Saturday, June 26, 2004


In response to my post of today's date about Straussianism on "Dissecting Leftism", a reader says Straussians are a lot like Fabians:

I agree that too much is being made of Straussianism and its influence on 'neocon' thinkers. The main critics of Straussianism seem to adopt a gnostic conspiratorialism themselves, seeing the neocons (and, yes Virginia, they do exist) as a kind of "conspiracy within the heart of conservatism" (balderdash! they are just one part of the broader conservative coalition). Once you start thinking like that it is nothing to add another layer, a bit like the illuminati as the secret power behind the Masons, so the Straussians are the conspiracy within a conspiracy behind the neocon conspiracy. I suppose the next phase will be the discovery of yet another layer behind Straussians.

It's a fascinating fact that we do however live in a gnostic-inclined age. The neocon and Straussian conspiracy theories jostle with Michael Moore for air time. Meanwhile on other shelves of the corner bookstore, "The DaVinci Code" is a runaway best seller and all sorts of quack health scare campaigns against chemicals, GM foods and McDonalds beset what is arguably the healthiest generation of mankind ever. (Maybe we are trading off physical health for mental health?) Of course the X-Files have now disappeared from our TV screens. Maybe after 9-11 the quasi-fictionalised world of Mulder and Scully just couldn't compete with the flood of conspiratorialism disguised as expert commentary. (Behind much of this conspiratorialism is a desire to return to the good old days, a denial of the reality of the modern war. Why won't it all just go away?)

Still we have to ask the legitimate question: Are the neocons and the Straussians themselves hooked on some kind of gnostic thinking. My guess is that you are probably right ...and they are. But so what? It is neocon studies 101 that the 'neocon' movement were essentially anti-communist social democrats. They found they had more in common with traditional conservatives as the mainstream left moved into a more eccentric outer orbit post-Vietnam. At the heart of social democratic tradition for a hundred years, whether of the main "Labour" stream, the more leftist "democratic socialist" stream, or the "right" neocon stream is Fabianism. Fabianism, like Straussianism, has also attracted more than it's fair share of crank critics over the years. The reason for this is that they are pretty much the same thing.

The essence of Fabianism is to make short-term compromises to work within the system to effect long-term radical objectives. Overthrow the existing order, not via a revolution but via piecemeal yet coordinated reforms. It has been a remarkably effective strategy. In a sense Fabianism is quite gnostic. If I am a Fabian I may for all intents and purposes be a powerful, privileged and well connected member of the political establishment but my long term goal is to overthrow the establishment and its (according to me) undeserved power and privilege, but not just now. I can have my cake, eat it too and tell the cakeless that I hate greedy cake-eaters. The neocons have just brought their old Fabian habits with them but have a new (and more reasonable) long term goal.

Friday, June 25, 2004


By Deal Hudson

First, the biannual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Colorado came and went last week. Of course, you'd never know it from the minimal coverage. This is a shame, since the bishops released a very important statement that the mainstream media appear to have missed. It can be found in "Catholics in Political Life," a preview to the full report that the bishops will be releasing later this year (but not until the election has already come and gone, unfortunately). The statement answers a lot of questions that have been floating around lately about the duties of Catholic politicians and our duties as Catholic voters -- especially when our political and religious priorities are crossed.

The bishops touched on the hot topic of denying pro-abortion Catholic politicians Communion, but they ended up just punting it back to the individual bishops. So each bishop will have to decide how to proceed in his own diocese. It certainly would have been nice to have something a little more concrete here. But at least the statement doesn't play down the danger pro-abortion Catholic politicians put themselves in:

"To make [abortion] legal is itself wrong. ...The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. ...Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good."

But the most encouraging -- and concrete -- part comes later in the document. Regarding the public platforms that are sometimes given pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the bishops clearly state: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

This is important. As noted in an article in the June issue of CRISIS ("The Enemy Inside The Gates," by Patrick J. Reilly), numerous Catholic schools and institutions have invited pro-abortion Catholics to speak or be honored. Not only does this undermine the Church's position on important moral issues, but it also comes dangerously close to sanctioning the anti-Catholic activities of these individuals. Now that the bishops have stated unequivocally that these politicians should never be given ANY kind of award, honor, or platform, we can start looking to Catholic institutions to fall in line. While I won't hold my breath on the colleges, I'm certainly happy to see the bishops taking a strong step in the right direction.

