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Climate Hustle

Republicans to Repeal Laws of Physics

Posted on 13 March 2011 by dana1981

Republicans have decided that they can repeal the laws of physics with the laws of the USA.

First a bit of background.  In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the U.S. EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, if they meet the definition of "air pollutants".  In order to qualify as "air pollutants", the emissions must "reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare".  In 2009, the EPA issued an endangerment finding which referenced numerous scientific assessments including the IPCC report, and concluded that "greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare".  This conclusion is strongly supported by the body of scientific evidence.

As a consequence of this endangerment finding, the EPA established a timeline to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions, starting with the largest sources such as power plants and oil refineries in 2011.  There are now two ways to prevent the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations:

  1. Congress can pass legislation which establishes a different system to control greenhouse gas emissions, thus superceeding the EPA.
  2. The EPA endangerment finding can be overturned if it's determined that greenhouse gas emissions no longer endanger public health or welfare.

From an economic standpoint, it would be preferable if Congress implemented this first option, because systems which allow the free market to control greenhouse gas emissions, such as a carbon tax or cap and trade system, have less economic impact than government regulations.  In fact, studies have shown that carbon pricing mechanisms have little economic impact, and their benefits outweigh their costs several times over.  For this reason, cap and trade was originally a Republican proposal as an alternative to EPA regulation of sulfur dioxide in response to acid rain (also under the Clean Air Act).  That's right, as hard as it is to believe now, cap and trade was first proposed by Republicans.

U.S. Congress has attempted to pass climate legislation which includes a carbon pricing mechanism (cap and trade system) several times thus far, but such proposals have rarely gotten more than a couple of Republican votes, and have always failed.  Most recently in 2009, the House of Representatives managed to pass a climate bill.  Unfortunately we were reminded that the USA is a republic, not a democracy, as Republicans exploited archaic Senate rules and their 41% minority to filibuster (obstruct) similar legislation which was supported by the majority, and it never even made it to a vote in the Senate.

In short, Republicans aren't willing to implement a carbon pricing mechanism, but they also don't want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  So they're now pursuing the second option discussed above.  To accomplish this, Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced H.R. 910, inaccurately named the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011".   H.R. 910 has two main components:

  1. It overturns the EPA's greenhouse gas endangerment finding.
  2. It prohibits the EPA from regulating or otherwise taking action regarding greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

In other words, we have politicians attempting to overturn a scientific finding whose purpose is to protect public health and welfare, for purely political reasons.  This is a rather disturbing turn of events from a scientific standpoint.  We cannot disregard a scientific finding, particularly one which has major consequences for public health and welfare, just because we don't want to believe it, or because doing so would be politically advantageous.

The House Republicans (and to be fair, there are a few Democrats from fossil fuel dependent regions which also support this bill) put very little effort into justifying this legislation.  They called two climate scientist "skeptics" to testify before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and in a sign of the meaninglessness of the hearing, they also called on Donald Roberts to rant about DDT regulations.  The "skeptics'" testimony was little more than a litany of long-debunked climate myths, but the Congressmen in the hearing didn't seem very interested in hearing what the scientists had to say anyway.  At the end of the hearing, Democrat Congressman Markey wittily summed up the proceedings:

"Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to a bill that overturns the scientific finding that pollution is harming our people and our planet.

However, I won’t physically rise, because I’m worried that Republicans will overturn the law of gravity, sending us floating about the room..."

Markey's full comments are well worth reading.  Soon thereafter, the subcommittee passed the bill by voice vote, and the measure will next be sent to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Fortunately, as Congressman Markey noted, even if the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it has little chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and if it were to pass there, President Obama would almost certainly veto this legislation.

Nevertheless, the mere existence of the bill is an ominous sign of the Republican war on climate science, in which they believe they can overturn scientific evidence based on nothing more than the ignorant opinions of a few politicians.  Similarly, Republicans in the Montana state legislature recently introduced a bill which stated, among other scientific falsehoods,

"global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it."

