On the Blog

Weather Bulletin #6, February 2, 2015: Climate Cool-down Across America

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2015, 11:56 PM

MSN/Accuweather reports February will have a frigid start. Parts of New England still digging out from a blizzard last week are in the crosshairs again, as a new winter snowstorm slowly churning  through the Midwest heads East.

As blizzard conditions blanket Chicago, More than 2,000 flights were cancelled over the weekend, most of them departing from or scheduled to land in Chicago’s two airports. With wind gusts expected to top 40 mph in some places, the wind chills could be deadly.

In anticipation of the storm, Connecticut has delayed the opening of state offices, and York county Pennsylvania is bracing for possible record low temperatures of more than -6° below zero.

For the past week, much of the country experienced relatively mild temperatures with winter high temperature records set on some dates in locations as scattered as Billings, Montana and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. However, this respite will be short-lived as normal or below normal temperatures are expected to descend again this week.

Overnight lows this week will fall below zero in Detroit, Erie, and Buffalo, New York, by mid-week, and much of northern New England will experience temperatures closer to 20 degrees below zero.

Despite the cold, temperatures in the U.S. at present are closer to the normal Winter range than they were in 2014 during the depth of the polar vortex.

Big snow this week! Seems like a good time to protest global warming.

Categories: On the Blog

Jeb Bush’s Common Core Hedging Undermines Reform Efforts

Somewhat Reasonable - January 31, 2015, 4:37 PM

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and prospective GOP presidential contender, was wrong to support Common Core. Now, on the campaign trail, he appears to be backtracking a bit. He should go all the way and admit he was wrong in the first place.

In a speech this past November, Bush said, “In my view, the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms. For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher, be bolder, raise standards, and ask more of our students and the system.”

Clearly, he was suggesting states can and should do better than Common Core; though he still laughably and inconsistently referred to the “rigor” of these low-quality standards. Bush is obviously trying to have it both ways: supporting Common Core while endorsing states’ choice to implement better standards.

Bush then went on to defend state autonomy over schools, noting state governments “are ultimately accountable” for their schools. “So if the federal government wants to play a role in reform, it should stop tying every education dollar to a rule written in Washington, DC.”

Unfortunately, billions of federal dollars were tied to Common Core through the Race to the Top program. All but a handful of states were essentially bribed into adopting subpar standards. Many states had not even seen the final version before agreeing to adopt the K–12 math and English standards.

There is a definite inconsistency between Bush’s push for vouchers and school choice in Florida and his support for Common Core. Federally backed standards blatantly attack flexibility, autonomy, and state and local control of education.

Common Core is widely criticized for focusing on students using a particular (and not necessarily sensible) method of achieving an answer rather than focusing on whether the answer is right. Teachers such as Marsha Griffin of Jonesboro Elementary in Illinois are expressing frustration over this narrow-mindedness.

“I think students will be bogged down in process and possibly not know how to do anything. We are teaching to a test,” Griffin said.

Common Core proponents throw around buzzwords such as “internationally benchmarked,” “rigorous,” and “college and career ready,” but curriculum experts, child psychologists, and educators across the country denigrate the quality and appropriateness of the standards. “These standards have not been internationally benchmarked. They have not been researched. They are not evidence-based,” Griffin said. “We have no idea what we are doing to an entire generation of children.”

Common Core proponents try to dismiss these concerns by saying establishing standards is not the same as mandating a curriculum. However, standards ultimately define curriculum because achievement tests are based on them.

Susan Bowles, a kindergarten teacher at the Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Gainesville, Florida made headlines after refusing to administer standardized tests she felt did students more harm than good. After Bowles took her stand, officials reconsidered and changed the testing policy for the year. Since then there has been mounting criticism of Common Core and its related tests, both in Florida and nationally, but teachers like Bowles know they are fighting an uphill battle.

“I think there is a huge amount of resistance to the stance that there is too much testing and that the Common Core — or some slightly tweaked variation — has lots of problems,” Bowles said. “Companies like Pearson are making huge amounts of money by changing both the format and the difficulty of tests frequently, and then providing new curricula to support the testing that goes on. I have no doubt there are lobbyists and funds that have tainted the moral integrity of many politicians.”

Bowles continued, “I find it interesting that so few politicians have children in public schools. If they think their mandates for reform are so great, why don’t they trust our schools to educate their children?”

The debate over Common Core has divided school choice advocates, just as it seems to have divided Bush against himself. Instead of fighting for creation and expansion of choice programs or promoting concepts like student-based budgeting and parent trigger laws, choice advocates are arguing over whether to retain the federally backed standards.

It’s an unfortunate waste of time, energy, and money because the honest answer couldn’t be clearer. Scientific studies find no evidence national standards improve student achievement. In addition, education and curriculum are supposed to be handled on the state and local levels because they are not enumerated as federal powers in the Constitution.

An unfortunate number of academics and bureaucrats belittle the importance of local control and state autonomy. Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, refers to local control of education as “quaint” but unrealistic. What is really unrealistic is to think what is taught and how it is taught in Philadelphia should be exactly the same as the standards applied in a small town in Montana. Different students in different states and districts have different needs, which requires teachers and administrators to use different tactics and methodologies to address those needs.

If a school is teaching students 1+1=5, the state government has the power and authority to hold it accountable. National standards actually undermine that authority.

Bush ought to listen to former constituents such as Susan Bowles. He has clearly begun to backtrack on Common Core, but it will be hard to accept his newly found advocacy of state autonomy unless he admits it was a bad idea in the first place.

