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January 2010 Archives

January 1, 2010

A Private Way to Help the Troops Win the War

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The Weekly Standard does a good turn in its New Year's issue by highlighting the work of Spirit of America, the philanthropy that provides funds for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to use as they sit fit in encouraging the local population.

One of the long standing frustrations of even top U.S. government officials who try to prosecute a war is the rigidity, red tape and second-guessing of bureaucracies when asked to supply funds quickly to troops on the ground who see first hand a need and want to fill it. You can rail against this sort of thing, but it has been the case for many years. No bureaucrat wants to make a mistake--by trying something new that isn't predictable and commonplace--the very expenditures, often small, that can make a big difference. The rule book is at hand to punish those who deviate.

That is why private groups are important. They can get things done--especially in building community support for U.S. objectives--in ways the government is not well organized to accomplish. Spirt of America is such a group. It warrants our financial support.

January 4, 2010

"Palliative Sedation" at the End of Life

The Co-Director of Discovery Institute's Center on Human Rights and Bioethics, Wesley J. Smith, has the lead letter on "palliative sedation" at the New York Times this morning. It's well worth reading and pondering, as are the other letters that respond to a long article the Times ran over the holidays. The article's author isAnemona Hartocollis.

Given a chance to confuse and manipulate readers (as The Times does on some other cultural topics), Hartocollis' special report was remarkably sensitive and constructive.

There are two great dangers on the issue of end of life treatment: 1) that advocates of euthanasia will use confusion about pain management as an excuse to insinuate active killing of a patient, sometimes a patient who is only hurting or depressed; and 2) that well-meaning and ethical people will forego the medical attention that is totally ethical and really can alleviate suffering as the end comes. This last concern is the one that The Times article most successfully addresses.

In practice, confusion among many in the public and in medicine contributes, unfortunately, to building support for active euthanasia. In that regard, the Times article was a help for all who traditionally care about "what it means to be human."

Success: Obama "Breakthrough" at Copenhagen Talks Ended Global Warming

Most of the Northern Hemisphere is shocked and awed by Mother Nature. Records are being broken in places that were really cold to start with, such as Iowa. I don't know if Sen. Bernie Sanders, a cap 'n' trade enthusiast, is at home in Vermont or in his office in Washington, D.C., but either way he is buried in snow--in Vermont it's one for the history books.

Thank you, Barack Obama! Skeptics who derided the significance of the President's "historic breakthrough" statements in Copenhagen last month are forced to admit that since those important pronunciamentos, the climate has responded beyond anyone's hopes.

Even in South America, where it is supposed to be summer, they are feeling the wrath of "climate change".

Today's high is 58 degrees in "sunny South Florida," where I am heading tomorrow, and you can be sure there will be endless self-pitying comments by locals as well as tourists. When temperatures get down to an expected 35F tomorrow night, you will see news stories about frostbitten poodles in Palm Beach and otherwise politically correct matrons getting their fur coats out of mothballs for dinner parties.

Indeed, if this kind of chill continues, we soon will need to convene a U.N. Summit on Global Cooling.

January 6, 2010

Lobbyists for Dog's Breakfastfood

Obamacare by now is a dog's breakfast of policies. It's obvious that the only coherent "health care" purpose in the mess is to get something done soon, rather than to get something done well.

While this travesty against good government is underway, note that the public is far ahead of American big business "leaders" in expressing opposition. Many of the latter, in practice, have been trying for the past year to find a way to ingratiate themselves with the Administration. Each special interest wants to be spared in the coming onslaught of federal taxation and regulation. These opportunists have been quite willing to put themselves in the most obsequious postures of assistance to the Administration--and, of course, have compromised their supposed free market principles without the equally compliant media taking much notice.

You should place high in the category of willing victims much of the insurance industry, "Big Pharma" (the most craven interest in this regard) and a large share of others of the biggest corporations in the land. Now comes the restaurant industry.

Ever since the Clinton Administration, big business has put its external dealings--lobbying, public relations and philanthropy--into the hands of liberal staff. It started doing this to buy off opponents. Now it has been captured by them. "Personnel is policy" is a description that applies as much to business as to government.

Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was slow to figure out which side of the present health care debate it should be on, and then, when it did decide, it had to contend with the defection of a number of its most significant members, especially the ones beholden to the federal government for contracts. But the Chamber, at least, did get to the right place: Obamacare, it is making clear, will be bad for the American economy.

It would be nice to say that the others in the business world--the willing victims--will deserve what they get, but, unfortunately, we will all in the boat with them if it sinks. Let no one confuse the short term Machiavellian devices of big business with the long term interests of America.

January 7, 2010

Could Snowdrifts Bury Prime Minister Brown?

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Labour has been running behind the Conservatives in British popularity polls, though lately the Tories have been fading a bit. But that was before a record-breaking and determined blast of cold and snow descended on the Sceptered Isle, and before the taciturn Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, failed to find the weather very invigorating.

Mr. Brown's reported response is a classic: "I think Britain can deal with these problems. There are always difficulties when we have a long spell of bad weather. But we can cope."

That may not be exactly what people want to hear, however. The U.K. is in the one of the worst winters in a century. Local governments are running out of "grit" to put on roads. The National Grid energy authority has warned that gas supplies are running low. People are losing income because they cannot get to work. Businesses are hurting. Some lives are being lost. What a leader needs to do in a situation like that is to show personal involvement.

Of immediate concern is that later today the U.K. may be getting still more snow. That, not political responsibility for governmental inadequacies, is what is on people's minds.

Nonetheless, looking ahead, one might observe that freezing weather has put more than one political career on ice in America, and the same might happen in the U.K. The powerful Mayor of Chicago, Michael Bilandic, was defeated in a Democratic primary election in 1979 after his perceived inattention to a stiff blizzard a few months earlier. Something similar happened to Greg Nickels, an otherwise politically well-situated Mayor of Seattle, who endured criticism after the Emerald City was shut down for several days during a December, '08 storm. He failed, though only narrowly, to survive a primary election challenge late the next summer.

Water, if not ice, damaged the re-election chances of George W. Bush when the President was slow to react strongly to Hurricane Katrina.

These are American examples, of course, but human nature and democracies share much in common on both sides of The Pond.

Maybe Gordon Brown should take a turn shoveling snow.

Warming's Alarm-Ringer Stilled by U.K. Chill

UPDATE: Weather conditions don't seem to be getting any better today in Britain and P.M. Gordon Brown seems still to regard the matter as relatively routine. Entering the coldest night in 15 years, The Telegraph reports on the shortage of "grit" for roads, and much else:

"Cheshire's Winsford salt mine also said it only has a few days' supply of surface salt left as a No 10 spokesman said there was no provision for central Government to take control of stocks.

"The National Grid issued its second gas alert in three days as the UK's freezing weather pushed demand to record levels.

"The operator's gas balancing alert came with gas demand expected to hit 454 million cubic metres today - higher than the all-time record of 449 million in January 2003.

"Roads, trains and airports were subjected to another day of havoc."

Prime Minister Brown is one of the world's most outspoken alarmists on global warming. He presently is one of the quieter spokesmen on the subject of his freezing country.

January 8, 2010

Labour Party Slights Storm to Fight Itself

Not being in England during the worst weather in at least fifteen years, it is hard to know whether the stories of breakdowns in road operations (the government is flying SALT in from Europe and the U.S.), gas shortages and rampant transportation delays make much difference to the average Brit. But they mattered so little to the Labour Party that it chose this moment to battle with itself over leadership issues. That high priority apparently couldn't wait.

January 9, 2010

U.S. Foes in South America in New Money Trouble

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Cristina Kirschner of Argentina (and Nestor, her husband and predecessor as President) have been the most powerful opponents of the United States in South America for the past decade. The Bush Administration tried to ignore them. The Obama Administration tried to mollify them.

Both Administrations' policies erred. But, never mind. "Historical necessity," as the Marxists say, seems to be catching up to the two bullying regimes. This not only is encouraging for the cause of freedom in the Western Hemisphere, but a potential blow to Iran, Cuba and other pals of the two South American far leftists.

