Friday, May 30, 2008

Thou shalt not ask awkward questions
I might not know that much about climatology, but I know what I don’t like. And the things that I don’t like include the undermining of free speech, the railroading of opinion, the exploitation of science for political purposes, doom-mongering and misanthropic prejudice. All of these are, to one degree or another, fixtures of the strident crusade around man-made global warming. That is why I have always been instinctively, non-scientifically but seriously sceptical about many of the claims and demands made by the climate change crusaders. It is good to know that others who definitely do know a lot of climatology share some of that scepticism.

The Deniers grew out of Lawrence Solomon’s newspaper columns of the same name in Canada’s National Post. Solomon identifies authoritative but often little-known dissenters from various aspects of the climate change orthodoxy, and concisely summarises their research, arguments and qualifications. I will not attempt to summarise all of his summaries, but a couple of things stand out.

One is that, contrary to the caricature often drawn of scientific dissenters, these experts are quite prestigious and nobody’s idea of cranks....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Family

...Before the lights went out after midnight, they came together to pray for me, Jeff Connally's voice just above a whisper, asking God to "break" me. Dave, already broken, mumbled an amen.

* * *

Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, was known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the Family. The Family is in its own words an "invisible" association, though it has always been organized around public men. Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kansas), chair of a weekly, off - the- record meeting of religious right groups called the Values Action Team (VAT), is an active member, as is Representative Joe Pitts (R., Pennsylvania), an avuncular would-be theocrat who chairs the House version of the VAT. Others referred to as members include senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Steering Committee (the powerful conservative caucus co-founded back in 1974 by another Family associate, the late senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska); Pete Domenici of New Mexico (a Catholic and relatively moderate Republican; it's Domenici's status as one of the Senate's old lions that the Family covets, not his doctrinal purity); Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa); James Inhofe (R., Oklahoma); Tom Coburn (R., Oklahoma); John Thune (R., South Dakota); Mike Enzi (R., Wyoming); and John Ensign, the conservative casino heir elected to the Senate from Nevada, a brightly tanned, hapless figure who uses his Family connections to graft holiness to his gambling-fortune name. "Faith-based Democrats" Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, sincere believers drawn rightward by their understanding of Christ's teachings, are members, and Family stalwarts in the House include Representatives Frank Wolf (R., Virginia), Zach Wamp (R., Tennessee), and Mike McIntyre, a North Carolina Democrat who believes that the Ten Commandments are "the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States" and thus ought to be on display in schools and court houses.

The Family's historic roll call is even more striking: the late senator Strom Thurmond (R., South Carolina), who produced "confidential" reports on legislation for the Family's leadership, presided for a time over the Family's weekly Senate meeting, and the Dixie-crat senators Herman Talmadge of Georgia and Absalom Willis Robertson of Virginia—Pat Robertson's father—served on the behind-the-scenes board of the organization. In 1974, a Family prayer group of Republican congressmen and former secretary of defense Melvin Laird helped convince President Gerald Ford that Richard Nixon deserved not just Christian forgiveness but also a legal pardon. That same year, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist led the Family's first weekly Bible study for federal judges.

"I wish I could say more about it," Ronald Reagan publicly demurred back in 1985, "but it's working precisely because it is private."

"We desire to see a leadership led by God," reads a confidential mission statement. "Leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit." Another principle expanded upon is stealthiness; members are instructed to pursue political jujitsu by making use of secular leaders "in the work of advancing His kingdom," and to avoid whenever possible the label Christian itself, lest they alert enemies to that advance. Regular prayer groups, or "cells" as they're often called, have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries.

The Family's use of the term "cell" long predates the word's current association with terrorism. Its roots are in the Cold War, when leaders of the Family deliberately emulated the organizing techniques of communism. In 1948, a group of Senate staffers met to discuss ways that the Family's "cell and leadership groups" could recruit elites unwilling to participate in the "mass meeting approach" of populist fundamentalism. Two years later, the Family declared that with democracy inadequate to the fight against godlessness, such cells should function to produce political "atomic energy"; that is, deals and alliances that could not be achieved through the clumsy machinations of legislative debate would instead radiate quietly out of political cells. More recently, Senator Sam Brownback told me that the privacy of Family cells makes them safe spaces for men of power—an appropriation of another term borrowed from an enemy, feminism.5 "In this closer relationship," a document for members reads, "God will give you more insight into your own geographical area and your sphere of influence." One's cell should become "an invisible ‘believing group' " out of which "agreements reached in faith and in prayer around the person of Jesus Christ" lead to action that will appear to the world to be unrelated to any centralized organization.

