Monday, January 28, 2008

Iraq’s WMD myth: why Clinton is culpable
A former senior UN diplomat has revealed to me details of how, just over 10 years ago, the Clinton administration deliberately sabotaged UN weapons inspections in Iraq.

American officials were fearful that Iraq would be officially certified as weapons-free, a development that was seen as a political liability for Bill Clinton. Thus the stage was set for the manufacture of the Iraqi WMD myth as the excuse for George Bush's catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

It was March 1997. For six years the UN inspectors had been probing the secrets of Saddam's weapons programmes, in the process destroying huge quantities of chemical munitions and other production facilities. To enforce Saddam's cooperation, Iraq was subject to crushing sanctions.

Now, Rolf Ekeus, the urbane Swedish diplomat who headed the inspection effort, was ready to announce that his work was almost done. "I was getting close to certifying that Iraq was in compliance with Resolution 687," he confirmed to me recently.

At the time, he declared that although there were some loose ends to be cleared up, "not much is unknown about Iraq's retained proscribed weapons capabilities."

For the Clinton administration, this was a crisis. If Ekeus was allowed to complete his mission, then the suspension of sanctions would follow almost automatically.

Saddam would be off the hook and, more importantly for the Clintonites, the neo-conservative republicans would be howling for the president's blood.

The only hope was somehow to prevent Ekeus completing his mission.

Enter Madeleine Albright, newly appointed Secretary of State. On March 26, 1997, she strode on to the stage at Georgetown University to deliver what was billed as a major policy address on Iraq. Many in the audience expected that she would extend

some sort of olive branch toward the Iraqi regime, but that was far from her mind.

Instead, she was set on making sure that Saddam effectively ended his cooperation with the inspectors. "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted," she declared. Sanctions, she stated without equivocation, would remain unless or until Saddam was driven from power.

Ekeus understood immediately what Albright intended. "I knew that Saddam would now feel that there was no point in his cooperating with us, and that was the intent of her speech."...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Europeans Want Asian Financial Centers to Join Savings Tax Cartel
Politicians from Europe’s high-tax governments recognize that saving and investment are escaping to jurisdictions with less-punitive tax regimes. But rather than lower their oppressive tax rates, they are trying to gain the ability to track – and tax – flight capital.

A couple of years ago, they implemented the so-called savings tax directive, but this system is ineffective (from the perspective of politicians) since many financial centers are not part of the cartel and many types of investment vehicles are not covered. Not surprisingly, politicians from nations such as France and Germany want to expand the tax cartel to cover more nations and to capture more forms of saving and investment.

Fortunately, as reports, the Asian financial centers are not favorably disposed to serving as tax collectors for Europe’s inefficient welfare states....

Unintended Consequences
...A few months ago, a prospective patient called the office of Andrew Brooks, a top-ranked orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles. She was having serious knee trouble, and she was also deaf. She wanted to know if her deafness posed a problem for Brooks. He had his assistant relay a message: no, of course not; he could easily discuss her situation using knee models, anatomical charts and written notes.

The woman later called again to say she would rather have a sign-language interpreter. Fine, Brooks said, and asked his assistant to make the arrangements. As it turned out, an interpreter would cost $120 an hour, with a two-hour minimum, and the expense wasn’t covered by insurance. Brooks didn’t think it made sense for him to pay. That would mean laying out $240 to conduct an exam for which the woman’s insurance company would pay him $58 — a loss of more than $180 even before accounting for taxes and overhead.

So Brooks suggested to the patient that they make do without the interpreter. That’s when she told him that the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) allowed a patient to choose the mode of interpretation, at the physician’s expense. Brooks, flabbergasted, researched the law and found that he was indeed obliged to do as the patient asked — unless, that is, he wanted to invite a lawsuit that he would probably lose.

If he ultimately operated on the woman’s knee, Brooks would be paid roughly $1,200. But he would also then need to see her for eight follow-up visits, presumably with the $240 interpreter each time. By the end of the patient’s treatment, Brooks would be solidly in the red.

He went ahead and examined the woman, paying the interpreter out of his pocket. As it turned out, she didn’t need surgery; her knee could be treated through physical therapy. This was a fortunate outcome for everyone involved — except, perhaps, for the physical therapist who would have to pay the interpreter’s bills....

...Consider the Endangered Species Act (E.S.A.) of 1973, which protects flora and fauna as well as their physical habitats. The economists Dean Lueck and Jeffrey Michael wanted to gauge the E.S.A.’s effect on the red-cockaded woodpecker, a protected bird that nests in old-growth pine trees in eastern North Carolina. By examining the timber harvest activity of more than 1,000 privately owned forest plots, Lueck and Michael found a clear pattern: when a landowner felt that his property was turning into the sort of habitat that might attract a nesting pair of woodpeckers, he rushed in to cut down the trees. It didn’t matter if timber prices were low....