The latest examples of political decay and financial impotence are Chavez' decision Friday to devalue the Bolivar by 50 percent and the failure of the Kirchners--so far--to force out the chief of Argentina's Centeral BAnk, Martin Redrado. (Redrado has refused to let President Kirchner raid foreign-currency reserves for her own agenda.)

It is one of the ironies of economics that these ardent foes of capitalism-- Chavez and the Kirchners--suffer when their adversaries do, only perhaps worse. Their governments are even more reckless and spendthrift than ours. And our recession leaves them in even worse shape.

January 10, 2010

Why the Stiff Upper Lips? Because They're Frozen

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Frustration finally is getting hotter in chilly Britain tonight as more snow is predicted for Sunday and ordinary citizens are put to increased inconvenience and even hardship. The supposed political news is about rump Labourites nagging Gordon Brown on military matters and legal questions that are being raised about Conservative fundraising. But the real political news surely should be the conspicuous failure of the central government to provide backup supplies of salt and "grit" for roadways (one of the two big salt mines says its supply runs out tomorrow). The same may apply to natural gas, an even more serious matter. In general, the Government seems lax on preparedness.

Prime Minister Brown has been very keen about the dangers of global warming, but he still appears rather absent-minded about the serious and more immediate British Cooling. That, more than inside-Parliament squabbling, could hurt him with the public. It actually affects people's lives in ways they experience.

I'm a long way off and don't see anyone else coming to my opinion about this yet, however. Let's see.

January 11, 2010

Forced "Consensus" is Corrupting Science

Now we have scientists predicting a new age of cooling, pointing out that Arctic ice is growing, not shrinking, and it all has to do with ocean currents, not man-made activity. Human caused global warming increasingly is seen as an over-statement, at the least. Without open debate, who knows?

Scientific hype is found in medicine, too, with repeated dire warnings about epidemics that don't quite happen. Swine flu, of course, is the latest in a long train. One could mention the BSE (Mad Cow) hysteria, and, before that Alar, silicone breast implants...on and on. Businesses and whole industries have been destroyed in some cases before reality reasserts itself.

Resorts to claims that "the science is settled" and there is (as The New York Times considers conclusive) a "scientific consensus" are shown repeatedly to fail the tests of time, close scrutiny and experience. They remind one of the old Marxist trope, "As everyone knows...." The one thing these movements lack is a humility and a willingness to test their hypothesis in an atmosphere where other sides are allowed to provide countervailing evidence, interpretations and theories. Real science, I say again, has to provide for debate.

Another case of poor science doing the work of ideology (scientism) is the willingness of the media and cultural organs to defend hard-core Darwinian explanations for everything from bad backs to altruism. The evidence doesn't seem to matter once the "consensus" is adduced. The "consensus" deems that scientific books and reports that challenge Darwin--let alone support intelligent design--may not be read, let alone reviewed.

Behind all the "consensus" controls lie groups of individuals that benefit greatly by hyped priorities--research institutions, especially, including cash-pressed universities in search of federal money. Include trial attorneys who benefit from public fright. Add in, then, the para-political elements in society that want government sanction to run the lives of other people; this includes a large part of the environmental movement, plus the cultural totalitarians who seek government power to implement their social and spending policies. Also include the bureaucracies of government that seek constantly to expand their writ...and staffing levels. Economist Thomas Sowell has termed the alliance "coercive utopians."

To stand up to these trends and strategems is "pro-science", not "anti-science", despite what the consensus mongers contend. If "science" is essentially a propaganda and social scheme looking for complaint, vendable professionals to support it, then over time it will lose its hold on public respect. And that is just what is happening.

Here's the key test (once more): do they allow and even encourage debate and the expression of contrary views? If not, "science" is corrupted.

Terrorists and the Civilian Judicial System

Discovery senior fellow John Wohlstetter is all over the issue of whether it is wise and just to try terrorists like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, in American civilian courts. His article today at The American Spectator takes apart the idea that this is another policy traceable to Bush.

