Posted on April 22nd, 2013 No comments
A while back in an online discussion with a German “Green,” I pointed out that, if Germany shut down its nuclear plants, coal plants would have to remain in operation to take up the slack. He was stunned that I could be so obtuse. Didn’t I realize that the lost nuclear capacity would all be replaced by benign “green” energy technology? Well, it turns out things didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, the lost generating capacity is being replaced by – coal.
Germany is building new coal-fired power plants hand over fist, with 26 of them planned for the immediate future. According to Der Spiegel, the German news magazine that never misses a trick when it comes to bashing nuclear, that’s a feature, not a bug. A recent triumphant headline reads, “Export Boom: German Coal Electricity Floods Europe.” Expect more of the same from the home of Europe’s most pious environmentalists. Germany has also been rapidly expanding its solar and wind capacity recently thanks to heavy state subsidies, but the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, especially in Germany. Coal plants are required to fill in the gaps – lots of them. Of course, it would be unprofitable to let them sit idle when wind and solar are available, so they are kept going full blast. When the power isn’t needed in Germany, it is sold abroad, serving as a useful prop to Germany’s export fueled economy.
Remember the grotesque self-righteousness of Der Spiegel and the German “Greens” during the Kyoto Treaty debates at the end of the Clinton administration? Complying with the Kyoto provisions cost the Germans nothing. They had just shut down the heavily polluting and grossly unprofitable industries in the former East Germany, had brought large numbers of new gas-fired plants on line thanks to increasing gas supplies from the North Sea fields, and had topped it off with a lame economy in the 90′s compared to the booming U.S. Their greenhouse gas emissions had dropped accordingly. Achieving similar reductions in the U.S. wouldn’t have been a similar “freebie.” It would have cost tens of thousands of jobs. The German “Greens” didn’t have the slightest problem with this. They weren’t interested in achieving a fair agreement that would benefit all. They were only interested in striking pious poses.
Well, guess what? Times have changed. Last year U.S. carbon emissions were at their lowest level since 1994, and down 3.7% from 2011. Our emissions are down 7.7% since 2006, the largest drop among major industrial states on the planet. German emissions were up at least 1.5% last year, and probably more like 2%. Mention this to a German “Green,” and he’s likely to mumble something about Germany still being within the Kyoto limits. That’s quite true. Germany is still riding the shutdown of what news magazine Focus calls “dilapidated, filthy, communist East German industry after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” to maintain the facade of environmental “purity.”
That’s small comfort to her eastern European neighbors. Downwind from Germany’s coal-fired plants, their “benefit” from her “green” policies is acid rain, nitrous oxide laced smog, deadly particulates that kill and sicken thousands and, last but not least, a rich harvest of radioactive fallout. That’s right, Germany didn’t decrease the radioactive hazard to her neighbors by shutting down her nuclear plants. She vastly increased it. Coal contains several parts per million each of radioactive uranium and thorium. These elements are harmless enough – if kept outside the body. The energetic alpha particles they emit are easily stopped by a normal layer of skin. When that happens, they dump the energy they carry in a very short distance, but, since skin is dead, it doesn’t matter. It’s an entirely different matter when they dump those several million electron volts of energy into a living cell – such as a lung cell. Among other things, that can easily derange the reproductive equipment of the cell, causing cancer. How can they reach the lungs? Very easily if the uranium and thorium that emit them are carried in the ash from a coal-fired plant. A typical coal-fired plant releases about 5 tons of uranium and 12 tons of thorium every year. The German “Greens” have no problem with this, even though they’re constantly bitching about the relatively miniscule release of uranium from U.S. depleted uranium munitions. Think scrubber technology helps? Guess again! The uranium and thorium are concentrated in the ash, whether it ends up in the air or not. They can easily leach into surrounding cropland and water supplies.
The last time there was an attempt to move radioactive waste to the Gorleben storage facility within Germany, the “Greens” could be found striking heroic poses as saviors of the environment all along the line, demonstrating, tearing up tracks, and setting police vehicles on fire. Their “heroic” actions forced the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear plants. The “gift” (German for “poison”) of their “heroic” actions to Germany’s neighbors came in the form of acid rain, smog, and airborne radiation. By any reasonable standard, coal-fired plants are vastly more dangerous and damaging to the environment than the nuclear facilities they replaced.
It doesn’t matter to Germany’s “Greens.” The acid rain, the radiation, the danger of global warming they always pretend to be so concerned about? It doesn’t matter. For them, as for the vast majority of other environmental zealots worldwide, the pose is everything. The reality is nothing.
Posted on January 7th, 2013 No comments
Der Spiegel, Germany’s top news magazine, has been second to none in promoting green energy, striking pious poses over the U.S. failure to jump on the Kyoto bandwagon, and trashing nuclear energy. All this propaganda has succeeded brilliantly. Germany has a powerful Green Party and is a world leader in the production of wind and solar energy, the latter in a cloudy country, the lion’s share of which lies above the 50th parallel of latitude. Now the bill has come due. In 2012 German consumers paid more than 20 billion Euros for green energy that was worth a mere 2.9 billion on the open market. True to form, Der Spiegel has been churning out shrill condemnations of the high prices, as if it never had the slightest thing to do with promoting them in the first place. In an article entitled “Green Energy Costs Consumers More Than Ever Before,” we find, among other things, that,
The cost of renewable energy continues climbing year after year. At the beginning of the year it increased from 3.59 to 5.27 (Euro) cents per kilowatt hour. One of the reasons for the increase is solar energy: more new solar facilities were installed in Germany in 2012 than ever before. The drawback of the solar boom is that it drives up the production costs paid by consumers. The reason – green energy producers will receive guaranteed compensation for every kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.
