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Haters of science? The Bush administration sounds the alarm, "climate change is coming … and is here!"

May 29th, 2008 No comments

Climate change, largely due to human activities, is currently underway, with more very serious – and largely unstoppable changes – expected in the next 25 years, and landowners, communities, farmers, businesses, communities and state and local government should pay attention, anticipate and start adapting!  So says our federal government, sotto voce, after devoting seven years and considerable effort to make sure that the public did NOT get this news and that climate change did not appear on the federal regulatory or legislative agenda.

Under pressure from ongoing climate change and boxed in by laws and a court decision, the ice dam that has blocked the flow of scientific information from the federal government over the past seven years melted this past week, yielding two long-delayed (and partially over-lapping) reports that were released rather quietly – without any prominent mention by the White House or other agency.  How interesting – has climate science finally trumped political expediency (and hidden rent-seeking)?

1.  Most notably, the Bush administration caved to an August 2007 federal court order and published on Thursday, May 29, the “Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States,” its first (and long overdue) comprehensive national assessment of the impacts of climate change in the U.S.  Despite this report being expressly required by law (the 1990 Global Change Research Act) to be prepared every four years (the last one had been issued in 2000 by the Clinton administration), the Bush administration not only refused to prepare the report (which is intended to give the President, Congresscritters and government agencies a single document to refer to when evaluating climate policy) but has until now done its best to suppress and prevent action on the 2000 assessment.

According to reporting by Bill Blakemore of ABC News, the new assessment:

“Integrat[es] federal research efforts of many agencies and literally thousands of scientists, [and] reports that the global climate disruption now under way is already damaging U.S. water resources, agriculture and wildlife and is expected to keep doing so—often worsening—for “the next few decades and beyond.”

There is no part of the country that escapes some sort of consequence,” said Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Institute

Temperatures are expected to continue rising by about 4 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit before the century is out. The report says that in the West grain harvests and vegetable and fruit crops are more likely to fail because of rising temperatures. It also points out that weeds—of concern both to farmers and those who suffer from pollen allergies—are growing more rapidly due to elevated levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the air.

“These are consequences for forests in our backyard, for agriculture on which we depend, for the water resources that we depend on, both for agricultural production and household use and manufacturing, that this is the basis of a good quality of life for everybody,” Janetos said.

The report projects a likely increase in frequency and severity of heat waves and other extreme weather events, including storms and floods …. 

It also projects that because of worsening weather and heat the nation’s transportation systems face “significant challenges.” Coastal and river flooding and landslides are hitting roads, rails and ports, and heat spells buckle or soften roads.

Forests in the West, Southwest and Alaska will be assaulted by more frequent forest fires and decimated by insects that no longer die off in winter because winters are generally warmer. In the middle of the country are reports increasing drought.

Janetos warns that these dire effects are already under way, not lurking the future.

“These are things that are happening today. They’re not just things that will happen 30, 40, 50, 100 years from now,” he said. “We wanted to be within the planning horizon that land managers and conservation planners and farmers actually have to deal with.”

 According to Seth Borenstein of the AP:

Andrew Weaver, a Canadian climate scientist who was not involved in the effort called it “a litany of bad news in store for the U.S.”

And Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist who chaired the group of scientists who reviewed the report for the federal government said: “It basically says the America we’ve known we can no longer count on. It’s a pretty dramatic picture of all kinds of change rippling through natural systems across the country. And all of that has implications for people.”

White House associate science director Sharon Hays, in a teleconference with reporters, declined to characterize the findings as bad, but said it is an issue the administration takes seriously. She said the report was comprehensive and “communicates what the scientists are telling us.”

That includes:

– Increased heat deaths and deaths from climate-worsened smog. In Los Angeles alone yearly heat fatalities could increase by more than 1,000 by 2080, and the Midwest and Northeast are most vulnerable to increased heat deaths.

– Worsening water shortages for agriculture and urban users. From California to New York, lack of water will be an issue.

– A need for billions of dollars in more power plants (one major cause of global warming gases) to cool a hotter country.

– More death and damage from wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters and extreme weather. In the last three decades, wildfire season in the West has increased by 78 days. [TT:  As I noted on several Mises blog threads last year; e.g., http://blog.mises.org/archives/007345.asp#comment-130290]

– Increased insect infestations and food- and waterborne microbes and diseases. Insect and pathogen outbreaks to the forests are causing $1.5 billion in annual losses.

– “Finally, climate change is very likely to accentuate the disparities already evident in the American health care system,” the report said. “Many of the expected health effects are likely to fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured.”

Rick Piltz, who worked in the administration until 2005 (when he quit to protest the administration’s politicized manipulation of the climate science) and is now Climate Science Watch Director at the non-profit, non-partisan Government Accountability Project (the leading whistle-blower protection organization), commented:

“This report discusses evidence of climate disruption that has been well-understood in the science community and in the government for some time,” said Rick Piltz, Director of the Government Accountability Project’s Climate Science Watch program. “After seven years of denial, disinformation, cover-up, and delay, in its waning months, the Bush administration is finally beginning to allow the publication of reports that acknowledge this scientific reality.”

Piltz further said:

“rather than focusing exclusively on the report and the legalities of its due dates, it would be more illuminating to focus on the seven-plus years of time lost under this administration, starting from early-on when they suppressed official references to and use of the first National Assessment report, shut down all follow-on work, and pulled federal support from the emerging scientist-stakeholder communication networks around the country that were a hallmark of the National Assessment effort. The damage done by the administration’s political decision to disconnect the Climate Change Science Program from effective communication with stakeholders (with the exception of a few niche projects) is not undone by the report issued on May 29, which was drafted internally and without public review or documented stakeholder communication.”

