Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
www.igc.org/gadfly


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Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

NO MO PO MO
    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
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The Gadfly's E-Mail: gadfly@igc.org


Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession
"

 

 

 

The Quotation Bin

Politics and Economics



 

Freedom is Slavery (Orwell, 1984)

It is worth noting that under 802 of the Patriot Act, one definition of "domestic terrorism" covers "acts [that] appear to be intended ... to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.  How broadly does the government define "intimidation" these days?  Would "the Collected Opinions of William O. Douglas" qualify?   [And what about "intimidation"?  Would this include the Selma March? EP]

I was thinking of the Patriot Act last month when I say President George W. Bush on television speaking to students at Qingua University in Beijing.  "Life in American shows that liberty, paired with law, is not to be feared, "he said. "In a free society, diversity is not disorder.  Debate is not strife.  And dissent is not revolution."

Nat Hentoff
Are You Reading the Wrong Books?


The inhabitants of the United States have been repeatedly and constantly told that they are the only religious, enlightened, and free people.  They ... have an immensely high opinion of themselves and are not far from believing that they form a species apart from the rest of the human race.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Diaries.


Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much.  That would be a mere shadow of freedom.  The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed state in our constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

Justice Robert Jackson for the Majority
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943


Adjusting for inflation, the income of families in the middle of the U.S. income distribution rose from $41,400 in 1979 to $45,100 in 1998, a 9 percent increase.  Meanwhile, the income of families in the top 1 percent rose from $420,200 to $1.016 million, a 140 percent increase.  Or to put it another way, the income of families in the top 1 percent was 10 times that of typical families in 1979, and 23 times and rising in 1997.

Paul Krugman, "America the Polarized"
The New York Times, January 4, 2002


If we seize the opportunity to build a stronger country, we ... will ultimately prevail in the challenges ahead, at home and abroad.  But we cannot win this new struggle by military might alone.  We will prevail only if we lead by example, as a democracy committed to the rule of law and the spirit of fairness, whose corporate and political elites recognize that it isn't only firefighters, police and families grieving their missing kin who are called upon to sacrifice.

Bill Moyers, Which American Will We Be Now?
The Nation, November 19, 2001


The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself.  That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt


A Letter to President Bush:

Dear Mr. President,

No challenge we face is more momentous than the threat of global climate change.  The current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol are a matter of legitimate debate.  But the situation is becoming urgent, and it is time for consensus and action.  There are many strategies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions without slowing economic growth.  In fact, the spread of advanced, cleaner technology is more of an economic opportunity than a peril.  We urge you to develop a plan to reduce U.S  production of greenhouse gasses.  The future of our children -- and their children -- depends on the resolve that you and other world leaders show.

                        Jimmy Carter             Mikhail Gorbachev
                        John Glenn                Walter Cronkite
                        George Soros            J.Craig Venter
                        Jane Goodall             Edward O.Wilson
                        Harrison Ford           Stephen Hawking

Time Magazine, April 9, 2001


Conservative Rage vs. Liberal Guilt

Conservatives and liberals take a fundamentally different approach to politics.  Conservatives are driven by rage; liberals by guilt.  Conservatives attack.  Liberals equivocate.  Liberals inhabit a world painted a thousand shades of gray.  conservatives live in a black andwhite world.  Conservatives believe they are battling evil.  Liberals believe they are struggling ot overcome human frailties... Tolerance is the watchword for liberals.  Punishment is the watchword for conservatives...  

Republicans from Richard Nixon to James Watt to Tom DeLay have treated their opponents as the enemy.  That is a well-documented fact.  What makes the nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General so ominous is that this tendency toward demonization may soon be wrapped in a higher authority. "There is no King but Jesus," Ashcroft proudly proclaims... There is no war more devastating than a holy war.

David Morris, Institute for Local Self Reliance
Tom Paine, 1/28/01

 


Skating on Thin Ice

In September 1983, just weeks after the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, and with Soviet-American relations at a low ebb, Col. Stanislov Petrov was on duty outside Moscow monitoring nine Soviet satellites that were, in turn, monitoring U. S. nuclear missile bases.  Shortly after midnight Col. Petrov's worst nightmare came true.  Sirens sounded and his computer screen signaled the launch of a single U. S. Missile (possibly carrying ten nuclear warheads) just thirty seconds into its 25-minute flight to Moscow. 

Petrov had to make an immediate assessment and relay it oup the chain of command.   If a full-scale U.S. attack was underway, the decision to retaliate would have to be made within minutes.  All Petrov's systems appeared to be working properly.  Remarkably, he reported to his superior that the alarm was false.  Petrov reasoned that a U.S. attack would not begin with the firing of a single missile.  It made no sense.

And then, within seconds, his computer detected the launch of our additional missiles causing alarms to sound at the Soviet Union's supreme command headquarters.  the Soviets now had five minutes to "use them or lose them" -- that is, respond with a nuclear attack of their own or risk unilateral annihilation.  But Petrov held firm -- he says he just didn't believe an attack was underway -- and assured those up the command that he was seeing a false alarm.

Had the Soviets launched under the pressure, U.S. retaliation would have been swift.  Tens of millions would have been killed on both sides.

