Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel Smears Star-Ledger Article and its Contributors for Excluding Climate Religion from Hurricane Analysis

On September 22, 2017, the New Jersey Star-Ledger published an interesting article, Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive by Len Melisurgo. The article cited the combination of factors, including unusually warm ocean temperatures, lack of wind shear, and the positions of high pressure systems to explain the severity and number of this year’s tropical storms.

Not everyone was happy. New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, for example, wrote a Star-Ledger guest column blasting Melisurgo and the Star-Ledger:

In response to the article “Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive”: This article discusses factors that have made this hurricane season one of the worst in history, but fails to mention the importance of climate change.

Climate change is playing a very serious role in this year’s devastating hurricane season. Forecasters predicted a more active hurricane season to begin with because of climate- change projections. Specifically, it is linked to warmer ocean temperatures. By denying climate change, we’re denying our future and allowing ourselves to become more vulnerable to larger and more frequent hurricanes

In a highly misleading paragraph, Tittel cites “more named storms per year in the last decade than the last 100 years” (without mentioning that more storms are detectable due to modern technology, like satellites, and more people able to observe them); “massive amounts of damage to communities and the environment from these storms” (without mentioning increased development and federal flood insurance); “four of the most devastating storms in history coming all within a few weeks of each other (which is explained convincing in Melisurgo’s article). “Hurricane Harvey had the most rain ever (actually, on record for Texas, not ever—and because the storm stalled out over Texas and Louisiana, not because it’s rainfall was unusual from a hurricane), Irma was the biggest storm in the Atlantic (but not the most intense, which was the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane), and Maria devastated Puerto Rico (the same Puerto Rico that has been hit with 28 hurricanes since 1950, 13 of them major).” He then says: “We can’t deny the impact that climate change is having on storm events.”

In conclusion, Tittel writes: “The Christie administration’s continuing denial of climate change is a denial of our future. Our state climatologist [David Robinson] works for the Christie administration and won’t even acknowledge the dangers of climate change.”

Tittel’s article has not yet been published online. But I left the following comments on Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive, edited and expanded for clarity:

In light of a guest column by Jeff Tittel criticizing this article for “fail[ing] to mention the importance of climate change,” I want to thank Len Melisurgo for an objective, informative article on the combination of atmospheric and oceanic conditions that cause active hurricane seasons like the current one.

And I want to thank Michael Priante and David Robinson for their expert contributions to the article.

I especially want to thank Robinson, who was specifically criticized by Jeff Tittel for not blaming climate change for the hurricane activity. Tittel asserted that “Climate change is playing a very serious role in this year’s devastating hurricane season.” But that is a faith-based assertion, not a scientific fact. Much research refutes that claim, including an August 2017 report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saying that “It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.” NOAA notes that various modeling indicates future hurricane numbers and intensity is likely to increase in the 21st Century due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, with potential increases ranging from moderate to extreme, depending on the models used. But that is speculation, not scientifically demonstrated fact. Furthermore, the IPCC reports,

  • "There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century”
  • “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”

It would be an insult to the readers to include climate change as a cause, without evidence, in an article about this year’s hurricanes. I would have immediately stopped reading and moved on if climate change was mentioned, having judged the article as unserious. Tittel has an irrational bias against fossil fuels, and his motives are political and dogmatic—bordering on religious zealotry. Robinson works for the government. In America, we have the separation of religion and state. Robinson would have not only distorted the issue if he followed Tittel’s advice. He would have come close to violating a key American principle.

Thanks again for the article. As a long-time weather buff, I hope you keep up the good work.

Related Reading:

A Carbon Tax Won't Stop Hurricanes—James Agresti for FEE

No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.