During the Cold War there were people on the democratic Left in the U.S. and (especially) in Europe who, practically speaking, were more antagonistic toward anti-communism than to communism. In virtually every respect they were sanctimonious, self-dramatizing and tragically wrong.

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The Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab


We are now dealing with a similar liberal mindset on terrorists and the struggle against them. The former most-liberal member of the U.S. Senate is now President and beginning to realize what he--and we--are up against. He still cannot bring himself to use the phrase "war on terror." He does speak, belatedly, of a "war with al Qaeda."

Well, if it is a war, why is the al Qaeda recruit who tried to blow up an airliner Christmas Day being tried--at great cost and at great propaganda risk--in a civilian court?

January 12, 2010

A Double Dip Recession is Quite Possible

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A year ago, reviewing Amity Schlaes' The Forgotten Man, I noted the eerie similarities between the Depression policies of FDR and our new president, BHO. The runaway spending, the increased regulations, the oratorical denunciations of wealth and business, the tax increases and--a killer--the air of uncertainty that frightened people into holding onto their money instead of investing it: all that made a bad situation worse in the 30s and is threatening recovery now. Today, in addition, the ghastly distraction of health care reform--with its sinister nest of hidden costs--makes matters worse than no action at all.

A year and a half after the recession started, business profits in some sectors are up, the stock market is gingerly attempting a vote of confidence in the future. But unemployment is fiercely resistant to improvement, with unreported unemployment also biting at the heels of recovery. Small businesses and new businesses are still unable to get credit. All over the nation you see the sickening sight of empty storefronts that represent the ruin of this couple's dreams and that businessperson's lifetime savings.

Tom Donahue and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce are on the case, predicting that if the Obama Administration fails to control taxes and spending and regulations, the economy could slip back. If it does slip back now, does anyone doubt that the next bottom will be further down?

January 13, 2010

Setback for Assisted Suicide

The New Hampshire legislature has turned down a bill that would have permitted assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The support for such bills that seemed so strong only a year ago seems to be (pardon the expression) dying out.

The United States is not the socially liberal place that many imagine. Those who want to compromise principles to appease a leftward tendency would seem to be making a mistake.

January 16, 2010

Tax Hypocrisy Lights a Fuse

The news on the secret House-Senate health care bill conference is destined to alarm tax payers, in time, if not at once. Far from becoming more palatable once it is adopted, Obamacare is bound to rankle the more its details become clear.

The provision in the bill that taxes high-cost private health insurance plans is bad enough, at 40 percent. It not only is a tax, but a huge one. People effectively are being forced to pay for health insurance as if it was a shameful luxury item. But making things much more irritating is the latest decision by the Conference Committee to exempt union members from the tax. A large share of those union members are public employees, so the principle could not be clearer: you poor private sector taxpayers should subsidize the insurance of you "public servants" who have the same kind of plan as yours. This isn't class warfare, it's political warfare, another example of government by the government, of the government and for the government.

(Of course, not all union members and not all government employees are going to be favorably impressed by the latest concession to their leadership.)

Then there is the looming extension of the Medicare tax to capital gains, another first. What this does is hit a few high earners, but also the nation's huge constituency of senior citizens and others who depend on stocks and bonds to provide their livelihood. Seniors already are antagonized by this health bill--and the process--that brought it about. How will they react when they find out that they are going to pay again for Medicare? Some may remember a candidate's pledge that no one making under $250,000 would have his taxes raised.

Others will recall with irony how this bill was advertised as a "reform".


January 19, 2010

Changing of the Tide

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However the election in Massachusetts comes out, it appears that a majority of voters nation-wide have been rooting for Scott Brown. That means that the issue of health care has become a liability for the Obama Administration, as have the special deals and taxes that go with it.

Only one year ago the nation was in the grips of Obamamania, an unrealistic mass excitement similar to the disproportionate grief that overcame Britain following the death of Princess Di. Now that the fever has broken, the passion is hard to recall.