[Originally published at the American Thinker]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Tom Tanton: Renewable Portfolio Standards

Somewhat Reasonable - January 30, 2015, 10:00 AM

Energy expert Tom Tanton discusses is Reason Foundation study, Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Renewable Portfolio Standards: A Guide for Policymakers, which found serious flaws federal energy laboratories analysis of the benefits and costs of state renewable energy mandates.

He found that the government report understates the costs, and overstates the benefits, while ignoring entirely a whole range of environmental harms wind and solar farms cause. Tanton concludes that each state should reexamine their Renewable Energy Portfolio laws and determine whether the results merit continuing the costly programs.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Testing the FCC’s Net Neutrality Political Calculus

Somewhat Reasonable - January 30, 2015, 9:03 AM

A bird in the hand is still worth two in the bush.

This age old wisdom has survived to warn against human nature — to be overly confident of keeping what one has while risking everything when grasping for much more.

Currently the FCC and congressional Democrats are rejecting the proverbial “bird in the hand,” i.e. proposed net neutrality legislation that would provide the FCC with the legal authority it has sought for seven years, in order to go for the “two birds in the bush,” or maximal perceived authority via unilaterally reclassifying the Internet as a Title II telephone utility.

Such action could result in the FCC losing everything in court or in a change of administration.

Consider the very valuable “bird in the hand” that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune have offered the FCC and congressional Democrats.

The Republican chairmen’s discussion draft legislation gives the FCC all the consumer protection authority the FCC says it needs to enforce net neutrality: no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and required transparency.

The draft also would change existing law to enable these net neutrality authorities to also apply to wireless, not just wired — something the FCC does not have the authority to do given the plain reading of 1993 law passed by an all-Democrat government.

In return, the Republican chairmen’s discussion draft would prohibit the FCC from reclassifying the Internet as a telephone regulated utility and limit the FCC’s Internet authority only to addressing the problems the FCC has identified over the last twenty years.

And the chairmen have made clear it is a discussion draft subject to compromise and change to gain Democratic support.

The FCC and congressional Democrats have maximal negotiating leverage now. This leverage understandably would evaporate if the FCC were to reject any congressional resolution or bipartisanship, and unilaterally reclassify the regulatory status of the Internet.

In a nutshell, if the draft legislation became law, the FCC would have legal and political legitimacy in enforcing net neutrality going forward, and own authority that a court could not take away like the court did twice in 2010 and 2014.

Now consider the two different ways that the FCC can lose — both the legislatively offered “bird in the hand” and the coveted “two birds in the bush” of un-bounded FCC legal authority — in the 2016 election and in expected court challenges.

If the FCC assumes the commission has the legal latitude to politically reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications utility, future commissions also would enjoy the legal latitude to politically reclassify the Internet back to what it is today — a largely unregulated information service.

Two years out, it’s reasonably about 50-50 which party wins the 2016 presidential election.

Thus there is roughly a 50 percent risk that this FCC’s Title II reclassification is re-reclassified by the next FCC, because the FCC chose to gamble and throw away “the bird in the hand” of permanent legislated authority to legitimately enforce net neutrality.

As for an expected court challenge, the FCC is well aware that the two preceding chairmen, who were lawyers trained at the Harvard and Yale law schools respectively, were 0-2 in trying to persuade the courts that the FCC had existing statutory authority to enforce net neutrality in Comcast v. FCC and Verizon v. FCC.

What are the reasonable odds that current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who is not a lawyer, will fare better in making this inherently legal call and overseeing the necessary legal analysis, strategy, argumentation and precedential justification, to win when the first two attempts failed, and when the FCC is rejecting the court’s explicit Section 706 legal advice in Verizon v. FCC?

What are the reasonable odds that a vastly more complicated Title II court case, that requires repudiating FCC precedents, reversing FCC findings of facts, and implicates more serious constitutional issues than the first two administrative cases, somehow fares better in court than the previous two unsuccessful cases?

To be reasonable, assume the legal outcome is 50-50. Thus there is roughly a 50 percent chance the FCC’s reclassification will be overturned in court a third time.

Add the probabilities of these two gauntlets that this FCC Title II reclassification must survive — a 50-50 presidential election and a 50-50 court review — means a roughly a 25 percent probability that an FCC Title II reclassification would survive past the next few years.

So what does this mean for the FCC and congressional Democrats? Which will still be around and care about consumers, net neutrality and an open Internet in 2017 and beyond?

Do the FCC and congressional Democrats, all of whom enjoy maximal leverage at this point in time, reject “the bird in hand” of permanent legislation to enforce all currently known net neutrality violations, or do they risk the roughly 75 percent probability that they could lose all authority to enforce net neutrality after 2017?

Wouldn’t consumers want a “bird in hand,” bipartisan, legitimate, and permanent resolution that puts their interests and protection above “two birds in the bush” politics?

Categories: On the Blog

Thirty Years Promoting Freedom

Somewhat Reasonable - January 29, 2015, 12:35 PM

This essay is based on remarks delivered at The Heartland Institute’s 30th anniversary benefit dinner on September 12, 2014. It originally appeared on the cover of the fourth quarter 2014 issue of QPR.

Very few organizations survive 30 years, and very few people work for the same organization for that long. That makes The Heartland Institute an exceptional organization, and it makes me a very lucky guy.

Ideas Matter

The Heartland Institute was founded in 1984 on the premise that ideas matter. In the history of nations, ideas have mattered a lot.

