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European science’s great leap backward

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Michael Specter writes at the New Yorker:

Since 2012, the distinguished Scottish biologist Anne Glover has served as chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission. When José Manuel Barroso, who was then President, appointed her to the post, he described the job as one that should “provide independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation.”

Last week, Jean-Claude Juncker, the man who has just succeeded Barroso, announced that he would not reappoint Glover. In fact, Juncker, the former Prime Minster of Luxembourg, abolished the position of chief scientific adviser entirely. The decision was a clear victory for Greenpeace and its hidebound allies, who had long sought Glover’s dismissal.

The complaint against Glover was simple: when providing scientific advice to the commission on a range of issues, from nanotechnology to G.M.O.s, she invoked data rather than rely on politics or whim. Last year, at a conference in Scotland, for example, she said that there was “not a single piece of scientific evidence” to support critics’ claims that food produced from G.M.O.s was less safe than food grown in any other way. “No other foodstuff has been so thoroughly investigated as G.M.,” Glover said, and described the opposition as “a form of madness.”

This kind of talk from a public scientist was too much for European activists to bear. In July, several groups, led by Greenpeace, expressed their displeasure with Glover in a letter to Juncker: “The current CSA presented one-sided, partial opinions in the debate on the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, repeatedly claiming that there was a scientific consensus about their safety.… We hope that you as the incoming Commission President will decide not to nominate a chief scientific adviser.” Score one for the Luddites.

When commenting on Glover’s dismissal, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said, “President Juncker believes in independent scientific advice. He has not yet decided how to institutionalize this independent scientific advice.” This sentiment would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. When politicians reject verifiable data and reputable research and rely instead on politics or desire, the results can be devastating. To cite a particularly painful example, Thabo Mbeki, the former President of South Africa and an AIDSdenier, refused to recognize Western pharmaceutical solutions to the H.I.V. epidemic. In urging the use of home remedies like beetroot and garlic instead of anti-retroviral drugs, Mbeki hastened the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Glover has been dismissed at a time when there has never been a broader scientific consensus about the safety of agricultural biotechnology or better data to support that consensus. Recently, for example, researchers at the University of Göttingen published a comprehensive analysis of studies that have assessed the impact of G.M. crops. It found that the agronomic and economic benefits, not only in the United States but in the developing world, have been significant: “On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.”

The World Heath Organization has repeatedly weighed in on the safety of genetically engineered products, proclaiming, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of G.M. foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine has come to the same conclusion: “Foods derived from G.M. crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than fifteen years with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health) despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries the U.S.A.” In addition to the W.H.O. and the Royal Society, scientific organizations from around the world, including the European Commission and, in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences, have strongly endorsed the safety of G.M. foods. (It should be noted that the U.S. can claim no superiority in our approach to evidence-based science, as demonstrated by the fact that nearly half of the country rejects the “theory” of evolution, and that vaccination rates in the fancier precincts of Los Angeles are comparable to those in Sudan.)

Scientific leaders were outraged by Juncker’s action. . .

Continue reading.

Greenpeace is drunk on righteousness.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2014 at 11:07 am

Why the white working class hates Democrats

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Interesting note by Kevin Drum. It’s because Democrats support programs that help the poor.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 11:43 am

Posted in Politics

Kevin Drum gets exasperated

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Venting a little. And check out those comments.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2014 at 5:53 pm

[Fake] Letter from the Norwegian Nobel Committee to President Barack Obama

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Reported in The Intercept, apparently as a parody but not identified as such:

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama:

It was late in the evening when we first learned of your decision Friday to deploy an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. Sorry, we were catching up on the latest episode of “Lilyhammer.” But, seriously, is that a tradition in the States? Releasing such news late on a Friday with the fatuous hope people would forget by Monday? But on second thought, after perusing the American media, it’s possible such schemes may be effective. There appears to be more concern over one Ebola patient— in a country of 316 million people— than the news that your administration is invading Iraq all over again.