Regardless, the chance for Hope and Change along bi-partisan lines, where government business is conducted with "transparency", spending is brought under control and taxes are not raised couples making under $250,000 is long gone. So is the enthusiasm of the nation's leading businessmen, bankers, insurance executives and other investors, a huge proportion switched their politics in 2008. Wall Street staged a big rally today on the mere prospect that Brown might win in Massachusetts. In that sense "hope and change" are back in the air.

January 20, 2010

Barack's Choice: Mid-Term Correction or More Defeats

Former Clinton adviser Lanny Davis was in the Wall Street Journal today explaining the way the Obama Administration's leftward lurch has disaffected the public, as vividly shown in Massachusetts. Later, on the Michael Medved Show, Davis explained the opportunity before the President to acknowledge the recent setbacks and reach out to Republicans in both houses of Congress and invite them to write a health care bill. He then would invite moderate Democrats to join them. The result would be a lot less than he has in front of Congress now, but unlike the present monster, it actually would pass, overwhelmingly, and would give Obama a legislative accomplishment. Our conservative Discovery colleague Michael Medved, interviewing the liberal Davis, agreed with his advice.

The advice proposes the statesmanlike thing to do, not the political one. Insisting on some bill based on the present efforts will do more to keep the left wing base mollified (they are close to coming unglued right now). Collaboration with the Republicans, on the other hand, is also risky, but could lead to recapture of the the vital independent voters.

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A mirror image calculation applies to the GOP: at this point; no bill would seem to be the best politics going into the fall. But, though the political temptation would be hard to overcome, many Republicans would be pleased to offer a sound bill for the good of the country if the President would cooperate.

Continue reading "Barack's Choice: Mid-Term Correction or More Defeats" »

They Have "PETS" at the White House

Call it "Post-Election Trauma Syndrome" (PETS). It confuses one's judgment, apparently.

The problem in Massachusetts was a failure to communicate. We were just so busy working for the people, say White House sources, that we failed to explain to them what we were doing on health care. Wait until they learn about all the great things we have hidden under the Christmas tree! Won't they be delighted!

Okay, we know that the public is angry, but it is part of the same anger they expressed when they elected me a year and three months ago (says the President). That indicates in turn that the anger--and the Massachusetts defeat of Martha Coakley, perversely--was George W. Bush's responsibility.

The Brown election, it seems, also was not about health care, but about anxiety over job losses.

And Coakley's incompetent campaigning. Etc., etc.

The Obama Administration has a hard time facing facts until there is no other option. Recall that the initial reaction to the Christmas Day airline assault by the Underwear Bomber was to proclaim it the work of "an isolated extremist." It took a couple of days for reality to dawn over the White House.

Very similar is the effort to obfuscate the Massachusetts election results. It all is in service of a determination, somehow, to push ahead with the current health care plans. If clever stunts haven't been sufficient so far, why, we should try some new clever stunts! Maybe they will work.

If the statesmanship alternative I advocated in the previous post is to prevail, it definitely has to overcome a great deal of self-delusion.

Another Environmental Catastrophe

It was bad enough when the lobster population grew so fast off the coast of Maine that the lobstermen there were going broke. Now the same curse of abundance is occurring with salmon in the Pacific Northwest ("Cascadia" to us). With the oceans dying, this is not supposed to happen.

What next? Will someone find out that the Himalayan glaciers are not in immediate danger of disappearing? What!? That, too?!

January 21, 2010

New Tide Now in Full Flood

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Don't look now, Mr. President, but change is afoot...

In two days, the Massachusetts election has catalyzed an astonishing reversal of national politics. Suddenly Obamacare seems dead. Was it only Monday that it seemed inevitable? The New York Times was in denial about it this morning, which demonstrates anew that the Times is more out of touch than even, say, Martha Coakley.

If the Administration tries to jam through a bill by "reconciliation", preventing the need for 60 votes in the Senate, the already sour public mood will become even more irate.

Tuesday (see below) I wrote that the tide had changed. Did it ever!