What prompted the false alarm?  The satellite mistook sunlight reflection off a cloud for the hot plume of a missile launch -- a software glitch.  Petrov was not supposed to be on duty that night.  Would another Soviet colonel have made the same assessment Petrov did? ...

Today the combat-ready status of the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals keeps us poised on the brink....

"Remove the Hair Trigger"
John O. Pastore and Peter Zheutlin
Washington Post, 4/21/01

 


A Free Press?

The Founders didn't count on the rise of mega-media.  They didn't count on huge private corporations that would own not only the means of journalism but also vast swaths of the territory that journalism should be covering.  According to a recent study done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press for the Columbia Journalism Review, more than a quarter of journalists polled said they had avoided pursuing some newsworthy stories that might conflict with the financial interests of their news organizations or advertisers.  And many thought that complexity or lack of audience appeal causes newsworthy stories not to be pursued in the first place.

Bill Moyers, "Journalism & Democracy"
The Nation, 5/7/01
 


Big Gummint?  Who Needs it?

Does the public health service have long waiting lists and inadequate facilities?  Buy private insurance.  Has public transport broken down?  Buy a car for each member of the family above driving age.  Has the countryside been built over or the footpaths eradicated?  Buy some elaborate exercise machinery and work out at home.  Is air pollution intolerable?  Buy an air-filtering unit and stay indoors.  Is what comes out of the tap foul to the taste and chock-full of carcinogens?  Buy bottled water. And so on.  We know it can all happen because it has: I have been doing little more than describing Southern California.

Now it is worth noticing two things about the private substitutes that I have described.  The first is that in the aggregate they are probably much more expensive than would be the implementation of the appropriate public policy.  The second is that they are extremely poor replacements for the missing outcomes of a good public policy.  Nevertheless, it is plain that the members of a society can become so alienated from one another, so mistrustful of any form of collective action, that they prefer to go it alone.

Brian Barry
The Continuing Relevance of Socialism



LIBERALISM:
A REAFFIRMATION OF PRINCIPLE

While sifting through our old papers, we came across an advertisement in the New York Times, signed by a hundred or so scientific, political and literary luminaries., and dated October 26, 1988. It seems as timely today as it was when it was published -- except for the reference to the "President of the United States" who was, at the time, Ronald Reagan.

We've not asked for permission to use this, secure in the assumption that the whole point of the ad was to gain public distribution. Even if it is eleven years late. (The Gadfly).

"We speak as American Citizens who wish to reaffirm America's liberal tradition. At our country's founding, the spirit of liberalism suffused the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These principles thus embodied, have inspired the respect of much of the world.

"We regret that the President of the United States [Ronald Reagan] has taken the lead in vilifying one of our oldest and noblest traditions. He made sport of "the dreaded L-word" and continues to make "liberal" and "liberalism" terms of opprobrium. We are deeply concerned about the erosion and debasement of American values and American traditions that our country has long cherished.

"In the past and at its best, liberalism has sought the institutional defense of decency. Everywhere it has fought for the freedom of individuals to attain their fullest development. It has opposed tyranny in all forms, past and present. Liberal policies require constant scrutiny and sometimes revision. Liberal principles -- freedom, tolerance, and the protection of the rights of every citizen -- are timeless.

"Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as their greatest enemy. In our own time liberal democracies have been crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency in our own country, intentional or not, we feel obliged to speak out. We hope that others will do so as well."


"Economics Has No Time for Heretics"

To be credentialed to practice economics today, one must accept a certain body of theology -- a particular way of looking at human motivation and human society.  Formal economics begins with the tautological premise that the process of buying and selling things -- supply and demand -- leads to optimal outcomes.  It presumes that efforts to interfere with this natural order of things, notably by governments, are damaging to economic efficiency, and hence bad.

The standard economic model of human behavior presumes that selfishness is normal, and hence desirable, while altruism is suspect.  It tends to study economic phenomena by collecting statistics and building mathematical models, rather than getting out of the office -- as Adam Smith did -- and seeing how things actually work...

 . . .  For the most part, to be a tenured economist at an elite university one must be "economically correct."  This also describes most economics at Washington's influential think tanks, whether nominally Democratic or republican.

Robert Kuttner
Los Angeles Times
April 7, 1991

 


John Kenneth Galbraith on Economics and the Economy

[Economics today] is what it has always been.  It combines those who pursue the truth with those who pursue the rewards of orthodoxy and those who pursue what is comfortable for the rich...  

The problem of the modern economy is not a failure of a knowledge of economics; it's a failure of a knowledge of history...

There's no question that in my lifetime, the contrast between what I called private affluence and public squalor has become the very much greater.  What do we worry about?  We worry about our schools.  We worry about our public recreational facilities.  We worry about our law enforcement and our public housing.  All of the things that bear upon our standard of living are in the public sector.  We don't worry about the supply of automobiles.  We don't even worry about the supply of foods.  Things that come from the private sector are in abundant supply; things that depend on the public sector are widely a problem  We're a world ... of filthy streets and clean houses, poor schools and expensive television. 

The Progressive, October 2000

 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .