Archive for February, 2010

On climate, myopic progressives console themselves by pointing out fossil $ behind science "skeptics"; but miss the same from left and ignore middle ground

February 28th, 2010 No comments

Case in point is Kate Sheppard, reporter on energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones‘ Washington bureau (previously political reporter for and a writing fellow at The American Prospect), who has an interesting but shallow piece up called “Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All” (Fri Feb. 26, 2010), which digs into climate scientist/policy-peddler Patrick Michaels, who –  as I have previously noted – acts as a paid mouthpiece for fossil fuel interests.

Sheppard’s piece is fair enough, as far as it goes. That THERE BE RENT-SEEKERS trying to win favors from government surely ought not to be a surprise to any libertarians following the Climate Wars, even though most tend naturally to fall into a partisan camp that makes them acutely aware of the Other Bad Guys while ignoring the self-seeking among the fossil fuel interests and other Well-Intentioned People who are on their own side of the fence.

The climate worriers also have blinders on, and frequently fail to engage in criticisms of the motives and self-seeking in climate change champions (like Gore) and their climate alliance business supporters (though some, like climate scientist Jim Hansen and Greenpeace strongly criticize the porkiness of legislative actions). They also ignore that they, too – like fossil fuel firms – are members of interest groups trying to influence government (on this, I think it is clear that fossil fuel firms, which are seeking to defend existing business turf, are much more powerful, sophisticated and effective than the climate coalitions).

While I have noted that cui bono arguments are fair and unavoidable (and have made a number of them myself), I do regret that the way people fall into partisan camps continues to get in the way of them noticing the very wide area of common ground, which if addressed would bring benefits to both sides.

But if libertarians – who know very well how government ownership and management of resources frustrates private deal-making and leads to politicized battles – cannot themselves break away from politicized battles to try to work for common ground, how can we expect those who think that Big Government is the only solution to the problems created by Big, Bad Corporations (which after all, do benefit from the very unlibertarian grant of limited liability) to do so?

Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for explicating that trust and communication are key elements by which communities can effectively manage common resources and common problems. Yet it seems that the past few Administrations (and Congress and the Supreme Court) have done a great job of destroying mutual trust and trust In federal government in general. In this climate, the effort to enlist a bulky federal government in climate regulation efforts has provided even further fuel to hose who benefit from polarization.

Is either communication or trust still possible on climate and energy? Maybe, but people have to start seeing that there are reasons to  cooperate. A shared future and ample middle ground seems like good reasons to me.


Forget Mt. Vernon; see the Campaign for Liberty’s Principles

February 19th, 2010 No comments

Readers might have heard that Republican conservatives – who hope to retake control of Congress and the White House, head off/engulf TeaParty reformers, and thence to further drive the federal government into the ground – have joined together in announcing the “Mount Vernon Statement”. Daniel Larison at The American Conservative rightly notes that the Statement surely would have had Washington rolling in his grave.

As an alternative, I bring readers’ attention the more clear-sighted principles enumerated by the Campaign for Liberty. One wishes only that this statement paid a little more attention to (1) federalism and states rights as a check on the federal government, and (2) the need for states – which have been busy transferring power to the limited liability corporations that in turn desire a central pork/influence machine in Washington, DC – to start exercising their authority to limit limited liability and so to end the great moral hazard machines that corpoations have become.

Here are the Campaign for Liberty’s Principles; I hope readers will visit and register at the site:

Statement of Principles

Americans inherit from our ancestors a glorious tradition of freedom
and resistance to oppression.  Our country has long been admired by the
rest of the world for her great example of liberty and prosperity—a
light shining in the darkness of tyranny.

But many Americans today are frustrated.  The political choices they
are offered give them no real choice at all.  For all their talk of
“change,” neither major political party as presently constituted
challenges the status quo in any serious way.  Neither treats the
Constitution with anything but contempt.  Neither offers any kind of
change in monetary policy.  Neither wants to make the reductions in
government that our crushing debt burden demands.  Neither talks about
bringing American troops home not just from Iraq but from around the
world.  Our country is going bankrupt, and none of these sensible
proposals are even on the table.

This destructive bipartisan consensus has suffocated American political
life for many years.  Anyone who tries to ask fundamental questions
instead of cosmetic ones is ridiculed or ignored.

That is why the Campaign for Liberty was established: to highlight the
neglected but common-sense principles we champion and reinsert them
into the American political conversation.

The U.S. Constitution is at the heart of what the Campaign for Liberty
stands for, since the very least we can demand of our government is
fidelity to its own governing document.  Claims that our Constitution
was meant to be a “living document” that judges may interpret as they
please are fraudulent, incompatible with republican government, and
without foundation in the constitutional text or the thinking of the
Framers.  Thomas Jefferson spoke of binding our rulers down from
mischief by the chains of the Constitution, and we are proud to follow
in his distinguished lineage.

With our Founding Fathers, we also believe in a noninterventionist
foreign policy.  Inspired by the old Robert Taft wing of the Republican
Party, we are convinced that the American people cannot remain free and
prosperous with 700 military bases around the world, troops in 130
countries, and a steady diet of war propaganda.  Our military
overstretch is undermining our national defense and bankrupting our

We believe that the free market, reviled by people who do not
understand it, is the most just and humane economic system and the
greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known.