2.  The national assessment was preceded on Tuesday, May 27 by a sector report on the impacts of climate change on agricultureThe effects of climate change on agriculture, land resources, water resources, and biodiversity in the United States, Final Report, Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3.  This is one of many sector-specific reports by which the administration had intended to dodge the requirement for an overall national assessment.

Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post reported as follows:

Anthony C. Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the University of Maryland and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said the document aims to inform federal resource managers and dispel the public’s perception that global warming will not be felt until years from now.

“They imagine all these ecological impacts are in some distant future,” said Janetos, one of the lead authors, who noted that many animals and plants have shifted their migratory and blooming patterns to reflect recent changes in temperature. “They’re not in some distant future. We’re experiencing them now.”

The document concludes that Americans must face the fact that many of these changes are locked in even if the country takes significant steps to cut emissions in the coming decades.

“Climate change is currently impacting the nation’s ecosystems and services in significant ways, and those alterations are very likely to accelerate in the future, in some cases dramatically,” the report says. “Even under the most optimistic CO2 emission scenarios, important changes in sea level, regional and super-regional temperatures and precipitation patterns will have profound effects.” …

In addition, the number and frequency of forest fires and insect outbreaks are “increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska,” while “precipitation, stream flow, and stream temperatures are increasing in most of the continental United States” and snowpack is declining in the West.

The Agriculture Department, the study’s lead sponsor, issued a statement yesterday highlighting some of the report’s findings for farmers, noting that the higher temperatures mean that grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly but face an increased risk of failure and “will negatively affect livestock.”

The report predicts that some of the nation’s most valued landscapes may change radically in the near future as precipitation and weather patterns continue to shift.

“Management of Western reservoir systems is very likely to become more challenging as runoff patterns continue to change,” it states. “Arid areas are very likely to experience increased erosion and fire risk. In arid ecosystems that have not co-evolved with a fire cycle, the probability of loss of iconic, charismatic megaflora such as Saguaro cacti and Joshua trees will greatly increase.”

According to reporting by Judith Kohler of the AP:

“I think what’s really eye-opening is the depth and breadth of the impacts and consequences going on right now,” said Tony Janetos, a study author and director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland.

Scientists produced the report by analyzing research from more than 1,000 publications, rather than conducting new research. It’s part of a federal assessment of global warming for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, sponsored by 13 federal agencies, led by the Department of Agriculture.

“Just to see it all there like that and to realize the impacts are pervasive right now is a little bit scary,” said Peter Backlund, director of research relations at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

Drought-strained forests in the West and Southeast are easy prey for tree-killing insects like bark beetles. Snow in the Western mountains is melting earlier, making it more difficult for managers overseeing a long-established system of reservoirs and irrigation ditches that serves Western states.

The Southeast doesn’t have the same kind of storage system because rain historically has been more consistent. Current weather disruptions have the region struggling with drought, Janetos said.

Rising carbon dioxide levels are changing the metabolism of grasses and shrubs on range land, decreasing the protein levels in plants eaten by cattle.

Warmer, drier weather is altering the biodiversity of deserts in the Southwest and the high, colder deserts of Nevada, Utah and eastern Washington, said Steve Archer of the University of Arizona. Plants and animals already living in extreme conditions face threats from wildfires and nonnative species, he said.

“These areas historically support a large ranching industry, wildlife habitat,” Archer said. “They are major watersheds and airsheds.”

The scientists said longer growing seasons provided by higher temperatures don’t necessarily translate into bigger crop yields because plants have certain growth patterns.

Their report focuses on the next 25 to 50 years, rather than the next 100 years as other studies have done.

“Sometimes it’s so far out that people just don’t grasp that it’s a problem. This really brings it home,” said Jerry Hatfield, lab director of the National Soil Tilth laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The World Wildlife Fund has a press release that identifies the following findings of the report of particular concern(from which I have omitted WWF’s legislative proposals):

Climate change is fueling forest fires, creating water scarcity, harming animal habitats, and causing other significant changes throughout the United States that will only worsen as global temperatures increase, concludes a new federal government assessment of current and future climate change impacts.

“The number and frequency of forest fires and insect outbreaks are increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska.  Precipitation, streamflow, and stream temperatures are increasing in most of the continental United States.  The western United States is experiencing reduced snowpack and earlier peaks in spring runoff.  The growth of many crops and weeds is being stimulated.  Migration of plant and animal species is changing the composition and structure of arid, polar, aquatic, coastal and other ecosystems.” 

“Climate change is currently impacting the nation’s ecosystems and services in significant ways, and those alterations are very likely to accelerate in the future, in some cases dramatically…..  Even under the most optimistic CO2 emission scenarios, important changes in sea level, regional and super-regional temperatures, and precipitation patterns will have profound effects.”

“Management of water resources will become more challenging.  Increased incidence of disturbances such as forest fires, insect outbreaks, severe storms, and drought will command public attention and place increasing demands on management resources. Ecosystems are likely to be pushed increasingly into alternate states with the possible breakdown of traditional species relationships, such as pollinator/plant and predator/prey interactions, adding additional stresses and potential for system failures. Some agricultural and forest systems may experience near-term productivity increases, but over the long term, many such systems are likely to experience overall decreases in productivity that could result in economic losses, diminished ecosystem services, and the need for new, and in many cases significant, changes to management regimes.”