As a result, German consumers saw their bills for electricity increase by an average of 12% at the beginning of 2013. The comments following the article are at least as revealing as its content. The environmental hubris of the population shows distinct signs of fading when tranlated into terms of cold, hard cash. Examples:
What a laugh! The consumers pay 17 billion Euros, and the producers receive 2.9 billion Euros. Conclusion: End the subsidies for solar facilities immediately!! It’s too bad that the pain of consumers – if the Green Party joins the government after the Bundestag election – won’t end, but will only get worse. Other than that, solar facilities belong in countries with significantly more hours of sunlight than Germany.
Those were the days, when (Green politician) Trittin told shameless lies to the public, claiming that the switch to green energy would only cost 1.5 Euros per household.
In ten years we’ll learn what the green energy lies are really going to cost us.
The real costs are even higher. When there’s no wind, or clouds cut off the sunlight, then the conventional energy sources held in reserve must make up the deficit; the oil, coal and brown coal energy plants. If production costs are calculated correctly, then their expense should be included in the price of green energy. All at once there is a jump from 17 billion to 25 billion Euros in the price we have to pay for the “favors” the Green-Red parties have done us.
Specious arguments about the supposedly comparable costs of the nuclear power plants Germany is in the process of shutting down are no longer swallowed with alacrity. For example, in response to the familiar old chestnut of citing exaggerated costs for decommissioning nuclear plants and storing the waste a commenter replies:
Hmmm, if nuclear energy is so expensive, why are so many countries in central Europe – for example, the Czech Republic – interested in nuclear power? Certainly not to breed actinides to build nuclear weapons in order to become “nuclear powers.” The cost of long term waste storage in terms of the energy produced only amounts to about 0.01 Euros per Kw/h. Even decommissioning expenses don’t add significantly to the overall cost… Let us split atoms, not hairs.
A “green” commenter suggests that the cleanup costs for the Fukushima reactors be automatically added to the cost of all reactors:
According to the latest figures for November 2012 for Fukushima: 100 billion Euros. Distributing this over the total energy production of 880,000 GWh (according to Wikipedia) that’s 11 cents per kilowatt hour. That amounts to twice the “prettified” cost of nuclear power (without insurance and without subsidies) of 5 cents per kilowatt hour. And even then the Japanese were lucky that the wind didn’t shift in the direction of Tokyo. But the 100 billion won’t be the last word.
Drawing the response from another reader:
Let’s see. Japanese nuclear power plants produce 7,656,400 GWh of energy. In comparison to economic costs in the high tens of billions, 100 billion suddenly doesn’t seem so unreasonable. It only adds 1.3 cent per KWh to the cost of nuclear energy. Peanuts. In Germany, renewables are currently costing an average of 18 cents per KWh. That translates to 100 billion in under four years. In other words, thanks to renewables, we have a Fukushima in Germany every four years.
In response to a remark about all the wonderful green jobs created, another commenter responds,
Jobs created? Every job is subsidized to the tune of 40,000 Euros; how, exactly, is that supposed to result in a net gain for the economy overall?? According to your logic, all we have to do to eliminate any level of unemployment is just subsidize it away. That’s Green politics for you.
Another unhappy power customer has noticed that, in addition to the hefty subsidy he’s paying for his own power, he has to finance his well-healed “green” neighbors rooftop solar array as well:
Whoever is surprised about the increases in the cost of electricity hasn’t been paying attention. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. At the moment the consumer is paying for the solar cells on his neighbor’s roof right along with his own electricity bill. Surprising? Who’s surprised?
It’s amazing how effective a substantial and increasing yearly hit to income can be in focusing the mind when it comes to assessing the real cost of green energy.
Posted on November 8th, 2012 No comments
The election is history and the unlucky soothsayers I referred to in my last post are eating crow. To paraphrase Billy Joel in one of his songs, “they didn’t have quite enough information.” For the edification and amusement of my readers, here are some of Tuesday’s losers.
Noted Republican strategist Karl Rove. He thought the polls suggested that more Republicans and fewer Democrats would show up to vote than in 2008. He was wrong.
In an article entitled, “Reflections on Mittmentum,” the ever hopeful Roger Kimball, who blogs for PJmedia, wrote the day before the election,
My own sense of the matter, as I have said here on many occasions, is that Mitt will not only win but win handily. The final tally, I suspect, will show Mitt the victor with something like 330 electoral votes.
The day after, a chastened Kimball wrote,
But I misread and misread badly both the mood of the country and the depth of support for Obama’s failed policies. I will doubtless get around to rejoining Ron in the battle, but a little hiatus for reflection will not come amiss.
That is certainly a sentiment his fellow prophets will agree on. Soothsayers over the water also got their comeuppance on Tuesday. Christopher Carr of Australia’s conservative mag, The Quadrant, had assured his readers,
On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney will be elected President of the United States by a comfortable margin. It will not be a cliffhanger, despite the chorus of conventional wisdom.
Carr added that, because of his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate, and his strong performance in the debate, Romney’s victory was assured. In his post mortem after the results were in, he sadly concluded,
Mitt Romney played Mr. Nice Guy. President Obama played the demagogue. But nice guys finish last.
In Germany, Der Spiegel’s token conservative pundit, Jan Fleischhauer, also had it wrong. In an article entitled “Bad, Bad Romney,” a satirical dig at the usual German version of reality in which the Republicans are bad guys and the Democrats good guys, he writes,
In the media the battle for the White House is already decided; Mitt Romney… has no chance. Unfortunately, wishful thinking isn’t much help in a democracy. The Republicans may not have the press on their side – but they have the numbers.
Not one to dwell on his mistake, Mr. Fleischhauer penned another article entitled “Our Obama-Love is Infantile“ a couple of days after the election analyzing the “root causes” of German anti-Americanism. It was probably more useful to his readers, noting, for example, that Germans have been hopefully and confidently predicting the downfall of the United States for the last 40 years. In fact, it’s probably been longer than that. I note in passing that, in reading the many comments after the articles on the U.S. elections on German webzines, there are a lot more Germans pointing to the faults of their own country and condemning the ubiquitous destructive criticism of the United States than there were, say, ten years ago. The usual received wisdom according to which the U.S. is the decaying embodiment of evil imperialism, run by shadowy financiers, and inhabited by Bible-thumping Christian versions of the Taliban, is still there in abundance. However, more nuance is gradually being added by those who ask questions such as why, if we are so evil, and Germany such a paradise, so many Germans are looking around for the best shortcut to a Green Card.
