Category: Public Policy

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 17, 2007
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Late last Friday the US Senate passed a federal farm subsidies bill, amounting to over $286 billion over five years.

For the first time funding has been extended to new areas like support for fruits and vegetables. That $3 billion of the bill is not direct aid, but rather is marked for “research, marketing, farm markets and providing fruits and vegetables to more school children.”

So perhaps you can expect the federal government, as any good nanny state should, to fund initiatives mimicking this to convince your children that “carrots want to go to the party in your tummy.” (Hey, it works on my 2 and a half year-old.)


David Gavin, a fruit and vegetable farmer in Michigan, says of dependence on federal subsidies, “When you look at how much is spent, you start scratching your head. I’m glad we (fruit and vegetable growers) haven’t gone down that road. Once you get to a certain size, I think you can afford to do it on your own.”

And by the way, you can check out a brief interview I did yesterday morning on the topic of farm subsidies with Charlotte, NC talk radio station WBT 1110-AM here, based in part on the Acton Commentary Ray Nothstine and I wrote a few weeks back.

See also: Jimmy Carter, “Subsidies’ Harvest of Misery,” Washington Post

It’s not uncommon for those of us who find ourselves on the skeptical side of the great climate change debate to be accused of deliberately shading or outright misrepresenting scientific research in order to obscure the dire nature of the crisis at hand. We do this, our accusers claim, out of pure greed – either we are bought off by corporations who stand to become much less profitable should strong action be taken on this issue, we personally stand to lose money because of our investments in said corporations, or something else along those lines.

The reality of the situation is almost 180° opposite. For example, let’s take the world’s most popular climate alarmist, Al Gore. The standard story on Gore is that he functions as a modern prophet, bravely speaking scientific truth to the masses out of nothing but genuine concern for our dear planet which faces an unprecedented crisis; his science is unimpeachable, and therefore it would be beneath him to engage his critics, who will one day be revealed as the idiots that they truly are, and are thus to be pitied rather than feared.

This man is not being honest with you.

Reality check: Gore is already making a significant amount of money off of global warming hysteria, and stands to pocket a whole lot more if governments adopt his “solutions” to the “crisis.”

And what of that crisis that Gore warns us about? Is it really a crisis? Does Al Gore even believe it’s a crisis? Based on his own words, I’m not so sure. Check out this little gem of a quote, from an interview with Gore published in May of 2006 in Grist Magazine:

Q: There’s a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What’s the right mix?

A: I think the answer to that depends on where your audience’s head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.

Over time that mix will change. As the country comes to more accept the reality of the crisis, there’s going to be much more receptivity to a full-blown discussion of the solutions.

Here’s the honest translation of that statement:

  • In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality: I have been unable to convince my fellow citizens and their elected representatives of the rightness of my position because they are either thick headed or beholden to corporate interests, not because they don’t believe my science adds up.
  • And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions: There can be no legitimate opposition to my position on the climate change issue. Critics of my position are either ignorant and bamboozled by corporate spin or perfidious and a party to crimes against the environment.
  • Nobody is interested in solutions if they don’t think there’s a problem.: At this point, the only way to get my way is to cause a panic.
  • Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are: It is totally appropriate for me to lie in order to force my agenda forward.

Did you catch that? Gore is claiming for himself the right to lie – to “over-represent” the facts – in order to move public opinion toward his radical vision of the environmental future. Now, if I were a cynical person, I’d look at that statement and think that perhaps Al Gore might not be living up to his spin. I’d look at his financial stake in the carbon trading business that could make him a very wealthy man if governments adopt his policy proposals and I might start to question whether his motives are entirely pure. I’d look at his steadfast refusal to meaningfully engage his critics and wonder if his stance is truly based on confidence in science or if it’s instead part of a carefully crafted public relations campaign, designed to underline his contention that we truly face a “crisis.” And I’d even start to wonder if he really believes that we face a crisis at all.

Hmm. I must be a cynical person.

