Is “Sustainability” Sustainable?

I recall taking in a British comedy sketch on TV over in London many years ago that featured the familiar device of an “interview” with a historical figure—in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The deadpan interviewer asked, “I suppose you’ll be going around doing your usual miracles again—raising the dead, healing the sick, turning water into wine, and so forth?

NAS Cover copyTo which Jesus replies with a qualification: “Yes—but strictly within the limits of sustainable development.” Which makes all the more propitious the release today of a copious report from the National Association of Scholars on the religious fervor for “sustainability” on college campuses today. The report is entitled Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism, and I heartily recommend it.

The irony is obvious: few things are less “sustainable” today that the business model of many colleges and universities. I’m sure Sweet Briar College emphasized sustainability. (Yup—they do did. Heh.) The basic idea of “sustainable development”—meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs—is fine in the abstract, but you’ll note that definition doesn’t give much practical guidance about whether you should drill that next gas well or harvest that stand of trees over there. I wrote at some length about this issue for The Public Interest over ten years ago; you can still find the article right here.

Here’s the central point: the best system for ensuring sustainability for future generation is . . . free market capitalism. Guess how many college courses on “sustainability” teach that point of view? You don’t even need both jazz hands moving to count them.

Environmental scientist Timothy O’Riordan warned in 1988 that “It may only be a matter of time before the metaphor of sustainability becomes so confused as to be meaningless, certainly as a device to straddle the ideological conflicts that pervade contemporary environmentalism.” Well, that time has come: like other concepts that could have been sensible and usable if done seriously, “sustainability” has become, as the NAS report notes, completely absorbed into the usual anti-capitalist ideology, and yet another pretext for the central environmental will to extend political control over people and resources:

The goals of the sustainability movement are different. They go far beyond ensuring clean air and water and protecting vulnerable plants and animals. As an ideology, sustainability takes aim at economic and political liberty. Sustainability pictures economic liberty as a combination of strip mining, industrial waste, and rampant pollution. It pictures political liberty as people voting to enjoy the present, heedless of what it will cost future generations. Sustainability’s alternative to economic liberty is a regime of far-reaching regulation that controls virtually every aspect of energy, industry, personal consumption, waste, food, and transportation. Sustainability’s alternative to political liberty is control vested in agencies and panels run by experts insulated from elections or other expressions of popular will.

Some day we’re going to look back on this whole period the same way we now regard the temperance movement and Prohibition. But, as with Prohibition, in the meantime a lot of criminal rackets are taking root.

Fifth Circuit schedules hearing in executive amnesty case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has issued an order that sets oral argument in Texas v. United States for April 17. This is the case in which Texas and other states challenge President Obama’s executive amnesty.

In district court proceedings, Judge Hanen temporarily enjoined the government from enforcing Obama’s program to grant lawful status to millions of illegal immigrants. The government has moved for a stay of that order, pending appeal.

The oral argument on April 17, for which two hours have been allocated, will pertain only to the government’s motion for a stay. As for the merits of the injunction, the Fifth Circuit’s order sets a briefing schedule and permits the filing of briefs by a number of amici, including Senators Cruz and Cornyn.

Meanwhile, Josh Blackman notices what he calls a “slight pivot” in the government’s legal argument in favor of staying Judge Hanen’s order:

Now, the government claims that [the executive order] is essential to national security, and that unless Judge Hanen’s order is put on hold, the government will be unable to secure the border and the homeland.

The essence of the government’s argument, as described by Blackman, is this:

In order to help Homeland Security agents quickly distinguish dangerous immigrants from those who pose no threat, the president had to grant. . .quasi-legal status to 5 million immigrants. Once the immigrants sign up. . .they will undergo background checks and receive a biometric ID, making it a lot easier for DHS agents to identify them.

Blackman dismisses this argument, which he deems a smokescreen. He’s probably right on the merits. However, the national security gambit may add a little weight to the government’s argument in favor of a stay, pending resolution of the merits.

Why spy

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous reported in a page-one story leaked by the Obama administration that “Israel spied on Iran talks with US” (accessible here via Google). John commented on the story here. I want to offer a few additional notes on the story:

• This “spying” story was leaked to Entous by “senior White House officials.” The leak complements the Obama administration’s public campaign against the Netanyahu government that is intended to defame and undermine it in advance of the deal in process with Iran, of which Israel is perhaps the most prominent public critic.

• In the wake of the Jonathan Pollard affair, the Israeli government adopted the policy that “Israel doesn’t conduct espionage operations in the United States, period.” Entous alludes to this deep in his story: “Current and former Israeli officials said their intelligence agencies scaled back their targeting of U.S. officials after the jailing nearly 30 years ago of American Jonathan Pollard for passing secrets to Israel.” (I’ll come back to this below.)

• Entous vaguely reports: “In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the [current and former US] officials said.” The implication that Israel was spying on the United States is nevertheless incendiary.

• A “senior US official” is quoted by Entous, for example, as referring to “Israel stealing US secrets[.]”

• “In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.” No detail regarding the alleged “eavesdropping” is provided.

• “The White House discovered the operation…when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.” So the United States “discovered the operation” in the course of spying on Israel. Even so, information from the talks might well have come from parties to the talks rather than from “eavesdropping.” Entous to the contrary notwithstanding, nothing in the story makes out “eavesdropping” on United States officials or even the talks themselves.

• Indeed, Entous reports in the seventh paragraph of his story: “Israeli officials denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators and said they received their information through other means, including close surveillance of Iranian leaders receiving the latest U.S. and European offers. European officials, particularly the French, also have been more transparent with Israel about the closed-door discussions than the Americans, Israeli and U.S. officials said.” I can’t find a single fact in Entous’s story that belies the Israeli denials.

