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February 2010 Archives

February 1, 2010

Natural Law and Uncommon Common Sense

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When Clarence Thomas was considered for confirmation as a Justice of the Supreme Court, the late-Senator Edward Kennedy referred to him as an "extremist" because of his support for "natural law." Thomas, of course, won the war, since he subsequently was confirmed by the Senate, but Kennedy scored points with the press. At the time, Thomas was hardly in a position to debate with him on the subject.

Of course, the framers of the U.S. Constitution were natural law men themselves. And it was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, who penned the immortal line that "men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Of course, we all know what an "extremist" Jefferson was.

Now we have a broad, beautiful book, The Line Through the Heart, by J. Budziszewski that examines "Natural Law as Fact, Theory and Sign of Contradiction." Budziszewski is a professor of philosophy and government at the University of Texas, a contributor to First Things and a senior fellow of Discovery Institute.

His book is reviewed by John Grondelski in the January 17 issue of the National Catholic Register. (Unfortunately, one must be a subscriber to read it online.)

Writes Grondelski, "Budziszewski adresses personhood and the law, capital punishment, constitutional jurisprudence and the religious 'toleration' as a slogan to push religion out of public life."

There are several threads that link the works of most Discovery fellows and one of them surely is the topic of what it means to be human. Another is the topic of the ideals that made Western civilization exceptional. Both are joined, effectively, in The Line Through the Heart.

February 2, 2010

Another Flop for "Consensus Science"

Remember the folks who told you that Darwin's theory is really "fact" and that only cranks disagree? And the folks who promised that dire, man made global warming had been demonstrated objectively and beyond question--enough to justify massive economic dislocations? Well, it increasingly seems that the uniquely promising field of embryonic stem cell research offers another case of warped and hyped "consensus science".

A hundred years ago consensus science proclaimed the merits--and advanced the the political program--of eugenics.

In the past decade, the moral objections to embryonic stem cell research almost seemed to make the project more, not less, appealing to certain science bodies, journals and bureaucrats. In California, the state sold the public on a gauzy multi-billion dollar vision of miracle cures that supposedly were just around the corner. The warning signs about the California Prop. 71 embryonic stem cell program were virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Our Discovery senior fellow and co-director of Human Rights and Bioethics, Wesley J. Smith, was unusual if not unique in his coverage of the issue. Now he and other skeptics are vindicated. California is broke and plainly has wasted billions on a quixotic errand for political correctness. The real progress with stem cells comes, happily, in less controversial--and less well funded areas.

In every case of dogmatic certainty in science's recent past, the blinders on the science establishment (including especially federal funders) are political and ideological. In real science, as I keep saying, you have free and accurately reported studies and reports. In politicized science, ideology determines what and who gets funded, and even how results are covered.

Meantime, the space program is being gutted. Space exploration is not p.c. any more.

February 3, 2010

Study Locates Conscious Minds Locked in Appearance of "Vegetative State"

"Distressing" is not an adequate word to describe a study by Cambridge University neuroscientist Adrian M. Owen that proves that many people in supposedly vegetative states actually are quite aware of what is happening around them and have opinions and views about it all. There may be thousands of such people in the U.S. alone.

The implications are hard to bear and yet demand action. Can you imagine anything much worse than being completely unable to communicate with others and yet affected by them? Anyone who has suffered an injury that impairs even a small function knows how frustrating that can be. But this is almost like being buried alive. With this difference: the patient is aware of people's conversations and can, at least in his mind, respond. But no one in the presence of such a person--until now--has found a way to "listen" and therefore to converse.

This study adds force to the anti-euthanasia arguments made in cases like that of Terri Schiavo. It also calls in the name of human compassion for greater efforts to engage such conscious minds encased in unresponsive bodies and to give their lives some scope for vigorous interaction. It also calls for greater scientific and technological efforts to break the physical chains binding such people.

A colleague of Dr. Owens sees a number of immediate practical uses of the new way of communicating with conscious, but immobilized persons. "This technique could be used to address important clinical questions. For example, patients who are aware, but cannot move or speak, could be asked if they are feeling any pain, allowing doctors to decide when painkillers should be administered."

But another urgent need is to find ways to communicate more directly than is possible now. In their study, the Cambridge team used MRI technology, which is expensive and obviously hard to arrange on any regular basis.

