campaign supporting Israeli settlements on the West Bank, including much for himself. Erstwhile presidential candidate Gary Bauer is on his Board of Directors. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also both expressed strong end-times beliefs.
American fundamentalists strongly supported the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. They consistently support Israel's hard-line policies. And they are beating the drums for war against Iran. Thanks to these end-timers, American foreign policy has turned much of the world against us, including most Muslims, nearly a quarter of the human race....
...Author and former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges argues that worldview and reasoning of the Armageddonites tend toward fascism. In his book American Fascists, Hedges focuses on their obedience to leadership, their feelings of humiliation and victimhood, alienation, their support for authoritarian government, and their disinterestedness in constitutional limits on government power. Theirs was originally a defensive movement against the liberal democratic society, particularly abortion, school desegregation, and now globalization, which they saw as undermining their communities and families, their values, and livelihood. Their fundamentalism is very fulfilling and, Hedges writes, "they are terrified of losing this new, mystical world of signs, wonders and moral certitude, of returning to the old world of despair."...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Al Gore's Wacky Facts
Facts don't matter. Only spin matters.
That's the main conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week.
My complaint has nothing to do with the science of global warming or whether or not the current warming of the planet is due solely to manmade causes. Rather, it's this: Gore won the prize even though his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, concludes with one of the most blatantly absurd statements ever committed to film.
Just before the final credits, in a segment that advises viewers as to what they might do to help slow global warming, the following line appears onscreen: "In fact, you can even reduce your carbon emissions to zero."
Again, the point is not whether or not I agree with Gore's view on warming. Instead the objection stems from this obvious point: We humans breathe. And in doing so, we emit carbon dioxide. The idea that we can somehow negate the gas that results from our respiration--through the legerdemain of carbon credits, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, or fleets of Toyota Priuses is simply not possible. And the fact that none of the dozens of smart people involved in the production of the movie--including, particularly, Gore himself--paused to consider the veracity of their declaration leaves me agog.
Imagine any other documentary--on virtually any subject--that concluded with a line that declared something like, "By the way, the world is flat." The producers and everyone associated with the movie would be the laughing stock of the modern world. And yet, when it comes to the claim that you can "reduce your carbon emissions to zero," Gore has been given a free pass. The obvious conclusion: facts and science don't really matter. What matters, it appears, is how dedicated you are to the cause of publicizing what Gore calls the "climate crisis." And thus, Gore's evangelism, not his facts, earned him the Nobel. ...
Monday, October 22, 2007
Today’s forecast: yet another blast of hot air
Am I worried about man-made global warming? The answer is “no” and “yes”.
No, because the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction has come up against an “inconvenient truth”. Its research shows that since 1998 the average temperature of the planet has not risen, even though the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to increase.
Yes, because the self-proclaimed consensus among scientists has detached itself from the questioning rigours of hard science and become a political cause. Those of us who dare to question the dogma of the global-warming doomsters who claim that C not only stands for carbon but also for climate catastrophe are vilified as heretics or worse as deniers....
...Name-calling may be acceptable in politics but it should have no place in science; indeed, what is happening smacks of McCarthyism, witch-hunts and all. Scientific understanding, however, is advanced by robust, reasoned argument based on well-researched data. So I turn to simple sets of data that are already in the public domain.
The last peak global temperatures were in 1998 and 1934 and the troughs of low temperature were around 1910 and 1970. The second dip caused pop science and the media to cry wolf about an impending, devastating Ice Age. Our end was nigh!
Then, when temperatures took an upward swing in the 1980s, the scaremongers changed their tune. Global warming was the new imminent catastrophe.
But the computer model – called “hockey stick” – that predicted the catastrophe of a frying planet proved to be so bent that it “disappeared” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s armoury of argument in 2007. It was bent because the historical data it used to predict the future dated from only the 1850s, when the world was emerging from the Little Ice Age. Little wonder that temperatures showed an upward trend.
In the Sixties I used to discuss climate change with my undergraduates at Durham University. I would point to the plethora of published scientific evidence that showed the cyclical nature of change – and how, for instance, the latest of a string of ice ages had affected the climate, sea levels and tree lines around the world. Thank goodness the latest crop of glaciers and ice sheets began to wane in earnest about 12,000 years ago; this gave Britain a window of opportunity to lead the industrial revolution.