We believe with Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and F.A. Hayek that
central banking distorts economic decisionmaking and misleads
entrepreneurs into making unsound investments.  Hayek won the Nobel
Prize for showing how central banks’ interference with interest rates
sets the stage for economic downturns.  And the central bank’s ability
to create money out of thin air transfers wealth from the most
vulnerable to those with political pull, since it is the latter who
receive the new money before the price increases it brings in its wake
have yet occurred.  For economic and moral reasons, therefore, we join
the great twentieth-century economists in opposing the Federal Reserve
System, which has reduced the value of the dollar by 95 percent since
it began in 1913.

We oppose the dehumanizing assumption that all issues that divide us
must be settled at the federal level and forced on every American
community, whether by activist judges, a power-hungry executive, or a
meddling Congress.  We believe in the humane alternative of local
self-government, as called for in our Constitution.

We oppose the transfer of American sovereignty to supranational
organizations in which the American people possess no elected
representatives.  Such compromises of our country’s independence run
counter to the principles of the American Revolution, which was fought
on behalf of self-government and local control.  Most of these
organizations have a terrible track record even on their own terms: how
much poverty have the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
actually alleviated, for example?  The peoples of the world can
interact with each other just fine in the absence of bureaucratic
intermediaries that undermine their sovereignty.

We believe that freedom is an indivisible whole, and that it includes
not only economic liberty but civil liberties and privacy rights as
well, all of which are historic rights that our civilization has
cherished from time immemorial.

Our stances on other issues can be deduced from these general principles.

Our country is ailing.  That is the bad news.  The good news is that
the remedy is so simple and attractive: a return to the principles our
Founders taught us.  Respect for the Constitution, the rule of law,
individual liberty, sound money, and a noninterventionist foreign
policy constitute the foundation of the Campaign for Liberty.

Will you join us? Click here to sign up!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Crazy Bill Gates on the need for energy innovation: We need to "fix market barriers and dysfunctions"

February 18th, 2010 No comments

[Note: Snark inside.]

As I mentioned earlier, Bill Gates has recently posted his thoughts on how to address climate issues.

Since we know Gates has been funding scientific inquiry into (and patent rights regarding) methods to dampen “climate change” affects that are expected by many to arise as a result of CO2 emissions and other factors, astute group-thinkers know that Gates has already embraced lunacy.

I invite the free thinkers to read more about Gates’ wild and crazy thoughts (such as my own refrain that libertarians and conservatives should take advantage of climate concerns to put pressure on removing barriers to innovation); here are a few excerpts (emphasis added):

Why We Need Innovation, Not Just Insulation

Posted 01/24/2010
Conservation and behavior change alone will not get us to the
dramatically lower levels of CO2 emissions needed to make a real
difference. We also need to focus on developing innovative technologies
that produce energy without generating any CO2 emissions at all.

People often present two timeframes that
we should have as goals for CO2 reduction – 30% (off of some baseline)
by 2020 and 80% by 2050. …

To make the 80% goal by 2050 we are going
to have to reduce emissions from transportation and electrical
production in participating countries down to near zero. …

If the goal is to get the transportation and electrical sectors down to
zero emissions you clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new
approaches to generating power.

While it is all well and good to insulate houses and turn off lights,
to really solve this problem we need to spend more time on accelerating
innovation. …

Unfortunately, you can never insulate your way to anything close to
zero. But because 2020 is too soon for innovation to be completed and
widely deployed, behavior change and efficiency still matter.

Still, the amount of CO2 avoided by these kinds of modest reduction
efforts will not be the key to what happens with climate change in the
long run.

In fact it is doubtful that any such efforts in the rich countries will
even offset the increase coming from richer lifestyles in places like
China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.

Innovation in transportation and electricity will be the key factor.

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I hear a lot of climate
change experts focus totally on 2020 or talk about how great it is that
there is so much low hanging fruit that will make a difference.

This mostly focuses on saving a little bit of energy, which by itself
is simply not enough. The need to get close to zero emissions in key
sectors almost never gets mentioned. The danger is people will think
they just need to do a little bit and things will be fine.

If CO2 reduction is important, we need to make it clear to people what really matters – getting close to zero.

With that kind of clarity, people will understand the need for the goal
to be zero and begin to grasp the scope and scale of innovation that is
needed. …

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a
distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and
strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough
work going on today to get us to where we need to go. …

We should at the least fix market barriers and dysfunctions that
prevent these gains from being realized. That’s just being smart.

But it’s not enough to slow the growth of CO2 given the strength of demand driven by the poor who need to get access energy.

No amount of insulation will get us there; only innovating our way to
what is essentially zero carbon energy technology will do it. If we
focus on just efficiency to the exclusion of innovation, or imagine
that we can worry about efficiency first and worry about energy
innovation later, we won’t get there.

The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way.


Avatar, tragedy of the socialized commons and crashing salmon stocks; how the dirty hands of government destroy wild resources

February 17th, 2010 No comments

It’s a sad, sad story, now being played out practically wherever wild salmon stocks once were abundant. (This version refers to the Pacific Northwest, particularly to events in British Columbia).

First, national governments wrest control over salmon fisheries from native peoples, and eliminate low-level, community-based management systems.

With new socialized ownership, it becomes eternal “open season” on salmon and newcomers (whites or whatnot) go hog wild, resulting in the classic “tragedy of the commons” race to catch salmon before others do, without regard to others or to future harvests.

The state steps in to regulate take, banning nets at river mouths — smart fishermen take their nets to sea. Governments find themselves compelled to further regulate seasons and fishing gear, as fishermen who have no ownership stake in the resource look for ways to beat restrictions and to beat out competitors for unowned fish. Natives who don’t join in the race are left with ever slimmer takes.