Did you forget the words you spoke in Chicago on October 2, 2002? “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. . . That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics”. Were those your words or merely the pandering musings of a state senator with grander political ambitions? If so, you succeeded. Because in 2011, as President, you announced the “end” of the Iraq War, and you boasted “The tide of war is receding”. Was that a twisted joke? You have bombed 7 predominately Muslim countries. That’s not to mention the thousands killed because of your imperialist policies or the Americans you have targeted with military drones, and without due process.

Did you also forget your speech on that crisp December day five years ago next month? “Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.” You certainly haven’t followed said standards; it doesn’t appear you ever even intended to. After all, your expansion of executive war powers will be the biggest stain on your floundering presidency. Worse than George W. Bush.

You are the most undeserving Nobel Peace Prize winner since the odious, war-mongering Henry Kissinger. What company you keep! We were delusional dupes for giving the Peace Prize to him and you both. That is all. Now, back to “Lilyhammer.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee
Drammensveien 19 NO-0255 OSLO
Norway

And if Glennon’s book is accurate, and certainly the reviewer mentions no howlers he made, then Obama is simply incapable of meeting the demands: the deep-state second government of our security apparatus, and the security apparatus is the combined might of a great many agencies with a common mindset, a lot of overlap of training, a sense of working for the right cause (righteousness)—a great meme except that it evolves into, “And since we are doing this for good, we can do any damn thing we want, so long as it is for the good,” and (perhaps unsurprisingly) quite a wide range of things turn out to be for the good—some that you’d probably not suspect, such as torture. But that’s absolutely necessary. And that applies, BTW, to suspects, because waiting for a warrant or even looking for probable cause—that’s the sort of red tape that lets the bad guys get away, and bringing it up makes you a bad guy sympathizer.

Worse yet, all that apparatus is just a tool. The control lies with those of extreme wealth, the tiny minority that have the resources to purchase a national newspaper—and being published in DC, perhaps the national newspaper (though it’s been declining badly)—as a hobby, or the Koch brothers, Sheldon Aldelson, and others more or less openly bidding for control of the overt government.

It’s amazing to see it playing out in reality—more intense and complex than Game of Thrones, and yet people don’t seem interested—cf. recent mid-term election. Perhaps they’ve now figured that it doesn’t make any difference?, though it certainly could: a solid majority in Congress can indeed pass laws, and things can happen, but it requires a common will. I recall from an earlier blog post on the fall of the Berlin Wall two different things. First this passage:

What had changed was the self-assurance of the people. By autumn 1989, the protest movement had gained sufficient confidence to take advantage of this incompetence. The people already knew the authorities would back down: A month earlier, peaceful protesters in Leipzig had turned out in such overwhelming numbers that the security forces, which we now know had planned a Tiananmen-style crackdown, had backed off.

And they knew they could trust each other. Stasi interrogators had once asked a prisoner named Katrin Hattenhauer, a young rebel, how she and her fellow dissidents held together despite all of the Stasi’s actions against them. She replied that shared suffering welded people together more strongly than shared success: “Where the hammer has come down, whatever is underneath is going to hold together.”

And then a thought-provoking comment from “Umbrella”:

I am writing from Hong Kong, a Westernised-city within the holds of China. The situation is a bit inverted, we are just a tiny city in the midst of the concrete dragon which is China, lead by a group of government puppets who are intertwined with the 41 tycoons who control 70% of our GDP. Every day, I hear from my parents, my in-laws, my bosses, “The student movement and protests are no use, don’t fight with China, it is a regime that is omnipotent, ruthless and rich. Just give up.” But what they fail to see, or are too scared to see, is that our future is not defined by those who refuse to change, but by those who will fight for change.

