On the Blog

Mr. President: Please Mind Your Own Business

Somewhat Reasonable - August 04, 2014, 11:35 AM

Dear President Obama,

For nearly six years, now, you have declared your intention and desire of being my Nanny-in-Chief. Your original campaign slogan of “Hope and Change” was really a promise of “Control and Command.” Well, Mr. President, I have a request: Mind your own business.

Let me start out with some simple questions. How do you know what is right and good for me? Have we ever met? Do you know anything about me as a real, living distinct individual? Have you the slightest idea about the goals and purposes, and hopes and dreams I’ve had about my life? What do you know about the experiences I’ve had or the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years as the guides and tools for deciding what I consider best for my family and me?

The answers to these questions and countless others like them are: You don’t know a damn thing.  Yet you have proposed, implemented and enforced legislation and regulations that imply that you possess the knowledge, wisdom and, most importantly, the right to tell me how I should live, work, and act.

Your attitude and statements suggest a hubris and arrogance concerning your own superiority, along with those who work for you, that borders on a serious and dangerous elitist complex.

For someone who often refers to the dignity of the ordinary American against presumed powerful special interests, your own outlook and behavior manifests a disbelief in and contempt for the individual person as a free, responsible human being.


A Life of Hopeless Dependency on Government

In your world, Mr. President, everyone is a dependent child needing a paternalist government to take care of him or her from cradle-to-grave. Remember your “Life of Julia” story that you hailed as a model for the future world of triumphant “hope and change.” From her entry into kindergarten to her time in college, through her work life to final retirement, not one aspect of “Julia’s” life was considered possible without the “helping hand” of government to provide education, job security, financial support, and a guaranteed old age pension.

Years ago, singer Helen Reddy may have sang of independent women who could say, “Hear me roar.” But in the world you envisage every woman is presumed not able to stand on her own two feet, and to compete and succeed in a society of equal individual rights for all men and women.

No, she is clearly a “weaker sex” that cannot make it on her own without lifelong and unending safety nets and financial and regulatory supports from a government that is viewed as the “adult” who always has supervision over the eternal female adolescent.

Is this how you view your own daughters’ future, Mr. President, never free of a political Daddy that takes care of his “little girls,” because the governmental Daddy cannot imagine them growing up and being on their own?


Hubris of Presuming How I Should Live and Choose

Let’s talk about your signature legislation, ObamaCare. Set aside the embarrassing disaster that followed the initial opening of the website or the shock and the anger among millions of people who discovered the loss of their health insurance and the higher premiums they were now faced with under your “affordable” health care act.

The underlying premise behind ObamaCare is that you and those manning the bureaucracies in government know what every American needs and should have in terms of health insurance and medical care.

How do you and your “experts” know this, Mr. President? What makes you think you know enough about every one of the nearly 320 million Americans in terms of what would serve their health care needs and requirements?

The collectivist mindset that clearly guides your view of people and society reduces the entire population of the United States to a homogeneous and interchangeable mass that if not confined exactly to one size fits all, then to a rather narrow range of options from which the citizens of the nation are to be allowed and commanded to select.

Each of us, Mr. President, has our own circumstances, our own family needs and preferences, our own judgments about trades-offs between coverage, premiums and deductibles. Plus, our personal situations and evaluations about these and many other related matters change over time.

Do you sit at our dinner tables after the plates have been cleared when husbands and wives decide what they can afford, what is the best alternatives based on their estimates about what will serve their and their children’s health care requirements?

Do you not think that your attitude demonstrates a degree of hubris that you would find presumptuous if I or any other individual American were to mandate what you and your family should be allowed and coerced to have for your possible medical needs?


The Mentality of the Meddler

I don’t know your daughters or your wife or you, Mr. President. For that very reason I would not presume to tell you how to plan your family’s health care and insurance, or how to raise your children, or where to vacation, or how to spend your money, or how to manage the domestic “ups” and “downs” of any marriage between two unique individual human beings over the course of their lives together.

I would be considered a busy body, a meddler, a know-it-all, or an arrogant and irritating pest if I were to put my nose into the business of your personal and intimate affairs of everyday life. So why, Mr. President, do you presume to do just that through the rules, regulations, controls and commands that you say you are willing to us your pen and phone to impose on me?

I only ask that you show me the same respect as a free and self-responsible human being that you would expect from me if we were simply neighbors living next door to each other in any city, town or small hamlet across the United States.


The Arrogance of Presuming What I’m Worth

Finally, Mr. President, how do you know what my skills and abilities are worth to me or anyone else in terms of the salary I may earn in the marketplace? To be honest if someone had asked me whether I thought a person who had never worked in the business world, had never held any truly senior management and administrative responsibilities, and only had a few years of elected governmental office should be President of the United States and be paid $400,000 a year, I would have said, “I don’t think so,” and quiet separate from that person’s political views.

But there you are, Mr. President, sitting in the White House, holding your finger on the nuclear button, while having that pen and phone in your other hand. And with plenty of time to go golfing and flying off on Air Force One for Hawaiian vacations and fund-raising trips around the nation. Only in America! What a country!

So how do you know that the minimum wage that I should be paid is not less than $10.10 an hour? Why not $9.99 or $11.11? While we are at it, why not $20.20? The last one, after all, might match my eye vision. That seems pleasantly symmetrical.

The fact is that what anyone is worth in terms of services they might render to others in the market is dependent upon a whole variety of combined circumstances about which you and others in the government know absolutely nothing.

Each person’s background, education, personal and workplace experience and skills have certain distinct qualities and characteristics different from many others in the type of complex and diverse modern society in which we all live.

At the same time, what particular skills, knowledge and abilities possible employers are looking for from employees in the context of the products or services they offer and sell to consumers, given the potentially every-changing demands those buyers demonstrate in an on-going competitive market, should make it very clear that it is absurd for you or anyone else to sit in your governmental offices in Washington, D.C. and dictate what people may be worth in terms of an hourly wage.

Have you ever given any thought to the fact that your minimum wage policy might price some low or unskilled workers out of the market, because you’ve legally priced them above what many possible employers may think that are actually worth? Have you taken the time to reflect that you might be preventing someone from ever getting that entry-level job that may pay little at first, but over time provides them with the on-the-job experience that can make them more valuable to that or some other employer in the future?


Only Paying What You Think Something is Worth

Before you had government employees to serve you hand-and-foot in the White House, there was a time, Mr. President, when you, no doubt, went food shopping, or bought a car, or purchased a pair of shoes, or spent money on an anniversary gift for your wife.

You had a certain income that constrained what you could buy and how much of the various things you would have liked to have. In other words, there was a time when you were closer to being, well, like the rest of us.

Did you ever pay more for anything than you thought it was worth? Did you not sometimes hesitate or decide not to buy something or not of the quality or in quantity you might have desired, because to do so would have left you with too little money left over out of your limited budget to purchase something you considered to be more important to you or your family?

If you think back and remember such a time, then why do you think it is any different for the rest of us now? Say that a person may not be paid less than $10.10 per hour, and anyone that a prospective employer or customer does not consider to be worth this amount will not be hired.


Plundering for Political Power

Sitting in the White House, such a minimum wage may make you feel good, that you’ve imposed a salary floor that you consider “fair,” “socially just,” or every person’s entitlement “right.” But that will not help the poor individual left without a job, prevented from getting his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder of lifetime employment opportunity, and now dependent on the redistributive largess of paternalistic government.

But perhaps that is what you want. If others in society will not give people what you think they should pay them, then you’ll just tax the rest of us to pay for this unfortunate person’s welfare safety-net programs. And, besides, the government-supported unemployed and unemployable will feel so grateful to those who care for and feed them at other’s expense that they will show their appreciation by keeping those who think and act like you in political office.

Plunder some so you can pander to others to maintain the political power you cannot imagine your life without.


Individual Freedom Instead of Collectivist Control

Mr. President, this is not the America that the Founding Fathers of our country wanted for themselves, for their children, or the future generations for which they signed a Declaration of Independence or constructed a Constitution that was meant to restrain government and leave each individual free to be a self-governing human being responsible for his own life, and respectful of the equal freedom and rights of every other unique person in society.

I have a simple but profoundly important request, Mr. President: Mind your own business and leave me and everyone else alone. I don’t want you managing and controlling my life.

Do I always make the right choices and decisions? No, I do not. Just ask my wife!

But I do not want to be controlled by a political collective possessing coercive power to tell me what I may do or not do, or with whom I may associate and on what terms. I am not your slave, I am not your government ward, I am not some helpless or hopeless “Julia” who needs you to serve as my lifelong Nanny.

I declare that I am a thinking, reasoning human being. I am a free person with inalienable rights to my life, liberty and honestly acquired property. I insist upon my right to live for myself, guided by my own purposes and goals, and free to interact and exchange peacefully and voluntarily with all others, with the only essential moral principle behind my conduct toward them being that I respect their life and liberty just as I insist that they recognize and respect mine.

You, of all modern presidents, should be most sensitive to the dangers and immorality of making some men masters over others who are to be coerced and commanded as slaves.

The master-slave relationship is equally unethical and perverse whether the master is a private person owning other human beings on a plantation, or a “democratically elected” set of masters who use the power and force of the government to make some others obey their commands under the threat or use of political violence.

Mr. President, I ask you to mind your own business, and I promise not to put my nose into your life, in turn. If not, at least admit the truth that you arrogantly believe that you should be the head master on the political plantation that your vision of “hope and change” has really always been about.

[Originally published at Epic Times]


Categories: On the Blog

The Power to Tax (Progressively) is the Power to Destroy

Somewhat Reasonable - August 04, 2014, 9:00 AM

It seems that when Chief Justice John Marshall was preparing the opinion for McCulloch v. Maryland he tapped into an eternal truth. “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” he wrote on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court. Those words are no less true in 2014 than they were in 1819. Taxation appropriates money from one person or group of people in order to give it to others. There is no way to escape taxes. But there is a way to make taxes somewhat fairer. One way is to make taxes flatter and expand the tax base.

Soak the Rich Taxes

If the power to tax is power to destroy, then the power to tax progressively is the power to destroy some and buy off others. A state with power over a progressive taxation system can put the middle class and the wealthy in effective thrall, and use them to benefit its own ends. This is exacerbated by exploitation of the tyranny of the majority which can lead the majority of less wealthy and have-nots to demand more and more services and paying for them by inflicting ever more onerous taxes on the wealthy while diminishing their own burdens.

Furthermore, so long as the tax burden is disproportionately leveled on the few, no one can see the growing size of the state. When a citizen outside the tax base, or on a low rung of a progressive tax system, experiences an increased income through expanded redistribution from wealthier citizens, they only experience the net benefit and not the cost. That creates the perverse incentive to support further redistributions. On the other hand, with a flatter and broader tax, everyone feels the growth of government spending. They can also better understand the costs associated with it, driving them to have more realistic preferences and to make more rational demands of the state rather than treating the rich as a perpetual piggy bank.

