Friday, November 27, 2009

The Separation of Cult and State

Who are "the deniers" now?

The publication of some pretty damning e-mail exchanges between members of the Alarmist School of climate research (e-mails suggesting that they colluded in cooking the books and conspired to freeze-out and discredit members of the Skeptical School) has spawned a new breed of "denier" -- those in journalism and in government who deny the scandal's implications and want to charge ahead with a regulatory overreaction, as if these revelations change nothing.

So wedded are some people to the alarmist interpretation of climate variability, apparently, that nothing will shake their faith -- not even evidence that some of the high priests have been fudging on "facts." It's more evidence that environmentalism has evolved into a secular religion -- the one religion officially sanctioned by the state, perhaps because it enlarges, rather than challenges, state power.

We Americans are careful about upholding a "separation of church and state." Maybe we should think more about maintaining a separation of cult and state.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Green Lady

The New York Times was once widely known as "the Gray Lady," denoting its formerly staid appearance and tone. Today it might better be called "the Green Lady," given how eagerly it has surrendered any objectivity on environmental issues, and how completely it has joined forces with the Earth-worshipers.

Today's new breed of "environmental journalists" are environmentalists first, journalists second, for the most part. Greens get a pass on the cynicism and skepticism newsies heap on everyone else. But the Times has knocked-down any remaining barriers, and thrown balance to the wind, by re-publishing "news stories" generated by the for-profit website Greenwire, resulting in "New York Times coverage" like this.

I've been a regular user of Greenwire for years, because it's a useful consolidator of news on the environment, energy and public lands. But I also see Greenwire as a major cog in the green propaganda machine. It is not an unbiased news organization or news source, as any objective party would confirm, but an organization that slavishly serves the environmentalist agenda, spinning the news to serve that purpose. That most New York Times readers aren't aware of this, and may be giving Greenwire and New York Times stories equal weight, is troubling, to say the least.

I don't know how long this shared content arrangement has been in place. But after noticing Greenwire stories popping-up in the Times several months back, I registered my objections with the paper's ombudsman, which was met with a non-response. I'll try again in the next few days, but doubt the Times will respond. So enmeshed have the news business and Environmental Anxiety Industry become that there's no recognition of the improprieties involved. "Saving the planet" is a noble cause. Who in her right mind wouldn't join in?

It's hard of late to tell the difference between environmental "journalism" and environmentalist press releases, as already noted. But the Times' unholy alliance with Greenwire obliterates any remaining barriers and distinctions, foisting-off blatant agit-prop as legitimate news. The fact that most readers don't have a clue about what they're ingesting constitutes a serious deception, which further erodes public confidence in the "mainstream media."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Energy Obstructionists

The Associated Press notes a sudden reluctance on the part of energy companies to bid on federal oil and gas leases in the state Utah. But is it really surprising? Virtually every major auction offered in the Rocky Mountain West is fiercely contested by anti-drilling extremists. The knee-jerk obstructionism is simply wearing energy providers down. And given the obvious sway the extremists hold with this administration, and with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (an obstructionists himself while in the Senate), it's little wonder that the Rocky Mountain energy boom went bust.

Macroeconomic forces have played a part in this, no question. But green extremism is also a significant factor, as these two news reports -- link and link -- make clear. Especially frustrating was the dishonest way that Salazar and the Obama administration unilaterally nullified dozens of legitimate energy leases in Utah shortly after coming to power. A number of those voided leases have been reinstated, thanks to the scrutiny of Utah's congressional delegation. But watching the administration attempt to justify that abuse of power proves to me that the Obamatons (much like the Clintonistas) are absolutely devoid of any principle, save for political expediency and interest group loyalty. And I'm glad to see folks aren't just laying down for it.

From Thursday Deseret News:

Utah oil and gas leases should be reinstated, report says
Analysis is latest in ongoing fight over 2008 land auction

A new analysis by an association representing oil and gas producers asserts the Department of the Interior thwarted the public process and "second-guessed" its own land managers when it yanked bids on oil and gas parcels sold at a controversial auction in Salt Lake City last December.

Despite "aggressive" environmental protections included in the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Management Plans, the Interior Department recommended eight leases for removal and 52 leases for deferral, disregarding scientific evidence and input from Utah stakeholders, according to the association.