One thing that both the lucky and the unlucky pundits will likely agree on is that the electorate is fractured along racial and gender lines as never before. Political ingroups in the U.S. are rapidly becoming less defined by ideology, and more defined by demography. Romney won the vote of white males over thirty by a massive majority. Obama won the black, Hispanic, Asian, and single female votes by similarly huge majorities. His majorities trumped Romney’s. It seems that similarly constituted Democratic majorities will continue prevail more frequently than not in national elections for a long time to come. To the extent that political and economic issues mattered in this election, they mattered less in their own right and more as cultural attributes associated with race and gender than in past elections. The Benghazi debacle was a huge deal for white males over thirty. It was a non-issue for young black women.
Posted on September 26th, 2012 No comments
Pundits on the right have been less than pleased by what they view as a timid defense of freedom of speech and appeasement of radical Islamists by both Obama Administration officials and public intellectuals on the left in the wake of the murder of Ambassador Stevens and the accompanying violence in the Mideast. See for example, this piece by Ann Althouse, and this by Victor Davis Hanson. If the wobbly stuff emanating from the L.A. Times, The New Republic, and MSNBC is in any way representative, they have a point. In fact, the Left in the US and Europe has been exchanging admiring glances with the Islamists for some time. It’s not surprising. Following the collapse of Communism, radical Islam is the only game in town if your tastes run to extreme ideologies and you like to imagine yourself as a savior of the world. Unfortunately, it takes a very flexible intellect to abandon the ideological shibboleths embraced by the Left for the last couple of decades in favor of a misogynistic and fundamentalist version of Islam. Hence, the love affair has been carried on from a distance for the most part. If it’s any consolation to Professors Althouse and Hanson, things have been worse. Much worse.
It’s instructive to occasionally step back from the flood of information about current events that constantly pours in over the public media and look at the equivalent sources of information and opinion from times gone by. Consider the first half of the 1930’s, for example. The Great Depression had a strong tendency to adjust the attitudes of the public intellectuals of the day. Many of them were also fascinated by, and strongly supportive of, the totalitarian regimes that had recently appeared on the scene, some leaning to the Communist and some to the fascist variants thereof. I found interesting examples of both while thumbing through an old copy of The Atlantic Monthly.
The issue in question, dated November 1934, began with a piece by Vincent Sheean entitled “Youth and Revolution.” I highly recommend Sheean’s books, such as Not Peace but a Sword and Personal History to interested readers. Sheean was an excellent writer and journalist, and had a knack for turning up at key places just as events that shaped history were happening. He was also a forerunner of what a whole generation of later journalists became; a self-appointed champion of noble causes who saw the world in stark black and white, with few shades of grey in between. He had no illusions about Hitler at all, and witnessed and wrote about Nazi brutality against the Jews at a time when many “experts” who should have known better were dismissing such stories as “atrocity fables.” Hitler was a “bad guy.” Stalin and the Bolsheviks, on the other hand, were “good guys.” When it came to the bloody deeds of the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Sheean didn’t miss a trick, but was strangely blind to the ample evidence of similar mayhem available at the time if the perpetrators happened to be Communists.
In the article he wrote for the Atlantic, Sheean describes a trip to China in 1927. To set the stage historically, he arrived in China during the Northern Expedition, in which Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek triumphed over a coalition of warlords and succeeded in uniting most of the country in 1928. Nanking had fallen to them in March 1927, a couple of weeks before Sheean arrived, and tensions between Chiang and the Communists in the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) were coming to a head. They would soon culminate in Shanghai Massacre and the purge of Communists from the party which, until then had been supplied with arms and money from the Soviet Union. The Soviet envoy, Mikhail Borodin, was allowed to “escape” from the country. Here are a few excerpts from Sheean’s article:
The moment of triumph was inevitably the one in which the two elements among the Cantonese victors would separate. Genuine revolutionaries – those who wished to change the conditions of life in China, and not simply the forms or names of government – found themselves obliged to cling to the Left Wing of the Kuomintang, in which Russian influence was paramount. The others – those who took part in the revolution for their own advantage, or were prevented by the tenacity of middle-class ideas from wishing to disturb the established arrangement of wealth – collected around the treasuries of Shanghai and Nanking, under the patronage of the Chinese bankers of those cities and their new ally, Chiang Kai-shek.
…the difference between an academic acquaintance with Communism and an actual perception of its spirit is very great. The step required to pass from the first state to the second is so easy that it may be accomplished in a moment, and so difficult that it may involve the effort of a lifetime… but when the step has at last been taken, the barrier passed, we enter a world in which all parts of the structure of existence are so related and harmonized, so subjugated to a sovereign system, that its ordered beauty and majesty give us the sensation of a new form of life, as if we had moved off into space and taken up our abode, for a time, on another star… The world of Lenin (which is, in effect, all around us) can be entered in a moment, but only if the disposition of circumstances, persons, influences, can conquer the laziness of a bourgeois mind. The required combinations occurred for me at Hankow, and were given force and form, particularly, by Michael Borodin and Rayna Prohme (Russian editor of the left wing Kuomintangs newspaper).
Borodin, a large, calm man with the natural dignity of a lion or a panther, had that special quality of being in, but above, the battle that seems to me to deserve, in itself and without regard to the judgment of the world, the name of greatness… As I knew him better I perceived – or, rather, he showed me – how his political philosophy made breadth and elevation inevitable in the mind that understood it. He was an Old Bolshevik.
