Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the Nobel Prize-winning former political prisoner who became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa and that republic’s first black president, passed away Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
The young Mandela, an African nationalist and leftist, became active in politics in the mid-1940s, opposing the Nationalist Party of white Afrikaners (South Africans primarily of Dutch descent) and their imposition of racial segregationist policies known as apartheid.
Under apartheid, South Africans were classified into racial groups which, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation website, “determined where someone could be born, where they could live, where they could go to school, where they could work, where they could be treated if they were sick and where they could be buried when they died. Only white people could vote and they had the best opportunities and the most money spent on their facilities.”
Over the next decade and a half, while in various elected positions within the African National Congress — the key black anti-apartheid movement and eventually the nation’s dominant political party — Mandela opposed the segregationist regime, going through multiple arrests and four trials. Mandela is also thought to have been a member of the Communist Party for some time, beginning in the early 1960s, though Mandela denied membership at his 1964 trial.
In 1962, Mandela was sentenced to five years of hard labor; he was sent to Robben Island in May 1963. However, in June 1964, following what is known as the Rivonia Trial, Mandela and eight others were sentenced to life in prison for sabotage. Mandela remained in prison until February 11, 1990.
In 1994, working with then-President F.W. de Klerk, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, South Africa had its first elections in which all races could vote, and Mandela was elected president.
With de Klerk, Mandela oversaw the writing of a new constitution and worked tirelessly to overcome the nation’s deep-seated divisions – hatreds would not be too strong a term – through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mandela was self-term-limited, and did not run for re-election after his presidential term ended in 1999.
But the usual dates and titles don’t do justice to one of the truly great figures of modern history and his nearly miraculous successes in unifying what was perhaps the world’s most divided nation at the time.
To give some context, I’d like to share a story: In 1989, during apartheid, I went to South Africa to visit a friend who was serving in the Peace Corps in Lesotho (a small mountainous country located wholly within the borders of South Africa).
My friend and I went to a small town called Alldays in the northern area of the former Transvaal province (now Limpopo) to do some hunting. In the evening, we went to the local bar to have a cold beer and meet some locals. Our hunting guide, a most interesting local named Dirk Uys (pronounced something like “ice”), came along with us.
We sat down with a few locals, white men in their 60s, who were interested in talking politics with the Americans. We learned that they were affiliated with a political party called the AWB. I asked Dirk if they were Nazis and Dirk said, in a moment I will never forget, “No, they’re much more conservative than the Nazis.”
These men spent much of the next hour talking about their military experience, specifically how proud they were to have fought in Angola. By fighting, they meant, and said explicitly, “killing kaffirs,” a highly defamatory term which is the South African equivalent of what we commonly call “the n-word” in the United States today.
They asked us what guns we had brought to hunt with. We said we had borrowed rifles from Dirk. They were disappointed and asked us to bring guns from America next time, saying they thought they would really need good guns in the not too distant future.
As these men were slightly drunk and not shy even when sober, I asked a very direct question: “Do you mean you want guns to kill black people when the revolution comes?” The answer was equally direct, and shocking: “Of course.”
As with all nationalist racist lunatics, the men went on to opine, and I quote, “blacks are bad but our real problems are all caused by the Jews.” Needless to say, I declined when they asked me if I wanted to hunt with them the next day. I presume these men had never met a Jew and other than that frightening hour at the bar, I didn’t want to be their first.
These people, while somewhat a fringe minority, nevertheless represented a real part of the nation that the new black president had to pacify when he took office.
And then there was the majority:
South Africa is well-described as a Second World country, with an incredible range of urban and industrial wealth, with factories and communities not just “gated” but surrounded by fences covered with razor wire and patrolled by armed guards with Rottweilers, often within shouting distance of large ghettos, called townships, such as Soweto (actually a collection of townships in the greater Johannesburg area), which is home to approximately 1.3 million poor blacks.
South Africa has some of the most beautiful wine country you’ll ever see (about an hour from Capetown) and hundreds of dusty hovel-filled villages where blacks eke out an existence farming and weaving baskets which tourists buy from shops in larger towns and cities.
Matching its extremes of topography, from beach to mountains to jungle to desert, South Africa also has social and economic extremes you will rarely find elsewhere. It would not be hard to imagine it as a powder keg; indeed it would be hard to avoid it.
Imagine the man needed to keep that large, recently and brutally oppressed, uneducated, socialist black majority representing about 80 percent of the population (the country’s total population was about 40 million at the time apartheid ended, and is about 52 million today) from exacting bloody revenge on the country’s white minority, under 10 percent of the population, many of whom they did not even share a language with. The fact that the black population is made up of various different tribes and clans was surely a double-edged sword in Mandela’s pleading for peace and tolerance.
While a comparison of post-apartheid South Africa to the Reconstruction period following the American Civil War initially seems apt, the fact that blacks represent the vast majority of South Africa’s population is an important differentiator.
Neither George “I’m a Uniter” Bush nor Barack “Post-Partisan” Obama can even get relatively similar Democrats and Republicans to get along, but Nelson Mandela, largely through sheer force of personality, prevented what could have been bloody vengeful separatist insurrection among people with deep and serious grievances.
With all this in mind, it is impossible to visit South Africa (as I have three more times since the end of apartheid) and the notorious Robben Island prison, South Africa’s own Alcatraz, without gaining a sense of the true greatness of Madiba, as Mr. Mandela was known within his Xhosa clan.
The country still has substantial problems and yawning racial economic divides: 28 percent unemployment among blacks, under 7 percent for whites; a massive black underclass with little opportunity to make better lives for their children; and an estimated 13 percent of blacks being HIV-positive (compared to under 1 percent of whites.)
Yet while crime rates in some cities are high, in day-to-day life people of all races treat each other (at least superficially) with friendship and courtesy. In my experience, South Africans, regardless of race, are the friendliest people on Earth.
One more short story: About a decade after the end of apartheid, I was in a taxi in Capetown, speaking with the cab driver about South African politics. He said that things were OK, basically stable, but not great. I asked what would make his life better. He said he had an idea to start a business but couldn’t get a loan of even a few hundred dollars to start, and then said: “I think it would be better if there were more white people in government; they understand economics better.” My gut reaction was that this black cab driver showed why there was real hope for his country. He was interested in results, not revenge.
The fact that South Africa did not have years of blood running through the streets, or the theft and thuggery and impoverishing anti-white policies of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the fact that they have a functioning democracy, the fact that the nation has a real, if not easy, path toward a successful future, is largely due to Nelson Mandela — a man who withstood more than a quarter century of hard labor, sleeping on a straw mat in a prison cell barely a foot wider than he was tall.
The question for the Republic of South Africa now is whether its people have the will, and its politicians the skill, to live up to the dream and the potential which Nelson Mandela saw, created, and embodied.
No man is perfect, and Nelson Mandela was undoubtedly not a saint. But when history needed a man of the strongest character to defeat, without bloodshed, an aggressive, evil political system which had survived years of international opposition and outrage, Madiba achieved what few others could even have conceived.
[First published at the American Spectator.]
Back in August, Czech Physicist Luboš Motl posted a blog that discussed the IPCC’s 95 percent “certainty” that global warming is mostly man-made and the subsequent runaway usage of that figure from the media to imply large amounts of money should immediately be spent to stop global warming. Motl, a highly-trained physicist, then contrasted that with how “95% certain” findings are more sensibly applied in particle physics.
I just came across his post now, and was struck most to learn how, in the world of particle physics, a 95% confidence level is “incredibly low,” Motl writes:
As I said, the 95% confidence level is known as the 2-sigma confidence in hard sciences such as particle physics. Particle physics experiments have brought us hundreds of 2-sigma excesses – and lots of much larger (more confident) excesses – and a vast majority of them turned out to be flukes. When more data were accumulated, these excesses just went away. Such things inevitably occur all the time.
Because people keep on looking for new effects, they inevitably encounter flukes that look like a new effect but the effect actually doesn’t exist. A priori, a new effect is always a pretty unlikely thing so if you look at the history of particle physics, most of the 2-sigma deviations were really flukes – results of coincidences that shouldn’t have been paid any attention to.
One important distinction Motl identifies before making this analogy is that 95% confidence levels in particle physics are calculated differently than how the IPCC calculates their confidence level, namely, the IPCC does no calculating at all, in fact they come up with their percentage level through a voting process.
Of course, failure to calculate a credible percentage figure is not entirely the IPCC’s fault, the enormous complexity of climate science stands in the way of allowing any person or group of persons to simply collect concrete data and then plug them into a clearly-defined calculation to be done by a computer. So they have a pretty good excuse one could say, but it’s still just an excuse, and science doesn’t recognize excuses, even if politics might.
(Photo credit: Oregon State University)
The Obama administration announced last Friday that it will grant industrial wind farm operators 30-year permits to kill legally protected bald eagles and golden eagles without fear of legal repercussions. U.S. wind turbines already kill 1.4 million birds and bats each year, including many endangered, threatened and protected species such as California condors, bald eagles and Indiana bats.
The Obama administration claims this annual bird and bat slaughter is necessary to fight global warming. Sources very close to the President have leaked to me the text of the following presidential speech on the topic, which President Obama will deliver later this week in a parallel universe that I will reconstruct (satire) for readers.
“My fellow Americans, hard times demand dramatic action.
Our human-caused global climate disruption has reached crisis levels. Not a single hurricane struck the United States this year. It has been eight full years – the longest period on record – since a Category 3 or higher hurricane struck the United States. This record lack of hurricane activity is depriving the southeastern United States of much needed rainfall.
Earlier this year, the United States underwent the longest period in history without a single tornado death, which has exacerbated human overpopulation concerns. This lack of tornado deaths means more people are using up more natural resources, especially in the American heartland. This is especially problematic as more people in the American heartland means there is an increasing strain on water resources in the heart of our nation.
This year marked the fewest number of U.S. wildfires in 30 years, depriving the western United States of the regular wildfires that have always been a part of nature and are crucial to wilderness regeneration cycles.
U.S. and global farmers this year produced their largest corn crops in history. Soybean productionthis year was the third-highest ever, with the all-time record occurring as recently as 2011. Just within the past five years, U.S. farmers produced all-time record crops of corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, flaxseed, hops, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugarcane, sunflowers, alfalfa, cotton, beans, sugar beets, sweet potatoes, and tobacco. Similar records are being set on a global scale, as well. It is irrefutable that such record crop production is contributing to our national obesity crisis and is harming our anti-smoking efforts.