21st Century Barbarism in Iran

Nir Booms of Cyberdissidents and Shayan Arya, Seattle-based Iranian-American activist, describe the increasing use of kidnapping and hostage taking to intimidate foes of the theocratic regime in Iran. Hostage taking is a barbaric practice to which the Iranians have added modern police state methods.

From Nir Booms' blog site is the article reprinted from The Washington Times.

If there is any cheer in the article it is the description of 21st century ways that have developed to resist the dictators.

February 4, 2010

China is Not our Enemy

George Gilder's op-ed article, "Why Antagonize China?" appears in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal. There is much to criticize China for, but the Obama Administration seems to have made finding fault with the Chinese a strange pre-occupation. This is not the way to get ahead. As Gilder asks, "How many enemies do we need?" in a world where we are challenged by implacable foes such as al Qaeda, not to mention Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

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Technology is an especially crucial arena for careful interaction with China. Notes our colleague Bret Swanson,

"From 2000 to 2009, the number of Internet users in China rose from 23 million to 338 million. http://www.internetworldstats.com/asia/cn.htm

China passed 700 million mobile phone users in fall 2009.

China and Taiwan together produce about 650+ million of the global annual total of 1.2 billion mobile phones. Still trying to pin down exact numbers. (China ~550 million; Taiwan ~100 million; Korea probably another 300 million)."

"As China becomes a larger portion of the global Internet community," Swanson continues, "it would be wise to keep them within the fold of global standards and (American private-sector led) governance (ICANN, etc). Pushing them away could lead to unpredictable fragmentation of the universal Net fabric. Not to mention possible disruptions to physical supply chains and knowledge flows in this seamless tech market.

"It is true China has stepped up enforcement of its previously ineffective 'Great Firewall' and blocked Twitter and Facebook on several occasions over the last year. China this winter also restricted new registrations of domain names to registered companies, blocking many individuals from acquiring new domains. But the overwhelming evidence suggests the Internet in China still mostly thrives."

February 6, 2010

Unscientific Survey: Global Warming Issue is Waning

It is impossible to keep track of the new information showing that what one wag calls the "grantrepreneurs" of science have finally coming under mainstream scrutiny in the global warming scandals. A good summary piece by Margaret Wente is found in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The cover-ups have been successful in some cases, but not entirely. What is stunning is the failure of the "consensus science" scolds to defend the situation. They are reduced, it seems, to repeating the old mantras that everyone knows, there is "overwhelming evidence," etc. What they do not do is debate

Meanwhile, public belief in the Al Gore scenarios has waned, too, and the whole issue is coming off the public agenda. A Yale/George Mason University survey on the topic of public concern is mostly significant for the trend it shows--which is downward.

Meanwhile, if you are on the East Coast today, buried under the second record-breaking snowstorm in six weeks, you probably are not taking global warming at all seriously. But if you are in British Columbia, where snow is being trucked to the Olympic Games, it is a very present disaster.

That is too bad, in a way, since pollution and energy dependence are still important and valid concerns.

February 7, 2010

"Grey Literature" Employed in Climate Reports

Defenders of the myth of "consensus science", such as Chris Mooney, have attempted to minimize each new revelation of incompetence and bias in climate change pronouncements. But today, the London Telegraph exposes yet another parade of errors in the IPCC report of 2007 upon which so many scare stories have relied. Skeptics of the alarmist view on global warming have been held to punctilious footnoting and have been tormented over "peer-review", which is hard to acquire in such drum-beating advocacy journals as Nature or Science. But, meanwhile the IPCC has used unsubstantiated alarmist statements from graduate student dissertations, the opinions expressed in activist group newsletters and faulty computer models to reach many of its conclusions.

English and Canadian papers are doing a better job of covering this scandal than are their American cousins. Bloggers, as the Spectator"s Matt Ridley observes, have pushed the British press to do its duty. They have been less successful in the United States. That is especially unfortunate in that many billions of dollars of U.S. government research money have been committed to projects that rely on official assumptions of human-induced global warming. That doesn't even touch the money that alarmists would like the government to spend to save the planet--at the expense of the private economy and ordinary taxpayers.