 

The ironic success of the Neocon venture! As US influence wanes, progress in the Middle East?

May 27th, 2008 2 comments

The International Herald carries an Interesting analysis of recent developments in the Middle East by Rami G. Khouri, editor-at-large of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut

As the U.S. loses credibility and influence, even Israel is ignoring the U.S. and taking greater responsibility for its own foreign affairs by reaching out to Syria (via Turkish intermediation).  Rather than cheering on such developments, “hard-headed” neocons like John Bolton poo-poo Israel’s initiative – it seems that when Israel takes greater responsibility for its own foreign affairs there is less domestic political hay to be made by demagogues in the U.S.!

Can we keep our fingers crossed for a peace dividend?  Unlikely, as the US military and defense establishment continue to take over the U.S. government.  Even the New York Times “strongly supports a larger, sturdier military”, and expanded benefits for soldiers.

Fighting over the President’s Council on Bioethics (and human "dignity") – is Steven Pinker wrong?

May 26th, 2008 5 comments

[Update below.]

When government is involved in making decisions about the use of tax dollars or regulatory power to favor or hinder particular activities, it is not surprising that political struggles often ensue between groups that wish to obtain a policy outcome that maximizes their particular interests.  It is also not surprising that one side or the other (or both) side may be so caught up in the righteousness of its position that it fails not merely to recognize the legitimacy of other views competing for a piece of the governmentally-dispensed pie, but also fails even to perceive the underlying dynamics of competition to steer government in the direction one favors.

This unfortunate dynamic can now be seen in an spat between Steven Pinker (Harvard psychologist and author of best-selling books on language, cognition and evolutionary biology) and defenders of the President’s Council on Bioethics with respect to a series of essays recently published by the Council on Human Dignity and Bioethics

Pinker takes issue with the President’s Council via an essay entitled “The Stupidity of Dignity” in The New Republic, while a former executive director of the President’s Council, Yuval Levin (a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and senior editor of The New Atlantis magazine) has published a rejoinder entitled “Indignity and Bioethics; Steven Pinker discovers the human-dignity cabal” in the National Review Online (Levin’s essay being admirably packed with links to a number of relevant references).  What I find most interesting – and sad – about the spat is the degree to which Pinker and Levin (as a proxy for the members of the Council), manage to talk past each other.

While the Council’s report, and both Pinker’s and Levin’s essays make interesting points about the concept of “dignity”, it’s a shame that these two very intelligent men both fall into the trap of demonizing their opponents and cannot see that their own heated intemperance is fuelled by the dynamic of struggle for control over what GOVERNMENT does.  One can share BOTH Pinker’s concern that the government should not further interfere with private biomedical research and the choices of individuals, AND be concerned that the government should not be subsidizing various research practices that make one uneasy.  The key, clearly, is to minimize the heavy hand of the state.

The focus of Pinker’s essay is on questioning the validity of government action pertaining to “bioethics” and the implicit role of the Council, in which he sees such an alarming and authoritarian religious streak that he refers to the authors of  the Council’s essay as “theocons“.  Pinker argues that the Council has stacked the deck of its report in favor of religious viewpoints, and seems to believe that the focus of the Council on “dignity” is a Trojan horse to (1) sidestep the traditional bioethical principle of “personal autonomy–the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another”, in order to (2) enable the assertion of greater governmental control over the promises of onrushing biomedical advances, which “could make millions of people better off and no one worse off.” 

But Pinker fails to note that the government is in fact providing significant funding for biomedical research, and that others have a legitimate interest in discussing the parameters of government-funded research.

Pinker makes the following statements:

  • The report does not, the editors admit, settle the question of what dignity is or how it should guide our policies. It does, however, reveal a great deal about the approach to bioethics represented by the Council. And what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. For this government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.
  • Although the Dignity report presents itself as a scholarly deliberation of universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine.
  • The concept of dignity is natural ground on which to build an obstructionist bioethics. An alleged breach of dignity provides a way for third parties to pass judgment on actions that are knowingly and willingly chosen by the affected individuals. It thus offers a moralistic justification for expanded government regulation of science, medicine, and private life.
  • A free society disempowers the state from enforcing a conception of dignity on its citizens. Democratic governments allow satirists to poke fun at their leaders, institutions, and social mores. And they abjure any mandate to define “some vision of ‘the good life'” or the “dignity of using [freedom] well” (two quotes from the Council’s volume). The price of freedom is tolerating behavior by others that may be undignified by our own lights. I would be happy if Britney Spears and “American Idol” would go away, but I put up with them in return for not having to worry about being arrested by the ice-cream police. This trade-off is very much in America’s DNA and is one of its great contributions to civilization: my country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.
  • Could there be cases in which a voluntary relinquishing of dignity leads to callousness in onlookers and harm to third parties–what economists call negative externalities? In theory, yes. Perhaps if people allowed their corpses to be publicly desecrated, it would encourage violence against the bodies of the living. Perhaps the sport of dwarf-tossing encourages people to mistreat all dwarves. Perhaps violent pornography encourages violence against women. But, for such hypotheses to justify restrictive laws, they need empirical support. In one’s imagination, anything can lead to anything else: Allowing people to skip church can lead to indolence; letting women drive can lead to sexual licentiousness. In a free society, one cannot empower the government to outlaw any behavior that offends someone just because the offendee can pull a hypothetical future injury out of the air.
  • The sickness in theocon bioethics goes beyond imposing a Catholic agenda on a secular democracy and using “dignity” to condemn anything that gives someone the creeps. Ever since the cloning of Dolly the sheep a decade ago, the panic sown by conservative bioethicists, amplified by a sensationalist press, has turned the public discussion of bioethics into a miasma of scientific illiteracy.
  • A major sin of theocon bioethics is exactly the one that it sees in biomedical research: overweening hubris. In every age, prophets foresee dystopias that never materialize, while failing to anticipate the real revolutions. Had there been a President’s Council on Cyberethics in the 1960s, no doubt it would have decried the threat of the Internet, since it would inexorably lead to 1984, or to computers “taking over” like HAL in 2001. Conservative bioethicists presume to soothsay the outcome of the quintessentially unpredictable endeavor called scientific research. And they would stage-manage the kinds of social change that, in a free society, only emerge as hundreds of millions of people weigh the costs and benefits of new developments for themselves, adjusting their mores and dealing with specific harms as they arise, as they did with in vitro fertilization and the Internet.