But that wasn't the only thing I wanted to tell you about in this letter... There's a battle brewing right now in the Senate, and it could have a huge impact on all of us. I'm referring, of course, to the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) -- which is a Constitutional amendment that says marriage is restricted to a man and a woman. As you may already know, the FMA will finally be put to a vote in the Senate on July 15th. That means there's little less than a month to rally the troops on this important issue in order to get the required 67 votes needed for passage. Enter the lobbyists... those individuals who try to shape public policy to reflect the positions of their particular interest group.

The Catholic Church in America has its own lobbying arm -- the Office of Government Liaison (OGL), directed by Frank Monahan. Headquartered at the USCCB, the Office represents the bishops' (and, in turn, Catholics') concerns before congress. You probably remember that a few weeks ago, Monsignor William Fay, the conference's general secretary, wrote us to insist that the bishops were fully behind the FMA and were doing everything they could to urge congressmen to support it. Well, it's now time for the USCCB to step up to the plate and deliver on their promise. Currently, the FMA only has about 30 senators behind it, with another 23 senators undecided. As I mentioned, the bill needs 67 votes to pass, so it's still far from a sure thing. The next four weeks will be crucial in determining the ultimate success or failure of the bill, and that's where Frank Monahan and his staff come in. While the OGL should be petitioning all senators for their support of the FMA, it's especially vital to focus on the 24 Catholic senators. Shockingly, 15 of those 24 senators are currently OPPOSED to the bill, and four more are undecided. (I'll tell you who in a moment.)

Think about that: Only 1 in 5 senators who claim to be Catholic actually support a bill that would enshrine marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That's truly devastating. And that's why it's crucial that the USCCB does its very best in the next few weeks to lobby these senators -- to remind them of the Church's clear teaching on marriage and their duty as senators in light of that teaching (especially on the heels of the bishops' statement from their Colorado meeting).

For the record, those senators currently opposed to the bill are: Joseph Biden (D-DE) John Breaux (D-LA) Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Susan Collins (R-ME) Tom Daschle (D-SD) Christopher Dodd (D-CT) Richard Durbin (D-IL) Tom Harkin (D-IA) Ted Kennedy (D-MA) John Kerry (D-MA) Mary Landrieu (D-LA) Patrick Leahy (D-VT) Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Patty Murray (D-WA) John Reed (D-RI)

Four senators are still, astonishingly enough, undecided. They are: Mike DeWine (R-OH) Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) John Sununu (R-NH) George Voinovich (R-OH)

It's also important for us to recognize and appreciate those Catholic senators who have already taken a stand in support of the FMA. They are: Jim Bunning (R-KY) Pete Domenici (R-NM) Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) Sam Brownback (R-KS) Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Monsignor Fay, Frank Monahan, and the rest of the folks at the USCCB certainly have their work cut out for them. But we're fully behind their efforts to persuade these senators to act in line with their self-professed faith.

The above is the text of an e-letter sent out by Crisis Magazine on 24th June, 2004

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Political Perks for Perchlorate: Are Perchlorate Water Removal Plants Mere Temples to the Political Gods?

"Low levels of perchlorate are no more dangerous than brussel sprouts" (Bob Krieger, toxicologist, U.C. Riverside)

By Albert C. Dente* and Charles B. Warren

Public water agencies and private water companies mainly in Southern California are presently involved in an absurd race to erect costly new treatment plants to remove a chemical called perchlorate from drinking water. These new treatment plants are apparently mere modern hi-tech temples erected to the gods of water quality, as it has now been revealed by scientists that low level perchlorate found in drinking water is no more harmful than most substances found in the human diet. While water agencies are scrambling to rid drinking water supplies of tiny amounts of perchlorate, they continue to add disinfectants to water such as chloramines (chlorine and ammonia) that is toxic to goldfish while perchlorate is not. Another absurdity is that water agencies and companies are shutting down local water wells and paying 5 to 10 times the price for imported water supplies from the Colorado River Aqueduct that has the same concentration of perchlorate in it as the so-called contaminated water wells.