Why aren't these matters under official U.S. investigation? Probably because the media here are still cowed by the public relations activities of the climate change alarmists, skillfully advanced by Fenton Communications and its deep-pocket clients. Another problem is that Congress and other authorities lack the independent professional expertise to do a proper investigation. Regardless, they had better find the people to do the job. The issue isn't going away.

A few years ago Mooney and his associates, with the help of such professional organs as the Columbia Journalism Review, successfully lobbied editorial boards and science writers not to publish the views of skeptics of such "settled science" issues as the ability of neo-Darwinism to explain evolution, the necessity of using embryonic stem cells to conduct medical research and, of course, radical, human-caused climate change and the economic "reforms" required to reverse it. To give the skeptics on such issues space to express their objections in their own words, he told credulous media, was equivalent to listening seriously to flat-earth proponents.

On case after case, Mooney and Co. have been shown to be wrong. Too bad it takes scandals to show how wrong and why. The explanations come in two words: ideology and money.

"See No Evil" at Harvard, MIT & Columbia Journalism Review

What has the Columbia Journalism Review learned from the campaign it waged with Chris Mooney (see immediately previous post) to disallow scientific evidence against massive man-caused global warming? What have "media experts" at Harvard and MIT learned from the efforts to disallow the critics from being heard?

Why, at a seminar last week on "Scientists, Skeptics and the Media" they learned that media must be even more ardent in support of the alarmist viewpoint. No one seems to have considered the possibility that the skeptics might have a case deserving of coverage.

Mooney is a sometime Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. Philip J. Hilts, professor of "science journalism" and the current head of the Knight program (presumably funded with money from the Knight newspaper chain's charitable arm), covers the seminar for the CJR.

"Like doctors gathered around the operating table in mid-surgery, a group of media experts at Harvard yesterday offered their diagnoses of the ailing body of journalism. The symptom: a surprising decline in public belief that climate change is real or important."

The journalist-doctors go on to offer one idea after another on how to convince the public that its growing skepticism is a mistake. Only a small group in the population are true skeptics, after all. And the way to restore a proper sense of alarm among the others might be to tie climate change to people's personal health concerns....Etc.

A comment on the CJR blog by "JLD" makes the pertinent response:

"I have to say it takes a great deal of chutzpah -- or perhaps cluelessness -- to examine the drop in public trust in climate science without once mentioning Climategate or the very real scandals that are now plaguing this 'settled science.'

"Let's make a short tally: Phil Jones dismissed from office, and facing possible legal action; Michael 'hockey puck' Mann under investigation; the IPCC reports riddled with falsehoods. And now Rajendra Pachaur (the IPCC head with numerous conflicts of interest) is suggesting that critics (including Greenpeace) should go rub their faces with asbestos. What a great guy to have as your representative. Good thing he can't be voted out of office.

"But being a recent graduate of the Kennedy School I would expect nothing less than a complete whitewash of anything that offends liberal sensibilities. By all means keep 'fighting back' against the 'denialists' -- it might feel good, but it won't convince anyone outside of Harvard Square."

February 8, 2010

The Most Interesting Congressman Emerges

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Suddenly, it is Paul Ryan season in Washington, D.C. The six-term Wisconsin congressmen is still young, but until now mainly has been a wonks' favorite rather than a media darling--one of the few folks on the Hill who knows big subjects in depth. He is, for example, the House's leading minority spokesman on the budget. That kind of subject usually makes people yawn.

But now, in a matter of days, Congressman Ryan is all over the news, even attracting the attention of the President. George Will is hailing him as a future national leader. Russ Douthat touts him. Ezra Klein, Washington Post wonk-on-the-left, admires his seriousness and originality. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has gone from curious to enthralled.

Continue reading "The Most Interesting Congressman Emerges" »

Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism are "Indivisible"

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Jay Richards, I am glad to report, is now back at Discovery Institute full-time, having left a few years ago to work at Acton Institute on issues of entrepreneurship and free markets (among other things, he helped produce the films The Call of the Entrepreneur and The Birth of Freedom, and the book, Money, Greed and God), to start a blog for AEI's The American and to edit several manuscripts for Heritage Foundation. It is a fine mix of talents Jay has assembled in his career. A Phd from Princeton, he has expertise in theology, science, economics and culture, all very helpful for the mission of Discovery Institute. (In his earlier Discovery stage, among other things, he co-authored the book and film, The Privileged Planet, with Guillermo Gonzalez.)