"It's a sad day when politics trumps the expertise of professional land managers and the hard work of citizens to develop economic and resource-development plans that the community has embraced," said Kathleen Sgamma, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States spokeswoman. "If you're not listening to your land managers and the public, who are you listening to?"

The report, released Thursday, is the latest in a series of volleys fired back and forth among environmentalists, the oil and gas industry and the Interior Department on the heels of the auction that was marred by protests and the arrest of activist Timothy DeChristopher.

Two months after the auction, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pulled all 77 leases, saying they had been put on the table after a rushed "midnight" decision in the waning hours of the Bush administration. He later sent a hand-picked team led by Forest Supervisor Mike Stiles to Utah to conduct a review of the appropriateness of the leases offered at auction.
As a result of that review, Salazar removed eight parcels from consideration and put 52 more under additional review.

The petroleum association's 66-page analysis of Stiles' report found "no evidence" to support the resulting Interior Department decision and said Salazar showed a "lack of regard" for the seven-year public planning process that produced the Resource Management Plans.

Specific information for each parcel, location details, wilderness status and lease stipulations contained in the management plans are contained in the report, as well as a summary of why the association believes the parcel is appropriate for leasing.

One of the parcels, for example, was described as 160 acres with a western boundary located 4.5 miles from Canyonlands National Park, with existing state and federal leases between it and the park. The environmental protections mandated in the lease stipulation include air quality, paleontological resources and mitigation of impacts to endangered or threatened species such as the Mexican spotted owl.

"Based on this analysis, (the petroleum association) believes the 60 leases were legitimately sold at the December 2008 sale and should be reinstated to the winning bidders," the report said.

And here's a report from the AP earlier in the week:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A trade group says it's getting so hard to obtain an oil-and-gas lease in the Rocky Mountains that many drillers and land agents aren't even trying to buy one.
The criticism came after the government held an auction of public lands in Utah that was remarkable for how few parcels were offered or sold.

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States says drillers are scared that the administration of President Barack Obama will hold up a lease after it sells one, so they aren't bothering with the auctions.

The industry group also complains the new administration is doing little to clear a $100 million backlog of leases that were sold years ago but are being stifled by legal or bureaucratic review.

The energy crisis of a few years has abated for now, due to the global economic downturn. But it will return, and persist, in the years ahead. Spiking prices and short supplies will have Americans crying out for relief (remember the chants of "drill, baby, drill" that were heard not so long ago?) and wondering who's to blame. But energy obstructionists always can count on the amnesia of average Americans to shield them from blame when the uproar commences.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pyrrhic "Victories"

Bowing to pressure from Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and others, the U.S. Army will decline to appeal a court ruling that has the potential to curtail training activities at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. It's a decision that could come back to haunt Colorado, and Colorado Springs especially, the next time a commission is asked to close bases or downsize America's military footprint.

The rancher-activists who brought this suit -- which deals not with the proposed expansion, but with operations at the existing site -- are gleefully waiving their cowboy hats and yelping "yippee." "We keep winning all the battles (with the Army) but it's the war over Pinon Canyon that we're worried about," one of their leaders told the Chieftain. But the "victories" will be Pyrrhic if this lawsuit and all the continued (at this point, manufactured) controversy over expansion destroys Fort Carson's value and standing as a training facility, making it vulnerable to downsizing or eventual disappearance.

It was one thing to fight expansion -- I actually had some sympathy for the ranchers back when this all began. But now the activists (who, like many of these types, become somewhat addicted to it) seem intent not just on blocking expansion but on curtailing training activities at the old site. That goes too far in my book. But rather than calling for some sort of cease-fire, or negotiating a compromise, supposed-leaders like Sen. Bennet chose to ride the anti-Army bandwagon, irresponsibly playing politics with the issue.

The Army may one day find more hospitable confines in which to train. And the activist-ranchers who turned the Army into the enemy will once again be able to use these supposedly-precious lands for chasing cattle. They can continue living out a 19th Century lifestyle in splendid isolation, and economic stagnation, unfettered by modern intrusions or inconveniences, like having to ready fighting men and women for combat on an expanding battlefield.

They'll have won every battle against the Army -- but Colorado as a whole, and the readiness of U.S. fighting forces, will be the ultimate casualties.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Watch Your Behavior. TSA Will Be.

