Monday, February 27, 2017

Trump and the media

There is a war being waged in Washington between the White House and the media. The latest skirmish was the exclusion of CNN and the New York Times, amongst others, from an informal briefing at the White House last Friday. This was painted by the affronted media as an assault on the First Amendment and a signal of the death of the American republic, but (as the Washington Post pointed out in this article) it was an informal briefing of the type to which President Obama also tended only to invite sympathetic media organisations. 

The media organisations who were excluded only have themselves to blame. You cannot take such a partisan approach to reporting on an election as did the New York Times and CNN and then expect to be extended privileged access to that candidate after his successful election. The publisher of the New York Times as much as confessed to his readers after the election that their coverage had been unfair and not impartial.

This incident was quickly followed by President Trump's refusal to attend the White House Correspondent's dinner, an annual event for Washington journalists that became something of a love-in for Obama and the press. Trump's refusal to rub shoulders with a group of people whom he has accused of being overwhelmingly hostile to him suggests he has some consistency at least.

I am no fan of Donald Trump but I am even less of a fan of the mainstream media. I have written before about how the media have destroyed their credibility through increasingly partisan coverage of political issues. They no longer act as the fourth estate but rather as a fifth column, fighting behind the scenes for a left-wing political agenda. Their shrill advocacy of their political viewpoint means they are increasingly isolated from, and at odds with, the real mainstream of society. They are so overwhelmingly of a like mind in their biases that they have created an echo chamber that reverberates with their own chorus. Worst of all, they disparage as fools and bigots the very people they rely on for their revenues and their jobs whenever they perceive public opinion as against them. 

When you man the barricades for one side in a fight, you can't be upset when you find that you are no longer regarded as the honest broker. It is the media themselves who are too stupid and narrow-minded to realise they are the authors of their demise.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Islam and the West

A brief exchange on Not PC's blog has made me realise how ignorant many non-Muslims are about Islam. I wrote a comment saying that Islam has two main tenets - submission (which, of course, is what Islam actually means) and the belief that it is the one final religion for all of mankind. The gentleman who took issue with my comment said that Christianity and Judaism are equally about submission. This illustrates his ignorance about all three religions.

The central tenet of Christianity is faith, not submission - faith in God, faith that Jesus Christ was his Son (and was God at the same time) and faith that belief in Him will redeem your sins.

The central tenet of Judaism is the law, which God gave the Jewish people so that they may live righteous lives.

Christianity and Judaism emphasise the concept of free will, which is almost completely absent from Islam. Free will implies genuine moral choices. In Islam there is only the words of the book - the Koran - and you are meant to follow them without interpretation or ambivalence.

One area in which Islam is not unique is the perpetration of violence in its name. All the Abrahamic religions adhere to the Old Testament, which exhorts violence in the name of God almost to the point of tedium. Christianity at least tempers this with Christ's message of pacifism.

We often hear, usually from non-Muslims, that Islam is a religion of peace. This is perhaps the most misunderstood statement about Islam. It is true in one sense - if you submit to Allah, you will find peace. Islam is like Buddhism in this respect - its adherents seek to find inner peace through their belief. This does not mean Islam is a pacifist religion.

Islam is growing at a rate that will soon make it the biggest religion in the world and there is little doubt that it presents the biggest philosophical challenge to modern Western values since Communism. It is a mistake to regard it from a position of ignorance and prejudice but it is equally a mistake to put our heads in the sand and believe that it has the same values as classical Western liberalism.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The truth is out on climate science

The subject of anthropogenic (i.e. man-made) global warming (AGW) is what prompted me to start blogging and many of my posts have dealt with it. Anyone who writes or speaks critically about this topic knows that it takes a thick skin to do so because, as I discovered early on, the debate very quickly becomes ad hominem. Over the years I have maintained my position in spite (or perhaps because) of some pretty nasty personal attacks. My view, which is based on having read literally hundreds of scientific papers on the subject, is that the science indicates mankind's role in rising global temperatures is minimal. If you want to read in more detail about my conclusions, I summarised them about a year ago in this post.

I am not a scientist but I studied statistics and applied maths at university and climate science is primarily a subject of numbers, so when I started to delve into the science I found I had a good understanding of the analysis behind the computer models that climate scientists rely on for their predictions. I became particularly concerned by the so-called 'hockey stick' that purported to show a straight line of stable temperatures over the last 1,000 years and then a sudden uptick in temperatures in the 20th Century, and I could see that it was based on highly flawed data collection and analysis methods. It is now generally accepted in the scientific community that the graph is garbage.

