On the Blog

Politicized Science: Walter Cunningham on MRCTV

Somewhat Reasonable - July 03, 2014, 3:00 PM

NASA astronaut and policy advisor to Heartland Walter Cunningham appeared on MRCTV to discuss his take on climate change and the upcoming 9th International Conference on Climate Change. Cunningham declared the position that climate change is a man-made phenomenon to be “the biggest fraud in the field of science.”

According to Cunningham, the current mainstream opinion concerning anthropogenic climate change is motivated by politics and greed:

“You go out and take a look at it and you find out that a lot of it is pure nonsense and wishful thinking on the part of the alarmists who are looking for more and more money to fall into their hands.”

Cunningham is not convinced by the case for global warming and challenges everyone to look into the data. He admonishes people to learn the science for themselves and not to just take other people’s word for it.

There is certainly value in citizens informing themselves about the basics of science, particularly science that is having a major impact on public policy. When science is high on politicians’ agenda, it has to be high on citizens’ agenda too. That is often difficult in the realm of science, which often requires specialist knowledge and a large amount of time to dedicate to the pursuit. However, there are useful primers readily available and written for public consumption that can serve as a solid basis on which voters can develop learned opinions.

Cunningham’s interview alluded to issues with the way science is conducted in the modern world. It is certainly the case that there are major problems in the process of science. The public media has promoted a conception of the scientific process as being rigorous and unbiased. Yet this is not really the case. While experiments may be conducted rigorously, the basic theoretical premises of the various sciences are often politically protected by those who have made a career defending them. This can make it very difficult for challenges to prevailing understandings to get a fair hearing.

The problem is exacerbated by the peer-review process. Peer review of research is meant to produce up-to-date, rigorous science without bias, but it does not always do so. It can take a long time for a view to gain traction due to push-back from those with a vested interest in the status quo outlook. This problem is examined by many philosophers of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, who discussed the concept of “paradigm shift” in which sciences tend to experience revolutionary change in the wake of mounting opposition to a dominant worldview.

Another problem with the scientific process as it is conducted today is the degree of extreme specialization that scientists undertake. Gone are the days of the savant or tinkerer conducting valuable scientific enquiry from a home laboratory. Science is big business, and has developed so far in complexity that it can only be furthered with the aid of very specialized scientists.

The problem is not so much in the specialization itself (save for the lost romance of the old-timey gentleman scientist, of course) as in how that specialization affects the popular dissemination of science. Because researchers have become so specialized, unification of ideas for public consumption has fallen to other promoters and “popular scientists,” people with potentially far less noble agendas than to simply inform the masses. As the new gatekeepers of scientific research, these figures can wield great power, power that can be used to further ideologically charged aims.

Scientific inquiry conducted through the scientific method has generated the greatest and mostly lasting increase in human welfare in history. It is in many ways the pinnacle accomplishment of our civilization, yet it is a tool only. It is always important to remember that tools may have no ideology or agenda in themselves, but that those who wield or guide them may. It is important that a public that is more and more dependent upon science and technology in their daily lives be aware of what science is really about.

Categories: On the Blog

The Hobby Lobby Decision Shows The Culture War Isn’t Over

Somewhat Reasonable - July 03, 2014, 2:03 PM

The Supreme Court has issued a narrow ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, exempting them from the requirement to provide coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives because of their religious objection.

Following oral arguments, I was not optimistic about this ruling. The Court could have bought into the argument that Hobby Lobby can’t really complain about this requirement when they have the capability to not offer coverage at all, instead shifting people under their employ to the taxpayer via Medicaid or the exchanges. The penalty for offering coverage which fails to meet essential benefits is clearly absurd and sizable, but the penalty for not offering coverage at all would actually cost them less than offering coverage in the first place (around $26 million per year). The “gun to your head” penalty was the one which moved the court on the Medicaid/federalism question before, in a ruling that unexpectedly led to half the states declining to expand Medicaid. Justices Kagan and Sotomayor stressed this in oral argument and the Court could have found that this factor removes the pressure of an actual requirement. You can understand the reasoning: Just like the requirement to purchase insurance, it’s not illegal, it’s just a tax!

Instead, the Court has issued a narrowly favorable ruling which, while protecting the religious liberty of corporations – and deeming corporate owners as persons under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, since indeed they are – could have a very similar effect for the rest of us as a decision which found against Hobby Lobby while allowing them to push the cost for some contraceptives onto the rest of the populace. (There’s some lack of clarity as to whether this ruling applies only to ‘closely held’ corporations – that’s one where at least fifty percent of the entity is owned by five or fewer people; if so, over 90 percent of companies in America are closely held.) As I wrote in The Transom back in March: “The likeliest scenario is that Hobby Lobby’s unwillingness to pay for four forms of birth control – Plan B, Ella, and two IUDs – for their employees leads to all of us having to pay for them, instead, either through subsidies or through Medicaid.” And that’s what’s probably going to happen: instead of effectively a tax on employers, the contraception mandate will become a tax on all of us.