Such were the musings and reminiscences of a “mainstream media” journalist in 1934. As the reader will gather, Sheean was singularly ill-equipped intellectually to give his audience a balanced view of the Stalinist regime in Russia, or an understanding of the real nature of Communism. I encourage anyone who thinks he was the only one writing the sort of stuff cited above in 1934 to look through a few of the intellectual journals of the time. The question among many of the authors who contributed to them was not whether capitalism was dead, but which flavor of socialism would replace it, and whether the “inevitable” transition would occur violently or not. For the record, Borodin disappeared into the Gulag in 1949, and died in captivity in 1951, having escaped that fate much longer than most of the old Bolsheviks. The current state of the “worker’s paradise” in China should be familiar to most readers.
Apologists for the other brand of totalitarianism extant at the time, fascism, were fewer in number, but hardly uncommon. One of them, William Orton, a professor of economics at Smith College, contributed an article to the Atlantic entitled “New Wine in Germany.” It soothed readers’ “irrational” fears about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime that had seized power in that country in January 1933. Orton had no more problem with Hitler’s suppression of “bourgeois” freedoms than Sheean had with the suppression of those freedoms by the Communists. He wrote at a time when much of the propaganda about atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in World War I had been debunked, spawning an attitude among intellectuals that all reports of atrocities were to be taken with a grain of salt. This instance of “learning the lessons of history” was particularly unhelpful at a time when the Communists and Nazis were competing for the title of greatest mass murderers of all time. The many eyewitness reports coming out of Germany and the Soviet Union were dismissed with the sage observation that, “It’s necessary to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Orton applied this logic to the violent Nazi persecution of the Jews that Sheean, among others, had already described in great detail. Here are some of the things he had to say about the “New Wine in Germany.”
It is not difficult, after three thousand miles of travel in Germany, to recognize in one’s mind a certain general impression; but it is almost impossible to convey that impression in speech or writing. One has the sense of a tremendous spiritual or psychological fact – overwhelming in its magnitude, urgent in its significance. But since the ingredients of this fact are primarily neither personal nor political, it eludes the scope of both the ordinary news story and the ordinary article. Perhaps the film could do it justice.
A sound film, of course, it would have to be. Drums – no, not the drums first. Silence – the silence that surrounds a great ship coming into harbor; and, somewhere up above, a band playing the new national anthem, the ‘Horst Wessel Lied’ – a fine music, reserved, steady, powerful in its measure, swinging out in the sunshine over the massed decks, over the narrowing water, over the crowded dock, over thousands of arms held motionless in the splendid gesture of the Fascist salute. Swing the camera along those lines of hands, held tense, not flaccid; close up to the faces; look at the lips, look at the eyes, shining, shining…
Confronted by this transition from party to government, British and American opinion exhibits a reluctance to face the facts that amounts to a positive refusal. Atrocity stories are played up, blunders magnified, oppression emphasized, …until a fair estimate of Hitler and his system is out of the question. There was the same display of stubborn short-sightedness in regard to the Italian and the Russian revolution, but in neither case was the myopia as acute as in this one. The roots of the disease must be exposed, since it renders a realistic attitude to modern Germany impossible.
Evidently Orton considered himself just the man to cure the “myopia,” and convey a “realistic attitude” about Hitler. He continues,
Germany is completely united in the determination to assert her equality of status with other powers; she has the means to do so, and there exists neither the right nor the possibility of preventing her.
Whether we will or no, we must take the risk of believing in the German people.
Germany has no present desire to provoke a war; and she has given certain tangible evidences (as Mussolini did not) of this fact. Hitler said, a few weeks ago, that ‘no colony was worth a single German life.’ His lieutenants have repeatedly said that with the return of the Saar there will remain no further cause of quarrel with France. There is good ground for accepting these assurances. But more weighty evidence is supplied by the ten-year treaty with Poland and the agreement recently concluded by Danzig with that state. To anyone who knows at first hand what conditions are like on the eastern border, those two settlements are an impressive demonstration of the will to peace.
Anti-semitism had been a problem, but Hitler had wisely put a stop to it:
Anti-semitism got altogether out of hand; until, when Streicher’s organ, Der Stürmer, attacked the President of Czechoslovakia, that too had to be temporarily suppressed.
It was with such stories of Hitler’s “will to peace” and his “suppression of anti-Semitism” that Orton reassured and “enlightened” the great democracies on the eve of the greatest existential struggle in their history. It is not recorded that he suffered any ill consequences for this “service.” As far as one can tell, it was forgotten, and he continued as a respected professor at Smith until his death in 1952. Searching the Internet, one learns that, “Russell Kirk praised Orton as a “humane economist,” “at once liberal and conservative,” seeking to “liberalize and humanize the Dismal Science.”
In a word, conservatives frustrated with the Left’s flirtations with radical Islam should take heart. Things have been worse. At the moment, at least, the United States and the European democracies don’t face an immediate threat to their existence. Meanwhile, there is no reason to believe that we will not continue to be “enlightened” about similar threats as we move into the future. Whether such “enlightenment” will be a significant contributor to our eventual downfall only time will tell.
Posted on August 31st, 2012 No comments
Niall Ferguson’s recent publication of an article attacking Obama in Newsweek generated a lot of useful data on the nature of political thought. Consider, for example, the hundreds of comments left on liberal and conservative political blogs and websites. They’re easy enough to find on Google. On the former, the commenters are typically furious because of their conviction that Ferguson’s article is nothing but a pack of lies, and on the latter they are triumphant because of their conviction that Ferguson not only answered but demolished the charges of deception, and exposed his opponents as the real liars. For the most part, the comments are morally charged, and seem to fully vindicate Jonathan Haidt’s point about the emotional dog with a rational tail. To the extent that any of the commenters attempt to use reason at all, it is to vindicate intuitions about whether Ferguson is “good” or “evil” that are entirely predictable depending on whether they dwell on the right or left of the political spectrum. There are virtually no instances of the apparent use of reason to weigh and balance the evidence before forming an opinion. The more obsessed an individual is with politics, the more predictable his opinions become on any politically loaded issue. If there is any good news in all this, it is that both sides are well-represented in the social media, at least in the United States. The rare individual who is inclined to weigh the evidence on both sides and attempt to formulate an opinion informed by reason at least has easy access to both points of view. The result is a salutary restraint on the ardent partisans of both sides that encourages them to occasionally temper their ideal worldview with doses of reality. If only one point of view were represented, there would be an opposite tendency to replace reality with fantasy.