NOAA states that North Atlantic tropical storms show a “pronounced upward trend” since 1878, but this is because these records are “relatively sparse” in their early decades. After NOAA adjusts for the “estimated number of missing storms,” the trend in storm activity is “not significantly distinguishable from zero.” Furthermore, NOAA notes that the upward trend in the unadjusted data

is almost entirely due to increases in short-duration storms alone. Such short-lived storms were particularly likely to have been overlooked in the earlier parts of the record, as they would have had less opportunity for chance encounters with ship traffic.

With regard to the most intense storms, NOAA reports that “the reported numbers of hurricanes were sufficiently high during the 1860s-1880s that again there is no significant positive trend in numbers beginning from that era…. This is without any adjustment for ‘missing hurricanes.’”

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Falsely Smearing the Right as Anti-Immigrant

Last Fall, a call went out to boycott yogurt company Chobani because its immigrant founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, hires immigrant refugees.

The New York Times blames the boycott on “the extreme right.” Likewise, the New Jersey Star-Ledger blames “far-right bigots” and “nativist crazies” for the boycott. The Times also blames xenophobia, because only Chibani is being targeted even though many companies have pledged to hire refugees.

The Star-Ledger is right on the issue, but as usual waters down its message—in this case by sarcastically pointing out that Ulukaya “didn't start out with a $14 million loan from his father”—a stab at Trump—and criticisms of Trump’s business practices. It’s true that Trump stoked anti-immigrant fever in America. But what do Trump’s prior personal business practices have to do with the boycott?

The Star-Ledger also writes, near the end:

Why pick on Chobani? Likely because its CEO is an immigrant, and instead of "stealing jobs," a favorite right-wing talking point, he's created thousands of them. Human Rights Watch just called him "a xenophobe's nightmare."

By then I had had enough of the Star-Ledger’s mischaracterization of the boycott movement. So I left these comments:

I take issue with equating xenophobia with “the right wing.” The central hallmark of the Right is support for free market capitalism, which encompasses free trade and free migration. Pro-capitalists understand the enormous contributions that the “fresh blood” of immigration has and does make to America. That cannot happen without a robust capitalist nation that protects individual rights. Free trade and free migration among nations at peace with one another are two sides of the same capitalist coin: they are not only economically good, they are moral imperatives that are central to the concept of human rights. Also, Rightists don’t talk in ridiculous terms like “stealing jobs.” Job creators and their employees are not stealing jobs from anyone, no matter where they came from.

Anti-immigrant populism is in fact a hallmark of the social conservatives, not the political Right (even though social conservatives are usually lumped in with “the far Right”). Furthermore, xenophobia is alive and well on the Left. Bernie Sanders routinely rails against free trade, and he represents a wide swath of the Left as evidenced by his nearly upending Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination. Free trade is nothing more that Americans trading with foreigners. Sanders is as much a “nativist crazie” for his anti-free trade stance as the Chobani boycotters are for their anti-immigrant stance.

I also want to point out that Hamdi Ulukaya is not the only “billionaire who actually looks out for the little guy” (the elitist Left’s derogatory term for hard-working, self-supporting middle class Americans). With few exceptions, virtually every modern billionaire made his fortune creating mass market products that benefit millions of average folks, building great businesses that create millions of jobs in the process. Most billionaires, and businessmen/entrepreneurs generally, make the world a much better place. It makes no difference whether he got his start with a large loan from his father or a small business loan. It’s what he makes of it that counts. If Ulukaya had started with a $14 million loan, his fortune would undoubtedly be even larger.

My wife and I have and will continue to enjoy Chobani yogurt. As a radical Right-winger, I say thank you Hamdi Ulukaya. Unlike the Star-Ledger, I mean it. Unlike the Star-Ledger, I’m not aligned with the envy crowd that crusades for the government to forcibly redistribute your wealth in the name of fighting income inequality. I support your right to keep, use, and pass on your fortune as you see fit. You earned it.