It seems as though Republicans think that politics can dictate science.  Unfortunately, passing legislation saying that humans are not causing global warming, or that greenhouse gas emissions do not pose a threat to public health and welfare, does not change the physical reality that these statements are simply wrong.

The climate operates based on the laws of physics, not the laws of Montana or the United States of America.  Republicans may have declared war on science, but it's a war they cannot win.  By pretending that we can dictate how the climate will behave with a few simple words on a piece of paper, all we can accomplish is to bury our heads in the sand and doom ourselves to the catastrophic fate that awaits us in a business-as-usual scenario.  These politicians need to be reminded that they are supposed to be looking out for the American public's welfare and best interests, not prohibiting the EPA from doing just that.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 182:

  1. Gilles,

    Alex C : you seem also to persistently ignore that the POSITIVE effects of fossil fuel consumption are much more obvious and measurable than the NEGATIVE ones,

    The reason they're more "obvious" has a lot to do with selective attention (e.g., ignoring externalities and opportunity costs), and that in turn has a lot to do with politics and money. In other words, you're confusing ideology with reality.
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  2. Giles:
    "I may have forgotten some. Note that ALL so-called "alternative" energies require cheap and abundant materials above, all made with ... cheap fossil fuels."

    I suggest you read up on carbon footprints.
    Much of this work has been done and the issues you elude to have been taken account.

    Energy carbon footprints for renewables are well known and hence we know that the fossil fuel inputs for renewables are tiny.
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  3. Giles:
    "for a very simple reason : for 200 years, the world economic growth has been correlated positively with FF consumption and negatively with temperatures. Shouldn't it have been the opposite, if you were right ?"

    Erm, if you are just looking at figures, then you will find any sort of correlation. Skeptics are well known for that, aren't they?

    But how do you measure growth. In the same time, species have rapidly become extinct, some wiped out for profit and economic growth. Your views suggest a short term gain, heading for a massive crunch. Or rather, me, me, me and who cares about what happens tomorrow.

    The success of humanity can no longer purely be measured by short term goals and achievements.

    The other point is if you are thinking that fossil fuels can only achieve that growth, then you are obviously commiting humanity to an early grave and also are sticking fingers up at engineers that are able to come up with new solutions to current problems. Or more precisely, you don't want engineers, they are redundant in your world.
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  4. Why someone keeps deleting my postings within minutes?? Is someone afraid of a fact-based discussion? I cannot believe the degree of censorship on this website!! I'm posting this again ... <snip>

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    [dana1981]Please read the site Comments Policy, specifically "no off topic comments".  This article is not the place to argue about the existence of the greenhouse effect.

  5. There are many who are not convinced man’s impact through the burning of fossil fuels on earth’s climate is significant, and they include people of various political persuasions and educational backgrounds. So I ask; why is there still doubt when there is a consensus within the climate science community? Is it the influence of the “deniers”, the insidious propaganda of the “big oil and coal” industries, or renegade heretical scientist? Well no, at least not for me. I have read and continue to read the research to educate myself as much as possible, make the blog circuit often to here the opinions of others, and will ultimately come to a conclusion. However, whether it is the unanswered questions regarding cloud feedback, solar and ocean cycles, or the climate gate emails, I am not ready to accept the consensus until these things are made clear in my mind. One thing for sure though, it is not political, and I hope this site will stay with the science rather than devolve into that arena.
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  6. Gilles #47 and 49, please decide what you're trying to argue. You claimed wealth is correlated with fossil fuel use. I explained that it's actually correlated with energy use. Then you shifted goalposts to argue that fossil fuels are not cheaply and easily replaceable for every use - I never claimed otherwise. Please pick an argument and stick with it instead of shifting goalposts and constructing strawmen.
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  7. "greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare".