The German media provides a good example of how this works in practice. As in the U.S., the social media in that country has powerful voices on both the “left” and the “right.” There are pronounced differences among the partisans of both sides, particularly regarding issues of local interest. However, as regards, the U.S., the message from both sides is remarkably similar. This was very evident in the most recent of the periodic eruptions of anti-American hate in Europe that reached its climax during the final years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush Administrations. Coverage of the United States, whether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the right or Der Spiegel magazine on the left, was uniformly anti-American and quasi-racist. For example, Americans were universally stereotyped as prudish, religious fanatics, gun nuts, etc. Occasionally the bitter attacks on the U.S. took up so much space on Der Spiegel’s website that it was difficult to find any news about Germany. The anti-American wave only subsided when a few people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice (and be shocked) by what they were seeing. Apparently the big dogs in the German media concluded that, profitable though it undoubtedly was, they would have to tone down what had become blatant hate mongering if they wanted to preserve some chance of continuing to win prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”
Today things are significantly more subdued although the media still throws a chunk of red meat to the Amerika haters now and then. However, the one-sided nature of the reporting is still the same. Consider, for example, the recent coverage of the Republican National Convention. Whereas, after a brief honeymoon, the Obama Administration is now generally portrayed in the German media as merely ineffectual, the Republicans are decidedly bad guys who are typically described as “radical,” “extreme,” and “crazy.” They are, of course, “racist” as well. Thus, for example, there was heavy coverage of incident in which two unknown individuals threw nuts at a black CNN correspondent and told her that was how they “fed the animals,” but no mention of the seemingly more egregious racism behind the defacing of Republican Mia Love’s Wikipedia entry, and little, if any, notice of the fact that persons of color were prominent speakers at the convention at all.
Paul Ryan is described as an “extremist” in both the “rightist” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“Ryan is known as a proponent of budget slashing and massive cuts in the area of social welfare”) and the “leftist” Der Spiegel (“Romney’s choice for Vice President has prepared a plan of battle that includes more explosive for America’s democracy than all (Sarah) Palin’s vices – nothing less than a declaration of war on America’s social solidarity”), based on either grossly distorted and one-sided portrayals of his record, or, more commonly, no evidence at all. In spite of the fact that the federal budget proposed by Ryan calls for increased spending every year for the next decade and beyond, he supposedly wants a “skeleton state.” In condemning Ryan, Der Spiegel goes so far as to provide its readers with a fairy tale version of “history” that would never pass the “ho ho” test if there were anyone around with an interest in bothering to challenge it:
Ryan sees himself as a tribune of the people. He likes to quote Ronald Reagan’s remarks to the effect that, if the rich had more, their riches would “trickle down” to the rest of the citizens. The result of this experiment is well known: Reagan had to massively increase taxes in 1982, because the U.S. budget deficit had become gigantic.
In fact, Ryan couldn’t quote Reagan’s remarks about “trickle down” economics, because the term is a straw man used by his enemies. English speakers can easily Google the facts about economics in the Reagan years, and see for themselves that the 1982 tax increase was not “massive” by any reasonable definition of the term, and particularly not when compared with the tax cut of 1981, that it represented a compromise in return for spending cuts, that there was a net overall decline, not increase, in the tax rate during the Reagan years. Furthermore, in spite of tax cuts, as noted by economist M. T. Griffith,
As a result of the Reagan tax cuts, tax payments and the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% climbed sharply. For example, in 1981 the top 1% paid 17.6% of all personal income taxes, but by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5%, a 10 percentage point increase. The share of the income tax burden borne by the top 10% of taxpayers increased from 48.0% in 1981 to 57.2% in 1988. Meanwhile, the share of income taxes paid by the bottom 50% of taxpayers dropped from 7.5% in 1981 to 5.7% in 1988.
The “gigantic” U.S. budget deficit of 1982 was only about half what it is today as a percent of GDP. The arguments and interpretations of the legacy of the Reagan years continue in the U.S. to this day, with lots of spin on both sides. The point is that the version in the German media is generally a great deal more crudely one-sided than one typically finds in the U.S., even among the most ardent partisans on either side. Only one point of view speaks with a significant voice in the social media. “Fact checking” by the other side is not a concern, because there is no other side, other than a few brave but insignificant bloggers.
The Eastwood speech was another prominent feature of the convention that was portrayed one way by the Right, and an entirely different way by the Left. In Germany, it was portrayed only one way, more or less in lockstep with the version you’re likely to find in the New York Times or Washington Post. Which version you happen to prefer is beside the point. The point is that, on this as on so many other complex issues dealing with the U.S., in Germany, you only get one version, and it’s usually a great deal cruder and tendentious than its equivalent here.
According to Marx, a monopoly of the social means of production in the hands of a single economic class is a bad thing. In practice, it seems to me that a monopoly of the social means of communication on behalf of a single point of view may be a good deal worse. That was the state of affairs that prevailed in the U.S. in the 60’s and 70’s. With respect to “news” about the United States, it is a state of affairs that prevails in Germany, and probably a good number of other countries to this day. Where such monopolies exist, formal “freedom of the press” is meaningless. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like whining about Rush Limbaugh, Foxnews, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the right, or about George Soros, MSNBC, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the left. As long as both of them exist, it’s a good thing. They keep each other honest.