(more…)

Blog author: dwbosch
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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Who’s the Worst Nanny of 2007? No surprise the list includes PETA:

The competition is fierce. Vying for the title: Overzealous state legislators pushing bans on common food ingredients; health officials prohibiting full-grown adults from eating dessert; prominent food activists caught in acts of rank hypocrisy; and animal-rights fanatics using the force of law to make food companies conform to their radical anti-meat dogmas… Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook, “Dumped Dogs Tell No Tales” Award — People for the “Ethical” Treatment of Animals (PETA) employees Hinkle and Cook admitted in court to picking up healthy dogs and cats from North Carolina-area shelters, killing the animals in the back of their PETA-owned van, and tossing the bodies into nearby dumpsters.

This one takes the cake too – literally:

Putnam County Office for the Aging, “86-ing Octogenarians’ Food Choices” Award — Health officials in this small New York county tried to take donuts from the elderly. To protest the ban on donated baked goods at local retirement centers, senior citizens wore signs to remind officials that they’re “86, not 8.”

Bet ya a buck all these self-appointed society nannies are "pro-choice" too.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist.]

I’ve seen this commercial a number of times this holiday season and it bothers me more and more every time:


But what precisely is wrong with this ad, and the spirit that animates it?

Rev. Billy might say that the problem lies with the gifts themselves. While he might be satisfied if the gifts came from places such as “the shelves of mom and pop stores, farmers markets, artisans and on Craigslist,” he certainly wouldn’t approve of gifts from a “big box” store like Best Buy.

But I don’t think the problem is with the gifts per se. I think it’s with the “givers.”

Speaking of material goods, Augustine writes, “Sin gains entrance through these and similar good things when we turn to them with immoderate desire, since they are the lowest kind of goods and we thereby turn away from the better and higher: from you yourself, O Lord our God, and your truth and your law.” Material goods, just like any other created reality, can be an occasion for sin and idolatry.

So if that is the problem, with our immoderate desires, what is the solution? Reordered desires. Rightly valuing material goods and gifts as penultimate and limited created goods.

What might change in this commercial if we applied these solutions? How would the commercial look different? Rev. Billy might have the family give handmade gifts or secondhand items, or perhaps forego material gifts altogether and take a family walk. These things all have their own value.

But there are good things at Best Buy and other stores, too. That’s what makes it so important to be discerning about how we use good gifts, and that’s what makes Rev. Billy’s message so problematic.

An Augustinian solution to the problem in that Best Buy ad would be something more like this: the family would bring some gifts to Grandma to share with her, and the family would all spend time together enjoying each others’ company and the material goods associated with the holiday. The focus wouldn’t be exclusively on the gifts themselves (as it is in the commercial’s current form), but neither would such a view denigrate the objective, albeit limited, good of material gift-giving.

Rev. Billy: “We’re supporters of Jesus.”


What’s wrong with Christmas consumerism? It isn’t the fact of consumption itself. It’s in the disordered and immoderate desires for earthly goods when compared with the truly and ultimately important spiritual goods.

So while the Best Buy ad runs afoul of virtue by over-emphasizing material goods, Rev. Billy goes to the opposite extreme by not valuing them enough. As Augustine also wrote, “He who uses temporal goods ill, however, shall lose them, and shall not receive eternal goods either.” This would include not appreciating the material benefits God bestows on us.

Here at Global Warming Consensus Watch World Headquarters we’re bold. We push the limits. We tackle subjects that other bloggers just don’t have the guts to tackle (I’m looking at you, Ballor). And if that means we need to do a post on kangaroo flatulance, then that’s what we do.

But what, you may be asking, does the gassy emission of the herbivorous marsupial of the family Macropodidae, of Australia and adjacent islands, have to do with climate change? We’re glad you asked! It seems that our bouncy buddies from the land down under may play a central role in opening up a whole new class of offsets:

AUSTRALIAN scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Pardon me.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

While the usual image of greenhouse gas pollution is a billowing smokestack pushing out carbon dioxide, livestock passing wind contribute a surprisingly high percentage of total emissions in some countries.

“Fourteen per cent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep,” said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland Government.

“And if you look at another country such as New Zealand, which has got a much higher agricultural base, they’re actually up around 50 per cent,” he said.

Link courtesy of Weasel Zippers. One wonders – who was the courageous scientist who discovered that kangaroo gas contains no methane?