When asked what "perc" is the average person is likely to confuse it with the word "perk" (short for perquisite) which are the benefits that come with a job, such as health benefits, auto mileage allowance, or vacation time. Whether the costly construction of perchlorate treatment plants is merely a political and jobs program perk with no health benefits to the public has not even been questioned by the political pied pipers purporting to protect the public health.

Perchlorate, a man-made contaminant in groundwater has been traced to ammonia salts used as an oxidizer in military rocket fuel and explosive plants from the World War II era. Perchlorate has been detected in about 350 water wells in some 90 private and public water systems in California, about 90% of these in Southern California. Perchlorate is one atom of chlorine and four atoms of oxygen. Chlorine is injected into domestic water systems by water agencies as a disinfectant, but it is not the same molecule of chlorine that is found in perchlorate.

Perchlorate is not presently regulated, but the State health advisory standard is 6 parts per billion (abbreviated ppb). For purposes of visualizing the microscopic size of six parts per billion, this is equivalent to about 6 people in China. Another way to look at it is that it is about one-half teaspoon of perchlorate in all the water that is used by a typical family for personal, recreational (swimming pool), and gardening uses over a 2-year period (2-acre feet). To put this in proportion, about 1,000 particles, or 500 teaspoons, of hydrochloric acid (hydrogen and chloride) is put into public swimming pools as a disinfectant, but this is not the same molecule of chlorine found in perchlorate.

There is no evidence that perchlorate causes cancer, mutations, harms the immune system, causes birth defects, accumulates in the body, or is absorbed through the skin. One of the main perceived health dangers with perchlorate is that it may block the essential ingredients iodide and iodine from the thyroid gland in pregnant women, fetuses, and infants resulting in abnormal thyroid conditions or impaired infant development. The problem with this fear is that, according to the Council on Water Quality and many independent university toxicologists, other natural substances in the human diet, such as a 3.5 ounce serving of brussel sprouts or cauliflower, have the same effect as eating about 8,000 particles of perchlorate, not the 6 parts per billion of concern in drinking water. Mustard, horseradish, and broccoli also fall into the same category.
Nonetheless, there is symbolic political capital to be gained in claiming to protect women, infants, and the unborn from vague but exotic man-made health threats by setting perchlorate health advisory standards so strictly. There are several problems with running to build costly treatment plants and letting science and common sense play catch up.

First, the entire Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to Southern California, already has a perchlorate level of 6 particles per billion. The origin of this perchlorate is from the former Kerr-McGee munitions factory which has drainage flowing into Lake Mead. So the vast majority of the population Southern California has for some time been exposed to standard perchlorate levels without widespread known hormonal abnormalities. In fact the standard of 6 parts per billion was set not from any objective scientific measure but because that is the level in which perchlorate is found in the Colorado River Aqueduct, the main supply line for imported water into Southern California. The discovery that infinitesimal particles of perchlorate from rocket fuel and munitions factories were in the groundwater and imported river water never was scientifically scrutinized to determine if it posed more of a hazard than common natural substances found in the human diet, let alone wine, beer, soft drinks, or even soy milk.

Secondly, casting aside the always questionable methodologies of experimental studies the most reliable study of the health effects of perchlorate have been conducted in Chile, where naturally occurring nitrate deposits make it the only place in the world where natural perchlorate occurs. Perchlorate is found in the groundwater in the Atacam Desert of Chile at about 120 parts per billion and dilutes into groundwater at 7 parts per billion, or about the same level as occurs in Lake Mead and the Colorado River Aqueduct. Yet no effects on thyroid health among infants and children have been found.

Next, water suppliers have responded by stopping deliveries of groundwater with perchlorate exceeding this advisory level, contributing to panic among water agencies about water shortages and huge water rate increases. Some cities, such as the City of Rialto, California, have proposed 80% increases in water rates as a consequence of perchlorate cleanup. The private water company serving the City of Claremont is in the process of being condemned by the City to contain clean-up costs.