Posted on July 31st, 2012 2 comments
Well, actually that’s only technically true. Any potential Obama voter who can afford the fare and tell a red state from a blue state becomes an honorary U.S. citizen as soon as they set foot on these shores. They can vote as often as they like, as long as they don’t do it all in the same precinct. Still, I had to chuckle when I glanced at the website of Der Spiegel this morning. They are so in the tank for Obama they make MSNBC look like the soul of objective journalism. Here are the stories I found in a quick glance through:
Headline: Candidate Embarrassing Byline: Stiff as a board, clueless, artificial. Republican Presidential candidate exposed many of his weaknesses on his European tour.
Headline: Romney Enrages Palestinians (have they ever not been enraged?) Byline: Romney campaigns on his foreign tour – and arouses the Palestinians against him in the process.
Headline: Romney’s Blundering Tour through Europe Byline: The U.S. candidate for President booked a week of blunders and slip-ups in Europe. Things just aren’t going right for the Republican.
Headline: Stepping in it On Tour Byline: The Palestinians accuse him of racism, the British are cross, and Polands Solidarnosc doesn’t like him.
Headline: Romney Advisor Curses Reporters in Warsaw Byline: There’s no end to the criticism directed at Romney’s foreign tour – now one of his advisors lost his cool.
And mind you, that’s just what I saw in a quick glance on a single day. Actually, it’s a huge improvement. Back in the last years of the Clinton and first years of the Bush Administrations, Der Spiegel’s website was so full of vile, quasi-racist anti-American rants that it was often difficult to wade through it all and find any news about Germany. They only gave it up when a few people across the pond started to notice, and the editors realized they were putting all those prestigious international prizes for “objective journalism” in jeopardy. They still occasionally throw out some red meat to the Amerika haters, but only enough to keep them on life support.
Posted on May 7th, 2012 No comments
Jakob Augstein is the quintessential European version of what would be referred to in the US as a latte Liberal. Heir to what one surmises was a significant fortune from his adopted father, the Amerika-hating founder of Der Spiegel magazine, Rudolf Augstein, he nevertheless imagines himself the champion of the poor and downtrodden. His writing is certainly not original, but he is at least a good specimen of the type for anyone interested in European ideological trends. His reaction to the recent election in France is a good example.
As those who occasionally read a European headline are aware, that election resulted in the victory of socialist Francois Hollande over his austerity-promoting opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy. While certainly noteworthy, such transitions are hardly unprecedented. No matter, the ideological good guys won as far as Augstein is concerned. He greets Hollande’s seemingly unremarkable victory with peals of the Marseillaise and Liberty leading the people:
It is not just a piece of political folklore that France is the land of the revolution. No other European country has such a lively tradition of protest. La lutte permanente, the constant struggle, is part and parcel of the French civilization. In France, the centralized state historically formed an alliance with the people against feudalism. Now the time has come for that to happen again. The fact that the French picked this particular time to vote a socialist into the Elysee Palace is no coincidence. A revolutionary signal will now go forth from France to all of Europe. The new feudal lords who must be resisted are the banks.
Great shades of 1789! Break out Madame Guillotine. What can account for such an outburst of revolutionary zeal in response to what is ostensibly just another garden variety shift from the right to the left in European politics? It is, of course, “austerity,” the course of belt-tightening prescribed by Sarkozy and his pal, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, for Greece and some of the other more profligate spendthrifts in the European Union. Has austerity worked? Augstein’s answer is an unqualified “No.”
…Can one overcome a recession by saving? The answer is: No. those who save during a recession deepen the recession.
I personally rather doubt that anyone knows whether austerity “works” in a recession or not. Modern economies are too complex to simplistically attribute their success or failure to one such overriding factor and, in any case, serious austerity measures haven’t been in effect long enough to allow a confident judgment one way or the other. Certainly the opposites of austerity, such as the recent “stimulus” experiment in the US, haven’t been unqualified successes either, and have the disadvantage of leaving the states that try them mired in debt.
No matter, Augstein goes on to teach us some of the other “lessons” we should learn from the events in France. It turns out that some of these apply to Augsteins’s own country, Germany. The German taxpayers have forked over large sums to keep the economies of Greece and some of the other weak sisters in Europe afloat. Germany’s robust economy has served as an engine to pull the rest of Europe along. German’s should be patting themselves on the back for their European spirit, no?
Not according to Augstein! As he tells it, what Germans should really be doing is hanging their heads in shame.
The Germans are poster boys of the market economy. Never have interest rates been more favorable for Germany. It’s a gift of the market at the expense of the rest of Europe. She (Merkel) isn’t concerned about the European political legacy of Adenauer and Kohl. Those are such western ideas, that mean little to the woman from the east. Driven by cheap money from the international finance markets, the German export industry has scuttled European integration – and Merkel lets them get away with it.
Ah, yes, the socialists of the world have no country. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? If you’re successful, you must be evil. The proper response is guilt. Poor Germans! They just can’t ever seem to catch a break. Somehow they always end up in the role of villain.
According to Augstein, without the support of France, Germany and her “saving politics” are now isolated in Europe. What’s that supposed to mean? That Germans are now supposed to fork over even greater funds, this time with no strings attached in the name of “European integration?” If I were a German taxpayer, I know what my response would be: “Let the other Europeans spend and spend to their heart’s content, just as long as they don’t reach into my pocket to do it.”
Well, we’ll just have to wait and see how this flight back to socialism turns out. Who am I to say? I’m no economist. There’s an election in Germany next year. If the socialists return to power there as well, things might really get interesting. We’ll finally find out just how European socialists plan to go about ending austerity after they’ve run out of other people’s money to spend.
Posted on February 15th, 2012 No comments
In my last post concerning Prof. Hanson’s pronouncements on religion in an article about the decline of Europe, I mentioned in passing that the truth actually matters. It’s worth elaborating on this point. Notice that nowhere in his article does Hanson explicitly claim that the Christian religion is true. Rather, he merely asserts that societies become ill in its absence. Let’s set aside for a moment the extremely dubious nature of this assertion, in view of the numerous historical incidents in which Christianity has been directly responsible for mass slaughter, gross exploitation, and other forms of social malaise that one doesn’t normally describe as “healthy.” Rather, let’s focus on his practice of putting the cart before the horse by claiming that Christianity is valuable as a tonic against social “illness” without first bothering to explain why he actually considers it to be true. Of course, the Christians aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Regardless of who is making such arguments, though, they’re all more or less beside the point.