Earlier this year, satellite data proved beyond doubt that a greening of the Earth is occurring, as foliage is becoming more prevalent throughout the world, and especially in arid regions bordering deserts. The arid American West is seeing some of the most rapid greening in the world. This sudden, disruptive development is putting immense pressure on shrinking deserts and their ecological systems. Unless we act now, our grandchildren will someday ask, ‘Grandpa, what were scorpions and sidewinder rattlesnakes, and why did humans chase them into extinction?’
In the year 2000, just before my Republican predecessor took office, the United States produced 24 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. We now produce 16 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. The pace at which we are reducing our carbon dioxide emissions is appallingly slow. We can no longer shirk our responsibility for all the global climate disruption that I have just outlined. We must act quickly, and we must act decisively.
Climate change deniers will try to divert your attention from the global climate disruption that I have just described. They will point out that wind turbines directly kill 1.4 million birds and bats each year in the United States, while indirectly killing many others by taking over large swaths of natural habitat. They will say that encouraging still more industrial wind farms by giving wind turbines a free pass to kill bald eagles, golden eagles and other legally protected species will merely encourage more wind turbines that will increase the millions of bird and bat kills.
Well, hard times demand dramatic action. Unless we act now, major hurricanes will soon become a thing of the past. So will large-scale tornado outbreaks. Wildfires will become mere folklore. Farmers will grow so much food and tobacco that obesity and chain smoking will reach epidemic proportions. Deserts will be unable to fend off the onslaught of global greening.
Slaughtering millions of this country’s birds and bats each year is a small price to pay to reverse this documented climate mayhem. If wind turbines slice up more and more bald eagles, California condors and whooping cranes in mid-flight, that is the price we will gladly pay to put an end to this global climate disruption. To make an eagle omelet, you have to kill a few eagles.
America’s dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions this century does not absolve us of our obligation to cut our emissions even faster than ever before. I thank you for supporting me in this effort.”
OK- nobody leaked the speech to me. It would, however, be the most forthright environmental speech our current president ever made. Who knows? – Maybe he will embrace honesty and give this speech before the week is up.
[Originally published on Forbes]
Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming: A History is a wonderful book, the best account of the politics of global warming to date — and the best likely to be written.
It is engaging and doesn’t over-reach to become over-worked and tedious. As someone who has served as a foot soldier in the solar-science trench of the global warming battle for less than a decade, this book filled in a lot of the missing details. It also offers some new insights.
Environmentalism had a big run up from the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 to the first environmental conference in Stockholm ten years later. During that time, Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, blocked the building of some dams and highways for environmental reasons, and Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Then the Yom Kippur began on October 6, 1973. Interest in environmental matters as a popular issue was sidelined for some time by wars and oil-supply shocks. Nevertheless, notions of wealth redistribution from OECD countries to the Third World continued to be generated, their rationale based on the novel concept of “environmental justice.” The movement thrashed around until it lit upon the issue that would take it mainstream. Initially, the health of the oceans was promoted as the big concern, but then global warming emerged as the issue able to get the best traction.
One of the missing details that this book fills in is the lack of economic modelling on global warming policies. The first governmental review of the costs and benefits of mitigation measures was that of the George Bush administration in 1990. No other government bothered, being quite happy to sign up to commitments to deep cuts in emissions without knowing or caring about the economic consequences. That is what I found strange when I got involved in this issue. Do you remember when Kevin Rudd said that fighting global warming would cost a family just $1 per day, as if they were signing up to a World Vision child sponsorship plan or the like? Of course the economic consequences have been much more burdensome than that, underwritten by the indisputble fact that environmentalism needs prosperity to flourish.
The first people to lose their jobs in Australia due to the global warming scare were cement workers in Rockhampton. One of the more recent victims was a restaurant in inner Sydney, where the owners could not afford to re-gas their fridges – collateral damage in the war on Western civilisation. A warehouse burnt down in New Zealand because the owners tried to save money by switching to a hydrocarbon refrigerant. The economic consequences are now coming faster and harder. The Europeans have suddenly become much more aware of what will happen to their power prices under the global-warming legislation they have enacted. Seemingly none of them did any economic modelling of what would happen. They were so very happy to sign up to the cause and equally eager to coerce others into committing economic suicide as well. Now the consequences are becoming grimly apparent.
Malcolm Turnbull, a climate change true believer, once said that for global warming not to be true, it would have to be the largest conspiracy the world has ever seen. Darwall details the first stirrings of that conspiracy in the 1920s, and he tracks its progress over the near-hundred years since. Did the scientists actually believe the theory they were advocating? It seems they did and simply cooked the books to show that it was happening, fervently believing reality would eventually catch up with their projections. Gaia had other ideas, however. The planet has refused to warm for very nearly two decades, and there is a growing body of evidence and observations that suggest we may actually on the brink of global cooling.
For those thoroughly bored with global warming, Darwall’s book still represents a very good read because it shows how public opinion is shaped and prepared for concerted and calculated multi-year campaigns at the international level. I have heard speculation that “global warming” is to be replaced as a poster issue for the environmentalist cause by the notion of “sustainability.” One of the first indications that such a switch in emphasis is in progress was a recent campaign by the NSW EPA against food wastage. Seemingly, the state agency is reading the cues and reacting to them.
The vast majority of our polity here in Australia are still afflicted by global warming, either as believers or in paying lip service to it. The country at this juncture is still destined for one pointless burden or the other – be it the carbon tax or “direct action”. Tellingly, while the new Liberal Government was elected on a pledge to abolish the carbon tax, it has kept the National Greenhouse & Energy Reporting Act (NGER) — the last dark deed of the Howard Government in 2007. Howard pronounced himself as agnostic on global warming, but for some reason was very efficient at bringing in legislation that paved the way for the carbon tax. He later rewrote his autobiography to explain that he was panicked by a tidal wave of environmentalism. It seems Howard thought he would use global warming as an issue to push Australia towards nuclear power. Instead, he cast himself as another of Lenin’s “useful fools.”
Belief in global warming has been a litmus test for our politicians. If they have ever believed in it, or uttered the inane “we have decided to give the planet the benefit of the doubt,” they are fools for being so easily deluded. Repeal of the NGER is now the litmus test. If that act is not repealed, then it will be self-evident our current crop of leaders is not serious about Australia’s economic health, national security, liquid fuel supplies and similar grave matters of state. Our country will continue to suffer until the issue of global warming is entirely behind us. Reading Darwall’s book will bring forward that frabjous day.
[First published at The New Quadrant.]
I’m in a tough spot. Paul Ryan is one of the brightest stars in the Republican Party. He is a true fiscal (and social) conservative, and I cheered when Mitt Romney selected him as his running mate (although I wished Ryan rather than Romney were the presidential candidate, and I still hope he will be in the future). Ryan towers, literally and figuratively, over his Democratic opposition-turned-collaborators.
But the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 announced Tuesday, negotiated almost entirely between Mr. Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA), is so disappointing — so far from what I’m sure Ryan himself would really want — that it’s difficult to support.
However, after due consideration, despite the opposition of organizations such as FreedomWorks which I support and respect (and which John Boehner excoriated on Wednesday), skeptical that it will lower the deficit, and with at least as much consideration to the politics as to the economics, I find myself grudgingly in favor of the deal, again as I suspect Paul Ryan feels.
The deal partially undoes the sequester which, even if stumbled into unwillingly by all involved, represents the most successful federal spending restraint in recent memory. The restored cuts will go, for Republicans and appropriators, to defense spending and, for Democrats and appropriators, to redistribution and pork that politicians euphemistically call “investments,” which they will hide behind human shields of sick children by repeatedly claiming how much they’re funneling into medical research.
Undoing the sequester, even if just for two years (and who really believes they won’t undo more of it in subsequent years as well, especially if the GOP doesn’t take back the Senate next year?), is a high price to pay for a deal.
It is also unwise, though not unexpected, to try to offset spending increases with higher fees on airline tickets, as if those who are traveling are responsible for out-of-control entitlements and even-more-out-of-control congressional appropriators who never met a vote they didn’t want to buy with someone else’s money.
The deal also uses a couple of gimmicks: It counts as savings canceling “a portion of the unobligated balances” in two large federal Forfeiture Funds (belonging to the DoJ and Treasury), as if money that likely would never have been spent should now magically count as deficit reduction.
Also, there are fraud-reduction provisions that should already have been in place simply in the interest of good government rather than being used to lessen the apparent cost of spending increases.
There are positive aspects to the deal:
- Newly-hired federal employees will be required to contribute slightly more to their own pensions.
- Private companies will contribute slightly more to have their retirement plans backed by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
- Despite Nancy Pelosi’s original threats to oppose any deal that does not include extension of unemployment benefits, the deal does not include them. Some conservative House members may tell Speaker of the House John Boehner that the price of their support is his promise not to bring up a separate bill to extend the already overgenerous 99 weeks of unemployment “compensation,” as politicians these days like to term that particular form of redistribution.
- There are no increases in income tax rates. This, despite the deal’s other imperfections, allowed anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist to say that the current deal is acceptable, if not optimal.
The deal does nothing about longer-term structural problems such as entitlement spending, an uncompetitive and overly complex tax code, and the fast-approaching debt limit. Addressing such thorny and divisive issues would likely have made any current deal impossible.
And in a perfect world, or at least a world in which Republicans had more power than they have now, I would agree. But we’re not in that world.
Paul Ryan, however, lives in reality. Rep. Ryan, responding for this article, says, “I fully agree with my colleagues that we need to do more. And I think this agreement is a good first step: It reduces the deficit by $23 billion—without raising taxes—and it cuts spending in a smarter way.”
We might debate whether the deficit reduction will actually be realized, or whether that’s even the proper measure of wise fiscal policy. (It isn’t.) But what is beyond debate is that we have a Senate run by Harry Reid and a White House occupied by the most committed and radical leftist in American presidential history. Our options are limited despite declining Democrat popularity.
So with a view toward increasing Republican power (or, more precisely, lessening Democratic power since I am not a registered Republican), I suggest that the economics of this underwhelming two-year budget deal are less important than the politics.
And on the politics, Republicans and Paul Ryan have achieved a considerable victory.
This deal makes it far more difficult for President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and House Democratic Leader Pelosi to characterize Republicans as nothing more than “obstructionists.”
Indeed, it should escape nobody (but will go unmentioned by the usual media suspects) that this deal happened while — and perhaps because — President Obama was out of the country; he was narcissistically busy taking selfies at the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela.