Improving Taxation

Taxation should not be about trying to engineer a more equal society. The purpose of taxes is to furnish necessary services people need to become competitive free agents in the economy. Overly progressive taxes take unduly from some to give to others in the hope of fostering greater social equality. Yet such efforts can only be harmful, as they breed resentment from rich toward the poor for taking undue amounts of their wealth for their consumption, and feelings of entitlement from the less well-off who feel the wealthy owe them the money they pay (and thus feel happy to levy ever more odious taxes from them).

Society is best served by promoting a system of taxation that fosters equality of opportunity, by providing essential services to which everyone contributes in accordance with their ability to pay. This is better serviced through a system of flatter taxes (even if they are still a bit progressive). That would promote a system of proportionality in taxation, rather than progressive taxes that focus unduly upon the contributions of the few to the many.



Categories: On the Blog

The War on Smoking (Except Maybe Pot)

Somewhat Reasonable - August 03, 2014, 12:04 PM

How obscene is it for a Florida jury to award $23.6 billion to the widow of a man who died of lung cancer in 1996? She sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company by asserting that her husband had been “fooled” into starting the smoke at age 13. Apparently he had never heard cigarettes referred to as “coffin nails”, a slang term that has been around since the last century. And how come all those patches, chewing gum, and other means to stop smoking had no effect, if used by her late husband?

This isn’t justice at work. There are more than 40 million smokers in the U.S. today. Smokers, let alone cigarette manufacturers, however, haven’t had the benefit of equal or fair-minded justice since 1984 whenU.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called for “a smoke-free society” by the year 2000.

There was a time when it was perfectly okay to smoke cigarettes. As a youth in the mid-1950’s I began to smoke them to look sophisticated. Producers advertised that as part of their appeal. Hollywood film actors like Ronald Reagan, as well as characters in films often smoked. And, yes, actors John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart both died from lung cancer. Others did too. It wasn’t a secret, so if you smoked, you knew the risk.

That’s where personal responsibility collides with nanny-government, forcing people to forego something they enjoy in the name of what the government deems inappropriate behavior.

As reported by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., in “Who’s the Real Cigarette Monopolist?” the so-called Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 on cigarette manufacturers was arrived at “when Florida and other states sued them for Medicaid costs of people supposedly fooled by cigarette advertising.” The operative word here is “supposedly” because few smokers are unaware of the risk factor.

“A cigarette pack today fetches roughly $2.50 at the factory gate,” wrote Jenkins, “on which the government collects $3.80 on average in state and federal taxes” as well as the payments due from the Medicaid rip-off scheme. Twenty years ago, the average pack of cigarette would have cost about $1.75. Today it is in excess of $5.00.

With prices more than twice as high than in the past and smoking bans everywhere, there are less cigarette smokers. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “The U.S. adult smoking rate has plunged to below 20% from more than 40% half a century ago.”

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that 18% of U.S. adults or about 42 million are cigarette smokers. For those who want to stop, only about one in twenty in any given year actually succeed according to various surveys.


And the government is not done yet interfering with the right of people to smoke. Steve Stanek, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of its monthly Budget & Tax News, recently reported that “E-cigarettes have no tobacco smoke but that hasn’t stopped the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from proposing rules to treat e-cigarettes much like tobacco-based cigarettes. The draft regulations also cover cigars, pipe tobacco and other tobacco products that have not been regulated like cigarettes.”

Greg Conley, a Heartland Institute research fellow with a specialty in tobacco policy, points out that “By requiring the manufacturer of every single electronic cigarette product on the market to file a ‘new tobacco product’ application, the FDA has all but guaranteed the closure of tens or hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses with no connection to Big Tobacco.”

Giving the Okay to Pot

Significantly, producers of “medical marijuana” are not subject to the rules affecting cigarettes and, as it dawns on federal regulators that there could be a lot of tax revenue from this market, I wonder how long it will take for the legalization of all marijuana use to fatten government coffers?

Probably not long at all. On July 26, a New York Times editorial opined that marijuana should be legalized, removing the federal laws prohibiting its sale and use. “After a great deal of discussion, the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.” But it’s stillsmoking!

Playing it safe, the Times’ Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal, told ABC’s “This Week” that “We’re not urging people to smoke pot any more than we are for them to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. It’s just that making it illegal was creating a social cost for the country that was absolutely unacceptable.” Yeah, sure.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is blasting the FDA for its “job-killing” regulations on the premium cigar industry, citing the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, a 119-year-old family-owned cigar business based in Tampa, as the primary loser if the FDA institutes new regulations regarding the nicotine content of the wrappers used.

“We have gone through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban trade embargo, smoking bans, excessive taxation and competition from low-wage countries,” co-owner Eric Newman told The New York Times, but the FDA may put it out of business. That, like the $23.6 billion award cited above is an obscenity too.

The excessive taxation is clearly discriminatory, along with all the other regulations and bans affecting smokers. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “It will take sizable tax increases, on the order of 100%, to decrease adult smoking by as much as 5%,”

One is reminded of the failure of Prohibition, an earlier “public health” measure embraced by the U.S. government. People wanted to drink alcoholic beverages then just as now. And some people drink too much and die from alcoholism. Just as some people smoke too much. It is private, personal behavior that should not be regulated beyond the need for public safety, i.e., drinking and driving, nor discriminated against.

More and more, “progressive” government is taking the joy out of life. By its very nature, it must control everyone and everything they eat, drink, or enjoy.


[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Should the Government Tell You What to Eat?

Somewhat Reasonable - August 03, 2014, 11:35 AM

Given the successive scandals and monster laws like Obamacare that have been imposed on Americans, the federal government’s efforts to control and determine what you eat doesn’t receive the attention that it should. The ultimate question is whether the government should tell you what to eat and then seek to enforce their views about it? The answer is no.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is one of those federal entities that should have no role in determining what is on your plate, but among its recommendations is the promotion of “a plant-based diet, reduced meat consumption, and only eating fish after reading up on which are good for you.” Meanwhile the food police have been warning against the natural element of mercury in fish even though it is so small as to constitute no health threat.

Hanns Kuttner, a senior research fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.  domestic and foreign policy think tank, says that the working premise of the committee is that a “good diet would increase consumer’s costs and imply the end of entire sectors of American agriculture—all in an effort to regulate behavior that has nothing to do with nutrition.” The committee, since 2010, “has not included a member who has any knowledge of food production and food regulation.”

The committee reflects the United Nations global campaign to encourage the consumption of insects. If you love dining on bugs, the UN wants this to be a part of everyone’s diet. According to Eva Muller, the director of Food and Agricultural Organizations Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, bugs “are nutritious, they have a lot of protein and are considered a delicacy in many countries.”

It should come as no surprise that Michelle Obama is leading the food police at this point. A program of the U.S. Agriculture Department announced new rules in 2013 to remove high caloric food and drink items from cafeterias and campuses of schools around the country. As of this year, sodas, sports drinks, and candy bars are banned. Only diet drinks, granola bars, and fruit are acceptable.

This is Big Government at work, but no one expects that kids will go along, nor are shoppers likely to embrace a U.S. Department of Agriculture report that wants to steer them toward more fruits and vegetables and away from sugar and fat-laden items. The new guide was written for the 47 million Americans who participate in the food stamp program. Yes, 47 million!

Michelle Obama also favors costly–$30,000 each—grocery carts that are color-coded to “help” consumers selected approved food items. This kind of intrusiveness is obnoxious.

Victor Skinner of the Education Action Group noted in early July that “The federal government’s attempt to force public school students to eat ‘healthier’ lunches is falling apart at the seams.” The New York Times News Service reported that the School Nutrition Association (SNA) which initially welcomed the bans is now lobbying Congress to dial back on the “overly prescriptive” and expensive changes.

“Congress is listening,” reported the Times, “and is considering legislation to delay the nutrition regulations for a year, some of which have already gone into effect.” The SNA is pointing out that many students are throwing away the additional fruits and vegetables included in their lunches, amounting to $684 million in food waste every year—or roughly “enough to serve complete reimbursable school lunches to more than 228 million students.” Moreover, the “nutritious” federal lunch menu is also proving costly for many school districts that are now forced to purchase more expensive foods to comply with the regulations.

We have reached the point where some schools are banning birthday cakes or cupcakes in classrooms where such celebrations have gone on for decades. Meanwhile many parents have noticed that their children just skip lunch at school and wait to come home to eat instead.

For as long as I can remember Americans have been told that something they eat or drink is dangerous to their health, even though Americans now enjoy the highest life expectancy since such data has been studied. Almost everything we have been warned against has turned out to have some beneficial aspect to it.

In March, the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine published a study that concluded that “Saturated fat does not cause heart disease.” Nina Teicholz, writing in the Wall Street Journal in May noted that “One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s…instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we’re eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.”

“The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin, a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat…excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity, but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.” Thanks to Big Government dietary guidelines and regulations, “the U.S. population (is) growing sicker and fatter while adhering to official dietary guidelines has put nutrition authorities in an awkward position.”

The latest group to join the Food Police are those opposed to food grown with genetically modified organisms (GMO), calling for the labeling of them. This is intended to boost the sales of “organically” grown crops that allegedly do not use pesticides or herbicides. It is pure propaganda because, as Mischa Popoff, a former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector, and the author of “Is It Organic?” recently noted in a Daily Caller article that “A whopping 43% of all certified-organic food sold in America now test positive for prohibited pesticides.” And, of course, “organic” food items cost more.

Simply put, crops need to be protected against insects and weeds. Always have and always will. There is no evidence that the proper use of insecticides and herbicides pose a health hazard. As one farmer told me, “My family eats what I grow. Do you think I would do anything to harm them?” Popoff notes that “The GMO industry is now well-established, with 35 years of science and over 20 years of commercial success behind it.”

The government has no business telling Americans what they should eat. It too frequently offers bad science and almost always propaganda. In the home of the brave and land of the free this is yet another intrusion in the lives of Americans. What you eat and even how much is an individual freedom and choice.

© Alan Caruba, 2014

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

The Political Attraction of Severance Taxes

Somewhat Reasonable - August 03, 2014, 10:15 AM

As the topic of severance taxes heats up in Pennsylvania and Ohio, it’s worth investigating exactly what severances taxes are and why they are implemented.

When legislators debate severance taxes, it is seldom about making sure localities have enough resources to deal with the increased traffic, and consequent wear and tear on the roads and other public infrastructure, or greater environmental protection enforcement designed to protect the people closest to the impacted area.

More often, the taxes are an estimate of how much money government officials can take from one group, typically job-creators that harvest natural resources, without completely removing their incentives to do business in the state. That makes it possible for politicians to fund their pet projects or popular measures in election years with general-fund monies at the expense of local communities and business owners.

Pennsylvania provides an interesting case because instead of a severance tax, it has an impact fee, which is assessed on every well drilled in the Marcellus Shale formation. The fee is based on natural gas prices and the Consumer Price Index; companies drilling natural-gas wells in 2013 paid the state government $50,000 for each new well.