The decision reads in part:

The Government has failed to satisfy RFRA’s least- restrictive-means standard. HHS has not shown that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. The Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit [sic] employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate. That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS’s stated interests.

So because corporations with religious exemptions will not be required to provide coverage for all contraceptives – a requirement, if you recall,which was precipitated not by the passage of Obamacare but by bureaucratic fiat from HHS – all of us will have to take up the cause of payment instead. This position even undermines the argument advanced by The Little Sisters of the Poor and other non-profits who claim that the existing HHS accommodation for them still violates their conscience (for an alternate view on this, read Ed Whelan). The political drive will now shift to having all taxpayers pay for all forms of birth control, eliminating the middle man of the business or corporation.

There’s a wealth of existing precedent for this. Taxpayer dollars – and a not insignificant amount of them – are already going to pay directly for abortions and for birth control which prevents implantation of a living embryo (versus preventing formation of living embryo in the first place, which Hobby Lobby’s owners and other Christians are generally fine with). Americans are already paying for birth control via Medicaid and subsidizing it via Obamacare. And they’re doing the same for abortions, too.

While the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, state funding has no such prohibition. Medicaid is the primary payer for 41% of births nationwide, including 60% in New York City and 70% in Louisiana. It also pays for a sizable number of abortions. And this absolutely has an impact: the trendline for Medicaid funded abortions have only increased during the recession, and will only continue to increase under Obama’s Medicaid expansion. And funding has a dramatic impact—this survey of academic literature from Guttmacher notes: “Approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable.”

States which currently fund abortions under their Medicaid programs for virtually any health related reason include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. By themselves, California and New York spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars every year funding these non-rape/incest/life of the mother abortions – New York remains the abortion capital of America, per capita. There were 133,000 publicly funded abortions in just those two states in 2010, representing roughly 10% of total abortions in the country (taxpayers in those respective states paid for all of those). Christians who pay taxes in these states have their tax dollars used for this purpose already.

There has been all sorts of terrible reporting about this case from the beginning – a typical press release reacting to the decision from the left showed up in my inbox declaring “Your Boss’s Religion Trumps Your Health”, and that seems typical of the reporting on the issue. Here at The Federalist, we’ve run three separate pieces rebutting these idiotic ideas, but expect the narrow nature of this decision is absolutely going to lead to more.

This shoddy reporting obscures a more basic and important tension: Christians who are rendering unto Caesar in all of the above states and more are already subsidizing all sorts of life-destroying pills and implants, whether they like it or not. And thanks to the nature of the Hobby Lobby decision and the political priorities of the left, those with objections should prepare for subsidizing birth control, abortifacients, and abortion for even more people.

That’s one reason why the culture wars have only just begun. When the battleground shifts within a culture, moving from “my body, my choice” to a demand that others pay for and affirm those choices, the aggressors are incentivized to enshrine their perspective as broad mandatory policy, not just as a socially laudable practice. That’s why we’ve moved from a point where corporations providing benefits to employees was considered a good thing to a point where corporations which provide some benefits but not all must be made to suffer. You only pay for 16 out of 20 forms of birth control? Fascist.

Despite today’s decision, the left will continue to fight to mandate their preferred policy and force it on everyone, everywhere. The error they made here was in picking a battle that had a legally defensible position on the part of the individuals involved. Instead, they could’ve just used the sweeping authority of the purse to fund their preferences in aggregate – and if the arena of taxpayer-funded services is any guide, that is how they will ultimately prevail.

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[Originally published at The Federalist]

Categories: On the Blog

The Enfeeblement of Congress

Somewhat Reasonable - July 03, 2014, 9:47 AM

In my last post I discussed the apparent inversion of the responsibility of the executive branch of government, namely that it has taken on a far greater role in domestic policy while turning its back in large part on its traditional responsibility for foreign affairs. The result has been an over-mighty presidency at home, a weakened and ineffectual Congress, and a rudderless foreign policy.

While I challenged the American public to rise against the tide of executive overreach, I did not thoroughly address what Congress itself can do to challenge the siphoning away of its traditional powers. There is in fact a great deal it can do.

The supreme legislative power of the United States is vested in the two houses of Congress. It is the only body with the authority to make laws. Yet that power has been furtively ignored by the Obama administration, which has taken to issuing executive orders with gusto. Executive orders are meant to be directives on how best to execute the laws made by Congress, not laws in themselves. Yet that is the character they have begun to take. One way for Congress to reassert its control over the legislative process would be to create far stricter guidelines in law as to what constitutes an appropriate executive order.