One of the reasons that low level perchlorate removal has gone almost unchallenged is that most communities are in the process of shifting treatment costs on to the Department of Defense (DoD) or shaking down corporations for cleanup funds. The U.S. military has almost 1,000 former facility sites in Southern California that would cost $5 billion to clean up. Perhaps if water rates had to be raised across the board by all cities there would have been more critical scrutiny of the scientific rationale behind cleanups. Passing pollution downstream and costs upstream is a wasteful but politically safe chemical mix.

The absurdity of all this has been made more apparent when a distinguished panel of scientists at the UC Irvine Urban Water Research Center issued on June 8 what should have been an unsurprising recommendation of 100 parts per billion as safe, not the 5 or 6 particles per billion as set by government (see An omen that the scientific community was going to set a less strict standard was issued in early 2004 by U.C. Riverside toxicologist Bob Krieger when he was quoted in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that the perchlorate risk was poorly understood and amounted to no more of a danger than eating brussel sprouts (see For example, it has now come to light that soybeans are a natural glandular disrupter perhaps on the same level as perchlorate. This may mean that many of the costly measures currently underway to protect human health from the threat of perchlorate are unnecessary overkill. These measures might even become unmeasureable from the background effects of the public consumption of tofu.

Clearly, the hot spots and primary sources of perchlorate should be addressed, but less expensive bio-remediation or containment should be considered. Immediate clean ups of private and municipal water systems rather than the sources would be costly and result in negligible health benefits.

The rationale for cleanups is that perchlorate is an unnatural substance recently discovered in drinking water that should be immediately removed and that the Precautionary Principle should overrule waiting for definitive science because vulnerable populations are involved. But a number of unnatural substances such as chloramines are already added to drinking water as disinfectants. By 2006 for example, fluoride will be added to Southern California water at 1,000 parts per billion, far above the miniscule 6 parts for perchlorate. And if goldfish are the drinking water analogue of canaries in caves, the Precautionary Principle already has been violated by adding chloramine to water supplies which is toxic to goldfish. And if chloramines are toxic to goldfish, why isn't it toxic to the unborn or infants? All this raises the question what is the definition of pollution? The experience with perchlorate leads to a sociological and political rather than a scientific definition: pollution is what corporations add to water not what the government water agency gods add.

Erecting new high tech perchlorate treatment plants at $15 to $25 million a pop, plus up to $5 million in annual operating costs, may yield the same result as erecting an ancient Greek or Roman temple to pray to the goddess of water quality. To compound this costly misdirection in environmental health policy, removing perchlorate by using the preferred method of ion exchange makes the final water product too corrosive to put back into the pipes of municipal water systems without an expensive process of restoring its hardness. Programs to help people suffering from cancer and other real health concerns may face funding cuts as public resource dollars are shifted into perchlorate removal projects that provide only symbolic benefits to politicians and jobs programs for environmental engineering firms.

Detecting tinier and tinier amounts of substances in drinking water with new microscopic technologies ignores the more obvious issue of whether the public is consuming such substances at much higher levels in the human diet or are otherwise exposed with any observable negative health effects. Erecting high-tech treatment plants to remove perchlorate is like building water temples to the proverbial gods of water quality that strain out gnats and fruit flies while swallowing camels. Perhaps Augustus De Morgan said it best in his aptly titled book "A Budget of Paradoxes" written in 1872 when he wrote: "Great fleas have lesser fleas on their back that bite `em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, ad infinitum."

* Albert C. Dente is the pseudonym of an anonymous employee of a major water agency in California. Charles B. Warren, ASA (Urban-Real Property) is a visiting professor of real estate finance and economics at the Technical University of Istanbul and an independent real estate appraiser specializing in environmentally impacted properties (

Sunday, June 06, 2004


An email from a reader:

Reagan never impressed me much one way or the other as an actor. Remembering that he'd often be described as "an actor in B-grade movies," I'm persuaded that my own impression was one widely shared, though in my own case, I thought very little about the subject of actors.