This fee has brought in $630 million since 2011, with 60 percent of the impact fee revenues staying at the local level, used by counties and towns hosting wells, and the other 40 percent going to fund government agencies involved in regulating well-drilling and to a fund set up to improve infrastructure around the state.

Even though the impact fee has contributed more than half a billion dollars in revenue for local governments, Democrats in the Pennsylvania legislature are now pressing for a severance tax, arguing Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state in the nation that does not have one. Although this is technically true, this statement makes it seem as if gas companies are not paying their “fair share,” a claim that could not be further from the truth because in addition to the impact fee, the natural gas industry must pay all the normal taxes that other businesses pay.

This includes Pennsylvania’s already second-highest-in-the-nation corporate income tax, royalty payments to state and local governments for drilling on public lands, and income taxes landowners pay on their royalties.

A similar series of events is unfolding in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich is advocating a 2.75 percent severance tax on oil and gas producers in the state, with 15 percent of the revenue going to local governments and the remainder getting sucked into the state’s general fund. Although these new taxes are supposed to fund a statewide income tax cut, it’s easy to foresee politicians raising the latter again in a couple of years while keeping the new tax on the books. Pennsylvania’s severance tax advocates provide a perfect example of such convenient amnesia.

Hitting up the fossil fuel industry for more money makes for great election-year politics with some constituencies, but it is bad tax policy. Some Ohio legislators are claiming the severance tax would “bring certainty” to oil and gas producers in the state: The one thing those producers can be sure of is that they’ll get rolled again the next time there is a statewide election and politicians are on the lookout for someone to “pay their fair share” to finance out-of-control government spending.

The projected revenue for Ohio, which is estimated at between $34 million and $220 million a year, will create higher costs for job producers that will ultimately be passed along to their consumers, hurting most those who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Instead of enforcing a severance tax to pay for projects outside the drilling area, Ohio should adopt a narrowly targeted Pennsylvania-style impact fee that would ensure local governments have enough resources to handle the increased use of local services while allowing businesses to continue to create high-paying, family-supporting jobs.

Isaac Orr (iorr@heartland.org) is a research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heartland Institute.

Categories: On the Blog

The Case Against Isolationism

Somewhat Reasonable - August 03, 2014, 9:00 AM

There is a strain of thought in the American pro-liberty movement that argues for what is essentially a return to a policy of isolationism. That is the attitude typified by former Representative Ron Paul and his adherents, who have spent years calling for the withdrawal of the United States from many of its foreign treaty and institutional obligations, including the United Nations. There is a certain attractiveness to this position, especially in light of the recent exhausting and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The claim that the War on Terror and other interventions in various countries’ affairs have created more enemies than they vanquished holds no small amount of truth.

It is true that America has pursued an overbearing and damaging foreign policy in the past two decades. But it is also true that a policy of isolation would be even more damaging.

Pax Americana

The United States occupies a unique position in the history of the world; it is a superpower with the ability to project military power to all corners of the globe and economic capacity dwarfing all other states. Never has a state been so dominant and without rivals for global preeminence. In terms of security, its great power has given the United States the ability to serve as an ersatz world police, allowing it to guarantee the security and stability of the international system, as well as the security of its own citizens, which has resulted in an unprecedented era of peace reigning in the world.

Wars in this era of American preeminence have been intermittent and localized, nothing akin to the vast conflicts of empire that marked the 18th and 19th centuries, or the cataclysmic world wars of the first half of the 20th century. This has largely been thanks to the United States’ presence as a leader on the world stage. Were it to withdraw from its international activities, the security of the world would be in doubt. With no dominant power helping to maintain order, the whole system could break down, precipitating wars, as has occurred in previous centuries when the international landscape was marked by the power dynamics of multi-polarity.

In terms of economics, the United States is deeply coupled into the system. The United States withdrawal as guarantor of the system would be disastrous not only in terms of upsetting the international financial system, but also in terms of its position as provider of the world’ reserve currency. Without the dollar, the entire international financial system would be in jeopardy, and could even collapse. Without the United States actively involved on the international stage the world will become a more dangerous and economically volatile place.

The Indispensable Nation

Much of the world looks to the United States for leadership. Its moniker “leader of the free world” is not merely grandstanding on America’s part, but actually how many nations view it. In terms of maintenance of the present international order, of which America was the chief architect and guarantor, the United States remains the “indispensable nation.”

When the Berlin Wall fell it was to the United States that the budding democratic movements looked for inspiration. Its upholding of values such as freedom of expression and of religion, as well as its adherence to democratic values and free markets have served to shape the fabric of the international order. Since the United States became a major leader in the world, after World War II, it has helped to make the soil of the international landscape become more receptive to the growth of democracy and free market capitalism, not only as a major form of government, but as the predominant one.

Should the United States abandon its place of leadership in international relations, it would pave the way to destruction of the international order it has striven to build. I have previously written about the problems of America’s failure to establish an international order that would survive its decline. A policy of isolation like some on the libertarian-right wing of American politics would only hasten that erosion of international norms. The Obama administration’s rudderless foreign policy leadership should be viewed as a chilling prelude to a world without American leadership. It is a world that should be avoided at all costs.

A Way Forward

The United States is too important to the international system to abandon it. Doing so could result in all manner of catastrophe, not just for other countries, but for the United States as well. The problems of world cannot simply be sealed off from America’s shores, especially if free trade is to still be upheld.

It is in America’s interest, and in the interest of the world, that the United States pursue a foreign policy that continues to promote the norms it has sought to inculcate in international relations. The task is not complete, and has seen setbacks in the past few years. But failure is not an option.

Categories: On the Blog

Congressional Testimony of Bernard Weinstein to Subcommittee on Energy and Power

Somewhat Reasonable - August 02, 2014, 9:48 AM

[The following is the testimony of Prof. Herbert "Bud" Weinstein to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Energy and Power. This hearing, held on July 24, was on the subject of "Laboratories of Democracy: The Economic Impacts of State Energy Policies."]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Bernard Weinstein and I am the Associate Director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and  an adjunct professor of business economics at SMU’s Cox School of Business.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.

I want to address two topics today: first, the ongoing “War on Coal” and its implications for electric power costs and grid reliability; and second, the contrasting economic performance of those states that have embraced energy development with those that haven’t.

The War on Coal

President Barack Obama, in pursuit of his “Climate Action Plan,” has been using his executive power in an effort to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from both new and existing power plants, further increase fuel economy standards for motor vehicles, and provide additional incentives for the development of renewable energy sources.  Among these initiatives, the potentially most damaging to the economy are those related to power generation.

Electricity drives our economy, and nearly 40 percent of the electrons on the grid still come from coal-fired power plants, which will be most affected by mandates to reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases (GHG).  Coal’s contribution to the electricity mix has been slowly declining in recent years, mainly because of a sluggish economy and comparatively cheap natural gas prices.

According to projections by the Energy Information Administration, by 2016 we’ll see a capacity decline of 42 gigawatts, or 14 percent, in the nation’s coal-fired generating capacity since 2012.  Without question, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed GHG standards for new and existing coal-fired power plants will accelerate plant closures.  Indeed, these standards are so restrictive they will likely block the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Texas and elsewhere unless they utilize novel and expensive technology to capture carbon.  The newest and most advanced coal-fired generators in Texas, and the rest of the nation for that matter, can’t meet the proposed emissions limit of 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour for new power plants.

The consequences, in terms of higher energy costs and compromised grid reliability, could be serious.  The new standards could also derail America’s nascent industrial revival while eroding the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.  Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk—not a happy prospect in an economy that’s barely growing five years after the Great Recession with 9.5 million workers currently unemployed and millions more underemployed or discouraged from even looking for work.

Policy-makers and regulators must keep in mind that a one percent increase in economic output necessitates a 0.3 percent increase in energy use.  By extension, any combination of policies that serves to increase the price of electricity or reduce the reliability of energy sources will have a negative impact on economic growth.  Higher power costs can be especially detrimental to manufacturing industries, who consume proportionately more electricity than other sectors of the economy.  Five million manufacturing jobs were lost during the Great Recession, and relatively few have come back during the recovery.  But manufacturing still matters because of its strong linkages with other sectors of the economy.  About one in eight private sector jobs relies on America’s manufacturing base.

We can ill-afford to risk undermining the availability of power in the U.S., placing electricity reliability in jeopardy and risking catastrophic economic impacts.  Coal-fired plants cannot be replaced overnight by natural gas plants, and they certainly cannot quickly be replaced by alternative energy facilities. The time it takes to install pipeline and other infrastructure necessary even to begin the conversion of an old plant or construction of a new one is considerable.  Accordingly, if EPA regulations accelerate the closure of coal-fired power plants, that, in turn, will increase the probability of an insufficient supply of electricity at times when demand peaks, such as during hot weather, or when there are unexpected problems with electricity generation or transmission.

EPA should not be developing long-term energy policy through environmental regulation.  The improper regulation of GHG’s could drastically reduce the diversity of this country’s energy sources, particularly by minimizing coal-fired power generation, and hold the nation hostage to volatile natural gas prices and intermittent renewables like wind and solar for the next fifty years.

For example, proponents of the EPA’s proposed GHG rules contend they will incentivize renewable energy in states where such resources are a possibility.  But we know from recent experience that the fastest growing form of renewable power is so-called rooftop solar, a form of distributed generation.  The business model for this expansion is likely to be third-party leases for periods of 20 years or more, where available subsidies are transferred to third parties and where the leases are eventually securitized and sold as financial instruments on Wall Street.

There are a number of issues that must be resolved before federal rules encourage the transfer of affordable, reliable fossil-fuel base load electric power for leased rooftop solar.  Since rooftop solar depends on the use of the electric grid for backup and for sales of excess power, net metering policy must take into account a fair allocation of the costs necessary to maintain grid integrity.  Without doing so, relatively wealthy solar households or Wall Street investors will essentially be subsidized by lower income base load customers.  Further, replacing reliable power sources with intermittent ones can have profound negative impacts for overall system reliability.

These risks must be taken seriously.  As the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has stated, “a reliable supply of electricity is more than just a convenience, it is a necessity; the global economy and world’s very way of life depends on it.”[1]  IEEE further observes that “Even minor occurrences in the electric power grid can sometimes lead to catastrophic ‘cascading’ blackouts.  The loss of a single generator can result in an imbalance between load and generation, altering many flows in the electricity network.”  The direct costs to high-technology manufacturing in just the San Francisco Bay Area during the California blackouts alone ran as high as one million dollars a minute due to lost production.  The relatively brief Northeast blackout of 2003 cost business about $13 billion in lost productivity.[2]

The administration and Congress must also acknowledge that America, by itself, can do little to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.  In fact, GHG emissions in the United States today are at a 20-year low, even though the economy is more than 50 percent larger.  The only effective way to significantly reduce global GHG emissions is through a coordinated strategy involving all of the planet’s major economies.  Otherwise, any marginal reductions in America as a result of shuttering coal plants will be more than offset by rising emissions in China, India, Brazil, and other fast-growing economies around the world.

