The Daily Debate - 6/4/2013

By Robert Tracinski

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June 4, 2013

1. To Live and Die in DC

2. Statistically Significant

3. Dispatches


1. To Live and Die in DC

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has died. The Nation hails Lautenberg as an unapologetic New Deal liberal.

"Frank Lautenberg, the son of a Paterson, New Jersey, silk mill worker and the last World War II veteran serving in the US Senate, took his cues from another political time: a time when liberals were bold and unapologetic, a time when it was understood that government could and should do great things.

"One of the few members of Congress who could remember listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the radio and going to college on the initial GI Bill, Lautenberg served five terms in the US Senate as a champion of great big infrastructure investments—especially for Amtrak and urban public transportation—great big environmental regulations, great big consumer protections and great big investigations of wrongdoing by Wall Street.

"It can fairly be said that the New Jersey senator, who died Monday at age 89, kept the New Deal flame lit."

I think it would be interesting to ask why it is that confidence in big government seems like a relic of the past, why it didn't just grow and grow from the New Deal era. In looking for an answer, I might start with that bit about Amtrak.

But I suppose that's why I don't write for The Nation.

Lautenberg's legacy aside, his death presented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie with a decision about how to replace him, particularly since New Jersey election law was not absolutely clear about whether the Senate seat had to go up for an election this November, at the same time as the governor's race, whether it required an earlier special election, or whether the governor's appointee could serve until the regular congressional mid-term in 2014.

Christie's options were widely discussed and just as quickly—this afternoon—made obsolete. He indicated that he would appoint a placeholder to fill the seat—presumably an uncontroversial elder statesman with no plans to run for election—until a special election to be held in October.

Oh, well. I guess some of the handicapping done by RCP's Sean Trende still applies. He summed up Christie's dilemma.

"He could appoint a conservative, but having to run with him or her on the ticket could hurt Christie in the general election. He could appoint a moderate, such as former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman (who almost defeated Bill Bradley in 1990) or Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, but that would not play well in Iowa, to say the least.

"On top of all this, there's a reasonable chance that whomever he appoints will lose in 2013 or 2014, which could make him look weak and complicate his presidential bid. And if he appoints a moderate, there is always the possibility of a Tea Party challenge....

"Oddly enough, there aren't any clear winners here. Christie likely comes out of this a loser however it plays out. Corey Booker and other Democratic candidates just had their path to the Senate complicated. And whoever gets appointed to the seat will have to face an unfriendly electorate twice in the next 18 months."

All of which might explain why he didn't go that route.

The New York Times explains the advantages of the route he took.

"Mr. Christie, whose popularity soared after Hurricane Sandy, is so eager to avoid appearing on the same ballot as Mr. Booker, according to Republican insiders, that he is considering two alternatives to a November election for Mr. Lautenberg's successor. Each carries a potential political cost, and the dispute could easily be challenged in court.

"The option that is being pushed by many in Mr. Christie's own party would be to name a Republican to hold the seat and then delay an election on a replacement until 2014. This would give his national party an unexpected gift: a reliable vote in the Senate—for a year and a half, at least—from a state that has not elected a Republican to the upper house in 41 years. But it would also open Mr. Christie up to allegations of sidestepping the electoral process.

"The alternative, lawyers in both parties said, would be for Mr. Christie to set a primary election as early as August, which would mean a special election in October. This would leave Democrats in a stronger position to win the seat. Mr. Booker, in particular, benefits from a high national profile and strong fund-raising, though he would be quite likely to face a primary challenge. But it would also open Mr. Christie to accusations that he was wasting some $24 million in taxpayer money by holding those two extra elections ahead of the regular November balloting for self-interested political reasons."

So this is a case in which the political self-interest of the Republican Party—having another Republican senator in a strong position to seek re-election—runs contrary to Governor Christie's own political self-interest.

He will assert, no doubt, that he is merely following the law and letting the people decide who should fill the seat, and all of that may be true. But the suspicion will continue to follow him that he doesn't have the interests of the national party, or of conservative Republicans, in mind.

Without wanting to speak ill of the dead, I'm more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of a senator serving five terms and being so committed to live and die in DC that he sticks it out to his death bed as he's pushing 90. So maybe it's appropriate that his passing sets off a whole new scramble for power and political advantage.