As no one owns the salmon and has no legal rights that can be enforced against upstream users, governments build dams to benefit farmers (and nuclear bomb production sites and industry), and developers and loggers begin to trash streams and rivers. Reacting to howls from interested citizens, states begin to pass laws limiting the rights of property owners to use and manage their properties.

Governments get into the salmon hatchery business as salmon stocks start to plummet, and endangered species protection laws get passed. Loggers, developers, farmers and industries with cheap hydropower vent anger over “capitalism-hating” enviros and legislators, even as governments eager to please favored constituencies (farmers over natives, naturally) divert water in summer from dams to farmers, leading to large fish kills in lower and warmer rivers.

As fish stocks continue to fall, enterprising businesses get licenses from regional governments to “farm” salmon by raising them in pens (using ocean water flows, and catching and grinding up five pounds of other fish to raise one pound of salmon). Farms begin to proliferate – and begin to be seen by fishermen as externality-generating machines: farmed salmon become plagued with sea lice, which spreads to migrating wild populations, concentrations of salmon pollute neighboring waters, wild salmon populations begin to fall drastically, and other “feed stocks” of salmon are adversely affected.

Alarmed local people and adversely affected fishermen and natives organize, try to get consumers to stop buying farmed salmon, and go, hat in hand, to petition (1) governments to stop licensing new “farms” and (2) farms to adopt much more expensive methods that would seal of the farms from the wild environment. Salmon farming companies assert that they have rights to pollute, and no legal responsibility for damages suffered by others – that licensing regimes eliminated common-law rights to sue for nuisance, etc. Farmers tell governments to be “fair” and that governments should “co-invest” to subsidize any new farming methods.

Predictably, as wild salmon dwindle and temperatures rise, no one seems to wonder what things would be like if governments stopped trying to “manage” the salmon and playing the middleman, but found some way to recognize property/harvesting rights and to enforce basic common law rights against nuisance, and stepped out of the way.

I made some of these points in an email I sent today to some parties at interest:

I sent the following note to when I joined their mailing list; some of you might be interested:
Yes, one of your chief enemies are the salmon farmers, but the
real reason for the problem is that the government – and not the First
Nation or any other fishermen – owns the wild salmon.
As a result, the First Nations, commercial and sports fisherment
and other supporters of wild slmon and natural ecosystems have NO
direct rights to protect the wild salmon and are largely relegated to
feebly petitioning government (and the farming companies, whose
managers are obliged to care first and foremost for profits generated
for owners), and have little or no ability to directly sue the
salmon-farming interlopers whose pollution is damaging your livelihood
and the greater Northwest ecosystem.
This is exactly the problem we see with many other
government-owned/managed resources – in Canada, the US, China, the
Amazon, developing countries – and it’s why Elinor Ostrom was given the
2009 Nobel Prize in Economics
. Solutions regarding common resources lie
in resource users having recognized rights and an ability to bargain
with others in the community. Where governments own resources, then
they deny to those whose livelihoods and ways of life are at stake a
voice in their own present and future. (In the case of salmon, this has
deep, “Avatar”-like roots in the historical pushing aside of native
and resource management practices in favor of new,
Western-dominated governments.)
So, to First Nations and fishermen, I say – sue the farmers
directly for nuisance pollution – assert your rights! Don’t leave them
simply as another interest group petitioning government.
But also start pushing for direct, recognized property rights
in the wild salmon, which would end the “tragedy of the
commons” resulting from a free-for-all ocean take. Ending ocean take
and replacing it with traditional river-mouth-based harvests will
better protect the wild resource and give you stronger rights to make
claims on those upstream who poison and damage habitat. And take a page
out of the book of Target US, and organize a CONSUMER BOYCOTT OF ALL
FARMED SALMON. And work to eliminate all legislative grants to insiders of immunity to lawsuits for activities that damage the economic interests of others (i.e., that produce “nuisances”).

Independent business advocates condemn Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited corporate money in US elections, join public interest groups in launching campaign to amend Constitution

February 17th, 2010 No comments

No, I didn’t write this press release (but I did add emphasis!). I note my related posts are here.

DATE: January 21, 2009


CONTACT: Jeff Milchen, American Independent Business Alliance



BOZEMAN, MT – A coalition of public interest organizations and
independent business advocates condemned today’s ruling by the US
Supreme Court allowing unlimited corporate money in US elections, and
announced that it is launching a campaign to amend the United States
Constitution to overturn the ruling.

The coalition
includes the public interests groups Voter Action, Public Citizen, and
the Center for Corporate Policy, as well as the American Independent
Business Alliance (AMIBA). They contend the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC
poses a serious and direct threat to democracy and to fair market
competition. Immediately following the Court’s ruling, the groups
unveiled a new website – – devoted to this campaign.

The Supreme Court has leaped into unabashed activism on behalf of
corporate power,
” said Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the American
Independent Business Alliance. “Some reports have wrongly suggested the
Roberts Court is ‘pro-business,'” said Milchen, “but overturning these
precedents is radically anti-business when viewed from the perspective
of America’s six million or so independent businesses.

“Independent business owners often face a decidedly uneven playing
field when competing against major corporations due, in part, to tax loopholes, subsidies, federal handouts
and preferential treatment bestowed by politicians,” added Milchen.
“Opening electoral contests to direct corporate campaign spending
further undermines fair market competition and recklessly endangers

AMIBA is a
non-profit network of 70 communities across the U.S. that have formed
local Independent Business Alliances to help local independent
businesses compete successfully and prevent major chains from driving
out local businesses.

“Free speech rights are for people,
not corporations,” says John Bonifaz, Voter Action’s legal director.
“In wrongly assigning First Amendment protections to corporations, the
Supreme Court has now unleashed a torrent of corporate money in our
political process unmatched by any campaign expenditure totals in US
history. This campaign to amend the Constitution will seek to restore
the First Amendment to its original purpose.”

The public
interest groups say that, since the late 1970s, a divided Supreme Court
has transformed the First Amendment into a powerful tool for
corporations seeking to evade democratic control and sidestep sound
public welfare measures. For the first two centuries of the American
republic, the groups argue, corporations did not have First Amendment
to limit the reach of democratically-enacted regulations.

“Today’s ruling, reversing longstanding precedent which prohibits
corporate expenditures in elections, now requires a constitutional
amendment response to protect our democracy,” says Jeffrey Clements,
general counsel to Free Speech for People.

Jennifer Rockne, AMIBA’s director, added “Even before the banking meltdown, ninety percent
of Americans thought large corporations have been granted too much
power. It’s a remarkable moment for the Court to re-invent the
Constitution to expand corporations’ influence and a slap in the face
to America’s independent business owners.”

In support of
their new campaign, the groups point to prior amendments to the US
Constitution which were enacted to correct egregiously wrong decisions
of the US Supreme Court directly impacting the democratic process,

including the 15th Amendment prohibiting discrimination in voting based
on race and the 19th Amendment, prohibiting discrimination in voting
based on gender.

“The Court has invented the idea that
corporations have First Amendment rights to influence election outcomes
out of whole cloth,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
“There is surely no originalist interpretation to support this outcome,
since the Court created the rights only in recent decades. Nor can the
outcome be justified in light of the underlying purpose and spirit of
the First Amendment. Corporations are state-created entities, not real
people. Corporate spending on elections defeats rather than advances
the democratic thrust of the First Amendment.”

believes the effort will succeed, but makes no predications on a
timeline. “This will be a sustained campaign that will ultimately unite
the vast majority of Americans who recognize the Bill of Rights is for
human beings, not corporations,” said Milchen. “We have no illusions
about the size of the task we are undertaking, but five Justices have
effectively outlawed the republican form of government promised by our
Constitution. We will be as patient as necessary to succeed.”

For more information on the constitutional amendment campaign, see .


Related articles and websites:

Brenda Wright, Director of Demos and co-author of the amicus brief we submitted for this case, on the decision

Not all business sided with the Court ruling:

Breaking News! "Let’s Franchise Corporate Democracy!" In wake of #CorpSpeak decision, MD company running for Congress signs first franchisee, in Va

February 16th, 2010 No comments

I reported two weeks ago that a PR firm, Murray Hill, Inc., had embraced the recent decision by the conservative, non-activist majority of the Supreme Court which resoundingly affirmed that the Founding Fathers had granted First Amendment rights to corporate “persons” by embarking on a campaign to be elected to Congress in Maryland.

It has been heart-warming to hear that Murray Hill has been finding much interest, not only from the public and press, but from other companies as well, and so  on February 15 – George Washington’s Birthday – Murray Hill announced its first agreement to franchise this portion of its business model to another company, which has decided to run for a Congressional seat in Virginia.

According to Murray Hill’s press release (emphasis added), speaking through designated human, Eric
and Campaign Manager William Klein:

Combating prejudice and bias against corporate persons is one of the
primary motivations
behind Murray Hill Inc.’s run for office.

bigotry has no place in our great democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says.
“Our forefathers lived and died for the inalienable rights of every
person, human and corporate, to pursue life (or its corporate
equivalent), liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or profit).”

first corporation to enter into a franchise agreement with Murray Hill
Inc. is Computer Umbrella Inc. of Sterling Virginia,  which my sleuthing shows is partnered with Microsoft, Dell, HP and Netgear Powershift. Jonathan StewartJonathan Stewart, a US Army veteran who founded Computer Umbrella, is Designated Human for the firm and is charting its run for U.S. Congress in Virginia’s 10th District. Says Stewart,

are proud to embrace the Murray Hill Inc. Brand. From
steel to silicon, it’s America’s entrepreneurs who find and exploit the
new markets. The democracy market in Washington DC today looks like
Silicon Valley 30 years ago. CUI wants to position itself as early
leader in this emerging market along with Murray Hill Inc.”

I was alerted to this breaking news by becoming a fan of Murray Hill’s Facebook page, Murray Hill Inc. for Congress. The Facebook page briefly describes Murray Hill’s purpose as follows:

Until now, corporations influenced politics with high-paid lobbyists
and backroom deals. But today, thanks the supreme court, corporations
have all the rights the founding fathers meant for us.

That’s why Murray Hill Inc. is running for congress.

Here is more background on Murray Hill’s objectives, from their initial press release (emphasis added):

“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate
interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling
to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened
Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office

Murray Hill Inc. is believed to be
the first “corporate person” to exercise its constitutional right to
run for office. As Supreme Court observer Lyle Denniston wrote in his SCOTUSblog, “If anything, the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
conferred new dignity on corporate “persons,” treating them — under the
First Amendment free-speech clause — as the equal of human beings.”

Hill Inc. agrees. “The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is
in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great
corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you,
who? If not now, when?”

Murray Hill Inc. plans
on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our
democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and
we’re going to keep it.”

Murray Hill Inc., a
diversifying corporation in the Washington, D.C. area, has long held an
interest in politics and sees corporate candidacy as an emerging new

The campaign’s designated human, Eric
Hensal, will help the corporation conform to antiquated “human only”
and sign the necessary voter registration and candidacy
paperwork. Hensal is excited by this new opportunity. “We want to get
in on the ground floor of the democracy market before the whole store
is bought by China.”

Murray Hill Inc. plans on
filing to run in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional
District. Campaign Manager William Klein promises an aggressive,
historic campaign that “puts people second” or even third.

business of America is business, as we all know,” Klein says. “But now,
it’s the business of democracy too.” Klein plans to use automated
robo-calls, “Astroturf” lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get
out the vote.

I encourage all other supporters of the role of corporations in our great democracy to join me in supporting these exciting developments!

Those of you working in corporations might encourage your own firms to get in on the ground floor of the opportunity to cut out the middleman and to “own its own vote” (votes, if subsidiaries run in other districts) in Congress.

The rest of us can follow along with campaign developments here at the following social media sites, and by buying Murrray Hill Inc. for Congress goods:

YouTube Facebook Twitter

For those of you who might have missed it, here is Murray Hill’s kick-off video:


Snicker-snack! We hold these truths to be self-evident: That WE’re right, and THEY are stoopid, deluded, evil AND cunning, out to destroy all that is good and holy

February 15th, 2010 No comments

These “tribal truths” seem to fairly summarize modern political discourse – whether in the pages of Mises Daily, in “Tea Party” conventions, in the MSM  or elsewhere in the intertubes.

It’s a point I’ve been making like a broken record – in order to mask my nefarious agenda, of course! – so it’s nice to see others make similar observations (after all, who wants to listen to, much less agree with, an enviro-facist, commie, watermelon misanthrope?).

WARNING: Reading further not recommended for those who refer prefer the emotional rush of partisan battle to donning thinking caps.

I just ran across the essay What Is Wrong With Those Tea Partiers? by Jonathan Haidt (professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. His work can be found at, at the website of U. Va. Professor Larry Sabato (February 4, 2010); here are some excerpts for the discerning reader (emphasis added):

The truth has triumphed, at least for those attending this week’s Tea Party convention in Nashville: Obama is a socialist fascist communist statist Muslim whose healthcare “reform” would destroy the world’s greatest healthcare system and force Americans to wait in long lines so that their medical requests could be reviewed by death panels. This is not truth as you and I know it, but this statement (or at least parts of it) is believed to be true by the millions of Americans who coalesced into the Tea Party movement of 2009 ….

But the new synthesis that has recently occurred in moral psychology—merging social psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory—gives us a new set of tools for understanding political movements, which are always moral movements, whether left-wing, right-wing, or something else. This new moral psychology is based on three principles, each of which can help outsiders understand the tea party movement:

1) Intuitive Primacy. Moral judgments, like aesthetic judgments, are best understood as quick gut feelings, not as products of reasoning. We have feelings about people and ideas within the first second of encountering them. We engage in reasoning too, but reasoning is slow, spread over many seconds or minutes, and it takes place within a mental workspace that has already been pre-structured by feelings. So if one third of Americans had negative feelings toward Obama on election day, and if many independents developed negative feelings as talk of tax increases and Wall Street bailouts escalated, then, by the summer of 2009, more than 40% of Americans were emotionally ready to receive the narrative about socialism and statism being formulated by conservative talk radio hosts such as Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.

2) Moral Thinking is for Social Doing. People are extremely bad at solving simple logic problems that are unconnected to their interests, but we are all geniuses at justifying our prior actions and at making the case for propositions we favor. We are intuitive lawyers gunning for victory, not intuitive scientists seeking truth. In fact, research on everyday reasoning finds that people are largely incapable of searching for evidence that contradicts their initial hypothesis. So when passions run high, as they do among tea-partiers, their reasoning doesn’t get turned off. Rather, their reasoning is working overtime, and very elaborate belief structures (such as conspiracy theories) can be constructed out of the flimsiest materials (such as rumors about forged birth certificates). This is normal, and readers on the left should ask themselves how often they searched for counter-evidence that would have contradicted the worst things their friends said about George W. Bush.

3) Morality binds and builds. Morality, like politics, is really a team sport. Western philosophy often reduces ethics to the individual level (“How should I act?”). But many researchers now join Charles Darwin in believing that human morality was shaped in part by the competition of tribe vs. tribe. One of the main “tricks” that human tribes developed was the psychology of sacredness—the positing of a god, a person, a piece of land, or in more modern times a book or an idea, which was perfect, and which united a group in its defense. The left made racial equality its sacred principle in the 1960s, which led them to sacralize oppressed minorities. (Sacralization means that an object becomes perfectly pure, good, and unassailable.) It is a taboo on the left to “blame the victim,” and the left is therefore still prone to charging its opponents with racism. But the right chose freedom (understood as freedom from oppressive government) back in the days of the cold war, and it began to sacralize free markets in the 1980s (under Reagan and Thatcher). Is it any wonder, then, that that the right now uses “statist” and “socialist” as its all-purpose epithets? Is it so irrational to apply these labels to Obama? He does, after all, want to increase the government’s role in regulating healthcare, Wall Street, and anything that produces carbon dioxide.

Liberal readers may object that 1) Obama has been governing more as a centrist than as a left-wing collectivist; 2) George W. Bush was the real enemy of liberty with his contempt for civil rights, and 3) Healthcare costs and global warming are looming catastrophes for which vigorous action is a necessity. All true, in my opinion. But that’s the funny thing about moral psychology: it compels people on opposing teams to believe in conflicting and incompatible truths. Everyone on both sides asks: What is wrong with those people?

