On the Blog

The Secret Danger Liberals Don’t Want You to Know: Fracking is Safe

Somewhat Reasonable - January 02, 2014, 5:30 PM

Hydraulic fracturing started out as an “exploding torpedo” back in 1865. Today, nearly 150 years later, the actual process has made giant technological strides, but now, it’s the topic that’s explosive.

While the White House has been encouraging Christmas dinner table conversation to center around Obamacare, in my experience, it is fracking that came into the conversation—and when it did, the results had the potential to be as explosive as the early practice.

Over the holidays two young adults came home for Christmas. Somehow hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” came into the conversation. Dad, a reader of my column whose employment is also peripherally connected to the oil-and-gas industry, spoke up in support of the practice that has unleashed America’s natural resources and made us the world leader in energy production. His children, and their friends who had gathered in his home, were shocked and spouted the usual claims of water contamination, harsh chemicals, and flaming faucets. The topic became so explosive that his kids packed up and left before the festivities even began.

I was in California for Christmas. I visited a cousin in Napa Valley whose adult son is in the wine business. He was at her home when I arrived. She told him what I do and stated that he had many friends in the oil-and-gas business. I smiled and said: “I can talk oil, gas, coal, nuclear, fracking, whatever…” My cousin quickly interrupted and stated: “We probably don’t want to talk fracking.” I took the hint, and we moved on to another topic. Driving back to my brother’s house, I wondered: “When did fracking become an explosive topic.”

With the Christmas prime rib consumed, my family and friends were still gathered around the table. Once again fracking came up. I shared the previous two recent stories. One woman asserted that if her sister, who was arriving in a few days from Boulder, Colorado, was there and we talked fracking, the results would be explosive, too.

Because they are not in the industry, I found that the group gathered around our table had misconceptions about the process that they’d picked up from the media.

While I don’t have an exact date when the topic of fracking became explosive, I do know, from my speaking and writing on the topic, from radio interviews with listener call-ins, and private conversations, that the explosive reactions are due to a lack of understanding about the process—with the two biggest concerns being about water and chemicals.


As I’ve written previously, there are accusations that fracking is taking billions of gallons of water out of the hydrologic cycle. Especially in the southwest where water is scarce and drought conditions persist, this poses a problem.

The process of hydraulic fracturing has advanced from the first nitroglycerin “torpedo” that was shot down a well hole on April 25, 1865, and well acidizing that was used in the 1930s to enhance productivity, to the modern mix of high pressure, water, and chemicals—and it continues to evolve and become more economical.

In a piece addressing water used in fracking, The Economist describes the process this way: “Water injected at high pressure into rock deep underground during the process of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ often returns to the surface as brine, having picked up a lot of salt on its journey. It is also contaminated with chemicals from the fracking process itself.”

Today, less and less freshwater is being used—especially in the arid southwest where water for drinking and agriculture is at a premium. A typical frack job can use as much as 5 million gallons of water and lasts about 3 days. The procedure can result in decades of oil or gas production.

With the development of new technologies, the fracking process can be done with brackish water that may be as much as ten times as salty as seawater. A recentreport from Reuters, titled “Fracking without freshwater at a west Texas oil field,” documents some of the advancements. Billions of gallons of brackish water are located far below the fresh water aquifers. Producers in west Texas are fracking with the brackish water from the Santa Rosa aquifer. They are then recycling the produced water—a byproduct of oil and natural gas drilling, and the flowback water—the fluid pushed back out of the well during fracking. Both forms of wastewater have historically been trucked to underground disposal wells.

A couple of months ago, I participated in the Executive Oil Conference in Midland, Texas where a panel of water experts addressed the crowd of more than 800 attendees and discussed the new technologies.

Now, instead of trucking wastewater to a remote location, mobile systems can treat the water onsite and condition it to meet almost any specification the driller wants—resulting in a reduction of expensive truck traffic. The portable systems can treat 20,000-30,000 barrels of water per day. For bigger frack jobs, additional units can be added—making the system totally flexible.

These new water solutions can reduce the total dissolved solids in the water from as high as 200,000 to below 200. For reference, the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for drinking water is 500. The same water can be recycled and used over and over again. Addressing the new technologies, James Welch, Global Business Development Manager, Water Solutions, with Halliburton, told the crowd: “Produced water is not a waste. It is an opportunity. It is an offset to freshwater usage.” Halliburton is able to fracture with water that’s 280,000 TDS.

The result of these new procedures is, according to The Economist: “Clean water …pure enough to be used for irrigation, or even drinking water. …Alternatively, it can be re-injected into the ground during the next frack.”

Rather than taking water out of the hydrologic cycle, the oil-and-gas industry is actually often taking formerly unusable water, using it in fracking and then cleaning it up to a level where it can be introduced into the cycle as either irrigation or drinking water.

Stan Weiner, Chairman and CEO at STW Resources, was one of the panelists. He summed up the new water solutions by saying: “Now we’ve figured out a way to clean it up economically. There’s no reason not to use it. Companies nationwide, worldwide, all want to do this. We get no resistance from them. They want to see it work. It’s a go.”

GE (as addressed in The Economist), Apache Corp. (as covered by Reuters), Halliburton, and STW Resources are just a handful of the many companies, which are developing revolutionary water treatment processes that neuter one of the biggest arguments against fracking.


In our Christmas conversation, someone asked: “Why do they need chemicals? Why don’t they just frack with water?” She’d heard stories.

I explained that the so-called chemicals are needed to provide lubrication for the tiny particles of sand that hold open microscopic cracks in the “fractured” rock that allow the oil or gas to escape. “As a woman, I am sure you’ve had your fingers swell. That makes it hard to get your rings off.” She nodded. “What do you do then?” I queried. “Soap my hands up,” she replied.


That is the role the chemicals play in the fracking process. But those chemicals are now mostly food-based and can be consumed with no ill effects—both Governor Hickenlooper (D-CO) and CNBC’s Jim Cramer have had a drink.

So, even if the chemicals did somehow defy geology and migrate several miles from the fracked well through the layers of sedimentary rock to the aquifer, they are not harmful.

To illustrate the point, I am in the process of organizing what I am calling “the great New Mexico fracktail party.” I have several state legislators lined up—and am looking for more. I need to find an operator who is willing to invite us onsite when a frack job is being done. The legislators, industry folks, and anyone else who wants to participate, will be invited to the location with cocktail glass in hand (umbrella, fruit, olive—whatever—included). With media cameras rolling we’ll pour the fracfluid from the tank to our glasses and toast to American energy freedom.

My sister-in-law asked: “What about the flaming faucets?” “Those are real,” I explained. “But they have nothing to do with fracking.” Natural gas, or methane, was found in water wells long before any fracking was done in the area. In fact, it was the gassy smell that often alerted explorers to the potential oil and gas in the region. Oil-and-gas drilling didn’t cause the flaming faucet phenomenon. Quite the contrary. The presence of gas near the surface brought about the “don’t smoke in the shower” adage. While the water is harmless to consume, a gas build up in the house could cause an explosion.

Lies about hydraulic fracturing are rampant. If fossil fuel opponents can spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about fracking—with the goal of causing a federal fracking ban, they can virtually stop oil-and-gas development in America, as it is estimated that 90 percent of producing wells have been fracked. Without American ingenuity and increasing production, gasoline prices and utility bills will skyrocket. Economic ruin will reign. America will, once again be beholden to increasingly hostile foreign sources.

A fracking conversation shouldn’t be explosive. Today’s hydraulic fracturing is really benign, American technology that is ecologically sound and economically advantageous. Keep these facts in mind. As my stories illustrate, not everyone will listen—but if more people, such as my brother and sister-in-law, know the truth they can help de-fuse the explosive conversation.

[Originally published on Townhall.com]
Categories: On the Blog

New Obamacare ‘Fee’ Assails Small Business and Jobs

Somewhat Reasonable - January 02, 2014, 7:26 AM

Jobs, jobs, and jobs are on the minds of legislators, as they should be, not only at the federal level, but also here in Illinois.

On October 24, 2011, President Obama said:

Without a doubt, the most urgent challenge that we face right now is getting our economy to grow faster and to create more jobs.  . . .  We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.

Counter productive was the Obama administration’s jobs plan based on a greening of the economy. Candidate Barack Obama said in 2008 that he would create five million well-paying “green” jobs within 10 years.

Solar panel company, Solyndra, was one of many boondoggle companies that went belly up after being the recipient of government largess (taxpayer’s money) through stimulus funds intended to boost the green economy. A Johnson Controls plant in Michigan, toured by Obama to much fanfare in 2011, was able to produce 150 jobs with its $300 million in conservation grants at a cost of $1 million per position.

Despite Obama’s initial pledge to create millions of well-paying green jobs, 88% of all jobs created in 2013 were “part-time” jobs. Considered a plus was that the unemployment rate declined in November of 2013 from 7.3% to 7.0%, although millions still remain out of work, not counted because they are no longer looking for work.

How did Illinois fare in 2013 at the state level with job creation? With a ranking of 48 out of 50 states on economic outlook and 47 out of 50 in economic performance, Illinois’ performance could rightly be called dismal and unacceptable. In the Monthly Rankings of Unemployment Rates for States, Illinois was ranked 48th at 8.7% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for November, 2013.

Some areas of Illinois even experienced double the national average of unemployment, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dropped to 7.0% in November (This 7% figures fails to consider those who have dropped out of the work force because they are unable to find jobs.)

Three of the ten top Illinois cities with the worst unemployment in 2013 were: 1) East St. Louis, 14.8%; 2) Harvey, 14.4%; and North Chicago, 14.3%.

Illinois legislators were chided by Illinois Chamber of Commerce President, Doug Whitley, when both the Senate and House failed to follow through on bills offering tax breaks for companies to stay or move to Illinois, but instead left town after the pension vote on Tuesday, December 4. Since lawmakers aren’t due back until January, the issue was pushed ahead into 2014.

According to Brent Pollina, head of Pollina Corporate Real Estate in suburban Chicago, whose firm helps companies find new locations:

It seems like Illinois can’t get its act together. Illinois really is behind the times when it comes to the concept of economic development and helping work with business.

Not so, according to Illinois lawmakers. Their first concern was to deal with the state’s roughly $100 billion pension crisis that had diverted money from other services and had led to repeated credit downgrades. Nevertheless, House Speaker Michael Madigan did tell reporters that “It’s still under consideration” to give tax incentives to corporations when lawmakers return to Springfield in late January.

While other states are in competition to snag large businesses here in Illinois — governors from Texas and Florida have waged public campaigns trying to get Illinois companies to move out of state — it is Illinois’ own messy state finances and incomes taxes that are presenting obstacles to what remains at the heart of America’s engine of growth for economic success and job creation. It is small businesses and start-up companies established through entrepreneurship that create new jobs.  In-state large corporations generally do quite well without incentives, even here in Illinois.

Talk to any small business owner in your community and you will find that many are just barely making it. It is not uncommon for a small business to go bankrupt and go out of business almost overnight.  But what has Illinois does to help small businesses survive in this time of economic uncertainty?

On January 1, a new drag was imposed on small business with a large new tax, compliments of Obamacare. It is the levy on health insurance premiums that targets small business and individual markets. Although the IRS classifies the tax as a “fee”, it functions like an excise tax on premiums.

Most gold-plated public, private and labor plans are exempt from the “fee” IRS regulations imposed last November which excluded “any entity that is a self-insured employer to the extent that such employer self-insures its employees’ health risks.” This political selectivity means that the tax burden will fall on those who work for small businesses, the self-employed and individuals. These are the people who can least afford the large, new Obamacare tax.

According to the research arm of the National Federation of Independent Business, these higher insurance costs will shrink hiring by 146,000 to 262,000 jobs over the next decade, with 59% of the losses hitting small business. Also prevalent will be the temptation to dump insurance coverage and send workers to the mercies of Obamacare, which most likely was the preferred outcome from the start.

Editorial page editor Paul Gigot discusses the new health-care tax on premiums that starts on January 1 via a video presentation at: Opinion: “Obamacare’s Coming Assault on Small Business.”

In case you’re feeling safe and secure from the reaches of Obamacare, not so fast! Surprises will be in store for you on your insurance premiums and income tax bills. Taxes and fees will be listed as a line item titled “Affordable Care Act Fees and Taxes.”

The government thinks we should surrender without complaint even though it is trying to make us buy something many of us don’t want. To add insult upon insult, government is now forcing us to pay additional taxes for what the government is demanding we buy, taxes that are set to increase year after year.

In my mind this results in the government’s confiscation of our liberty and freedom. What about you?

[First posted at Illinois Review.]

Categories: On the Blog

Obama’s 2014 Big Lie: Income Inequality

Somewhat Reasonable - January 02, 2014, 12:12 AM

As the liberal disaster called Obamacare unfolds, President Barack Obama is already embarked on his next Big Lie: income inequality.

It’s useful to visit some of the planks of Karl Marx’s 1848 Communist Manifesto. They included abolition of private property — the keystone of capitalism — and the application of all rents of land to a public purpose. Marx advocated a heavy progressive or graduated income tax whereas a fair tax that treats all Americans fairly by taxing what you spend instead of what you earn. The current tax code is more than 73,000 pages! Marx wanted to eliminate all rights of inheritance and centralize credit by means of a national bank.

What Obama is talking about is socialism/communism when he claims that income inequality must be altered by more government intrusion into our lives and his claims are false. He said that “a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” is “the defining challenge of our time.”

His objective is to further divide Americans by promising what government cannot and should not deliver. This is now the Democratic Party theme leading up to the midterm elections in November. He is right about one thing, only economic growth can provide the opportunity for Americans to increase their personal incomes, provide a choice of investments, and save more for the future. In his first five years in office, economic growth has been historically slow.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion commentary by Robert A. Grady he cites a 2011 study by Lee Ohanian and Kip Hagopian, “The Mismeasure of Inequality”, that concluded that “inequality actually declined 1.8% during the 16-year period between 1993 and 2009.” According to studies by the U.S. Treasury, the capitalist system in America, providing mobility (up or down), found that “considerable income mobility” in the decades 1987-1996 and 1996-2005, found that approximately half of those in the bottom income quintile in 1996 had moved to a higher quintile by 2005. They were decades, the 1980s and 1990s, in which the vast majority of Americans gained higher incomes.

In the past four and a half years since the recession officially ended, poor people and the middle class were hurt the most and opportunity slowed. Under Obama millions of Americans are out of work and dependent on government programs such as food stamps and unemployment compensation. The later ended for many on December 31. The inequality that Obama cites is the direct result of the failure of his economic programs as well as a dramatic surge in federal regulations that harm economic growth.

The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — is discouraging full-time employment. According to Gallup’s payroll-to-population ratio, the proportion of the American population working full-time, has dropped almost two percentage points in the last year to 43.8%. Wall Street Journal columnist noted that Obama spent 2013 fund-raising for the Democratic Party “making 30 separate visits to wealthy donors” at “more than twice the rate of the president’s two-term predecessors. On the day following the September 11, 2012 attack that killed an American ambassador and three others in Benghazi, Obama flew to Las Vegas on a fund-raising trip.

In the year ahead you will hear him cite figures based on 1979 income rates to justify his call for more opportunity, but in 1979 the mean (average) household income of the bottom 20% of wage earners was $4,000. By 2012, it was $11.499, an increase of 186%. For the middle class, the increase was 211%. Despite the 2008 financial crisis, it still rose.

Did the rich get richer? Yes. But the rich earn their money from inheritance, from business development (jobs) and investment. Under communism there is no inheritance; the state gets it all. And the state owns the factories and instruments of production, as well as collectivizing agriculture. It maintains a “progressive” or graduated income tax.

Does the political theme of income inequality work? Bill de Blasio, New York’s new mayor, ran on an income inequality platform and will be sworn in by former President Bill Clinton who will be accompanied by his wife, Hillary.

Income inequality will be the theme of Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union speech, but like everything else he says it will be a Big Lie.

[First published at Warning Signs.]

Categories: On the Blog

‘Tis is Still the Season for Giving to These Groups, All Through 2014

Somewhat Reasonable - January 02, 2014, 12:05 AM

Happy New Year to all! Along with the Holiday Season are inspirations that good citizens need to return gifts to benefit those less fortunate. From my activities, it is easy to find areas for donations that help the poor cope with expenses of energy use.

Most don’t think simple items like paying electric bills are a hardship. For the unemployed and extremely poor these are almost life-or-death choices.  Great help is available through Project Share administered by the Salvation Army. This is assistance to help the hopeless pay utility bills.

In Georgia, you can make a donation on your electric bill which is matched by Georgia Power. Donations are matched by Georgia Power Company; so if you don’t like them, make a big donation and cut into company profits. Project Share has given over $100 million to poor Georgians the past 30 years.  Similar programs exist in other states. Make your donation now!!

High energy bills for electricity, heating oil, natural gas, and gasoline are far more punishing to the unfortunate than for average citizens. With government policies directed toward higher energy costs, the situation for the poor becomes even more hopeless.

The federal government, most states, and even many local municipalities have subscribed to the idea that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels causes uncontrollable global warming with catastrophic climate events. As a consequence, they place roadblocks for fossil fuel production and mandate use of a vast variety of “renewable energy sources” that are far more expensive than our abundant fossil fuel resources of coal, oil, and natural gas.

In many cases “renewable energy sources” are not renewable and create far more economic and environmental problems than they are alleged to solve. This global warming scare activism is a global problem that is locking developing nations (like in Africa) into perpetual poverty and reducing living standards for those in developed nations like in Europe and North America.

Without impediments to fossil fuel energy use, energy costs would decrease, millions of new jobs would be created, and, billions, if not a trillion, of annual revenue generated in the United States alone. The global benefits are extraordinary.

To slow down this anti-fossil-fuel train charging to disaster, there is a host of organizations staffed with thousands of volunteers educating the public about the nonsense of fossil-fuel caused global warming and impractical, uneconomic, and unreliable energy sources proposed as solutions. These organizations have expenses for maintaining office space, phones and computers, publication materials, mailing, hosting conferences, travel, and office salaries.  Most organizations are 501(c) 3 organizations for which donations are tax deductible.

So in a sense donations to energy advocacy organizations produces the same results as giving money to the poor because their accomplishments decrease energy costs for the unfortunate.  A few organizations with links for making donations follow.  My apology for not listing the hundreds of other organizations toiling so hard to educate the public about efforts to make radical changes to global energy use.

1.  The Heartland Institute. A Chicago-based libertarian think tank that sponsored eight international conferences on climate science, published many thousands of pages of scientific articles refuting United Nations publications promoting the global warming scare, and a vast array of other activities. Donations are made with this link.

2.  Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). A Washington-based group that collaborated with The Heartland Institute on thousands of pages of scientific articles refuting United Nations publications, publishes a weekly summary of pertinent articles on climate science and energy, and a host of other activities.  Donations are made with this link.

3.  Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). A Washington-based group that published numerous articles on climate science and energy policy, attends United Nations Conferences to refute global warming scare information, and a host of other activities.  Donations are made with this link.

4.  Cornwall Alliance. The Cornwall Alliance is a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a proper and balanced view of nature and the environment.  They publish numerous articles refuting the global warming scare, provided speakers for news and religious meetings, and a host of other activities.  Donations are made with this link.

Support energy advocacy groups because they need funds to accomplish their mission. Organizations pushing the global warming scare have access to billions of tax dollars and donations from those who profit from their assistance.

Categories: On the Blog

There Is No Denying Mother Nature

Somewhat Reasonable - January 01, 2014, 11:09 PM

A retrospective analysis of the year 2013 reveals one humiliating defeat after another for contemporary ecotheologians as various climatic and political events served to further undermine their case for man-made climate change.

For starters, a number of Western governments rejected United Nations climate change protocols. Australia (Tony Abbott, whose platform featured a rejection of climate change hokum, was elected prime minister), Japan (the country dramatically scaled back its 2009 carbon emissions pledges) and Poland (which fired its environmental minister just days into the COP-19/Conference of Parties climate change forum) all sent a clear message that they would not be bound to any economically destructive international agreements based on fraudulent science.

In terms of COP-19 “accomplishments,” the Obama administration pledged to have U.S. carbon reduction targets in place by the 2015 Paris conference and there was a loose agreement on a “loss and damage” (a wealth redistribution scheme compensating developing countries for damages from greenhouse gas emissions with funds from developed countries) plan. Such “commitments” are best to be taken with a grain of salt, however, given the poor record of nations keeping such promises.

One 2013 event that held out hope for man-made climate change advocates was Typhoon Haiyan, a category 4 storm that struck the Philippines in early November. Having recast their focus on “extreme weather events” (instead of rising temperatures) as the litmus test for the existence of man-made climate change, the alarmists viewed Haiyan as a godsend.

In the wake of the storm, the main stream media and climate change alarmists trumpeted their message of linkage between climate change and the storm’s intensity. Following the hyperbole emanating from these messengers of doom, however, a number of scientific analyses and historical hurricane records were published that conclusively debunked any such linkage. In fact, claims of causality between purported climate change and Haiyan’s intensity carried about as much water as similar calls linking “super storm” Sandy and climate change the year before.

The typhoon was the highlight of a normally active Pacific hurricane season, but the Atlantic Basin was quite tranquil with the region experiencing the fewest number of hurricanes in 30 years. Of thirteen named storms, only two became hurricanes and only one of these made landfall in the U.S. Mexico experienced a total of eight storms, with three making landfall as hurricanes. Of greater significance, however is the long term record that shows no trend of increase in the number or severity of U.S. hurricanes since 1990 (2013: Slowest Hurricane Season in 30 Years, Anthony Watts, November 25, 2013).

And what about those global sea ice trends? Perhaps one should ask those aboard the MV Akademik Scholkalskiy, the misfit bunch of researchers and tourists who went venturing off to the Antarctic to see how climate change was affecting sea ice. Well, to paraphrase a famous play, a funny thing happened on the way to the Douglas Mawson base camp (the researchers mission was to recreate the 1912 exploits of the Australian scientist).

The latest news was that the ship was stuck in ice 15-feet thick with attempts by several other ships to rescue the crew members rendered unsuccessful due to similarly poor seafaring conditions. In fact, the latest satellite data shows that Antarctic sea ice is at record highs while Arctic sea ice is up 35% or more from last year’s low levels. Translation: global sea ice is now well above the historical average.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of the alarmist community in 2013 was the IPCC’s release of its Fifth Assessment Report, or AR5, another IPCC publication that came up well short in the credibility column.  Most laughable among the report’s conclusions was the statement claiming improved confidence in projections of rising temperatures despite the increasingly yawning disconnect between actual global temperatures and rising CO2 levels. Thus is the logic of the IPCC. Welcome to the global warming “pause,” 17 years and counting. [Editor: Catch up with the latest definitive rebuttal to IPCC alarmism, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change or NIPCC.]

In an effort to refute this widening decoupling, the “true believers” like Heidi Cullen continued to grasp for straws, claiming that the earth’s warming is taking place in the deep ocean with the effects to become more profound in the future. The problem with people like Heidi Cullen, Al Gore and NOAA’s James Hansen, is that their predicted apocalyptic events are always in the future, thus in order to avoid accountability.

Categories: On the Blog

A Rational Look at Global Warming Defies Hype and Conjecture

Somewhat Reasonable - December 31, 2013, 12:33 AM

It was on September 27 that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered to massive media coverage an unsettling message: Climate change is real, humans are the main cause of it, and unless we stop the warming of the planet, in 50 years life as we know it will be no more.

A little more than a week before, on Sept. 18, a dueling climate change report was issued (published by Chicago’s Heartland Institute) by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science.

The NIPCC report, in keeping with past precedent, was not accorded the same fanfare as received by the UN’s IPCC report upon its release. To the contrary, media attention for Heartland’s NIPCC report was practically nonexistent as was observed at the Sept. 18 press conference held by Heartland in Chicago to announce the release of its report.

As a skeptic of global warming, a welcome mat does not exist in Chicago for The Heartland Institute as its message goes against the accepted media message of the Chicago Tribune, etc., that global warming is man-made with CO2 as the main culprit.

A slew of scathing reports followed the release of Heartland’s NIPCC report, such as this from Climate Science Watch:

The discredited Heartland Institute is attempting to present its new NIPCC report, Climate Change Reconsidered, as a legitimate alternative authority to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  But the NIPCC report is not a credible scientific undertaking, and the Heartland Institute has no credibility, scientific or otherwise.

To protect the stellar credentials of The Heartland Institute, President Joseph Bast offered the following essay:

We urge the public to compare and contrast these two reports on what is probably the most important public policy issue of our age. The NIPCC report was produced by a team of independent scientists with no agenda other than to find the truth. . . .  The IPCC study, in contrast, is produced by a government agency, part of the United Nations. That agency’s mission is to find a human impact on climate. . . .

The NIPCC report finds the human impact on climate is very small, and as a result, any warming that may be due to human greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be so small as to be invisible against a background of natural variability. The authors of the NIPCC study do not believe man-made global warming is a crisis, or that scientists know enough about how the climate works to make policy-relevant recommendations to the world’s government leaders.

Without question President Obama and his administration are in lock step with the UN’s highly flawed report that calls for action now to fight climate change before time runs out.  Accordingly, it’s full steam ahead for Obama and his administration.

On November 1, Obama offered a presidential directive to “enhance climate preparedness and resilience.”  The directive calls for an interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in partnership with state, county, local and tribal governments, by which Obama aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels.  Even the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline hinges upon a determination of what will be the net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate.

But what do the American people think?  Might they be seeing through the story they are being fed by the mainstream media? According to the Pew Research Center’s policy priorities survey, this year the American public ranked dealing with global warming at the very bottom of 21 listed priorities. Even so 35% of Republicans, 53% of independents, and 75% of Democrats believe there is solid evidence of rising temperatures on earth.

According to Michael Bastasch, the American people should be holding their champagne glasses high this holiday season as the end of 2013 marks the 17th year without global warming. Explaining away the 17-year hiatus in global despite the setbacks noted below, can be achieved only if political ideology is permitted to trump proven scientific facts.

The following top seven global warming alarmist setbacks of 2013 were posted on December 20 by Mr. Bastasch from content compiled by The Daily Caller News Foundation:

1) Studies show that the world was warmer than it is today during the Roman Empire and when the Vikings were plundering Europe and North America. In fact, even in the 19th Century, there were discussions surrounding the fact that the Vikings could settle the northernmost reaches of Greenland and North America because there was less ice coverage.

2) During the second week in December, the U.S. saw more than 2000 record low temperatures and record snowfalls, according to the National Weather Service and HamWeather records center. There were 606 record low temperatures, 1,234 low maximum temperatures and 285 record snowfalls across the country. In the meantime there were only 98 high temperature records and 141 high minimum temperature records.

3) Satellite data shows that the polar bears have at least one reason to be happy this year – Arctic sea ice coverage was up 50 percent over last year’s record low coverage. Contrary to Al Gore’s prediction that there would be no polar ice cap by this year, sea ice coverage spanned nearly 2,100 cubic miles by the end of this year’s melting season, up from about 1,400 cubic last year.

4) Global cooling is on the way, according to an increasing number of scientists. German scientists have predicted that based on declining sunspot activity and natural climate oscillation the world will cool over the next century. Temperatures will eventually drop to levels corresponding with the “little ice age” of 1870.

5) Other scientists have also been coming around to the global cooling side of things. The BBC reported that Professor Mike Lockwood of the Reading University predicts that at the current rate of decline in solar activity, another “Little Ice Age” could envelope Northern Europe.

6) The United Nations climate bureaucracy’s latest global warming report was called “hilarious” by a leading scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Richard Lindzen said the UN’s report “has truly sunk to level of hilarious incoherence” because they continue to proclaim with ever greater certainty that mankind is causing global warming, despite their models continually being wrong.

“Their excuse for the absence of warming over the past 17 years is that the heat is hiding in the deep ocean,” Lindzen said. “However, this is simply an admission that the models fail to simulate the exchanges of heat between the surface layers and the deeper oceans.”

7) The Senate testimony of Dr. Roger Pielke of the University of Colorado completely undercut environmentalists and Democrats trying to claim that global warming was causing “extreme weather.”

“It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally,” Pielke said. “It is further incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases.”

The other witnesses on the panel did not refute Pielke’s data.

Will the Dec. 28 saga of a dramatic spectacle of climate researchers trapped in Antarctic ice (which has expanded massively during 2013) help free the mainstream media of the false global warming ice narrative?  A Chinese ice breaker sent to rescue climate researchers who became trapped in ice on Christmas Day is now itself waiting and is hoping to push aside some of the ten foot thick ice preventing it from reaching the trapped researchers. An Australian ice-breaking ship got stuck in the ice, too.

Hardly so, because the story doesn’t fit the unflinching template held by the mainstream media, just as the same has disregarded John Coleman (founder of The Weather Channel) and various other critics who have called the theory that human use of carbon-based fossil fuels will lead to catastrophic global warming or climate change a hoax, despite an added warning that purposeful deception to mislead might be criminal.

Even if more adults do see through the hoax that is global warming, what about our youth?

The Common Core Science Curriculum teaches children that humans are dangerous to the planet, that man made global warming is an accepted incontrovertible fact even though it is not, and that government action is required to fix global warming even though the taxes the Obama administration would like to impose on carbon dioxide producers would have a negligible effect on global warming but would have a devastating effect on a crumbling economy.

Are parents in the know up to countering the false propaganda being taught their children? And what about the many parents who have no idea or little interest in what their children are being taught in the public schools by way of the new Common Core curriculum.

Only time will tell, but the situation doesn’t offer much hope.

Categories: On the Blog

Don’t Fear ‘Deflation,’ Unless Caused by Government

Somewhat Reasonable - December 30, 2013, 10:34 PM

Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, and his designated successor, Janet Yellen, have defended the central bank’s $4 trillion monetary expansion over the last five years as a necessity to fight recession and prevent deflation. The only problem is that booms and recessions are caused by central banks, and deflation is “bad” only when it is the result of government policy.

It was the five years of easy money policy and interest rate manipulation between 2003 and 2008 that created the unsustainable housing, investment, and consumer spending booms that finally came crashing down in 2008 and 2009. The Federal Reserve’s 50 percent increase in the supply of money and credit in the banking system between 2003 and 2008 generated the illusion that people could do more and spend more than the scarce resources of the society could actually fund and cover.

The recession was a symptom that numerous sectors of the economy had been thrown out of balance during the years of easy money, and that markets needed to rebalance to restore sustainable full employment and long-term wealth-enhancing growth.

Instead of leaving markets alone to find their own levels for that rebalancing of supply and demand, the Federal Reserve continued to pump in even more money into the financial markets – over $4 trillion more into the banking system – and the federal government went on an even larger than usual deficit spending binge – over $4.6 trillion worth between 2009 and 2013.

Rather than assisting a post-recession recovery, these policies – plus other market-harming government interventions, regulations, and manipulations including ObamaCare – have made this the most sluggish recovery, especially in terms of employment, in the entire period since the end of World War II in 1945.

At the same time, the Federal Reserve leadership has argued that its “quantitative easing” policies were necessary to prevent the economy from experiencing any significant “deflation,” defined by the monetary authorities as a sustained and continuing fall in the general level of prices.

This is what is behind the unofficial Federal Reserve policy of aiming for a “target” of two percent price inflation, that is a sustained and continuing rise in the general level of prices.

What is considered to be so “damaging” in a general decline or fall in prices throughout the economy? For many economists, including, seemingly, those at the helm at the Federal Reserve, falling prices is considered a sign of economic “bad times.” After all, how can businessmen be making profits and maintain employment if their selling prices are going down?

It is possible to distinguish at least three causal reasons behind any observed general fall in prices, or “price deflation,” and it is worth understanding the affects of each one.

Supply-Side Deflation

A general decline in prices may accompany significant expansions in output resulting from productivity increases and cost efficiencies. One of the competitive forces in the market economy is the never-ending drive of entrepreneurs to bring better and less-expensive goods and services to market for the consuming public.

New technologies and cost-saving innovations introduced within business enterprises enable more goods to be manufactured and sold at lower per-unit costs. Sellers, in one sector of the economy after another, increase their supplies offered on the market, and competitive pressure results in a lowering of the prices of those goods to reflect their lower costs of production. The cumulative effect is that the general level of prices will decline over a period of time.

In the period between the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and 1900, the general level of prices in the United States declined by about 50 percent. While the American economy did experience short periods of economic depression during those years (mostly due to the federal government’s manipulation of the monetary standard), this nearly half-century period was the time of America’s Industrial Revolution, and it saw a dramatic rise in standards of living even though accompanied by an expanding population.

An open, free-market system tends to foster the incentives and profitable rewards for capital investment and innovation that bring forth increasing prosperity. Greater output at falling prices provides people with higher real income as each dollar they earn now buys a larger quantity of goods and services in the marketplace. Supply-side deflation, therefore, is an indication of a growing and dynamic market system that is improving the economic conditions and opportunities of the general population.

For that reason, such supply-side price deflation has often been called the “good deflation.”

Price-Wage Rigidity Deflation and Keynesian Economics

All economic change brings with it shifts in market demand-and-supply conditions. Continuous adjustment and balance within the market requires those affected by change to adapt to the new circumstances. In a world of constant change, the demands for some goods increase while other demands decline.

Innovations and technological advancements as well as changing resource availability bring with it shifts in the demand and supply of various forms of labor and capital. The information about these changes and the incentives to appropriately respond to them are provided to people in the market through changes in the structure of relative prices and wages.

Any failure of prices and wages to correctly reflect the new patterns of market supply and demand only generates distortions, imbalances, and maladjustments between the two sides of the market. Under the influence of Keynesian economics, for most of the last 75 years, the resulting unemployment and falling output due to price and wage rigidities have been called “aggregate-demand failures.”

The presumption has been that the level of total demand for goods and services in the economy in general falls short of the total supply of goods and services available for sale at prices equal to their costs of production. The problem, it is said, is not that prices and wages are “wrong” on the supply side but rather that aggregate spending is “too low” on the demand side. The policy presumption has been that government and its monetary authority must increase total demand, either through government deficit spending or the central bank’s printing money and providing it for private investment and other purposes.

Unemployment as a Supply-Side Pricing Problem

The free-market economist William H. Hutt gave a refutation to this Keynesian reasoning in his two works “A Rehabilitation of Say’s Law” (1974) and “The Keynesian Episode” (1979). Hutt argued that when the Keynesians refer to excess aggregate supply and an apparent weakness of aggregate demand to purchase that supply, they are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

There cannot be an “aggregate” excess supply of everything unless there is a super-abundance of all resource inputs and consumer-demanded outputs, at which point there would no longer be an “economic problem” because there would no longer be scarcity. Why bother whether all are employed when the society has reached the point where it is so rich in all desired things that there is no longer any work left to be done?

What can exist is an oversupply of particular goods relative to the demand for them at the prices at which they are being offered for sale. What is preventing the buying of more of these goods is not that the aggregate demand is “too low” but rather that the particular prices for these goods are set too high, given the consumer demands for them.

In other words, the sellers of these goods or labor services are pricing themselves out of the market. It is the unwillingness of resource owners to price their products and services at levels commensurate with consumer demand that Hutt said were the cause of prolonged depressions.

When a supplier is unwilling to lower his price or wage to induce greater sales when demand for his particular good or service turns out to be less than he had, perhaps, expected, then a part of his supply remains unsold and a portion of the labor services available for hire remains unemployed.

The loss of income due to producers or workers maintaining their supply prices too high relative to actual market demand results in a decrease in their ability to purchase the goods and services of others being offered on the market.

If the suppliers of those goods and services, in turn, refuse to adjust their prices and wages downwards, given the now-lower demand for their output, then the circle of unsold products and unemployed labor starts to expand. A “cumulative contraction” of output and employment may develop in the face of such a network of relatively rigid prices and wages.

Hutt also emphasized that whenever a price or wage that is too high is lowered closer to its equilibrium or market-clearing level, suppliers of those goods and services increase their sales and potentially earn higher income. Their higher incomes from pricing their goods and services more correctly, in turn, enable them to increase their demands for other goods and services and thus start a process of expanding the circle of employment and production opportunities in the market. Market-guided pricing puts the unemployed back to work and releases the flow of demand for a growing circle of goods in the economy.

Monetary Deflation

A general decline in prices can also be brought about by a monetary deflation. A contraction in the supply of money and credit reduces the amount of money in people’s hands with which they can demand the various goods and services they wish to buy in the market. With less money to spend, there invariably results a downward pressure on prices and wages in general in the economy

If there are price and wage rigidities, as just discussed, then the process of restoring balance between market supplies and demands at a required lower scale or level of prices can be dragged out and punctuated by “recessionary” unemployment and lower production.

Under central banking, monetary contractions are government-made. There have been instances when governments have intentionally contracted the money supply. The British government did so after the war with Napoleon in the early 19th century and then again after the First World War in the early 1920s.

Other times it has happened as a result of the central-bank-managed fractional-reserve system, under which outstanding bank liabilities are a multiple of the actual reserves to meet all depositor obligations. In the early 1930s, bank loans went bad, depositors withdrew their funds out of fear of bank closings, and the amount of bank credit outstanding contracted as a multiple of the reserves withdrawn by depositors.

But as we saw, for practically the entire 21st century, so far, the Federal Reserve has been greatly increasing the supply of money and credit to the banking system, both during the “boom” years between 2003 and 2008, and even more “aggressively” during the recession and recovery years between 2008 and 2013. So no monetary deflation or contraction has threatened the U.S. economy.

A Non-Inflationary Free Market Banking System

What we should want is a non-inflationary monetary framework for the United States, through severe restraints on the ability of the Federal Reserve to expand the supply of money and credit, and through an eventual shift away from central banking to a gold, or some other commodity-based, private competitive banking system.

A free, competitive market economy is always rewarding successful entrepreneurs with profits for having made new, better and less expensive goods to earn consumer business. Thus, the normal trend in a free, competitive market is a world of gently falling prices as innovative businessmen bring improved and less expensive goods to consumers.

A truly free market economy, therefore, is one that tends to have the “good deflation,” and we should look forward to it, if only government intervention and central banking would get out of the way.

[First published at Epic Times.]

Categories: On the Blog

Swirling the Bowl: An Administration Goes Down the Drain

Somewhat Reasonable - December 29, 2013, 5:08 AM

If you accidentally dropped your most treasured piece of jewelry into the toilet just as you were flushing, you’d scream, you’d cry, and you might tell a sympathetic friend . . . unless you were just too embarrassed.

Among President Obama’s formerly greatest champions — minorities, unions, so-called journalists and young voters — the swirling-into-oblivion administration has engendered a remarkable sullen silence, given their loss, as they passively give up on recovering their once-loved gem, now sullied by this government’s own political excrement.

Covered with the stench of debacles including Obamacare, the NSA, Syria, Benghazi, the IRS, and the AP, while demonstrating a level of incompetence so great that it must give pause to all but the most committed members of the cult of unlimited government, few liberals will be willing to dig through the muck to reclaim their once-prized possession.

While the media like to focus on Tea Party froth and Republican infighting, the key to the 2014 and 2016 elections is the effect of the Obama flush on his key supporters’ desire to vote for Democrats, or to vote at all.

Several recent polls point to 2014 as having the potential to be a Republican landslide. This is not because the GOP has found a coherent message or a compelling messenger but because Obama’s base has lost that lovin’ feelin’.

A poll released on Monday by Pew Research says that while 90 percent of liberal Democrats still profess approval of how President Obama is doing his job — more than double his approval in the population overall — the percentage who say they “strongly approve” has plunged to 54 percent, down almost 20 percent from just six months ago.

Compared to George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency, Obama has more total support from his base (90 percent of liberal Democrats versus Bush’s 82 percent support among conservative Republicans) but far less “strong support” (54 percent to Bush’s 65 percent). A strong supporter is a likely voter; any other supporter could just as easily stay home on Election Day.

In the 2006 midterm elections, the Bush analog to the upcoming 2014 midterms, with more strong support for President Bush than Obama has now among their respective bases, Democrats picked up 31 seats in the House of Representatives, ending a Republican majority and installing Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker of the House.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up six seats by defeating Republican incumbents.

In the 2006 elections, as Wikipedia notes, “no Congressional or gubernatorial seat held by a Democrat was won by a Republican.”

Six years later, it was no accident that most of Barack Obama’s traffic-snarling trips to key swing states during the 2012 election cycle were visits to universities in Colorado (he visited CU three times in 2012), North CarolinaIowaOhio and elsewhere, offering platitudes about college affordability. Obama was dependent on young, idealistic, and naïve young adults to win re-election.

poll just prior to the election showed that college students preferred Obama to Mitt Romney by 30 percentage points, with an even larger gap in swing states where Obama focused most of his campaigning. And these young adults turned out in much larger numbers than the pundits had expected, with an estimated 50 percent turnout among voters ages 18 to 29, making up 19 percent of the electorate.

One study of the 2012 election concludes that “without young people, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania would have flipped from blue to red,” giving the election to Romney. You don’t need to go that far. If a moderate fraction of young voters were disinclined to participate in an election, or, even more impactfully, switched from Democrat to Republican, it could completely change American elections, many of which are decided by small single-digit percentage changes in voter preferences.

Among young adults those preferences are changing dramatically: A recent Harvard survey of 18- to 29-year olds shows plunging approval of Obama, down to 41 percent (from 52 percent last year), and now tracking with older Americans’ views. Along with a substantial decline in Democratic Party self-identification by 18-24 year olds, 52 percent of that group says they would recall President Obama if they could. And with more recent data, Fox News reported on Wednesday that Obama approval among registered voters under the age of 35 is down to 37 percent, lower than any other age group.

For conservatives, the good news here is substantial. By demonstrating not just incompetence but overt lies the Obama administration is undermining the faith of an increasingly libertarian millennial cohort in the Nanny State and its Democratic pied pipers.

Additionally, the Obama propagandists are — remarkably for people so effective with Facebook and Twitter during the last two presidential elections — showing a strangely off-putting social media aesthetic.

Their latest and perhaps greatest fail is “pajama boy,” an effete plaid-wearing cocoa-sipping geek, as their face of the generic young adult who should sign up for Obamacare.

Appropriately snarky reactions from the Twitterverse include Dana Loesch’s “All-natural birth control right here, ladies” as well as dozens of hilarious mash-ups and photo manipulations.

What typical guy would take guidance from a character whose most common descriptive seems to be “douche”? For that matter, what young woman would?

As Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie points out, “If you think the latest bid to reboot the public image of Obamacare is absolutely godawful, disturbing, pathetic, you name it (I know I do!), I’ve got news for you: You’re probably not the audience for it.”

But the problem for Democrats everywhere is that if the “hipster douchitude on a cracker” is the left’s “in-group,” that is a very thin reed on which to attach a political campaign. Getting the majority of graduate students in the Department of Comparative Lesbian Eskimo Literature isn’t going to win Senate elections, especially in competitive upcoming races in states like Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota, and West Virginia. (Boulder is another story.)

But it’s not just young people who are abandoning the false promise of “hope and change.”

Gallup poll released earlier this month shows massive declines among all of Obama’s core base groups, led by a stunning 23 percent drop in Obama’s approval among Hispanics since last December. Among those earning less than $24,000 a year, the plunge was 18 percent. Nonwhite support of Obama fell 17 percent (though it still remains high at 65 percent). Support among moderates fell 16 percent and among 18-29 year-olds tumbled 15 percent, both resting under 50 percent with groups Democrats must have to win.

And so the Obama presidency circles the drain.

Union members are furious about the impact of Obamacare on their “Cadillac” health plans. In August, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has over 40,000 members in the United States, dissolved their ties with the AFL-CIO based in large part on the AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka’s active role in helping Obamacare become law.

Several other large labor unions are now suffering buyer’s remorse over the ironically named Affordable Care Act. Union dissatisfaction with the Obama administration has become intense enough that even the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein was compelled to report on it.

Among reporters, however, it’s more of a Silver Blaze situation: notable for the lapdogs not barking. Some are reluctantly recognizing that what little credibility they and their profession have left requires telling today’s political stories with near-honesty rather than serving as Obama’s human shields.

Of course there are holdouts: The slavishly pro-Obama NBC News begins a story about the president’s 38 percent job approval in Iowa by saying, “Not that he’s running for anything again.” I’m sure that makes the reporter feel better.

That’s par for the “journalistic” course among the usual old-line news outlets whose J-school-graduate employees are inconsolable as the legacy of their “historic” president swirls in the bowl like Tuesday’s pot roast, substantially less appealing after being fully digested.

And while the Hollywood celebrity elite try to stand their ground, the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan believes that “New York’s Democrats, to the degree they ever loved the president, don’t love him anymore, and have moved on. They are not thinking about what progress he might make in Washington next year, they’re talking about what Hillary might do the year after that.”

Yet all this talk about President Obama obscures a larger point, though one not lost on likely-to-be-ex-Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and other vulnerable Democrats — or on the declining Mrs. Clinton herself: The flush isn’t just sucking away Obama’s last measure of relevancy, but the relevancy of his party and his philosophy, and the morale and commitment of their supporters.

The last remaining glimmer of Obama’s political capital and personal appeal, and thus his ability to help vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 elections and beyond, is flowing into the septic tank of Progressive history.

As of now, President Obama is to Democratic contenders what an accidentally flushed necklace would be to a woman trying to impress a date — if she pulled it out of the muck and put it around her neck without first washing it off.

Some things you just have to let go.

[First published at the American Spectator.]

Categories: On the Blog

Will Insurers Ever Say Enough’s Enough To Obamacare?

Somewhat Reasonable - December 28, 2013, 1:29 PM

I’ve been working professionally in health policy since 1979 when I was hired to write the consumer contracts and other communications in plain English for the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Maine. I neither knew nor cared anything about health care before that.

Rewriting contracts turned out to be a pretty good way to learn a whole lot about the business very quickly, I went from there to the research department and then to government relations. Before I left the Blues I was heading the state relations department for the national association in Washington. Then I went on to organize a trade association of health insurance companies that were interested in promoting free market solutions in health care.

I was surprised at how naïve the executives of these companies were when Clinton proposed his own health reforms. These were quiet, unassuming people who were happy to pool risks and pay claims and feel good about their work. They never expected to become the villains in Hillary’s ambitions, had never been political, and didn’t know how to cope with it.

So, understand that I am a man of the insurance industry. I am not a lawyer, have never worked for any government or politician, not an economist, don’t have an advanced degree in any field, and obviously have never cared for a patient. My sole qualifications are that I’m a good writer and a dogged researcher.

What has happened to the insurance industry has me stunned.

Now, I am no apologist for the industry. I have been one of its biggest critics. Its dalliance with Managed Care after the demise of ClintonCare was an enormous mistake that took its mission away from financial protection into health services management – something it was never qualified to do. The industry not only did a poor job of it, but it alienated and embittered the only people who really matter in health care – doctors and patients.

Granted, Managed Care pleased employers for a few years. It restrained their costs in the mid-1990s. But employers don’t really know anything about health care, either. What they do know is the morale of their workers, and Managed Care was the biggest morale-killer ever. Employees were furious that care was being denied by insurance company bureaucrats in Hartford, Connecticut, and they let company HR departments know it.

Employers started looking for other ways to restrain costs while preserving patient choice, and came to embrace “consumer-directed” health care (CDHC) in the early 2000s. This approach has been enormously successful and has exceeded the expectations of even its advocates like me. It has lowered costs and increased patient involvement in health care decision-making.

As an insurance guy, I liked that it was moving insurers away from their misguided notion of being the big boss in health care and back to the role of financial protection.

But the industry didn’t much like that aspect of it. Sure, they would sell the products because employers demanded it, but they were losing control as banks entered the market to manage the first few thousand dollars of expenses of a patient’s contract. The banks were still focused on financial protection and didn’t have ambitions to become health care managers.

So when Obama came along with an offer to require all Americans to buy their products, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Especially when the products he had in mind were comprehensive, cover-everything health plans. No more bank involvement. We’ll really be in the catbird seat now!

The naivety I had witnessed during the Clinton Wars was still in force. Many of us tried to warn the industry that they would regret this arrangement. Yes, they might be assured of modest profits, but the cost of sacrificing their autonomy would be far too high. They would become little more than public utilities. They would lose all control over benefit design, marketing practices, and rate setting. They would have no idea of the risks they were enrolling and would have to set premiums blindly.

It has become much, much worse than I ever imagined. Obamacare is not even fully in effect yet and already we are seeing the president playing with the carriers like a toddler plays with toy trucks –

  • Employers will be mandated to buy your policies for 2014
  • (Oops, employers are angry)
  • Employers won’t be mandated until 2015 – if then
  • Small employers will give workers a choice of health plans through the SHOP program in 2014
  • (Oops, we can’t get the web site ready in time)
  • Small employers won’t have to offer a choice of plan until – sometime later
  • You must cancel these individual policies
  • (Oops, public backlash)
  • You must reinstate these policies
  • (Oops, many insurance commissioners won’t allow it)
  • You must continue to cover providers and drugs even for cancelled policies
  • The deadline for enrollment will be December 15, 2013
  • (Oops, web site problems)
  • The deadline for enrollment will be December 23, 2013
  • (Oops, too much traffic)
  • The deadline for enrollment will be December 24, 2013
  • Never mind, there is no deadline
  • First month’s premium must be received by December 31, 2013
  • (Oops, back-end problems with the web site)
  • First month’s premium must be received by January 8, 2014
  • Make that January 10, 2014

How can anyone run a business this way? This is worse than being a federal agency. No federal agency would be expected to stop and start on a personal whim like this. These aren’t rules, they aren’t regulations, they are dictates based on nothing more than Kathleen Sebelius’ momentary feelings.

These are only the “glitches” that have been made public. God knows what orders and threats are being issued in closed-door meetings.

How long will the insurance industry abide being treated like shoe shine boys? Mr. Obama will not be in office forever. His regime is already coming to an end. What will these companies do then? He will no longer be around to grant or withhold bailout (“risk corridor”) money. No other president, Democrat or Republican, will ever be as arrogant or irrational.

It is well past time for the industry, supposed Titans of Wall Street, to grow some spine and start thinking about the best interests of their customers and shareholders.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

Obama’s Slow Growth Policies Have Stacked The Deck Against American Workers

Somewhat Reasonable - December 28, 2013, 7:36 AM

President Obama told us in his December 4 economic coming out speech on inequality, which the Huffington Post called the most important speech of his presidency:

But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles – to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it is rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were.

That fear is well justified. Because without economic growth, their kids will not be better off than they were. And without economic growth, no matter how hard they work, they won’t get ahead. The fundamental problem was shown in the rest of President Obama’s economic inequality speech.

He did not seriously advance one idea or measure that would do anything significant to increase economic growth anytime soon. Everything he promoted to address the problem was anti-growth – more taxes, government spending, and regulation. Just like everything he has done in his entire presidency. Which is why his economic growth record has been so poor, poverty has soared, middle class incomes have plummeted, and inequality has accelerated, under his policies. And that won’t change until his policies change. But instead he just keeps moving farther and farther left, as in this speech.

Obama added, in explaining where America went wrong:

Sstarting in the late 1970s, this social compact began to unravel. . . . As trickle down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.

So-called Progressives like to talk in code words, because they know if they told the American people what they were really thinking, they would never get elected. But the only economics that can accurately be called “trickle down” is the notion that increased government spending increases economic growth. Just the opposite is more nearly true.

A new report out this month from CBO addresses the very tired rant that “taxes were slashed for the wealthiest.” It shows that the top 1% of income earners produce 14.9% of before tax income, but pay 39% of federal income taxes. They also bear 49.5% of federal corporate income taxes.

Just the top 5% pay nearly two-thirds of all federal income taxes, at 63.6%, while producing just 27.4% of before tax income. And their share of corporate income taxes is virtually the same at 63.2%. The top 10% pay 77.4% of federal income taxes, over three fourths, while producing only 37.3% of before tax income, just over one-third. The top 20% carry virtually the whole load for the rest, paying 93% of total federal income taxes, almost twice the share of before tax income they produce, at 52%.

The middle 20%, who Obama is preaching to that the deck is stacked against them, pay just 2.9% of federal income taxes, while earning 14.2% of before tax income. The bottom 40% as a group on net pay less than nothing in federal income taxes, instead receiving cash payments from the IRS.

This is the most “progressive” income tax code in the world today, as befits the world’s now leading socialist country. Russia, by contrast, has a 13% flat tax, on the road to reverse places with the United States. America’s economy behaves now like it has a debilitating disease, which it does, called “Progressivism.”

CBO does not come out and say the rich pay more than their fair share, because CBO does not make “fairness” judgments. But the data CBO presents above shows precisely that. So President Obama, who has been telling us the opposite ever since he first showed up on the national stage, has got it wrong again, just as he got everything wrong in regard to Obamacare. No wonder the American economy is sick. You can call it the sick man of the global economy.

The Left will complain that the above data is only for federal income taxes, and does not include federal payroll taxes, for which the “wealthiest” pay a lesser share. But it is federal income taxes that Obama is complaining were “slashed for the wealthiest.” There were income tax cuts after the 1970s, where Obama said America went wrong, but not payroll tax cuts.

But even in regard to federal payroll taxes, the top 20% still pay 45%, the most of any other quintile by far. The middle 20% pay 15.4%, which is proportional to their share of income relative to the higher income earners. The bottom 20% pay just 5.6% of payroll taxes.

Moreover, the reason the highest income earners pay a smaller percentage of total payroll taxes is that the Social Security payroll tax is subject to a maximum annual taxable income limit every year, which is $117,000 for 2014. What the critics are missing is that the maximum annual taxable income limit is not a loophole. Social Security benefits are based on the amount of income that is subject to Social Security taxes. While higher income workers in 2014 will not pay Social Security payroll taxes on income above $117,000, income above that limit will also not be counted in calculating Social Security benefits.

That makes sense for a social insurance program like Social Security which is supposed to provide a floor for retirement income, not all retirement income. Once the “insurance” providing that floor is paid for, there is no sense in requiring anyone to pay more. When you go to the store to buy your Christmas turkey, you don’t pay more based on your income. Social Security is very much like that, because it does not provide a good return on dollar investment. So it is counterproductive to require taxpayers to pay for more above the safety net floor, when they can earn more retirement income from standard private sector investments, a lot more actually.

The CBO data also rebuts the Buffett/Obama Snow Job that the middle class pays higher tax rates than the rich. Buffett claimed that his Secretary pays a higher federal tax rate than he does. That is actually because in his case Buffett runs effectively the biggest tax shelter in the world in Berkshire Hathaway. And he would be in hog heaven for tax rates outside of his shelter to be increased. So he is in on the Snow Job.

But the CBO data shows that the average federal tax rate for the top 1% is 29.4%, while the average federal tax rate for the middle 20% is 11.5%, and the average federal tax rate for the bottom 20% is 1.5%. That is more than fair, except that the highest rates are cratering capital investment, which means fewer jobs and lower wages for the middle class and the poor. That is what is not fair for the middle class and the poor. But don’t expect Barack Obama to understand that. His Marxist mentors growing up never understood that themselves.

Obama was also wrong when he complained in his economic inequality whine, “The top 10% no longer takes in one-third of our income – it now takes half.” Actually they don’t “take” anything. “Take” is a government thing. People voluntarily pay the top 10% what they earn because those paying think what the top 10% do for it is worth it. And the CBO data shows that what the top 10% is voluntarily paid for their productive actions is 37.3% of before tax income, a lot lot closer to one third than to one half. All of Obama’s other statistics are equally dubious.

Because Barack Obama understands little about economics (when he steps to the podium to speak, it is time to cringe, because he often knows less about the subject than anyone in the room), the proposals he makes in his speech to address inequality, touted by the Huffington Post as the agenda for the rest of his second term, are pitiful as elixers to promote economic growth, and to reduce rather than further increase inequality.

He calls for more investment in education. But despite his false claim that education spending has withered since the 1970s, America spends more on education, and on education per child, than ever before, and more than just about every other nation on Earth. What is needed is not more taxes and spending, but education reform, involving choice and competition. But it is Obama’s union political allies standing in the schoolhouse door today preventing that from happening.

Increasing the minimum wage is ultimately not going to reduce inequality significantly either. It can’t, when it actually bars the most unskilled from working at all. That is just going to further increase inequality. Nor is the further regulation involved in a “strong application of anti-discrimination laws” going to create booming economic growth, or significantly reduce inequality across the economy.

Obama offers more pro-union regulation as a remedy. But more union power would not contribute to increased economic production. More likely it would force the opposite, as it so often has. Unions have not increased compensation to working people across the board. Rather, they have redistributed income from non-union workers to union workers, as they increase wages for their members by excluding competition from non-union workers.

Obama quite rightly says:

Wwe can’t tackle inequality if the economic pie is shrinking or stagnant. The fact is if you are a progressive and you want to help the middle class and the working poor, you’ve still got to be concerned about competitiveness and productivity and business confidence. And that’s why from day one we’ve worked to get the economy growing and help our businesses hire.

But you are not going to “get the economy growing and help our businesses hire” from increasing tax rates, especially on capital, increasing regulatory burdens, increasing government spending draining capital from the private sector, and wild-eyed monetary policy resulting in near zero compensation for lending, and constantly threatening to destabilize the currency. That is why the economic results Obama has gotten have been the opposite of what he says he wants.

While Obama complains about the sequester, that only seems to have accelerated economic growth, again exactly the opposite of what he said it would do. “High quality pre-school” would just be another bailout to Obama’s union political allies, not the progenitor of an economic boom. “Promise Zones” are also not going to stimulate growth if they are just going to involve more focused government in targeted local areas, rather than removal of government barriers to economic growth, like taxes, regulatory burdens and barriers, government spending, and debauched currency.

And noting Obamacare as another pro-growth initiative is just another snow job. For everything about Obamacare is anti-growth — increased taxes, increased regulation, increased government spending. Obamacare is why most new jobs this year have been part-time jobs, not the good, high paying jobs for the middle class that Obama’s sweet snow job rhetoric calls for. The only effect of Obamacare so far has been the opposite of universal coverage, increasing the number of uninsured. Instead of reducing costs, it has increased costs. I have personally done more to reduce health costs through helping the development and initiation of Health Savings Accounts, that have now grown to cover 30 million Americans, reducing the growth of health costs all along, just as we said it would. As the Bible says, by their fruits you shall know them.

What a pitiful gruel that Obama agenda is for producing economic growth and prosperity for all, like we got under Reagan, where incomes rose smartly for every quintile, from the poor to the rich, not just for Washington’s crony capitalists in the top 20%. As Henry R. Nau explained in the January 26, 2012 Wall Street Journal:

Tthe U.S. grew by more than 3% per year [in real terms] from 1980 to 2007, and created more than 50 million new jobs, massively expanding a middle class of working women, African-Americans and legal as well as illegal immigrants. Per capita income increased by 65%, and household income went up substantially in all income categories.

Obama did talk about some things in his speech that would work to promote economic growth and broad prosperity. Corporate tax reform that lowers rates while broadening the base would work powerfully. But Obama has done nothing to promote such reform beyond mere talk. Instead he has shown more interest in broadening the base to increase taxes, rather than reduce rates, which has been a barrier to the bipartisan tax reform that would be so readily achievable in Washington, if Obama would just get out of town. Freer trade that grows exports would also work, but Obama only squelches that as well with his rhetoric implying that free trade does not work for the middle class. “Streamlining regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly” would work too. But Obama has consistently done just the opposite, imposing regulations that are precisely outdated, unnecessary or too costly. More Snow Job.

In this Christmas season, let us raise our voices to the Lord, and pray, dear God, please free us from Obama’s economic oppression, and restore to us the economic liberation of our heritage, and of the American Dream. Before the formerly world leading American economy ends up as just one big Hunger Game.

[First published at Forbes.]

Categories: On the Blog

Obama vs. the Constitution

Somewhat Reasonable - December 27, 2013, 8:54 PM

“If you like your health plan, you can keep it,” is the Lie of the Year, according to PolitiFact. But Barack Obama has been operating under an even more momentous lie for his entire presidency, from the day he took the oath of office. With that oath, he swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Constitution states the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” This is a duty, not a discretionary power. The president must enforce the laws as written. He has no authority to rewrite, amend, suspend, grant waivers to, or decide not to enforce them, but Obama has done all these. John Yoo, a professor of law (U. of Calif., Berkeley), writes:

Obama has pursued a dangerous change in powers of his office that disregards the Constitution’s separation of powers between the branches of the federal government.

On December 3, 2013, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, presented a written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee stating:

When a president claims the inherent power of both legislation and enforcement, he becomes a virtual government unto himself. He is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system; he becomes the very danger that the Constitution was designed to avoid.

One of Obama’s first acts as president—only a month since he took the oath of office—was to announce his elimination of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste. He flouted decades of scientific study and countermanded the explicit decisions of Congress set forth in duly-enacted laws over many years. In 1982 Congress directed the government to assume responsibility for commercial nuclear waste. In 1987 it singled out Yucca Mountain for evaluation as the repository because of its remote and dry location. After years of research, Congress in 2002 endorsed the Yucca Mountain site.

Between 1987 and 2009, when Obama put himself above the law by effectively revoking it, $13.5 billion was spent on the program; a five-mile tunnel was bored into the mountain, and hundreds of studies determined the safety of the site for thousands of years. The nuclear industry was also forced to pay $22 billion to the Energy Department for establishment of the repository. Obama is not a scientist, and his decision was not made from a review of the scientific research. But that is not the point, nor is the billions of dollars of taxpayer money that went down the drain.

The point is that Obama had no authority to violate the law rather than faithfully execute it. He called for more study of the issue, which he had no power to authorize. (More than 20 years of study already was not enough?) He said nuclear power still had a place in the U.S. and his administration would be quick to offer an alternative. With no alternative suggested after almost five years now, it is apparent he had no intention of providing any. In his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told Nevadans that if elected he would not allow nuclear wastes to be stored in Nevada. End of story. So much for his oath of office and the constitutional requirement he “take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

That was only Obama’s opening shot against the Constitution. It was followed by a barrage of others.

The GM and Chrysler bankruptcies of 2009 were directed by a White House task force that upended established bankruptcy procedures. A major element of a bankruptcy is that debtors similarly situated get treated the same, but Obama violated this several ways, always to the benefit of unions. Under terms of the bailouts, Chrysler’s unsecured union benefit trust fund got paid instead of Chrysler’s secured creditors, and GM was required to pay parts manufacturer Delphi’s union retirees $1 billion while its non-union retirees got nothing. What legal authority did Obama have for rewriting almost of a century of bankruptcy law as payback for political support from the United Auto Workers? None.

In the case of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama bypassed the courts and himself decreed the fine for BP. He also unlawfully imposed a moratorium on oil drilling, which drew a rebuke by the court–in vain.

Obama decreed “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by claiming the Senate was not in session, meaning no Senate confirmation was required. However, the Senate was not in recess but merely taking a break within a session. Two federal courts subsequently held these Obama appointments were unconstitutional usurpations and voided them.

Professor Yoo writes: “Obama is the first chief executive since Richard Nixon to ignore a duly-enacted law simply because he disagrees with it.” Obama instructed his justice department to cease enforcement of immigration laws against certain illegal immigrants. By executive order he adopted the very conditions allowing immigrants to remain in the U.S. that Congress rejected by refusing to enact the Dream Act. Before Congress’ rejection, Obama himself had repeatedly stated the Constitution forbade him from taking these actions without Congress.

Under an executive order by Obama, attorney general Eric Holder ordered U.S. attorneys to stop prosecuting certain drug defendants for crimes that carry mandatory sentences. This is certainly contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court in Kendall v. United States1938, which said allowing the president to refuse to enforce laws “would be clothing the president with a power to control the legislation of Congress, and paralyze the administration of justice.”

The president replaced congressional requirements for state compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act with new ones crafted by his administration. His administration also provided waivers to 42 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico even though the law contained no provision for waivers.

Though the 1996 Welfare Programs Act required people on welfare to work or prepare for a job in order to receive federal benefits, the Obama administration waived the requirement.

There is no constitutional authority to order private companies to provide free services, but Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services regulations require private insurers to provide free contraceptives to employees of objecting religious institutions.

According to our Constitution, only Congress can declare war. In a 2007 interview Obama said:

The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Yet he ordered airstrikes against Libya though that country had neither attacked nor threatened us. Similarly, he asserted he didn’t need Congressional approval for taking military action against Syria because it had used chemical weapons. But Syria neither attacked us nor threatened to do so. Obama claimed his proposed military action against Syria was authorized by the War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 as a result of the Vietnam experience. But the WPR specifically states that it applies to cases where the U.S. is attacked or is threatened with attack.

Federal law requires the president every year to submit a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February in order to start the congressional budgeting process. In four years Obama failed to meet this requirement. Congress also failed to adopt a budget for four years, thereby allowing the president great leeway in allocating funds within each department of the executive branch. Before this year, the last thing Congress passed that resembled a budget was a 2009 spending bill that combined nine normal separate bills.

Obama violated the law in numerous ways regarding his signature act, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That law specifically says it “shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013.” There is no provision for allowing the president to suspend or delay any part of it. Writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes a president to enact, to amend, or to repeal statutes.

So Obama was violating the law and the Constitution when he changed to 2015 the Obamacare requirement of 2014 as the year employers with 50 full-time workers must offer health-care coverage or pay fines. He also violated the law by suspending the requirement that individuals seeking subsidized health insurance prove their eligibility. He violated again when his Health and Human Services Secretary granted some 1,200 waivers from Obamacare requirements for hundreds of unions, companies and special interests.

In December 2013 syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote:

HHS . . . asked insurance providers to start covering people on January 1 even if they signed up as late as the day before and even if they hadn’t paid their premiums. And it is ‘strongly encouraging’ them to pay for the transition for doctor visits not covered in their current plans (if covered in the patient’s previous—canceled—plan). On what authority does a Cabinet secretary tell private companies to pay for services not in their plans and cover people not on their rolls?

Is this America? Krauthammer also notes that the phrase “strongly encouraging” is an offer the insurers can’t refuse:

Disappoint your federal master and he has the power to kick you off the exchanges, where the health insurance business of the future is supposed to be conducted.

Again, is this America?

Obama ignores the separation of powers and fails to respect Congress as an equal branch of government. At one point he famously even refused to negotiate with it. Rather than working with Congress, he told an audience in Denver that his administration will “look every single day to figure out what we can do, without Congress.”

He treats Congress like a second class department of which he is the superior to determine whether or not it is doing its job. “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will,” he said regarding his Jobs Bill. “It is the belief of this administration . . . that we can’t wait for action on the Hill,” Obama said when signing an executive order regarding the FDA. “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama pledged. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take . . . ”

He ought to know—but apparently doesn’t—that the executive branch must work with the Congress, not evade it, and it is not the president’s role to determine what Congress’ job is and whether or not it is doing that job. The Constitution determines what Congress’ job is, and the voters are the ones to determine whether or not their representatives are doing their job.

In 1868 the House impeached President Andrew Johnson for defying the Tenure of Office Act, which prohibited him from firing anyone in Lincoln’s cabinet. Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton anyway. The Senate failed to convict him by a single vote.

Andrew Johnson committed a single violation of one law. Obama has committed multiple violations of multiple laws. Of course, with a Democratic majority in the Senate, Obama would never be convicted if impeached, and today there is far less concern about a president violating the law than when Johnson was president. It shows the pitiful, lawless, degradation of our once free country resulting from Obama “fundamentally transforming” America.

[First published at American Liberty.]

Categories: On the Blog

The World In Crisis

Somewhat Reasonable - December 27, 2013, 4:53 PM

We close 2013 in a world that seems to be swiftly tilting toward ever-larger crises of government legitimacy, oncoming clashes of foreign powers, and an abiding sense of concern on the part of the American people that the economic realities of long-term unemployment, wage stagnation, and the working class squeeze of higher prices for health care, higher education, and basic goods and services are not a brief trend, but enduring problems for which Washington has no solutions.

On the foreign policy front, 2013 may well turn out to be the year in which offered a preface for the Next Big War. From Iran to Syria to China, the American position has collapsed with such rapidity that our understanding of these situations from just a year ago are dramatically altered. The era of the Monroe Doctrine may be over, but the lack of an American grand strategy has left our approach to foreign policy an extended drama of incoherence, and our inability to grapple with the unraveling of the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring is only one of many challenges which will present themselves in the coming year. Unrest is only likely to increase in a global economy where youth unemployment has actually increased to the same levels as during the economic crisis.

But the crisis closer to home may be the one which proves more troublesome in the long term: a crisis of legitimacy within Western democracy, one that has gripped the American system in the wake of the mismanagement of elections, disasters, wars, financial crises, stimulus packages, bailouts, and now health care overhauls. Americans are losing faith in the American Dream for themselves and for their children, and they are roughly evenly split on whether the solution to these problems is more government or more liberty – a question which is becoming the defining decision of our era.

This is about more than just who we elect or which party we trust in which arena. It represents a very real schism about first principles and the universe – a division between an approach to life which considers natural law, inherent rights and duties, the rule of law and more as important, and one which views as essential the ongoing actions of the collective to achieve a secular social justice. The shared underlying assumptions about life and the ordering of society, which had such a strong role in America’s early success, are largely gone or greatly diminished. They aren’t coming back.

The rise of the Nones – those who don’t believe in anything in particular, and aren’t interested in investigating faith – is only likely to increase. One in three Millennials profess no religious affiliation, and one of the underestimated aspects of their absence of participation in a faith community of any sort is their lack of interest in seeking one out. Perhaps there’s a silver lining here, from a secularist perspective: a less religious America may sound like a context for less religious strife – fewer people who care, fewer people to argue about it, right? But the reverse is true.

The culture wars haven’t ended – they’ve escalated, and they will continue to escalate in a society where people have fewer commonly held views, and less respect for those who disagree with them for any reason, least of all a religious one. The lack of a shared language of compromise and respect leads to ongoing and increasingly contentious clashes of faith, politics, and sexual rights, where lightning rods of courts and culture lead to flashpoints that strain social bonds, break friendships, and end the ability to have a healthy community where disagreement over law and politics does not lead to death threats on social media.

The next year will bring more flashpoints in the broken public square. In 2014, the highest courts in the land will rule on the ability of Christian business owners to practice their faith as they see fit, and the power of government to compel them to go against their beliefs. We might hope for a country where more people would lay down their arms and view those who disagree with their ideology with respect and impartiality. But for all the handwringing, history has shown us that this is the way things go when trust breaks down and respect vanishes. As G.K. Chesterton notes: “Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing is a devouring superstition or a divine hope?”

Of course, there is still hope. The nation has survived incredible crises before, on the global scale and within our society. The path toward liberty is still a viable one. And perhaps we will find that even when things break down, when government fails and grand strategies fade, the American people can count on each other more than they thought. These are strange times for the country and the world. But we may find that, even as institutions fail us, the American people exceed expectations. They have done it so many times before. In the coming year, they will be called on to do so again.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

The Supreme Court is Undermining Science and Society

Somewhat Reasonable - December 26, 2013, 8:39 AM
The Supreme Court has taken up another case based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s campaign of lies that carbon dioxide is the cause of “climate change” and claims about the quality of air in the United States. The Court is composed of lawyers, not scientists.

At this point in the present era, the Court has made rulings that run contrary to the original, clear intent of the U.S. Constitution and has wrought havoc on our society.

In 1973 it ruled that the killing of unborn babies was protected and millions since then have been deliberately killed. It extended protection to sodomy and same-sex marriage. It is destroying the fabric of our society that has served Americans well for more than two hundred years.

It ruled that the Affordable Health Care Act was a “tax”, enabling the Obamacare to be unleashed with the subsequent loss of health care plans by millions of Americans, often the loss of their personal physician, and the requirement that deeply-held religious opposition to contraception and abortion be negated by a law that requires their beliefs be overruled and denied.

In 2007, I wrote a commentary that was published in The Washington Times. I criticized a Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide (CO2) was a “pollutant”, opening the door to the EPA’s rapacious intent to control all aspects of our lives based on this lie that is used to justify its war on coal-fired plants that provide nearly half of all the electrical energy we use daily.  “CO2 is not a pollutant,” I wrote, “It exists in the Earth’s atmosphere and every blade of grass and every tree depends on it.” It plays no role whatever in the Earth’s climate.

The Clean Air Act and revisions passed in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s. The original regulation of air pollution was a good idea, as were the laws affecting clean water, but the EPA has since used pollution to impose a vast matrix of regulations that do not reflect the fact that the nation’s air and water is now as clean as it ever can be.

Carbon monoxide emissions have fallen from 197 million tons to 89 million tons. Nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons. Sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 3l million tons to 15 million tons. Lead emissions fell by more than 98%.  Particulate emissions (soot) fell by 80%. The air in the U.S. is considerably cleaner, but the EPA’s assertions continue to be made to expand its regulatory power and to attack the sovereignty of the states.

A case that was recently argued before the Court is another EPA effort to rewrite the Clean Air Act, asserting that it be given authority to regulate the flow of alleged “pollution” between “upwind” states and those who receive particulates and gases under its control. Some 27 states are considered “upwind” and those states along with all others have their own air control laws. In states that are more heavily industrialized and which have a large number of coal-fired plants on which the EPA wants to impose expensive standards that have no basis in fact.

A coalition led by Texas of more than a dozen other states brought a case, Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation, opposing the EPA’s regulatory re-write of the Clean Air Act. In August 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the EPA which appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Wall Street Journal noted that “The D.C. Circuit only rarely overturns EPA rules, which shows how out of bounds the cross-state regulation is. The Supreme Court should overturn it for violating the federalist intentions of Congress, but there is also the added judicial incentive to show this increasingly rogue agency that it can’t rewrite the law as it pleases.”

The U.S. has been harmed by the many laws whose justification is based on the totally unscientific hoax regarding CO2. During the 101stand 111th Congresses, there were 692 laws introduced containing the term “greenhouse gas” when, in fact, CO2 is NOT such a gas, playing no role whatever in trapping warmth to affect the weather and/or climate of the Earth.

Stringent domestic laws and regulations, moreover, do not take into consideration the role of many other nations whose emissions are far greater than those produced here. However, reducing their emissions will have no effect on the Earth’s climate. The Earth is in what will likely be a lengthy cycle of cooling based on reduced solar radiation. It recently snowed in Egypt and in Israel where snow has long been a rarity.

The Obama administration’s “war on coal” has used the EPA to inflict an attack on the nation’s capacity to provide energy and the EPA has not ceased from using every ruling it has imposed to degrade the nation’s ability to maintain and expand the industrial base it needs to provide for economic growth, an increase in jobs, and the sovereign right of states to determine their own response to the need for clean air. The U.S. is a republic composed of separate republics.

At this point, control of the nation’s air and water quality should be returned in full to the states and the EPA should be eliminated as the threat to the nation it has become. The Supreme Court has played a role in this threat, ruling without any attention to real science, traditional values, and the clear intent of the Constitution. [Originally published on Warning Signs]
Categories: On the Blog

Is Common Core ‘Rigorous,’ Or More Nearly The Opposite?

Somewhat Reasonable - December 25, 2013, 2:15 PM

So often do avid boosters such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush extol the national standards for K-12 education as “rigorous,” it would be easy to conclude the adjective had become part of the name: The Rigorous Common Core State Standards.

Google searches of “rigorous” and “Common Core” produce millions of hits. Hundreds of newspaper stories on the impending full-scale rollout of these standards and linked tests in local schools routinely describe the CCSS as rigorous.

Even if they were intellectually rigorous, these unitary standards would imperil individual liberty, parental rights, and local stewardship of education because they define official knowledge that will be subject to boundless political manipulation.

But are these standards for English and mathematics actually rigorous?

If they are, it is only because proponents have “redefined the term,” academic scholar Jane Robbins said in an interview. “You and I think of it [rigor] as requiring a student to demonstrate a high level of academic knowledge. That’s not what they mean. They’re thinking of something infinitely more subjective, such as application to real-world situations, problem-solving, and so forth.”

So just as “relevance” once was the educationese buzzword du jour, “rigor” is now. In fact, one citadel of progressive education has even concocted a tedious “Rigor/Relevance Framework” for pondering cosmic issues.

So-called “critical thinking” is central to all this, and it inevitably appears in breathless accounts of how Common Core will shun lectures and memorization and have kids instead dissect complex issues and arrive at their own opinions, informed or otherwise.

Robbins, who has analyzed Common Core extensively as a senior fellow for the American Principles Project, emphasizes “this is not to be confused with ‘analytical thinking,’ which is logical and linear. Instead, it [critical thinking] means examining a question from all conceivable angles, such as point of view, power structures, and fairness.”

When the first Common Core-linked tests were administered in New York and Kentucky, student scores fell precipitously (some 30 points) from levels on the previous knowledge-based testing. That led Secretary Duncan to sing praises for the New Rigor while chiding critics as “white suburban moms” who were miffed their children supposedly were exposed as not so smart after all.

That ignores an obvious alternative explanation: the Core is more convoluted and frustrating, especially for primary-age children, than previous curricula, and it’s not more rigorous in imparting basic knowledge. Consider whether these examples of CCSS wisdom seem infused with rigor, or for that matter, common sense:

  • A Common Core teachers’ guide gives teachers a 29-page script for teaching ninth and 10th graders to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Strangely enough, it directs teachers to have students read the address strictly as a piece of isolated text without any shred of context, such as that President Lincoln was speaking at a funeral in Pennsylvania in the middle of the Civil War. That seems stupid, not rigorous.
  • The reverence for “informational text” shines through in the CCSS mandating nonfictional material (including workplace and governmental boilerplate) consume an increasing quantity of reading that might otherwise have been devoted to classic literature, leading to a 70 percent text quota by the high-school years. Technocrats egotistical enough to prescribe such a universal formula for student reading material obviously have little use for the humanities.
  • Speaking of formulas, the CCSS remarkably draws on the convoluted Lexile methodology that uses sentence length and vocabulary to score texts from least to most complex. In a withering critique in the October 29 issue of The New Republic, University of Iowa English prof. Blaine Greteman exposed numerous absurdities of such a rating system—for example, that Huckleberry Finn isn’t Lexile-complex enough for ninth-graders, but Sports Illustrated for Kids’ Awesome Athletes! is. Greteman concluded Lexile scoring “is the intellectual equivalent of the thermometer; perfect for cooking turkeys, but not for encouraging moral growth.”
  • As for Common Core math, even its lead writers have conceded these “college- and career-ready” standards, if followed strictly by participating states, would not prepare students for the truly rigorous STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors in universities. Ending after Algebra II, with little trigonometry and no pre-calculus, CCSS basically is geared to the entry level of nonselective community colleges.

It is easy to understand why the anti-knowledge educationists who dominate schools of education would love Common Core. It breathes new life into their feelings-dominated fads that have crippled public education for more than 50 years. What is mystifying is why some supposedly hardnosed business CEOs and political conservatives are on board this bandwagon.

[Originally published on Human Events]

Categories: On the Blog

How to End the Tiresome Christmas Debate in Schools

Somewhat Reasonable - December 25, 2013, 8:30 AM

Every Christmas, schools make headlines by labeling their calendars for “holiday break,” “winter solstice,” and the like instead of “Christmas break.” The occasional Scrooge-like superintendent or teacher will inevitably punish some little six-year-old for bringing candy canes with a Bible verse to school or wanting to share the story of Jesus’ birth for a class presentation.

It’s time to end this needless social conflict and ensure religious freedom and cheer for Americans of all faiths, cultures, and walks of life. It is, after all, supposed to be a season of reflection and joy. How to do this? Let families take their education tax dollars to religious schools.

It sounds counterintuitive. How do we promote social harmony if people who believe different things are allowed to separate themselves along religious and philosophical lines? Aren’t schools supposed to foster the quintessential American melting pot by bringing children with different beliefs together?

Emerging research on private and government schools shows giving people the freedom to educate children according to their beliefs actually promotes tolerance better than forcing people of vastly diverging views into conflict with each other over school policies. The irreligious are often offended at schools that let children hold prayer services, sing Christmas carols at assemblies, or post nativity scenes. The United States has long revered its tradition and laws regarding government support for religion, and for good reason: The idea is to allow everyone to believe as he wishes, and express those beliefs, without government endorsing or censuring those beliefs.

Public schools as they are now structured have the utterly impossible task of trying to please everyone. Obviously, they can’t. Calling the break “winter solstice” censors those who revere this season, yet calling it “Christmas break” assumes everyone who attends the school celebrates (or should celebrate) the religious tradition of a particular faith. Even if a certain faith is dominant in a particular community, U.S. law and tradition rightly protect those who practice minority religions. Government should not arbitrate religion. It should, instead, get out of religion’s way.

In April, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a review of all the high-quality research comparing private and government schools on a variety of measures, including social harmony. The research shows private schools foster more desegregation, social harmony, and civic engagement. Such studies typically ask students to name the group of people they dislike the most – such as the KKK, Nazis, or religious minorities – and then say whether they would let such groups exercise legally protected rights such as voting, publicly demonstrating, or letting libraries stock books sympathetic to their views. A study that examined a private voucher program in Washington, DC found voucher students were more likely than similar public school students to agree they would “definitely permit” the group they liked least to perform civic actions such as giving a public speech or running for president, reports study author Greg Forster. Studies that control for selection bias of children attending private schools confirm these results for all private school students, not just voucher students.

These Christmastide disputes are only a reminder that the system of public schools fosters intolerance and conflict in myriad areas. If we want more joyful seasons all year ’round, we have to stop demanding public schools attempt the impossible by forcing everyone to do the same thing, and instead set families free to celebrate their beliefs both in and outside of their kids’ schools.

Categories: On the Blog

EPA Falsifies Data, Bypasses Its Own Scientists Who Loudly Cry Foul

Somewhat Reasonable - December 24, 2013, 11:57 PM

You may recall that when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he said he would “bankrupt” the coal-fired energy industry. That would mean everyone’s energy prices would “necessarily skyrocket,” and he thought that was a good thing.

This editorial in the Wall Street Journal the other day (subscription required) shows that Obama’s politicized Environmental Protection Agency is doing all it can to make his promise happen. And to do so, Obama’s EPA is engaging in a War On Science.

According to the WSJ, the EPA “cut out the [agency’s] independent science advisers who exposed the junk science behind the EPA ban on new coal power.”

The EPA Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) recently had a look at the agency’s new “performance standards” from September that impose a 1,000-pound-per-megawatt-hour limit on carbon emissions. Trouble is, even the most modern, clean, and efficient coal-fired plants emit 1,800 pounds per megawatt hour. The EPA’s own hand-picked scientists advised that it was simply not possible for America’s coal plants to meet that standard. The scientists on the EPA’s advisory board said: You’re rigging the game to outlaw all coal plants! Don’t do that!

No matter, said EPA. You scientists say carbon capture technology is “speculative.” Well, we don’t care. Were going to mandate it anyway. Besides, we have “peer review” studies that say we can go ahead with this mandate.

But the SAB pushed back. From the WSJ editorial:

This caught the attention of a fact-finding SAB working group chaired by James Mihelcic of the University of South Florida. In a Nov. 12 memo, the group raised questions about carbon sequestration’s “technical feasibility” and noticed that, in the EPA’s regulatory justification, “the peer review of the scientific and technical information presented for coal-fueled sources appears to be inadequate.”

In its original rule, the EPA had pointed to speculative studies and models out of a research unit in the Energy Department to show that sequestration works. Headquarters assured the SAB panel that these studies had been flyspecked by “industry experts, academia and government research and regulatory agencies.”

Yet when the SAB panel inquired further, the Energy Department revealed that some of the studies had been “peer reviewed” by the EPA itself over a period of just a few weeks and the rest never got an unbiased look. Nor could Energy provide “a documented or publicly available description for this peer review process.” EPA refuses to share the information with the SAB.

This is your taxpayer funded, unscientific EPA at work — destroying affordable energy for all. And the left claims that the right is engaging in a War On Science.

The Obama adminstration should set up a website for complaints about this policy. But it wouldn’t be able to actually accept complaints until about 2016, so what’s the point?

Read the whole thing.

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