In a world of asymmetrical political warfare, the benefits to the GOP of participating in a high-profile (even if not highly significant) piece of legislation with the word “Bipartisan” in its title far exceeds any such benefit to Democrats.
Similarly, it defangs Obama’s venomous attacks on Republicans as “hijacking” the country “if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want.”
In short, this goes a long way toward making the GOP look reasonable in the minds of the independent, moderate, and swing voters who truly decide our elections. It is an important accomplishment with less than a year until elections in which Republicans have a chance to regain control of the US Senate.
Finally, the most likely alternative to this deal was not a better deal but either a worse deal or no deal, the latter greasing the skids for another government shutdown, the very briar patch that Democrats are hoping rebellious Tea Party-affiliated Republicans now throw Congress into.
Yes, this budget deal does very little, for a very short time. And yes, if I were in charge, it would look very different. Indeed, if Paul Ryan were in charge, it would look very different. But I’m not, and he’s not.
So for those of you who are saying “this deal is too terrible to support” I would ask you: “compared to what?”
What better deal for Republicans do you think would have any chance of passing both houses of Congress and being signed by our Alinskyite president whose first thought is never “what is best for America?” but rather “how can I destroy my enemies?”
Many Republicans, especially in the Senate, will object to this deal. It’s hard to blame them. It’s also politically useful, reminding voters of the fundamental differences between our two major political parties and how much better a budget could be if Harry Reid didn’t rule the Senate.
But they must also be careful not to generate so much Republican opposition that Reid can intentionally cause the defeat of the bill, living as he does in the same swamp of scorched-earth political hatred that our president inhabits and believing that yet another government shutdown would yet again benefit Democrats.
On the left, Democrats have initially been strangely silent, unsure of a political winning angle. However, in developments late Wednesday, Republicans proposed (and voted in committee for) adding a short-term “doc fix,” part of a ridiculous Washington tradition in which they prevent legislated cuts to physicians’ Medicare payments from taking place. Democrats have reacted by saying that if Republicans want to reopen the deal to add the doc fix, then they want to include an extension of unemployment benefits.
This is, as usual, the Stupid Party finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Republicans have as good a deal as possible, and threaten its success by taking on an unnecessary additional issue. (After all, what better way to increase public antipathy toward Obamacare and government control of health care than to leave the SGR along with Obamacare’s additional cuts to doctors in place?)
I submit to you that there was, and is, no substantially better deal to be had in the current situation than that worked out by Paul Ryan. While the economics of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 leave much to be desired, they could have been worse. Much worse.
More importantly, this deal is a significant political win for a Republican Party desperately in need of one, especially as repeated Democratic lies and failures and scandals open enormous electoral opportunities in 2014.
So when a well-meaning Tea Party activist or politician tells you that this deal is simply too bad to support, I encourage you to ask him “compared to what?”
[First published at the American Spectator.]
On Monday, the Treasury Department announced that the federal government had, no doubt to great the relief of General Motors management, sold its remaining shares of GM stock.
According to a 2009 CNN Money story on the GM bailout, “The Obama administration will commit another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations.”
The Treasury press release says that “Treasury has recouped a total of $39 billion from the original GM investment.”
In other words, this “investment” cost taxpayers just over $10 billion which represents, for purposes of comparison, the current annual budget of the FDA, the SEC, and the Border Patrol combined. (Alternatively, it represents the current annual budget of the US Coast Guard.)
After repeated violations of the spirit and letter of bankruptcy law in order to enrich the Obama administration’s union supporters, taxpayers have finally been left holding the bag (a bag, as Ben Stein points out, filled with the governmental equivalent of dog excrement.)
So here’s the question for you, dear conservative and libertarian readers: Would you now consider buying a GM vehicle if its prior government ownership was a negative factor for you in the past?
[First published at the American Spectator.]
Democrats make a lot of silly statements. The trick isn’t finding a pronouncement by a liberal politician which — in a way nearly unique to politics — simultaneously brings a grimace, a giggle, and a groan, but figuring out whether the speaker is an outright liar or just living in a liberal echo chamber reminiscent of Pauline Kael (or at least the political mythology surrounding her).
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is a reliable representative of the outright liar camp: No echo is loud enough to make her actually believe that Democratic candidates will run (and win) on the issue of Obamacare, but she says it repeatedly, hoping that the Big Lie strategy will work just one more time.
Other irrepressible dissemblers in Congress include Jim McDermott (D-WA), Alan Grayson (D-FL), and House Democratic Leader Nancy “I wasn’t lying when I said you could keep your plan” Pelosi (D-CA).
But I’ve long wondered about the second-ranking Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer. Hoyer has carefully crafted a public image as a pragmatic moderate, itself a remarkable achievement given that the rest of his party’s House leadership includes Pelosi along with James “if you disapprove of Obama, you’re probably racist” Clyburn (SC) and the rabidly leftist and economically ignorant Xavier “a government bond is the same as cash” Becerra(CA).
According to two vote-rating projects (one by the non-partisan National Journal and one by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action), Hoyer’s voting record is, in partisan terms, average for a Democrat. He doesn’t scream. He doesn’t whine (much). He looks and speaks vaguely like a statesman.
So was Mr. Hoyer misguided, or just lying, in a Tuesday morning appearance on CNBCwhen he asserted that there are no extremists in the Democratic Party?
More precisely, Home Depot co-founder and self-identified Republican Ken Langone pressed Hoyer, “There are extremists in the Republican Party and if you want me to throw out a name, I will. How about you throwing out a name of an extremist in your party?”
Hoyer responded, “I don’t think there are any extremists in my party.”
Langone, disgusted, said “What more can I say? The other guys are the bad guys, and we’re the good…”
For someone who isn’t a partisan Democrat, it is easy to believe that Hoyer is simply lying.
After all, who could look at Alan Grayson saying that the Republican health care plan is for people to “die quickly” and conclude that he’s not an extremist? (It’s with no small amount of schadenfreude that we learned Tuesday about Rep. Grayson, one of the richest members of Congress, losing $18 million to investment fraud.)
What about Jim McDermott? The leftist from Seattle (but I repeat myself) told conservatives who had been targeted by the IRS that theydeserved just what they got because they were involved in controversial issues.
What about the 69 Democratic congressmen named in 2009 as members of the Democratic Socialists of America? There’s not one “extremist” among them?
But Steny Hoyer, like his colleagues, lives in a world of exclusion and intolerance, a world where Democrats liken Republicans to the Taliban, where seldom is heard a discouraging word even if reality would seem to demand it.
And in such a world, where Barack Obama could at least for a time convince people that he was an open-minded center-left post-partisan, any sort of delusional Democrat group-think is possible.
After all, if Obama is a moderate, nobody on the left is extreme.
It is a world in which the tone is set at the top, by a president trained all too well by Saul Alinsky to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Some recent examples of tone-setting by the president of the United States:
- November 2013: “You’ve seen an extreme faction of the Republican Party that has shown again and again and again that they’re willing to hijack the entire party and the country and the economy and grind progress to an absolute halt if they don’t get 100 percent of what they want.”
- October 2013: “Republicans…don’t get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands.”
- October 2013: Republicans “have been unwilling to say no to the most extreme parts of their caucus.”
- September 2013: Republicans are trying “to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.”
- August 2012: Mitt Romney has “signed up for positions, extreme positions that are very consistent with positions that a number of House Republicans have taken.”
So let’s get this straight: Republicans and libertarians who adhere to the plain writing of the Constitution (at least adhere somewhat more than Democrats do), who believe that an expanding public sector results in a diminishing private sector, who believe that people’s lives are better and more fulfilling when adults make their own decisions (though the GOP is sometimes hypocritical on this score when it comes to our personal lives), and who believe that pointy-headed ivory-tower bureaucrats should not be given more power over how and where we can get our health care, insurance, financial services, and other important, highly personal aspects of our daily lives — we are the extremists.
But radical leftists who believe the opposite of all of the above, who want to turn America away from freedom and capitalism, away from the economic and military strength that has made us the most admired nation on earth, who hate rich people except those who at least implicitly hate themselves for being rich, and who think that Americans are too stupid to make important decisions for ourselves — these rabid ideologues are well-meaning principled public servants and the very definition of moderation?
Fortunately, despite ever-present echoing of the myth of Republican-only “extremism” in the dominant liberal media outlets, the public isn’t buying it.
In a 2010 midterm election poll conducted by The Hill, “44 percent of likely voters say the Democratic Party is more dominated by its extreme elements, whereas 37 percent say it’s the Republican Party that is more dominated by extremists.” Democrats were at least slightly honest about their own party: “More than one in every five Democrats (22 percent) in The Hill’s survey said their party was more dominated than the GOP by extreme views. The equivalent figure among Republicans is 11 percent.”
It can’t be getting any better for Democrats in recent months.
Whether Steny Hoyer is deluded, or, like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, just lying, it is in the GOP’s interest to allow Democrats, dare I say urge them, to continue with their “only Republicans are extremists” talking points.
Nobody whose vote is potentially available to the GOP believes such obvious falsehoods anymore.
The disastrous rollout of Obamacare (the impact on the entire health insurance and health care systems, not just the web site’s epic fail), the many broken promises, and the plummeting belief in Barack Obama’s trustworthiness will cause independent voters to be skeptical of everything uttered by a Democrat candidate in 2014. It also damages one of the key perceptions underlying recent Democrat success: that the party understands and cares about the average American more than Republicans do. (It is remarkable how long a party can successfully campaign on good intentions despite providing useless or harmful outcomes.)
Republicans should reinforce voter skepticism of Democrats by rebroadcasting Hoyer, Wasserman, Pelosi, and Obama in their own obviously false words, and encouraging the echo chamber to keep on echoing their siren song of self-delusion, with nary a Ulysses to tie them to the mast as they sail into the perilous seas of 2014.
[First published at the American Spectator.]
In an article titled, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” Slate claimed the traditional incarnation of Santa Claus as “an old white male” brings “insecurity and shame” to nonwhite kids. To solve the asserted problem, Slate argued Santa Claus should hereafter take the form of a penguin, which Slate asserted is a mammal.
According to Slate, it is time to let the “universally beloved waddling mammal” take over from the old white man the chore of handing out Christmas presents.
Responding to an army of outraged readers – presumably Kindergartners – Slate thereafter discovered penguins are actually birds rather than mammals and corrected its article.
Slate’s equal part appalling, equal part comical belief that penguins are mammals calls to mind a Christmas Eve moment in my household several years ago. My wife and I spread out a map of the world and asked our two daughters where they thought Santa might be.