Related Reading:

A Note to the Right regarding the “Alt-Right”—Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard

The Vital Function of the Left-Right Political Spectrum—Craig Biddle for The Objective Standard

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

‘Climate Denier’: The Leitmotif of the Climate Propagandist

We are in the midst of the most active hurricane season in years. Inevitably, this brought out the climate propagandists. In White House says now isn't the time to talk climate change. Except, it is—a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column—Stuart Shapiro, “a professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University,” writes, in part:

Scientists and advocates of climate change policy need to learn from advocates of restricted immigration and anti-terror policies. The scientists have a much stronger case to make.

Unfortunately, scientists have generally done the exact opposite. They have made it all too easy for climate deniers like [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt and [Senator James] Inhofe. Whenever there is a big storm like Harvey, Irma, Jose or Maria, scientists correctly point out that individual weather events cannot be attributed to a global phenomenon like climate change.

While this is true in an absolute sense, these comments have the effect of giving climate deniers ammunition in their anti-science crusade.

Shapiro goes on to repeat the mantra, “scientists say”—that storms like Harvey, Irma, and Jose “made storms of this magnitude more likely and more deadly” because of climate change (although there is no evidence that the worsening is happening yet), and sneaks in the premise that since climate is changing, it automatically follows that governments must impose policies to “combat climate change.”

“Climate denier” is the leitmotif of the propagandist. Whenever I see that slogan, I know I’m dealing with an unserious opinion article. Besides being a strawman, the slogan brushes aside opposing viewpoints by smearing opponents so their views are not even considered. Why? To avoid the compelling case they represent. Some of the questions that must be asked, but that climate propagandists like shapiro evade, are:

  • To the extent climate change is human caused, does it follow that “policy measures to combat climate change” should be pursued? What would be the financial and human costs of such draconian steps as forcibly restricting and ultimately outlawing fossil fuels, as opposed to a policy of “benign neglect”; pursuing pro-freedom, pro-growth energy policies that enable people to flourish while adapting to climate change?
  • Is climate change truly global, or is it regional?
  • Is climate change really catastrophic, or is it mild and manageable?
  • How much of climate change is natural, and how much is human caused?
  • Is climate change uniformly bad? What are the positive effects of global warming?
  • Are fossil fuels uniformly bad? What are the positives of fossil fuels?
  • Shouldn’t we consider the catastrophic human effects of these “policy measures to combat climate change”, as opposed to the risks of speculated marginal increases in severity of storms?
  • Why is “scientists say” an argument for combating climate change, while “scientists say” is not an argument for prioritizing human flourishing and progress?
  • How does the intensity of current climate change stack up against the historical march of climate change?
  • How much of the destruction wrought by hurricanes is a result of government policies like federal flood “insurance,” as opposed to climate change?

These and other questions are rarely addressed by the propagandists of the climate change movement. That’s because their motivations are either political (they want more power), or philosophically anti-humanist (they oppose human influence or alterations on the pre-human environment on principle, including climate, regardless of human needs). Either way, they can’t handle opposing viewpoints, and so refuse to acknowledge they even exist.

The very fact that Shapiro wants to steer the reader away from Pruitt and Inhofe, and thus their expert scientific, economic, moral, and energy sources, should be a wakeup call that these men have something uncomfortably (or is it inconveniently?) important to say that the climate catastrophists don’t want to address. But there is another view, and there is a mountain of serious well-documented work from individuals and think tanks and scientists to back it up. A good place to start is with two books, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein and The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century by Ronald Bailey.

Yes, it’s “time to talk climate change.” It’s time to move beyond the “climate denier” propagandists, so we have have a full and balanced talk. The Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy states on its mission page, “The Bloustein ethic engages those who do their jobs not just honorably, but with a passion for their work that alters their surroundings. The Bloustein School seeks to foster new research and thinking that achieve both scholarly recognition and public acceptance.” Maybe Shapiro should start to honor that mission.