Pinker puts his concerns more bluntly in testimony he provided directly to the Council on March 6, 2008:

  • I think the volume has been steered in particular directions by a steep over-representation of certain viewpoints and methods and outright exclusion of important contrary viewpoints.
  • Now, here’s where the plot thickens.  A number of biomedical advances raise the possibility of opportunities that can reduce suffering, promote human flourishing, harm no sentient being, are freely and knowingly chosen, yet they elicit disquiet in third parties.  There are numerous examples brought up in the volume:  drugs that enhance cognitive functioning, anti-aging research that promises to extend the human lifespan, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, somatic cell nuclear transfer, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies, cloning, a market in organs for donation, and many others.
  • And it’s no secret that many members of the Council are viscerally repelled by these prospects but realize that they can’t rule them out with the consensus ethics of autonomy, human rights, or respect for persons.  Hence, we have the appeal to dignity.  The problem, of course, is that, for one thing, dignity is, as just about all the essays acknowledge, a squishy concept.  It has much of its basis in religious doctrine.  And for these two reasons, it has not provided the kind of consensus definition of the kind that would be necessary in a democracy.
  • I see the current volume as designed to put dignity on a firmer conceptual basis and therefore provide the grounds for regulating or banning these disquieting practices.  This, I believe, is the ultimate goal of the President’s Council, and it’s why I think there was a thumb on the scale in choosing the authorship of the reports. 

In response, Levin addresses – with a bit of overstatement and rhetorical excess of his own – what he sees as unfair and unjustified hysteria and personal attacks by Pinker, but Levin fails to address the meat of Pinker’s suspicions about the aims of the Council (or of the President in establishing it) and his arguments about the legitimate role of government in regulating biomedical research and activity:

  • The volume has so far drawn a modest response from bioethicists and others, some applauding the effort to lay out the range of opinions, and some bemoaning the lack of agreement on so seemingly basic a concept. But this week, in the latest issue of The New Republic, the volume has also elicited a bizarre and astonishing display of paranoid vitriol from an academic celebrity.
  • Pinker’s essay is a striking exhibit of a set of attitudes toward religion and the West’s moral tradition that has become surprisingly common among America’s intellectual elite. It is a mix of fear, suspicion, and disgust that has a lot to do, for instance, with the Left’s intense paranoia about the Bush administration, and with the peculiar notion that American conservatives have declared a “war on science”; and it involves more generally an inclination to reject any idea drawn in any way from a religiously inspired tradition — which unfortunately includes just about everything in the humanities.
  • These elements are all powerfully evident in Pinker’s screed. After briefly introducing the subject, his essay manages almost entirely to ignore the substance of the volume under consideration (taking up no particular essay in the book, for instance) and addresses itself instead to what the author imagines is a sinister Catholic conspiracy to subject the nation to a papist theology of death.
  • With deep alarm Pinker informs his readers that some of the contributors to the volume make their living at such “Christian institutions” as Georgetown University and that some of the essays even mention the Bible, which leads him to conclude that the work of the bioethics council, in this book and in general, “springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine.”
  • This is, to begin with, patent nonsense. Even a cursory review of the council’s reports and deliberations will demonstrate it has spent significantly less time than even its Clinton administration predecessor considering any explicitly religious views or discussing religious issues, and has in no way sought to ground any positions, arguments, or recommendations in religion.
  • He rushes on to paint the bioethics council as a committee of pious executioners, arguing that “this government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing,” and asserting without basis that the council (which, more than all of its predecessors in previous administrations, was designed to provide a diversity of opinion and not merely support for the positions of the president who appointed it) was “packed” with “conservative scholars and pundits, advocates of religious (particularly Catholic) principles in the public sphere, and writers with a paper trail of skittishness toward biomedical advances, together with a smattering of scientists (mostly with a reputation for being religious or politically conservative).” Pinker might have examined the record of the council’s discussions (including its devastating grilling of him in 2003, which may help explain some of his vehemence), its reports, and the backgrounds of its members, especially the scientist members, for a sense of how absurdly misinformed is this diatribe.
  • It would be hard to answer the bioethics council’s thoughtful and varied collection with a less appropriate rejoinder than Pinker’s insulting, ill-informed, and anti-intellectual tirade. He misrepresents the most elementary facts about the council’s work and intentions, repeating baseless charges and engaging in crude character assassination; and his assertion that the council is intolerant of dissenting opinion is belied by the fact that his rant is based on remarks he actually delivered at a council meeting, by invitation. His fears of a religious, and especially a Catholic, plot to overthrow democracy are absurd. And his insistence on filtering out of American life any hint of religious influence is badly misguided.
  • Even if dignity remains difficult to define, undignified public discourse is easy to discern, and Pinker has offered an obvious example.

