SocraticGadfly: 6/5/05 - 6/12/05

June 07, 2005

Democrats sell out on civil liberties again

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 11-4 vote to approve giving the FBI more subpoena-less search powersis the latest proof of that.

And listen to the lame justification for this:
Some senators who voted 11-4 to move the bill forward said they would push for limits on the new powers the measure would grant to law enforcement agencies.”This bill must be amended on the floor to protect national security while protecting Constitutional rights,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski D-Md. Ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., supported the bill overall but said he would push for limits that would allow such administrative subpoenas “only if immediacy dictates.”
The ACLU notes these major concerns :
1. Makes permanent Patriot Act powers without safeguards.
2. Does not provide adequate safeguards to protect library and other private records.
3. Eliminates prior court review of FBI library and other private records demands for intelligence gathering purposes.
4. Strikes an existing First Amendment safeguard for records search powers.
5. Further expands time limits for FISA surveillance.
6. Exacerbates using FISA as “end-run” around stricter safeguards for criminal surveillance.
7, Creates new statutory authority for intelligence investigators to track mail of ordinary citizens.
8. Expands greatly the amount of information obtained without probable cause through Internet surveillance.
A Reuters article offers some hope:
the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has oversight authority on the Patriot Act and related legislation, was expected to assume control of the measure as part of its own reauthorization proceedings.
Of course, it also shows how big business keeps its own ass covered:
Roberts and Rockefeller said the bill would provide more safeguards under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows federal authorities to subpoena business records.
Meanwhile, Democrats also appear to have no problem with Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts holding secret meetings left and right to grease the skids for approval of this disaster.

Exxon lied, asthmatics died

The bloom is off the rose on ExxonMobil’s claims of a neutral stance on the truth of global warming, according to The Guardian.

Here’s the lowdown on their two faces.
In briefing papers given before meetings to the US under-secretary of state, Paula Dobriansky, between 2001 and 2004, the administration is found thanking Exxon executives for the company's “active involvement” in helping to determine climate change policy, and also seeking its advice on what climate change policies the company might find acceptable.
Meanwhile, Exxon was putting on a different public face.
But in evidence to the UK House of Lords science and technology committee in 2003, Exxon's head of public affairs, Nick Thomas, said: “I think we can say categorically we have not campaigned with the United States government or any other government to take any sort of position over Kyoto.”
When will people wake up and smell the coffee? I’ve boycotted Exxon since the Exxon Valdez disaster.

June 05, 2005

Kevin Drum is still an economic squish

Drum is challenging readers to come up with a Top 10 list of most balefully influential conservative books, started by his earlier post about an anti-liberal Top 10 compiled by Human Events.

I repeat, again cheating by dipping back into the 1700s, though by Kevin’s latest call, interpreted to look back 200 years prior to 1970, it's not cheating, to nominate:

The Wealth of Nations.

Its influence? Unquestionably vast.

The strength of its philosophical or empirical foundation? Weak, though Kevin, in his continued idolatry of the accuracy of "the invisible hand," continues to disagree.

Let me unpack the details of how Wealth of Nations is wrong.

First, the philosophy its based on, Enlightenment Deism, with its mechanical-minded, omniscient, omnipotent Deity is so out of date, and just plain wrong (unless you’re William Dembski or Michael Behe resurrecting this zombie as the stalking horse for the not-to-be-called-Christian Designer) its almost laughable.

Specifically, on the grounds of physics, the Deist Artificer was killed dead through the heart by one Max Planck in 1900, with followup by Erwin Schroedinger, P.A.M. Dirac, and above all, Werner Heisenberg. Einstein both recognized the metaphysical stakes of quantum theory and refused to accept them with his “The Old One does not play dice” comment.

Well, “Old One” or not, we’re in a fuzzy, indeterminate, dice-playing universe, as further exemplified by the burgeoning fields of complexity theory and chaos theory, among other things. (Side note: some of the most vociferous defenders of neo-Darwinism, such as Dennett and Dawkins, fail to have read this note, as well. That's not to say the core of neo-Darwinism isn’t true, just that there’s a lot more contingency in macrobiology than they'll admit.)

Second, Smith, like many though not all British empiricists, believed in "”the moral sense.” This is in a literal sense. Starting with Locke, many British philosophers of the 1700s believed we had a literal moral sense in our mental toolkit.

Well, not too long after Smith died, the French Revolution, which killed many of the continential Deist philosophes, dinged that theory pretty badly. World War II certainly killed both it, and the concomitant Deist idea that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” as Leibnitz first claimed.

Falling by the wayside along with that is the contention of many American business conservatives that economic self-interest, as expressed through classical liberal capitalist greed, is somehow moral.

Third, since I’ve mentioned empiricism, let's note that a number of Nobel Prizes in Economics in the last 15 years have been awarded to economists who have specifically, and in detail, through both sociological research and neuroscience study, shown just how irrational many of our economic decisions are.

Three strikes and your Wealth of Nations is OUT, Mr. Smith.

It has been as influential, and I will seriously argue at least half as baleful on the behalf of liberal capitalism, and specifically Anglo-American liberal capitalism (Exhibit 1: World Bank; Exhibit 2: International Monetary Fund) as Marx's Manifesto or Capital.

Now, if people like Kevin would recognize it (or else drop the “liberal” and instead identify themselves as “moderate” or “centrist” we'd make a bit of progress on progressive economics.