Sympathy for Bundy; respect for the rule of law

I agree with John that we should be sympathetic toward Cliven Bundy. I’m sympathetic toward anyone who is gouged by the federal government — a class, arguably, of millions. And the gouging of Bundy seems like a particularly egregious case.

But beyond the matter of sympathy lies the question of whether Bundy and/or his supporters would be justified in engaging in armed resistance if the federal government attempts to carry out the court orders with which they disagree.

I say that armed resistance would be wrong. As John explained, “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” Legally, he is required to pay the grazing fee and limit the grazing of his cattle. His claim that the federal government doesn’t own the land in question is simply wrong and has been rejected by the courts.

Bundy can refuse to pay the grazing fee, just as I can refuse to pay my taxes. But in a nation governed by the rule of law, non-compliance with the law has consequences. Armed resistance to those consequences is, as I say, wrong.

I agree with this passage from Abraham Lincoln, quoted today by Rich Lowry in connection with the Bundy matter:

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made. — I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.

So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

I can conceive of a “course of human events” in which armed resistance to our government would be justified. Fortunately, we are nowhere that point at the Bundy Ranch or anywhere else.

Annals of journalistic self-aggrandizement and congratulation

The Washington Post has received a Pulitzer public service medal for its role in revealing secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA).

It’s natural that journalists and those associated with them wish to celebrate this sort of disclosure. Their interest is in selling newspapers, conferring status on their profession, and influencing public policy (not necessarily in that order). Even assuming that they are also interested in promoting national security, any such general interest typically will take a backseat to more personally fulfilling motives.

But viewed from outside the self-congratulatory bubble of mainstream journalism, it seems outrageous for honors to be bestowed on those who, in Max Boot’s words, “served as the mouthpiece for one of the most destructive traitors in U.S. history.”

Liam Fox, a British MP and former secretary of state for defense, does nothing more than recite a truism when he states that “for our intelligence services to operate effectively, and to protect us from [national security] threats, they need to be able to do things in secret.” It follows that journalists tend to undermine the effectiveness of our intelligence services when they reveal what these services do in secret.

This has been the case with the revelations of Snowden and his journalist collaborators. According to Fox, “We have actually seen chatter among specific terrorist groups, at home and abroad, discussing how to avoid what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods and, consequently, how to select communications that they perceive not to be exploitable.”

Not to worry, though. Barton Gellman, who led the Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning team of reporters, is satisfied that he and his crew have “been as careful as we could be to balance the public interests in self-government and self-defense.”

At the risk of sounding churlish, I would ask, who elected Gellman to make decisions that profoundly affect America’s self-defense?

I would also note that Gellman has a huge personal stake in erring on the side of making disclosures that are harmful to America’s security. After all, no disclosure, no Pulitzer Prize. So even if it were a good idea for unelected people to be making these calls, Bart Gellman and his fellow journalists would be the wrong unelected people to make them.

But is it the case, as Gellman suggests, that our interest in “self-government” requires that the public know “the secret policy decisions the government is making for us”? Of course not.

Our interest in self-government is vindicated in cases like spying that require secrecy as long as the political process determines who makes the secret decisions and provides for checks against abuse. The work of NSA meets this test. It is conducted by the executive branch under the direction of our elected president and it is subject to review by the legislative branch, which is also elected.

As I argued in my review of Jack Goldsmith’s book Power and Constraint:

Our elected representatives have broad powers with which to ascertain what [surveillance] methods the executive is employing and with what efficacy. Thus, the executive can be held accountable without its secrets being splashed onto the front page of the newspaper.

Indeed, Gellman’s formulation of the issue is nonsensical. If the public learns “the secret policy decisions the government is making for us” regarding spying, then the government isn’t making secret policy decisions about spying. And if the government isn’t making its decisions about spying in secret, then it isn’t really spying.

Max Boot says that with its award to the Post, “the Pulitzer Prize board has. . .awarded a prize that deserves to be spoken of in the same conversation with its risible 1932 award to the New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty for articles whitewashing the evils of Stalinist Russia.”

I don’t think I would go that far. But I agree that this is “a pitiful Pulitzer pick.” Not a surprising one, though.

UPDATE: I wrote here about the harm Edward Snowden’s disclosures have caused, and how Congress has come to understand the extent of that harm.

On Evaporation, the Scientific Battle Rages

Since they lose pretty much every argument, the global warming fraudsters try to tell us that the science is settled, and we should all just shut up. In fact, however, debates over various aspects of climate science are constantly raging. This one is a great example: “Major Errors Apparent in Climate Model Evaporation Estimates.”

But first, let’s set the stage. It is generally accepted that ceteris paribus, increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will tend to increase global temperatures, slightly. The problem–from the warmists’ standpoint–is that the increase is trivial, 1 degree C tops. So the only way the alarmists can create frightening scenarios is by hypothesizing positive feedback effects that will increase that one degree to six or seven. It is easy to devise a model that incorporates extravagant feedback assumptions, and therefore will kick out scary predictions. Fantasy in, fantasy out.

In fact, there is a vigorous debate about feedbacks: What are they? Are they positive or negative? If positive (or negative), what is their magnitude? Science does not yet give us the answers to these questions. So the debate goes on. This analysis suggests that the alarmists’ models have failed to deal properly with evaporation, and that may account for the fact that they have proved to be wildly inaccurate. It is instructive to read the entire post, and then the comments. Having done so, contemplate the liberals’ hysterical insistence that the debate is over. In fact, as any rational observer can see, the debate has barely begun:

The physics of evaporation has complications related to what happens at the water / air interface such as wind speed and wave action. However if these factors remain constant, how evaporation changes with temperature and humidity can be estimated with well-known equations based on how water vapor pressure varies with temperature. For example, at a typical ocean temperature of 17 C, it should increase about 6.5% / C if the water vapor increases to maintain relative humidity, that the climate models indicate. If the surface air tracks the water within ± 2 C, the rate varies from 6.2% to 6.9% / C. Data over oceans by Wentz et, al (2007) report values of about 6% / C.

But the complex computer climate models show averages of only about 2.5% / C. There are no claims of reduced wind speeds or wave action or increased relative humidity to explain this. However many papers on the subject claim that the available energy is limiting evaporation in these models. But physics theory tells us that the latent energy for evaporation comes from the temperature of the water itself. The latent heat leaving the surface cools it and deposits heat in the atmosphere, part of which escapes to outer space. This combination causes negative feedback. The reduced net energy from increased CO2 still warms the surface, but this energy can’t be separated from what aids the final increased evaporation. A 6% / C increase applies to the water after the negative feedback is complete. Do the climate models ignore this cooling and feedback process? …

[T]he developers of the climate models seem to be confusing independent and dependent variables. Evaporation is the driver or forcing agent controlled by the physics at the surface, and G and D must respond to a change in it. If the surface temperature rises, the additional latent heat lost at the surface will cause an offsetting decrease in the temperature and thus G. And the latent heat deposited in the atmosphere warms it and increases the downwelling radiation, D (and the outgoing radiation). We now have a feedback process at work. Equation (1) can only be used as a check after a correct solution is found to new values of E, D and G after the feedback process is complete. It appears there is a serious error in how climate models estimate evaporation as indicated in the rest of this paper.

We have developed a dynamic three level energy balance model (reference 1) with updates as described later that can be used for a number of forcings and feedbacks including the response to changes in evaporation and the cooling of the surface and the warming of the atmosphere.