A reassertion of congressional eminence can only succeed if there is a culture change in its members. Senators and congressmen once jealously guarded the privileges and powers of their chambers and branch, even if it meant challenging a president of their own party. The culture in the legislature has to be restored to the belief that the branches of government are institutions in themselves that must be preserved, not just organs for exercising power for whatever party happens to hold them. The political culture in Washington has to change if the constitutional checks and balances are to hold.

It is one of the ironies of history that it is the executive branch that has grown over-mighty. Indeed, the framers of the Constitution feared far more that the Congress was the most likely institution of government to accrete power at the expense of the executive and judiciary. In their eyes the president was simply the chief magistrate of the republic, not an elective monarch.

We need more execution of the laws from the president and less kingly pronouncements. There is a great deal that can be done to restore the presidency to its rightful bounds, but it can only be accomplished if Congress also accepts its proper role as equal partner in the business of government.

Categories: On the Blog

“Room To Grow” Blind To The Most Important Issue For The Middle Class — Economic Growth

Somewhat Reasonable - July 03, 2014, 9:07 AM

In 1900, we had no airplanes, no computers, no cellphones, no internet. We had only rudimentary versions of cars, trucks, telephones, even cameras. As Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon report in their underappreciated work, It’s Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years,

“It is hard for us to imagine, for example, that in 1900 less than one in five homes had running water, flush toilets, a vacuum cleaner, or gas or electric heat. As of 1950 fewer than 20 percent of homes had air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a microwave oven. Today between 80 and 100 percent of American homes have all of these modern conveniences.”

Indeed, in 1900 only 2% of U.S. homes enjoyed electricity.

Moore and Simon explain that the real difference between 1900 and today is that real per capita GDP in the U.S. grew by nearly 7 times during that period, meaning the American standard of living grew by that much as well. Such continued, sustained economic growth would solve every real problem America faces today.

An Often Overlooked Math Lesson

If total real compensation, wages and benefits, grow at just 2% a year, after just 20 years the real incomes and living standards of working people would be nearly 50% greater, and after 40 years they would be 120% greater, more than doubled. At sustained 3% growth in wages and benefits, after 20 years the living standards of working people will have almost doubled, and after 40 years they will have more than tripled.

The U.S. economy sustained a real rate of economic growth of 3.3% from 1945 to 1973, and achieved the same 3.3% sustained real growth from 1982 to 2007. (Note that this 3.3% growth rate for the entire economy includes population growth. Real wages and benefits discussed above is a per worker concept). It was only during the stagflation decade of 1973 to 1982, reflecting the same Keynesian economics that President Obama is pursuing today, that real growth fell to only half long term trends. And Obama is falling short of even that, now in our sixth year of his misleadership and misrule, way too long to wait for now long overdue true recovery.

If we could revive and sustain that same 3.3% real growth for 20 years, our total economic production (GDP) would double in that time. After 30 years, our economic output would grow by 2 and two-thirds. After 40 years, our prosperity bounty would grow by 3 and two-thirds. If we are truly following growth maximizing policies, we could conceivably do even better than we have in the past world dominant (though actually declining) 40 years. At sustained real growth of 4% per year, our economic production would more than double after 20 years. After 30 years, GDP would more than triple. After 40 years, a generation, total U.S. economic output would nearly quadruple. America would by then have leapfrogged further generations ahead of the rest of the world.

Such restored, sustained, economic growth would rebuild the rapidly rising living standards that today’s middle class so anxiously wants to see again. It is also the ultimate solution to poverty, as after a couple of decades or so of such growth, the poor would climb to the same living standards as the middle class of today.

Such renewed, booming growth would empower the middle class to the prosperous retirement to which they still aspire, or at least still dream about. It would greatly ease the way to assuring health care for all, and privately finance the rapid medical advances and breakthroughs that modern medical science now increasingly offers in prospect. Families could more readily fund and finance higher education, and new, expansive homes for growing children.

Booming economic growth would produce surging revenues that would make balancing the budget, while still maintaining funding for essential needs, so much more feasible. Surging GDP would reduce the national debt as a percent of GDP relatively quickly, particularly with balanced budgets not adding any further to the debt.

With sustained, robust, economic growth, maintaining the most powerful military in the world, and thereby ensuring our nation’s security and national defense, will require a smaller and smaller percentage of GDP over time. That security itself will promote capital investment and economic growth in America. The booming economy will produce new technological marvels that will make our defenses all the more advanced. With the economy rapidly advancing, there will be more than enough funds to clean up and maintain a healthy environment. America’s previous prosperity is what has enabled us to do so much to clean up the environment already.

As my colleague Louis Woodhill has observed, “There is nothing that the federal government could possibly do for the middle class (or any other class, for that matter) that having 30% more income would not do much, much better.” That is where we would be today if we had just kept the bipartisan economic growth of the Reagan and Clinton years going. But there is so much more that can be done now to spark a 21st Century economic breakout today. For all of the above reasons, this is the top policy priority of today, by far.