2. Statistically Significant

Quietly, while we're all paying attention to the scandals in DC, there have been a few significant developments in the debate over global warming.

In Britain, a member of Parliament has been quizzing Britain's top meteorological office over whether there has been any statistically significant global warming since 1880. The question isn't whether global temperatures have warmed—they have, slightly—but whether this change is distinguishable from natural variation.

For myself, I'm not sure we have anywhere near the historical data we would need to answer that question, given that 1880 is about as far back as global temperature records go, which is a mere blink of an eye on a geological scale. But the point is that the UK's Met Office has been having trouble with the question, too. They claim that it is a statistically significant warming, but according to a long and complicated analysis by Doug Keenan, they pretty much admit that the "statistical model" they use to reach that conclusion isn't terribly good.

Here's another, very different statistical analysis of that temperature data. Qing-Bin Lu, a professor at the University of Waterloo, has released a paper claiming that global warming is caused, not by carbon dioxide, but by chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, which you may remember are already banned.

"'Conventional thinking says that the emission of human-made non-CFC gases such as carbon dioxide has mainly contributed to global warming. But we have observed data going back to the Industrial Revolution that convincingly shows that conventional understanding is wrong,' said Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, biology and chemistry in Waterloo's Faculty of Science. 'In fact, the data shows that CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays caused both the polar ozone hole and global warming.'

"'Most conventional theories expect that global temperatures will continue to increase as CO2 levels continue to rise, as they have done since 1850. What's striking is that since 2002, global temperatures have actually declined—matching a decline in CFCs in the atmosphere,' Professor Lu said. 'My calculations of CFC greenhouse effect show that there was global warming by about 0.6 °C from 1950 to 2002, but the earth has actually cooled since 2002. The cooling trend is set to continue for the next 50-70 years as the amount of CFCs in the atmosphere continues to decline.'

"The findings are based on in-depth statistical analyses of observed data from 1850 up to the present time, Professor Lu's cosmic-ray-driven electron-reaction (CRE) theory of ozone depletion and his previous research into Antarctic ozone depletion and global surface temperatures. 'It was generally accepted for more than two decades that the Earth's ozone layer was depleted by the sun's ultraviolet light-induced destruction of CFCs in the atmosphere,' he said. 'But in contrast, CRE theory says cosmic rays—energy particles originating in space—play the dominant role in breaking down ozone-depleting molecules and then ozone.'"

On a first reading, it's not clear to me how this connects to Henrik Svensmark's theory on the role of cosmic rays in driving global climate by way of cloud formation—a theory I have discussed elsewhere—but it sure does undermine the usual (somewhat dubious) claim that there's a scientific "consensus" about human-caused global warming, and that it's no use debating the subject any more.

Notice, by the way, that I talk about "global warming," which is what we used to call it a few years ago before they decided to change it to "climate change." But the problem with that term is that the climate is always changing. (Or maybe that's its selling point: you'll never be wrong about "climate change.") This is why I was grimly amused—the grimness comes from the subject matter, which is a catalog of human suffering—by a historical overview which makes it clear that catastrophic climate change is a recurring theme of human history, dating well before the invention of the smokestack or the SUV. And most of the time, the really bad "climate change" has been when it was getting colder.


3. Dispatches

Maybe Tesla isn't going to make it, after all. They have to sell an awful lot of cars to become a viable major automaker.

The violent protests in Turkey mean trouble for a system held up as a "model" for "Islamic Democracy."

There has been some boasting on the left recently that they are finally going to be able to stand up to the NRA and the gun-rights lobby. Meanwhile, Colorado Senate President John Morse is facing a recall for pushing through that state's gun-control bill.

Oh, and the continuing impact of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Second Amendment has forced the state of Illinois, very unwillingly, to pass a concealed carry law that in theory will override Chicago's handgun ban. But the governor is now trying to use his "amendatory veto"—which is a really bad idea in and of itself—to hold up the legislation.

Was Michael Douglas right about what causes throat cancer?

The moment I got on Facebook, I knew this was coming: "Facebook Is for Old People."


—Robert Tracinski

The Daily Debate

edited by Robert Tracinski

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Robert Tracinski is also editor of The Tracinski Letter.

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