I wasn't the most easygoing air traveler even before 9-11. My customary rush not to miss the flight, combined with the dread that I'll get a middle seat, along with an active imagination about all that can go wrong during takeoff and landing, made me an edgy flier even under ideal circumstances. But the mostly-mindless security rituals imposed on air passengers since 9-11 have notched-up my stress level three fold, at least. Each running of the airport security gauntlet brings my blood to a slow boil, as I brood about the handful of homicidal maniacs who on that day turned America into a nation of sheep. I imagine the new indignities we'll endure if someone ever sets off an underwear bomb.

TSA conditioning hasn't completely worn me down yet. I still seethe each time I have to remove my shoes, empty my pocket change and metal jewelry into the plastic bowl, take off my belt, lift my cap, spread my arms, surrender the potentially-explosive hair products I left in my carry-on. I still chafe each time I have to take orders from some overly-officious TSA securacrat, who didn't have the right stuff to be a cop or flunked the CIA entrance exam and defaulted to this instead.

I seethe silently for the most part, because to rebel, or register anger or frustration -- to tell those glorified postal workers what you really think of this elaborate charade -- invites suspicion, retaliation, further delay. But sometimes -- when my wife isn't there to squeeze my arm or shoot be a disapproving look -- I act out on these frustrations and say or do something uncool. Like the time I dropped my pants after a wand-wielding TSA worker asked that I unbuckle my belt.

That's why I'm a little worried about recent reports that TSA "Behavior Detection Officers" will soon be fanning out to American airports, on the lookout for passengers who exhibit "erratic" or "suspicious" behavior. As someone who exhibits erratic behavior even when not passing through TSA checkpoints, but in the course of everyday life, I fear that airport visits are about to get worse.

From The Washington Post:

"FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- You might not see them, but they're studying you.

To identify potentially dangerous individuals, the Transportation Security Administration has stationed specially trained behavior-detection officers at 161 U.S. airports. The officers may be positioned anywhere, from the parking garage to the gate, trying to spot passengers who show an unusual level of nervousness or stress.

They do not focus on nationality, race, ethnicity or gender, said TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz. "We're not looking for a type of person, but at behaviors," she said.

Under the program, which started in Boston in 2003, a suspicious passenger might be given a secondary security screening or referred to police; detection officers do not have arrest powers."

My body language in an airport practically broadcasts tension, frustration, impatience and intolerance -- presenting the very picture of a homicidal hijacker on a martyrdom mission. I'm just the sort of brooding, jumpy, sweaty traveler some half-baked TSA behaviorist would pick out of a crowd. And my demeanor will only get more suspicious when I'm pulled aside by a TSA profiler -- armed with "four days of behavior training, which includes training to spot suicide terrorists, and . . . 24 hours of on-the-job preparation," according to the Post -- and subjected to additional search or interrogation. I'm likely to get mouthy. I'm likely to seem hostile. I'm likely to quickly have the TSA securacrat talking into his sleeve, calling for backup.

The Post cites several cases of TSA behaviorists flushing out suspicious characters:

"In one case, in March 2008, detection officers noticed a passenger about to board a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Charlotte, N.C. During a secondary screening, officers found 209 grams of the drug ecstasy, with a street value of $2.5 million, in a carry-on bag. The traveler was arrested.

In other instances, passengers have been arrested on charges of drug trafficking, possessing fraudulent documents and having outstanding warrants, Koshetz said.

In February 2008, detection officers at Miami International Airport noted that a passenger had suspicious documents and was acting oddly. When he was flagged for a secondary screening, he bolted.

Local police and TSA officers chased the man, who ran out of the terminal and jumped off a second-story road onto a sidewalk. He broke an arm and was arrested on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and possessing several identification documents."

Way to go, McGruff. But the paper doesn't cite a single case of profilers detecting an actual terrorist, or foiling a terror plot. A lot of suspicious characters travel through airports on any given day: a mule carrying cocaine; an illegal immigrant slipping into the country on a supposed business trip; someone high on ecstasy; a gambler heading to Vegas with $60,000 in cash. Some people may even begin to act suspicious in response to constantly being under state suspicion.

It's not TSA's job to apprehend anyone and everyone acting suspicious -- that casts too wide a net, in my view -- but to detect and foil potential terror plots against air passengers. And I doubt this new tack will be any more effective, in that regard, than TSA's mass confiscation of shampoo bottles and toenail clippers.