The Romans grew grapes in York and during the worldwide medieval warm period – when civilizations blossomed across the world – Nordic settlers farmed lowland Greenland (hence its name) and then got wiped out by the Little Ice Age that lasted roughly from the 16th century until about 1850.
There is no escaping the fact that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising for 150 years – and very uniformly since the 1950s. Yet the temperature has not increased in step with CO2. Not only have there been long periods of little change in temperature, but also the year-to-year oscillations are totally unrelated to CO2 change. What is more, the trend lines of glacial shortening and rise in sea level have shown no marked change since the big increase in the use of fossil fuels since 1950.
How can this be explained unless there are other factors at work overriding the greenhouse effect of CO2? There are, of course, many to be found in the peer-reviewed literature: solar cycles, cosmic rays, cloud control and those little rascals, such as El Niño and La Niña, all of which are played down or even ignored by the global-warming brigade.
Let’s turn to Al Gore’s doom-laden Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. First, what is the point of scaring the families of the world with tales that polar bears are heading for extinction? Last year Mitchell Taylor, of the US National Biological Service, stated that “of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.” ...
Building God's (Christian) Army
At Speicher base in Iraq, U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.
Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.
On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall's constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier.
The MRFF plans more lawsuits in coming weeks, says Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, who founded the military watchdog group in 2005. The aim is "to show there is a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense."
For Mr. Weinstein -- a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House -- more is involved than isolated cases of discrimination. He charges that several incidents in recent years -- and more than 5,000 complaints his group has received from active-duty and retired military personnel -- point to a growing willingness inside the military to support a particular brand of Christianity and to permit improper evangelizing in the ranks. More than 95 percent of those complaints come from other Christians, he says....
Kurds From Iraq Kill 17 Soldiers in Turkey
BAGHDAD, Oct. 21 -- An audacious cross-border ambush by Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq killed at least 17 Turkish soldiers Sunday, ratcheting up pressure on the Turkish government to launch a military offensive into Iraq.
The pre-dawn attack took place as the U.S. military said its troops killed 49 fighters in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, one of the highest death tolls for a military operation since President Bush declared an end to active combat in 2003. ...
Turkey sends more troops to Iraq border
SIRNAK, Turkey - Dozens of Turkish military vehicles streamed toward the Iraqi border with heavy artillery and ammunition Monday after Kurdish guerrillas killed a dozen soldiers and claimed to have captured eight in an intensifying crisis threatening to spill into Iraq....
Sunday, October 21, 2007
A Vision of a Nation No Longer in the U.S.
If any New Yorker were to become the theoretician for a new secessionist movement, it figured to be Kirkpatrick Sale.
Mr. Sale, 70, was a campus rabble-rouser at Cornell in the 1950s long before Berkeley made being one fashionable, a model for a character in Richard Fariña’s classic ’60s novel, “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me,” a writer who worked briefly with his college pal Thomas Pynchon on a musical called “Minstral Island.”
For half a century, he’s written more or less from the left on issues of decentralization, the environment and technology — in praise of Luddites, envisioning with dread the rise of the Sun Belt, lambasting Christopher Columbus as a despoiler of the American Eden and predicting environmental doom in a way that is making him at the moment look more prescient than cranky....
...There, a group called the Second Vermont Republic has become a small-bore local phenomenon, with its call for a “genteel revolution,” opposed to “the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. government,” and committed to “the peaceful return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic and more broadly the dissolution of the Union.” Hence those “U.S. Out of Vt!” T-shirts.
Similarly, the language of the convention’s Chattanooga Declaration decries excess corporate and governmental power, says that the deepest issues of the time go beyond left and right and declares that liberty can survive only if political power is returned to local communities and states.
“The American Empire is no longer a nation or a republic,” it says, “but has become a tyrant aggressive abroad and despotic at home.”
Even those ill-disposed toward the idea of an independent Vermont, Hawaii or Alaska or to the new Confederacy envisioned by the League of the South might see some logic here. Back in 1981, the journalist Joel Garreau published “The Nine Nations of North America,” mapping out how economics, geography and culture really made it more logical for the United States, Canada and Mexico to be nine nations than three.
Mr. Sale argues that the big theme of contemporary history, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the evolution of the United Nations from 51 nations in 1945 to 192 now, is the breakup of great empires. And some on both left and right agree that the only cure for a federal government that’s too big and too powerful is to make it less big and less powerful.