Related Reading:

A Carbon Tax Won't Stop Hurricanes: Some say man-made global warming is increasing the strength and frequency of hurricanes, but it isn't.—James Agresti

The Truth About Climate Change—Andrew Bernstein

The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century—Ronald Bailey

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Collectivism Generates Irrational Hatred

Kristin Vanderhey Shaw has a pretty good article in the washington Post, How to teach our kids not to hate, despite all the hate they’re exposed to this election. Here are some opening excerpts:

It takes very little effort for a child to learn to hate. It’s the status quo, after all, according to the often-repeated phrases “girls can be mean” or “boys will be boys,” usually accompanied by a shrug implying “that’s just how it is.” Teaching kids to not hate is much harder. It takes effort, and work. Family doctor and parenting expert Deborah Gilboa says many people assume that children learn hate and racism and xenophobia at home, but that’s not always the case.

“Young children and cautious children often have an inherent distrust of that which they don’t recognize as familiar — people, and also food, activities and so on. As parents, it’s our job to help our children respect others and learn to see differences as interesting, not scary,” says Gilboa. “We have to teach our kids to avoid sweeping generalizations about people — by gender, by religion, by culture, by race.”

I think Shaw is on the right track but her article is incomplete. The two words missing from this excellent article are collectivism and individualism. Both are implied. But I believe it’s important to conceptualize in concrete (word) form what we are talking about. Collectivism and individualism fit the bill.

I define collectivism as the idea that the primary focus of moral concern is the group. This leads to the kind of dehumanizing generalization discussed in the article. I define individualism as the idea that the primary focus of moral concern is the individual. This leads people to evaluate others according to individual character rather some racial, economic, or other group association. (It is important to note that collectivism does not mean teamwork and cooperation, and individualism does not mean lone wolfism.) We need to understand explicitly that collectivism leads to sweeping generalizations like “girls can be mean” or “boys will be boys,” and that individualism leads to the mindset that no individual represents every person in a demographic.

Unfortunately, collectivism is being promoted in the name of inclusion. The diversity campaigns promote the idea that racial or cultural heritage matters in judging people. People are diverse according to many individual characteristics. But racial/cultural identity is not a relevant characteristic. Though well-meaning, highlighting racial/cultural identity promotes collectivism and thus makes it easier to slip into an us/them mindset, which in turn makes it easier to hate entire groups. In short, we must conceptualize—collectivism, bad; individualism, good.

Related Reading:

Friday, October 13, 2017

More on the Colorado Baker

CONTINUED From My Last Post,  RE: The 2013 case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial titled Bigotry motivated by religion is still bigotry, and my response to selected rebuttals to my comments.

Exit2.5 commented:

Your comments are so wrong for so many legal reasons its not worth saying more than this

Businesses cannot simply refuse whomever it wants for any reason. That's why there is a civil rights act federally and nondiscrimination laws in states. Do some mental exercises before you go on a tirade to embarrass yourself... [sic]

I usually don’t reply to these types of comments, which rely on unsupported authoritarian assertions and ad hominem without actually refuting a single one of my points. But the implication is that I don’t understand the full implications of my case. So I thought it good to be very clear on where I stand. I left this reply:

Something isn’t right simply because it’s “legal.” Slavery was once legal. Legally enforced separate-but-equal discrimination [segregation] was once the law.  I’m well aware of the anti-discrimination laws, and I have disagreements. Anti-discrimination statutes are valid only when applied to government. Anti-discrimination laws targeted at the private sector are generally not. I’m fully aware of the broader implications of my argument, and I stand by them. The question you evade is still: What right does the government have to force that baker to serve a product that violates his conscience?

Exit2.5 came back with:

Separate but equal is exactly what exactly you are advocating yet you can't see it...telling this gay couple to go to another bakery that won't turn them away based on sexual orientation is akin to telling blacks to use another water might not like this example but it is the same. That's why the federal government has to pass civil rights act...the civil rights amendments were not enough...