That security mindset controls the combined might of the following: police (local, county, state), security personnel (bodyguards, armed property guards, armed response units in private security, and, of course, in many states any citizen who fears for his life is free to use deadly force, so perhaps they count as a way to keep people fearful, since fearful people tend to want even more security: it’s a self-licking ice-cream cone. [edit: It just occurred to me that only some people become more fearful when reading of stand-your-ground killings—I feel sure that in others it arouses a different feeling, a wondering about what it feels like, to stand your ground—followed by rereading the parts about “feeling in fear for your life.” Must remember that. – LG] But to continue: to those add: the military, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, Border Patrol, IRS, CIA, NSA, and all the other intelligence agencies (military, private), SWAT teams (now operating as private-corporation independent entities—businesses—under contract to several police forces), the independent mercenary forces (Blackwater/Xe Services/Academi/? (candidates for the next namechange required by war crimes such as slaughter of civilians). I’m sure there are others.

That’s just part of the second government against which Obama cannot act. The review blogged earlier observes:

As Glennon points out, presidents get to name fewer than 250 political appointees among the Defense Department’s nearly 700,000 civilian employees, with hundreds more drawn from a national security bureaucracy that comprise “America’s Trumanite network” — in effect, on matters of national security, a second government.

That’s the part that requires the heavy lifting by Congress, the courts, the Executive to break down and remold.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2014 at 3:56 pm

Why some object to the Confederate flag

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There is absolutely no doubt that the Civil War was primarily fought to protect the institution of slavery, which was highly profitable for slave owners. The purpose of the war is writ large in the various articles of secession that the 13 states enacted. At the link you can see summaries and links to the actual text of the various articles of secession. The war was initiated by the South, as we all know: South Carolina provided an unmistakeable bellus causi by opening fire on Fort Sumpter.

Mississippi’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union” begins:

In the momentous step, which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove. . .

Continue reading.

And the institution was indeed profitable. In Salon Michael Schulson interviews Edward Baptist on his new book on American slavery:

It’s impolite to talk about money. Perhaps that’s why, when we discuss the history of slavery in this country, we tend to talk about racism, and paternalism, and the way that awful social institutions just stick around, those pesky buggers — talk about anything, that is, except for the profits.

But there were profits, of course, and large ones. Slavery, after all, is a cost-efficient way to extract labor from human beings. It’s an exceptionally brutal flavor of capitalism. And it worked: In 1860, the U.S.’s four wealthiest states were all in the deep South. After the Civil War, though, white Americans found ways to downplay the profit motive. “Above all, the historians of a reunified nation insisted that slavery was a premodern institution that was not committed to profit seeking,” writes Edward Baptist in his new history of slavery, “The Half Has Never Been Told.” (Read the Salon excerpt from the book here.)

Baptist, a professor of history at Cornell, has spent much of his career helping to undo this narrative. In “The Half Has Never Been Told,” he lays out a sweeping economic history of slavery. Baptist traces the flow of human capital from the Atlantic seaboard to the cotton fields of the deep South. He describes how slavers used whippings to extract more work from their property. He details how slave labor and loans secured with human collateral helped drive the industrial revolution.

These observations aren’t new. Baptist’s real achievement is to ground these financial abstractions in the lives of ordinary people. In vivid passages, he describes the sights, smells and suffering of slavery. He writes about individual families torn apart by global markets. Above all, Baptist sets out to show how America’s rise to power is inextricable from the suffering of black slaves.

Naturally, this makes some people rather uncomfortable. Reviewing Baptist’s book last month, the Economist huffed that “all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.” A few days later, the magazine took the rare step of withdrawing the review, pointing out that slavery was “an evil system.” The message was clear, though: Even today, many are uncomfortable acknowledging the full brutality of an institution that helped build the modern world.

I reached Baptist at his home on the Cornell campus. Over the phone, we spoke about capitalism, the historical vision of Steve McQueen, and why it’s easier to find a memorial for a Confederate soldier than for an American who died enslaved.

How did slavery drive the economy of the 19th century United States?

It drives it in some obvious ways and some less obvious ways. The obvious way is the absolutely central role of cotton to the functioning of the economy. Cotton ends up supplying about 50 percent of all the value of exports in the U.S. for most of the period from the early 1800s to the Civil War.