English: Historical GDP per capita for the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

The short book Room to Grow, published on May 22 by an outfit calling itself the “Young Guns Network,” is a collection of essays by known, recognized, younger policy intellectuals, purporting to offer new ideas for the Republican Party. An untimely outgrowth of a project of former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Tea Party wags used to call him “CantorWont”), the essays can remind readers of why there is such a strong feeling of unease about the current Republican leadership (counterproductively cautious and afraid of truly pathbreaking new ideas, without the courage of their convictions demanded by the times and circumstances).

The real problem with the book intellectually is that after the third word of the title, what should be Job 1 for the Republican opposition, restoring traditional, American, booming economic growth, and the American Dream, is basically entirely overlooked. Woodhill’s further commentary on it bears repeating here for emphasis,

“The Republican Party is either the party of economic growth, or it is nothing, and it loses elections. Not only does Room to Grow not emphasize economic growth, it scarcely mentions it….The phrase ‘economic growth’ appears only four times in total….Only twice…in the context of calling for increasing it, and in those cases, no specifics are given about how this might be accomplished.”

The first introduction by former Bush speech writer Peter Wehner reflects this problem. It says the aim of the book is “to offer a concrete, conservative, governing agenda that is equal to this moment.” But the book clearly fails to do that, offering not only no agenda for economic growth, but no inspiring, strategic, big ideas for liberating the American people from high taxes, excessive government spending, deficits and debt, runaway overregulation, and our debauched currency. In other words, there is no focus either on liberty or making government smaller. It ignores rather than draws upon the good work done by others and successful precedents and strategies. It is all air brushed, sharply circumscribed, overly cautious and complex, dull colors, rather than the bright flag of bold pastels that inspired a generation of conservative Republican governance. In other words, the book reflects the spirit of McCain and Romney, or Boehner and Cantor, rather than Reagan and Kemp.

Even some of the authors included in the book have written better elsewhere. Even Boehner has been more inspiring, canny and effective at times than this book. Woodhill again captures it when he writes, “The ideas that Room to Grow contains are not the ones upon which Republicans must campaign to win in 2014 and 2016. Room to Grow is largely irrelevant to solving America’s most important problems.”

Wehner’s chapter accurately reflects a country dominated by anxiety, insecurity, unease, and economic and social pessimism. But he fails to accurately tie that to the failed policies of the Obama Democrats who currently have the throat of the nation under their boots. He fails to identify how the spreading family breakup caused by the welfare state policies of the Left are at the root of the increasing inequality and declining social mobility that he echoes the Left in decrying. He cites statistics of longer term economic stagnation often cited by the Left, but fails to recognize the great work of Steve Moore and Alan Reynolds debunking those statistics and demonstrating much brighter longer term perspectives.

Worst of all, he fails to see that the exact answer to the anxiety, insecurity, stagnation, and economic and social pessimism he identifies is precisely a promising agenda for restoring traditional, booming, American economic growth and prosperity. Instead, he tells us, “There’s no simple answer to what ails America’s economy,” and then actually cites Obama’s excuses for his economic failures “as President Obama frequently reminds us,” he writes. The real truth that this intellectual abdication reveals is that Peter Wehner does not know what policies would restore traditional, booming, American economic growth and prosperity, and which lead to the stagnation, pessimism, and despair of today.

It is not a crime that he does not sufficiently understand economics to provide the necessary leadership in this regard. But it does mean he is better qualified to serve as a speech writer for the ideas of others than the intellectual leader with the vision and understanding conservatives and Republicans need right now.

Tax and Social Security Reform

The most troubling is the book’s chapter on tax reform, by Robert Stein, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Treasury. Stein recognizes that Reagan’s dramatic marginal income tax rate cuts were enormously successful in promoting economic growth and prosperity. While marginal income tax rates are lower now, he doesn’t seem to recognize that with Obama’s rate increases, and high state rates, top marginal tax rates are near or even above 50% today. Moreover, the book’s authors show no recognition of the negative economic effects of the multiple taxation of capital.

Stein says that today, “Cutting marginal tax rates is not, however, an effective tool for delivering tax relief to the middle class. It does very little to lower their tax bills or improve their work incentives.” That is because Republicans, from Reagan to Gingrich to Bush II, already delivered dramatic tax relief to the middle class. The latest data shows that the middle 20% of income earners pay just 2.9% of federal income taxes, while earning 14.2% of before tax income. The book’s authors fail to show any recognition of that.

Moreover, economic studies and models show that tax reform reducing rates similarly to the proposal by the next Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, with a rate of 10% on family income up to $100,000 a year, and 25% above that, and a corporate rate of 25%, would strongly boost economic growth, jobs, and incomes, for everyone, including the middle class. That is why such tax reform is a crucial, central component of the economic growth policies so badly needed today.