In 1979, the former Nixon aide and Watergate felon Charles W. Colson—born again through the guidance of the Family and the ministry of a CEO of arms manufacturer Raytheon—estimated the Family's strength at 20,000, although the number of dedicated "associates" around the globe is much smaller (around 350 as of 2006). The Family maintains a closely guarded database of associates, members, and "key men," but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities. ...

Jesus Made Me Puke
...By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to "be rational" or "set aside your religion" about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this — once you've gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that's the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you're thinking with muscles, not neurons.

By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you've gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no "anything else." All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this "our thing," a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that's all.

Network news anchors praise the job they did in the run-up to the war
I was going to add this as an update to my prior post on Scott McClellan's extraordinary description of the media as "deferential, complicit enablers" of Bush administration "propaganda," but it should really stand on its own. Here is an absolutely amazing link to a video where the three network news anchors appeared jointly on The Today Show this morning and were forced by McClellan's book to address whether the media failed in its duties in the run-up to the war -- the first time, to my knowledge, that this topic has ever been broached by network news journalists (h/t Kitt). The fact that television news has blacked-out the whole issue until now is, by itself, rather amazing....

Bush 'plans Iran air strike by August'
NEW YORK - The George W Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months, an informed source tells Asia Times Online, echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently. ...

How the World's Richest Governments Starve the World's Poorest People
...Thus, almost all additional US corn production between 2004 and 2007, for instance, has been diverted to the production of ethanol, while the European ethanol production more than tripled during the same period. The increased use of grains for ethanol production has led to a fall in the supply of grains relative to overall demand during the last seven years (with the exception of 2006, which was compensated by the use of grain stocks, now at the lowest level globally in a quarter century). This situation is not, however, a natural market phenomenon, but the direct result of various government programs — usually in the world's most developed economies, although developing countries are catching up — that aim to promote more environmentally friendly energy technology or energy self-sufficiency by subsidizing and mandating the diversion of a growing percentage of agricultural commodities such as corn, sugar cane, wheat, and so on, to the production of bioethanol and biodiesel....

Bush misled U.S. on Iraq, former aide says in new book
WASHINGTON — The White House called former press secretary Scott McClellan "disgruntled" after he wrote a blistering review of the administration and concluded that his longtime boss misled the nation into an unnecessary war in Iraq in a book due out Monday.

"History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided — that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder," McClellan wrote in "What Happened," due out Monday. "No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact."

"What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary," he wrote in the preface....

Stafford minister jailed for sex with boy in '80s
A Stafford County minister went to jail yesterday after admitting that he molested a teenage boy more than 20 years ago.

The Rev. George O. Lowe, 71, pleaded guilty in Stafford Circuit Court to two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. Seven other charges were dropped.

His bond was revoked and Lowe is expected to remain in jail at least until he is sentenced in August.

Lowe was the pastor at Mount Hope Baptist Church in Stafford for 43 years until he was removed after being indicted earlier this year.

According to prosecutor Eric Olsen, the molestation took place in 1984 and 1985 at the church. The boy, whose family attended Lowe's church, was supposed to be getting counseling from Lowe.

Olsen said Lowe repeatedly touched the boy's private parts and performed oral sex on him. The victim said the abuse occurred at least 20 times.

Olsen said the victim reported the incidents to his family and to a deacon in the church several years later, and a meeting with Lowe was arranged.

Lowe quoted Scripture during that meeting regarding Christians not taking other Christians to court, Olsen said....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Police in Gun Searches Face Disbelief in Court
After listening carefully to the two policemen, the judge had a problem: He did not believe them.

The officers, who had stopped a man in the Bronx and found a .22-caliber pistol in his fanny pack, testified that they had several reasons to search him: He was loitering, sweating nervously and had a bulge under his jacket.

But the judge, John E. Sprizzo of United States District Court in Manhattan, concluded that the police had simply reached into the pack without cause, found the gun, then “tailored” testimony to justify the illegal search. “You can’t have open season on searches,” said Judge Sprizzo, who refused to allow the gun as evidence, prompting prosecutors to drop the case last May.