That income doesn’t just stay in the South. Certainly a lot of it is going to enslavers, but a lot of it is also going to bankers and merchants, and later to insurers and shippers. Ultimately, the U.S. starts up its own cotton textile industry.

The U.S. is a developing economy. It’s also a capital-importing economy. It needs credit. Lending to the slaver sector is secure and it’s profitable. Secure, because there’s a reliable liquid market for human collateral. And profitable, because enslaved human beings are making cotton, the world’s most widely traded commodity.

When you start to look at slavery in this larger, global context, places like Europe and New England, which we tend to separate from the slave system, end up seeming implicated.

Absolutely, and not just because of the direct and indirect investment of Northern savers and lenders in the Southern system. The South — and especially enslavers — are really the first reliable market for Northern industrial products. In fact, U.S. policy sets that up. Congress creates a tariff which protects the U.S. market for cotton textiles of low quality. So this allows U.S. textile mills in New England, which are not capable of making the same quality of cloth on a mass scale as British mills are, this gives them a protected market. And that protected market is basically the South, and it’s basically the cloth that’s bought by slave owners every year and given out to the slaves.

You write that few people realize “how crucial systemized torture was to the industrial revolution.”

In 1800, when cotton expansion started, workers could generally plant and cultivate about twice as much cotton as they could pick. Slave owners decide that they want to increase the amount that is picked, so what they start doing is weighing the amount each slave picks per day and establishing that as an individual daily picking quota. People were given quotas. If they didn’t meet the quota, they would be whipped. Over time, the quotas are increased.

And over time, the amount that people pick increases dramatically. There are people who say, “Oh, it’s because of the seeds [of easier-to-pick cotton cultivars],” and I’m sure that makes it possible to pick more, but enslaved people actually have to figure out how to move their hands and their bodies fast enough, and do that all day long, in order to meet their quotas. They still have to do that, and they are threatened by torture if they don’t make it. I say torture deliberately. We have, over time, sort of bowdlerized, we’ve used euphemisms. But if this was happening to U.S. POWs, we’d have no trouble calling it torture.

The average enslaved person picked cotton four times as quickly in 1860 as in 1800.

Reading your book, I felt as if you were telling the story of capitalism taken to its absolute extreme, in which the right to personal property trumps all other rights, and in which human lives become tradable commodities. Can we read your book as a cautionary tale of capitalism run amok?

Continue reading.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:43 pm

William Pfaff on the midterm elections

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William Pfaff writes:

The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics?

The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.

This disastrous state of affairs is the product of two Supreme Court decisions and before that, of the repeal under the Reagan Administration, of the provision in the Federal Communications Act of 1934, stipulating the public service obligations of radio (and subsequently, of television) broadcasters in exchange for the government’s concession to them of free use in their businesses of the public airways.

These rules required broadcasters to provide “public interest” programming, including the coverage of electoral campaigns for public office and the independent examination of public issues. The termination of these requirements made possible the wave of demagogic and partisan right-wing “talk radio” that since has plagued American broadcasting and muddied American electoral politics.

Those readers old enough to remember the radio and early television broadcasting of pre-Reagan America will recall the non-partisan news reports and summaries provided by the national networks and by local stations in the United States. There were, of course, popular news commentators professing strong or idiosyncratic views as well, but the industry assured that a variety of responsible opinions were expressed, and that blatant falsehood was banned or corrected.

The two Supreme Court decisions were “Buckley v. Valeo” in 1976 and “Citizens United v. the Federal Electoral Commission” in 2010. Jointly, they have transformed the nature of the American political campaign, and indeed the nature of American national politics. This resulted from the nature and characteristics of mass communications in the United States and the fact that broadcasting has from the beginning been all but totally a commercial undertaking (unlike the state broadcasters in Canada and Britain, and nearly all of Europe).