So, in my own case, it's clear just when I began to "notice" Reagan. It was when he hosted a TV show called "Death Valley Days," whose topic was the history of the American West (I don't even remember whether it concentrated exclusively on the circumscribed locale of its title.). I remember thinking at that time, however, how perfectly "presidential" an appearance he projected: he seemed a sort of honest, unassuming individual almost anyone would like and trust. In my own mind, I likened his aura to that attributed to FDR, who had become so widely revered as the host of his regular "fireside chats." At the time, I had no interest whatever in politics nor had ever listened to or otherwise become familiarized with FDR--I was too young at the time--it was just audience-acceptance potentials with which I was impressed. My interest in politics only developed after becoming interested in Economics (on which topic I was as nearly ignorant as it is possible to be) and beginning (in 1972) to study von Mises (discovered in the bibliography of Harry Browne's HOW TO PROFIT FROM THE COMING DEVALUATION). Reagan only came to my attention again when he became the Republican nominee (but then, almost anyone would have been preferable to the disaster that was Carter).

Reagan had a popular, widespread reputation in those days as a "lightweight." If I ever thought about it, I probably shared that general impression, even though I preferred him to the alternative (Carter or even any Democrat). I hadn't even become sufficiently interested in politics to have voted--the first vote I ever cast was for Bush Senior against Clinton. (I didn't think Clinton had a chance but my wife insisted that "George needs every vote he can get"--her near-panic resulting from Bush's "disconnectedness" over the matters of his apparent ignorance of the price of common consumer items ballyhooed in the media.)

The first time I actually "noticed" Reagan was after he'd been president for a while. I was reading the WSJ--an account of a dinner at the White House. In it was reported that Mises' widow had been invited and further, that Reagan had privately remarked to her that he never considered any economic legislation or policy action without consulting her (late) husband's work. I hoped it was true, though I couldn't escape realizing that it might be just the sort of thing "one might say" out of politeness. It was not until after he'd been out of the White House for some time-- relatively recently, in fact-- I was reading a news-magazine excerpt somewhere on the Internet--that I began to appreciate the scope of understanding of economic matters RR likely possessed.

The excerpt was of an interview back in the mid-'70s, during Reagan's governorship of California. The reporter asked as to the governor's reading habits--what sort of literature he enjoyed. It was of particular interest to me because I remembered, some years ago, my (very left-wing liberal, artsy-smartsy) sister saying, at some family gathering, she'd once read an interview with Reagan in which he'd said that he never read any books nor even newspapers--just the paper stuff required to "do his job." The implicatiion of my sister's statement was obvious; but, since I had no specific ground on which to doubt her truthfulness, I had no rejoinder. But then, later, reading the Internet piece, it was equally obvious that I was reading the very same interview as that on which my sister had commented.

The actual "gist" of the remarks by Reagan were quite different from the impression one would gather from my sister's comment. In answer to the question, Reagan explained that, because of the immense amount of reading actually required to do his job properly, he had simply given up reading, especially of the type--fiction--designed for entertainment. And the same with newspapers. But, he further explained, that in his "off the job" time, his reading was extensive--devoted to reading the works of certain authors; mentioned specifically ( to my memory) were von Mises, Hayek, and Bastiat--if there were others, they were in like vein. I don't think I ever tried to "enlighten" my sister; she probably wasn't "lying," in the first place and, in the second, it wouldn't affect her opinion one way or the other.

But the same piece made quite an impression on me. Though it might seem to cast RR in the light of a "queer duck" (as he undoubtedly was), he actually became somewhat more understandable to me. Always a voracious reader (I could read by the time I was two, according to my mother, though I liked to have my father read the "funnies"--the comic strips--to me until I was past six.) Before I was 12, I had read so much that there wasn't much likely to be mentioned in any ordinary place that I didn't have some familiarity with. I'd read nearly everything written by Mark Twain and Shakespeare, Dumas, Hugo, Dickens, and almost any other well-known author (though nothing by any Russians) and stuff by ancient Greeks and Romans (in one sort of popular translation or other). And newspapers. And magazines. And, especially, the encyclopedia--for pleasure-- hours at a time (We didn't have the Brittanica at home-- had something called Collier's-- I wouldn't have known the difference.)