    ...yet, how many people would still be alive, say, one year after a complete ban on fossil fuel consumption?
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  8. RSVP - nobody is suggesting a complete ban on fossil fuel consumption. No strawmen please.
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  9. Perhaps we should note that a Bill that tried to legislate that-

    "global warming is not a natural occurrence and human activity have accelerated it"

    would also be a travesty of trying to legislate the laws of the physics.
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  10. PhysSci - we will wait your paper with interest provided its peer-reviewed and published in something better than E&E. It will be fascinating to see how you account for experimental observation (particularly the spectral characteristic of DLR and OLR) by another theory.

    The appropriate place to continue the discussion however is
    Does Greenhouse effect exist?. That way your comment wont be thrown out by moderators.
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  11. I would have to say to John Cook that I am not that happy with political commentary on this site, like this one. Everyone can have a political opinion so it brings out a mile of irrelevant comment with no scientific content at all. Just clogs the Recent comments. Furthermore, there are plenty of sites for this type of discussion eg, but this site is unique in its focus on the scientific arguments and rigorously applied comments policy.

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    [dana1981]Your displeasure is noted.  However, we cannot simply sit idly by, remaining silent while one of the chambers of Congress in the world's largest historical carbon emitter attempts to dictate scientific and physical reality through politics.  As I previously noted, Skeptical Science is also about climate science solutions, and Republicans are attempting to derail every significant attempt to reduce GHG emissions.  We felt this was well worth commenting on, and stand by that decision (which was approved by John Cook before I drafted this article).

  12. dana1981, let me clarify. This whole discussion about burning fossil fuels, cap and trade, the EPA attempt to regulate carbon emissions and the current actions of Congress to stop EPA is ALL rooted and based in the Greenhouse Theory. I posted my first comment in response to the the titles of the article that started this whole blog - "Republicans to Repeal Laws of Physics". If the GH theory is wrong, then the entire discussion about regulating CO2 is muted ... Political decisions regarding climate HAVE to be based on physical realities <snip>

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    [dana1981]The reason we don't allow off-topic comments is so that the discussions don't get derailed.  If we allow you to repeat every "skeptic" myth you can come up with, then people will have to respond to all these myths, and we will lose track of the discussion at hand.

    If you want to argue about the greenhouse effect, as a previous comment noted, see "the greenhouse effect has been falsified" and comment there.  If you want to claim that carbon pricing will destroy the economy, see "CO2 limits will harm the economy".  If you want to dispute the physical evidence behind AGW, see "it's not us" or "CO2 effect is weak".

  13. Assuming the topic of this thread is supposed to be the republican's attempt to repeal science, note it's not the first time.

    When the US Fish and Wildlife Service made a scientific determination that the northern spotted owl was seriously declining and met the definition of a species that should be listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, George HW Bush (Bush the Elder or Bush I, to more clearly differentiate him from "W") ordered the USFWS to disregard the scientific funding and refuse to list the species.

    Which led to a federal district court judge pointing out that this was illegal, because the ESA states that a decision to list or not be based solely on the Service's scientific determination.
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  14. Tom Curtis:

    Rather, democracy is desirable as government because it alone of all governments reflects the equal moral worth of all people by giving all people an equal say in the governance of their nation.

    Given that the United States is explicitly *not* a democracy, but rather a representative republic, what's the relevance of your comment?

    If our government were intended to give all people an equal say in the governance of their nation, California and Alaska wouldn't have the same number of Senators ...
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  15. PhysSci - the point of this article is that you cant legislate laws of physics, and law-makers attempts to do so suggest that they think you can choose your reality. Challenges to the science go elsewhere on this site. This is what makes this site useful and I would be disappointed if moderators allowed otherwise.
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  16. dhogaza #64 - indeed, as I've noted a couple of times, if the US were a democracy then we would already have a carbon cap and trade system in place. So comments about how great a system democracy is aren't really relevant here. When a 41% minority can obstruct the will of a 59% majority, that's not even close to democracy.

    scaddenp #65 - precisely correct. Whether or not commenters personally believe the body of climate science evidence is correct is not the issue here. The issue is that Republicans are trying to dictate climate science with politics. They did not even make an effort to support their position that the EPA endangerment finding (which was based on a large body of scientific evidence) is wrong.