But Stein says, “Instead, tax cuts for the middle class should be designed to offset the greatest fiscal-policy distortion that affects middle class Americans: the disincentive to raise children caused by Social Security and Medicare. Tax cuts should reduce the cost of raising children, making it easier for parents to pursue the family size they would desire in the absence of federal interference.” That is because Social Security and Medicare benefits “have crowded out the traditional incentive to raise children as a protection against poverty in old age.”

To correct for that supposed effect, Stein favors a tax reform proposal to raise the current $1,000 per child tax credit to $2,500 per child, which could be taken against both income tax and payroll taxes (recognizing that the actual middle class does not pay significant income taxes). To make that revenue neutral, Stein would actually favor raising the current 25% income tax rate to 35%. He says this is “a better pro-growth tax cut.”

But while that increase in the child tax credit may increase the number of children, the proposed tax reform would not be clearly pro-growth at all. Moreover, I dispute that in modern America today, without Social Security and Medicare, people would bear children because they think those children would support them in old-age. That is a rural 19th century notion. In today’s wealthy society, most Americans think they don’t want to be a burden to their children.

While Stein cites a couple of economic studies purporting to show that Social Security and Medicare does reduce fertility, much more evidence shows that Social Security and Medicare reduce savings and investment, as the programs displace the need for people to save for their retirement. That is decidedly anti-growth, and correcting for that distortion would be decidedly pro-growth, as increased savings and investment is the foundation of increased economic growth and prosperity, as long time Harvard Economics Professor, and Reagan’s former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Martin Feldstein has long argued.

But we can best resolve this argument with a market test. Similarly to what was so famously and successfully done in Chile over 30 years ago, allow people the freedom to choose to shift the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax to a personal savings and investment account. For every year they choose to do that, their retirement age would be delayed by 4 months, which Social Security actuaries estimate would be actuarially neutral. Doing that every year from age 22 to 67 would delay the normal Social Security retirement age for that worker by 15 years, to age 82. The personal account could then provide vastly better benefits than Social Security even promises, let alone what it could pay, during those years age 67 to 82. And Social Security benefits would then kick in at age 82, still providing a safety net against living too long. The same could be applied to the Medicare payroll tax as well. The resulting enormous influx of capital into the economy would be enormously pro-growth.

But also allow every worker with a child 21 or below the same freedom to choose to forego the employee share of payroll taxes every year, using the money to raise his or her children, with their retirement age delayed by 4 months for every year they chose this option. Then when they reach retirement, they would look to their children to support them, until the delayed Social Security benefits kick in. Then we could see which people would choose to provide for retirement, and how much. They could even choose some of each during their careers. Because ultimately, liberty and freedom of choice is the most fundamental.

Next week, I will discuss a complete policy reform strategy to achieve maximum economic growth (or maybe that will take a series of columns). That will include tax reform, regulatory reform, monetary reform, and thorough entitlement reform including every entitlement program, resulting in the largest reductions in government spending, taxes, deficits and debt in world history, resulting actually in better incomes and benefits for the poor and seniors, and better health care for the sick. These would all be positive, populist, win win reforms, all of which are currently in various stages of drafting in Congress, and all of which have already been tried and proven enormously successful in the real world. They are consequently all politically feasible, indeed, quite politically appealing and winning, not a wish list, dream agenda. I expect some leading GOP Presidential candidates to actually campaign on this entire agenda in 2016.

Indeed, I expect one of them to win. That would be the next generation advance of Reaganism, with the next President effectively serving politically as the free market conservative analogue of Franklin Roosevelt to Reagan’s Woodrow Wilson (in other words, fascism in reverse). The free market’s New New Deal would then have arrived (with the fall effectively of Progressivism’s “Berlin Wall”).

Call it the Tea Party War on Poverty (this time it actually works), or Swedish capitalism (the opposite of Swedish socialism), at long last ending the centuries old bitter conflict between labor and capital that has burdened western civilization, indeed, the entire world, since the industrial revolution.

Click here

Categories: On the Blog

Breaking EPA’s climate sciences secrecy barriers

Somewhat Reasonable - July 02, 2014, 3:59 PM

FOIA request seeks hidden data and analyses that agency claims back up its climate rulings

Can you imagine telling the IRS you don’t need to complete all their forms or provide records to back up your claim for a tax refund? Or saying your company’s assurances that its medical products are safe and effective should satisfy the FDA? Especially if some of your data don’t actually support your claims – or you “can’t find” key data, research and other records, because your hard drive conveniently crashed? But, you tell them, people you paid to review your information said it’s accurate, so there’s no problem.

Do you suppose the government would accept your assurance that there’s “not a smidgen” of corruption, error or doubt – perhaps because 97% of your close colleagues agree with you? Or that your actions affect only a small amount of tax money, or a small number of customers – so the agencies shouldn’t worry?

If you were the Environmental Protection Agency, White House-operated US Global Change Research Program and their participating agencies (NOAA, NASA, NSF, etc.), you’d get away with all of that.

Using billions of our tax dollars, these government entities fund the research they use, select research that supports their regulatory agenda (while ignoring studies that do not), and handpick the “independent” experts who peer-review the research. As a recent analysis reveals, the agencies also give “significant financial support” to United Nations and other organizations that prepare computer models and other assessments. They then use the results to justify regulations that will cost countless billions of dollars and affect the lives, livelihoods, liberties, living standards, health, welfare and life spans of every American.

EPA utilized this clever maneuver to determine that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases “endanger” public health and welfare. It then devised devious reports, including national climate change assessments – and expensive, punitive regulations to control emissions of those gases from vehicles, electrical generating plants and countless other sources.

At the very least, you would expect that this supposedly “scientific” review process – and the data and studies involved in it – should be subject to rigorous, least-discretionary standards designed to ensure their quality, integrity, credibility and reliability, as well as truly independent expert review. Indeed they are.

The Information Quality Act of 2000 and subsequent Office of Management and Budget guidelines require that all federal agencies ensure and maximize “the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information disseminated by Federal agencies.” The rules also call for proper peer review of all “influential scientific information” and “highly influential scientific assessments,” particularly if they could be used as the basis for regulatory action. Finally, they direct federal agencies to provide adequate administrative mechanisms enabling affected parties to review agency failures to respond to requests for correction or reconsideration of the scientific information.

EPA and other agencies apparently think these rules are burdensome, inconvenient, and a threat to their independence and regulatory agenda. They routinely ignore the rules, and resist attempts by outside experts to gain access to data and studies. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said she intends to “protect” them from people and organizations she decides “are not qualified to analyze” the materials.

Thus EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee reviews the agency’s CO2 and pollution data, studies and conclusions – for which EPA has paid CASAC’s 15 members $180.8 million since 2000. The American Lung Association has received $24.7 million in EPA grants over the past 15 years and $43 million overall via a total of 591 federal grants, for applauding and promoting government agency decisions. Big Green foundations bankrolled the ALA with an additional $76 million, under 2,806 grants.

These payoffs raise serious questions about EPA, CASAC and ALA integrity and credibility.

Meanwhile, real stakeholders – families and companies that will be severely impacted by the rules, and organizations and experts trying to protect their interests – are systematically denied access to data, studies, scientific assessments and other information. CASAC excludes from its ranks industry and other experts who might question EPA findings. EPA stonewalls and slow-walks FOIA requests and denies requests for correction and reconsideration. One lawyer who’s filed FOIA cases since 1978 says the Obama Administration is bar-none “the worst” in history on transparency. Even members of Congress get nowhere, resulting in testy confrontations with Ms. McCarthy and other EPA officials.

The stakes are high, particularly in view of the Obama EPA’s war on coal mining, coal-fired power plants, businesses and industries that require reliable, affordable electricity – and families, communities and entire states whose jobs, health and welfare will suffer under this anti-fossil fuel agenda. States that mine and use coal will be bludgeoned. Because they pay a larger portion of their incomes on energy and food, elderly, minority and poor families are especially vulnerable and will suffer greatly.

That is why the House of Representatives is moving forward on the Secret Science Reform Act. It is why the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development is again filing new FOIA requests with EPA and other agencies that are hiding their junk science, manipulating laws and strangling our economy.

The agencies’ benefit-cost analyses are equally deceptive. EPA claims its latest coal-fueled power plant rules (requiring an impossible 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030) would bring $30 billion in “climate benefits” versus $7.3 billion in costs. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution has trashed the agency’s analysis – pointing out that the low-balled costs will be paid by American taxpayers, consumers, businesses and workers, whereas the highly conjectural benefits will be accrued globally.

That violates President Clinton’s 1993 Executive Order 12688, which requires that agencies “assess both the costs and benefits” of a proposed regulation, and adopt it “only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits … justify its costs.” EO 12866 specifies that only benefits to US citizens be counted. Once that’s done, the EPA benefits plummet to between $2.1 billion and $6.9 billion. That means its kill-coal rules costAmericans $400 million to $4.8 billion more than the clearly inflated benefits, using EPA’s own numbers.

Moreover, the US Chamber of Commerce calculates that the regulations will actually penalize the United States $51 billion. Energy analyst Roger Bezdek estimates that the benefits of using carbon-based fuels outweigh any hypothesized “social costs of carbon” by orders of magnitude: 50-to-1 (using the inflated SCC of $36/ton of CO2 concocted by EPA and other federal agencies in 2013) – and 500-to-1 (using the equally arbitrary $22/ton estimate that they cooked up in 2010).