I was encouraged by the release of the 'Climategate' emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit that showed scientists colluding to hide data, undermine the peer review process and discredit other scientists who did not support the so-called consensus. But with some pretty effective obfuscation by supporters in the mainstream media (who focused on the 'hacking' of the information rather than the content it revealed), the controversy died down. There have been other revelations of unscientific behaviour and methods amongst the climate science community but none that have severely dented the credibility of the AGW theory - until now.

It has been revealed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the main US Government organisation that provides climate data for policy-making, deliberately exaggerated critical data in support of Barack Obama's diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. The NOAA data was critical to the Paris accord because it purported to show that the so-called pause in global temperatures since 1997 did not exist. Predictions of climate disaster are based on contentious theories of 'feedback' effects whereby temperature rises are compounded as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. Mankind's carbon emissions have continued to increase significantly over the period since 1997 but if temperatures have not increased proportionately then that gives credence to the alternative theory that rising CO2 levels have a diminishing, not increasing, effect on temperatures. Retired NOAA scientist John Bates told the Daily Mail that NOAA cooked the data to hide the pause with the intent of influencing the Paris conference outcome.

This may be the final nail in the coffin of the credibility of the AGW theory. The revelations come at an opportune (or inopportune, depending on your view) time with an avowed sceptic in the White House and critics of AGW in senior cabinet positions. Trump had promised to kill the Paris agreement and AGW-related regulatory impediments to fossil fuel exploitation before these revelations came to light and this will give strength to his case.

As Shakespeare said, at the length truth will out, and it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to see the entire AGW scientific and policy edifice finally crumbling as the lies and fraud on which it is built are finally exposed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Milo, Berkeley and Fascism

Last week Milo Yiannopoulos was due to speak at University of California, Berkeley, as one of many speaking engagements on his 'Dangerous Faggot' (really!) tour of academic institutions that started during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Yiannopoulos is a British journalist and a senior editor with Breitbart News, the conservative news and opinion website that was run by Steve Bannon, who is now Assistant and Chief Strategist to President Trump. As the title of his speaking tour suggests, Yiannopoulos is gay and his views are considered by some people to be dangerous. His speaking engagements have attracted criticism and protest but none until now on the scale of what happened at Berkeley, where the protest became violent with masked, black-suited agitators smashing windows, tearing down crowd barriers, starting fires and throwing Molotov cocktails.

Yiannopolous burst on to the United States' political landscape last year like some British actors break into Hollywood - sort of a political version of Tom Hiddleston. He was a minor blogger specialising in technology and computer gaming (and was best known then for his articles on the 'Gamergate' controversy), before moving to America and latching onto the Trump campaign. The fact that he is gay, English, and highly articulate are all factors in his rise to prominence but undoubtedly it is his support for Trump that is the most significant reason why people started paying attention (after all, 'Gays for Trump' was a somewhat unexpected adjunct to the campaign of a Republican presidential candidate).

I have listened to several of Yiannopoulos's podcasts and I found it difficult to determine exactly what he believes because everything he says is delivered in a highly satirical manner. He has been accused of being homophobic, racist, sexist and Islamophobic, however, as a gay man who claims to prefer black men (at least sexually), it seems unlikely that he is guilty of the first two of these crimes. Women, or more precisely lesbians, are the target of much of his humour, but again he doesn't appear to be seriously misogynistic and the fact that young women are some of his most ardent supporters bears this out. He is certainly strongly critical of Islamic fundamentalism and he is a supporter of Trump's immigration ban, but in those views he is no more extreme than more mainstream conservative commentators like Mark Steyn and Douglas Murray.

In any event, even if he is seriously homophobic, racist, sexist and Islamophobic, that doesn't mean he doesn't have a right to express his views when he is invited to do so by student groups on American campuses. After all, the right to free speech is not there just to protect those whose views everyone agrees with.

Yiannopolous has been described, inevitably, as Fascist, but no behaviour seems so Fascist as that of the uniformed agitators who took over the Berkeley campus last week.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Waitangi Day

It is Waitangi Day, which, for overseas readers, is sort of like New Zealand's Independence Day. I say 'sort of like' because, having celebrated July 4th in America, I can tell you Waitangi Day is really nothing at all like Independence Day. The national day in the United States is universally celebrated and an opportunity for Americans to express pride in their nation and unity in being Americans, but in New Zealand it is a day of protest and division. Almost no one here feels national pride on Waitangi Day - if there is a day when those feelings come to the fore it is Anzac Day, which is our Memorial Day, although on that day pride is mixed with sadness at the sacrifices of our countrymen in war.