“I think Santa is in Turkey,” said my older daughter, then five years old.
“I think Santa is in Ham,” said my younger daughter, then four years old.
“Ham?!! Ham isn’t a country!” exclaimed my outraged five-year-old daughter.
My four-year-old daughter may not have known at the time that Ham is not a country, but even she would have been able to tell you that penguins are birds.
Which brings us back to Slate. On the very same day that Slate scientifically soiled itself by proclaiming penguins are mammals, Slate published an article criticizing the Heartland Institute on scientific matters.
Last month I published an article at Forbes.com noting that a recent survey showed only 52 percent of American Meteorological Society members believe global warming is occurring and humans are the primary cause. Scientists have verified that my article was accurate. Nevertheless, upset that I did not make all sorts of caveats and excuses to hide the lack of scientific consensus, Slate – on the very same day that it claimed penguins are mammals – published a lengthy article attempting to smear the Heartland Institute on matters of science.
Well, we can all have our different scientific opinions, but we can’t all have our different scientific facts.
Only 52 percent of American Meteorological Society members believe global warming is occurring and humans are the primary cause.
And at least the Heartland Institute knows that penguins are birds.
Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray Tuesday evening announced a budget deal they say restores “regular order” to the federal budget and spending process. Overall spending in fiscal year 2014 would be $1.012 trillion, and overall spending in fiscal year 2015 would be $1.014 trillion. The agreement replaces $63 billion in sequester cuts with a combination of other savings and includes an additional $22.5 billion in deficit reduction.
The following statements from budget and tax experts at The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank – may be used for attribution.
“Congress hasn’t passed an actual budget since 2009. For the sake of ‘regular order’ in budgeting, Ryan and Murray have agreed to gut the sequester cuts that have helped bring a semblance of fiscal responsibility to federal spending. They agree to send spending higher in the near term in exchange for a net deficit reduction of $22.5 billion over the long term. The federal government spends approximately $10 billion a day, so they’re trying to make a big deal out of saving two days of spending.
“And no Congress can force a future Congress to do anything, so all we know for sure is that we’ll soon see higher government spending. Considering the dismal history of promises of future fiscal restraint, it’s a safe bet the promised long-term deficit reductions will never happen.”
“This unremarkable budget compromise is all about November 2014: both Republicans and Democrats want to avoid being held responsible for ‘gridlock.’ But that means the one pressing issue on the table will be Obamacare, which is doing huge damage to only one party. Thus the budget deal, if it ultimately passes, could have big political implications by default.”
“President Barack Obama calls the budget deal ‘a good first step.’ Is this actually an admission that, after being president for five years, the country is only taking its first step? Or is this merely a political throwaway line? The country has actually already taken a series of steps toward resolving the unsustainable deficit that opened up in conjunction with the fiscal crisis of 2008. Following the Tea Party surge of 2010, the House of Representatives began to wrestle with its counterparts in the other chamber and with the president regarding spending and tax policies. The process has not been pretty.
“From $1.3 trillion or $1.4 trillion deficits during 2009–11, the deficit fell modestly to $1.1 trillion in 2012 (reflecting the beginning of the process we are now in), and to $700 billion in 2013. Together with an economy that is growing at a modest rate, the deficit as a percent of GDP has fallen by a bit more. The budget deal should bring us to a sustainable ratio of debt to GDP over the next two years. This progress is faster than was ‘promised’ by either major party candidate in 2012.”
“Congratulations to Congress. It has finally figured out how to ‘play nice’ in the sand box long enough to get elected again in 2014! Hopefully, members of Congress have learned a lesson and will continue to run the country in a responsible manner and leave partisan games out of the equation.”
Scott H. Richardson
Partner, Richardson and Ritchie Consulting
“This all amounts to band-aid work, nothing substantial.”
Tibor R. Machan
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise
Argyros School of Business & Economics
There are two fundamentally different concepts of “Equality.” One is equality under the law, that everyone should face the same rules. That was central to the American Revolution itself, which was the historic cutting edge to abolish the legal “aristocracy,” nobility, monarchy, and all of their vestiges in the law. There is no political dispute today over this form of equality. Republicans and conservatives support equality under the law just as much as Democrats, “liberals,” and Marxists ostensibly do.
The other concept of equality is equality of result, the idea that differences in wealth and income are inherently unfair and our goal should be to eliminate them. Obama explicitly said in his speech last week that he does not mean to promote equality of result. But throughout his remarks, he precisely complained about inequality of result. “The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income, it now takes in half,” Obama proclaimed. “Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more,” Obama further complained. “And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.”
This concept of equality is fundamentally anti-American, and at the heart of Marxism and Communism. If public policies are to make all incomes equal, then there is literally no reason for anyone to work and earn more. The extra earnings anyone earns would just be confiscated, and given to those who work less, even those who don’t work at all, until their incomes are the same as everyone else’s. So why would anyone work at all?
And if public policies are to make everyone’s wealth equal, then there is no reason at all for anyone to save and invest anything. The extra savings, investment, and wealth anyone makes and accumulates would be confiscated, and given those with less, or none, until they had the same wealth as everyone else. So why save and invest at all?
With no savings, investment, entrepreneurship (why bother trying to start and run your own business when if it is successful it would have to be taken away from you), or even work, there would be no economic growth or prosperity at all. The notions of equal incomes and wealth for all are fundamentally incompatible not only with the entire concept of capitalism, but with any economic and social advance at all. Indeed, any society committed to equal incomes and wealth for all would logically only have to regress back towards the Stone Age. This is exactly what we saw in every Communist country in the 20th century committed to implementing these principles.
Moreover, with these as the ultimate results of such principles, any policy adopted to approach those principles would approach those same results, again as was demonstrated throughout the 20th century. Any such policies would retard economic growth, and lead to long term economic stagnation and decline, the greater the more such policies were implemented.
Yet, throughout academia, the media, and at the core of the Democrat party, the reigning assumption is that the goals of any fair society would be precisely equal incomes and wealth for all. This is the pall that is bringing down America over the long run. Especially as the rest of the world has learned precisely these lessons from the 20th century. But in America, such prep school Marxism means “hope and change.” Not just Obama, but our nation’s elites remain mired in these Marxist throwback fallacies of the last century.
Obama’s economic policies have been entirely consistent with this philosophy of equal incomes and wealth as the ultimate goal. He has thoroughly pursued increases in the tax rates of every tax, or maintaining them as high as politically possible, on “the rich” and corporations and businesses. The Obama regulatory jihad veers towards abolishing any concept of the private economy, with “private” business and industry to be run as the government and its bureaucrats decide, not as the entrepreneurs who build them decide. (“You didn’t build that” anyway, as Obama has proclaimed.) Government spending soared until the Republican House was elected in 2010 as a check and balance on this economic insanity.
And that is why there has been very little economic growth, throughout Obama’s entire presidency. Indeed, as the inevitable result of no growth, economic inequality has accelerated and soared under Obama. That is reflected in official government statistics measuring inequality, including the so-called “Gini” index. The incomes of the bottom 80 percent have been in persistent decline for all five years now, including for the middle class the deceiver in chief talks so much about, and for the poor, as poverty has soared under Obama as well. Yet, the stock market boom the Fed has been under such pains to induce with its loose, zero interest rate monetary policy, cheered on with the full support of Obama and his Treasury department, has meant that the incomes of the top 20 percent have continued to increase under the Obamanian reign of error.
The other key distinction to be made is between the goal of equal incomes and wealth, and safety net programs for the poor. Carefully constructed safety net programs for the poor can co-exist perfectly well with booming capitalism, which was the central argument of my 2011 book America’s Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb. Indeed, such programs can contribute to economic growth and prosperity for all. Constructed with pro-growth incentives for positive behavior (work, family, education, savings, investment, and entrepreneurship), such programs would not be much of a burden to the resulting booming economy. Indeed, the combination of such careful safety net programs and the booming economy can eliminate poverty entirely. And booming jobs and rising wages and incomes for the poor and middle class would more effectively promote actual economic equality.
Peter Ferrara is a Heartland senior fellow for entitlement and budget policy, a senior fellow at the Social Security Institute, and the general counsel of the American Civil Rights Union.[Article originally posted on spectator.org]
This week, on Fox News Sunday, Senator (and likely presidential hopeful) Rand Paul (R-KY) came out against further extension of unemployment benefits, saying that ongoing extensions do a “disservice” to workers. Yes, they do that, as well as offering a disservice to taxpayers.
But in an era where Republicans are so desperate not to seem “mean” that they too often act like “Democrats-lite,” this direct opposition to never-ending unemployment benefits is a breath of fresh air.
Sen. Paul pointed out that incenvitizing people to be unemployed for a longer time causes them to become less desirable as employees (as people who have been out of work for longer, and thus further out of touch with business, technology, or just a work ethic.)
There is another reason to oppose yet another extension: Removing unemployment benefits will wake more Americans up to the Obama economy and to the damage that this administration’s massive over-regulation, creation of uncertainty, and particularly Obamacare, are doing to the opportunities that all Americans have to live successful and fulfilling lives.
Finally, the administration and liberals everywhere argue that cutting back unemployment benefits will harm the economy. But if that’s the case, why don’t we just make a law banning work, then hand out money to everyone, and the economy will skyrocket, and we’ll all be able to live lives of leisure…for free?!?
The response to Sen. Paul, or rather whether the inevitable leftist frothing at the mouth can defeat Paul’s logic among independent and moderate voters, will say a lot about the future of the United States.
[First published at the American Spectator.]
In 2007 Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner was interviewed on the subject of sea levels. He is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden. He is past president (1999-2003) of the INQUA Commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution, and leader of the Maldives Sea Level Project. Dr. Mörner has been studying the sea level and its effects on coastal areas for some 35 years.
“You have Vanuatu, and also in the Pacific, north of New Zealand and Fiji— there is the island Tegua. They said they had to evacuate it, because the sea level was rising. But again, you look at the tide-gauge record: There is absolutely no signal that the sea level is rising. If anything, you could say that maybe the tide is lowering a little bit, but absolutely no rising.”
The most recent edition of Bloomberg Businessweek features a cover that says “This entire country is about to be wiped out by climate change. It won’t last.” It is devoted to Kribati, a Pacific island chain, and it is a total lie.
The media has been a co-conspirator to the global warming hoax and I take this latest example as one that reveals its utter desperation to maintain the greatest hoax of the modern era. The facts mean nothing to them. Real science means nothing to them. But reality is intruding on theirs and the United Nations environmental program just wrapped up Conference of Parties-19 in Warsaw, where more nations are now in open revolt.