• Entous also quotes a representative from Netanyahu’s office: “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

• In “Israel denies spying on Iran nuclear talks,” Jodi Rudoren and Michael Gordon report in the New York Times that three (named) top ministers of the Israeli government have denied the allegations.

• For example, the Times quotes defense minister Moshe Yaalon: “There is no such thing as Israel spying on the Americans,” the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said at a pre-Passover toast, according to a transcript provided by his office. Mr. Yaalon said he had checked and found no complaint from the United States to Israeli intelligence services about such spying. ‘There is a strict prohibition on that,’ he said.”

• Entous declares that his account of “the Israeli campaign” is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former US and Israeli diplomats, intelligence officials and, policy makes and lawmakers. “The Israeli campaign” to which Entous refers, however, is Israel’s campaign against the deal in process. He doesn’t claim to have more than a dozen sources for his “spying” allegations, which he has obviously taken straight from “senior White House officials.”

• Entous reports: “U.S. officials said Israel has long topped the list of countries that aggressively spy on the U.S., along with China, Russia and France. The U.S. expends more counterintelligence resources fending off Israeli spy operations than any other close ally, U.S. officials said.” He doesn’t provide any details regarding the “spy operations.”

• The United States “helped the Israelis build a system to listen in on high-level Iranian communications.” Israel’s information regarding the negotiations may well have derived from the interception of “high-level Iranian communications,” though Entous doesn’t comment on this possibility one way or the other.

In short, Entous’s story requires close reading. Despite its statements and implications, it leaves crucial questions open. Although the reported story is less than meets the eye, the story’s subtext is nevertheless newsworthy. The “operation” Entous tacitly reveals is the Obama administration’s ongoing operation to undermine and delegitimize the government of Israel.

FOOTNOTE: You might want to file this away for future reference: “’People feel personally sold out,’ a senior administration official said. ‘That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.’”

Crowley will not referee this fight

You may have heard that Mitt Romney will lace on boxing gloves and enter the ring to go toe to toe with former undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield in Salt Lake City on May 15, all in a good cause. The cause is Charity Vision. The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the event here.

Neil Cavuto asked Romney about the upcoming “fight” yesterday on his FOX News show yesterday afternoon. Alluding to his second 2012 debate with President Obama, Romney replied: ““I can fight anybody so long as Candy Crowley isn’t the referee” (video below).

Via David Rutz/Washington Free Beacon.

Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, and feminism

The Camille Paglia interview in which she recalls being denounced by feminists for taking too soft a line on the Rolling Stones song “Under My Thumb,” coupled with Steve’s reporting on “sexual paranoia in academe,” reminded me of an article by the feminist rock music critic Ellen Willis that appeared in the New Yorker more than 40 years ago. The late Ms. Willis, whose voice I miss, argued that “Under My Thumb” was less offensive to her as a feminist than “Wild World” by Cat Stevens.

Sure, the Jagger song is overtly sexist, with sadistic overtones. But “Wild World,” Willis thought, was worse because of its paternalistic insistence that, without the protection of a male, it would be “hard” for a young woman to “survive” in the “wild world.”

Jagger was singing about a particular relationship; Stevens was singing about the universal helplessness of young women.

I wonder how these songs might fare now, in the wild world of modern academe. Stevens’ hit should still fare well enough. After all, colleges now subscribe to, and maybe even insist upon, his view that women are fragile.

Also working in Stevens’ favor, perhaps, is the fact that he converted to Islam, became pro-Hamas, and referred to Judaism as a “so-called” religion.

But “Wild World” might nonetheless be problematic. Is it okay to warn women that “it’s a wild world” out there, a world where “a lot of nice things turn bad” and “it’s hard to get by just upon a smile”?

Someone prepare the cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, pillows, blankets, and video of frolicking puppies. I sense triggering.

“Under My Thumb” presumably would generate the same dismay on campus as in 1970, but without the likes of Paglia and Willis to offer a limited defense. Cookies, coloring books, bubbles, etc. are surely an insufficient antidote to Jagger’s hurtful words.

Not only does the song seem to glorify micro-aggressions (at a minimum), it is associated with real life macro-aggression. While the Stones played it during their infamous free concert at Altamont speedway, a fan who had been roughed up by members of Hells’ Angels (they were providing “security”) pulled a gun and was stabbed to death.

But wait! Sadomasochism apparently features as part of “sex week” at some certain colleges and universities. The “squirming dog” of a woman in Jagger’s song — the one who “does just what she’s told” and “talks [only] when she’s spoken to” — is, from all that appears, a consenting adult. If sadists and masochists haven’t yet emerged on campus as minorities whose lifestyles must be respected and even celebrated, it’s only a matter of time.

This won’t be enough to save “Under My Thumb,” though. Perhaps if Jagger had flipped the genders….

Oh, baby, baby, it’s a wild world.

Tweet of the Day [Updated]

Power Line Trigger Warning!  The following tweet is so ridiculous I could never have thought of it even after the best bottle of single malt in all of Scotland crossed with a supercharged tab of LSD.  But it may trigger convulsions of laughter and/or disgust, and our liability insurance does not cover this:

NUS Tweet copy

To which Jim Geraghty replied:

The Latest in Alt-Media: Fukuyama and Stephens

Our friends at the Claremont Institute’s “American Mind” interview series have a new package rolling out right now with Francis Fukuyama, most famous of course for The End of History and the Last Man, but in this case discussing his latest book Political Order and Political Decay.  This first installment is 18 minutes long:

And over at the Liberty Fund’s LibertyLawTalk series, Richard Reinsch converses with the Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens about his important new book, America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Disorder.  You can listen or download the 48-minute podcast at this link.