Now comes a very useful new book, Indivisible, that Jay edited for Heritage Foundation on the natural linkage of social issues and economic issues. We are hearing a lot lately about how the subjects should be separated, supposedly because social issues damage conservative candidates for office. But that, I would suggest, derives mainly from the success of the left in misrepresenting and then stigmatizing conservative positions on social issues. As Scott Brown showed in Massachusetts, however, conservative candidates can surmount the criticism.

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In the battle over health care, similarly, there is no doubt that the opposition by Catholic bishops and other Christian groups to abortion provisions in the Senate bill helped kill the whole thing. The bishops weren't demanding that no one with government provided insurance coverage be allowed to have an abortion, but only that such procedures not be financed by taxpayers. Yet this principled and prudent distinction had the effect of providing tremendous assistance for economic conservatives' objections to the health care bill on myriad other grounds.

Continue reading " Economic Conservatism and Social Conservatism are "Indivisible" " »

February 9, 2010

Stage Show Bi-Partisanship

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Purely as a cold political calculation, the Republicans do not need a health bill of any kind and they do need to defeat the messy bills that respectively have passed the House and Senate with Democrat-only support.

The President and the Democrats (also speaking politically) meanwhile need a bill, any bill, that addresses health care, so they can take credit and stop looking so ineffectual. And, of course, it would be great politics if they could pull a rabbit out of the hat and get either the House or Senate bill passed.

As far as the public is concerned (as Massachusetts showed), no bill is better than a bad bill. But, also, even a modest good bill would be very cheering right now. It would be good for the country and for the tone of government in Washington. One might hope that sometimes the public interest might take precedence over the partisan interest.

Continue reading "Stage Show Bi-Partisanship" »

Hot Air and Cold Wind Turbines

Someone sold farmers in Minnesota some swell, if slightly used wind turbines from California, but they froze up solid once the deep North winter set in. If you not one of the farmers, it's a funny story. (Hat tip to IT dystopian Matt Scholz.)

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On a drive recently through the usually peaceful, verdant countryside of Northwestern Illinois my eyeballs were stretched uncomfortably to a vast horizon of giant wind turbines--with the tiny-seeming houses and barns of the old countryside below them mocked and trivialized.

Unfortunately, such scenes are not unusual. Wind turbines are "green energy," right up there with ethanol and other trendy causes that derive their profitability from huge public subsidies and the sad gullibility of the local gentry upon whom they are imposed.

Continue reading "Hot Air and Cold Wind Turbines" »

February 12, 2010

Toyota Goes to Court, While Volkswagen Goes to Chattanooga

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Class action lawsuits from at least a dozen law firms are being filed against Toyota in exploitation of the recent accelerator recall; trial lawyers now only lack tragic stories to justify billion dollar settlements. The federal government, of course, is there to help.

When GM had recalls recently, there was little news attention. But the Toyota story is huge, not because the problem is so major, but because it is widespread. A lot of people are affected. They will lose a couple hours of time each. Big deal.

The story is also newsworthy, I suspect, because Toyota is foreign-owned.

You don't hear Toyota owners clamoring for revenge against the company, however. As a long time customer, I mostly am worried that people like me will wind up paying higher prices and dealing with overly-cautious dealers , not due to the recall, but to the legal threat and government intimidation. I dread talking to a dealer who feels he has some lawyer listening in.

Some of the media passion against Toyota probably abated, however, when the governors of American states like Kentucky and Indiana where Toyotas are made spoke up in defense of the company--and the employees/voters who will be hurt if Toyota is punished unduly.

Meanwhile, according to former Volkswagen executive Heinz Gundlach, speaking yesterday in Boca Raton, Florida, VW plans to open its own plant (finally) in the US next year. Chattanooga, TN will receive the blessing of the German investment and the hiring of 1200 new employees.

Gundlach also shared some sobering numbers about the state of the auto market. The total number of cars sold in the U.S. has declined during the recession, while sales (including VW and GM, as well as new local models) are going up in China. In 2007 China bought five million cars; last year (2009), China bought nine million. The U.S. bought 14 million in 2007, and only 10 million in 2009. In the U.S., 500 of every 1000 people already own a car, while only 30 in every 1000 in China own a car. It is not hard to anticipate China's overtaking the United States as the number one car market soon.