For thousands of years the condition of mankind was almost universally characterized by poverty, war, slavery, and tyranny. That some people could use force against others was accepted by the philosophers and religious leaders of the day. Slavery was “politically correct” in its day. So was monarchy and killing witches.

The idea that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, was revolutionary in 1776. It changed human history. It made possible the democracy, peace, freedom, and prosperity we all too often take for granted today.

The War of Ideas 

But even great ideas need champions able to defend them from competing ideas. The idea that some people are “more equal than others,” as George Orwell put it so well in 1984, is an ancient one.

It finds advocates among tyrants, obviously, but also among bureaucrats and elected officials, among academics who long to impose their vision of a better world on the rest of us, in industry among businessmen and -women who find it easier to please a government overseer than compete for customers in the marketplace, and among liberals and socialists who fear and misunderstand how a truly free society would look and operate.

While tyranny has many natural allies, freedom often wants for defenders. Its greatest defenders often end up martyrs, unpopular during their lifetimes and recognized for their achievements only after they have died. Many politicians give lip service to freedom but when it comes time to vote, they support legislation that restricts freedoms, redistributes wealth, or piles debt onto future generations.

Plenty of people say “freedom is good except for [fill in the blank].” Sometimes those exceptions are merited: Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. But often those alleged exceptions to freedom are not warranted, and while each might seem to be small and minor, together they add up to big holes in freedom’s foundation. Freedom needs heros, not fair-weather friends.

Freedom also suffers from what economists call the “free rider problem.” People benefit from freedom even if they don’t invest in its preservation. Many of our neighbors are politically asleep, they don’t follow the issues, they don’t vote, they just don’t care. Because of our hard work, their freedoms are secure.

So the defenders of freedom are always and everywhere outnumbered by its foes.

The Heartland Institute

The Heartland Institute and scores of organizations like it were created to level the odds between the forces of freedom and tyranny, and to free as many people as possible from the tyranny of others. It’s a noble cause, perhaps the most noble cause anyone can pursue.

The Heartland Institute was started by Dave Padden and a group of small business owners in Chicago in 1984. They hired me, a young kid still in college with little experience but a lot of enthusiasm, to be its first executive director.

It grew slowly but steadily to become one of the country’s most influential think tanks. Today, it has 230 academics and economists serving on its board of policy advisors,160 elected officials serving on its legislative advisory board, a full-time staff of 31, more than 5,000 donors, and an annual budget of about $6 million.

In the overall scheme of things, we’re a small organization, but we’ve accomplished big things. We are the reason 26 states refused to create Obamacare state insurance exchanges, and why 24 states have declined to expand Medicaid.

We are why 21 states have voucher and tax-credit programs that allow 212,000 students to enroll in private schools. And why seven states have parent trigger laws that require schools be reorganized, turned into charters, or shut down if a majority of parents sign petitions demanding this.

We are why there is no carbon tax or carbon cap-and-trade program in the U.S., why the Kyoto Protocol was allowed to expire, and why no climate treaty with binding national targets will emerge from Paris in 2015.

Along the way, we have saved taxpayers billions of dollars a year by effectively opposing tax hikes, subsidies of all kinds, and unnecessary regulations.

Logic and Passion

We defend our vision of a free society with logic and passion, because neither one alone is sufficient to win the battles. We study social problems and discover solutions that rely on more freedom and less government. We show how these solutions are more efficient than relying on the government, and efficiency is important: without it, there is no prosperity. But we also appeal to fairness and morality, because they are what drive passion.

There is no justice without the rule of law. There is no morality without the freedom to act, wisely or unwisely, and bear the consequences. There is no meaning to life if we are not free to choose our own paths and to do it our own way.

We will continue to defend our vision of a free society no matter how politically incorrect it might be, and no matter what tactics our opponents use against us, because we were chosen by fate to defend freedom. It’s our privilege and duty to perform this important task.

Tonight, we recommit ourselves to this mission. If you are a donor to The Heartland Institute, thank you for your generosity, your concern for your country’s future, and your courage to stand up and be counted.

If you are not yet a donor, I hope you will join us. Become part of the solution; don’t let others carry your weight as well as their own. Make promoting freedom your favorite charity, because increased freedom will lift every other cause that might be important to you.

You can make freedom your legacy, something your children and grandchildren will remember and thank you for. Now is the right time to start. The Heartland Institute welcomes your support.

[Download PDF of Remarks here]
Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Heather & Joy: Obama’s SOTU and Free Community College

Somewhat Reasonable - January 29, 2015, 11:39 AM

School Reform News Managing Editor Heather Kays speaks to Joy Pullmann, managing editor at The Federalist about the president’s State of the Union address. Pullmann talks about a piece she wrote on President Barack Obama’s comments on childcare and how she thinks the government should not be involved in the way citizens run their families.

Kays and Pullman also discuss Obama’s “free” community college plan, which is anything but free and would accomplish little other than decreasing the value of degrees while increasing the burden on taxpayers.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

‘Sons of Liberty': Historically Inaccurate, Surprisingly Relevant

Somewhat Reasonable - January 29, 2015, 9:56 AM

The message of “Sons of Liberty” is perhaps more important than its historical accuraacy.

The American Revolution is hot. That’s the only conclusion one can justify in light of the numerous highly popular history books about the era in recent years, plus TV series such as Sleepy Hollow (FOX), Turn (AMC), and of course HBO’s John Adams.