This development may prove more important to Australia that it seems at first glance, as on the heels of this report comes news that new Aussie PM Kevin Rudd, fresh off an election victory over John Howard, has already backed away from an election pledge to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions after finding out that in doing so, electricity costs would skyrocket:

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd last night did an about-face on deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, days after Australia’s delegation backed the plan at the climate talks in Bali.

A government representative at the talks this week said Australia backed a 25-40 per cent cut on 1990 emission levels by 2020.

But after warnings it would lead to huge rises in electricity prices, Mr Rudd said the Government would not support the target.

The repudiation of the delegate’s position represents the first stumble by the new Government’s in its approach to climate change.

You’d think that would be something he could have looked into before making the promise. Ah well, no matter – There are other things that Australians can do to make up the difference

In one of this week’s Acton Commentaries, Ray Nothstine and I juxtapose a static, sedentary dependence on government subsidies with a dynamic, entrepreneurial spirit of innovation.

The impetus for this short piece was an article that originally appeared in the Grand Rapids Press (linked in the commentary). I have two things to say about these stories and then I want to add some further reflections on the world of agricultures subsidies.

First, I found the article’s “hook” to be quite shoddy and lame. The blatant attempt to “shock” the reader into a reaction of disgust that a billionaire like Dick DeVos, yes, “that Dick DeVos,” got a whopping “$6,000 in federal farm subsidies from 2003 to 2005.” That’s roughly $2k a year for three years.

Unsurprisingly, DeVos’ spokesperson didn’t know anything about it. It’s ludicrous to think that a guy with as much on his plate as Dick DeVos would have any time for what is essentially pocket change for a billionaire. Does the fact that DeVos got a subsidy even though he campaigned on eliminating government waste make him a hypocrite?

Judge for yourself, but I think these payments say more about the government’s inefficiency and waste than they do about DeVos’ integrity. People of all income brackets pay tax professionals to maximize their returns. For the very wealthy, it’s simply a process that’s on a bigger scale, that’s much more thorough, and with many more loopholes than when you or I go to H&R Block. The more diversified your holdings, the more likely there are a plethora of tax breaks for you to exploit. The breathless lede to this story was simply off-putting to me, especially given the rather clear political undertones of the insinuations.

“Simplify, man.”

What’s the real lesson? As a recycling hippie once told The Simpsons‘ Principal Skinner in a quite different context, “Simplify, man.” Simplify the tax code and eliminate all these special interest loopholes.

But the complaint about the story’s hook is really a minor quibble compared to my second point. In a companion piece, Lisa Rose Starner, executive director at Blandford Nature Center and Mixed Greens says that farm subsidies are essentially about “social justice.” That’s right, subsidies are about social justice. They’re about the social injustice of subsidizing a product so that people from poorer nations around the world, who would like to do more than simply engage in subsistence farming, can’t compete in a global marketplace because prices are artificially deflated. So, our subsidies are feeding the rich at the expense of the poor in more ways than one.

Of course, the pat response is that other nations are subsidizing too, so our subsidies are just leveling the playing field. To be sure, the world of agricultural business is a complex one, as many of the commenters on our piece point out. Direct farm subsidies are just one thin slice of the government’s intervention into agriculture. Perhaps they’re the most obvious, but they may also not be the most insidious. As one astute reader wrote to me, “The web of market interference in ag is broad and complex.”

Simplify, man.

Update: The Detroit News ran a version of the original piece here.

Awhile back in a PowerBlog exclusive I asserted, “Many, if not most, young evangelicals are just as conservative on life issues as their forebears.”

Here are some references to back that up:

First,

  • 70% Evangelicals 18-29 who favor “making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion.”
  • 55% Evangelicals 30 and older who favor this.

(HT: Go Figure) From: “Young White Evangelicals: Less Republican, Still Conservative,” Pew Research Center.

And next, “In attitudes toward education, drugs, abortion, religion, marriage, and divorce, the current generation of teenagers and young adults appears in many respects to be more culturally conservative than its immediate predecessors.” From: “Crime, Drugs, Welfare—and Other Good News,” Commentary.

On second thought, perhaps what I said before was even an understatement.