Suppose, for example, that Christianity really is true. In that case, what use is it to ascertain whether it promotes healthy societies as well or not? After all, even if we do live in an “ill” society, in that case we will only have to endure it for a trivial amount of time. If, however, we annoy a God who, as the Christians assure us, has in common with humans the emotional behavioral trait we refer to as vengefulness, in spite of presumably having neither an amygdala, orbital cingulate cortex, or any other of the bits of gray matter responsible for expression of the trait in mere mortals, then, unless we don’t at least make a convincing show of pretending to do what he wants, we stand to burn in hell for quadrillions and quintillions of years to satisfy the requirements of divine justice. Under the circumstances, it would seem that the effects on society, one way or the other, are trivial to the point of irrelevance by comparison.
The essential question to answer, then, is not what effects Christianity, and all the other systems of belief in supernatural beings, for that matter, have on social wellness, but whether they are true. It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent person who is willing to use his gray matter as something other than a convenient stuffing for his skull and undertakes to investigate the matter with diligence and an open mind instead of simply following the usual path of least resistance and blindly accepting some hand-me-down opinion on the subject and then rationalizing it after the fact will conclude that they most certainly aren’t true. One might start by reading the recent books on the subject by the likes of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. However, the authors tend to go off on tangents of sanctimonious moralizing without troubling to explain to the reader what branch they happen to be sitting on to support the same that they haven’t already sawed off. Dawkins book is also blemished by the gross anti-Americanism that was fashionable among European intellectuals at the time it was published.
I personally prefer the Testament of the brilliant French cleric, Jean Meslier, who had no such ax to grind, and thoroughly demolished any basis for belief in supernatural beings a century and a quarter before Darwin’s Origin of Species. If your tastes run to poetry, try Edward Fitzgerald’s so-called “translation” of the Rubaiyat, which is actually a deconstruction of Islam, but serves as well for other religions. Add to that the wonderful works of Bart Ehrman, such as Jesus Interrupted, in case you seriously believe the Bible isn’t full of gross contradictions, and his Misquoting Jesus, which documents the literally tens of thousands of textual variations in the most authoritative manuscripts of the Bible if you really believe every jot, tittle, and typographical error therein is the inspired word of God, and you’ll have at least a fighting chance of coming to your senses in matters of religious belief. (By the way, any cleric worth his salt who’s been to a reputable seminary knows that what Ehrman says is true. They just don’t usually bother to tell their flocks, for obvious reasons.)
Do all of the above quickly, if possible. After all, what if the UFO fanciers are right, and we are soon to experience a visit by some race of extraterrestrials? Think of how embarrassing it will be for all of us if they discover that 90 percent of us still believe in imaginary beings with magical powers. We’ll never live it down.
Posted on February 14th, 2012 No comments
When it comes to inclination, or emotion if you will, I tend to be more conservative than liberal. There are some things about the right in the US today that rub me the wrong way, though. For example, they’re constantly harping about their love of Liberty, but they don’t define the term quite the same way as Webster. When it comes to religion, for example, it means you’re free to think just like them. Beyond that, there are certain constraints on your “liberty.” According to their idiosyncratic definition of the term, you are endowed with freedom “of” religion, but not freedom “from” religion. If, like me, you are unfortunate enough not to believe in supernatural beings, as far as your liberty is concerned, ”certain restrictions apply.” In spite of the fact that you can no more voluntarily decide to change your mind in matters of religion than you can voluntarily change you skin color or ethnicity, you can no longer be considered a citizen in the full sense of the term. As an atheist, you are relegated to one of the last remaining officially approved outgroups, and are, at best tolerated.
Some artifacts of this attitude recently turned up in an article by the conservative essayist, Victor Davis Hanson. The article in question, entitled “Europe in the Rearview Mirror,” deals with the familiar theme of European malaise, and includes the following observations on religion:
Yes, I know Europe is sick, ill with loud secular agnosticism and atheism, aging and shrinking, wedded to an unworkable redistributive socialism.
We seem to have forgotten that what is admirable in the U.S. is not just the result of the vast American landscape, a natural selection of the more audacious and risk-taking immigrants, frontier life, and the resulting rugged individualism, but because the Founders were nursed on the European Enlightenment, Christianity was imported from Europe, and Anglo-Saxon law was built upon in a new continent.
I wonder, what are my chances of enjoying anything like genuine liberty among people who consider my religious opinions an “illness?” Let’s consider the implications of these statements by Davis. The possibilities are,
a) Mr. Hanson is a prophet. In other words, God has fluttered down from on high and spoken to him personally, giving him detailed instructions about how all of us are to live our lives in order that our societies may not become “ill.” Surely he would not dare presume to declare that some millions of his fellow citizens were a “sickness” on his own authority. After all, has he not spent a good portion of his career railing against just such people – those he and the rest of the right call self-appointed “elites?” Surely he would not willingly join such an elite himself. After all his anathemas specifically directed at such gentry, it would be the grossest hypocrisy. If, on the other hand, Hanson really has been endowed with the authority to declare millions of his fellow citizens a “sickness” directly from God, by all means let him announce it to the world.
b) Hanson is not a prophet, but is merely personally convinced of the truth of Christianity. However, rejecting the taint of elitism, he does not presume to dictate to the rest of us what we should believe in matters of religion. In that case, it logically follows that his argument is essentially utilitarian. In other words, he is of the opinion that we should all pretend to be Christians whether we actually are or not because otherwise our society will become ill. If so, then we must conclude that, as far as Hanson is concerned, the question of whether what we believe, or at least pretend to believe, is true or not is irrelevant. It is the duty of every citizen, regardless of their actual convictions, to pretend to believe that which is most conducive to the health of society.