It was thus inevitable that the History Channel would get into the game with a big, splashy, six-hour (including commercials) miniseries, Sons of Liberty, which premiered last night.

It was by no means inevitable, however, that the actual production would be so historically inaccurate as to make the paranormal fantasy Sleepy Hollow look like a docudrama by comparison. There is more to the series, however, than its historical inaccuracies, though the latter are substantial, and those dismayed by the recent decline of America’s fortunes may find the series to be of surprising interest.

As to the inaccuracies, Thomas Verenna documents them in great detail at the Journal of the American Revolution (h/t P. J. Gladnick of NewsBusters), observing,

While it plays well for those who are in on the secret [i.e., those who know the actual history of the era], if you’re looking for facts about the Sons of Liberty or information about the War for American Independence, don’t plan on discovering those facts in this miniseries; you won’t find them. Instead of portraying actual historical events and giving each character balance and depth, the writers and producers have gone with a standard archetype of good and evil—you can probably guess which side is good and which is evil

That was precisely what we saw in last night’s premiere episode. Yankees good, Brits evil. It was as simple, and simple-minded as that, and the production twisted the facts as needed in order to accomplish that straightforward dichotomy. The episode is at least as historically distorted as Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, but without that movie’s compelling personal story and resulting emotional power.

It also suffers from fashionably dark cinematography and the set designers’ false cliche that the world was always coated entirely by grime before the 1980s, even though the factories of the Industrial Revolution were still nearly a century in the future during the Revolutionary era.

You really should read Verenna’s article to appreciate the full panoply of historical distortions in the miniseries, but here’s just one section to give you an idea of the extent of it:

  • What British Soldiers Didn’t Do in Boston – Let’s just cover these now (thanks to J.L. Bell for parts of the list) because the show just depicts the British army in all the wrong and mythological ways it can.
    • Soldiers didn’t arrest patriot/populist leaders. No homes were stormed, family members seized, or fathers taken away from crying sons.
    • Soldiers didn’t shut down any patriot newspapers. The two of the most radical papers continued to publish until the printers left town just before the war broke out in April 1775.
    • Soldiers did not try to stop the Powder Alarm of 2 September 1774, the Worcester court uprising, any of the Massachusetts’s conventions, or meetings of the illegal Massachusetts Provincial Congress.
    • Soldiers did not retaliate against the 400 armed New England militiamen who stormed Fort William and Mary, assaulted five soldiers and an officer (who fired on the militia after demanding they stop several times), and stole all the gunpowder stores, weapons, and ammunition, in December 1774.
    • Soldiers were not quartered in unwilling civilians’ homes, despite the popular myth to the contrary. In 1774 and early 1775, the only British military men staying in civilian homes were officers renting rooms from willing hosts. Back in 1768 and after the war started, the British army did use some public buildings.
    • In 1774 the army didn’t use or confiscate public buildings as barracks. The troops were housed in tents on Boston Common. Eventually barracks were constructed from old warehouses and other unused buildings, all rented from their actual owners.
    • Soldiers did not use force to break up peaceful political demonstrations.
    • Soldiers did not issue or enforce warrants. Despite the show’s insistence that British Regulars entered homes and gave summonses to attend court hearings for missed payments, none of this happened.
    • Soldiers didn’t broadly shut down businesses owned and run by patriots. The troops came to Boston to help the Customs service enforce the Boston Port Bill, so in a sense they did shut down businesses that involved trade through the harbor.

The characterizations of some of the historical personages are also rather bizarre. Most notable is the portrayal of Samuel Adams as a thirtyish action hero born and raised in poverty. Actually, Adams was 43 years old in 1765, was married and gainfully employed (not a homeless bachelor as depicted in the show), was left substantial property by his father, was never in any danger of actual arrest in the matter of  £8,000 of uncollected taxes on his father’s estate, and was generally a sensible, contributing member of society.

He certainly was not a bitter firebrand who repeatedly cudgels a British soldier at the scene of the Boston Massacre in episode one, nor did he climb up walls and run across roofs to escape British troops. He was a leader and an intellectual, not a swashbuckling martial artist.

All of these changes seem to have one common purpose: to make these heroes of distant history more appealing to modern young people raised on video games and entirely uninterested in what happened five years ago, much less two and a half centuries in the past. But it appears to me that there is another impulse at work here: a strong sense of populist libertarianism.

The entire thrust of the first episode largely pits two types of people against each other: the wealthy and politically powerful and those who serve them, and the common people who want nothing more than an opportunity to earn a decent living and live a good life of peace and contentment. The British represent the former, of course, and the colonists the latter. The fact that this dichotomy was not historically true is what makes all the distortions necessary.

What we are left with, though, is a story that makes great fundamental sense to Americans today, despite its historical inaccuracy, as we contemplate a system in which political and economic power have consolidated in a system resulting in increasingly economic inequality and social unrest. Although the mainstream media relentlessly mock the Tea Party movement, Sons of Liberty suggests an affirmation of the impulse and its validity as a response to the present moment.

Sons of Liberty is by no means accurate in its account of what happened a quarter-millennium ago, but it’s surprisingly incisive regarding what is happening in this country today, with its sentiments clearly on the side of the citizenry against an overweeningly powerful government that has corrupted the nation’s wealth to serve its own designs. And maybe that’s more important, ultimately, than whether it correctly conveys Samuel Adams’s marital status, athletic ability, and fullness of pocketbook.