[Update:  example of how discussion over Pinker’s essay totally misses the main point – the question not about dignity per se but the GOVERNMENT’s role in protecting/enforcing dignity – can be found at here:  http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/human_dignity_what_a_stupid_idea; and http://americasfuture.org/jamespoulos/2008/05/dignity-vs-neediness-in-the-bioethics-war/]

Krugman/NYT heralds the beginning of the end for suburban sprawl

May 22nd, 2008 No comments

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/19/opinion/edkrugman.php?WT.mc_id=newsalert.

Maybe next we’ll see Krugman and others supporting an end to the gas-tax subsidized federal highway system?

NBC castigated for kowtowing insufficiently to the Propagandist-in-Chief

May 20th, 2008 No comments

A rather extraordinary series of public communications directed from the White House towards NBC News by Ed Gillespielong-time lobbyist, “communications” specialist and former director of the Republican National Committee and now chief replacement of spin-meister Karl Rove as wholly partisan “Counselor to the President” – sheds light on what urgent matters of international and domestic affairs preoccupy the White House:  massaging public opinion and keeping the mainstream media in line with the White House message

–  on the wisdom of George Bush as the Great Deciderer on the “War on Terror” (and its importance as a political tool against the appeasing, America-hating Democrats);

– that the level of civil conflict in Iraq (at least a few hundred thousand killed and millions displaced) does not rise to the level of a “civil war”; and

– that the Administration’s economic statistics are all trustworthy and reports that the economy is in trouble are false and irresponsible. 

In essence, Gillespie’s complaint is nothing more nor less than that NBC News, by showing a modicum of independence in exercising its editorial judgment, is failing to act in its proper role as mouthpiece for George Bush

What set Gillespie off?  A rather aggressive interview of George Bush by NBC correspondent Richard Engel, in which Engel questioned Bush about Iran policy, “appeasement,” the counter-productiveness of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and other aspects of policy in the Middle East.  NBC ran pieces of the interview on the Nightly News and on The Today Show, and put the whole interview up on its website. 

But Gillespie’s claims regarding the interview are extremely weak – that NBC “deceptively edited” the interview “to completely alter the nature of the President’s answer”, in a manner that was “utterly misleading and irresponsible”.  Well, editing was of course needed – the interview was just that, not a major policy speech, so NBC ended up airing 3:25 out of 15:20 minutes.  But did NBC completely alter the nature of the President’s answer?

Q In front of the Israeli parliament at the Knesset you said that negotiating with Iran is pointless — and then you went further, you saying — you said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barak Obama? He certainly thought you were.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, my policies haven’t changed, but evidently the political calendar has. [People need to read the speech. You didn’t get it exactly right, either.]  What I said was is that we need to take the words of people seriously. And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you’ve got to take those words seriously. [And if you don’t take them seriously, then it harkens back to a day when we didn’t take other words seriously. It was fitting that I talked about not taking the words of Adolph Hitler seriously on the floor of the Knesset. But I also talked about the need to defend Israel, the need to not negotiate with the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. And the need to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.

But I also talked about a vision of what’s possible in the Middle East.]

The bracketed language was edited out – how would leaving it in have changed the meaning Bush’s response?  It would have shown that Bush didn’t really remember his own speech, in which he not only stated that we should take seriously the words of evil men, but clearly indicated that it is a “foolish delusion” and “the false comfort of appeasement” to “believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals”.  The additional language would have also shown that yes, when Bush talked about “appeasement” in front of the the Israeli Knesset he was referring not only to those who would talk with Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda, but also any who would talk with (“not take seriously” the words of) Iran’s leaders, and so, by implication, Bush was referring to Obama, among others. 

Gillespie claims that Bush’s full answer to this question “makes clear: (1). The President’s remarks before the Knesset were not different from past policy statements, but are now being looked at through a political prism,    (2).  Corrects the inaccurate premise of Engel’s question by putting the “appeasement” line in the proper context of taking the words of leaders seriously, not “negotiating with Iran,” (3).  Restates the U.S.’s long-standing policy positions against negotiating with al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, and not allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Nonsense.  (1)  Bush did not claim that he has previously made statements in foreign parliaments about appeasement, nor did he establish that he had no political intention in making such statements. 

(2)  Bush’s response in the interview correctly noted one of his strawmen (the “not taking seriously” the words of evil men), but the edited version certainly included that response. 

(3)  Bush restated old policy positions, but that’s hardly the point, which that he raised the other strawman that talking with one’s opponents is itself appeasement.

In the interest of “fairness and accuracy” Gillespie demanded that NBC News “air the President’s responses to both initial questions in full on the two programs that used the excerpts”!

Gillespie then decided to further hector NBC by:

  • protesting and challenging NBC’s decision to refer to take the position a “civil war” was underway in Iraq:

Gillespie implied that NBC went beyond its rightful role as a news program by deciding in November 2006, “to no longer just cover the news in Iraq, but to make an analytical and editorial judgment that Iraq was in a civil war,” and that NBC was wrong not to change its mind despite protests by the US government and the “government” of Iraq;

Gillespie noted that around September 2007, NBC “quietly stopped referring to conditions in Iraq as a ‘civil war'”; and

Gillespie inquired whether “Is it still NBC News’s carefully deliberated opinion that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war? If not, will the network publicly declare that the civil war has ended, or that it was wrong to declare it in the first place?”