Energy development and economic growth: a contrast among the states

 As is generally well known, America is in the midst of an oil and gas boom unlike anything we’ve seen since the 1920s, thanks largely to the technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the various shale plays around the country.  Domestic oil production has jumped 40 percent since 2010 and is now above its peak in the mid-1980s.  By 2016 at the latest, the U.S. will have reclaimed its crown as the world’s number one oil producing country.  Natural gas output has also climbed dramatically, up 33 percent since 2010, pushing us ahead of Russia to become the planet’s number one gas producer.

Five years ago, the oil and gas industry accounted for only 3 percent of America’s economic output.  Today, it’s more than 10 percent.  Employment in the oil and gas industry is up nearly 30 percent since 2008 while total U.S. employment has just returned to its pre-recession level. Because of higher domestic production, oil imports have dropped from 50 percent of consumption to 30 percent in just five years, helping to lower our trade deficit and improve America’s global competitiveness.

Contrary to the commonly-held belief that only a few states are in the energy business, the Energy Information Administration reports that 24 states are currently producing commercial quantities of coal, 31 are producing crude oil, and 33 are producing natural gas.  What’s more, current and prospective shale plays are found in most part of the U.S.

But the shale revolution has not been embraced by all of the states who are situated above the shale formations.  In those states that have chosen to pursue energy development, output and jobs have grown faster than in most other states while their unemployment rates are well below the U.S. average of 6.1 percent.  For example, Texas, which has aggressively developed its shale fields, has witnessed a 100 percent increase in oil production since 2010 and currently records an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent.  By contrast, New York State, whose southern tier sits atop one of the “sweet spots” of the Marcellus Shale, has imposed a ban on hydraulic fracturing with the result that oil and gas production has plummeted in recent years while the state’s unemployment rate is currently at 6.7 percent, with some upstate counties as high as 7.5 percent.

  1. Texas v. California: Two large energy states pursuing different paths

Last year, Texas led the nation in job creation for the fourth straight year, adding 323,000 workers to payrolls.  Through June of this year, another 225,000 jobs have been created and the state currently boasts the lowest unemployment rate (5.1%) of any large state.  More incredibly, Texas has accounted for almost 35 percent of the nation’s job growth since 2000.

Without question, the tremendous growth in oil and gas production resulting from the “shale revolution” has accounted for much of Texas’ superior economic performance. The state now accounts for more than 25 percent of America’s oil and gas and would rank as the 14th-largest producer in the world if we were a separate nation.

Texas’ economic fortunes can also be attributed to a positive business climate and sensible, cost-effective regulation of energy and other sectors of the state’s economy.  Contrary to assertions by some environmental activists, Texas is not a toxic wasteland.  We care greatly about the quality of our air, water and land.  But we make sure our regulatory environment is predictable and effective so that the costs of compliance aren’t burdensome to the point of discouraging new investment.

California’s economy has recovered somewhat from the Great Recession, though total payroll employment growth since 2008 has been a mere 322,100—about the same as Texas’ gains last year.  Had the state been more supportive of energy development, especially in the huge Monterey Shale, California would likely have posted much faster job gains and its unemployment rate wouldn’t be 7.4 percent, the highest among the 10 largest states with the exception of Michigan.

According to some estimates, the Monterey Shale, which runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco, contains approximately two-thirds of America’s total shale oil reserves, or 15 billion barrels.  Unfortunately, hydraulic fracturing has been roundly opposed by the state’s influential environmental community as well as many state and local government officials.  Consequently, oil production has been falling rapidly in California for more than a decade while output in Texas has skyrocketed.

If California were to adopt more accommodating energy policies and regulations, the state could realize huge economic benefits.  According to a recent study conducted by the University of Southern California and the Communications Institute, a Los Angeles think tank, development of the Monterey Shale would generate 500,000 direct and indirect jobs within three years and 2.8 million direct and indirect jobs within a decade.

  1.  David v. Goliath: North Dakota slays New York

Two years ago, North Dakota passed Alaska to become America’s number two oil producing state.  In just a few years, production has jumped from 10,000 barrels per day to more than one million barrels per day.

North Dakota is unique in that very few states sit atop formations like the Bakken Shale.  But in addition to its resource base, the state’s business-friendly policies have helped grow its energy sector.  Unlike New York, which prohibits the use of hydraulic fracturing, North Dakota offers an accommodating and supportive business and regulatory climate that encourages new investment in oil and gas production.  Since 2008, North Dakota has created jobs at a faster clip than any other state and currently records the nation’s lowest unemployment rate, 2.9 percent.

Could New York replicate the experience of North Dakota?  As mentioned earlier, the southern tier of New York is one of the “sweet spots” of the Marcellus Shale, the largest gas field in the continental United States.  But because of the fracking ban, thousands of potential jobs and millions of new tax revenues are being forfeited.  For example, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that at least 25,000 new jobs would be created quickly if the state lifted the ban, and that figure doesn’t include the indirect and induced employment that would follow.  Another study, prepare d by Michael Orlando of the University of Colorado, estimates that drilling and producing activities could support 39,000 new jobs in New York State within three years and 69,000 jobs within ten years.  And the Manhattan Institute recently projected that with shale development, total employment in upstate New York by 2020 would be 54,000 higher than without shale development.

  1. Economic performance of other energy states

Other states that have encouraged their energy sectors have outperformed the U.S. averages for job creation and economic growth in recent years.  But it’s important to note that the economic benefits from energy development are benefiting the entire nation, not just those states producing oil and gas.  The shale boom has helped to revive America’s industrial base, boost our exports, and reduce our reliance on imported oil while creating hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs.  At the same time, cheap and abundant natural gas is reducing electricity and heating costs for millions of American households and businesses.

Categories: On the Blog

Climate Alarmists Never Quit!

Somewhat Reasonable - August 02, 2014, 9:10 AM

In the same way Americans are discovering that the Cold War that was waged from the end of World War Two until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is not over, Americans continue to be subjected to the endless, massive, global campaign to foist the hoax of global warming–now called climate change—on everyone.

The campaign’s purpose to convince everyone that it is humans, not the sun, oceans, and other natural phenomenon, and that requires abandoning fossil fuels in favor of “renewable” wind and solar energy.

“It is not surprising that climate alarmists, who desire above all else blind allegiance to their cause, would demand all school teachers toe the ‘official party line’ and quash any dissent on the subject of man-made global warming in their classroom,” says Craig Rucker, the Executive Director of co-founder of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). “What is absurd is that any teacher or free-thinking person for that matter would listen to them.”

These days when I am challenged regarding my views about global warming, climate change or energy I send the individual towww.climatedepot.com  and www.energydepot.us, two constantly updated websites filled with links to information on these topics. Both are maintained by CFACT.

It’s not just our classrooms where Green indoctrination goes on. It is also our news media that continue to distort every weather event to advance the hoax. Guiding and feeding them is a massive complex of organizations led by the United Nations—the International Panel on Climate Change—that maintains the hoax to frighten people worldwide in order to achieve “one world order.”

On September 23, heads of state, including President Obama, will gather in New York City for what the Sierra Club calls “a historic summit on climate change. With our future on the line, we will take a weekend and use it to bend the course of history” to save the world from “the ravages of climate change.” This is absurd. Suggesting that humans can alter the climate in any way defies centuries of proof they do not.

One of the leading Leftist organizations, the Center for American Progress, focused on the July 14 Major Economics Forum in Paris, offered four items for its agenda. Claiming that “the Arctic is warming two times faster than any other region on earth”, they wanted policy changes based on this falsehood. They blamed climate change for “global poverty” and wanted further reductions in so-called greenhouse gas emissions from energy use. The enemy, as far as they were concerned was energy use.

Mary Hutzler, a senior research fellow of the Institute for Energy Research, testified before a July 22nd meeting of the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, that due to Europe’s green energy (wind and solar) policies, industrial electricity prices are two-to-five times higher than in the U.S. and that, by 2020, 1.4 million European households will be added to those experiencing energy poverty.

There are lessons to be learned, for example, from Spain’s investment in wind energy that caused the loss of four jobs for the electricity it produced and 13 jobs for every megawatt of solar energy. In Germany, the cost of electricity is three times higher than average U.S. residential prices. Little wonder that European nations are now slashing wind and solar programs.

Billions Wasted to Combat Global Warming

In the U.S., the Obama administration used its “stimulus” to fund Solyndra—$500 million dollars—and fifty other Green energy projects that have failed or are on their way to failure. Undeterred with this appalling record, on July 3 the Energy Department announced $4 billion for “projects that fight global warming.”

But there is no global warming. The Earth has been in a cooling cycle for seventeen years and it shows no indication of ending anytime soon. This is the same administration that has waged a war on coal, forcing the closure of many plants that produced electricity efficiently and affordably, and had throughout the last century.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2014 weather highlights showed that, from January to June, the temperature in the U.S. has risen by a miniscule 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit compared with the average temperature for the 20th century. NOAA also noted that recorded temperatures for the first half of 2014 are the coldest since 1993 when the cooling cycle began. The exception to this has been California.

Brainwashed for decades about global warming, 20% of likely voters, according to a July Rasmussen poll, still believe that global warming is not over, colder weather or not, 17% were not sure, but fully 63% disagreed!

The results of a Pew Research Center poll in June revealed that 35% of Americans say there is not enough solid evidence to suggest mankind is warming the Earth while another 18% says the world has warmed due to “natural patterns”, not human activity. Pew found that liberals remain convinced that humans are to blame, but the bottom line is that 53% disputed the President’s claims.

That means that a growing number of Americans are now skeptics.

In the months to come we will see marches and meetings intended to further the global warming lies. The good news is that fewer Americans are being influenced by such efforts.


[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

A Case for a Politically Oblivious Citizen

Somewhat Reasonable - August 01, 2014, 12:16 PM

Recently while discussing the political knowledge, or lack thereof, of the average U.S. citizen, a thought occurred to me. Ideally, this is how it should be. Government in America was designed to be small, very limited and irrelevant to the day-to-day life of the average American.

Government work is supposed to be boring. With the Constitution severely limiting the responsibilities of the government, the role of the public sector was intended to be constricted and narrow. When the branches of the federal government were being formed, our founders envisioned citizen statesman that would serve in government for a short amount of time before returning to their farms or trades. What was not expected was the rise of the career politician. Government work has since become an industry.

The growth in all facets of the government has created a leviathan out of the public sector. Politicians seek constant reelection, move from office to office and stay in politics as lobbyists. These politicians become policy experts which is now required do to the complex matters now under the umbrella of government responsibility.

The issues debated in government today are so convoluted and intricate; the layman cannot possibly stay properly informed. For example, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was nearly 1,000 pages long. This bill was also filled with jargon, specific terminology and references to other statutes. How could the average person develop an opinion on this legislation without relying on third or fourth party sources? No wonder Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” The length of the ACA bill was not unique. Plenty of bills reach the 1,000 page mark. Many other bills including yearly budgets, the stimulus bill and others extend well beyond 1,000 pages.