The two decisions turned political contests into competitions in campaign advertising expenditure on television and radio. The election just ended caused every American linked to the internet to be bombarded by thousands (or what seemed tens of thousands) of political messages pleading for campaign money and listing the enormous (naturally) sums pouring into the coffers of the enemy.

Previously the American campaign first concerned the candidate and the nature of his or her political platform. Friends and supporters could, of course, contribute to campaign funds and expenditures, but these contributions were limited by law in scale and nature. No overt connection was allowed between businesses or industries and major political candidates, since this would have implied that the candidate represented “special interests” rather than the general interest.

The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission verdict is well known and remains highly controversial since it rendered impossible the imposition of legal limits on political campaign spending, ruling that electoral spending is an exercise in constitutionally-protected free speech; Moreover, it adjudged commercial corporations as legal citizens, in electoral matters the equivalent of persons.

The Court’s prohibition . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2014 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Election, Politics

Judge Says City of Philadelphia Can Take Artist’s Studio, Turn It Into Grocery Store

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If a private business wants your property, they can take it if they’re politically connected: the law is no protection. That’s the lesson of this story by Evan Bernick in the Huffington Post:

James Dupree is a world-renowned artist and native son of Philadelphia, who is about to see his art studio turned into a grocery store, thanks to the rubber-stamp review that passes for judging when his city exercises the power of eminent domain.

James’ artistic accomplishments are truly awesome. He has five paintings in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Others can be found in the National Museum of Art in Cardiff, Wales; the Schomberg Museum in New York; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

You can see the Philadelphia Museum of Art from James’ studio. It is located in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia, where James grew up. The studio was a dilapidated warehouse when he purchased it for a little under $200,000. He spent $60,000 installing new electrical equipment and plumbing, $68,000 on roof repairs, and thousands more on renovations, furnishings and appliances.

The investment paid off, for James and for Mantua. What was once a dead, abandoned building is now alive and bustling with activity. James has hosted and taught art classes at his studio and has plans to start a mentorship program in order to give artists an environment where they “can create serious work and receive the support and freedom to explore new ideas.”

Dupree Studios is as much of a part of Mantua as James Dupree. It is a monument to the kind of creativity, hard work and dedication that has always been associated with the American spirit.

But in Kelo v. City of New London, the U.S. Supreme Court held that such monuments can be razed and transformed into monuments to politically connected developers and tax-hungry politicians.

The U.S. Constitution expressly protects property rights and limits the government’s power to take property through eminent domain. In Kelo, the Court rubber-stamped the condemnation and transfer of an entire working-class neighborhood to a private developer through the use of eminent domain.

The aftermath of Kelo can be seen in the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s (PRA) treatment of James’ studio. After first conducting a drive-by appraisal in which they did not even do James the courtesy of entering his studio, two men from the PRA actually paid him a visit. They lowballed him with an “offer” nowhere near the property’s market value, which a real estate agent from Prudential appraised at $2.2 million. According to the redevelopment plans, the PRA wants to bulldoze James’ studio to make room for a privately-owned grocery store and its parking lot.

Pennsylvania was one of many states that strengthened its eminent domain laws in response to Kelo. But these reforms did not apply to cities like Philadelphia until December 31, 2012; James’ studio was seized on December 27, 2012.

So far, James has not received any help from the courts. On November 13, 2013, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas signed off on the PRA’s decision to condemn his property. After seeking time to go back and reexamine her decision, the judge re-affirmed it in a one-sentence order on June 26, 2014.

America is supposed to be different from countries where governments regard property rights as privileges to be given and taken away at politicians’ convenience. But our rights cannot be secured unless judges are vigilant in protecting them. In every constitutional case, our Constitution requires judicial engagement – a genuine effort to enforce all of the Constitution’s limits on government, without bent or bias in favor of government, on the basis of real facts and real evidence. Every decision should be given a reasoned justification.

James Dupree’s treatment at the hands of his city sounds like something that could not happen in this country. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2014 at 4:20 pm

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