His relentlessly bleak vision is that catastrophic events, long term (collapsing dollar, out-of-control oil prices, climate change) and short term (Iraq, Katrina, government-sanctioned torture), will produce the downsizing of America, secession movement or no.
“The virtue of small government is that the mistakes are small as well,” he said....
Saturday, October 20, 2007
AP: Sexual misconduct plagues US schools
...Students in America's schools are groped. They're raped. They're pursued, seduced and think they're in love.
An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.
There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.
Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.
And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.
Those are the findings of an AP investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators — the very definition of breach of trust.
The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. At least half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to their misconduct.
The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.
Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.
Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is that the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.
"From my own experience — this could get me in trouble — I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."
One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade. That figure includes verbal harassment that's sexual in nature....
The Song That Is Irresistible: How the State Leads People to Their Own Destruction
...Our rulers know how to sing that song, and they sing it day and night. The beached skulls are those of our fathers and our sons, our friends and our neighbors, for whom the song proved not only irresistible, but fatal.
The state is the most destructive institution human beings have ever devised — a fire that, at best, can be controlled for only a short time before it o'erleaps its improvised confinements and spreads its flames far and wide.
Whatever promotes the growth of the state also weakens the capacity of individuals in civil society to fend off the state's depredations and therefore augments the public's multifaceted victimization at the hands of state functionaries. Nothing promotes the growth of the state as much as national emergency — war and other crises comparable to war in the seriousness of the threats they pose.
States, by their very nature, are perpetually at war — not always against foreign foes, of course, but always against their own subjects. The state's most fundamental purpose, the activity without which it cannot even exist, is robbery. The state gains its very sustenance from robbery, which it pretties up ideologically by giving it a different name (taxation) and by striving to sanctify its intrinsic crime as permissible and socially necessary. State propaganda, statist ideologies, and long-established routine combine to convince many people that they have a legitimate obligation, even a moral duty to pay taxes to the state that rules their society.
They fall into such erroneous moral reasoning because they are told incessantly that the tribute they fork over is actually a kind of price paid for essential services received, and that in the case of certain services, such as protection from foreign and domestic aggressors against their rights to life, liberty, and property, only the government can provide the service effectively. They are not permitted to test this claim by resorting to competing suppliers of law, order, and security, however, because the government enforces a monopoly over the production and distribution of its alleged "services" and brings violence to bear against would-be competitors. In so doing, it reveals the fraud at the heart of its impudent claims and gives sufficient proof that it is not a genuine protector, but a mere protection racket.
All governments are, as they must be, oligarchies: only a relatively small number of people have substantial effective discretion to make critical decisions about how the state's power will be brought to bear. Beyond the oligarchy itself and the police and military forces that compose its Praetorian Guard, somewhat larger groups constitute a supporting coalition. These groups provide important financial and other support to the oligarchs and look to them for compensating rewards — legal privileges, subsidies, jobs, exclusive franchises and licenses, transfers of financial income and wealth, goods and services in kind, and other booty — channeled to them at the expense of the mass of the people. Thus, the political class in general — that is, the oligarchs, the Praetorian Guards, and the supporting coalition — uses government power (which means ultimately the police and the armed forces) to exploit everyone outside this class by wielding or threatening to wield violence against all who fail to pay the tribute the oligarchs demand or to obey the rules they dictate.
Democratic political forms and rituals, such as elections and formal administrative proceedings, disguise this class exploitation and trick the masses into the false belief that the government's operation yields them net benefits. In the most extreme form of misapprehension, the people at large become convinced that, owing to democracy, they themselves "are the government." ...
Monday, October 15, 2007
Al Gore’s ‘good lies’
Earlier this year, when Channel 4 showed Martin Durkin’s film The Great Global Warming Swindle, greens had a collective hissy fit. They argued that Durkin’s greens-slating, made-for-TV movie contained scientific errors, and thus it was ‘shockingly irresponsible’ of Channel 4 to show it. There were demands for the film to be cut and censored, and its makers censured; one website started a campaign to have Durkin expelled from TV-land forever (1).
Yet today, some of the very same green-leaning columnists and activists are loudly defending Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, despite revelations that it, too, contains scientific errors. Gore’s mistakes are nothing to worry about, they argue, because his film tells the ‘greater truth’ about climate change – that is, mankind is causing the planet to heat up, and if we don’t keep our greed and avarice in check we’re doomed.