Writing from the conference was Craig Rucker, the Executive Director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a think tank that has helped organize the Poles to protest this travesty. “Poland has been bullied for decades and they are not about to cede their energy independence to Russia, the UN or anyone. Nor should they.”
On November 21, Rucker reported that “COP-19 was shocked when China led a block of 132 nations in a walkout over ‘loss and damage.’ Loss and damage is a completely bogus concept that developed nations should be legally liable when natural disasters strike developing nations. There is of course no meaningful scientific or historical link that Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was abnormal and with no global warming link.”
We owe a debt of gratitude as well to The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free market think tank, that has sponsored eight international conferences on global warming since 2008 and recently released a report, Climate Change Reconsidered II. Like CFACT it has been on the forefront of those seeking to educate the public regarding the phony science claims put forth.
COP-19 was one more UN conference leading up to a new version of the Kyoto Protocol that required nations that signed onto it to reduce their so-called greenhouse gas emissions. The final push will come in 2015 in Paris.
Nations that did sign on—the U.S. Senate unanimously refused to ratify the treaty when the Protocol was initially introduced in 1997—are realizing the economic harm that it imposed on them. The same afternoon of the China-led walkout, Poland announced that it had fired its environmental minister who is also the president of the UN conference, two days before the conference was supposed to end!
The Protocol, as is the entire global warming aka climate change hoax, is based on the lie that carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere is causing it to warm. In recent years CO2 has increased in the atmosphere and the Earth, some fifteen or more years ago, entered a cooling cycle. It is getting colder.
“Never underestimate what a gathering of bureaucrats and carbon profiteers might accomplish when after your money”, warned Rucker.
A November 20 article in The Daily Caller reported that “It’s worth noting that U.S. diplomats were specifically instructed by the Obama administration to oppose any attempts to create an independent fund for climate reparations from rich countries to poor countries.” Three days later the administration announced that it now supports all nations declaring their targets for reducing CO2 emissions before 2015. Rucker warns that this now clears “the path for the UN to adopt a full climate treaty and successor to the Kyoto Protocol in 2015.” If the Senate is not controlled by Republicans at that point, it would permit the administration to sign onto a treaty. The harm to the economy would be incalculable.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, elected recently to undo the damage of a carbon tax, told the Washington Post “Despite a carbon tax of $37 a ton by 2020, Australia’s domestic emissions were going up, not down. The carbon tax was basically socialism masquerading as environmentalism and that’s why it’s going to get abolished.” Australia did not send a representative to COP-19. Canada dropped out of the Protocol in recent years. Japan is abandoning the UN’s greenhouse gas emission reduction levels by allowing them to grow by three percent.
Nation by nation the UN global warming hoax is being abandoned for the obvious reason that it is a lie perpetrated to transfer wealth from the developed nations to those less developed. It was never about saving the Earth from a global warming; that was a lie from start to finish.
Some journalists are trying to tell the truth, but magazines like BusinessWeek and newspapers like the New York Times continue to keep the hoax alive. An informed population, not just in the United States, but increasingly worldwide, will ensure that it dies a long overdue death.
[First posted at Accuracy in Media.]
This article reveals that leading scientists know that the “prestige” academic journals are biased in favor of flashy and politically correct research findings, even when such findings are frequently contradicted by subsequent research. This is important in the context of the global warming debate because Nature and Science have published the most alarmist and incredible junk on global warming and refuse to publish skeptics. (Full disclosure: Nature ran a negative editorial about us a few years back, and a much better but still inaccurate feature story.) Claims of a “scientific consensus” rely heavily on the assumption that expertise can be measured by how often a scientist appears in one of these journals. Now we know that’s a lie.
Along these lines, I highly recommend a 2010 book titled Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us – And How to Know When Not to Trust Them, by David H. Freedman, “a science and business journalist, contributing editor at Inc. magazine and has written for The Atlantic, Newsweek, NYT, Science, HBR, Fast Company, Wired, Self, and many other publications.”
He says experts can be wrong because:
1. Pandering to audience or client
2. Lack of oversight
3. Automaticity (assuming every problem has the same solution)
4. Flawed evidence (rely on other scientists for data)
5. Careerism (publish or perish, never admit mistakes)
6. Publication bias
7. Confounding variables
8. Conflicts of interest
He says we believe experts because we are predisposed to embrace people who espouse:
1. Certainty (absence of doubt)
2. Simple explanations (never more than three causes)
3. Universality (these factors/processes/principles apply to everything!)
4. Upbeat (good news)
5. Actionable (we can fix this)
6. Palatable solutions (we can afford to fix it)
7. Dramatic finding or insight (wow factor)
8. A compelling narrative (connects the dots)
9. Consensus (everyone believes this!)
Some excerpts from the book:
“In an anonymous survey conducted by Martinson and his colleagues and published in Nature in 2005, and responded to by some 3,200 researchers who had received funding from the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of participants admitted to at least one act of misconduct with regard to designing, conducting, interpreting, and reporting the results of studies within the previous three years.” (pp. 106-7)
“In a 2000 survey of biostaticians, half said they personally knew of research studies that involved fraud, and of that group, about half went on to say that the fraud involved the fabrication of falsification of data.” (p. 107)
“. . . researchers need to publish impressive findings to keep their careers alive, and some seem unable to come up with those findings via honest work. Bear in mind that researchers who don’t publish well-regarded work typically don’t get tenure and are forced out of their institutions.” (p. 108)
“Perhaps more important, tenured researchers still have to bring in research funding, and the pressure to do so often considerably increases with tenure, since senior researchers sometimes have to take most of the responsibility for getting entire labs funded.” (p. 109)
“Back in 1989 economists at Harvard and the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that virtually all published economic papers are wrong, attributing this astoundingly dismal assessment to the effects of publication bias.” (p. 112)
“If a scientist wants to or expects to end up with certain results, he will likely achieve them, often through some form of fudging, whether conscious or not – bias exerts a sort of gravity over error, pulling the glitches in one direction, so that the errors tend to add up rather than cancel out.” (p. 114)
“Nature quoted the Princeton professor, Nobel laureate, and former Bell Labs researcher Philip Anderson as saying, ‘Nature’s editorial and refereeing policy seems to be influenced by the newsworthiness of the work, not necessarily its quality, and Science seems to be caught up in a similar syndrome.” (p. 119)
“Does the scientific community do anything effective to single out lousy research? Actually, yes – it makes sure that some of the worst research gets the most acclaim.” (pp. 122-23)
“Research by Dickersin and others suggests that on average positive studies are at least ten times more likely than negative studies to be submitted and accepted for publication.” (p. 123)
And my favorite:
“Many liberals, on the other hand, seem constitutionally incapable of giving fair consideration to, or in some cases even acknowledging, expert evidence and arguments (even if in the minority) that question whether we are really in the midst of a man-made global climate crisis.” (p. 78)
In recent years, over-the-air broadcasters, under the current retransmission consent regime, have been able to exact increasingly higher fees for permitting Multichannel Video Program Distributors (“MVPDs”), such as cable and satellite operators, to carry their TV programming. Both sides of the retransmission fee debate complain about the other parties’ relative market power, and policymakers, including some in Congress, complain about the consumer disruption that TV blackouts cause. Indeed, in the last three years, the number of blackouts has grown and the consumer inconvenience has been real.
These retransmission consent battles, such as the lengthy recent standoff between Time Warner Cable and CBS, have triggered a question in our minds concerning whether skyrocketing retransmission consent fees may hinder the success of the incentive auction. For the auction to have a chance of being successful, of course, broadcasters must decide to volunteer their spectrum to be auctioned.
The connection between retransmission consent and the incentive auction at first may appear somewhat speculative, but a new study released last week by the American Consumer Institute (“ACI”) finds that the way the retransmission consent regulations operate will adversely impact the chances of the incentive auction’s success. According to the ACI study, this is because the increasing retransmission fees will discourage broadcasters from relinquishing spectrum that they otherwise might put up for bid but for the impact of the retransmission consent regulations. Aside from the validity of the ACI study, the retransmission consent issue and the consumer disruption that attends blackouts resulting from retransmission consent standoffs are part of a larger market issue of which regulators and legislators ought to be aware, and which ought to be addressed.
Consumer welfare is promoted when consumers are allowed to choose what video programming they want to watch, regardless of the technology platform over which such programming is delivered. This consumer choice is best effectuated when consumers have access to various delivery mechanisms, such as over-the-air broadcasts, cable, satellite, telco MVPDs, or online distributors. Instead of focusing on consumer access, however, the current retransmission consent battles have focused more on a particular MVPD’s access to TV programming and the broadcaster’s provision of such programming. A broader focus would more likely enhance overall consumer welfare.
More spectrum for mobile broadband services holds the promise of adding enough capacity to permit consumers to more easily watch their favorite shows on a smartphone or tablet. This additional delivery mechanism already is becoming a boon to consumer video choice. The ability to obtain more mobile broadband capacity is in turn directly dependent on the success of the incentive auctions in making more spectrum available.
The incentive auction is expected to motivate broadcasters to voluntarily contribute a significant amount of over-the-air broadcast spectrum to a two-sided auction. The spectrum contributed by the broadcasters would then be auctioned off to the highest bidder, presumably service providers who wish to use the spectrum for mobile broadband use. If properly conducted, the two phases of this incentive auction could create up to 125 MHz of additional needed mobile broadband spectrum – at least that is the hope. This would accomplish a critical step in achieving the Administration’s goal of allocating to wireless broadband 500 MHz of spectrum. Both the FCC and Congress recognize that maximization of volunteered broadcaster spectrum is key to the overall success of the incentive auction.
As the new ACI study suggests, a broadcaster’s decision to contribute spectrum to the incentive auction will be driven by the economics of its business, including potential retransmission consent revenues, among others. The ability of a broadcaster to leverage control over its cost advantage by virtue of its grant of free local spectrum and certain regulatory protections may well contribute to a broadcaster’s power to exact increasing retransmission consent revenues. (MVPDs, of course, had to privately finance their own delivery systems, and with respect to the use of spectrum, largely had to pay for it.) The amount of the broadcasters’ retransmission consent revenues realized likely is not correlated directly with the amount of revenues that would be achievable in a truly free market environment. Fees in excess of those that otherwise would prevail in a free market could hinder either contribution of broadcast spectrum to the auction or increase the minimum price at which the broadcaster is willing to part with its spectrum.
How did we get to our present situation?