Part 1 ends on a down note with the Boston Massacre, but current-day Tea Party partisans may well take hope from the knowledge of where the real-life story went from there. Perhaps Sons of Liberty will prove not only accurate in the most important ways but also prescient about the nation’s future.

[First published by the Liberty21 Institute.]

Categories: On the Blog

Endlessly Slapped by ObamaCare

Somewhat Reasonable - January 29, 2015, 9:30 AM

“I’m sorry sir,” the polite Healthcare.gov customer-service agent said. “There’s nothing I can do. You’re either going to have to enroll in Medicaid or you’re going to have to pay the full health-insurance rate.”

“The rate you quoted earlier?” I asked. “That’s nearly 30 percent higher than my current insurance bill, I just can’t afford it.”

“You’ll have to pay the full rate, yes,” the agent replied.

“I don’t understand,” I explained. “I have plenty of money to pay you a reasonable rate, but I can’t afford to pay the same rate a millionaire would be asked to pay. Why can’t I just receive a partial subsidy? I’m willing to pay more than what Medicaid offers.”

“Sir, that’s just not how the system works.”

Right. That’s not how ObamaCare works; it doesn’t work at all.

I was 26 when my graduate school informed me in 2013 that thanks to “usage rates of the plan, changing health-insurance regulations, and the administrative workload that is involved in managing a plan” after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, students could no longer buy health coverage through the school.

So much for President Obama’s promises of “if you like your plan, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan.”

I had health insurance. I liked it. But that plan disappeared.

And college officials confirmed my suspicion that ObamaCare was the culprit. “It’s just too expensive to operate under the new health-care regulations,” I was told.

So there I was: A struggling grad student with no health insurance, and unable to afford unsubsidized ObamaCare plans I’d hardly, if ever, use.

But Uncle Sam was there on his white horse, ready to save my day with . . . Medicaid?

There’s nothing wrong with getting government help in a time of need, but I wasn’t in a time of need. I had some money from student loans, and no serious health concerns; my career was getting started and my wife was less than two years from graduating medical school.

Call me crazy, but in my book Medicaid is a last resort, not a first option.

Faced with the choice of either violating a strong conviction by going on Medicaid or signing up for ObamaCare insurance I couldn’t afford, I chose a third option: short-term insurance.

Unlike traditional health plans, short-term plans are generally available only to healthy buyers and last for a set period.

After that period ends, the insurer can choose not to renew, and often won’t if you’ve developed a serious or costly illness such as cancer.

That got me through 2014; for this year, I’ve signed up for an ObamaCare plan that costs roughly 30 percent more than that plan, though it has a similar deductible and coverage. I’m not happy about the increase in cost, but I’m more than willing to pay into the system now that I can afford it.

What is incredibly frustrating, however, is that I now have to pay ObamaCare’s tax (or is it a fine?) for last year, because my short-term plan (like most) doesn’t count as buying “adequate insurance” under ObamaCare’s mandates.

It doesn’t matter that my short-term plan was comparable to other “catastrophic” plans offered on the federal exchange. The ObamaCare law prohibits the overwhelming majority of short-term plans from qualifying as “quality” coverage.

The reason is obvious. If young, healthy people — the group that the American Enterprise Institute’s Scott Gottlieb and Kelly Funderburk say is being “ripped off” by ObamaCare rates — opt out of the ObamaCare exchanges, the exchanges will collapse in a “death spiral” because not enough healthy folks will be paying in to make up for the less-healthy ones, who need more care.

My experience perfectly highlights the insanity of the Affordable Care Act. It forced me — a paying, insured, well-educated, healthy American — out of the coverage I’d had, then tried to push me into Medicaid.

The program wouldn’t let me pay more when I offered to pay a higher rate to stay out of Medicaid, and it provided only one other option: paying the highest rate available for insurance I didn’t use once in 2014.

Rather than take the easy route and enroll in Medicaid, I paid my own way with a private plan of my choosing. Now, instead of being rewarded for saving taxpayer money, I’m being punished with a fine of at least $95. What a country!

 

[Originally published at the New York Post]

Categories: On the Blog

Memo Reveals Bogus EPA Climate Strategy

Somewhat Reasonable - January 28, 2015, 3:26 PM

A memo released as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule-making has revealed the EPA using misleading claims to stoke fears of global warming. Big surprise, huh?

The March 2009 memo shows the EPA feared it was losing citizen support for its climate efforts because opinion polls consistently showed the public ranked fighting global warming very low on its list of priorities. According to polls, the public felt harms from global warming were exaggerated and had little bearing on people’s lives.

In response, the memo describes the EPA’s decision shift the debate from concerns about melting ice caps and declining caribou and polar bear populations, to promoting the idea global warming poses a direct threat to public health, especially children’s health, and air and water quality.

“Most American’s will never see a polar ice cap, nor will ever have a chance to see a polar bear in its natural habitat. Therefor it is easy to detach from the seriousness of the issue. Unfortunately, climate change in the abstract is an increasingly – and consistently – unpersuasive argument to make. However, if we shift from making this issue about polar caps and about our neighbor with respiratory illness we can potentially bring this issue home to many Americans.”

The problem for the EPA is, there has been no serious research linking global warming or greenhouse gas emissions to human health problems, or air or water pollution.

According to the memo an additional step the EPA took was to raise concerns about climate change among minority groups and women, using headline catching “hooks,” concerning social justice and children’s health.

The memo details ways to create a positive association in the public’s mind between concerns about the safety of the water they drink and the air they breathe, and the need to act on global warming. Per the memo, “We must begin to create a causal link between the worries of Americans and the proactive mission we’re pushing.”