Meanwhile, within the U.S., what Gundlach calls the "Detroit Three" (they used to be "The Big Three") have seen their market share drop in ten years from 65 percent to 44 percent. (When I was a kid, it was 95 percent.) Remember, this decline in the share of the auto market pie is taking place while the market "pie" itself is growing smaller. The prospect: the customers Detroit is losing are probably not coming back.

Regardless of the absolute and relative decline of U.S. auto companies, some 75 percent of cars bought in America are built here (or in neighboring Canada and Mexico). Dealing with fluctuating exchange rates is simply too risky for foreign companies like VW; the price offered the buyer can jump up or down too much, based only on the changing value of the dollar versus, say, the Euro. That and the politics of national pride have caused foreign car makers to open plants here. VW is one of the last to do so. The Koreans will probably be next. Right now, if you order a part for a Hyundai, it has to come from Korea.

Yes, unions and health care costs are a problem for American manufacturers, Gundlach says, but not decisive ones. Labor constitutes only 20 percent of a car's full cost, which is why, he indicates, China is not much of a threat to automakers in the U.S., Japan and Europe. The material that goes into a car comes from all over. That is why you have Toyotas made in Kentucky today and Chrysler PT Cruisers made in Toluca, Mexico. China will not sell many cars in the U.S. for some time.

What does matter in competitive advantage is simply the quality of the product. "Product, product, product!" Gundlach stresses. For decades, Detroit let go of that concern in its pursuit of novelty, indulging in constant change. In contrast, Toyota understood the importance of consistent, reliable quality of the product and the service behind it--and has prospered.

With my gas-efficient, cheerful, easy-to-park 2010 Carrolla (I call it my "Red Crayola"), I am confident that Toyota will take care of me. I am hopeful that Detroit will give them increasing competition for my business in the future. But meanwhile, I wish the government and the trial lawyers would leave them all--and me--alone.

February 13, 2010

Remember, Animals are People, Too!

There have been so many film cartoons now--from Bambi to Babe--that imagine animals that talk and behave just like people that some people seem to believe such stories reflect truth.

In England, a school teacher has been sacked for helping a class raise a lamb and then sell it for meat. Some parents apparently were horrified. The London Telegraph writer Charlie Brooks has the right angle on it, of course. Animals are part of God's creation, and we are their stewards. They are not our counterparts, however.

When I hear sentimentalists suggest that we should not eat animals, I often ask, Why not? They eat each other, don't they?

Which reminds me, Discovery Senior Fellow Wesley J. Smith's book, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy, is now out from Encounter Books. It will tell you all you need to know about animal welfare versus "animal rights." The former should be our concern as humane, civilized beings. The latter is a tendentious invention.

February 14, 2010

Soul Searching in Science

The history of empirical science versus the post-modern trend to abstraction and theory goes back to the Enlightenment. That philosophical movement had consequences for politics and religion, too, of course. Indeed, it touched everything, as inspection of any contemporary university English department would reveal.

A new book by Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty (Harper), describes the way the Enlightenment influenced America's founders to pursue experimental science as well as political art. Jefferson scholar Alan Pell Crawford (Twilight at Monticello) points out in his review Friday in the Wall Street Journal, that American science, like American politics, followed the model of the Scottish Enlightenment, rather than the French Enlightenment, and that made a huge difference to all our institutions.

Continue reading "Soul Searching in Science" »

The Culture War Within Islam--Economics and Religion

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Americans remain justifiably concerned about al Qaeda and related terror groups, but it is worth pausing to note the considerable progress that already has been made in Muslim countries since 9/11 to undermine the jihadis. G.W. Bush correctly insisted that democracy should be promoted in the Middle East, even though democracy is not always an unmixed blessing.

Fareed Zakaria has a good wrap-up of the situation in Newsweek that actually provides some credit to Bush and to King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, where real and potential terrorists are being re-schooled or, if necessary, physically thwarted. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, huge efforts are made by the West to promote republican institutions (not just democracy, but ordered liberty, including minority rights and free speech). Economic development is included, but mainly on the basis of infrastructure. There is no particular emphasis on free markets, though all you have to do is look at the Kurdish region to see the relevance--how free markets encourage peace as well as vice versa.