The results are shown on the next page. No energy constraints of evaporations are seen. …

It appears the climate models are grossly underestimating the negative feedback from latent heat transfer. For case 3 in the table above, the feedback multiplier of 1.57 / 2.70 = 0.581 implies a feedback factor for a change in evaporation of 6% / C of –0.720 C / C. This corresponds to the IPCC value for water vapor of 1.8 Wm-2 / C divided by their value of l of 3.2 to give a feedback factor of +0.562 C / C. …

The IPCC has a positive cloud feedback of 0.69 Wm-2 / C with a very large range. But it is not based on reduced clouds with warming, but as a residual of the amount of warming the models can not explain by the other feedbacks (Soden and Held (2006), p 3357, paragraph 2). So this is not a true estimate of cloud feedback. Eliminating it and replacing the lapse rate feedback with our evaporation feedback cuts the IPCC feedback multiplier from 2.48 down to 0.910.

There is much, much more, replete with equations and calculations. Is this analysis correct? I am not competent to judge, but it is obvious even to the casual observer that all of the real climate science is currently being done by the realists, not the alarmists. Far from being complete, our understanding of the Earth’s climate is in its infancy. The last thing we should do at this point is be guided by politically-motivated charlatans who try to shut down the process of scientific inquiry.

Trotsky Was Right

I am no fan of Trotsky, but he was right about one thing: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Many Americans seem to think that they can swear off foreign policy, but it isn’t that easy. I wrote on Sunday about Iran’s inexorable march toward nuclear capability, as proclaimed openly by its own leaders.

In Ukraine, events seem to be moving toward a climax, as the government has sent troops into the eastern part of the country to oppose pro-Russian forces that have seized various government facilities. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev says that Ukraine is “on the brink of civil war.” I think everyone takes that as a threat; whether Russia will follow through on the threat and annex eastern Ukraine, we do not yet know. If they do, there is nothing we can do about it.

In Nigeria, Muslim terrorists bombed the Nyanya bus station, killing more than 70 people.


In another incident in northeastern Nigeria, a Muslim terrorist group attacked a girls’ school, kidnapping 100 or more teenage girls for use as slaves.

Today is the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. It was treated, for the most part, like the anniversary of a natural disaster. There was plenty of praise for the courage of the survivors, and hardly any reference to the people who perpetrated the attack and their ideology.

Coincidentally, the New York Police Department announced today that it is disbanding the unit that conducted surveillance of Muslim groups and neighborhoods. The New York Times describes this action, probably correctly, as part of a general scaling back of anti-terrorism measures that were taken in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Here in the U.S., retreat from the world is the order of the day. Unfortunately, the world may not choose to cooperate. If there is a nation in which war is all too interested, it is ours.

We Need Another Koch Brother!

The Associated Press tabulates Federal Election Commission findings, and finds that Democrats have opened up a big advantage among outside groups:

Deep-pocketed donors are turning over multimillion-dollar checks to influence November’s elections, and the sums raised by the national parties and their super PAC allies are already approaching the $1 billion mark, according to financial reports still being filed Tuesday evening. …

Democrats, at least for the moment, seem to have a roughly 3-to-1 advantage over Republicans in cash raised and banked through independent groups, according to the early filings.

These filings do not include 501(c)(4)s, so Americans For Prosperity, for example, is not included. But they illuminate an important point: labor unions and rich liberals give Democrats a huge fundraising advantage. Conservatives and Republicans need groups like AFP to come anywhere near evening the odds. Which is why the Democrats are so eager to shut down the 501(c)(4)s. They want their massive spending advantage back.

Nice Break If You Can Get It [With Dissent by John]

Bacon copyI know I wasn’t alone when I heard the news last year that Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” had sold for a staggering $142 million at an art auction.  Who could have been the buyer?  Surely a Russian oligarch, or a Silicon Valley techillionaire.  Turned out to be Elaine Wynn, the ex-wife of casino magnate Steve Wynn.  (That must have been some divorce settlement.)

The next bit of news was even more unusual: Wynn, who lives in Las Vegas, immediately loaned out the painting for exhibition in . . . Portland, Oregon.  Not the most predictable place for such an expensive piece of art.

But today the New York Times reveals the real reason for the circuitous route the art is taking: Wynn stands to avoid $11 million in Nevada “sales and use” taxes by loaning out the painting in another state first:

By shipping the painting first to Oregon, instead of her home in Las Vegas, the new owner, Elaine Wynn, may be eligible to avoid as much as $11 million in Nevada use taxes, though it is not clear whether she intends to take advantage of the break.