Unfortunately, I suspect I will always be ill-suited for life in a society which requires me to base my actions on premises that are untrue. However, if the criterion for acceptance of these premises is their promotion of the health of society, and avoidance of social “ills,” then Christianity is a most unlikely candidate. After all, admitting that the country our forefathers left us was, indeed, admirable, are we really to attribute the fact to the coincidence that many of them happened to be Christians? Were not the founders of the countries currently occupying central and South America Christians as well? Would Hanson be so bold as to claim that, thanks to their Christian faith, these countries have never been sick a day in their lives? What about two of the greatest success stories of western civilization, Greece and Rome? Presumably, based on his writings, Hanson knows something about them. Were the Greek city states Christian? Was Rome Christian except in the decades of her decline and fall? What of the Crusades? Were the Christian states they established all free of “illness?” Was the murder of the the citizens of Jerusalem after its conquest, not to mention 50,000 “witches,” a sign of health? From the senile stupidity of the Papal States to the suicidal proclivity of scores of monarchs by “divine right” to hold their subjects in a state of abject ignorance, I could cite thousands of other historical data points that demonstrate that, far from promoting the “health” of society, Christianity has been the source of its most virulent diseases.
Certainly, if we are an “illness,” Hanson must question the patriotism of American atheists. Well, I’m an American atheist. I also attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and volunteered to serve, and actually did serve, in the armed forces of my country in Vietnam, at a time when serving ones country in that way was hardly a popular thing to do. I was there from 1971 to 1972, at a time when Hanson was just of an age to be a soldier. My question to him is, “Where were you?” You, who reserve to yourself the right to decide who among us are patriots and who, on the other hand, will make our country “ill,” you, who have always been full of such fulsome and unctuous praise for our nation’s armed forces, where were you?
Posted on February 11th, 2012 No comments
I don’t think so! Less than a century after H. L. Mencken wrote that the Uplift was a purely American phenomenon, there may now be even more of the pathologically pious in Germany per capita than in the U.S. They all think they’re far smarter than the average human being, they all see a savior of mankind when they look in the mirror, and almost all of them are cocksure that nuclear power is one of the Evils they need to save us from. Just last November tens of thousands of them turned out in force to block the progress of a spent fuel castor from France to the German radioactive waste storage site at Gorleben. The affair turned into a regular Uplift feeding frenzy, complete with pitched battles between the police and the peaceful protesters, who were armed with clubs and pyrotechnics, tearing up of railroad tracks, etc. It’s no wonder the German government finally threw in the towel and announced the country would shut down its nuclear power plants.
At least the decision took the wind out of their sails for a while. As Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “nothing fails like success” for the Saviors of Mankind. Success tends to leave them high and dry. At best they have to go to the trouble of finding another holy cause to fight for. At worst, as in the aftermath of their fine victory in establishing a Worker’s Paradise in Russia, they’re all shot.
It would seem the “bitter dregs of success” were evident in a recent article on the website of the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, entitled “Electricity is Becoming Scarce in Germany.” Der Spiegel has always been in the van of the pack of baying anti-nuclear hounds in Germany, so I was somewhat surprised by the somber byline, which reads as follows:
The nuclear power shutdown has been a burden for Germany’s electric power suppliers in any case. Now the cold wave is making matters worse. The net operators have already had to fall back on emergency reserves for the second time this winter, and buy additional electricity from Austria.
That’ s quite an admission coming from the Der Spiegel, where anti-nuclear polemics are usually the order of the day. Even the resolutely Green Washington Post editorialized against the German shutdown, noting, among other things,
THE INTERNATIONAL Energy Agency reported on Monday that global energy-related carbon emissions last year were the highest ever, and that the world is far off track if it wants to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, after which the results could be very dangerous.
So what does Germany’s government decide to do? Shut down terawatts of low-carbon electric capacity in the middle of Europe. Bowing to misguided political pressure from Germany’s Green Party, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a plan to close all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022.
European financial analysts (estimate) that Germany’s move will result in about 400 million tons of extra carbon emissions by 2020, as the country relies more on fossil fuels. Nor is Donald Tusk, Poland’s prime minister, who ominously announced that Germany has put coal-fired power “back on the agenda” — good for his coal-rich nation directly to Germany’s east but terrible for the environment and public health.
…and so on. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the German Greens optimistic plans to replace nuclear with solar in a cloudy country that gets cold in the winter and lies on the wrong side of the 50th parallel of latitude. Poland’s prime minister is right to worry about being downwind of Germany. In spite of the cheery assurances of the Greens, she currently plans to build 26 new coal-fired power plants. It’s funny how environmental zealots forget all about the terrible threat of global warming if its a question of opposing nuclear power. But Poland has a lot more to worry about than Germany’s carbon footprint.
It’s estimated that 25,000 people die from breathing coal particulates in the U.S. alone every year. The per capita death rate in Poland, directly downwind from the German plants, will likely be significantly higher. Then there’s the radiation problem. That’s right, coal typically contains several parts per million of radioactive uranium and thorium. A good-sized plant will release 5 tons of uranium and 10 tons of thorium into the environment each year. Estimated releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. China currently burns that much coal by herself. The radiation from uranium and thorium is primarily in the form of alpha particles, or helium nuclei. Such radiation typically has a very short range in matter, because it slows down quickly and then dumps all of its remaining energy in a very limited distance, the so-called Bragg peak. On the one hand that means that a piece of paper is enough to stop most alpha radiation. On the other it means that if you breath it in, the radiation will be slammed to a stop in your sensitive lung tissue, dealing tremendous damage in the process. Have you ever heard of people dying of lung cancer who never smoked a day in their lives? If you’re looking for a reason, look no further.
No matter. As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic. Germany’s Greens will continue to ignore such dry statistics, and they will continue to strike noble poses as they fight the nuclear demon, forgetting all about global warming in the process. For them, the pose is everything, and the reality nothing.