Even more intolerable, these punitive EPA rules will have virtually no effect on atmospheric CO2 levels, because China, India, Germany and other countries will continue to burn coal and other fossil fuels. They will likewise have no effect on global temperatures, even accepting the Obama/EPA/IPCC notion that carbon dioxide is now the primary cause of climate change. Even EPA models acknowledge that its rules will prevent an undetectable 0.018 degrees Celsius (0.032 deg F) of total global warming in 100 years!

Fortunately, the Supreme Court recently ruled that EPA does not have the authority to rewrite federal laws to serve its power-grabbing agendas. FOIA requests seeking disclosure of EPA records that could reveal a rigged climate science peer review process – and legal actions under the Information Quality Act seeking correction of resultant data corruption – could compel courts to reconsider their all-too-common practice of deferring to “agency discretion” on scientific and regulatory matters. That clearly scares these federales.

The feds have become accustomed to saying “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” The prospect of having to share their data, methodologies and research with experts outside their closed circle of regulators, collaborators and eco-activists almost makes them soil their shorts.

Bright sunlight has always been the best disinfectant for mold, slime and corruption. With America’s economy, international competitiveness, jobs, health and welfare at stake, we need that sunlight now.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.cfact.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death. Lawrence Kogan is CEO of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (www.ITSSD.org).

Categories: On the Blog

Death by Delay

Somewhat Reasonable - July 02, 2014, 1:30 PM

www.tallbloke.wordpress.com

“The difference between taking a part of my life,
and taking my whole life, is just a matter of degree.” -
Anon

There was a time, before the baby-boom generation took over, when we took pride in the achievements of our builders, producers and innovators. There was always great celebration when settler families got a phone, a tractor, a bitumen road or electric power. An oil strike or a gold discovery made headlines, and people welcomed new businesses, new railways and new inventions. Science and engineering were revered and the wealth delivered by these human achievements enabled the builders and their children to live more rewarding lives, with more leisure, more time for culture and crusades, and greater interest in taking more care of their environment.

Then a green snake entered the Garden of Eden.

Many of the genuine conservationists from the original environmental societies were replaced by political extremists who felt lost after the Comrade Societies collapsed and China joined the trading world. These zealots were mainly interested in promoting environmental alarms in order to push a consistent agenda of world control of production, distribution and exchange – a new global utopia run by unelected all-knowing people just like them.

The old Reds became the new Greens.

They used every credible-sounding scare to recruit support – peak resources, acid rain, ozone holes, global cooling, species extinction, food security, Barrier Reef threats, global warming or extreme weather to justify global controls, no-go areas and international taxes to limit all human activities. However the public became disenchanted with their politics of denial, and their opposition to human progress, so they have adopted a new tactic – death by delay.

“We are not opposed to all development, but we want to ensure all environmental concerns are fully investigated before new developments get approval.”

In fact, their goal is to kill projects with costly regulations, investigations and delay. Their technique is to grab control of bureaucratic bodies like the US EPA which, since 2009, has issued 2,827 new regulations totalling 24,915,000 words. A current example of death by delay is the Keystone Oil pipeline proposal which would have taken crude oil from Alberta in Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast – far better than sending it by rail tankers. It was first proposed in 2005, and immediately opposed by the anti-industry, anti-carbon zealots who control the EPA and other arms of the US federal government. The proposal was studied to death by US officials and green busybodies for nine long years.

This week the Canadians lost patience and approved an alternative proposal to take a pipeline to the west coast of Canada, allowing more Albertan oil to be exported to Asia. Jobs and resources that would have benefitted Americans will now go to Asia. Naturally the Green delayers will also attempt to throttle this proposal. Over in Europe, shale gas exploration is also being subject to death by delay. In Britain, the pioneering company, Caudrilla, has been waiting for seven long years for approvals to explore. In France, all such exploration is banned.

No wonder India recently accused Greenpeace and other delayers of being “a threat to national economic security”.

 

Categories: On the Blog

The Inversion of the Presidency

Somewhat Reasonable - July 02, 2014, 12:52 PM

It was long the case that American presidents held less power on domestic issues than did the Congress. The executive branch could only enact the laws of the legislature with a limited ability and proclivity to veto.

The president’s real power lay in setting foreign policy, as he had much more freedom of action in that arena than on the home front wherein the checks and balances of the Constitution were in full force.

That traditional balance has been overridden in the current political system, and the fault for this breakdown of traditional magisteria of influence lies with both the executive and the legislative branches.

In domestic politics, the legislature has ceded, both deliberately and under protest, a great deal of power to the executive. The so-called imperial presidency has been growing in power since the end of World War II, but it has become a monster since Barack Obama took office.

The Obama White House has sought to dominate the American political system, and has attempted to paint opposition forces in Congress as enemies of progress.Yet it has not been a mere rhetorical attack on checks and balances. Indeed, the president’s promise to use his “pen and phone” to enact executive orders so as to bypass Congress wherever possible has become a terrifying reality.

