March 19th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The WSJ has a good article summarising some of the changes in the coverage of the global warming debate of late – focusing on Al Gore’s personal issues in this department but also some of the other coverage of respectable scientists who disagree with Gore in part or in totality.

One of the biggest themes of the last several weeks is hypocrisy on Gore’s part. It appears that, while urging all others to change their lives now to save the planet, he continues to live the same old luxury lifestyle while using his cash to pay off his guilt. There are obvious parallels here with the old practice of rich landowners sending others to fight in their place in wartime – it was no more honourable then.

March 4th, 2007 by Rightsideup

The Wall Street Journal has an article on climate change (Cap and Charade) which looked at the issue of businesses getting sucked into the climate change debate. See previous blog from 27 January for the first mention of this. It focuses on the artificial scarcity in CO2 emissions caused by a cap-and-trade system, and the perverse incentives a plan to introduce such a system creates for businesses. Efficient (“green”) businesses which already have low carbon emissions are seeking to get their allowances set as high as possible so they can make big windfall profits from selling their CO2 rights.

A nasty cynicism on the part of businesses has crept in around climate change – whereas they used to fight the climate change agenda on the basis that it would force them into changes in practices that would be detrimental for their businesses, they are now embracing it at least in some cases because they see a way to make a quick buck. But of course this lends additional false legitimacy to the whole campaign and it could end up coming back to bite them if it adds further to the “the debate is over” trend we’re seeing.

March 3rd, 2007 by Rightsideup

Mitt Romney gave a phenomenal speech at the CPAC conference on Friday. It’s great written down (RedState has the full speech here) but he also did a great job delivering it (you can see part of it on Mitt TV here). So much better than his announcement speech, which was a bit of a damp squib. I guess it’s a pretty different audience at CPAC from the nightly news, but this is the kind of stuff he’s got to be saying and the way he’s got to be saying it to really get attention and win votes. I hope we have more of it.

February 1st, 2007 by Rightsideup

CNN reports that Al Gore has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, apparently for his work as an environmental advocate, primarily his film An Inconvenient Truth. There are two primary objections to this nomination.

Firstly, the prize was to be awarded, according to Nobel’s will,

“to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Last year’s nominee, Muhammad Yunus, though a person of considerable achievements and benefit to the nation of Bangladesh, was also a bit of a poor fit with the stated aim of the prize, having neither done much to promote fraternity between nations or had anything to do with promoting or holding peace congresses. Al Gore, a controversial figure at best, has hardly promoted peace and has done nothing in connection with fostering peace or “peace congresses”. This is a point which the Economist, for one, picked up on back in October.

The second objection is that Al Gore is far from being universally admired for his work on environmentalism. He has been widely criticised (along with others) for mis-stating or exaggerating the problems of global warming and his alarmist tone. The alarm and worry caused by his presentations and his movie are certainly inconsistent with at least one definition of peace (and have very little to do with any other definition either).

Hopefully, this will turn out to have been a political statement on the part of the nominators and will not gain any greater credence. If it does gain wider attention and support, the Nobel Prize Committee will really have to think hard about a new set of criteria for the prize which are less in keeping with their founders’ stated wishes but more in keeping with actual recent outcomes.

January 29th, 2007 by Rightsideup

A CNN report this week on the soon-to-be-released IPCC report on climate change has the headline, “Experts slam upcoming global warming report”. The first paragraph of the report states:

Later this week in Paris, climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

So presumably, the experts (scientists and others with a commitment to the scientific method) have criticised the forthcoming report as alarmist? Not a bit of it. See the second and third paragraphs of the report:

But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early and changeable drafts of their upcoming authoritative report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top U.S. scientists reject these rosier numbers.

So it turns out that the critics are concerned that the report is not alarmist enough. CNN is here playing the game reporters occasionally do, whereby they seek to shift the centre of debate towards the left by presenting as opposing viewpoints more or less extreme versions of the same position, from the left of the political spectrum. This allows them to act as if the debate is not whether global warming is real, is caused by human action, or even is problematic, but on exactly how bad it is and how quickly we’re all going to die. The article focuses on the melting of large ice sheets, which some “critics” say has not been taken into account in the report.

Others believe the ice melt is temporary and won’t play such a dramatic role.

That debate may be the central one as scientists and bureaucrats from around the world gather in Paris to finish the first of four major global warming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel was created by the United Nations in 1988.

Luckily, however, the IPCC is known for playing it safe and under-stating the risks:

Rahmstorf, a physics and oceanography professor at Potsdam University in Germany, says, “In a way, it is one of the strengths of the IPCC to be very conservative and cautious and not overstate any climate change risk.”

Thank goodness for that, then. At least it’s not like the last IPCC report has been used as the basis for every hysterical bit of news reporting about the environment for the last five years.