I feel the same way, as I try to explicate and debate various issues: so many vorpal swords!, so many headless chickens running around with them! and so many minions, blind to how those with nefarious agendas go about sowing heated partisan conflict, the better to secure gains from government!

Problems with "Presidents Day" by Tom Eddlem at; but let’s not just "restore Congress," but amend Constitution to limit the federal government

February 15th, 2010 No comments

I encourage readers to take a look at the excellent essay by Thomas R. Eddlem, Down With the Presidency! A President’s Day Message, now up at

I quote first a few key portions, and then note my further thoughts.

But the role of the president under the U.S. Constitution is not to make laws. It is simply to execute the laws passed by Congress. Article I, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution begins: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” Since the Constitution mandates that “all” law-making powers reside in the Congress, none are left for the president. The president’s job is that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” under Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Constitutionally speaking, the president was designed by the founders to be nothing more than the errand-boy of Congress.

Obama won’t be the first to take us from the “rule of law” to “rule by one man.” The Bush and Clinton administrations paved the way for unconstitutional executive orders. Clinton advisor Paul Begala told the New York Times of Clinton’s executive orders: “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool.”

President Bush and his neo-conservative theoreticians were even worse, as they posited the idea that the president was above all law. Former Bush Assistant Attorney General John Yoo’s recent book Crisis and Command contends presidential powers are unlimited by any law: “The executive was, rather, the servant of necessity, bound to act in accordance with, in the absence of, or in extraordinary emergencies, in defense of the republic, even contrary to regularly constituted law.”

This is the authoritarian personality long championed by both much of the Democratic leadership on the “left” and all of the neo-conservative Republicans on the “right.” Neo-conservatives like John Yoo explicitly endorse the idea of an omnipotent presidency that erases all the rights of the people. In his wordy and overpriced book, Crisis and Command, John Yoo claims the Constitution created a president with unlimited powers. The Constitution of the founders, Yoo wrote, “did not carefully limit the executive power, as [it] did with the legislative, because they understood that they could not see the future.”  …

This is what the modern presidency has become, a new Caesar whose powers are without limit.

Unfortunately the national leadership of the Republican Party has bought wholly into Yoo’s argument that government gives out rights instead of God, and that government ought not to “give” rights to people we don’t like. … 

It’s true that the average American Fox-servative remains ignorant of these facts, because we won’t hear the details of tortured innocents like Maher Arar, Khalid el-Masri, Omar Deghayes or the Tipton Three on the Fox News Channel. Nor will the Fox News Network tell its audience that the Obama administration has openly ratified all of these Bush-era attacks on the Bill of Rights except for the torture. Fox-servatives love the dictatorial state; they just wish it were run by the party of Pompey instead of the party of Caesar.


All of the really bad ideas that the federal government initiated throughout our nation’s history originated with the office of president: This includes most of the wars as well as warrantless surveillance, detention without trial, torture and all of the socialist legislation since the New Deal. Each was only adopted by the president pushing Congress, or more recently, by a president ignoring Congress altogether.

The presidency itself needs to be knocked down from its perch. The only thing that will save the American republic is a renewed focus upon the Congress and cutting down the presidency to size. The founding fathers designed the legislature – Congress – to be the dominant branch of a very small federal government.

My additional thoughts? I copy them from an email that I sent to Tom Eddlem (links added and typos fixed, nacherly):

Tom, great, perceptive piece at LewRockwell.
However, you missed that officially it’s still “Washington’s Birthday”, a focus that would help further illustrate how the Unitary President/CIC role has run out of control. Washington – who could have had much more power and refused – would certainly shudder at the “liberties taken” by later presidents (double entendre intended).
Also, why no mention of the obvious need to breathe more life into our federal system? One way to limit the power of the President (and Congress & Supreme Court) is to restore it to the states.

Those now pushing for a Constitutional Convention – from Larry Lessig seeking to limit corporate influence on elections and on legislation, to those who want to ensure that only people (not corporations) have Constitutional rights [and fix the glaring legislative error by the Supreme Court in granting Constitutional “free speech” rights to corporation (which are THINGS, not people)], and to those seeking to limit Commerce Clause and restore the 9th and 10th Amendments – could use more cheerleaders!

Not criticism, but food for thought.

WSJ: another stupid MSM #CorpSpeak organ, uninterested in Constitution and an agent for expanding our oppressive, corrupt & broken federal government

February 13th, 2010 No comments

[Here’s the title I preferred but was apparently too long. Dang. “WSJ reveals itself as another stupid MSM #CorpSpeak organ, uninterested in Constitutional or representative government, and perversely, as an ally with Dems in engendering a oppressive, arbitrary, corrupt & broken federal government”]

I’m referring to the remarkably thick-headed, crudely pro-corporate and anti-Democrat opinion piece by the WSJ’s opinion page deputy editor Daniel Henninger on February 11, “The Scalia v. Stevens Smackdown In President Obama’s view, corporations are anathema“.

Henninger is long on how the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission “sent liberaldom screaming into the streets“, on Scalia’s supposed “smackdown” of the very vehement disagreement by Justice Stevens for the minority, and painting a broad strokes picture of an Obama administration and liberal minority that is profoundly “out of synch” with the “basic world view” of a majority citizens working in the private economy (in which corporations play the central role) and who are close to “a tipping point over the scale and role of government”..