The message of this shrieking double standard is that it’s okay to get your facts wrong so long as it is in service of a Bigger Truth. If you make mistakes while telling the modern morality tale of humanity’s perilous impact on the planet, as Gore did, you are forgiven; but if you make mistakes while criticising the green lobby, as Durkin did, you are ridiculed and threatened with censorship. In short? There are ‘good lies’ and ‘bad lies’. And because Gore is telling ‘good lies’, designed to raise awareness about climate change and encourage people to change their bad behaviour, he deserves our support. ...
...How have environmentalists, who leap upon every error or expression of doubt made by climate change sceptics as evidence that they’ve had their palms greased by evil oil corporations, responded to revelations of Gore’s ‘alarmist’ errors? By effectively saying, so what?
Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, was soothingly understanding about Gore’s little mistakes. The important thing, said Lynas, is that Gore’s film tells a bigger truth about climate change, and thus we shouldn’t worry too much about its ‘trivial’ errors: ‘[T]hese points…are trivial details in the context of the main argument of the film, which is unambiguously correct in its portrayal of mainstream scientific understanding of climate change.’ We should lay off Gore, says Lynas, since ‘nothing in science is ever certain’ (5). This is a far cry from Lynas’s denunciation of The Great Global Warming Swindle - Martin Durkin’s ‘campaign of disinformation and misrepresentation…to support his extremist ideological position’. After Durkin’s film was aired, greens treated ‘The Science’ on climate change very much as a certainty, rather than as a process of experimentation, debate and falsification – a certainty which they accused Durkin of sinning against (6).
One climatologist goes so far as to argue that Gore’s errors aren’t really errors. It’s just Gore being, you know, overly keen. ‘It would be fair to say that Al Gore presents the more extreme (concerned) end of the range of scientific opinion on several issues, and implies stronger evidence than is fair on several others. However, the film still achieves an exceptionally high standard of scientific accuracy, and it is regrettable that the judge has triggered a media storm by the injudicious use of the term “errors”.’ (7)
So, when is an error not an error? When it’s committed in the name of raising awareness about climate change, apparently. Gore’s argument that Greenland’s ice will melt and cause a 20-feet sea rise ‘in the near future’ isn’t an error – it is simply an ‘implication of stronger evidence than exists’ and a sign that Gore is at the ‘concerned end of scientific opinion’. Gore’s supporters are using all sorts of Orwellian Newspeak to disguise the fact that he got some things wrong, and made some pretty wild exaggerations about the fate of mankind. ...
Some Canadian mothers forced to give birth in U.S.
SEATTLE -- A problem in Canada's hospitals is sending scores of pregnant women south of the border to have their babies.
Carri Ash of Chilliwack, B.C. was sent to the U.S. to have her baby after her water broke on Sunday, ten weeks ahead of schedule.
"And they came in and said 'you're going to Seattle,'" she said.
Ash's hospital couldn't handle the high-risk pregnancy. Doctors searched for another hospital bed, but even hospitals in Vancouver, B.C. didn't have a neo-natal bed....
Brits resort to pulling own teeth
Some English people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth because they cannot find -- or cannot afford -- a dentist, a major study has revealed.
Six percent of those surveyed in an English study said they had resorted to dental "self-treatment."
Six percent of those questioned in a survey of 5,000 patients admitted they had resorted to self-treatment using pliers and glue, the UK's Press Association reported.
England has a two-tier dental care system with some dentists offering publicly subsidized treatment through the National Health Service and others performing more expensive private work.
But more than three-quarters of those polled said they had been forced to pay for private treatment because they had been unable to find an NHS dentist. Almost a fifth said they had refused dental treatment because of the cost....
Gore gets a cold shoulder
ONE of the world's foremost meteorologists has called the theory that helped Al Gore share the Nobel Peace Prize "ridiculous" and the product of "people who don't understand how the atmosphere works".
Dr William Gray, a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts, told a packed lecture hall at the University of North Carolina that humans were not responsible for the warming of the earth.
His comments came on the same day that the Nobel committee honoured Mr Gore for his work in support of the link between humans and global warming.