    Ultimately this isn't an issue for politicians to decide. This is why there are scientists working at the EPA, so they can accurately assess the body of scientific evidence. Unless the EPA decides that GHG emissions don't endanger public health and welfare, the alternative path that politicians should be pursuing is the first one described in the article - implementing a different carbon emissions control system. If the science is wrong, it will be borne out through scientific research, not through politics.
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  17. Gilles: "ALL so-called "alternative" energies require cheap and abundant materials above, all made with ... cheap fossil fuels."

    Gilles will continue to argue without recourse to evidence as long as we keep responding.

    What he seems to forget (or conveniently ignore) is one reason why fossil fuel use was historically cheap: Neither producers nor consumers had to clean up their waste product, they could just dump it into the air without thought. What other product could be used with no cost for waste disposal?

    The future cost of any remediation of AGW (if such is possible) is part of the free ride the fossil fuel industry has lived on for the last hundred years. Current attempts to wish the problem away just postpone the inevitable day when the bills will come due.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] "Gilles will continue to argue without recourse to evidence as long as we keep responding."

    Indeed. He is prosecuting the same orbit as he conducted at RC for many threads for many months, tying up the resources of many gifted and knowledgeable people.

  18. Excellent group of comments and arguments. Sorry for my "broad brush" but I'm incensed by the conservative anti-science agenda. It's nothing new in the U.S. We still see it in the organic evolution debate and have seen it in the acid rain, ozone hole, cigarette causing cancer debate, etc. Conservatives in the U.S. are supported by big business and therefore big money. They are on the wrong side of the climate science debate.
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  19. scaddenp at 07:52 AM , I agree with your sentiments regarding political commentary, but it is not something new. For example, the numerous threads that discussed non-scientific figures such as Monckton amounted to such.

    I feel that John Cook himself now needs to clarify the philosophy that underpins his site given, as stated earlier, the whole thread contravenes the comments policy.

    The inclusion of the word "physics" in the title is a red herring. The essential element to this discussion and the events being discussed, as mentioned continuously, is "public health or welfare" and economics, and it is that on which these political decisions, and hence this whole thread is based on.
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  20. scaddenp - I'd be happy to send you a copy of my paper describing the new GH theory. Please, email me your contact info at

    Regarding satellite observations of atmospheric absorption of IR radiation emanating from the surface, they show just that 'absorption' and provide no evidence for a temperature change due to such absorption... Since that IR energy comes from the surface, it is already IN the system, and according to the First Law of Thermodynamics, cannot raise the surface temperature even further .. To give you a little clue, think about the possibility that convective cooling could completely offset the radiative warming due to GH gases, because convection is many orders of magnitude more efficient than radiation in transferring energy ...
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  21. Muoncounter @32, I doubt actual democracy requires that kings be philosophers, and certainly philosophers should never be kings. But a commitment to democracy does imply a free, universal system of high standard public education.

    dana @38, the US is not a democracy (and neither is Australia, though it is closer). But democracy is the only ethical system of government. I believe it is fundamental to moral reasoning that you cannot achieve ethical ends by unethical means. Therefore, any policy to ensure action is taken to prevent excessive AGW must be part of a policy to genuinely implement democracy in government to be capable of long term success.
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  22. johnd... Given the state of policy I don't see how it's possible to separate physics from politics.
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  23. scaddenp - In regard to your comment above: "the point of this article is that you cant legislate laws of physics, and law-makers attempts to do so suggest that they think you can choose your reality", I would ask the question, which laws of physics specifically do the law-makers try to legislate? The current GH theory is based on a MISCONCEPTION of the actual physical laws. There is no physical basis for the assertion that CO2 affects climate, no there is any empirical evidence to support such a notion ... Therefore, Congress is not messing up with any laws of physics!
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  24. dhogaza @64, I wouldn't care if the US were a "divine right" monarchy. The fact remains that democracy is the only ethical form of government, and therefore your policy in the US should be defensible on democratic principle if it is to succeed in the long term without unacceptable side consequences.