Attorney and Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow, Chris Horner obtained the memo through a FOIA request. Concerning what he uncovered, Horner said, “This memo shows EPA’s recognition that the global warming case is “consistently — an unpersuasive argument to make”, and thus required a facelift, from a pro-scarcity movement of wealthy white elites to a racial and “social justice” issue.”

“This memo candidly affirms EPA’s conscious approach of yelling “clean air” and “children” at every turn in the push for an agenda that not long ago was about the end of the world in a climatic calamity, openly and rightly confident in getting a media assist,” said Horner.

John Dale Dunn, a physician and lawyer who has written on government and scientific corruption for more than 25 years saw problems recognized the shift in the EPA’s climate focus in 2009. Dunn stated, “The Children/baby risks panic strategy fit the EPA goals, according to secret strategy documents, when the cute Coca Cola polar bear cubs and mothers imagery failed to motivate public outrage.”

“The internal documents obtained under FOIA revealed the EPA and enviros were looking for a hook and decided the hook they were looking for was the health of children,” continued Dunn, “Why not? Nothing better to get politicians moving than marching and chanting women in matching t-shirts on a tear, worried about and advocating for their babies.”

INTERNET INFO

EPA Strategic Communication’s Memo, March 2009.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jesse Hathaway: Taxpayers Lost Billions on Auto-Bailout

Somewhat Reasonable - January 28, 2015, 2:47 PM

On January 6, Heartland Institute Research Fellow Jesse Hathaway joined Genesis Communications Network’s Charles Butler to talk about how taxpayers lost billions of dollars on the U.S. Treasury Department’s bailout of banks and automobile manufacturing companies several years ago.

In December 2014, the Treasury Department announced that Ally Financial – formerly known as GMAC – had repaid its bailout obligations, but taxpayers recouped less money from Chrysler Motors, General Motors, and GMAC than the government had ‘invested’ in the name of saving the economy.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Joins Coalition Opposing Federal Gas Tax Hike

Somewhat Reasonable - January 28, 2015, 1:53 PM

The Heartland Institute has recently signed a coalition letter led by Americans for Prosperity urging Congress to oppose legislation that would hike the federal gasoline tax.

The plan was introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and proposes hiking the tax by 12 cents over two years and indexing it to inflation. USA Today reports Sens. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) have also entertained the idea.

Naturally, such an idea gets floated around every time gas prices take a temporary dip, but the idea only gets worse each time it’s proposed, not better.

The reason is today’s vehicles are more efficient than they’ve ever been, which means a high tax on gasoline prices will disproportionately burden those with lower-incomes, who are more likely to own older, less fuel-efficient vehicles.

Secondly, in an economic environment that’s mostly experienced slow job growth and stagnating wages recently, AFP’s Brent Gardner wisely points out falling gas prices are the “first significant relief many Americans have experienced in years.” And it’d be foolish to think prices will stay low for very long. With crude oil prices in the forty dollar range – production can and likely will be cut. Meanwhile, consumption has been rising, according to the 2014 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. And consumption has been forecast to continue rising, according to the International Energy Agency. The whole history of oil is filled with supply/demand imbalances that have taken place only to correct itself a short while later. Congress should avoid increasing the federal gasoline tax and phase it out altogether instead.

Read more from AFP.

Read the letter here.

Categories: On the Blog

Three More Obama Admin Casualties: Congress, Federalism – and Humility

Somewhat Reasonable - January 28, 2015, 1:16 PM

It’s been a bad six years for the United States of America. The examples are myriad.

The national debt has nearly doubled – from ten trillion dollars to over eighteen trillion dollars.

The workforce participation rate has decreased precipitously – to a level not seen since the mid-1970s. (The phony “unemployment rate” is irrelevant – and its computation process is in desperate need of Reality-based reform.)

Then there are the regulations – oh so many regulations. Hundreds of thousands of new pages of regulations added. The total regulatory damage done is now $2 trillion per year – and the costs continue to increase as the pages (and PAGES) of regulations do.

These are but horrendous symptoms (and there are oh so many more). The root cause? Our decades-long drift away from a Constitutionally limited federal government has become in the last half decade-plus a rocket ride. The USS Leviathan is hurtling at light speed away from the diminutive pen within which the Founders intended it to be contained.

The American people in November again registered their pronounced disapproval. There haven’t been this many Republicans in the House of Representatives since the early 1930s. The Senate now has fifty-four Republicans – in 2009 there were forty.

The repudiation has filtered all the way down and out. 53% of Americans live in states whereRepublicans control both the legislature and the governorship. Twenty-four states are totally Republican – governor and legislatures (and Nebraska has a Republican governor and its unicameral legislature is non-partisan). Only seven have similar Democrat unanimity.

President Barack Obama has presided over all of this. His policies – and how he unilaterally implements them – have caused this horrendous damage to the economy and his Democrat Party.

The President’s just extruded State of the Union speech clearly demonstrates he doesn’t care. He will continue to do exactly what has caused all the harm – including ramp up further still his unConstituional “executive actions.”

Casualty: Congress.

Just after the election, President Obama demanded the allegedly independent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – and its Obama-campaign-cash-bundling Chairman Tom Wheeler – pretend to be Congress and rewrite existing law to dramatically increase government’s regulation of the Internet.

The actual Congress was just returned to Washington with an historic less government mandate. The President doesn’t care. The actual Congress is writing actual legislation that gives the Internet regulation zealots like the President what they claim they want. He doesn’t care.