"We're brainwashing our children," said Dr Gray, 78, a long-time professor at Colorado State University. "They're going to the Gore movie [An Inconvenient Truth] and being fed all this. It's ridiculous."
At his first appearance since the award was announced in Oslo, Mr Gore said: "We have to quickly find a way to change the world's consciousness about exactly what we're facing."
Mr Gore shared the Nobel prize with the United Nations climate panel for their work in helping to galvanise international action against global warming.
But Dr Gray, whose annual forecasts of the number of tropical storms and hurricanes are widely publicised, said a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures - related to the amount of salt in ocean water - was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place.
However, he said, that same cycle meant a period of cooling would begin soon and last for several years....
Friday, October 12, 2007
An inconvenient peace prize
This year's Nobel peace prize justly rewards the thousands of scientists of the United Nations climate change panel (the IPCC). These scientists are engaged in excellent, painstaking work that establishes exactly what the world should expect from climate change.
The other award winner, former US vice-president Al Gore, has spent much more time telling us what to fear. While the IPCC's estimates and conclusions are grounded in careful study, Gore doesn't seem to be similarly restrained.
Gore told the world in his Academy Award-winning movie (recently labelled "one-sided" and containing "scientific errors" by a British judge) to expect 20-foot sea-level rises over this century. But his Nobel co-winners, the IPCC, conclude that sea levels will rise between only a half-foot and two feet over this century, with their best expectation being about one foot - similar to what the world experienced over the past 150 years.
Likewise, Gore agonises over the accelerated melting of ice in Greenland, but overlooks the IPCC's conclusion that, if sustained, the current rate of melting would add just three inches to the sea level rise by the end of the century. Gore also takes no notice of research showing that Greenland's temperatures were higher in 1941 than they are today. ...
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Gore climate film's 'nine errors'
...The nine errors alleged by the judge included:
# Mr Gore's assertion that a sea-level rise of up to 20 feet would be caused by melting of ice in either West Antarctica or Greenland "in the near future". The judge said this was "distinctly alarmist" and it was common ground that if Greenland's ice melted it would release this amount of water - "but only after, and over, millennia".
# Mr Gore's assertion that the disappearance of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa was expressly attributable to global warming - the court heard the scientific consensus was that it cannot be established the snow recession is mainly attributable to human-induced climate change.
# Mr Gore's reference to a new scientific study showing that, for the first time, polar bears had actually drowned "swimming long distances - up to 60 miles - to find the ice". The judge said: "The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm."
...Notes to teachers on the guidance, on the government's Teachernet website, say: "An Inconvenient Truth is a film that has had a big impact. Its aim is to make the science and the arguments about global warming and climate change and its effects accessible to all audiences. It also presents a powerful case in favour of one particular type of political response to climate change.
"However, in parts of the film, Gore presents evidence and arguments which do not accord with mainstream scientific opinion. This guidance points out, on a scene by scene basis, the areas where further input will be required from teaching staff. This guidance is designed to help teaching staff encourage their pupils to assess the validity and credibility of different information sources and explore different points of view so as to form their own opinions." ...
Why greens don’t want to ‘solve’ climate change
Environmental activists and commentators frequently argue that climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity, and that if we don’t do something about it the planet will burn up. Yet when planet-sized technological solutions to global warming – also known as ‘geo-engineering solutions’ – are put forward, environmentalists are the first to balk. ‘It will never work’, they say. Why are those who are most concerned about climate change also the most hostile to doing something serious to tackle it?
It isn’t just because such solutions would be ambitious, costly and distant in time; nor is it only because these solutions would carry risks. Rather, environmentalists tend to dismiss geo-engineering because, at root, they are not interested in halting climate change. For many today, both green activists and leading politicians, climate change is a moral and political issue rather than simply a practical problem. They see the ‘issue of climate change’ as a means to changing people’s behaviour and expectations, rather than simply as a byproduct of industrialisation that ought to be tackled by technological know-how. They are resistant to geo-engineering solutions because putting an end to climate change would rob them of their raison d’être. ...
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Stop your sobbing
... Environmentalist cautionary tales have had the opposite of their intended effect, provoking fatalism, conservatism, and survivalism among readers and the lay public, not the rational embrace of environmental policies. Constantly surprised and angered when people fail to behave as environmentalists would like them to, environment writers complain that the public is irrational, in denial, or just plain foolish. They presume that the failure of the public to heed their warnings says something meaningful about human nature itself, attributing humanity's disregard for Nature to desires like the lust for power and concluding that, in the end, we are all little more than reactive apes, insufficiently evolved to take the long view and understand the complexity and interconnectedness of the natural systems on which we depend....