If I refuse to provide a service to an interracial heterosexual couple because I don't believe in their marriage, am I within my conscienable right to do so? Yes...but the government has every right to press legal action against me....that's not even a question. I haven't evaded the just can't understand the answer. [sic]

My reply:

“Separate but equal is exactly what you are advocating. . .”

Absolutely not!! You must distinguish between government and private action. Government is force. Private is voluntary. The distinction is as stark as night and day—and the difference between tyranny and freedom. Separate but equal is a legal doctrine established by court order and enforced by government across the board by law (and was rightly abolished). A private entity—a bakery, for example—cannot enforce its standards beyond its own business. The government did enforce its segregation edicts across all of society. A gay couple can go elsewhere for their cake, and the baker can do nothing about it. Under separate-but-equal, the government can and did forcibly segregate blacks and whites, whether private individuals/businesses agreed or not, under threat of throwing anyone who disobeyed into a cage.

A baker that refuses to serve a customer is not a threat. A government that can enforce obedience to its edicts is—which is why we need constitutional protections limiting government power. We do not need protection from that baker. [I addressed the issue in There is No Parallel Between the Private Right to Discriminate Against Gays and Jim Crow Laws.]

By the way, I’m not against civil rights laws, so long as they are designed to protect individual rights—which means to protect us against force, fraud, and the like. There is no right to material goods that others must be forced to provide. There is no right to enslave, on any level.

Related Reading:

Court Violates Cake Baker’s Right Not to Serve Gay Weddings—Ari Armstrong for The Objective Standard

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

‘Bigotry Motivated by Religion is Still Bigotry’—True, but Still an Individual Right

The 2013 case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for the wedding of a same-sex couple—Charlie Craig and David Mullins—has reached the Supreme Court. The baker, Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was ordered by a Colorado court to serve the gay wedding cake after the couple filed a discrimination complaint. His attornies appealed, and the case is now before the highest court.

Here is a lengthy excerpt from a New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial titled Bigotry motivated by religion is still bigotry:

[T]he Department of Justice . . . joined the coming Supreme Court debate over whether business owners can refuse service for a same-sex couple on grounds of free speech and religious freedom. It filed an amicus brief that argues that the State of Colorado violated the rights of Jack Phillips after he had been cited for discrimination for refusing to do for two men what he does for every other affianced duo.

Longstanding Colorado state law prevents public accommodations - even bakeries - from refusing service based on marital status or sexual orientation.

Most states have similar protections, in fact. They figured that James Madison settled this a few centuries ago, when he wrote, "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship."

The brief included such pearls as, "a custom wedding cake is not an ordinary baked good; its function is more communicative and artistic than utilitarian." Seriously. It was part of the argument that this is a First Amendment issue because baking a cake is "expressive conduct," and Phillips should not be compelled to enter the "creative process" for LGBT people.

The DOJ's other point is that Phillips' right to free religion is being violated, which is an eternally fatuous argument. Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose these beliefs on others who don't share them.

Phillips is likely a sincere fellow who has strong beliefs, but a bakery isn't a church, and he's not being forced to endorse gay marriage. He's not there to officiate, he's there to make pastry.

This is not about his religious freedom, it's about people who want to discriminate against others in private transactions . . .

I left these comments:

First, let me state what I agree with: Bigotry motivated by religion is still bigotry. That’s true.

And that’s where both sides go off the rails.

This is a First Amendment issue. But contrary to the Trump Administration, this is not fundamentally a freedom of religion issue. Nor is it a freedom of speech issue. It is most fundamentally a freedom of association issue. Commercial contract is a specie of freedom of association. As a private citizen, a business owner has a right to serve, or not serve, whom he wants for any reason—just as a consumer has a right to patronize, or not patronize, whatever business he wants for whatever reason. Bigotry may be immoral. But it is an individual right, so long as the bigot doesn’t violate anyone else’s individual rights.