  • protesting and challenging NBC’s questioning of the accuracy of the Administration’s economic reporting:

Gillespie noted that, “when the Commerce Department on April 30 released the GDP numbers for the first quarter of 2007, Brian Williams reported it this way:  ‘If you go by the government number, the figure that came out today stops just short of the official declaration of a recession’  and to ask: “Are there numbers besides the “government number” to go by?  Is there reason to believe “the government number” is suspect?  How does the release of positive economic growth for two consecutive quarters, albeit limited, stop “just short of the official declaration of a recession”?”

Finally, Gillespie expressed concern about “the increasing blurring of th[e] lines” between “”news” as reported on NBC and the “opinion” as reported on MSNBC” and asked NBC to reassure its viewers “that blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC don’t hold editorial sway over the NBC network news division”.  As if Gillespie and the White House – which carefully manipulate every story of concern to it and manage a whole fleet of sympathetic and partisan “journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, conservative bloggers, military groups and others with talking points” on matters such as the “surge”, while doing their best to prevent government transparency – really care about “truth”, as opposed to maintaining their own power over government and the American people.

NBC News President Steve Capus responded to Gillespie that “there was no effort to be “deceptive,” and that Gillespie’s position that this was, “deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline,” is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Capus declined to comment on the questions of the Administration’s economic reporting or whether there is a civil war underway in Iraq, but further noted that

“In fact, the entire interview was posted Sunday on our website, MSNBC.com, thus allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions about it, the subject matter and our editing. In addition, the entire section in dispute has already aired, unedited, on NBC’s Today program and in edited form on other NBC News broadcasts.

“Editing is a part of journalism.”

Gillespie then had the chutzpah to post another public reply, which asserted:

“While we appreciate that viewers can visit the MSNBC website to see how NBC News edited the interview to completely alter the nature of the President’s answer, we know that most will not – it’s simply absurd for people to have to log onto the internet and stream video to get accurate information from NBC News.

“We also look forward to hearing their response to our additional concerns about their labeling Iraq as a “civil war”, and if they have reason not to believe official economic data.”

I think that Ed Gillespie has done us a public service – not only is his loud screeching a clear indication that the Administration is losing control of the media, but he has helped to put a spotlight on how the Administration hypocritically calls for “truth” when its modus operandi is lies and deceit and how it strains to control what should be a private and truly independent media.  He has also challenged the media and others to show how the Administration is lying with its economics data.  One hopes that this episode with help to stiffen the spines of the media and set various people to work to on explaining the vast cooking of books that the Administration has been conducting with respect to its mismanagement of government and the economy.

Thanks, Ed!  (Believe me, these are issues that will concern you, too, once you find yourself outside of the Administration in a few months.)

As insects increasingly bite into rice crops, who should pay for crop research?

May 19th, 2008 2 comments

Keeping ahead of crop diseases and pests is a continual challenge, particularly as climate and weather patterns change.  This challenge is in part compounded by the involvement of governments around the world in in subsidizing the consumption of certain crop staples like rice and in subsidizing crop research.  

The New York Times has published an article that blames cutbacks in research on new rice varieties to a growing threat to rice crops posed by new diseases and pests.

World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut

Should the West respond with more subsidies to research for crops grown in poor countries, or with less subsidies and greater reliance on private incentives that already exist in Western markets?  Are there private researchers that are stepping into the gap?

LA residents to drink recycled sewage, plus more on water rights "reform"

May 18th, 2008 No comments

1.  According to the New York Times, in the face of the difficulties and high costs of obtaining rights to more water, the mayor of LA has just announced plans for $1 billion in investments to increase municipal water supplies by capturing water from sewage and run-off and sending treated water into ground water.  The city also announced other policies that increase the role of the city in policing how citizens and businesses use water, such as increased fines for watering lawns during restricted times, and encouraging businesses and residents to use more efficient sprinklers and plumbing fixtures.  “The move comes as California braces for the possibility of the most severe water shortages in decades,” but also faces continued population growth.

The article does allude to some of the difficulties LA faces due to a lack of regional markets in water, but fails to note that a significant part of the problem that LA is trying to “manage” is a result of the city’s monopoly over municipal water supply and the related absence of a local water market that would present consumers with greater choice, pricing alternatives and incentives to conserve.  While some of the infrastructure investments make sense, greater water conservation could be achieve simply by getting the city out of the water management/dictatorship business.

 2.  I also note a recent short piece on Tradable Water Rights by an MIT environmental econ professor/Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael Greenstone.   I think that there are some very sticky issues involved here, and believe they deserve greater attention – if not necessarily direct government action to reform water rights.

 

Categories: reform, water rights Tags:

"Worldwatch" enviro group praises moves to water rights and markets in China

May 18th, 2008 No comments

Yingling Liu, manager of the China Program at the Worldwatch Institute, has praised recent steps by Chinese water authorities to clarify rights to water and to encourage water trading as a means to resolve serious issues over the use of water.

Here are a few key excerpts for the article (“Water Trading in China: A Step Toward Sustainability”):

“In recent years, scarcity and pollution of water have become the paramount environmental woe in China. Numerous reports and books have exposed China’s water crisis, depicting a nation suffering in the face of black-running rivers and dried-up waterways. Nationwide, the per capita availability of fresh water is only one-quarter of the world average.