Cap and Trade is dead. Meanwhile, many chances have been squandered to get bi-partisan backing for common sense energy conservation and development of alternatives to foreign oil.

Immigration liberalization is dead.

Now comes a Supreme Court ruling overturning McCain-Feingold's limits on corporate spending on political races. It's as if the Court took a Sanity Pill and suddenly realized that the First Amendment is meant to protect political speech as its number one priority. Without free, unfettered political speech you can't assure the liberty to hold the robust debates upon which democracy depends.

Continue reading "New Tide Now in Full Flood" »

January 22, 2010

IPCC: "I'm Melting, I'm Melting!"

The Nobel Prize committee that saluted President Obama last year for a mere changed rhetorical tone and anticipated improvements in international affairs, gave its 2007 award to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) for a supposedly courageous report on climate change. The IPCC report included the prediction that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 or sooner. Now it turns out that the predictions for the glaciers not only were based on flimsy, unsupportable data (see January 20 post), but that the whole section of the report in which it is found is flawed. It is being disowned.

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Once again it was the skeptics, not the science journals and the big science foundations of government and the professional associations that like to pronounce on various subjects, that revealed the flaws.

We are in a time when news developments are tumbling over one another so fast that one barely can keep track, let alone assess the consequences: the Massachusetts election, the sudden death of Obamacare (at least in its present form), the faux populist assault on the banks (in the process of backfiring) and here, the continuing, collapse of the alarmist position on global warming. Yesterday it was revealed that the "breakthrough" hailed by President Obama at the Copenhagen Climate Summit--puny as it seemed at the time--has not even survived the winter. It should be renamed "the Copenhagen Breakdown."

Add now the collapsing reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

January 23, 2010

The Biggest Lobby in Government

Unionized government workers now constitute more than a majority of all union workers in the country, according to a report yesterday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recession or not, the number of government workers--and, therefore, union members in government service--went up again last year, while non-government union membership went down.

Your taxes made possible the continued growth in government employees. How so?

In case you haven't noticed, the SEIU, AFSCME and other government unions are among the most active in political campaigns, nearly always on behalf of liberal Democratic candidates and issues. For them, the business of government is government, and the more the better. The special interest lobby that always agitates for more government is the government itself, and unions are at the leading edge of that agitation.

Able, dedicated civil servants who are required to join the public employees unions often are less than enthusiastic about "their" representatives and have little to do with them--other than paying union dues. Union meetings in government agencies are seldom well-attended. The leadership seldom is relatively undistinguished, other than by the narrowness of its concerns.

But just because government union members don't always vote the way the union suggests (as reportedly was the case in Tuesday's U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts) doesn't do much to shrink the clout of union leaders. Consider that when, as is the case even in the Obama Administration, you have an Education Department nominally supportive of charter schools, that endorsement is trumped by fervent opposition from the teachers unions. (Not the teachers, mind you; rather, the unions.)

Of all special interest lobbies, then, government itself, including unions, constitute the one that is most single-minded and devoted in its involvement in government legislation, regulation, taxation and personnel issues. That reality gets almost no public attention in the media, but it often is determinative as a political force.

I have said before that Lincoln's description of America as "government of the people, by the people and for the people," is being upended by the new mission statement: government of the government, by the government and for the government.

If you think I am exaggerating, ask yourself, who got the lion's share of last year's federal stimulus money? Was it not used to shore up state and local bureaucracies? Did those bureaucracies not shrink far less in the recession than the private sector?

How is it that government officials so often announce that they just have to increase taxes rather than cut the size of this government program or that? Where is such empathy and concern when private factories and shops are closing?

I am not an absolutist conservative. I see a number of government activities that should be increased, not reduced (besides defense and foreign policy). They would include, for example, transportation infrastructure, parks and recreation maintenance and mental health. But these days money for such purposes cannot be found, even in the big-spending states--maybe especially in the big spending states--because every spare dollar has to go to government employees.

The lobby of government itself demands it. Increasingly, elected officials work for the government, not the people, and soon the people will work for the government, too. At least, that is the clear and present danger.