For the person who follows politics closely, reads the legislation and stays informed on all the important topics, only one thing can be going through his/her head, ‘Why am I not getting paid for this?’ It is simply impossibly for the average person to stay up to date and comprehend all of the issues and proposed legislation up for debate.

In the ideal scenario, government would be small and not of concern for the average person. The state would have little impact on the constituents’ everyday life. This would free up the citizen’s time to focus on their trade or whatever they deem necessary or important. There would be no reason why someone should not develop a niche expertise in whatever they find interesting while staying only moderately informed on the actions of the government. As of now however, we are far from this ideal. We have to stay informed on these issues that affect the entire nation and strive to reduce the size of the government to something more manageable.

Categories: On the Blog

Industry Doesn’t Undermine Tourism

Somewhat Reasonable - August 01, 2014, 9:43 AM

In rural areas, there is often a heated debate over economic development that essentially boils down to a choice between industrial jobs and tourism jobs. Both come with advantages and disadvantages, but to pit these two sectors against each other in an either-or discussion is a false dichotomy. My hometown provides a good example of how industry and tourism can coexist.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Waupaca, Wisconsin. For those industry buffs out there, Waupaca is home to the Waupaca Foundry, the largest producer of gray, ductile, austempered ductile, and compacted granite iron in the world, melting more than 9,500 tons a day. For those of you planning your next vacation, Waupaca has the Chain O’Lakes, a beautiful series of interconnected lakes that is one of the state’s top tourism destinations.

The debate over industry versus tourism is heated in Waupaca, an economic profile of which can be described as the three Fs: farming, foundry, and FIBs (an unflattering term for tourists from Illinois). It’s a debate common to small towns, with the alternatives seen as being a focus on increasing tourism or promoting development of industrial, blue-collar jobs. The truth is, our town needs both.

I lived a stone’s throw from the Waupaca Foundry (don’t ask me how I know that), which employs more people than any other employer in Waupaca County. Some days the air smelled bad, so bad I didn’t want to be outside, especially when there was a wagon full of hay that needed to be put up in the barn. Fewer people had more exposure to the unappealing externalities of the foundry than my family and I.

Although things did not always smell like roses at my house, Waupaca is a small town surrounded by smaller towns, and the wages paid by Waupaca Foundry are a big reason we have a little movie theater, two grocery stores, and three car dealerships, which the surrounding towns don’t have. The foundry also helped some of my friends pay for college.

Starting wages at the foundry are around $12 an hour, but with piece work and incentives, people can start at $15 to $18 an hour. Jobs paying more than $37,000 a year are hard to come by in our part of the state, but that is what workers at the foundry make with only a high school diploma.

On the other side of town we have the Chain O’Lakes. Many of my friends worked there, too. These first jobs provided valuable real-world experience, and my friends who served as hostesses, servers, dish washers, and cooks at local restaurants learned interpersonal skills, the art of conversation with strangers, how to be amazing short-order cooks, and other useful skills.

Tourism provides a boost for the small businesses on Main Street that see their margins dwindle in the winter as their main customers stay home for the cold months. But tourism jobs are usually minimum-wage jobs, and they leave with the tourists after Labor Day.

Thus both these sources of income are important to the local economy, and they can coexist peacefully. In too many cases, environmental activists who advocate for a tourism-based economy frame this discussion as an economic Sophie’s Choice, when they should instead look for environmentally responsible ways to promote both manufacturing and tourism.

Unfortunately, the false dichotomy that pits industry against tourism is not confined to the little town where I grew up; it rages in areas all over the country. This debate is especially destructive now, as more than 800,000 people dropped out of the labor force in April alone, partly because so many of them became frustrated and stopped looking for work entirely. Voters and lawmakers in small towns should be looking for all ways to create more good-paying, family-supporting jobs—as should those in bigger cities. If anyone asks you whether you are for industry or tourism, remember: The correct response is “both.”

Isaac Orr (iorr@heartland.org) is a research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heartland Institute.

Categories: On the Blog

Che Guevara Shirts: Proof of the Triumph of Capitalism

Somewhat Reasonable - August 01, 2014, 9:00 AM

Want to know why capitalism will always triumph over collectivism? It responds to people’s desires, even those who would consider themselves enemies of capitalism.  A case-in-point is the ubiquitous Che Guevara t-shirt.

Anyone who has spent any time walking down a city street will have come across at least one young person wearing Che’s famous likeness. Some leftists have argued that the sheer pervasiveness and popularity of the image is proof of the enduring principles of which Che has sometimes been seen as a symbol. Yet that is not the case.

The Che Guevara t-shirts actually represent the ultimate power of capitalism, the power to transform the most potent symbols in opposition to it into commodities that can be bought and sold in the marketplace. The market does not care about what the symbol “represents.” All that matters is that the symbol can be bought and sold. That is the ultimate neutering of socialism and radical leftism, when the young people who Che might in another time have tried to galvanize to violent rebellion tacitly accept the capitalist system. When Che and his ilk became fashion symbols rather than political symbols, they were finally defeated. That is the real beauty of the free market: its ability to transform an enemy into harmless kitsch.

Supporters of liberty and the free market might understandably be irritated by the nation’s youth running around with the image of a monomaniacal war criminal blazoned on their chests, but they should bite back their bile. Indeed, they should rejoice. As Che has become a popular image, the image has lost all the symbolic power it once might have claimed.

A couple of generations ago, radical socialism was a common part of the zeitgeist of the American youth, with college campuses forming the primary advocates and apologists for the totalitarian regimes of Cuba and the Soviet Union. Today, a lot of leftishness is still there, but it has been beaten down to a softer kind of socialism or social-democratic philosophy. People on the political right often rail against the liberal bastions of academia, and they are not completely wrong to do so. To be sure, the political products of the academic world, such President Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren, serve as cautionary tales to voters thinking about giving real power to cloistered professors. But they are nowhere near as threatening as the sorts of firebrand spokespeople produced by the hallowed halls of academia only a few decades ago.

Socialism in America, and around the world, has had to respond and adapt to the overwhelming power of the free market. In the marketplace of ideas, socialism is outdated and doomed to go out of business. In response, socialist thinking has shifted, softened, and come to accept at least parts of the capitalist system as essential to maintenance of prosperity. We should call that a tentative victory for liberty, if not a total one.

The youth of today are not as susceptible to the radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s because capitalism is the only serious game in town. The aspects of it that still adhere are just empty or deflated symbols, like t-shirts featuring half-forgotten political dissidents. Young people represent a fertile marketplace for sellers of the ideas of liberty, perhaps more so than any time in the past 40 years. Before the forces of socialism mutate into yet another dangerous ideological strain, proponents of freedom and liberty ought to claim the territory.

Categories: On the Blog

Shivering in the Dark

Somewhat Reasonable - August 01, 2014, 8:00 AM

Yesterday, the temperature here at Rosevale in Queensland rose 25 ℃ in just 8 hours – from zero at 6 am to 25 ℃ at 2 pm. It rose at the rate of 3 ℃ per hour, and every degree of warmth felt better.

And then, despite there being 400 ppm of the dreaded “global warming gas” in the atmosphere, the temperature plunged 25 ℃ to zero by the next dawn.

Yet learned people are being paid by governments to scare us into suicidal energy policies they say will save us the horror of possible man-made global warming of maybe 1-2 ℃ per century.

Do these people ever go outside? Do they ever feel the powerful life-giving warmth of the sun? Do they notice that all life celebrates spring? Have they read some climate history – of the abundance during warm eras and the bleak starvation of the ice ages? Do they know there has been no global warming for 17 years? Are they aware that the sun has gone ominously quiet and we may face global cooling, just at the time their disastrous energy policies leave us shivering in the dark?

It’s time for some common sense on energy and climate.

[Originally published in the American Thinker]

Categories: On the Blog

BBC ‘Digging Its Own Grave’ By Banning Global Warming Skeptics

Somewhat Reasonable - August 01, 2014, 12:51 AM

Actual science: Banned by the BBC.

The other day, a nonprofit called The Institute of Art and Ideas interviewed Benny Peiser, a prominent British global warming skeptic. IAI, according to its website, “is committed to fostering a progressive and vibrant intellectual culture in the UK.”

Judging by its fair and thorough interview of Dr. Peiser, they are genuinely interested in fostering better understanding of important public policy issues — in this case, climate change. I recommend you keep an eye on IAI.

IAI focused its interview on Peiser’s view of the BBC’s recent decision to no longer allow climate “skeptics” be a part of their news and commentary. Peiser, who spoke at the first two of The Heartland Institute’s nine International Conferences on Climate Change, did not think much of that decision.

In short, Peiser said the truth: The BBC’s new policy is anti-science, misunderstands what’s important about the climate debate, and is doing a disservice to its audience — which will be ignorant of vital facts about climate change and what we can (or should) do about it.

IAI should be applauded for reaching out to Peiser, and let’s hope enough Brits get wind of this interview to reverse the BBC’s flat-earth policy on the climate. Some excerpts from the interview, a printed Q&A, are below. A quick overvirew of what Peiser addresses:

  • His concern about the global warming discussion mindlessly cleaving on a left/right divide.
  • How “green energy” mainly helps countries like China, that produces solar panels in some of the dirtiest coal-fired plants in the world.
  • How without the government-pushed and unneccesary alarm about a climate crisis, “we would not have wind and solar energy; we would not have the need for renewable energy.”
  • How “there is a difference between evidence and people saying, ‘if we don’t act now then in 50 or a 100 years time we will face mega catastrophe.’ That’s not evidence, it is speculation.”
  • How “if you want to decide what to do about climate change then the climate scientists are really the least likely to understand what policies or alternatives there are.”
  • How the BBC is “digging its own grave by annoying half of the population who are known to be sceptical about the alarmist claims which are not substantiated, which are not founded on any evidence. They are only based on on some kinds of computer modelling, which is not scientific evidence.”

Read the whole IAI interview with Benny Peiser, but below are some key Q&A excerpts:

Q: Do you think there is such a thing as a unanimous scientific consensus about climate change today?

A: I think this is irrelevant. I mean, there is a general agreement on CO2 and greenhouse gas: that we are pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and that this will have a warming effect. This is agreed by everyone so that is not the real issue. Even the sceptics agree to that. So, this is a red herring, because no one denies the basic physics, no one denies the basic facts.

And that was not part of the discussion at the BBC anyhow. It was about the flooding this winter and whether it was caused by climate change, as well as what to do about climate change. And, of course, there is no consensus about these issues. So, the BBC is using a red herring to deny critics of climate policies and climate alarmism a forum.

Q: So do you think that, when it comes to the media, it is a one-sided kind of alarmist perception of risk that comes into question?

A: Of course, because they are well-known for pointing out everything that is alarming and being silent on reports that show it is not as alarming. So you have a bias in favour of alarm, and a kind of ignoring any evidence that suggests that it might not be that alarming.