    Simply from a practical point of view, arguing (as many proponents of action against AGW have done) that what democratic institutions there are in the US should be further subverted by members of congress side stepping the clear policies they presented to the electorate in favour of expert opinion is politically damaging, and undermines support. In fact, the general distrust of the advise of experts (in Australia as in the US) is in part a consequence of just that sort of action in the past.

    I leave aside the moronic calls to simply side step democracy that have on occasion been made by proponents of action against AGW.

    The lack of firm commitment to democracy by those who want to do something about AGW means that they cannot effectively highlight the, in fact, undemocratic actions of those who will let AGW occur by default. Furthermore, it weakens the very conditions which allow public debate, and which therefore gives us the capacity to meet future challenges.
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  25. Rob Honeycutt at 10:00 AM, was not that the philosophy originally driving SkS?
    That distinction was easily and regularly invoked when various contributors were advised, or directed, to take their political views to a more appropriate blog.
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  26. Tom Curtis at 10:10 AM, ethical government does not automatically default to being a democracy.

    Is a government that provides stability when stability is essential, not an ethical government?
    Is a government that provides discipline when discipline is essential, not an ethical government?

    Stability and discipline are first and foremost essential elements for survival in many nations of the world. The same cannot be said of democracy.

    In what order of importance would you place each of those elements, stability, discipline and democracy?
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  27. PhysSci - I would assert governments trying to legislate Newton Law is wrong. As has been said, its not about whether it's right or not.
    Please put comments about science in the correct place - ie NOT this thread.

    JohnD - Monckton might not be a scientist but he presenting science and the posts about correcting his misrepresentation of science not his politics.
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  28. PhysSci - Actually, what you want to see would seem to be posted here 2nd Law of thermodynamics and greenhouse theory. I suspect you are making same mistakes as others but if you can get your paper published in a journal competent to review it, then I will certainly look at it.
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  29. scaddenp at 10:41 AM, that may be so about Monckton, but the point I was making is this was not the site to do that, clogging up page after page with someones unqualified opinions about someone else's unqualified opinions.
    If Monckton had chosen to post his views on any of the relevant threads then he would have been subject to the comments policy and undoubtedly regularly censured or told to go elsewhere.
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  30. johnd, it is perhaps indicative that you have left out the most important element.

    My priorities are:

    1) Rule of law;

    2) Democracy;

    3) Equity; and

    4) Stability;

    Discipline is not a virtue of governments at all, beyond the discipline needed to exhibit the above virtues.

    It is true that for many nations, they do not have the institutional structures for the rule of law, or for democracy. Therefore somebody attempting to provide stability for the nation cannot directly provide democracy. But every action they take to provide stability must be so chosen as to enhance the prospects of a transition to rule of law, and democracy. Otherwise it is unethical. So while circumstance may force a person to participate in a government that it unethical in its constitution; that government should be making an immediate transition to rule of law; and preparing the ground work for a transition to democracy in the short to medium term. Otherwise, the government is unethical in its practice as well as in its constitution.

    If we do not accept this stricture, the consequence is that we must consider the actions of Mubarak and his secret police as ethical; whereas it was only (for the West) convenient. And we can have no ethical objection to the rule of the Ayotollahs in Iran (who certainly provide stability) however much we pragmatically despise them.

    Further, your points are completely irrelevant to the situation in the US (and Australia) where there is no constitutional bar to democracy; and where the cultural basis for democracy is strong.
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  31. johnd @79, clearly the purpose of this site is to discuss the views on the science of the so called skeptics. That is what it says on the home page. That a person is unqualified to have views on the science does not prevent them from claiming knowledge, and expressing an opinion. Nor does it prevent them, if they are in Congress, from attempting to legislate that opinion. Clearly when they do so, they make the opinions they express (or legislate) legitimate topics for posts at this site.