January 27th, 2007 by Rightsideup

While the rest of the country was obsessing about Iraq and the State of the Union address, few commentators picked up on the meeting of business executives urging President Bush to do more about climate change. One who did was Kimberley Strassel, who has taken over the re-launched Potomac Watch column at the Wall Street Journal.

This week’s column dug a little deeper into the meeting and the attendees than anyone else and came up with some interesting titbits.

Democrats want to flog the global warming theme through 2008 and they’ll take what help they can get, even if it means cozying up to executives whose goal is to enrich their firms. Right now, the corporate giants calling for a mandatory carbon cap serve too useful a political purpose for anyone to delve into their baser motives.

An interesting point. When business leaders turn green, their usual critics on the left keep mum because they need whatever support they can get. Somewhat more worryingly, no Republicans pointed out what was going on here. At any rate, it was under-reported.

But what we risk doing here is what has already been happening in the UK – i.e. that all the major parties sign up to “doing something” about climate change before we really know what that “something” should be. At this point, there are at least five major obstacles to conclusively proving what needs to be done about climate change:

  • We still don’t have a clear and consistent picture of how much temperatures have risen or are likely to rise
  • We haven’t been able to establish a causal link between human activity and any warming that has taken place, only a correlation between increases in carbon dioxide emissions and observed warming
  • We don’t know how much warming (or cooling) would be taking place without the human impact, which makes it very difficult for us to try to get back to a notional planetary equilibrium
  • We don’t have a good idea of exactly how much we need to reduce greenhouse gases to achieve the desired levelling in temperatures
  • We don’t understand what impact global warming would have in totality, and whether this impact would be, on balance, positive or negative for human welfare across the globe.

In the absence of really good answers to these questions, it seems foolish to rush headlong into signing legislation that would make significant attempts to impact climate change. This could end up being nothing but a costly exercise in PR for the politicians, lobbyists and now business leaders who jump on the bandwagon. Much more attention needs to go to answering the questions more authoritatively, stating what we really do know in measured terms rather than hysteria, and understanding more about the possible conflicts of interests in the lives of those who are driving the climate change agenda. Strassel does a good job in identifying the key conflict of interest which exists for these business leaders – they are supporting a plan that would reward their companies for something they are going to be doing anyway:

The Climate Action Partnership, a group of 10 major companies that made headlines this week with its call for a national limit on carbon dioxide emissions, would surely feign shock at such an accusation. After all, their plea was carefully timed to coincide with President Bush’s State of the Union capitulation on global warming, and it had the desired PR effect. The media dutifully declared that “even” business now recognized the climate threat. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who begins marathon hearings on warming next week, lauded the corporate angels for thinking of the “common good.”

Four of the affiliates — Duke, PG&E, FPL and PNM Resources — are utilities that have made big bets on wind, hydroelectric and nuclear power. So a Kyoto program would reward them for simply enacting their business plan, and simultaneously sock it to their competitors.

Hopefully the reporting of future statements by this group will see these efforts for what they are – the same old tactics that Democrats and the left in general usually smears but sees fit to overlook when they work to their advantage.

January 27th, 2007 by Rightsideup

Ralph Kostant had an interesting take this week on Mitt Romney and whether his religion matters (and indeed whether it is an asset or a liability). As a Jew, he has a somewhat different perspective from the evangelicals who are presumed to be most likely to object to Romney’s Mormonism. From his piece:

let me… explain why it would surprise me if any American hesitates to vote for a Presidential candidate solely because that candidate is Mormon. The answer is “St. David.” St. David is a town of about 1750 residents, in Cochise County, Arizona. I first discovered St. David on a drive to Tombstone, Arizona, some 10 years ago. It was a beautiful, almost impossibly picturesque small town, and the most prominent building was the ward of the Mormon community, to which I suspect the entire population of St. David belongs…

St. David is about 16 miles north of Tombstone…

What does all this have to do with American presidential elections? Well, while Tombstone was founded in 1879, St. David was settled 1877. Mormon farmers started a town in the middle of Apache territory before Ed Schiefflien ever ventured out of Camp Huachuca. While Tombstone flourished as a Western mining boom town, filling our frontier lore with the tales of Wyatt Earp, the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the Bird Cage Theater and Boot Hill, some 16 miles away Mormon farming families went about their quiet lives, without the bars and brothels of their notorious neighboring community.

Just as Tombstone is part of American history, so is St. David. St. David itself is just one page from the rich history of the contribution of Mormon pioneers to the development of the American West. The Mormons have been part of the American scene for over 175 years. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints began in America. Love the Church or hate it, one cannot deny its essential Americanness. Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution requires that the President be a natural born citizen of the United States. The Mormon Church is a natural born religion of the United States. It would be indeed be ironic if American voters were to conclude that an adherent of this most American of religions should not hold the nation’s highest office.