January 24, 2010

Hold Science Journals to Account

The New Scientist is just one of those science journals that boast falsely of their professionalism. It is obvious on the face of it, however, that they routinely employ ad hominem comments and sheer rank-pulling to disparage critics of what they regard as the "scientific consensus" (e.g., dogma). Don't confuse them with the evidence.

Now they and other supposedly objective media are being exposed by demonstration after demonstration that they have allowed the books on climate change to be hidden or rigged. Climategate, as the Investor's Business Daily says, is a scandal that extends far beyond some mischief in East Anglia. People in the science media who should have been investigating these situations instead have buried them.

Someone in the mainstream media is going to pick up on the increasing examples of fraud, misuse of public and foundation money and plain ideological presumption. It will make a great newspaper series, book and documentary. Good work already is being done in all these categories, but not in the media major leagues.

There is no question that human beings contribute to air and water pollution. There is no doubt that the West needs to wean itself from imported oil. But collaboration on win-win solutions is hampered, not helped, by groups of ideologues who are willing to hide data and avoid scrutiny. Their loyalty apparently is not to science, or even to the general welfare, but to their worldview.

Do you think I am wrong? Then where are the debates that let both sides be heard?

January 25, 2010

Iran is the Stealth Issue of 2010

Time magazine, often accused of being a cheerleader for the Obama Administration, has been striking some questioning poses, including lately on Iran. Writes Massimo Calabresi:

"Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama's policy are emerging, even in his own party. 'What exactly did your year of engagement get you?' asks a Hill Democrat."

It is not at all convenient for anyone that the string is running out on Iran. Even the Administration would like to focus on domestic issues, or Haiti relief, or even al Qaeda. But Iran either is getting nukes or it is not. If not, then the U.S. can bluster indefinitely, as Iran's government is doing. But if the nukes are coming, it will be very hard for the U.S to look away. The entire region that Iran aims to dominate could come apart.

January 26, 2010

Terrorists: Journalists Also are "the Enemy"

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The scene from the Babylon Hotel, frequented by foreigners, after it was attacked January 26. Photo courtesy of Reuters.

The successful attacks Monday on the three leading international hotels in Baghdad tell us a lot:

1) Media have lost much of their interest in the Iraq War since it was "won" and Iraq appeared to be on the path to democracy. As U.S. and other troops leave, the level of coverage has declined--to the point that these three brazen bombings are not even the top news in the West. Is there any doubt that they would have been our leading stories four or five years ago?

2) Journalists may think of themselves as observers, but al Qaeda and its terrorist pals are not confused: journalists are seen as enemies of militant Islamists. The three targeted hotels hit Monday are in what was called the "Red Zone;" namely, everything outside the highly secured government "Green Zone." All, including al Hamra, where I stayed six years ago, are frequented largely, if not mainly, by journalists. Many news organizations have offices as well as dwellings there.

3) Even the most "secure" locations are still vulnerable. The al Hamra has been hit before, but never so directly. The breached fortifications were substantial.

My heart goes out to all those, including the hotel staffs and small concessionaires, who have been assaulted.

We are not done yet in Iraq.

President Roots for New Orleans in Super Bowl

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President Barack Obama has thrown his support to the New Orleans Saints in the upcoming Super Bowl. This undoubtedly will bring joy to the Big Easy and grumbling to a whole state of Hoosiers.

Obama, formerly a senator from neighboring Illinois, carried Indiana in 2008, but lost Louisiana. Unfortunately for him, it is human nature for folks to forget an endorsement of their team, but not to forget an endorsement of the opposition. Colts fans may be especially militant that way.

New Orleans fans, in turn, should hope that Mr. Obama does not go down to the Bowl game in Fort Lauderdale and speak out for the Saints. His last endorsement speech was for Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, and that didn't turn out too well.

January 27, 2010

State of Nuclear Power--Was Obama Sincere?

The State of the Union sported synthetic emotion and formulaic policy statements. Most (such as cap and trade) are what you might call place-holders--positions that say, "I am for this, but don't plan to do much about it."