Because the legislation doesn’t do nearly as much private sector damage as the President’s unilateral action will. And the President’s ultimate objective is to repeal the private sector and replace it with government.

The President is just getting warmed up. He recently announced his intention to have even more federal government involvement in local governments’ flailing, failing attempts at providing Internet service.

Government Internet is not a new idea. It is an incredibly, serially failed one.

Municipal Broadband’s Record of Failure

For Taxpayers, (Government) Broadband ‘UTOPIA’ Anything But

UTOPIA has accrued more than $500 million in debt for Utah taxpayers with no path to success in sight.

It’s not even new to the President – he spent $7.2 billion on it in the 2009 Stimulus. How’d that go?

The Utter Failure of Government Stimulus

Yet Another Terrible Internet ‘Stimulus’ Project

These types of uber-failures are precisely why nineteen states have passed laws prohibiting local governments from getting into the Internet business. Laws the President wants to steamroll.

Obama Opposes State Limits on Municipal (Government) Broadband

Casualty: Federalism.

Some of the President’s Congressional Democrat colleagues remember they are in the legislative branch.

Responding to a push from President Obama, three Senate Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to revoke state laws that hinder local governments from getting into the broadband business.

Unfortunately, their grasp of the federal government’s enumerated powers is decidedly lacking – nowhere is it empowered to preempt states’ laws like this. This apparently concerns them not a whit.

Nor the President – who doesn’t even think he needs legislation. Apparently, “executive action” is a magical Get-Out-of-the-Constitution-Free card.

“As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.”

Which brings us to the third casualty: humility.

No one is perfect. Government made up of imperfect people certainly isn’t. Preeminently because it violates human nature – including the Wallet Rule:

You go out on a Friday night with your wallet. You go out the following Friday night with my wallet.

On which Friday night are you going to have more fun?

Spending other peoples’ money is a lot more fun. And government is always on someone else’s wallet – thus it will never spend money as prudently, wisely or well as the people who actually earned it.

It takes humility to acknowledge government’s inherent limitations. It takes hubris on stilts – and/or ideological blinders – to not acknowledge the myriad failures it has already created. And then demand it create more.

But that’s to what we’ve been subjected these last six years. And the President is pressing forward – blindly ideological, and completely devoid of modesty.

Categories: On the Blog

Crony Socialism: Candy Crush Edition

Somewhat Reasonable - January 28, 2015, 1:16 PM

Hershey’s – the Candy Man – is a BIG business.  Its May 2014 market cap was $23.26 billion.

And Hershey’s is very generous with government.  Through the second quarter of last year, it had spent $8,332,000 on lobbying and $845,534 on candidates and elected officials.  Tallies no Mom & Pop Candy Shoppe can come close to matching.

Greasing the government to grant you special favors – or impose upon your competitors special impediments – is Crony Socialism.  It isn’t Crony Capitalism – because it has nothing to do with capitalism.

This anti-free market practice is best practiced by big businesses – like Hershey’s.  Small businesses don’t have the wherewithal to bribe politicians – excuse me, contribute – with enough umph.

But campaign contributions aren’t the problem – Huge Government is.  If the government wasn’t so gi-normous – and didn’t wield such a massive checkbook and regulatory hammer – just about all of the Crony Socialist donations would dry up and go away.

Lobbying isn’t the problem either.  Lobbying to keep government off of you is Constitutional redress of grievances.  Lobbying to sic the government on others is anti-Constitutional obnoxiousness.

And having Huge Government in your back pocket allows you to “negotiate” private sector “agreements” you otherwise would never, ever get.  If they know you can unleash the Leviathan – you rarely have to unleash the Leviathan.  Having a Big Brother means almost never actually getting into a fight.

So when we read Big Candy Hershey did this:

After a Deal, British Chocolates Won’t Cross the Pond

We have to wonder how free both sides were to “deal.”  When is an agreement actually an acquiescence?  A capitulation?  After all, Let’s Buy British Imports (LBB) – the other side of this “deal” – ain’t anywhere near Hershey’s King Size.

Jeff Beckman, a representative for Hersheys, said L.B.B. and others were importing products not intended for sale in the United States….

Says who?  Why can’t they be intended for sale here?  Because Hershey’s says so?  In fact, they were sold here – for quite a while.

Having a Big Brother means almost never actually getting into a fight.

 

Another retailer of British goods, who wished to remain anonymous because she feared reprisal from Hersheys, said she imagined she would go out of business soon.

“Cadburys is about half of my business,” she said, while eating leftover Cadburys Christmas chocolate, “and more than that at Christmas. I dont know how well survive.

What problem does Hershey claim exists?

L.B.B. agreed this week to stop importing all Cadburys chocolate made overseas. The company also agreed to halt imports on KitKat bars made in Britain; Toffee Crisps, which, because of their orange packaging, and yellow-lined brown script, too closely resemble Reeses Peanut Butter Cups; Yorkie chocolate bars, which infringe on the York peppermint patty; and…Maltesers….

Jeff Beckman, a representative for Hersheys, said L.B.B. and others were…infringing on its trademark and trade dress licensing. For example, Hersheys has a licensing agreement to manufacture Cadburys chocolate in the United States with similar packaging used overseas, though with a different recipe.

Okay, the Cadbury licensing agreement I get.  If Hershey’s cut a deal to be the U.S. manufacturer – albeit with different recipes – that’s the deal.  Though, again, they are the Candy Titans – and can cut “deals” most others can’t.