Yet for all his disapproval of what the police had done, the judge said he hated to make negative rulings about officers’ credibility. “I don’t like to jeopardize their career and all the rest of it,” he said.

He need not have worried. The Police Department never learned of his criticism, and the officers — like many others whose word has been called into question — faced no disciplinary action or inquiry.

Over the last six years, the police and prosecutors have cooperated in a broad effort that allows convicted felons found with a firearm to be tried in federal court, where sentences are much harsher than in state court. Officials say the initiative has taken hundreds of armed criminals off the street, mostly in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and turned some into informers who have helped solve more serious crimes.

But a closer look at those prosecutions reveals something that has not been trumpeted: more than 20 cases in which judges found police officers’ testimony to be unreliable, inconsistent, twisting the truth, or just plain false. The judges’ language was often withering: “patently incredible,” “riddled with exaggerations,” “unworthy of belief.”

The outrage usually stopped there. With few exceptions, judges did not ask prosecutors to determine whether the officers had broken the law, and prosecutors did not notify police authorities about the judges’ findings. The Police Department said it did not monitor the rulings and was aware of only one of them; after it learned about the cases recently from a reporter, a spokesman said the department would decide whether further review was needed....

Wind ($23.37) v. Gas (25 Cents)

...An even better way to tell the story is by how much taxpayer money is dispensed per unit of energy, so the costs are standardized. For electricity generation, the EIA concludes that solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour, wind $23.37 and "clean coal" $29.81. By contrast, normal coal receives 44 cents, natural gas a mere quarter, hydroelectric about 67 cents and nuclear power $1.59....

...The same study also looked at federal subsidies for non-electrical energy production, such as for fuel. It found that ethanol and biofuels receive $5.72 per British thermal unit of energy produced. That compares to $2.82 for solar and $1.35 for refined coal, but only three cents per BTU for natural gas and other petroleum liquids....

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Botched Paramilitary Police Raids
An interactive map of botched SWAT and paramilitary police raids, released in conjunction with the Cato policy paper "Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids," by Radley Balko....

Fairness, idealism and other atrocities
..The Bible is very clear about one thing: Using politics to create fairness is a sin. Observe the Tenth Commandment. The first nine commandments concern theological principles and social law: Thou shalt not make graven images, steal, kill, et cetera. Fair enough. But then there's the tenth: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's."...

Man Accused Of Providing Illegal Taxi Service
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A man who said he thought he was just helping a woman in need is accused of running an illegal taxi service.

Miami-Dade County's Consumer Services Department has slapped Rosco O'Neil with $2,000 worth of fines, but O'Neil claims he is falsely accused....

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Battle over eminent domain is another civil rights issue
Few policies have done more to destroy community and opportunity for minorities than eminent domain. Some 3 to 4 million Americans, most of them ethnic minorities, have been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of urban renewal takings since World War II.

The fact is that eminent-domain abuse is a crucial constitutional rights issue. On Tuesday, the Alabama Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a public forum at Birmingham’s historic Sixteenth Street Baptist church to address ongoing property seizures in the state. The church was not only a center of early civil rights action, but also, tragically, where four schoolgirls lost their lives in a bombing in 1963.

Current eminent domain horror stories in the South and elsewhere are not hard to find. At this writing, for example, the city of Clarksville, Tenn., is giving itself authority to seize more than 1,000 homes, businesses and churches and then resell much of the land to developers. Many who reside there are black, live on fixed incomes, and own well-maintained Victorian homes.

Eminent domain has always had an outsized impact on the constitutional rights of minorities, but most of the public didn’t notice until the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. In Kelo, the Court endorsed the power of a local government to forcibly transfer private property to commercial interests for the purpose of “economic development.”

The Fifth Amendment requires that such seizures be for a “public use,” but that requirement can be satisfied, the Court ruled, by virtually any claim of some sort of public benefit. Many charge that Kelo gives governments a blank check to redistribute land from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Few protested the Kelo ruling more ardently than the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In an amicus brief filed in the case, it argued that “[t]he burden of eminent domain has and will continue to fall disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged.” Unfettered eminent domain authority, the NAACP concluded, is a “license for government to coerce individuals on behalf of society’s strongest interests.”...