    What is more, suggesting that only the views of "sceptics" who happen to have a PhD in Atmospheric sciences can have their views legitimately discussed here (as you appear to be doing) is clearly intended to allow the erroneous nonsense of the vast bulk of deniers to be given a free pass from criticism. You are playing the back yard lawyer, in other words, for rhetorical reasons; not out of genuine conviction. Please do not stop doing so. I like it when deniers make themselves look silly.
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  32. johnd @ 75... The whole gist of this article is that the EPA's findings on CO2 were firmly based in physics. Now one political party in the US is attempting to regulate away physics in favor of their preferred political position. The lines between physics and politics are sufficiently blurred in order to make it nearly impossible to discuss climate change without it being political.

    I believe that discussing the physics of climate change is fully in keeping with SkS, my point is that now even just discussing physics has become a political position.

    This certainly is not new for science. Science has continually been confrontational with the status quo of political power, that political power often being religiously based in the past.
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  33. TomC "a commitment to democracy does imply a free, universal system of high standard public education."

    Now you begin to see the situation. Perhaps the reason our public education in the US has remained so tragic for so long is that an educated electorate is more difficult to fool. And those in power enjoy fooling those without.

    I'll get on my knees and pray
    We don't get fooled again
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  34. Tom Curtis at 10:55 AM, discipline is all about applying the rule of law. By definition you simply cannot have one without the other.
    Whether the rules are considered right or wrong in the eyes of others becomes subjective, and is irrelevant anyway as the only alternative is no rules and hence anarchy.

    Democracy is based on equity, and that simply cannot be achieved without stability, be it political or economic.

    The most basic requirement of government is that what has to be done is of the greater good for the greater number.

    In Australia, the cultural basis for democracy is founded on political apathy.
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  35. Tom Curtis at 11:05 AM, I believe the original intention of this venue was for the participants to present their own views on such matters based on their understanding of the science.