Originally, the most technologically feasible method of enabling consumer access to video programming involved the FCC granting individual broadcast spectrum licenses to local TV stations throughout the country. Market forces linked up local broadcasting stations into nationwide networks, the primary source of over-the-air broadcasting market power. Regulations were adopted in part to protect local broadcasters, arguably for what may have been assumed to be good reasons back in their day. Other regulations were intended to regulate nationwide network market power. But, in any event, most of the significant legacy rules were created in a much different market environment.
These legacy regulations allow broadcasters to enjoy favored channel positioning, buy-through protection, syndicated exclusivity and network non-duplication protection, and carriage rights, all of which no other video programmer enjoys. Cable and satellite TV operators have some advantages too. For example, they enjoy a compulsory copyright license. They benefit from cross-ownership rules that limit the aggregation of TV broadcast stations in individual markets (and hence may limit the broadcasters’ market power), although to some extent these ownership limitations appear to have been eroded by the rise of “local marketing agreements” and other devices that, in recent years, have allowed broadcast stations effectively to combine local operations. Bruce Owen previously pointed out these advantages in an FSF Perspectives entitled, “The FCC and the Unfree Market for TV Program Rights.” These market distortions have been well documented in earlier FSF blog postings here, here, and here.
Since the successful launching of over-the-air TV, however, many other alternative programming delivery mechanisms have developed, from cable TV to satellite TV, to telco DSL, hybrid fiber, and fiber, and more lately, to Internet delivery, all of which the FCC repeatedly have recognized as market participants. With the growth of companies that offer these competing delivery mechanisms, much of the rationale for the older broadcast TV rules is gone, as well as other rules that, to some extent, may favor cable TV providers.
Rep. Scalise previously introduced the “Next Generation Television Marketplace Act of 2011,” that was designed to get rid of the outdated legacy regulations in the video marketplace. This bill proposed to eliminate many of the laws and regulations cited above that created artificial distinctions between video providers that no longer are relevant in a more competitive environment. The proposed bill would have returned to the realm of contract law much of the relationship among programmers and companies that operate delivery mechanisms. Adoption of legislation like the Scalise bill would be an important step in the right direction.
Admittedly, the connection between high retransmission consent fees and the success of the incentive auction is not one that can be precisely quantified, and precise quantification is not the point. But it is wrong to deny there is at least some connection, or that the broadcasters’ free access to spectrum is without any economic consequence whatever. If the policymakers’ stated concern – protection of consumer access to video programming – is to be achieved, the current focus on the retransmission consent battles needs to be seen in a much broader context of video marketplace policy reform.
Consumer choice can be most efficiently achieved by eliminating market-distorting regulations affecting video programming and facilitating repurposing of broadcast spectrum to mobile broadband use. These reforms would be an important move toward a free market-oriented video marketplace subject to vigorous competition. As now FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at his June 18 confirmation hearing: “Competitive markets produce better outcomes than regulated or uncompetitive markets.”
Refocusing efforts to improve consumer choice by eliminating legacy regulatory distortions in the video marketplace would be an important step in diminishing the likelihood of TV blackouts.
And could moving in this direction also improve the likelihood of success of the incentive auction? Just food for thought!
* Randolph J. May is President of the Free State Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan free market-oriented think tank located in Rockville, Maryland.
** Gregory J. Vogt is a Visiting Fellow of the Free State Foundation.
[Article originally published on the Free State Foundation.]
“Recognizing that these investments would include some risk, Congress established a loan loss reserve for the program, and the Energy Department built in strong safeguards to protect the taxpayer if companies could not meet their obligations,” Bill Gibbons, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg News. “Because of these actions…the Energy Department has protected nearly three-quarters of our original commitment to Fisker Automotive.”
Leave to the Obama administration hucksters to sell yet another green energy loser as a gain for the taxpayers. With this bankruptcy, it’s a $139 million loss that DOE gets to spin. The stellar defenders of the public purse originally thought Fisker was worth a $529 million risk, but quickly recognized that mistake and stopped paying at $193 million. Ever since it’s been a series of almost comedic errors that have included a partnership with battery-making dud A123 Systems, fire incidents, recalls, a bad Consumer Reports review, and other mishaps.
Like A123, a foreign investor will now buy Fisker’s cadaver. A group called Hybrid Technology LLC, led by Richard Li, the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, will buy the leftovers for $25 million. Bloomberg reported that Fisker listed assets of $500 million and debts of up to $1 billion in its Chapter 11 filing.
“(Hybrid Technology) is committed to building upon the Fisker legacy and presence in the United States as a foundation for the design and manufacture of advanced hybrid electric vehicles,” said a spokeswoman for the group, in another unfailingly positive statement put out by the DOE. “We will work to realize the full potential these fantastic cars offer in helping to remake the auto industry for the 21st Century.”
Fisker legacy? Fantastic cars? It’s too bad DOE’s breezy forecasts and eternal sunshine weren’t enough to power all the wind and solar projects they have forced taxpayers to subsidize. But the PR-ocracy has generated plenty to make even their worst “investment” disasters appear as if they were genius visionaries.
For example, in September DOE spokesman Bill Gibbons told the Washington Free Beacon that stimulus support for Ecotality was “meant to establish the seeds of infrastructure needed to support a growing market for advanced vehicles,” noting that “the company installed more than 12,500 charging stations in 18 US cities—or approximately 95 percent of their goal.” In other words, despite our loss of millions of dollars in public money, it was (almost) mission accomplished!
And when Colorado-based Abound Solar declared bankruptcy in June 2012, DOE deputy director of Public Affairs Damien LaVera wrote a lengthy article defending the agency’s “investments” in solar energy.
“Of the $400 million that Abound was originally approved for, the Department only lent the company less than $70 million,” LaVera wrote. “Because of the strong protections we put in place for taxpayers, the Department has already protected more than 80 percent of the original loan amount. Once the bankruptcy liquidation is complete, the Department expects the total loss to the taxpayer to be between 10 and 15 percent of the original loan amount.
“This effort has seen many successes as well as a few setbacks,” LaVera added, “but one thing is clear: America must continue playing to win in the clean energy race.”
Then there was the September testimony by former DOE Loan Programs Office director Jonathan Silver, in a hearing about secret email exchanges on private accounts held before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. When Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio questioned him about millions of dollars in lost “investments” thanks to his agency’s poor judgments, Silver said the losses only represented three percent of the portfolio and one percent of the loan loss reserve set aside by Congress for the stimulus, which Silver said made the program a “success.”
For its part, the relentless cheerleaders at DOE have rah-rah-ed praises for Silver.
“Under Mr. Silver’s leadership,” DOE’s Web site says, “the Loan Programs Office has grown to become the largest project finance effort in the United States. Since Mr. Silver took office, the agency has committed over $40 billion in 42 clean energy projects with total project costs of over $63 billion. Cumulatively, these projects create or save over 66,288 jobs across 38 states and avoid over 38 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to taking over 4.5 million vehicles off the road or about as many vehicles as in the state of Michigan. The program’s 23 generation projects produce over 32 million megawatt hours, enough to power nearly 3 million homes.”
So in the eyes of DOE you can mark down Fisker as another feather in their cap. When the Department announced in September it would auction the remainder of Fisker’s loan obligation – after coming to the conclusion that no one in their right mind would buy the company otherwise – current executive director of the Loan Program Peter Davidson saw the development as another opportunity to tout success.
“While our original loan commitment was for $528 million,” Davidson wrote, “only $192 million was actually disbursed. In addition, the Department has already recouped more than $28 million from the company’s accounts. These actions combined have already protected more than two-thirds of our original loan commitment….
“Despite Fisker Automotive’s bankruptcy setback, the DOE loan portfolio remains very strong – and is playing a crucial role in helping America’s auto industry thrive, innovate and compete.”
So the only people daring to rain on the bankruptcy positivity parade are those who are owed money by Fisker. News reports say a Delaware judge has the case on a fast track, with a hearing on the sale scheduled for January 3. According to Associated Press, unsecured creditors are owed $250 million, “but stand to receive a minimum total cash distribution of only $500,000.” Among those who have filed claims are former employees who say they are owed $4 million in back pay and benefits.
The Orange County Register reported the Fisker filings include a 669-page document of creditors. “Some of the names on the list indicate how well-connected the company was to Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.,” the newspaper reported. Among them are actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore, as well as Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. The vice president appeared at an announcement in Wilmington, Del. in 2010 to promote Fisker’s plans to produce its second model at a former GM plant there, which never happened.
John Doerr, a senior partner with the Kleiner Perkins tech investment firm and big supporter of President Obama, was also listed as a creditor. After the scandal of Solyndra, and the bondholders who got screwed in the government’s GM bailout, it will be interesting to see who gets what’s owed them in the Fisker case
“Fisker’s collapse closes yet another sad chapter in DOE’s troubled portfolio,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) in a statement. “The jobs that were promised never materialized and, once again, taxpayers are on the hook for the administration’s reckless gamble.”
Remember when the taxpayers were supposed to be the ones protected first in cases where their money went to failed enterprises? Don’t be such a stick in the mud; just enjoy the breeze and the sunshine.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.[Article originally posted on nlpc.org]
California Judge Michael Kenny has barred state bond funding for the California high speed rail system, finding that “the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority failed to follow voter-approved requirements designed to prevent reckless spending on the $68 billion project.” These protections had been an important in securing voter approval of a $10 billion bond issue in 2008. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters suggested that without the protections in Proposition 1A, the measure “probably would have failed” to obtain voter approval.
According to the court decision, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) had failed to identify $25 billion of the funding that would be necessary to complete the first 300 mile segment. This was required by the terms of Proposition 1A as enacted by the legislature and approved by the voters. Yet, without a legally valid business plan, CHSRA was steaming ahead, at least until the court decision.
The principal longer-term significance of the ruling is that “rule of law” remains in effect in California. Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians for Responsible Rail Design (CARRD), a group opposed to the project, told the Los Angeles Times that CHSRA had been conducting itself as if it were “above the law” (Note 1).
Judge Kenny’s decision means that the state of California cannot ignore its laws, even when its leadership finds them politically inexpedient. Just like the businesses from the largest companies to the smallest used car lot, the law forbids the state from making legally binding promises and then casting them aside arbitrarily.