“But a new regulation from the nation’s water authority may hold the key to achieving water sustainability in this thirsty country. The Interim Measure for Water Quantity Allocation, which came into effect on February 1, provides a framework for allocating water rights across provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities that are under the direct jurisdiction of the central government. The ruling’s 17 stipulations lay out the principles, mechanisms, and practices for water allocation, potentially opening Chinese markets for water trading and enabling the use of market tools to promote conservation.

“The need for better delineation of water rights in China has become increasingly urgent. Water demands within shared river basins are frequently at conflict due to industrial expansion and urbanization. … Such competing claims are prevalent in nearly all of China’s major river basins.

“As water demands keep rising, water waste remains pervasive due to the current “open-access” nature of China’s water resources. According to statistics, in 2003 China’s utilization coefficient for agricultural irrigation water was only 0.4-0.5, compared to 0.7-0.8 in industrial countries. Water use per unit of gross domestic product was as high as 413 cubic meters, four times the world average, while water use per value added of industry was 218 cubic meters, 5 to 10 times the level in industrial countries. China’s industrial water-recycling rate was only 50 percent´╝îcompared to 85 percent in industrial countries.

“The traditional practices of promoting conservation through education, moral suasion, and technological innovation are no longer able to keep up with China’s rising water demand. By allocating water rights and introducing market-based tools, the new regulation may accelerate progress toward water saving, protection, and pollution control.”

More here:  http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/environmentandenergy/archive/2008/05/18/a-step-toward-water-markets-in-china.aspx

Query:  Is this really a step in the right direction, or should it be faulted as state action in creating property rights?

Categories: China, markets, state action, water rights Tags:

Bad news and needed institutional change: Climate change, water and water rights

May 14th, 2008 No comments

Climate change is having a significant impact on water supplies in the US Southwest and elsewhere.  Scientists increasingly that these impacts can be attributed to human influences on climate – but that is to some degree besides the point.  Presently, water is very poorly used and allocated in many places, due to poorly working markets and politicized government ownership of catchment and regional and municipal distribution networks and other interference.  Consumers do not face marginal costs of water acquisition. 

Not merely to ease the impact of future climate change but also to deal with existing problems, a concerted move to clearer water rights and competition in water supply is needed.  This will necessarily be a sticky process, but one that needs addressing.

Some relevant links and summaries are below.

“climate change has dramatically altered the water flow over the past 50 years in several Western states.

“These changes, which include more winter precipitation falling as rain instead of snow, an earlier snow melt, and new river patterns, combined with a general warming of the region, could cause a “crisis in water supply” for the Western United States, said the authors.

“‘Our results are not good news for those living in the western United States,’ wrote the researchers, led by Tim P. Barnett, a research marine geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, adding that his findings make “modifications to the water infrastructure of the western U.S. a virtual necessity.”

More on the same story here:  Decline in Snowpack Is Blamed On Warming:

“The persistent and dramatic decline in the snowpack of many mountains in the West is caused primarily by human-induced global warming and is not the result of natural variability in weather patterns, researchers reported yesterday.

“Using data collected over the past 50 years, the scientists confirmed that the mountains are getting more rain and less snow, that the snowpack is breaking up faster and that more rivers are running dry by summer.

“The study, published online yesterday by the journal Science, looked at possible causes of the changes — including natural variability in temperatures and precipitation, volcanic activity around the globe and climate change driven by the release of greenhouse gases. The researchers’ computer models showed that climate change is clearly the explanation that best fits the data.

“We’ve known for decades that the hydrology of the West is changing, but for much of that time people said it was because of Mother Nature and that she would return to the old patterns in the future,” said lead author Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. “But we have found very clearly that global warming has done it, that it is the mechanism that explains the change and that things will be getting worse.”

“There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead, a key source of water for millions of people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and future water usage is not curtailed, according to a pair of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

“Without Lake Mead and neighboring Lake Powell, the Colorado River system has no buffer to sustain the population of the Southwest through an unusually dry year, or worse, a sustained drought.  In such an event, water deliveries would become highly unstable and variable, said research marine physicist Tim Barnett and climate scientist David Pierce.

“Barnett and Pierce concluded that human demand, natural forces like evaporation, and human-induced climate change are creating a net deficit of nearly 1 million acre-feet of water per year from the Colorado River system that includes Lake Mead and Lake Powell. This amount of water can supply roughly 8 million people. Their analysis of Federal Bureau of Reclamation records of past water demand and calculations of scheduled water allocations and climate conditions indicate that the system could run dry even if mitigation measures now being proposed are implemented.

“We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us,” said Barnett. “Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction, but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest.”

The underlying paper has been published by the American Geophysical UnionLake Mead could be dry by 2021

A research team, led by a group at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in Palisades, N.Y., reveal in this week’s Science that southwestern North America will likely be saddled with increasingly arid conditions during the next century. This drying effect, the researchers say, is directly related to man-made climate change and will demand new methods for managing water resources in the region. …

In fact, the researchers believe the current six-to-seven-year drought in the region is the beginning of this drying trend. “The current drought is related to the warming due to the greenhouse gases,” says Ting. “In the past, El niño [would] disappate the drought, but now it’s not able to stop the drought.”

Normally, the El Niño and La Niña weather systems are largely responsible for cyclical precipitation and drought in the Southwest. El Niño brings in moisture from the tropics (by the warming of the ocean, which condenses water into the lower atmosphere that is then shuttled into the subtropical regions), whereas La Niña essentially does the opposite, causing cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial eastern Pacific. The latter phenomenon is believed to be the culprit behind both the 1930s dust bowl and a widespread drought in the Southwest during the 1950s.  