However, one of the most interesting and under-appreciated models within the Muslim world is Turkey. There the old guard are the Kemalists who are such ardent secularists (though not as bad as the Baathists of Syria and Iraq) that they persecute Muslims as well as other religious peoples. Mustafa Akyol has written extensively on Turkey's history, politics and culture, and has tried to help the West understand that while the arch-secularists control the bureaucracy, the military and most of the media and academia, the pro-Muslim party in Turkey is actually the more tolerant of diversity of religion and of political opinion. Most crucially, Akyol is showing that the Kemalists are mercantilists (though that is not the word he uses) who advance business activities through government connections, while the conservatives--almost all of them Muslim--promote free enterprise. You can get much of the story from Mr. Akyol's frequent columns and articles, but watch also for his forthcoming book on the topic.

Continue reading "The Culture War Within Islam--Economics and Religion" »

February 15, 2010

On President's Day, Remembering Washington's Contribution to Civilian Rule

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John R. Miller is a former member of Congress from Washington State, a one-time Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute, and is now the co-director of our Center for Human Rights and Bioethics. The following article ran in today's New York Times:

CIVILIAN control of the military is a cherished principle in American government. It was President Obama who decided to increase our involvement in Afghanistan, and it is Congress that will decide whether to appropriate the money to carry out his decision. It is the president and Congress, not the military, that will decide whether our laws should be changed to allow gays and lesbians to serve in our armed forces. The military advises, but the civilian leadership decides.

Yet if not for the actions of George Washington, whose birthday we celebrate, sort of, this month, America might have moved in a very different direction.

In early 1783, with Revolutionary War victory in sight but peace uncertain, Washington and the Continental Army bivouacked at Newburgh, N.Y. Troops were enraged by Congress's failure to provide promised back pay and pensions. Rumors of mutiny abounded.

Continue reading it here.

Election Fundraising More Fun--and Constitutional--After Supreme Court Ruling

We have had time to put the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the case of "Citizens United". Here is the opinion of Discovery Adjunct Fellow and attorney, Howard L. Chapman:

Last month the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that may result in profound changes in the conduct of future elections. During the political campaigns of 2008, a non-profit organization named Citizens United produced a ninety minute movie entitled "Hillary: The Movie," which is very critical of Hillary Clinton. Citizens United wanted to run the movie during the campaign, but the Federal Election Commission told them that it would be a violation of federal campaign finance laws if they ran it. Citizens United filed a lawsuit to challenge that ruling.

The law in question is The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (better known as the "McCain-Feingold Act"), and, in particular section 203 of that law. That section says that corporations and unions are prohibited from using their own money to run advertisements or publish anything else that is critical or supportive of a named candidate. The ban applies only in federal elections, and is only in effect within thirty days prior to a primary election, or sixty days prior to a general election.

The various courts that heard the Citizens United case found in favor or the FEC (agreeing that the movie could not be shown), and the case eventually arrived at the Supreme Court. It initially was contested on rather narrow statutory grounds, i.e., was a full length movie the kind of electioneering that the act prohibited. After hearing oral arguments the first time, the Court did something that is rather unusual; it directed the parties to submit additional briefs, and set the matter for additional oral arguments on the issue of whether or not the act itself was in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Continue reading "Election Fundraising More Fun--and Constitutional--After Supreme Court Ruling" »

February 21, 2010

Best Journalistic Update on Climate Issue

Since there are billions of dollars in direct costs attendant on climate change legislation and regulations, and billions more in indirect costs, it is important to follow the data reports and revelations.

This is one of the best journalistic treatments I have seen. It is written by Mark Landsbaum in the Orange County Register.

Will "Religious" Sins Will Sink the Scientist?

The Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Dr. Gavriel Avital, is being called upon to resign because he has defied two religious doctrines. No, not Jewish doctrines, but secular doctrines of the "scientific consensus", evolution and global warming.

They can't say he is ignorant; he's a scientist. So they accuse him of heresy. It's all very well to have a "healthy debate," one critic sniffs, but not in the Education Ministry. "Arguments and counter-arguments" are fine until the counter-arguments start persuading.

So rather than debating with Dr. Gavriel or holding scholarly meetings on the topics he raises, the push is to get the man fired. Of course. That's how science advances, right?

February 22, 2010

Forbes Hails Timely Medved Defense of Business

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One of our favorite publishers and political thinkers, Steve Forbes, provides a four star review of writer/talk show host and Discovery Senior Fellow Michael Medved's new book, The Five Big Lies About American Business.

The timeliness of the Medved book could hardly be more striking. Business has not been under such federal government attack, literally, in our lifetimes. What the Administration doesn't own (and then dictate to, such as banks and GM) it tries to browbeat. What the White House cannot get Congress to enact, it attempts to achieve by regulation. In addition, there is a constant drum beat of criticism against the private sector--this from the most inefficient, wasteful and, in many ways, most unjust sector of society.

Writes Forbes (in the March 1 issue of Forbes magazine), "Medved has his most fun with the fairy tale that 'the pure-souled and disinterested idealists in government will serve people more reliably than the greedy go-getters in the private sector.' Whether it's the Post Office, public schools, Amtrak, Medicare, Medicaid, public parks or light rails, the government's record has been routinely abysmal when it comes to efficiency, effectiveness, service and careful use of financial resources."

February 24, 2010

Cyber-Attack, the Least Recognized Major Threat?

Michael McConnell, former national security director, says the United States could lose a cyber-attack, and that such a major assault on the enormous U.S. reliance on computers and the Internet is likely. It may be our most under-recognized national security threat, potentially precipitating a sweeping economic crisis.

Legislative and technical fixes are in the works, but they have been in the works for too long a time. Leading Senate advocates are Senators Rockefeller and Snowe.

McConnell predicted that the United States will suffer a catastrophic cyberattack before it takes strong action, and said that America's cyber posture will be strengthened greatly after any attack. He added that the strongest action should focus on securing financial transactions and the financial sector. a bill in preparation.

Testifying before a Senate hearing, Information Week reports, "McConnell predicted that the United States will suffer a catastrophic cyberattack before it takes strong action, and said that America's cyber posture will be strengthened greatly after any attack. He added that the strongest action should focus on securing financial transactions and the financial sector."

February 25, 2010

George Gilder Hails "The Hockey Stick Illusion" on the Science Scandal of Global Warming

by George Gilder

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The infamous "hockey stick"

Epitomizing the plot ofThe Hockey Stick Illusion by A.W. Montford and the special gratifications it affords the reader are any of the Colombo shows on television. In each case, we see the humble investigator initially ignored, brushed aside,stonewalled, disdained, doubletalked, waffled, red herringed, and evaded by lofty and complacent Establishment figures, citing their own authority, crowded schedules, sophisticated reasoning, advanced degrees, abstruse mathematics, and exalted ideals.

In this story, the Columbo figure is Steve McIntyre, a Canadian mining
consultant, and A.W. Montford's book tells the gripping and suspenseful
details of McIntyre's pursuit of the self-denominated "hockey team" led by
Michael Mann, who wrote the key chapters on his own work for the IPCC, and
Phil Jones, who maintains the temperature record used by the IPCC to
document the "Hockey Stick": limning allegedly unprecedented and anomalous anthropogenic global warming in the Twentieth Century while denying that any comparable or greater warming occurred in the Medieval period.

Continue reading "George Gilder Hails "The Hockey Stick Illusion" on the Science Scandal of Global Warming" »

February 26, 2010

Faux Bi-Partisanship Entering "a Boorish Phase"

A televised leadership meeting is the sort of cynical substitute that modern politics, abetted by the media, offers in place of real negotiations. It is about as honest and true as a marriage proposal made on reality TV. And about as propitious.

If the President really wanted to create a bi-partisan health care bill, all he had to do was invite the key participants to meet in private. True bi-partisan bills develop that way, not on television. Performances are what you get at shows like the one the President staged yesterday.

Peggy Noonan spoke for many in saying "the President has entered a boorish phase." He takes advantage of his position to monopolize time and to patronize rivals.

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Presidential Succession and Alexander Haig

by John Wohlstetter

On March 30, 1981, as President Ronald Reagan lay at death's door in Georgetown Hospital, and with Vice-President George H. W. Bush in a plane bound for DC but without air-to-ground communication with the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes stood at the podium in the press room of the White House. Asked about who had control of the "nuclear football" Speakes was unable to give a coherent answer. To the rescue came Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

Rushing from the situation room to the press room, Haig told reporters: "As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president." Haig added, re presidential succession that "Constitutionally you have the president, vice-president and then the secretary of state..." in a formulation that omitted the Speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate, as designated by a 1947 law. Haig went on to say that if anything happened he would "of course" check with the VP upon establishing communication.

Haig, deeply unpopular with many reporters for his suspected role during Watergate, was roasted alive by the press, practically accused of attempting a palace coup. Imagine, for a moment, if Haig had stayed down in the situation room and no one else stepped forward in place of Speakes. A stammering press flack unable to explain who had control of nuclear codes would have thrown the press into a tizzy, generating all sorts of headlines the next day (and on the nightly news) about a rudderless administration during time of potential nuclear crisis. Thus Haig deserved praise, not condemnation. His flub on the succession sequence was of no serious moment, versus his stepping forth to indicate someone was in charge.

Which brings to mind the antiquated 1947 Truman administration law.

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February 27, 2010

A Nuclear Plant in Your New Home

It is an idea that may seem like science fiction: every new home with a power plant of its own, maybe even a nuclear plant. Each house might or might not be connected to a grid. This may have been a fancy in old comic books or in Popular Mechanics, but could be the near future.

In that kind of future, there would be much less broad a danger from storms or earthquakes that knock out power for whole cities and where disrupted power lines ignite ruinous fires. If whole cities or even neighborhoods were powered by numerous individual energy plants, terrorist attacks on the power grid would become much less threatening. Even if only a fraction of homes and office buildings and schools were independently powered, those could serve as refuges for the rest of the community in natural or man made catastrophes.

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White House Staff Battling White House Staff

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There's no war like a civil war, and one seems to have broken out in the Obama White House. Now the public is learning about it. Every president has numerous assistants, of course, and, being human, they tend to compete. Sometimes it is over ideology (as under FDR, who encouraged it), sometimes it is over tactics (as under Reagan, who couldn't figure out how to stop it). In the Obama White House it seems to be worse--it seems to be personal revenge as well as rivalry.

When such differences make it into print, you usually can assume that a little bird gave the reporter a self-serving exclusive. In the Obama case, there have been a number of columns attacking Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

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February 28, 2010

From Philly to Seattle: America's Waterfronts are Urban Development Issue of Decade

Call it "On the Waterfront" Meets "Philadelphia Story." The remake of the famous harbor of Philadelphia is the major development issue of that big city today. Three thousand miles away, the impending replacement of the Alaska Way Viaduct in Seattle has opened the opportunity and necessity of redesigning the waterfront there. Many other cities have similar issues in front of them as industrial era usages in central locations are being replaced by new interests in recreation and tourism and less unsightly transportation.

In a recent visit to Seattle, Harris Steinberg of PennPraxis at the University of Pennsylvania, explained to a Seattle citizen planning team how his group and the William Penn Foundation, backed by the City of Philadelphia and local media and civic groups, have redesigned the general plan for the riverfront along the Delaware River, a deteriorating area of old piers and warehouses and "big box stores".

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Congratulations, Canada!

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Reserve used to be a characteristic trait of Canadians. Not patriotic. Defined by what they weren't--that is, not Americans.

No more. Canadians these days can't stop singing, "O, Canada" and painting their faces red and white. They shout and carry on like, well, I can't help noting, Americans.

Tonight they deserve congratulations and thanks. They have staged a magnificent Winter Olympics in the fabulous world city of Vancouver and the superb modern resort of Whistler-Blackcomb. They could have been stumped by the unseasonably warm weather, but they weren't. They could have been undone by the pressure of media and transportation. They weren't. Their guests are flying out of town feeling happy and grateful.

Especial praise goes to our Cascadia ally, British Columbia. What incredible strides the province has made in a generation or so!

Some said that Canadians should feel chagrined that they didn't win as many medals as the U.S., or even the Germans. Nonsense. Canada is a fraction of the population of the U.S. (even if you only count the states that have winter sports), and yet they managed a huge haul, including, of course the men's hockey gold, which was about all they seemed to care about this sunny Sunday afternoon.

Well, let them have it. We, in turn, are fortunate to have such fine, fun neighbors. They are excellent hosts and friends.

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