But somewhere about 12 to 15, or so, I began to reduce my reading time--to make room for other activities. I loved the "outdoors" and wanted more: fishing, exploring, bike-riding, camping, etc. Somewhere in there, I simply made life simpler by giving up fiction--at least in books, though I had no objection to magazines and probably read them into my early twenties (after that--only when waiting for a haircut). As a consequence, I've read almost not a single piece of fiction written in the 20th century: the only exceptions I can name are Spillane's I, THE JURY (read because it was there when I was waiting for something or other--didn't quite finish it) and ATLAS SHRUGGED (read after I'd become interested in Mises). So I could appreciate Reagan making the same eschewal of fiction as a purely practical matter).

I think Reagan made somewhat the same (more or less conscious) decisions that I did with respect to reading--for somewhat similar reasons and that actually "humanizes" him in my own view.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


No. Not the King of Spain -- John Kerry! Below is an excerpt from an email sent out by Crisis Magazine

Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from a friend in Congress who told me that Illinois Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) had just announced that Senator John Kerry was the "most Catholic" member of the Senate.

Stop laughing. Senator Durbin released an analysis of the voting record of the 24 Catholic senators -- scoring them by their adherence to the political agenda of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As I mentioned, John Kerry is ranked first, followed by Dick Durbin himself (way to go!). Durbin is followed by Ted Kennedy. Yes, according to Dick Durbin's office, Ted Kennedy is the third most Catholic-voting member of the Senate. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) round out the top 5. (To give you some helpful perspective, the ardently Catholic Senator Rick Santorum is 20th... just four from the bottom.)

So, what do the top five best Catholics in the Senate have in common? Well, they're five of the most radically liberal, pro-abortion members of congress. In fact, with the exception of Leahy, all voted to OPPOSE the Partial-Birth Abortion ban. Not only that, but all five voted AGAINST the Brownback Human Cloning Prohibition Act. But if that's all true, how on earth can anyone claim these five are among the best Catholics on the Hill?

It was easy, actually. All Senator Durbin had to do was completely ignore the immense difference between votes on doctrinal issues and votes on prudential matters. Let me explain... In assembling his scorecard, Durbin looked at 24 issues (with a total of 48 votes) on which the USCCB took a position. If the given senator voted in agreement with the USCCB, he was given a point. In the end, the points were added up, and the senators ranked. In other words, in Senator Durbin's moral universe everything is flat. His moral calculus becomes, well, elementary arithmetic really: Just take all the policy recommendations of the Bishop's Conference -- no matter how prudential or non-binding in nature -- look at the voting record of every senator on those recommendations, and Presto! you have your mathematical ranking.

This methodology becomes particularly outrageous when you notice that it makes a vote for the Collins Mercury Reduction Act (which limits the use of mercury fever thermometers) equal in weight and importance to a vote for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban! Likewise, a vote for the Dorgan Joint Resolution (which rejects "the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to broadcast media ownership") is equal to a vote to ban human cloning. As a result, a senator who votes AGAINST the Partial-Birth Abortion ban but for the restriction on mercury thermometers will be given the same "Catholic" rank as the senator who votes to ban partial-birth abortion, but against the restriction on the thermometers. And so, Senator John Kerry -- who voted against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, against the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act -- is now crowned the most Catholic member of the Senate!

Of course, as any sensible Catholic knows, these things are not remotely equal. Pro-life legislation touches on a doctrine of the Church, and all faithful Catholics are bound to adhere to it. The restriction on thermometers, on the other hand, is a mere prudential judgment of the USCCB; they believe it to be a matter of public health, but faithful Catholics are free to disagree. By confounding prudential and doctrinal matters, Senator Durbin has made a desperate attempt to provide cover for all the pro-abortion "Catholics" in the Senate (both Democrats and Republicans).