The Court Decision
The San Diego Union-Tribune summarized the court decision as follows:
Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the California High-Speed Rail Authority could not proceed with using billions of dollars in bond funds to begin construction because it had not credibly identified funding sources for the entire $31 billion it will take to finish the 300-mile initial segment, nor had it completed necessary environmental reviews for the segment. These requirements were among the taxpayer protections written into law by California voters in November 2008, when they voted narrowly for Proposition 1A to allow the state to issue $9.95 billion in bonds as seed money for the project. Kenny said the state must develop a plan that comports with these requirements.
The Union Tribune further reported that Judge Kenny rejected arguments by the state Attorney General that state the legislature, rather than Proposition 1A (now state law which has not been repealed) was the final authority on how the bonds are used.
The Los Angeles Daily Newsindicated that the decision left the high speed rail project without either a funding plan or the ability to borrow money. The only remaining source of construction funding is a federal grant, which requires a match of state funding.
Proposition 1A and the high speed rail project have had a difficult history.
A $10 billion high speed rail bond issue to support the project (then called Proposition 1) was scheduled for 2008, after having been postponed twice. There was concern, however, in the state legislature that Proposition 1 had insufficient fiscal, environmental and management guarantees to attract a majority vote of the electorate. As a result, legislature enacted and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 3034, which added substantial protections and recast the ballot measure as Proposition 1A. Assemblywoman Catherine Gagliani, the author, said that the legislation “establishes additional fiscal controls on the expenditure of state bond funds to ensure that they are directed to construction activities in the most cost-effective and efficient way.”
Leading high speed rail proponent and then CHSRA Chairman Quentin Kopp (Note 2), applauded Assembly Bill 3034 indicating that “Californians will now be able to vote on a high-speed train system grounded in public-private financing and guided by fiscal accountability with the guarantee of no new taxes to fund the system,”
The Promised System
In the voter ballot pamphlet, proponents told voters that the proposed system would operate from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim, as well as through the Inland Empire (Riverside-San Bernardino) to San Diego and to Sacramento. This complete system was to cost $45 billion, according to the proponents (a figure that had already risen substantially).
Like many other large infrastructure projects, costs were soon to explode. By 2011, the cost had escalated to a range of almost $100 billion to more than $115 billion. Further, the promised extensions to Sacramento and the Inland Empire and San Diego were not included in that price (Note 3).
From High Speed Rail to “Blended” System
The political reaction to the cost escalation was negative, leading the CHSRA to radically revise the remaining San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim line. CHSRA removed exclusive high-speed rail tracks in the San Francisco-San Jose and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. The cost of this “blended” system was estimated at $68 billion. CHSRA maintained its claim that the legislatively required travel time of 2:40 could be achieved without the genuine high speed rail configurations in the two metropolitan areas. Sacramento Beecolumnist Walters characterized this expectation as based on “assumptions that defy common sense.”
Former CHSRA Chair Quentin Kopp withdrew his support at this point, referring to the “blended system” as “the great train robbery.” Kopp also raised the possibility that the new plan could violate Proposition 1A, a judgment that Judge Kenny’s decision confirmed.
Kevin Drum, of Mother Jones may have provided the best summary of situation as it stands today:
Its numbers never added up, its projections were woefully rose-colored, and it was fanciful to think it would ever provide the performance necessary to compete against air and highway travel. Since then, things have only gotten worse as cost projections have gone up, ridership projections have gone down, and travel time estimates have struggled to stay under three hours.
Drum had previously characterized CHSRA claims as “jaw-droppingly shameless,”adding that “A high school sophomore who turned in work like this would get an F.”
Where From Here?
Proponents have not given up. As The Economistreported, proponents took comfort in the fact that “Judge Kenny did not cancel the project altogether.” The Economist continued “But if that is a victory, it is not clear how many more wins California high-speed rail can handle.”
The stalwart supporter San Francisco Chronicle editorialized that the court decision was a “bump” in the path for the project. Yet even the Chronicle conceded that: “The court results are a serious warning sign that the financial fundamentals need work.”
Too Big to Fail?
Columnist Columnist Dan Walters fears that to make the financial fundamentals work would require making the project “too big to fail:”
As near as I can tell, the HSR authority’s plan all along has been to simply ignore the law and spend the bond money on a few initial miles of track. Once that was done, no one would ever have the guts to halt the project because it would already have $9 billion sunk into it. So one way or another, the legislature would keep it on a funding drip.
Such a strategy would force California taxpayers to fill the gargantuan funding gap, which for the entire Los Angeles to San Francisco line now stands at approximately $65 billion. With the federal funding of approximately $3 billion, the state is 95 percent short of the $68 billion it needs.
California taxpayers may not be so accommodating. Even before Judge Kenny’s decision, LA Weekly reports that a USC/Los Angeles Times poll shows statewide opposition now to have risen to 53 percent of voters, while 70 percent would like to have a new vote on Proposition 1A (see “Californians Turn Against LA to SF Bullet Train”).
Even the federal funding is being questioned. California Congressman Jeff Denham, also a former supporter of the project, joined with Congressman Tom Latham to ask (link to letter) the United States Government Accountability Office if further federal disbursements could be illegal, given the uncertainty of the state funding needed to “match” the federal grant.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip in the US House of Representatives has indicated that he will work with others in Congress to deny further federal funding to the project.
The San Jose Mercury-News, which like the Chronicle had been a strong supporter of Proposition 1A in 2008 has long since climbed off the train. In an editorial following Judge Kenny’s decision, the Mercury-News decried the project’s “bait and switch,” tactics and called for “an end to this fraud.”
The Winners: California Citizens
At this point, the words of legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra seem appropriate: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” However, Judge Kenny has rewarded California citizens with something that never should have been taken away from them – a government that follows its laws.
Note 1: This is not the first time that the state has run afoul of the law on the high speed rail project. According to the Sacramento Bee:
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had challenged the ballot language for Proposition 1A, arguing the Legislature used its pen to “lavish praise on its measure in language that virtually mirrored the argument in favor of the proposition.” The appeals court sided with HJTA [stating], “the Legislature cannot dictate the ballot label, title and official summary for a statewide measure unless the Legislature obtains approval of the electorate to do so prior to placement of the measure on the ballot.”
Unlike the present decision, the state suffered no consequences for its violation and Proposition 1A was not invalidated.
Note 2: Chairman Kopp is a retired judge, former state Senator and former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Note 3: Joseph Vranich and I have authored two reports questioning the ability of the California high speed rail system to meet its objectives (financial, environmental, ridership, and operations). The first, The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report, was published by the Reason Foundation, Citizens Against Government Waste and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in 2008. The second, California High Speed Rail: An Updated Due Diligence Report, was published by the Reason Foundation in 2012.[Article originally posted on newgeography.com]
Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.
Two courts already have ruled in different class actions that Google can be sued for illegal wiretapping for “interceptions” of personal information without meaningful consent — in circumstances analogous to how Google Glass operates.
First, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that wiretap law prohibits the type of transmission “interception” that Google StreetView cars’ did in secretly collecting personal information from unencrypted home WiFi networks.
- Specifically, this court denied Google’s claim that not encrypting one’s WiFi made the transmissions public. And this court also denied Google’s claim it was due the law’s exception designed to protect radio stations.
- Specifically, Judge Koh ruled that Google was not exempt from wiretap law because creating personal advertising profiles by reading people’s emails was not an “ordinary course of business.” Judge Koh also found that “accepting Google’s theory of implied consent… would eviscerate the [wiretap] rule against interception.”
Given these strongly-analogous court precedents, it follows that Google Glass’ surreptitious “interception” of personal conversations and information for Google’s commercial purposes without meaningful permission could be ruled illegal wiretapping as well.
If it is, Google and Google Glass users and app developers could face a lot more legal risk and liability than everyone currently thinks.
When it applies, wiretap law is tough. If someone has been wiretapped, they have been legally harmed. One does not have to prove specific harm. And the statute has significant fines for each infraction.
The sheer number of potentially illegal Google commercial wiretaps is staggering and unprecedented. Google StreetView may have illegally eavesdropped on tens of millions of Americans homes. Gmail may have eavesdropped on every one of Google’s 425 million users email exchanges for several years.
If Glass is as big as Google hypes it to be, add many more millions of people’s actual conversations on which Google could illegally eavesdrop.
These court precedents suggest that Google has a lot more explaining and qualifying to do before it moves from its testing phase to full-scale commercial rollout of Google Glass. That’s because as a cloud service all the recordings of Glass users will not reside on the Google Glass device that users buy and own, but in Google’s data centers that Google controls. Thus the Glass user and Google are inextricably linked, so what one does, potentially could create wiretapping liability for the other.
First, Google likely will have to get much more explicit permission from Google Glass users for Google to “intercept” their conversations with others for its commercial purposes, and establish a protocol for somehow securing the permission of the others for the “interception” as well.
Judge Koh’s precedent could put Google’s “implied consent” theory at risk if applied to Glass. What if Glass adds a blinking light to Glass to indicate to others that it is recording? Will Google claim that the blinking light is enough for “implied consent” for the wiretapping?
Second, Google likely will have to explicitly state in its terms of service what additional actions Google will do to the recorded Glass conversations in Google’s data centers, if anything, other than store them.
Will Google data mine/”intercept” the Glass users’ recordings and actions for:
- The purposes of targeted advertising?
- “Improving other Google services?
- Predicting user behavior or needs for Google Now?
- Integrating with other Google advertising services?
- Augmenting Google’s artificial intelligence data base of knowledge?
Simply, what if anything will Google do with the private information gleaned from Glass recordings of private conversations?
Third, given Google’s large potential wiretapping liability, will Google change its no curation policy and curate and approve all Glass apps that could wiretap before they can be used on Glass? Will Google have in place internal controls to prevent Glass App developers from violating the wiretap act on their service to limit their liability? Will Google give apps developers access to any of the Glass users’ recordings of conversations to operate their apps, or for any other purposes?
If Google’s StreetView and Gmail both have potential illegal wiretapping liability for intercepting private information without the meaningful consent of the intercepted, it follows that Google Glass has a similar potential illegal wiretapping liability as well.
But Google’s potential illegal wiretapping liability may not stop there.
If Google has applied its theory of “implied consent” – i.e. if one uses Google’s products and services Google can use any “intercepted” personal information for any purpose it alone deems appropriate – some other Google services could attract closer attention for potential illegal wiretapping.
- Since Google Voice is closely integrated with Gmail, does Google “intercept” Google voice conversations in any way like it “intercepts” Gmails to target advertising on any Google service?
- Since Android is a free operating system that enables $9 billion in annual mobile advertising revenues per eMarketer, does Android “intercept” any mobile conversations or personal information without meaningful consent of the intercepted for the purposes of targeting advertising?