“The drought that we’re taking about is not La Niña,” Ting explains, referring to the current dry system. “That is associated with the greenhouse gas warming.” While the consequences are similar, the actual effect on the oceans is very different, she says. Instead of a cooling in the tropics, there will be a uniform warming of the ocean, which will push the Pacific jet stream farther north. As a result, “Canada does get quite a lot more rain,” Ting notes, whereas “the whole state of California, for example, will be much drier.”

 More on the same study here: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=37239

  • Forbes, May 14, 2008:  The Water-Industrial Complex

     In 2001, a water shortage in America’s Pacific Northwest wiped out nearly a third of the U.S. aluminum industry. Low precipitation levels in the Cascade Mountains during the preceding winter robbed local reservoirs of the water needed to turn the massive turbines inside the region’s main hydroelectric power plant, the Bonneville Power Administration. Electricity prices skyrocketed. Over the course of a few months, roughly a dozen aluminum plants closed. Nearly a decade later, only one has reopened.

  • Jonathan Adler, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 12, 2008:  Climate Change and Water

Abstract of law review article:  “Demographic changes and existing water use patterns have placed tremendous pressures upon water supplies, particularly in the West. Global climate change will exacerbate pressures on water resources. The gradual warming of the atmosphere is certain to change the distribution and availability of water supplies, with potentially severe consequences for freshwater supplies. While climate change will have a significant impact on water resources through changes in the timing and volume of precipitation, altered evaporation rates, and the like, the precise nature, magnitude, timing, and distribution of such climate-induced changes are unknown. This uncertainty complicates the task of water managers who are already faced with escalating demands. This article argues that climate change, and its projected effects on water use and supply, calls for a fundamental reexamination of water institutions. In particular, this article suggests that market-based institutions are well suited to address the additional pressures on water supplies due to climate change. Many aspects of water markets, including their flexibility, decentralized nature, and ability to create and harness economic incentives, make them particularly well suited to address the uncertain water forecast. A gradual shift toward water marketing and market pricing will improve the management of water supplies, ensure more efficient allocation of available water supplies and encourage cost-effective conservation measures.

“The basic point of the article is that insofar as climate change will disrupt existing water supplies in somewhat uncertain and unpredictable ways, we need water institutions that are flexible and adaptive, and that encourage greater efficiency in water use and allocation. In this way, climate change strengthens the already-strong case for water markets. Market-driven transfer and pricing of water resources will not eliminate the consequences of warming-induced changes in water supplies, but they will make these changes more manageable.”

Like oil, water is an essential part of doing business in almost every industry, and unexpected shortages can trigger potentially catastrophic consequences. The trouble for investors: Companies disclose very little if any information about their exposure to water-related risks.

“This is not an area that companies like to discuss quite frankly,” says Carl Levinson, an economist at J.P. Morgan and the principal author of the recent report Watching Water: A Guide to Corporate Risk in a Thirsty World. “They don’t want to call attention to a vulnerability and that applies very much to the water scarcity issue. Investors in general know very little about what is going on in companies’ supply chains.” …

“Sooner or later, the way in which the world adapts to shortages is with price,” says Levinson. “So my expectation is that water is going to become increasingly costly as an input for all kinds of purposes, and when that happens you’ll see a lot more interest in conserving water.”

Categories: adler, climate change, water rights Tags:

"Does Money Taint Everything?" Jeffrey Tucker on Work, "Giving back to the Community" and Religion

May 13th, 2008 No comments

Jeffrey Tucker asks the above question on the main Mises blog, in a version of an article he posted earlier on InsideCatholic

The essay stirred a few thoughts by yours truly, including the following which I posted in the comment thread:

Jeff, you’re right that money does not taint everything, and that monetarily compensated work as well as “volunteer” work is itself a font of benefit for others, as well as self-benefit. I agree that we should never lose sight of that.

However, Christ called us not merely to work and make our own daily bread in an increasingly impersonal world, but strive to be members in a community of loving and caring people. Some of us may get this at the office, but very many don’t – and may not be fully a member of any mutually caring community at all.

Money is an instrument of exchange that has played a vital role in an amazing expansion of wealth that began before Christ and greatly improved material human welfare. But it cannot be denied that this has also been accomanied by a scaling up of human enterprises that have also served to loosen the bonds of individuals with each other, and left us with a thirst for community that is rarely slaked. 

Somewhat ironically, it is this need for community in “civilized” man that in fact served as the impetus for the growth of organized religion, which religion served to provide not only the community needed by individuals but also to served to strengthen the bonds of otherwise unconnected people in expanding societies.

The social glue provided by organized religion has of course had various legacies, not least of which have been deliberate manipulation by elites for selfish purposes and clashes with societies for which a different religion provides the social glue (both phenonmena apparent in the recent war against ragheads).

The glue of organized religion is also rather weak, and a very imperfect substitute for the closer and more caring communities of the type the Jesus called for. Hence we see not only the continuing creation of sects and reformist movements, but also our own attraction to the continuing calls from religious groups and other community leaders for us to form tighter communities to which we directly and personally contribute.

So, is money the root of all evil? No. Does it by itself taint everything? No. But is it an instrument of alienation? Inevitably, yes – and one that religion provides one avenue for us to partly heal.

Regards,

Tom

(typos in the original)

Published: May 12, 2008 5:31 AM