    I believe there is a difference between debating someone in the appropriate thread and countering their arguments with the objective of it being a learning experience for one, both or all participants, and trying to discredit an absent politician for his opinions.
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  36. muoncounter @83, I'm not sure that "begin to see" is the correct phrase about something that has been a dictum for me for over a decade. However, yes, public education is being run down due to a lack of commitment to democracy. This is partly because public education is seen as a sort of economic subsidy (ensuring an educated work force) rather than as an essential of civil society. That is aided, I am sure, by the fact that many politicians do not like educated citizens calling them to account (although I doubt that is often an explicit motivation).
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  37. Maybe it's a media misconception (I dont trust media), but it also appears that many US citizens would prefer their children to be poorly educated (especially in science) for fear that education might result in them acquiring values they actively reject.
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  38. Rob Honeycutt at 11:07 AM, your mention of the term religiously prompts the observation to be made as to how religion itself is often confused with the politics of religion, just as now the subject of science is being confused with the politics of science.
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  39. nofreewind, you really don't get it, do you? You tried to assert that the Senator's claims that "Cap & Trade" will reduce US dependence on foreign oil are rubbish-by simply focusing on a single sector of the US economy. My post showed how your claims were rubbish, & your most recent postings do nothing to alter that. You go on about the number of electric vehicles *currently* on US roads as though its relevant to the debate. For the record, though, there are currently 1.6 million hybrid vehicles on US roads, & several *thousand* full-electric vehicles-not bad for a relatively new transport technology, how long did it take petrol-powered vehicles to take off at the turn of last century? Anyway, I digress. The point is that a cap-&-trade is meant to impact on *future* behaviour. In transportation alone, its hoped that a cap-&-trade mechanism will (a) encourage more Americans to car-pool, use public transport or tele-commute in order to get to work; (b) encourage companies to ship goods, long distance, by rail rather than truck & (c) encourage the uptake of alternative fuel vehicles (electric, hybrid, compressed natural gas, bio-diesel or ethanol blends). The overall impacts of such behavioral changes will be to simultaneously reduce the energy intensity of the transport sector & reduce the oil dependence of the transport sector-which would have the overall effect of reducing US oil dependency-just as the Senator claimed. If similar reductions in energy intensity & oil dependence can be achieved-via Cap-&-trade-in the commercial, residential & industrial sectors, then this will reduce US dependence on oil even further still (&, by extension, dependence on foreign oil). So however you look at it, its the Senator who was bang on the money Nofreewind, ( -Snip- ).
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Let's dial back a bit on the emotion. You've made your point eloquently (your 2x4 with a nail suffices; no need for a field tactical nuke).
  40. Also, nofreewind, I can't allow your claims regarding climate change post 1998 to go unchallenged. However you try & cover yourself, your obvious hope was to convince everyone of the Denialist Meme that the planet has been cooling since 1998-by cherry-picking the date that coincides with the strongest El Nino recorded in the 20th century & by cherry-picking the data sets that have most consistently shown the lowest warming trends (funny how HadCru data is suddenly "Beyond reproach", after the Denialists have spent the better part of the last 12 months falsely pillorying them over "Climate-gate"). Yet in spite of *all* of that cherry-picking, you still weren't able to show a cooling trend, let alone one of statistical significance. Your follow-up post on the subject was nothing more than a desperate attempt to cover yourself after your attempted misrepresentations were exposed.
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  41. Tom Curtis at 11:39 AM, you don't think that public education in the US is being run down not due to a lack of commitment to democracy, but rather an over commitment in the expense involved in imposing democracy elsewhere in the world.
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  42. John D, the running down of education in the US is down to the simple fact that *both* sides of politics in the US are fearful that a well-educated populace might decide to get rid of the whole lot of them. That fear will only increase in light of recent events in North Africa.
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  43. johnd @84, let me assure you that Stalin was all about discipline (as also Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung). They were not, unfortunately, about the rule of law. If you meant "rule of law" when you wrote "discipline" you should have chosen your words more carefully. But do not, whatever you do, mistake one for the other.

    You are correct that institutional stability (but not stability of policy) is a prerequisite of democracy; but that does not make it the greater virtue. Stability is desirable because of the conditions it allows us to achieve; and therefore is no more valuable than those condistions. Democracy is desirable of itself.

    Further, equity and democracy are not the same thing. There have been many democracies (or near approaches to democracy) which have been unequitable; which the history of slavery and the civil rights movement in the US should inform you of, even if the Terror in France (or the Murder of Socrates) have slipped your memory.

    Finally, the greater good for the greater number is consistent with the torture, rape and murder of the small minority; and the later has occurred in pursuit of the former more times in history than can be enumerated. Therefore "the greater good for the greater number" cannot be primary objective of government, still less its basis.
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  44. johnd @ 88... No one is confusion politics and religion here. You keep jumping to conclusions. I'm talking about early years of science where scientific concepts were a challenge to the power structure, which at that time was a religious power structure.

    For the most part, religion tends to be a very minor influencer in the issue of climate change. But we are very clearly embroiled in a situation today where science is telling us something that is politically inconvenient to one side of the political spectrum. It's this case that causes basic aspects of physics to become a political tennis ball.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed text.
  45. johnd: "an over commitment in the expense involved in imposing democracy elsewhere in the world."

    No, the problems with US public education are far older than our recent fascination with giving others the gift of democracy, whether they like it or not. We were able to educate a generation of engineers when the Russians put the fear of rockets into our government. Since that crisis ended, we've been more interested in letting our children educate themselves and they've chosen to learn how to become first-person shooters.
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  46. TomC:

    " There have been many democracies (or near approaches to democracy) which have been unequitable; which the history of slavery and the civil rights movement in the US should inform you of".

    Once again, the United States is not a democracy (and the Founders viewed the possibility with horror). During the antebellum era, US Senators weren't even elected by the citizens of their states. They were appointed by the state legislators.