It’s about people who think we are facing doomsday, and people who are thinking that the issue of climate change is exaggerated. And if you deny anyone sceptical of the apocalyptic doomsday prophecies, then you get in a position where the BBC is so biased that MPs are beginning to consider cutting the license fee, or abolishing the license fee altogether, because people are beginning to be upset by the BBC’s bias.

This is a self-defeating policy; the BBC is digging its own grave by annoying half of the population who are known to be sceptical about the alarmist claims which are not substantiated, which are not founded on any evidence. They are only based on on some kinds of computer modelling, which is not scientific evidence.

Q: In the press, the argument has been put forward quite regularly that sceptics or critics are already over-represented in media coverage, which is said to be misleading the public. Is that a fact? Or do you think the BBC should give more air time to climate change critics/ sceptics?

A: Well they haven’t in the past. Take Lord Lawson. That was the first time ever that he’s been interviewed on climate change. And if you think about the hundreds of reports over the years by the BBC, climate sceptics are a very and increasingly rare species.

Climate sceptics are definitely not under-represented, but simply absent when it comes to the number of media outlets. However, because there is that bias in the BBC and other news organisations, they are finding their own outlets. The climate-sceptical bloggers are increasingly popular and have huge readerships, and a number of newspapers can see that there is a real market for more balanced views.

Take for instance the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. These newspapers have realized that the BBC and others are ignoring alternative views and so they are providing the half of the population who are sceptics an opportunity to have more balanced reporting. They can see the big opportunity that the BBC is ruling out.

As I said, from surveys, more than half of the British public is sceptical, so if the BBC alienates more than half of the population then they only have themselves to blame if the British public don’t anymore want to pay for the BBC.

Q: Do you think there might also be a confusion created by separating people in two strict camps: either you are a sceptic or you are a firm believer in climate change? Perhaps there could be a more constructive critic of authoritative knowledge or prevailing rhetoric?

A: When the BBC interviewed the sceptical scientists like Professor [Bob] Carter they also got complaints from those who said it was wrong, so it’s not about knowledge or because you are not a climate scientist. They don’t even interview scientists who are sceptical, and on the very rare occasion – once every two years – that they perhaps have an interview with a sceptical scientist, they also get complaints. So this is not about people not being knowledgeable, it’s that people don’t want to listen to any critics. That is as simple as that, they do not want to, or do not like the idea of a debate on this issue. …

Q: So it is rhetoric of risk?

A: At the end of the day there is a big industry behind this campaign, let’s not forget. There’s a huge green energy industry which relies on billions of subsidies on government policy. All the people who own wind farms and solar panels and bio-fuel lands all rely on government support. Without the alarm there would not be that much money going into their pockets. So there are big industrial claims behind this campaign who make hundreds of millions of pounds on the back of this alarm.

Q: How could the discussion about climate change be improved in the media more generally? How could we make the discussion more constructive?

A: Well, it is difficult. By and large you improve it by making it as factual, as objective, and as balanced as possible. Also, moving away from the basic scientific issues to focus on the real, big divides and problems which have to do with what we are going to do about climate change. That is where the big question mark remains. And, as you may have noticed, it is much more difficult and more complex than the simplistic way the BBC portrays the controversy.

Do visit the IAI site and read the whole thing.

For an exhaustive argument supporting what Peiser was talking about, visit the archive site of Heartland’s nine International Conferences on Climate Change. At the home page of the conferences archive site, you will see more than 100 presentations at our confernce July 7-9, 2014 in Las Vegas. In the menu bar, you can access hundreds more presentations from previous conferences, what we call the ICCC.

You can also check out the latest peer-reviewed science disputing a global warming catastrophe at the Climate Change Reconsidered site. It contains years of academic work and nearly 10,000 pages of science in several volumes from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) — the fact-checkers of the United Nations’ IPCC.

The Heartland Institute is internationally known for its excellent, science-based work countering the idea that human activity is causing a climate crisis. Learn more about that work by subscribing to Heartland’s newslettersClimate Change Weekly, NIPCC Update, and Environment & Climate News. Heartland also covers a lot of other ground, so sign up for those newsletters at this page, as well.

Immediately below is a video that gives an overview of what was discussed at Heartland’s Ninth International Conference on Climate Change. Below that are Benny Peiser’s presentations at Heartland’s ICCC1 and ICCC2.

Categories: On the Blog

Fishy Polls on Common Core

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 2:21 PM

Never let it be said that Common Core (CC) entirely lacks educational value.

By exercising even a little of the critical thinking the pushers of these national standards claim to want mandated in all classrooms, consumers can learn a big, valuable lesson about polling that seeks to shape public opinion rather than honestly gauge it.

The one constant in the spate of polls being taken as CC heats up as a political issue is that a sizable portion of the population still knows little or nothing about how these curricular guidelines were developed or what they do. To some prominent pollsters, the knowledge gap is an opening to feed respondents an entirely positive portrayal and then ask them leading questions likely to elicit pro-CC responses.

A recent example was a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll done June 11–15, purporting to find support exceeds opposition to Common Core by almost a 2–1 margin. But first, the pollsters found almost half their participants said they had seen, read, or heard zilch about the national standards. So then WSJ/NBC “educated” them with the following description:

“The Common Core standards are a new set of education standards for English and math that have been set to internationally competitive levels and would be used in every state for students in grades K through 12.”

That is a grossly misleading description. It utterly ignores serious scholarly findings about weaknesses of the math and English standards and their lack of comparability to the best in the world. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge heavy Obama administration pressure to get states signed up, or the growing number of states now bailing on CC testing and CC itself.

In a June 18 Cato at Liberty blogpost, Cato Institute education analyst Neil McCluskey likened the WSJ/NBC approach to failing to tell people that pufferfish are poisonous, then telling them “pufferfish are delicious and nutritious,” then finally asking, “would you like to eat some pufferfish?”

The first week of May, a survey by Republican pollster John McLaughlin used similar pufferfishy questioning to convert an almost equal split of opinion on CC (35 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval, 32 percent don’t know) to a whopping two-thirds level of support, by feeding respondents what it called a “simple, neutral” description. Again, it was anything but objective. It was CC puffery.

The political takeaway from McLaughlin was that Republicans should beware of opposing Common Core, because national standards will have a big upside with swing voters in the general election. Scribes from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nominally conservative think tank, then sought to drive home that point with commentary warning Republican candidates that criticizing Common Core is a losing issue.

It would have been reasonable for media reporting on all this to have noted the McLaughlin Poll was commissioned by the Collaborative for Student Success, recipient of heavy funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars both creating Common Core and now purchasing support for it. And Fordham also does PR for the Gates people.

Someone might ask Oklahoma state school superintendent Janet Barresi how much being a red-hot supporter of Common Core in a deep-red state helped her. Despite reportedly putting more than $1 million of her own money into her campaign, she lost in a landslide to CC opponent Joy Hofmeister in the June 24 GOP primary. In fact, Barresi finished third with just 21 percent support.

Here and there, some polls are beginning to reflect the growing anger of citizens over undemocratically imposed nationalized standards they like less the more they find out about them. A little-noted University of Connecticut poll conducted the last week of April found just that: Opposition was highest among people who said they were most highly informed about CC.

Now, one of the polling heavyweights, Rasmussen Reports, has done a straightforward survey (June 21–22), using no leading or trick questions, and finds support for Common Core plummeting among parents with school-age children. Only 34 percent of those parents favor schools nationwide having to meet the so-called Common Core State Standards, a drop of 18 percentage points since a Rasmussen survey last November.

Citizens should closely scrutinize all public-opinion surveys for embedded bias. A critical assessment of the accumulating data indicates a growing proportion of parents who have brought themselves up to speed independently on Common Core—as opposed to being pollster-led—oppose this top-down imposition of shoddy, one-size-fits-all standards and subjective testing on their children.

Robert Holland (rholland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.

Categories: On the Blog

The FCC Shouldn’t Go Down the Primrose (Preemption) Path

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 11:54 AM

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already has suffered two judicial rebukes in its efforts to impose net neutrality mandates on Internet service providers, most recently this past January in the D.C. Circuit’s Verizon v. FCC decision. Nonetheless, the agency now is in the midst of yet another rule-making proposing to adopt new net neutrality regulations.

But here I want to address a separate, but nevertheless related, FCC initiative that is likely to lead to yet another judicial reversal. In response to the Verizon defeat, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he wants to encourage municipalities to operate their own broadband networks in competition with private-sector broadband providers.

Invoking a “pro-competition” mantra, Wheeler intimates government-run communications networks are no different than those run by private providers. So, he wants the FCC to consider preempting state laws banning or restricting the provision of communications services by municipalities. Harkening to Wheeler’s siren song, on July 24 two cities — Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C. — filed petitions asking the commission to preempt restrictions in their states. Acting with unusual dispatch, on July 28 the commission issued a notice seeking public comment on the petitions.

Wheeler’s idea that the FCC should preempt the 20 state laws restricting municipal telecom networks is flawed from both a policy and legal perspective.

As for policy, there are good reasons why so many states have banned or restricted municipal networks. In general, cities that have ventured into the communications business have compiled a pretty dismal record of failure. In recent years, some of the most publicized failures include the government-run networks in Burlington, Vt.; Provo, Utah; Lafayette, La.; Mooresville and Davidson, N.C.; and Utah’s inaptly named UTOPIA network consisting of 10 towns.

These networks and others have fallen short of meeting their initial rosy financial projections, leaving the municipalities’ taxpayers and bondholders on the hook to make up the financial shortfall. At the same time, the private-sector providers, such as cable operators and telephone companies, find it difficult to compete against government entities that enjoy taxpayer-funded financial advantages, along with other competitive edges such as preferential permitting and rights-of-way privileges.

So, there is certainly a valid policy justification for the state laws restricting municipal networks.

Moreover, any attempt by the FCC to preempt the state bans is likely to fail as a matter of law. In Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League (2004), the Supreme Court agreed with the FCC’s then-position that the Communications Act provision granting the agency authority to preempt state laws that “have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide” communications services did not extend to government networks. In doing so, the court reiterated its longstanding principle that there must be a clear statement from Congress before the federal government acts in a way that constrains state authority.

Wheeler suggests that the Commission may preempt the state bans under now-famous Section 706 of the Communications Act that the D.C. Circuit interpreted as authorizing agency actions that promote broadband deployment. Whatever the extent of the FCC’s authority under Section 706, it almost certainly doesn’t extend to allowing the agency to interfere with a state’s relationships with its municipalities. There is no clear statement in Section 706 that Congress intended to grant the FCC such preemptive authority.

In any proper conception of our federalist system, it is not enough for Wheeler simply to suggest that the wishes of municipalities should prevail over the state sovereigns under which they are created. After all, in our constitutional regime, we do not recognize, as a matter of legal status, “citizens” of Provo or Lafayette, but we do recognize citizens of Utah and Louisiana. And the Constitution confers upon these citizens of states the authority to exert their will through their elected representatives to adopt laws that restrict municipal activities. This is what the Supreme Court meant when it rejected preemption in its Missouri Municipal League decision, declaring that “preemption would come only by interposing federal authority between a State and its municipal subdivisions, which our precedents teach, ‘are created as convenient agencies for exercising such of the governmental powers of the State as may be entrusted to them in its absolute discretion.’”

Rather than pursuing actions likely to result in further court defeats, the FCC could make better use of its time — while promoting more competition — by focusing on eliminating existing regulatory burdens that impede private-sector investment in new broadband networks.

[Originally published at The Hill]

Categories: On the Blog

On Energy Prices, The Working Class Blames Washington

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 11:48 AM

This Molly Ball piece on the metric which best determines the outcome of elections makes for a fascinating read: essentially, it demonstrates that when Republicans don’t lose the working class by a wide margin, they do well, and when they lose it by 20 points, they don’t. Throw out all the other measures of race and religion – and Republicans even spot the Democrats the ten points! – and the share of the working class vote determines the outcome:

Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn’t vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group’s vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade.

In 2004, Democrats won the working-class vote by 11 points; George W. Bush was reelected. In 2006, Democrats won the working-class vote by 22 points and took the House and Senate. In 2008, Democrats won by 22 points again, and President Obama was elected. In 2010, the margin narrowed to 11 points, and Republicans took the House back. In 2012, Obama was reelected—on the strength of another 22-point margin among voters making under $50,000.

One of the central arguments that I and those who share my view that the future of the right ought to be more populist, as both a matter of policy and politics, is that Washington has largely ignored the increased burdens faced by the middle and working class in a time of wage stagnation. The interests of big business and large established players, sometimes working in tandem with government policy and other times simply bent to the will of regulators, have burdened families with higher costs than they ought to be paying for goods and services. It’s a simple thesis: health care, higher education, energy, and groceries cost more than they should; government policy is a not insignificant factor, but Washington largely doesn’t care; therefore, limited government advocates should seize the opportunity to take on the government policies that factor into this and make the case to eliminate or reform them.

You can see a good example of that in this Gallup poll from last year, which illustrates how gas, food, and healthcare costs are as bad or worse than tax issues in the minds of most Americans:

Of course, global supply and demand issues affect energy prices – but what do people think of government policy on the subject? Not much. Check out this Morning Consult poll, released last week, which reflects a marked skepticism of government policy helping people on the subject of energy affordability. And the working class has strong opinions: people with incomes under 50k gave the government the worst grade in keeping energy costs affordable (and by a much wider margin than those making $100k+).

Unfortunately for Republicans, the working class doesn’t trust them on energy issues. Voters may blame Washington as a whole, but for those earning under 50k, they see the left’s message as more appealing.

This shouldn’t be the case, and the fact that it is just illustrates the need for Republicans to stop thinking about board room table issues and start talking about kitchen table issues. The energy portion of a “gas and groceries” agenda is full of politically vulnerable targets. Republicans ought to favor ending the massive subsidies for big conglomerates that drive up gas prices; streamline or eliminate burdensome regulations on energy, such as oil/gas export licensing; eliminate prohibitions on the ability of companies to drill and explore for fuel and other regulations which needlessly drive up prices, inhibit competition, and destabilize the market; eliminating all taxpayer-funded energy subsidies and letting the best product win; and, of course, eliminating subsidies and tax incentives for energy companies to turn food into gas, such as the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Most conservatives already oppose the RFS, the Jones Act, duties on oil pipe imports, pipeline delays, export restrictions, and drilling bans both offshore and on public land. They need to do more to reframe this issue into one with a more explicit appeal to working class concerns. Gas prices rose 3.3 percent in June, and the index for energy is up 3.2 percent over the course of the year.The political advantage here should be obvious: by attacking an issue the working class cares about and where it believes government policy is failing, this presents a golden opportunity to break the left’s coalition in half – between the Tom Steyers of the world who don’t want energy to be cheap and don’t care about the pricing ramifications of their policies, and for the working class that does.

Subscribe to Ben’s newsletter, The Transom.


[Originally published at The Federalist]

Categories: On the Blog

A Foreign Policy Doctrine for the 21st Century

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 9:00 AM

The United States is a political anomaly. Throughout time there has never been a nation so politically, culturally, and militarily dominant. Rome, even at its height, had rivals. So too did the British Empire, which at its apex made pretense to the rule of the waves, in spite of near constant challenges to its power from forces seeking to upset or supplant it. The international stability and peace created by these great empires, the Pax Romana and Pax Britannica, the Roman Peace and the British Peace, served in their times to guarantee security and relative prosperity within their spheres of influence. Yet they could never do so unchallenged.

First, Without Equals

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States stood alone. It was the one true super power, the like of which the world had never seen, nor may ever see again. With the ability to project irresistible power to all corners of the Earth, the United States worked to construct a global order in its own image.

Many of its efforts have borne remarkable fruit. The preponderance and entrenchment of international laws and institutions have been the direct result of American effort. Along with its many allies, the United States has promoted an international system that is ever more intertwined and interdependent.

The United States has also used its influence to export liberal-democracy and its attendant principles around the world. Through organizations like the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, nations have been brought closer together, both in terms of economic ties and ideological harmonization.

The United States has also risen in the past two decades to the role of de facto guarantor of international security. With a military and defense budget greater than the rest of world’s combined, American military might is unparalleled in history.

With Great Power…

This great might has, however, not simply produced stability and prosperity. Indeed, the United States has on many occasions abused its privileged position in international affairs. It has pursued unilateralist policies over the strident objections of the international community, such as in its prosecution of the Second Iraq War in which it blatantly ignored the UN, and many of its allies and trading partners.

In the War on Terror, also, the United States has adopted a policy of ignoring the principles of sovereignty, even that of its allies, through the use of unmanned drones and other weapons in the endless hunt for al Qaeda and its offshoots. America’s efforts in this regard are often counterproductive, as they serve often only to radicalize populations against not only America, but also the liberal-democratic principles it represents and wishes to spread.

Perhaps worst of all, the US has actively sought to subvert the institutions it helped build when political expediency has demanded it. By ignoring WTO policies and trade agreements, as well as a variety of other international laws, the United States has succeeded in weakening the institutions it has been instrumental in building, by creating a feeling in the international community that international law only applies to those countries not strong enough to flout it.

On balance, however, I would argue that the United States has done more good than harm. In truth it has succeeded in fostering an era of unheard of peace and cooperation between nations great and small, respect for international institutions that have now taken on a life and robustness all their own, and has served to prevent major conflicts both between and within states.

However, these positive efforts will not be sufficient in future, and those negative actions will only become more damaging as we progress into the 21st century.

The Rise of the East

We live in a time of change, change far more rapid than anyone expected. Accelerated by the financial crisis and the deep recession in the West, power, economic, political, and ideological, is flowing inexorably eastward. The rise of China is the biggest headline grabber, but many other countries, such as Vietnam are no less startling in their explosive growth and expansion.

Many of the swiftly rising states, most notably China, are quite new to the international institutional and legal system, and have proven to be rather cagey about accepting its precepts wholesale. This reluctance to sign up to international laws and norms signals grave difficulties for the future of international relations. One need only look to the resurgence of Russia to understand the dangers of an international system no longer moored by American leadership. Political and military shenanigans like those of Vladimir Putin may one day soon not be an aberration, but the norm.

It may be easy to assume that the natural state of relations between governments and nations is one of stability and peace, since that has been the reality, generally, for the past several decades. Yet this peaceful status quo is in many ways the result of dominant American leadership in the international arena. It was, after all, out of a relatively chaotic, often war-torn world that America built the current system.

So long as the United States and its allies are able to defend this order it has created, it will survive.

Preserving the Pax Americana

Yet, while the United States remains the preeminent world power, with the world’s biggest economy, and by far its most powerful military, this reality is changing. Soon enough the United States will be supplanted by China as the largest economy in the world. After that, America’s military and technological advantages will face greater and greater challenges, if not eventual erosion.

For an international political order to outlive its creator is unheard of in history. Throughout history, as dominant powers decline, the systems they create decline with them. As the political scientist Robert Kagan puts it, “The present order will last only as long as those who favor it and benefit from it retain the will and capacity to defend it.” Such was the case with both the Roman and British empires. As Rome declined in power, the stability it had created within its borders and on its periphery was washed away by the barbarian tide. So too did the end of British naval supremacy precipitate the conflicts that would plunge the whole world into war. The Pax Romana and Pax Britannica died with their creators.

Yet this need not necessarily be the case for the American Peace. It is still possible for the United States to build a lasting world order that will outlive its own era of supremacy, though its window of opportunity is certainly closing fast. The question is not whether the US has the power to affect this solidification of the present order. The question facing America, rather, is whether it has the will to change course from exceptionalism and flouting of the international system it built for its own short-term strategic aims.

America faces a major decision point. If the global system the United States has created and defended is to survive the end of American preeminence, the United States must take full advantage of the time it has left in the saddle of world affairs.

There are a number of things it can do:

First, it can use its power to help struggling and nascent democracies, rather than wasting resources and political will in seeking to impose democratic systems where they are not yet wanted and would not be accepted. American adventurism and instigation of regime-change is a costly and counterproductive exercise, as the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us, in terms of money, goodwill, and most importantly lives. Better to foster organic change where possible and to help in sustaining the many states still fighting to retain and entrench their democracies and the rule of law than to pursue the quixotic unilateralism of the present.

Second, America’s leaders must abandon the mindset of absolute exceptionalism that has caused the US to not only charge into conflicts unbidden, but also to regularly ignore basic international statutes and treaties when it finds it convenient to do so. In order to entrench the institutions into which it has poured so much blood and treasure, the United States must accept that those institutions must bind it too if they are to have any credibility in the long term.

Third, the United States must seek to engage the rising powers on terms that will allow for their acceptance of, and integration into the international system. China in particular must be coaxed into buying into the system. By continuing and expanding economic cooperation, while at the same time utilizing America’s significant influence in Asia and the Pacific to cajole China into participation in, rather than antagonism toward, its neighbors and the global community. All of this will take considerable effort from America’s leaders, who must learn better to use their waning influence carefully and effectively. An important part of that would be to secure free trade as an international norm so far as is possible and to allow the free market, rather than military muscle or government coercion, lead global affairs.

Ultimately it is not a matter of whether the United States will lose its position of near invulnerability, but of when. And as that when seems sooner than anyone expected, the timetable for action must be accelerated. The window of opportunity is at best a few decades wide, and we must hope America does not squander its unique opportunity to leave its permanent imprint upon the global order. Because, it is not only a matter of America making for itself a comfortable set-up for retirement from preeminence, but rather it is also a matter of guaranteeing peace, security, and liberty for all nations.