...Environmental tales of tragedy begin with Nature in harmony and almost always end in a quasi-authoritarian politics. Eco-tragic narratives diagnose human desire, aspiration, and striving to overcome the constraints of our world as illnesses to be cured or sins to be punished. They aim to short-circuit democratic values by establishing Nature as it is understood and interpreted by scientists as the ultimate authority that human societies must obey. And they insist that humanity's future is a zero-sum proposition -- that there is only so much prosperity, material comfort, and modernity to go around. The story told by these eco-tragedies is not that humankind cannot stand too much reality but rather that Nature cannot stand too much humanity. ...
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Bryan Appleyard meets Bjorn Lomborg
...He says that polar bears – the poster beasts for the greens – are not dying off as the ice pack melts; in fact, they are increasing in numbers. He accepts that rising temperatures will result in more heat deaths, but there will be far fewer deaths from cold. And Al Gore’s vision of a flooded Florida as sea levels rise by 20ft within the next century is treated with derision. The Kyoto accord on limiting emissions, meanwhile, will achieve almost nothing and cost billions.
But Lomborg is neither saint nor apostate. He believes global warming is happening and humans are causing it. He just doesn’t think it’s that serious. Moreover, he thinks – as does the US government – technology is the answer. Attempting to cut emissions is as futile as expecting the Tories to charge for supermarket parking.
“There’s a huge difference between what people say and what they do,” observes Lomborg. “Look at all the websites where you can take a flight and offset your carbon. Only about 1% do it. Likewise this goes for most politicians who say they will cut emissions dramatically. Blair said in 1997 that he’d reduce carbon emissions by 15%; we’ve seen an increase of 3% since then.”
This all began in February 1997. Lomborg was in Los Angeles and he read an article in Wired magazine by the late Julian Simon, an American right-wing thinker, trashing the eco-catastrophists. He went back to Denmark and with his statistics students set about the task of proving Simon wrong. Except for a few details, they failed. By the end of the year, he had concluded that Simon was right and the green case was a wild exaggeration. In right-on, PC, left-wing, green Denmark this was heresy. But Lomborg had been trained in heresy. ...
...In 1998 he went into print in Denmark with his view on greenery, and in 2001 The Skeptical Environmentalist appeared in English. Next came Global Crises, Global Solutions. This was a collection of ideas from distinguished economists on the best ways to spend $50 billion on improving the human condition. Fighting global warming came low on all the lists.
The environmentalists were incandescent. His findings were assaulted on all sides. Scientific American magazine ran a feature in which scientists queued up to list ways in which he was wrong. The big accusation was that he was not an earth scientist. His defence was that he wasn’t doing earth science, he was simply analysing the figures on which the greens built their case.
A Danish government committee found him guilty of scientific dishonesty, a charge that was later withdrawn. “You were supposed to have good reasons for saying that, and they didn’t even provide a reason.”
Lomborg was further accused of being a shill for the Bush administration. After all, Bush and latterly Con-doleezza Rice insist that technology, not emissions controls, are the solution. Lomborg could have been writing the script. He acknowledges this but insists he retains his fundamental left-wing beliefs. He may tell the American government it is right about green technology, but he also tells it to divert resources to Aids and malaria in Africa. Does this really make him left wing?
“The way I see it, to be left wing is to care about people and making sure there are fewer inequalities and saying that what the market comes out with is not necessarily the right outcome. I actually thought I have always been historically left wing. This comes from the French revolution. These were the guys who believed in progress but also believed in facts against old-fashioned thinking. That’s what we are supposed to be about.”
His first two books put global warming in the context of other big problems, Cool It focuses solely on the environmental issue. His conclusion is that the best way to deal with warming is to set up an international research fund of $25 billion annually to seek solutions. This is, he calculates, about what the problem is worth. If the signs get worse, the sum could be increased. But the vast sums involved in cutting emissions are wasted because they are disproportionate to the problem, they will not work and they are politically futile. ...
Saturday, October 06, 2007
A tyranny of experts
In outsourcing their authority to international institutions, governments bypass the democratic process and treat their publics as simpletons.