I agree with most of Henninger’s criticisms about the Obama administration, but otherwise his editorial is shockingly uninsightful, uncritical, uninformed and uninterested on a number of key points, e.g.,

– in understanding the real nature of the dispute within the Supreme regarding important issues of Constitutional interpretation (such as the manner in which the “conservative” majority abandoned any pretence of an “originalist” interpretation of the First Amendment),

– in examining the breath-takingly radical and anti-democratic departure made by the majority from prior decisions – including decisions by the not-so-liberal Rehnquist – in overturning a statutory framework established by the legislated branch of the federal government (and state governments) over a period of centuries,

– in examining the many ramifications of this decision on related inalienable First Amendment rights that corporations have been endowed with via this decision, such as rights that other “persons “- us humans – have to speak anonymously, to not speak truthfully, and to run for office;

– in examining key federalism issues, particularly the role and authority of states in establishing corporations and granting them powers, and how the majority has concluded that the First Amendment now dictates that it is the Supreme Court, and not the states, that determine what rights to speak that these creatures of the states, 

– in understanding how profoundly different corporations are different from humans, as well as from more traditional associations, such as partnerships.

– in examining the way that corporations, by virtue of the profoundly un-libertarian grant of limited liability exended by the states to corporate shareholders leads to a shifting of uncompensated damages and risks to third parties, and has fuelled both the vast expansion of the size, scope and powers of corporations, but also the role and size of the opportunisticfederal government, which has continued to aggrandize power to itself at the expense of the states, in significant part on the basis that citizens were demanding that government step in to check the abuses of corporations (and that corporations preferred a central and more easily manipulable legislator/regulator); and

– in examining the political and ideological battle between left and right to control the media corporations and conglomerates that had held a privileged position inseeking to sway voters at election time.

I post in haste, and so will have to revisit this post to flesh out my remarks, but I hope that the reader will  see that, while professing to offer insights, Hennninger and the WSJ have done us all a disservice.

Without delving too far into the decision here, clearly it undermines further the authority of the states, while handicapping the power of Congress to limit corporate spending intended expressly for the purpose of influencing government policy. This can lead only to further rent-seeking by large corporations seeking advance from government rather than relying on their own prowess in the marketplace, and to increasing corruption in a Congress and administrative government that are already broken and, indeed, profoundly mistrusted by us living, breathing “persons”.

Like the Roberts Supreme Court, the WSJ has show itself to be interested not it principle, but in policy. Sadly, a lack of principle goes a long, long, long way.

[For readers who aren’t aware of them, here are my preceding posts on corporate “free speech”]

Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, Avatar & the Climate (of distrust); or, Can we move from a tribal questioning of motives to win-win policies?

February 13th, 2010 No comments

“Whhhaaat the heck is TT up NOW?” I can hear some of you asking yourselves. Bill Gates, Roger Pielke, the movie Avatar and climate?

Just what elusive illusions am I alluding to here? (Stop playing, you say.) Well, brace yourself, and bear with me.

Roger Pielke, Jr. has a post up regarding a interesting recent piece by Bill Gates on how to address climate issues (I will address Gates’ piece separately). The comment section at Roger’s predictably fell into into the usual patterns of questioning climate science, and a mutual questioning of motives and rationality. I just happened to run into it, and was moved to try to post a few thoughts there.

Libertarians ought to understand why suspicions run rampant on climate issues – even as they can’t seem to get past it (despite my annoying, incessant and level-headed ravings). But many others are so wrapped up in Climate KombatTM that they never think to even to question WHY – why all of the hostility, why all of the circling of wagons, and why the lack of interest in examining root problems and possible win-win approaches?

Well, that’s what my “Avatar” reference is intended to shorthand (pardon an archaic expression; maybe I shouldn’t telegraph my antiquity like this!): that movie was all about thefttheft that we can see all around us even today as I have noted in a number of posts (even as we may be blind to those that advantage us) –  group advantage, and communal responses to threats. Communal responses involve perceiving threats and banding together with brothers to defend all that is good, sacred, holy and OURS. This, I posit, is not only instinctive and reflexive, but EXACTLY what the climate discussion is about, on many levels.

It’s just that the disputants have entirely different views on who is trying to steal what from whom, and what or who is the threat, on who is an enemy, who is a brother, what is to be defended, and on strategy and tactics (as well as how to be advance personal interests).

I penned a few thoughts at Roger’s (I note that both Roger and his father. climate scientist Roger Pielke, Sr. , are in the thick of the climate wars, their own positions frequently being misunderstood in the fog of war). Being a bit inspired and prolix, the Muses ran a bit long. Roger is pretty good at letting comments through but I thought I post a copy here; perhaps you will be amused.

Here is what I tried to post (cleaned up slightly and with additional links and emphasis), in response to several who said to the effect, “Why should we agree to anything, until it is established to our satisfaction that CO2 reduction is important?“, and to others who questioned the motivations of Roger and others:

Those who do not agree now – with either the AGW thesis/science or the good faith, motives, intelligence or rationality of those who profess concern about a clearly changing climate and about whether man’s activities pose serious threats to human welfare and to things
that we value – still have lots to gain from plenty of win-win policies, policies that
would advance the interests of those who profess to love free markets but that are now just sitting about unused because practically everyone is too busy fighting, vilifying and mistrusting to actually step back from the emotional rush of partisan battle, sit back and to
exchange their armor and weapons for thinking caps (more on
these policies at end of this comment).

political economist Elinor Ostrom reminds us that one sine qua non for solving
any commons problem is TRUST [see my post here].

that lack of that trust – nay, distrust and active hostility – are what
characterize our “discussions” on modern-day politics, and especially
climate change (the “our” in this case being a complex one at many