But one of those placeholders excited Republicans as well as Democrats. President Obama pledged support for nuclear power as way to achieve energy independence and pollution-free energy. If he means it, it's really important.

Wrote technology reporter Declan McCullagh: "What drew the audience to its feet, cheering, was Obama's call for the construction of more nuclear power plants."

Now let's see whether Congress will follow through. The scares of the 70s are history and many environmentalists already have moved on.

The Republican response by Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia was cheerful and substantive, and it mentioned off-shore drilling and nuclear power, but didn't note the President's endorsement tonight. It would have been a great time to tie a ribbon on the idea(s) and say, okay, Mr. President, how about moving forward on this right away?

January 28, 2010

Dawkins Find a New Excuse for Bigotry

Pat Robertson made a foolish statement on his television program about the pact that Haitians supposedly made with the Devil to get rid of the French a couple of hundred years ago. For some it seemed to indicate that he thought that God was sending the recent earthquake to get even.

Well, no. Robertson was using a shard of some old story as a prelude to his report on the earthquake, which then proceeded to an appeal for funds to help the Haitian victims of the earthquake.

But the world's leading crusader for atheism and Darwinism, Richard Dawkins, is not about to let the old boy off the hook. Robertson must pay. So by amazing extension must Christianity in general, never mind the extent to which the massive outpouring of aid to Haiti is coming from Christian sources. Even the Red Cross is, after all, about a cross, isn't it?

Robertson may be tone deaf about the such events as the earthquake, but it is left to Dawkins to try to turn tragedy into an evangelizing opportunity. His article, if it were about politics, would be dismissed as propaganda. But the London Times seems to think it fit enough.

January 30, 2010

A Real "Breakthrough"--Give it Support

President Obama apparently was serious about nuclear power and is prepared to put lots of money behind it. His State of the Union nod to nuclear energy, if followed up, could result in a huge win for him and for the country. Republicans should get behind it creatively and forcefully. Do the White House and the GOP minority want to show that they can work together? Here's the perfect test.

The nuclear energy issue avoids the claims and counter claims about the causes and extent of global warming and goes straight to one of the solutions that all agree can prevent air pollution--however you define it--and lessen dependence on foreign oil.

Here is one spending priority, moreover, that can easily be justified in hard times as well as flush times. Nuclear power truly will "create jobs."

Here's Who Won and Lost When Obama Met with the House Republicans

Fox News thought the House Republicans triumphed by having the President speak to their weekend retreat in Baltimore and answer questions in front of TV cameras. In contrast, MSNBC thought the President showed up the Republicans as the contemptible pipsqueaks they are. For themselves, the President and the House GOP leaders all said that the spirited, yet civil exchange was the sort of thing that should happen more often in Washington.

So, who really won and lost?

First, the public won, because the televised Q & A demonstrated that politicians can debate seriously and with substance, and without constantly interrupting one another. Real questions were asked and real answers given. This is how representative democracy is supposed to work. Imagine if it happened routinely in Washington.

Second, President Obama won, because he presented himself without the teleprompter and with a sense of humor. He showed he knew about the proposals the Republicans have been trying to offer, thereby undercutting somewhat the claim that the White House is ignoring the GOP's views.

Third, the Republican House members won by displaying to the public their thoughtful, positive positions and ideas, almost none of which have been addressed in Congressional deliberations or in the media. They also were able to showcase an admirable array of political talent from within their ranks.

Fourth, however, there was a loser, and it was Nancy Pelosi. After the GOP program, a fair-minded person would tend to recognize the reality that the Speaker has made it very hard for Republicans to be heard in the House, and therefore has silenced not only them, but also the districts that elected them and the sizable point of view they represent in the country.

January 31, 2010

New Front Exposed in Culture War

brigitte-magazine-001.jpg

A "brave" German magazine of women's fashion has decided to get rid of the anorexic look of modern models, the bodies that convey an unhealthy attitude toward food and attitudes that express boredom or contempt.

Men and women, Republicans and Democrats, ought to celebrate the repudiation of irony as fashion and desireability. Cheers to Brigitte.

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