And the baker is not violating anyone’s rights. The Star-Ledger is half right when it says we don’t have “the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose these beliefs on others who don't share them.” We do have a right to discriminate based on our conscientious beliefs, religious or secular. But we don’t have the right to “impose these beliefs on others who don't share them.” So, why is the state of Colorado seeking to impose marriage beliefs on that private baker, in defiance of the baker’s beliefs, on behalf of same-sex couples? And why does the Star-Ledger support that effort? The baker is the victim. Same-sex couples are free to go elsewhere. There is a fundamental double standard here. The cause of the double standard is to consider only religious convictions. What about non-religious matters of conscience? If it is wrong for religionists to impose their conscientious convictions about marriage on civil society by legally banning gay marriage, why is it not equally wrong for supporters of legalized gay marriage to impose their conscientious convictions on society by legally forcing Christian bakers to serve gay weddings? The answer is: It is just as wrong either way. Forcing that baker to serve the two men’s wedding cake means essentially making the baker their slave and the two men the baker’s masters.

Madison is right: "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship." So why does the Star-Ledger support abridging the rights of the Baker on account of religious belief? I am a strong supporter of marriage equality. I cheered the Supreme Court ruling invalidating the barbaric laws banning same-sex marriage. I would boycott that bakery, as is my right. But I don’t get to force those beliefs on others, by government force of law—and neither does anyone else. The Star-Ledger claims to support “legal protections for every minority group.” But rights don’t belong to groups. They belong to individuals. America is a nation based on individual rights, not collective (or tribal) “rights.” Since the individual is the smallest minority in any society, anyone who violates individual rights cannot claim to be a protector of minority groups of individuals.

It’s true that “nowhere can you find the ‘art of baking’ as part of the Constitution's free-speech guarantee.” Nor can you find “the art of baking” as part of the Constitution’s free-association guarantee. But don’t forget, the same James Madison insisted on including the Ninth Amendment, which states very unequivocally, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” The government should and does guarantee equal protection of the law, which includes the right to live by one’s conscience, so long as one’s actions don’t violate the same rights of others. But while we have a right to equal treatment from our government, we do not have a right to equal treatment from our fellow private citizens. Government should never be in the position of dictating which personal beliefs are acceptable, and which are not—or who we may associate with, and who we may not. That’s the path to dictatorship, including theocracy—not a free society.

The Trump Administration is Constitutionally on the right side of the issue, but for the wrong reasons. The Star-Ledger is morally on the right side of the issue, but Constitutionally on the wrong side.  I don’t like having to defend the rights of a religious bigot. But individual rights are the foundation of freedom and justice, and defending rights means defending all people’s rights equally and at all times—including people with whom one stridently disagrees.


I want to clarify that last paragraph. When I said “The Star-Ledger is morally on the right side of the issue,” I meant on how Phillips used his judgement. Phillips of course has the moral right to act on his own judgement—even an objectively wrong or immoral judgement. Gay marriage is in no way immoral, so refusing to serve a gay couple is morally wrong, in my view. That doesn’t mean Phillips has no moral right not to serve the couple. A moral right to act on an immoral judgement may sound like an oxymoron, but it most definitely is not. A right is itself a moral principle the purpose of which is to sanction the individual’s freedom of action in a social context. A right doesn’t guarantee that every individual’s action will be moral, just that he can take the action. If my last sentence read “But individual rights are the moral foundation of freedom and justice . . .,” the insertion of the word “moral” would have at least implied the correct relation between personal morals,  moral rights, and political freedom.

I think Phillips will lose, for two reasons. His case sidesteps the most fundamental issue involved—freedom of contract, a derivative of freedom of association. Second, I don’t think the court will begin carving out religious or free speech exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. That will open up an enormous can of worms. (Nor should they. I give my reasons against special carve-outs here, and present opposing views here).

I’ll address some comments made in rebuttal to my post next.

Related Reading:

Court Violates Cake Baker’s Right Not to Serve Gay Weddings—Ari Armstrong for The Objective Standard