    Many states had property requirements for voting, and women could not vote (even if they could, in many states, they would not have been legally able to own the requisite property - land - anyway).

    We're nearer a democracy today than then, but still a long ways from it.


    "When a 41% minority can obstruct the will of a 59% majority, that's not even close to democracy."

    And remember that the fillibuster exists in a body that is already *highly* undemocratic in that each state has two senators regardless of population (as a citizen living in a smaller state, I happen to *like* that Oregon is on an equal footing with California in the Senate, but it *is* undemocratic in principle).

    It works out that Senators representing about 10% of the population of the United States are theoretically able to block legislation from passing the Senate ...

    Does this fit TomC's definition of "nearly democratic"?

    Now, when Obama was sworn in, the legislative branch *was* "nearly Democratic" :)
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  47. Tom Curtis at 12:10 PM, I never expect that there will be 100% compliance with any assertions made, nor should ones overall view be characterised by the exceptions.

    To imagine that the three examples given controlled their regimes without any rules or laws ignores the realities. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if there was a total power vacuum and thus anarchy?

    Agreeing or not with such rules is a different matter. Who would propose that anarchy would have been preferable?

    Democracy should not be defined by the labels regimes apply to themselves, but rather by whether they meet the required criteria or not. Clearly a regime that imposes slavery or denies civil rights is one in name only.

    Perhaps you can offer an alternative to the "greater good/ greater number" that contravenes the concept and does not merely reword it.
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  48. muoncounter at 12:41 PM, by "recent", I take it to mean beginning immediately WW2 ended?
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  49. dhogaza @96, it is apparently important to you that the US not be considered a democracy. That is fine, I consider it sufficiently undemocratic that its government has only a borderline claim to legitimacy. However, denying that it was one of the most democratic nations on Earth in the 19th century, let alone in the 1950's seems a very long stretch. Suggesting (which is necessary for your counter argument) that making the US more democratic in the 1860's or 1950's would somehow have avoided the somehow avoided the abuses of slavery, and of African American civil rights is, I think, an even longer stretch. There is no evidence that at those times, the views of politicians were significantly out of step with their constituents (quite the contrary).

    Of course, a full and consistent implementation of the rule of law would have avoided those particular abuses; but not lifted African Americans from the poverty imposed by years of prejudice.

    As to your assertions about the intentions of the founding fathers, they all assented to the claim that:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ..."

    That is a democratic principle if any, and if they fell short of their aspiration by not allowing the governed to indicate their consent or dissent because they were poor, or a woman, or black, that is to their shame (a shame from which we exonerate them due to the age in which they lived, but for which we would repudiate them if they expressed similar views now).

    What is more, Lincoln was quite clear about what sort of government was intended (if not fully effected in the US). It was democracy he fought for, so that "... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

    No matter that the US has often fallen short of aspiration; its aspiration has been democracy from its birth.

    Finally, campaign funding laws and poor education and media are far bigger threats to democracy in the US than any feature of its Constitution.
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  50. johnd @97, you are apparently now equating the mere existence of laws with the rule of law. I am certain that the unholy trinity I mentioned had laws; but I am equally certain that they did not hold those laws to apply to themselves nor their enforcement agencies. I am even more certain they did not follow the procedures of the law in their various show trials, persecutions and progroms.

    Nor are they exceptional. Tyrants of all stripes have been as common as muck throughout history, and nearly all brought for a time, stability and discipline to their nation. (There are a few exceptions, such a Caligula, that did not.) Just because I mentioned only three examples does not mean I could not have found a hundred and more from just the 20th century alone - as you should know.

    Further, anarchy would have been much preferable in Cambodia during the reign of Pol Pot, and possibly better in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. To the extent that it was not, it was only because they attained the least of the virtues of government, whilst trampling over the greater. Because Somalia is (possibly) worse than Burma to live in; does that leave any question that it would be preferable to either to live in a democracy with the rule of law?
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