The problem with Waitangi Day is that it has become all about Maori grievances and the separatist politics of Maori activists. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Governor William Hobson on behalf of the Queen and by many Maori chiefs in the place it was named after on this day on 1840, but in recent years official ceremonies at Waitangi have been marred by protests and violence. Successive prime ministers have been treated with contempt by local Maori, with the result that Prime Minister Bill English has refused to attend the 'celebrations' there this year.

Many of the Treaty of Waitangi grievances are, in my view, baseless. The Treaty is a very short and simple document with three articles that recorded the following:
1) Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty to the British Crown
2) Maori tribes, chiefs, families and individuals were guaranteed their existing property rights
3) It made all Maori British subjects.

Articles 1 and 3 effectively abolished Maori tribal government and made Maori individually British citizens, but ironically the Treaty has been interpreted in recent years to bring about a return to the tribal rule that it ended. I think it is clear that the Treaty gives no superior political rights to any tribal leaders today and claims that it established some sort of on-going 'partnership' between tribal political entities and the government of today are entirely spurious. There is nothing in the Treaty that gives legitimacy to current tribal leaders who claim to represent people of Maori descent - unless they are elected to our contemporary democratic institutions, in which case they represent all New Zealanders, not just those of Maori descent.

Governor Hobson said, after the initial signing of the Treaty on 6th February 1840, "now we are one people." It would be nice if that ideal was recognised on this day rather than it being seen as yet another opportunity to promote an entirely bogus separatism and seemingly irreconcilable grievances.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How do we assess Trump?

Donald Trump has been president for less than two weeks and people are already calling for his impeachment. The call is precipitate to say the least, but it was about this time in Barack Obama's presidency that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize so it is no more of a rush to judgement than that. The timing is perhaps understandable given the extraordinary pace that Trump has set since assuming office on January 20th. I guess his opponents realise that if they leave the impeachment too long, there may not be a Constitution under which to impeach him!

Among the blitzkrieg of policy announcements and executive orders from Trump during his first week and a half in office we can count:

  • an order to “secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall”
  • the announcement of the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement
  • an immediate federal hiring freeze
  • an immediate freeze on new regulations
  • the reinstatement of George W. Bush's ban on US foreign aid to international organisations that "promote abortion"
  • the announcement of a new system to fast-track infrastructure projects
  • a call for a “major investigation” into voter fraud during the last election
  • advancing plans for the Keystone and Dakota pipelines
  • an order blocking all immigration from Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan for 120 days and from Syria indefinitely
  • an order withholding federal funds to cities that do not comply with federal immigration laws (i.e. that are 'sanctuary cities')
  • an order that allows agencies to eliminate Affordable Care Act taxes and requirements
  • a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May
  • the sacking of Acting US Attorney-General, Sally Yates.

As one wag put it, what the hell were all the other presidents doing during their first few days in office? You've got to hand it to Trump, he is not shy of wielding his presidential powers. I am sure he realises that frustration with politicians not following through on their promises is precisely one of the reasons people voted for him. But when it comes to political decision-making, quantity definitely does not equate to quality.

The immigration order has received the most comment internationally and I agree with most of the criticism in that it is short-sighted, discriminatory, ineffective and most likely to hurt the United States itself by costing American society far more than the impacts of the risks it attempts to address.

On the other hand some of what of Trump has already put into action, such as his resurrection of the Keystone pipeline - the first step in his promises on energy policy and climate change - has my support. It is expected that he will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and refocus the US Environmental Protection Agency on genuinely protecting the environment rather than being, as it is currently, an end run around the legal and constitutional barriers to Obama's global warming evangelism (and if you want to know more about this, I suggest you watch this video of a press conference by Trump's EPA transition chief, Myron Ebell).

So how do we judge Trump from a libertarian perspective? Do two environmental policy reforms outweigh one discriminatory immigration policy, or is it a case of dog-shit yoghurt where the bad contaminates all of the good? I think that overall Trump will not be good for the cause of freedom. This will be particularly true once the inevitable electoral backlash results in a swing back to the Democrats, who are likely to throw out any good policies Trump may have implemented and deal out more of their own bad medicine.

UPDATE: John Stossel describes the libertarian dilemma about Trump better than I do in this article, quoting Robert Higgs, who says "Trump talks about many things...but...there is one topic that he never mentions, and that is freedom". So true.