The upshot of all this is: the Mormon Church is about as American as they come – as some have said, Mormons (who originally were separate from the United States before Utah achieved statehood) have become more American than the Americans since that time. The Church is not some new-age cult cooked up in the latter part of the 20th century, but rather is a long-standing religion with a rich history rooted in America (and just 54 years younger than the country itself). Perhaps this might suggest positive rather than negative associations for those who are its members.

January 3rd, 2007 by Rightsideup

I know the thought that Republicans will probably win the presidency for the 6th time in 8 elections has got the Democrats worried, but they are beginning to take their response a little far.

Jacob Weisberg has a piece in Slate and in the Financial Times about Mitt Romney in which he posits that his religion disqualifies him for office. It seems that Romney has the Democrats particularly worried, and even though he’s still officially unannounced as a presidential candidate, we’ve already seen him attacked for his change of stance on abortion, a perceived change of stance on gay rights, his hiring of a lawn care company that hires illegal immigrants and his underwear.

Weisberg’s column takes this a step further and is arguably more honest about what really gives the Democrats the heebie-jeebies about Romney – his faith and his religiosity. Democrats are always uncomfortable about religious people holding office, because they feel that religiosity is inherently irrational. However, they’re willing to suspend this distaste for faith when it comes to their own candidates (Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy…) or when the religion in question is Islam rather than Christianity.

Weisberg’s central argument appears to be that the central tenets of Mormonism are particularly unbelievable and that anyone who subscribes to them must be inherently off their rocker. He does his level best to make these beliefs sound as ridiculous as possible – case in point: “Smith was able to dictate his “translation” of the Book of Mormon first by looking through diamond-encrusted decoder glasses and then by burying his face in a hat with a brown rock at the bottom of it.” While this clearly has some basis in Smith’s actual claims, it uses language intended to mock and degrade rather than to enlighten. He concludes with the rather strong statement, “He [Smith] was an obvious conman.” Weisberg dismisses all who hold such religious beliefs with the assertion: “By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is.”

However, he appears to have realised that most major religions have beliefs which those of a strictly scientific bent would find hard to swallow – Catholicism has transubstantiation and the infallibility of the Pope, Judaism has the parting of the Red Sea and the predicted return of Elijah, Islam believes that conversion through force is acceptable, Hindus believe in reincarnation etc. etc. He dismisses this strongest of counter-arguments with a lame comment about the fact that Mormonism’s “fraud” is more “transparent” and “recent”. Apparently, one is only tainted by holding beliefs in the supernatural if the events in question occurred less than 200 years ago… His assertion that the “greater religions” have had time to “splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor” – i.e. that they have been victims of in-fighting and disagreement over doctrine, have changed some of those doctrines over time and have distanced themselves from some core precepts by describing them as metaphors rather than reality. If these conditions are supposed to recommend these religions to us, Weisberg’s views are strange indeed.

Let’s return though to Weisberg’s assertion that someone who holds such beliefs will fail to “think for himself or see the world as it is”. Where is the evidence of this in Mitt Romney’s career to date. Where, when he ran Bain & Company or later Bain Capital, when he turned around the Salt Lake Olympics, or during his time as governor of Massachusetts, were the signs that this man could not think for himself or see the world as it is? Where is such evidence in the career of Harry Reid (now Senate Majority Leader and also a Mormon), Orrin Hatch, Michael Leavitt or other members of the LDS Church currently prominent in politics?

The fact remains that the best possible measure of someone’s fitness for presidential office is his or her past performance and achievements, not proxies for their state of mind, whether religious, sexual or racial. Weisberg again pays lip service to the fact that religious tests are constitutionally prohibited but then uses his whole article to propose such a test. Religious tests are banned precisely because they attempt to replace a judgment about an individual’s fitness for office with a judgment about their religion – exactly the mistake Weisberg makes in this piece. There is no analysis of his record or of how his religious views will shape his policy stances – which is a legitimate subject for discussion.

Still, this is all just another sign that Mitt Romney along with the raft of other strong candidates for president from the Republican side, are scaring the living daylights out of Democrats staring the stark choice between Hillary Clinton (all the baggage of the Clintons without the charisma) and Barack Obama (untested junior Senator with left-wing views) in the face.

January 1st, 2007 by Rightsideup

From an article in the Sacramento Bee this past week comes this quote from George Washington’s farewell address:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.

This makes the important but subtle point that religious motives should certainly inform and guide political behaviour, even if no particular religion may be officially endorsed by the state. In the context of Mitt Romney’s campaign, this suggests that he should make clear the ways in which his faith will inform and guide his policies while at the same time making clear that he will “render unto God that which is God’s, and render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

January 1st, 2007 by Rightsideup

It’s been some time since I’ve posted here and there’s been quite a gap since my last post. However, I hope to post more regularly in future. There will probably be more emphasis on Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency going forward as well as I’ve taken a personal interest in this campaign.