DISTRUST is the natural product of many factors:

– the
lack of property rights in the atmosphere & of any legal recourse by
individuals against GHG emitters/albedo changers
, which together mean that –
unlike for other resources that can be bought, sold and husbanded – the
voluntary actions of individuals and firms via market exchanges simply are not
functioning, thus forcing climate concerns – and scientists and this discussion
– into the political realm;

 – in
the US, both parties have grossly MIS-governed and abused the public trust, via
political pandering, grasping for power at all costs (cynically sowing division
and cheapening discourse by selling war, hatred and suspicion, corruptly
selling favors to the highest bidders, and simply managing resources
incompetently). As a result, I think many people rightly feel that the US
government generally DOES NOT DESERVE our trust (this sentiment can be seen not
only in the TeaParty movement, but in calls by the likes of Larry Lessig for a
Constitutional Convention
to fix our corrupt, broken political system);

 – as
has been the case since corporations were created as the faceless profit-making
of wealthy investors whose liability for the damage they do and risks
that they shift to others is limited by statute (, those corporations that have
licenses to pollute under current law and whose climate-risk generating
activities are now FREE and unregulated work hard to protect their favored status
(via behind-the-scenes influence-buying of politicians and
“free-market” pundit/voice-pieces, and deliberate PR
smokescreen/mis-direction campaigns designed to GENERATE mistrust)

likewise, other corporations/investors have been busy working to buy climate
legislation that will help to put money in their pockets
– while those who act
as spokesmen have not been voluntarily taking actions that show they put their
money (and life-style) where their mouth

 – most
of the science has been funded by governments
, which makes it easier for
skeptics to dismiss it – and to ignore all of the sophisticated private
institutions and corporations that now strongly agree with the
(viz., notably virtually all oil & gas majors and
virtually all insurers);

 – the
fact that the chief “solutions” proposed by our Western governments
are coercive and ham-handed
, would serve to further drive basic manufacturing
to developing countries
that care even less than we do about respecting
human/property rights, would give further give domestic industry rights to
behave in ways that are seen as harmful, would provide benefits to a host of
favorite insiders while shifting costs to middle and lower income classes
, is being agreed behind closed doors (and written up
drafted by lobbyists in mind-mumbingly long and opaque legislation) and our leaders lack the moral and political courage to be straight-forward and transparent about the need and purposes of the legislative/regulatory actions;

Mistrust is not only NATURAL, it’s something that we LOVE to do; there is an
undeniable human penchant for viewing issues in a tribal, “us against
them” manner, which reflects a natural cognitive conservatism that means
we subconsciously ignore information that contradicts our pre-existing mental
map of reality, and to a strong tendency to reflexively support our tribal
brothers and “comrades” and to defend our pre-existing views against
what we tend to see as “attacks” by “enemies”;

– this
leads to group-think, black & white views, hostility, self-justification and to strawmen that
ignores the real issues
: you know, “they have a religion”, we are
right and act in good faith, they are stupid, irrational, are evil and want to
destroy all we hold dear, versus capitalism is evil, those against cap and trade are
all pawns, of Big Oil and a host of other mantras regarding “truths” that respective group-thinks requires its members to hold as “self-evident”;

– while our moral senses are essential for managing our in-group interactions, unfortunately that lends itself both to moral outrage and to intolerance of the moral preachings and inconsistencies of others;

 – the
“climate” is enormously complex, will never be fully understood or
predictable,  the changes that we
are  forcing in it cannot be simply and
convincing demonstrated or understood by anyone
, the system has many
inputs/outputs and displays tremendous variability, has great inertia that is
played out on scales of centuries, 
millennia and eons, and we have NO OTHER EARTHS to run ANY independently
verifiable “TESTS” on … just a number of computer models – again,
funded by governments, and with innards none of us has any real ability to
verify, much less understand;

finally, as climate change is a global issue, it cannot be solved unilaterally
by ANY single individual, group, community, corporation or government/polity;
the “community” that must address it is the community of nations, the leaders and citizens of which all having a welter of differing interests and priorities.

To be flip – Trust
me; it’s natural for you NOT to trust me! Don’t we ALL understand this? (Roger,
I’m pretty sure you – and Joe Romm – know what I mean.)

But the high we get from self-righteousness and group struggle is such an easy
evil, such an addictive self-drug.

it is a clear political tactic by many on the climate issue to treat it as a war, and
to deliberately sow mistrust and misinformation,
with the intention either to
defend turf previously purchased from government or to use government to cram
down preferred solutions. But I repeat myself.

Let me
end by noting that

those who are concerned about climate change risks would do well by
fostering not anger but trust, and by seeking to use hammers only to build

those who are concerned chiefly with the mis-use of government might do well to
re-examine how government has already been misused, and explore whether there
are ways to harness the passionate “delusions” of evil/stoopid
enviro-fascists to actually achieve goals that self-professed market cultists
(I’m one!) ought to desire

 – I
have humbly picked up my own hammer and started an exploratory
“task-force” of one, to look at the ways that corporate interests
have already mis-used government to lot in economic rigidity and market share,
and stand in the way of economic freedom and the massive wave of innovation,
investment and wealth-creation that would surely result if existing blockages
were removed. My
chief thoughts are here, intended initially as a plea to fellow libertarians
(who are deeply distrusting of enviro-facists like me who hope to disguise
their nefarious goals by falsely putting on libertarian clothing):

A few
related thoughts at (libertarians/climate) and  (delusion).


Readers, thanks for your indulgence!