I am an intellectual blasphemer
...Yet from left to right, the warming that is occurring today is taken as being man-made, and many have made it into the central plank of their political campaigns. For reasons I find very hard to fathom, the environmental left movement has bought very heavily into the fantasy about anthropogenic global warming and the fantasy that humans can prevent or turn back the warming cycle.

This turn to climate catastrophism is tied into the decline of the left, and the decline of the left’s optimistic vision of altering the economic nature of things through a political programme. The left has bought into environmental catastrophism because it thinks that if it can persuade the world that there is indeed a catastrophe, then somehow the emergency response will lead to positive developments in terms of social and environmental justice.

This is a fantasy. In truth, environmental catastrophism will, in fact it already has, play into the hands of sinister-as-always corporate interests. The nuclear industry is benefiting immeasurably from the current catastrophism. Last year, for example, the American nuclear regulatory commission speeded up its process of licensing; there is an imminent wave of nuclear plant building. Many in the nuclear industry see in the story about CO2 causing climate change an opportunity to recover from the adverse publicity of Chernobyl.

More generally, climate catastrophism is leading to a re-emphasis of the powers of the advanced industrial world, through its various trade mechanisms, to penalise Third World countries. For example, the Indians have just produced an extremely cheap car called the Tata Nano, which will enable poorer Indians to get about more easily without having to load their entire family on to a bicycle. Greens have already attacked the car, and it won’t take long for the WTO and the advanced powers to start punishing India with a lot of missionary-style nonsense about its carbon emissions and so on....

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Capitalism is Good for the Soul
...The problem for those of us who believe that capitalism offers the best chance we have for leading meaningful and worthwhile lives is that in this debate, the devil has always had the best tunes to play. Capitalism lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies like socialism, fascism, or environmentalism can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods, but this fails to impress in countries like Australia that have come to take affluence for granted.

It is quite the opposite with socialism. Where capitalism delivers but cannot inspire, socialism inspires despite never having delivered. Socialism’s history is littered with repeated failures and with human misery on a massive scale, yet it still attracts smiles rather than curses from people who never had to live under it.(2) Affluent young Australians who would never dream of patronising an Adolf Hitler bierkeller decked out in swastikas are nevertheless happy to hang out in the Lenin Bar at Sydney’s Circular Quay, sipping chilled vodka cocktails under hammer and sickle flags, indifferent to the twenty million victims of the Soviet regime. Chic westerners are still sporting Che Guevara t-shirts, forty years after the man’s death, and flocking to the cinema to see him on a motor bike, apparently oblivious to their handsome hero’s legacy of firing squads and labour camps.(3)

Environmentalism, too, has the happy knack of inspiring the young and firing the imagination of idealists. This is because the radical green movement shares many features with old-style revolutionary socialism. Both are oppositional, defining themselves as alternatives to the existing capitalist system. Both are moralistic, seeking to purify humanity of its tawdry materialism and selfishness, and appealing to our ‘higher instincts.’ Both are apocalyptic, claiming to be able to read the future and warning, like Old Testament prophets, of looming catastrophe if we do not change our ways. And both are utopian, holding out the promise of redemption through a new social order based on a more enlightened humanity. All of this is irresistibly appealing to romantics.

Both socialism and environmentalism also share an unshakeable belief in their own infallibility, which further ramps up their attractiveness. Both dismiss their opponents as either ignorant (‘falsely conscious’) or in bad faith, and they are both reluctant to allow counter-arguments, evidence, or logic to deflect them from the urgent pursuit of their proffered solutions. Although they both ground their claims in ‘science,’ their appeal is as much emotional as rational, and both take themselves so seriously that they lose any sense of irony. Rockstars fly around the world in private jets to perform at sellout stadium concerts demanding action on global warming, and indignant youths coordinate anti-globalisation protests using global communication networks.

Boring capitalism cannot hope to compete with all this moral certainty, self-righteous anger, and sheer bloody excitement. Where is the adrenalin in getting up every day, earning a living, raising a family, creating a home, and saving for the future? Where is the moral crusade in buying and selling, borrowing and lending, producing and consuming? The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica describes ‘soul music’ as ‘characterised by intensity of feeling and earthiness.’ It is in this sense that capitalism is soulless, for although it fills people’s bellies, it struggles to engage their emotions. ...

... But the best explanation for the intellectuals’ distaste for capitalism was offered by Friedrich Hayek in The Fatal Conceit.(29) Hayek understood that capitalism offends intellectual pride, while socialism flatters it. Humans like to believe they can design better systems than those that tradition or evolution have bequeathed. We distrust evolved systems, like markets, which seem to work without intelligent direction according to laws and dynamics that no one fully understands.

Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on perfectly well without them. It does not need them to make it run, to coordinate it, or to redesign it. The intellectual critics of capitalism believe they know what is good for us, but millions of people interacting in the marketplace keep rebuffing them. This, ultimately, is why they believe capitalism is ‘bad for the soul’: it fulfils human needs without first seeking their moral approval.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Tyranny of Science
...This is a striking story: today, it frequently seems as if scientific authority is replacing religious and moral authority, and in the process being transformed into a dogma. At first sight, it appears that science has the last word on all the important questions of our time. Science is no longer confined to the laboratory. Parents are advised to adopt this or that child-rearing technique on the grounds that ‘the research’ has shown what is best for kids. Scientific studies are frequently used to instruct people on how to conduct their relationships and family life, and on what food they should eat, how much alcohol they should drink, how frequently they can expose their skin to the sun, and even how they should have sex. Virtually every aspect of human life is discussed in scientific terms, and justified with reference to a piece of research or by appealing to the judgment of experts....

...Yet whatever misgivings people have about science, its authority is unrivalled in the current period. The formidable influence of scientific authority can be seen in the way that environmentalists now rely on science to back up their arguments. Not long ago, in the 1970s and 80s, leading environmentalists insisted that science was undemocratic, that it was responsible for many of the problems facing the planet. Now, in public at least, their hostility towards science has given way to their embrace and endorsement of science. Today, the environmental lobby depends on the legitimation provided by scientific evidence and expertise. In their public performances, environmentalists frequently use the science in a dogmatic fashion. ‘The scientists have spoken’, says one British-based campaign group, in an updated version of the religious phrase: ‘This is the Word of the Lord.’ ‘This is what the science says we must do’, many greens claim, before adding that the debate about global warming is ‘finished’. This week, David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, caused a stink by criticising extreme green ‘Luddites’ who are ‘hurting’ the environmentalist cause. Yet when science is politicised, as it has been under the likes of King, who once claimed that ‘the science shows’ that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism, then it can quite quickly and inexorably be converted into dogma, superstition and prejudice (1). It is the broader politicisation of science that nurtures today’s dogmatic green outlook....

...Such science has more in common with the art of divination than the process of experimentation. That is why science is said to have a fixed and unyielding, and thus unquestionable, quality. Frequently, Gore and others will prefix the term science with the definite article, ‘the’. So Sir David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, recently said: ‘The science very clearly points towards the need for us all - nations, businesses and individuals - to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.’ Unlike ‘science’, this new term - ‘The Science’ - is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission....

Thursday, January 17, 2008

FBI wants instant access to British identity data
Senior British police officials are talking to the FBI about an international database to hunt for major criminals and terrorists.

The US-initiated programme, "Server in the Sky", would take cooperation between the police forces way beyond the current faxing of fingerprints across the Atlantic. Allies in the "war against terror" - the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand - have formed a working group, the International Information Consortium, to plan their strategy...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Environmental control
In the very near future, environmentally conscious Americans may have to ask themselves if individual and economic freedom matters.

Even those who accept the apocalyptic narrative of global warming may wonder if government should be permitted to dictate personal behavior and individual choice. How many mandates are enough? How many coercive policies are acceptable?

Then again, maybe any government intrusion is tolerable as long as the cause is laudable.

After all, what is one to make of the newest travesty that the California government has inflicted on its oppressed citizens? Next year, state government will likely take over "emergency" powers to control individual thermostats in many houses via a radio-controlled device.

Even if you happen to ride a bike to work, compost religiously, recycle and offer carbon dispensations to the altar of Mother Earth, California government — or, more precisely, some pinheads in the energy commission — will still dictate what level of power is acceptable in your abode.

It's been called Orwellian. It is. And the rationalization offered by good-intentioned supporters of these crass controls often goes like this: "Yes, we believe in personal freedom . . . except when it comes to global warming. This is a crisis."

Crisis — or the "endless series of hobgoblins," as H.L. Mencken put it — is typically the justification to expand power by any means necessary. It's similar to the rhetoric liberals accuse George Bush of abusing. If you don't know what I mean, try substituting the word "terrorism" for "global warming" when you make the case for CAFE standards that will put you behind the wheel of a fiberglass orb with a lawnmower engine. ...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Iowa's Histrionic Hucksters
...Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 — because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled, from 12 to 24, while the percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. "So," Rose says, "the entire 'decline' of the middle class came from people moving up the income ladder."...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

An outrageous threat to NHS patients
...There is apparently to be a clear warning that those who adhere to unhealthy habits such as smoking or failing to take regular exercise may be refused NHS care....

...This threat is morally outrageous and legally dubious: if lung cancer victims are really to be left to die without medical care because they are smokers, or heart disease sufferers turned away because they have not succeeded in losing weight, this will make a mockery of the principle of universal healthcare free at the point of need.

Such a policy would also fly in the face of the normal expectation of human rights. If a private insurance company to which people had been paying premiums over a lifetime were to declare retrospectively that it would not cover treatment for smokers or the overweight, its customers could rightly sue for breach of contract....

...So there are likely to be more cases of cancer patients being told that they will be cast out of NHS care altogether if they purchase drug treatment with their own funds which their hospital trusts would not provide....

...The extraordinary high-handedness of these proposals is symptomatic of all that is wrong with a tax-funded monopoly health system run by central government: ordinary people are encouraged to think of healthcare as a gift of the state....