...It is not the external impact of international forces, but rather a loss of confidence in the authority and legitimacy of the contemporary state that explains the rise and rise of the globalisation thesis. For some time, the state and public institutions have been suffering a crisis of legitimacy. As far back as the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was clear there was a widespread loss of trust in authoritative institutions in the Western world. Back then, one British observer noted that there was ‘disturbing evidence’ of a decline of ‘public confidence in the police’, which he considered to be a symptom of a ‘crisis of authority’ that affected the ‘most elemental relations of state power and the citizen’ (1)....
...Lacking confidence in their authority, political elites have started looking for other ways to authorise their actions. For example, they have embraced the authority of science and expertise. With the rise of ‘evidence-based policymaking’, a buzzphrase in Western political life today, traditional electoral authority has been replaced by the authority of the dispassionate expert. Increasingly, national government policies are authorised by external institutions and conventions. Such outsourcing of authority is especially striking in the European Union. Governments that have joined the EU no longer have to take direct responsibility for certain policy initiatives and measures; instead they point out that these policies emanate from a technocratic, supra-national body: the EU. In earlier times, national governments jealously guarded their policymaking processes and prerogatives. Today, they are eager to subordinate themselves to international protocols, and to ‘share’ authority with others. Often, the globalisation thesis provides a political rationale for this outsourcing of authority....
...Although it is frequently justified in terms of powerful states becoming more humble and open to new ideas, the ‘sharing of authority’ is fundamentally anti-democratic. Outsourcing authority is a top-down procedural project, which breaks policymaking from democratic accountability. By coming together with other elites in international institutions, governments become more accountable to one another than to their own citizens. In recent years, it’s become commonplace for governments to avoid responsibility for certain policies by claiming that the policies were imposed on them by their ‘institutional obligations’. Laїdi describes this process as follows: ‘The sharing of sovereignty is akin, then, to a kind of joint ownership, from which it is always more difficult to extricate oneself from co-tenancy.’ This metaphor of ‘co-ownership’ is, of course, a caricature of true sovereignty. It represents a new form of sovereignty that is divested of any popular pressure or accountability.
Both the critics and supporters of the EU frequently raise concerns about its formal and bureaucratic nature. However, it is no accident that the EU governs in such a slow, clunking fashion. The EU, like other international institutions, was specifically created with a view to bypassing democratic and popular pressure. As Laїdi concedes, ‘Europe is thus, fundamentally, a normative construction that draws, depending on the particular case, on standardisation, harmonisation, voluntary convergence of incentives’. Voluntary for technocrats and policymakers, perhaps, but not for the European masses. As Laїdi notes, in the EU the ‘high degree of normativity leads, at times, to a certain formalism of procedures, which generates a democratic deficit’. Yet for Laїdi, this erosion of democratic accountability is a small price to pay for a form of governance that is based on ‘globally responsible’ rules, and which is reflective of ‘global civil society’.
Today’s celebration of global civil society is motivated by a loss of faith in the public, and by a search for new forms of authority that are insulated from popular pressure. Ultimately, the shift of authority from the national sphere to the global sphere represents the outsourcing of authority to the expert. According to Laїdi, the main source of legitimacy of international civil society – that is, non-governmental organisations and formal international institutions – is its expertise. But there is a big problem with governance through expertise: it renders political choice redundant.
Laїdi fails to note the anti-democratic implications of expert authority. He even hints that such authority is not ‘prejudicial to the sovereignty of the state’. However, international civil society invariably prefers the view of the expert to the view of the democratically elected representative. ‘Expertise is an element of power wielded by the knowledgeable against decision-makers’, says Laїdi. A political drama in which the tension is between the expert and the decision-maker has little room for ordinary people. Instead, the public is expected simply to accept and live with the wisdom of decisions taken by experts and government regulators. Expert consensus, rather than public consensus, is the driving force of new forms of governance. ...
...There is another way of making sense of the trends discussed by Laїdi. The voluntary relinquishing of sovereignty by European elites does not show that they are high-minded, forward-looking, enlightened internationalists. Rather, it is an attempt by an insecure oligarchy, which senses that its authority is feeble and falling apart, to disavow full responsibility for its actions. That is why governments today feel so much more at home hanging out in international civil society than they do engaging with their own ‘populist’ public.