Collectors typically learn of this strategy only through savvy lawyers, dealers and auction specialists. But within the circle of people who know of the practice, it generates debate between those who appreciate how it fosters public access to art and those who suggest that such access comes at too high a price to unwitting taxpayers.

For example, do taxpayers in, say, California even understand that they have given up millions of dollars in tax revenue over the years to, in effect, underwrite the display of paintings in other states?

Just another indicator of how taxes are for little people (Trademark: Glenn Reynolds).

JOHN adds: Hmm, I see this one a little differently. No doubt Steve Wynn has paid astonishing amounts of taxes. The real break here is getting hundreds of millions of dollars (at a minimum) in a divorce settlement. Still, whether she earned the money in the first instance or not, I would rather see wealth in the hands of nearly any private citizen than the government’s. While taxes may be a necessary evil, tax avoidance (not evasion) is a positive good.

STEVE rebuts!: Hey, I’m for avoiding taxes by any (legal) means possible, so good for the ex-Mrs. Wynn.  But my narrower point is that only the very rich are able to do this.  Try it with a car or some other big-ticket product you buy out of state and see how far you get.  It’s like the estate tax, too: I believe the Kennedy family has, over the decades, paid less than $200,000 in estate taxes.  If we didn’t have special circumstances that very rich people overwhelmingly exploit, we might actually get some real tax reform.

Is Scott Walker on his way to 2016 front-runner status?

Scott Walker has a 16 point lead (56-40) among likely voters in his race for governor, according to a poll from Wisconsin Public Radio/St. Norbert’s. Among registered voters, his lead is essentially the same (55-40).

The survey was conducted between March 24 and April 3. A Marquette University survey conducted between March 20-23 also showed Walker with a nice, though smaller, lead. In that poll, Walker outdistanced Democrat Mary Burke 48-41.

Revealingly, Walker fares well in an electorate that does not seem particularly conservative and that, if anything, appears to be slightly to the left of American voters in general. Among those surveyed in the WPR/St. Norbert’s poll, 48 percent had a favorable view of President Obama; 50 percent had an unfavorable view. Obama generally fares worse than that in national polling. In addition, Wisconsin’s liberal Senator Tammy Baldwin had a positive rating — 44 percent approve; 33 percent disapprove.

In this context, Walker’s popularity is particularly striking. 59 percent approve of his performance, while only 39 percent disapprove.

Walker’s approval numbers basically track the right direction/wrong direction numbers for his State. 57 percent said that Wisconsin is moving in the right direction, while 38 percent said its moving in the wrong direction. By contrast only 32 percent believe the United States is moving in the right direction. 63 percent think we’re moving the other way.

Let’s assume that Scott Walker is reelected decisively in November. In that event, it’s clear that he will receive a boost among Republicans nationally.

The buzz among Republican accompanying a big Walker victory would probably dwarf the considerable buzz that followed Chris Christie’s runaway win in New Jersey. Many conservatives had serious doubts (or worse) about the New Jersey governor even when he was riding high. No serious doubts exist for Walker, although most conservatives will want to learn more before embracing him as a presidential candidate.

The other thing that accompanied Christie’s big win was intense scrutiny from the mainstream media. Suddenly, his campaign for local office 20 years ago became an issue. Even his high school baseball career received attention.

Scott Walker is in for the same treatment. Indeed, it has already started.

But Walker is a less inviting target than Christie. He carries himself with more humility and less bravado (which isn’t difficult). And he has been cautious in speaking about issues that don’t relate directly to Wisconsin.

I expect that, with a solid victory in November, Scott Walker will become the effective front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. By effective front-runner, I mean the most likely nominee (assuming he wants the nomination), not necessarily the Republican who polls the best in early surveys.

To the extent that polls show Walker likely to get his solid victory, he can perhaps already be considered the effective front-runner.