- And since Google’s Chrome browser is free, and Google Fiber’s free broadband service offering is implicitly ad-supported, does Chrome or Google Fiber intercept any mobile conversations or personal information without meaningful consent of the intercepted for the purposes of targeted advertising?
Simply, if it is illegal for Google to “intercept” Gmails and WiFi signals for advertising purposes under wiretaps laws, it follows that Google could be liable for intercepting Google Glass, Voice, Android, Chrome, and Fiber personal communications without meaningful consent for advertising and other purposes.
Big picture, why Google is potentially so vulnerable on wiretapping is that it has taken a general legal position that it is most always the responsibility of others to protect themselves from Google’s spying. Consequently, it is not Google’s legal responsibility to refrain from spying on people without their permission.
At bottom, the conflict here is potentially immense. Wiretap law protects people from being spied upon, while Google’s business model is based on “implied consent” for Google’s commercial spying.
[Originally published on Precursor Blog]
Friday’s announcement by the Obama administration that it will allow wind energy companies to kill certain bird species for 30 years without legal ramifications shows that its $1 million paltry fine of Duke Energy for avian slayings a week earlier was just for show.
Slamming the president for the application of double standards, not enforcing laws it doesn’t like, and acting unilaterally without Congressional authority is nothing new. It’s not often, though, you see such an obvious policy contradiction appear within such a short period of time. And now, without need to worry about re-election, he can pit his environmental constituencies against each other (wildlife protection vs. green energy promotion).
The latest decision, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, extends the maximum possible term for permits to “take” (“molest or disturb”… “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import…”) from five years to 30 years. According to the rule the agency placed in the Federal Register, the change “will facilitate the responsible development of renewable energy and other projects designed to operate for decades….” So, all of a sudden – when it comes to wind, but not fossil fuels – “regulatory certainty” is a big concern for the Obama administration. Makes sense considering the billions of dollars he’s poured into subsidizing renewables.
Of course the wind energy industry asked for (more) special treatment, like it has with loan guarantees, grants, research funding, tax credits, and mandates for the use of its intermittent power by electric utilities. The American Wind Energy Association says the permit change is no big deal.
“Eagle fatalities only occur at a very small number of facilities across the country,” AWEA says on its Web site. “In fact, collision with turbines at modern wind farms is responsible for less than 2 percent of all reported human-caused golden eagle fatalities, and only a handful of bald eagle fatalities ever….”
Of course, eagles aren’t the only species sliced and diced by turbine blades. An independent study published by the Wildlife Society Bulletin, cited by the Daily Caller, found that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind projects in the U.S. every year. And according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own analysis, the number of birds killed is 440,000 per year, National Review reported.
Realizing the bad optics but at the same time desperate for the special protection – since wind turbines aren’t going to stop spinning and birds aren’t going to stop flying into them – the industry sought measures for its own preservation. The White House even hosted a powwow in August with AWEA and several environmental groups to discuss eagle permits.
“This is not a program to kill eagles,” said John Anderson, the director of siting policy at AWEA, to the Associated Press. “This permit program is about conservation.”
Many environmental and wildlife protection groups disagreed.
“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, (the Department of) Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president of Audubon.
“The federal government didn’t study the impacts of this rule change even though the [law] requires it,” said Kelly Fuller, who formerly headed up the wind campaign at the American Bird Conservancy. “Instead, the feds have decided to break the law and use eagles as lab rats.”
Republican Sen. David Vitter, the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, has sought accountability from the Obama Justice Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service for accountability over the inequitable application of species protection laws against energy companies – namely, the fossil fuel industry gets prosecutions and fines while the regulators pass wind. But amazingly, the leniency granted for wind was so extreme it put the conservative Vitter on the same side as most environmental groups, as Politico noted.
“Thirty years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” Vitter said in a statement. “The Administration has repeatedly prosecuted oil, gas, and other businesses for taking birds, but looks the other way when wind farms or other renewable energy companies do the exact same thing. There needs to be a balanced approach in protecting migratory birds, while also supporting domestic energy, and with this newest decision, the Administration has failed to achieve that.”
So who benefits? Companies like Duke Energy, which only two weeks ago was trotted out as a poster child by the Justice Department to prove that they prosecute wind projects for bird killings too. It wouldn’t surprise if we found out that Duke agreed to pay the $1 million fine for killing 160 or so birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, knowing that the Obama administration – a close ally of recently departed Duke CEO Jim Rogers – was going to grant this huge regulatory break for them and AWEA. The settlement came after Vitter and Sen. Lamar Alexander had waited nearly a year for an answer to their inquiry about unequal appliance of the bird protection laws.
Besides the Congressional pressure (House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) made his own inquiry in May), the administration was also feeling the heat from the mainstream media this year as well. In May the Associated Press published a lengthyexpose of how the wind industry has been given a pass on eagle deaths, and even showed how the administration was complicit in its protection.
“Killing these iconic birds is…a federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines,” AP reported. “But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret.”
Among the ways the Obama administration concealed the bird kills, according to AP, was to not disclose companies’ reports of “takes,” claiming the information belongs to the energy companies and are trade secrets or would interfere with enforcement investigations.
Noticeably absent among conservation groups from the August meeting on permits was the American Bird Conservancy, which has been consistently vocal against the leniency granted to the wind industry.
“There are no seats at the exclusive decision-making table for groups that want the wind industry to be held accountable for the birds it kills,” said Kelly Fuller, who works on wind issues for the group.
The development at the end of last week shows how powerful the wind industry has become in the eyes of the Obama administration. Two AWEA representatives sat in that August meeting with at least 7 others from environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, and came away with a 30-year grace period.
This is what the Obama administration looks like in pursuit of its agenda without concern for re-election.
[Originally published on the National Legal and Policy Center]
The Web site of the National Libertarian Party has an online opinion poll that asks: “Which option most closely matches your feeling about the closing of the WWII Memorial during the so-called government shutdown?” I love it that they refer to the “so-called” government shutdown, so true in light of all the reports that government continued to spend our money at an alarming rate.
The first three proposed answers are what you might expect: “The government should not have closed the WWII Memorial” (58% ), “It was OK for the government to close the WWII Memorial” (3%), and “I don’t care much whether or not the memorial was closed during the shutdown” (5%).
But the next possible answer was a surprise: “The WWII Memorial should have been built on private property to avoid political meddling.” The thinking man’s answer! As Ayn Rand would have said, “check your premise.” If you rely on politicians to erect monuments, don’t complain if they choose to shut them down. An impressive 20% chose that answer.
The final possible answer, though, is even better: “A non-interventionist policy at the time of WWI might have prevented WWII.” I don’t think it’s possible to read that without laughing out loud. There shouldn’t even be a monument (to close down or keep open) because there never should have been a war. That’s really thinking it through! And 10% of the 5,516 folks who answered the poll chose that answer.
This is why I love libertarians. They think things through and for themselves, never accept the choices as they are presented by the political or chattering classes, and always check the premise. The result may not always be an effective tactic or strategy for advancing freedom, but that’s not always the point, is it? Finding the truth and speaking it out loud are their own reward, and they are toxic to totalitarianism of all stripes, eventually if not right away. No intellectual movement speaks truth to power better than libertarianism.
Diane and I just sent a gift to the LP to help them buy a building in Washington DC. You can learn more about that effort by going here.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), they point out, incorporates some ideas from a Heritage Foundation proposal and a law promoted by Mitt Romney. Those are not, however, conservative ideas, much less good ideas, and are not a “sound chassis” for anything.
There is nothing conservative about the forcible redistribution of wealth. And even Wall Street Occupiers should be against redistributing people’s earnings to Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Hospitals, Big Data Mining, and nameless unaccountable bureaucrats in the vast, ever-expanding realm of Kathleen Sebelius.
Redistributing wealth is a prescription for social unrest. There is nothing more divisive than dividing up loot. The “contributors” don’t like having their earnings taken, and the recipients are chronically unhappy too because their share is always too small. People resent having to pay for other people’s medical care—a resentment that was exploited in the disingenuous “free rider” argument for the law.
Young, healthy people don’t want to pay higher premiums so that older, sicker people can pay less than their actuarial costs. And without a mandate, they won’t.
ACA tries to conceal the fact that “insuring” everybody and everything means that everybody is always paying for everybody else’s medical care, with a big chunk siphoned off by managers and money shufflers.
Obama didn’t create the third-party payment system, which caused the spending crisis. But ACA expands it still more, rigidifies it, and attempts to crush true free-market competition.
Insurance is a voluntary risk-sharing contract. Real insurance companies are not third parties. They reimburse subscribers who suffer a loss. They do not provide or manage services or write checks to those who do. Nor do they tell subscribers how to spend their check. To the extent that some casualty insurers are beginning to imitate “health insurers,” they are damaging their industry and inviting a cost spiral, as well as corruption and deterioration of quality in the auto repair and other industries.
ObamaCare is compulsory. Most of the provisions of coverage are government-dictated, and pricing by risk is mostly forbidden. Hence, “health plans” are not insurance.
ACA is also the antithesis of affordability. Those who have a prepaid plan have every incentive to use it to the maximum. Plus there are enormous built-in transaction costs. These factors are reflected in the premiums—which HealthCare.gov attempted to conceal from people eligible for subsidies. Not that beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse necessarily care about how much invisible, presumably richer other people are having to pay on their behalf.
Those who seem to be getting something for nothing are still likely to be hurt. If the subsidy is miscalculated, they may have to “repay” that which they never received (it went to the insurer). Those who have coverage may still be unable to get care. They may be trading coverage for loss of a full-time paycheck. They may face a greater-than-100% marginal tax rate if they do earn more money, owing to the income thresholds.
In every case, forcible redistribution of wealth decreases the total amount of wealth. There is no prosperity without a reward for working.
ACA is not an opportunity for bipartisan coalition-building. There is no “tweak” that can help a rotted-out chassis, no advantage in trying to steer the vehicle built on it in a slightly different direction.
There is nothing conservative about theft, deceitfulness, forcing people to act contrary to interest or conscience, undermining the work ethic, or politicizing the practice of medicine.
There is also nothing compassionate, moral, ethical, or prudent about these things.
ObamaCare cannot be fixed. It must be repealed before it destroys the medical system, the economy, and the American system of constitutionally limited government.
We must learn from this debacle that compulsion is not the answer. Pasting a conservative, Republican, or bipartisan label on forcible redistribution of wealth, or hiding it behind a show of good intentions with well-chosen tragic stories, does not change its evil, destructive nature.