Perhaps what is most shocking about Obama’s stated aim of bypassing the constitutional checks on his power is the fact that much of the mainstream media has endorsed his actions. They seem to forget that the president is not the only elected official in the country and he is not the only person with a mandate to govern. The Congress has an electoral mandate to do as it was elected to do. The president cannot pretend he has a right to run roughshod over Congress and the Constitution.

Also disconcerting is the trend in the Congress itself to permit executive overreach. There was once a time when senators and congressmen viewed their office as taking precedence over party. That is no longer the case (in either party). During the administration of George W. Bush, the Republican-controlled Congress was more than willing to hand sweeping powers to the president. The Democratic Congress after 2009 gave even more powers to Obama. In both cases, Congress has been complicit in the erosion of the essential checks and balances that preserve the United States government and the liberty of all Americans.

The Obama administration is a particularly strange beast. At the same time that the White House has been hoovering up domestic powers from a Congress too divided and weak to fight back, it has also been entirely rudderless on foreign policy. Almost everything Obama has done on the world stage has weakened America. He has snubbed our allies in Israel and South Korea, ceded control of the Internet to even more statist (and sometimes authoritarian) interests, and has led a foreign policy in the Middle East so senseless as to render any observer speechless. What we are witnessing is a fundamental inversion of the proper power and role of the presidency.

Can the situation be saved? That is a matter up to the American public. They can stand by and continue to allow the gradual whittling away of their liberties at home and security abroad, or they can call on their elected leaders and candidates to uphold the Constitution. For the sake of the nation, they had best choose the latter.

Categories: On the Blog

Public Voices Opposition to Internet Sales Taxes

Somewhat Reasonable - July 02, 2014, 12:10 PM

In an effort to address growing budget problems, many states have attempted to draw on the as yet untapped revenue source of online sales taxes. Currently, these efforts have been stymied by legal precedent and a lack of public support. However in the last few years, Congress has attempted to accelerate these efforts with several pieces of legislation that  expand the states’ ability of states to charge sales taxes on out of state retailers regardless of if the retailer has a physical presence in the state. The most prominent of these is the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA), which was first proposed by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in 2011.

This week, the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and the R Street Institute launched a 20-state tour to announce new poll results that demonstrate the publics near complete lack of support for the MFA and the detrimental the tax plan would be. The first stop was in South Carolina, where R Street Executive Director Andrew Moylan and NTU Executive Vice President Pete Sepp hosted a press conference annoying the results. Voters in South Carolina rejected Internet sales taxes by a significant margin of 51-36.

It should come as no surprise that the majority American public against attempts to impose taxes on internet purchases. Internet sales taxes have long been unpopular with everyday shoppers, for good reason. Imposing such a tax on online and mailer order sales would unfortunately have strong negative effects on the online economy, hinder tax competition amongst the states while raising far less revenue than legislators expect and worst of all open taxpayers up to a slew of new possible taxes.

A Gallup poll conducted in 2013 found that 57 percent of respondents opposed enacting a law that would allow states to collect sales taxes on online purchases, as the Marketplace Fairness Act does. Another 2013 poll commissioned to Mercury by the National Taxpayers Union and R Street Institute found the same results, 57 percent of respondents were opposed to an Internet sales tax scheme like the MFA.

“New Internet sales tax laws are bad policy, but this polling proves that they’re terrible politics as well,” said R Street’s Andrew Moylan in a press statement. “It shows that strong majorities across the country seek an Internet that enriches their lives, not out-of-state revenue agents.”

NTU’s Pete Sepp pointed to a disconnect between Washington and the average taxpayer, “Special interests might convince some in Washington, but in the states, voters are not fooled by any attempts to unleash tax collectors from reckless states like New York and Illinois on their hometown businesses.”

The tour will continue over the upcoming months, with individual results being released for each state. More information on the fight against Internet sales taxes can be found online here: DontTaxtheInter.net.

While proponents of this measure and others have argued that efforts like it are needed to restore a balance between online and bricks-and-mortar retailers, the reality is quite the opposite. The Marketplace Fairness Act would give bricks-and-mortar retailers a distinct advantage over online retailers. Even with today’s technology, it is difficult and expensive for online merchants to accurately charge sales taxes for the products they sell to the 9,600 different taxing bodies in this country. In addition, local retailers benefit from services such as roads; police, fire, accident, and disaster protection; and utilities delivered over money-saving public rights of way. Out-of-state retailers get none of these.

One alternative state legislators could consider is an origin-based sales tax system for Internet sales taxes. It stays within the parameters of the physical presence standard and ensures that out-of-state consumers are not paying taxes for services they will never use. Preserving this standard is essential. Allowing it to be overridden would create a significant expansion of state taxing powers and would undermine tax competition, which helps keep taxes low.

Categories: On the Blog
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