It is in the manifest interest of the international community that the remarkable peace and stability that exists today be maintained into the future. The world has, through history, been an extremely dangerous place, fraught with violence and conflict. Certainly, the institutional and ideological model underpinning the current system is not perfect, and has been faced with many strong and legitimate criticisms, but the system has been truly unique in its ability to maintain lasting peace, and to foster trade and cooperation between and across states on a global scale.

The American Peace can be different and longer lasting than its predecessors, but only if it is a peace that is built by, not dominated by, America.

Categories: On the Blog

Environmentalists Use Environmental Justice to Kill Millions Per Year

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 8:36 AM

Environmentalists are enlisting minority groups such as African-Americans and Latinos to help them stop use of fossil fuels in the name of ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.   They claim minorities suffer more from health effects due to fossil fuel use because they live closer to power plants.  Thus we need to replace fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy sources of solar and wind.  No thought is given to higher priced electricity that results from these energy sources and how this impacts minority communities.

Based on faulty science, the environmental movement has called for banning use of the following products:

1.  DDT is banned for alleged weakening of bird eggshells.

2.  Genetic modified foods, such as corn and rice, must be banned for alleged health effects.

3.  Nuclear power should be banned because it is unsafe and spreads nuclear weapons proliferation.

4.  Greenpeace wants to ban chlorine.

5.  Fossil fuel use should be banned because of health effects and catastrophic global warming caused by carbon dioxide from combustion.

The banning of DDT in Africa has allowed the spread of malaria throughout Africa with hundreds of millions sickened and annual deaths estimated at over 600,000.  There is no evidence genetic modified foods produce adverse health effects and there loss has led to food shortages and adverse health effects in Asia and Africa.  Nuclear power is demonstrated as one of the safest methods of electric power generation and its use extends the life of fossil fuels.  Chlorine is used to treat drinking water and a ban would put the earth in peril;  millions would die annually. The world’s vast supply of coal, oil, and natural gas allow cheap electricity for the whole planet with its life-saving benefits.

Problems with Africa

A June 29, 2014, article in Forbes Electrify African and Save Hundreds of Millions of Lives” by Jude Clemente quantifies the tragedies of life living in Sub-Sahara Africa because of electricity shortages.  One factor for shortages is the environmental movement’s demands electricity generation fossil-fuel free.  The article is so compelling it is given in entirety at the end of this note.  Particular interest is the table Africa’s Forgotten Calamity:  Electricity Deprivationshows speech’s by politicians who preach problems of global warming when talking about Africa and neglect to mention electricity shortages.  These comments are made in the name of environmental justice.

Urbanizing the World

In a later Forbes July 22, 2014 article, “Urbanization:  Reducing Poverty and Helping the Environment“, Jude Clemente showed how urbanization reduced poverty and helped improve the environment.  The planet went from 29 % living in cities in 1950, to 39 % in 1980, to 53% now, and to an estimated 70 % of a 9.6 billion population by 2050.  Urbanization makes it easier to supply energy to the population, reduces pollution because it is easier to control, and leaves more land as free space.  He wrote, “In particular, coal-based China and India are in the midst of the largest urbanizations in world history, and it will continue for decades.”

There is a direct correlation between poverty level and annual electricity use in kilowatt-hours (kw-hr) per year per capita.  These extremes range from 13,500 kw-hr per capita in the United States to 75 kw-hr per capita in Ethiopia where 75% of the population lacks power.   Fossil fuels are concentrated energy forms and require less land areas than renewable sources such a solar, wind, biomass, and biofuels.  Thus fossil fuels are necessary to uplift the world from poverty.  The environmental movement’s attempts to ban fossil fuels are a killing form of environmental justice.

EPA Jumps Into the Fight

A July 24 EPA News Release:

EPA Issues Policy Supporting Tribal and Indigenous Communities

WASHINGTON – Today, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy signed theEPA Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, reinforcing the agency’s commitment to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis when issues of environmental justice arise.

“All tribal and indigenous communities deserve environmental and public health protection. Through this agreement, we are reinforcing our commitment to tribal communities, especially in addressing issues of Environmental Justice,” said Administrator McCarthy.  “We know that tribes are uniquely impacted by a changing climate, which highlights the importance of this agreement and other agency actions, including funding research through the STAR Tribal health grants.”

More information on:

EPA Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples
Details of Program– EPA’s Plan EJ 2014

Whether EPA’s plans for environmental justice for Tribal and Indigenous Communities improves or makes lives more miserable requires more study.

It is quite apparent fossil fuels are necessary to combat poverty in the world and their use will not be banned on a global basis.    Attempts to ban fossil fuel use in the United States are futile and not worth wasting time for discussion.  Some Christian organizations have jumped onto the ban of fossil fuels in the name of environmental justice.  It is hard to reconcile this type of reasoning when a basic principle of Christianity is to help the less fortunate.

Categories: On the Blog

The Carbon Tax Scam

Somewhat Reasonable - July 31, 2014, 8:00 AM

In a recent appearance before a congressional committee, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told them that the agency’s proposed sweeping carbon-regulation plan was “really an investment opportunity. This is not about pollution control.”

If the plan isn’t about pollution, the primary reason for the EPA’s existence, why bother with yet more regulation of something that is not a pollutant—carbon dioxide—despite the Supreme Court’s idiotic decision that it is. Yes, even the Court gets things wrong.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is vital to all life on Earth, but most particularly to every piece of vegetation that grows on it. Top climatologists tell me that it plays a very small role, if any, in the Earth’s climate or weather. Why would anyone expect a gas that represents 400 parts per million of all atmospheric gases, barely 0.04% of all atmospheric gases to have the capacity to affect something as huge and dynamic as the weather or climate?

When something as absurd as the notion the U.S. must drastically reduce its CO2 emissions is told often enough by a wide range of people that include teachers, the media, scientists, politicians, and the President, people can be forgiven for believing this makes sense.

What Gina McCarthy was demonstrating is her belief that not only the members of Congress are idiots, but all the rest of us are as well.

Faking Climate Data

“The science is clear. The risks are clear. We must act…” Sorry, Gina, a recent issue of Natural News, citing the Real Science website, reported “(in) what might be the largest scientific fraud ever uncovered, NASA and the NOAA have been caught red-handed altering historical temperature data to produce a ‘climate change narrative’ that defies reality.”  As reported in The Telegraph, a London daily, “NOAA’s U.S. Historical Climatology Network has been ‘adjusting’ its record by replacing real temperatures with data ‘fabricated’ by computer models.”

The EPA has been on the front lines of destroying coal-fired plants that produce the bulk of the nation’s electricity, claiming, like the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth that coal is “dirty” and must be eliminated from any use.

On July 29, CNSnews reported that “For the first time ever, the average price for a kilowatthour of electricity in the United States has broken through the 14-cent mark, climbing to a record 14.3 cents in June, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

A Carbon Tax

What the Greens want most of all is a carbon tax; that is to say, a tax on CO2 emissions. It is one of the most baseless, destructive taxes that could be imposed on Americans and we should take a lesson from the recent experience that Australians had when, after being told by a former prime minister, Julia Gillard, that she would not impose the tax, she did. They get rid of her andthen got rid of the tax!

As Daniel Simmons, the vice president of policy at the American Energy Alliance, wrote in Roll Call “Australia is now the first country to eliminate its carbon tax. In doing so, it struck a blow in favor of sound public policy.”  Initiated in 2012, the tax had imposed a $21.50 charge (in U.S. dollars), increasing annually, on each ton of carbon dioxide emitted by the country’s power plants.” At the time President Obama called it “good for the world”, but Australians quickly found it was not good for them or their economy.

Favored by several Democratic Senators that include New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Alaska’s Mark Begich, and North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, the Heritage Foundation, based on data provided by the Energy Information Administration, took a look at the impact that a proposed U.S. carbon tax would have and calculated that it “would cut a family of four’s income by nearly $2,000 a year while increasing its electricity bills by more than $500 per year. It would increase gas prices by 50 cents per gallon. It could eliminate more than a million jobs in the first few years.”

Simmons noted that “It only took (Australians) two years of higher prices, fewer jobs, and no environmental benefits before they abandoned their carbon tax.”

We don’t need, as Gina McCarthy told the congressional committee, “investments in renewables and clean energy” because billions were wasted by Obama’s “stimulus” and by the grants and other credits extended to wind and solar energy in America. They are the most expensive, least productive, and most unpredictable forms of energy imaginable, given that neither the wind nor the sun is available full-time in the way fossil fuel generated energy is. Both require backup from coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy plants.

In addition to all the other White House efforts to saddle Americans with higher costs, it has now launched a major effort to push its “climate change” agenda with a carbon tax high on its list. A July 29 article in The Hill reported that “Obama is poised to sidestep Congress with a new set of executive actions on climate change.”

If we don’t jump-start our economy by tapping into the jobs and revenue our vast energy reserves represent, secure our southern border, and elect a Congress that will rein in the President, the U.S. risks becoming a lawless banana republic. Carbon taxes are one more nail in the national coffin.


[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Americans Have Nowhere to Hide from the Tax Man

Somewhat Reasonable - July 30, 2014, 10:43 AM

America is supposed to be the land of the free, yet it has one of the most vicious tax regimes in the rich world. Once blessed with comparatively low tax rates and levels of regulation, businesses and entrepreneurs flocked to the United States from the sclerotic systems of Europe (and elsewhere). Now American businesses are fleeing America’s shores and foreign-born entrepreneurs are less inclined to come at all.

What happened? Basically, America has stood still while other countries have been improving their business and market climates. Today America’s corporate tax rate of 35% is far above the OECD average. Personal income tax rates are still a bit lower in America than in Europe, but the federal government has worked hard to erode that advantage by other means.

One major government imposition on American citizens is its tax on foreign income. The United States is one of the only civilized countries to actually force its citizens to pay taxes on income gained abroad. That means Americans working in foreign countries, and thus not taking or using any American social services, still have to pay income tax to Uncle Sam. So Americans trying to work abroad are confronted with a huge disadvantage: After paying the income tax to the country in which they actually live, the American government gets a cut.

There is little possible justification for such an imposition. Evidently Americans are so indebted for the gift of citizenship that they have to pay a fee to keep it. That is directly contrary to the idea of the social contract as it is generally understood. Most countries tax their citizens (and non-citizens for that matter) for the economic activity conducted within their borders. That is where they have preeminence as the sole governmental bodies as sovereign states. Yet the United States believes it can claim that foreign income for itself, simply because the generator of the income holds an American passport.

Apparently American citizens are so free that they have the privilege to pay for Uncle Sam’s spending even if they have no inclination to live in the United States. So long as they hold that passport they will be milked for all they are worth. That attitude creates a real incentive for Americans moving abroad to not come home. It antagonizes foreign countries that see America extending its grubby begging cup all over the world without regard for sovereign borders.

America should join the rest of the world and end its backward taxation policy. Individuals working and living in America ought to pay the taxes the government levies on them. It makes no sense at all for them to pay for a country they do not live in.

Categories: On the Blog
Syndicate content