And British and U.S. KitKat are nearly identical in content and presentation.  Get that too.

But orange and yellow packaging?  The British bar in said wrapping is the Toffee Crisp – Hershey’s the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  At some point, caveat emptor has to reign.  The fact that the names of the bars – and the ingredients – are totally different should be more than enough.

The British Yorkie isn’t peppermint – Hershey’s York Peppermint Pattie is.  I’d be more concerned with the Old Country’s version if I were the American Kennel Club.

Maltesers are chocolate malt balls – a competitor to Hershey’s Whoppers.  Maltesers have no packaging or name similarities – it’s just Big Bad Hershey’s Whopper competitor.  And thus it too is blocked.

Free markets are great.  Free trade is great.

This is neither – and it is lousy.

Categories: On the Blog

Obama Disses Alaska

Somewhat Reasonable - January 27, 2015, 2:53 PM

Fifty million Americans who live in the northeast will experience what is predicted to be a historic blizzard from Monday evening through Tuesday. Cities and towns will virtually or literally close down. People will be told to stay indoors for their safety and to facilitate the crews that will labor to clear the roads of snow.

In other words, welcome to Alaska, a place that is plenty cold most of the year and which is no stranger to snow and ice.

Alaska, however, has something that the whole world considers very valuable; oil and natural gas. Lots of it. In 1980 a U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Coastal Plain could contain up to 17 billion barrels of oil and 34 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

In 1987, the U.S Department of Interior confirmed the earlier estimate, saying that “in place resources” ranged from 4.8 billion to 29.4 billion barrels of oil. Recoverable oil estimates ranged from 600 million barrels at the low end to 9.2 billion barrels at the high end.

A nation with an $18 trillion debt might be expected to want to take advantage of this source of revenue, but no, not if that debt was driven up by the idiotic policies of President Barack Obama and not if it could be reduced by the same energy industry that has tapped similar oil and natural gas reserves in the lower 48 states by drilling on private, not public lands.

Instead, on Sunday President Obama referred to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as “an incredible place—pristine, undisturbed. It supports caribou and polar bears” and other species and, guess what, tapping its vast oil and natural gas reserves would not interfere in any way with those species despite the whopping lie that “it’s very fragile.”

At Obama’s direction, the Interior Department announced it was proposing to preserve as wilderness nearly 13 million acres of land in ANWR’s 19.8 million-acre area. That would include 1.5 million acres of coastal plains that Wall Street Journal reported to be “believed to have rich oil and natural gas reserves.”

Not a whole lot of people choose ANWR as a place to vacation. It is a harsh, though often beautiful, area that only the most experienced visitor might want to spend some time. I would want to make every environmentalist who thinks any drilling would harm the area have to take up residence in its “pristine” wilderness to confirm that idiotic notion.

They would find plenty of caribou, polar bears and other species hanging out amidst the oil and gas rigs, and along the pipe line. The Central Arctic Caribou Herd that migrates through the Prudhoe Bay oil field, just next to ANWR has increased from 5,000 animals in the 1970s to more than 50,000 today. There is no evidence than any of the animal species have experienced any decline.

The Coastal Plain lies between known major discovery areas and the Prudhoe Bay, Lisburne, Endicott, Milne Point and Kuparuk oil fields are currently in production In 1996, the North Slope oil fields produced about 1.5 million barrels of oil per day or approximately 25% of the U.S. domestic production. Alaska is permitted to export its oil because of its high levels of productivity.

So why has Obama’s Department of the Interior decided it wants to shut off energy exploration and extraction in a whopping 13-million acres of what is already designated as a wildlife refuge and along its coastlines on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas? The answer is consistent with Obama’s six years of policies to deny Americans the benefits of the nation’s vast energy reserves, whether it is the coal that has previously provided 50% of our electrical energy—now down by 10%–or access to reserves of oil and natural gas that would make our nation energy independent as well as a major exporter.

The good news is that only Congress has the authority to declare an area as wilderness. It has debated the issue for more than 30 years and in 12 votes in the House and 3 votes in the Senate it has passed legislation supporting development and opposing the wilderness designation.

And guess who is the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee? Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Republican. She also heads up the appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding the Interior Department!

This latest Obama ANWR gambit is going to go nowhere. It does, however, offer the Republican Congress an opportunity to demonstrate its pro-energy credentials.

“I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska,” said Sen. Murkowski when informed of Obama’s latest attack.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jim Steele: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

Somewhat Reasonable - January 27, 2015, 2:24 PM

Research Fellow H. Sterling Burnett interviews Jim Steele, ecologist, director emeritus of the Sierra Nevada field campus of San Francisco State University, in today’s podcast. Steele is the author of Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism.

In the podcast, Jim discusses how climate alarmism is undermining legitimate conservation goals by misdiagnosing the cause of environmental problems by diverting resources away from direct solutions to those problems. He also discusses lies that climate alarmists have told concerning moose declines, butterfly and mangrove population expansions, problems with Emperor Penguins and in general how climate alarmism is undermining science as an endeavor in the pursuit of knowledge.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

The Blizzard That Wasn’t

Somewhat Reasonable - January 27, 2015, 1:51 PM

The Blizzard of 2015 was largely a dud.

There was no climate change where I live in a suburb of Newark, N.J. if by “climate change” you meant a dramatic blizzard with high winds and several feet of snow. It’s winter and you get the occasional, rare blizzard every few years, but more often you get snowstorms. That’s not “change” by any definition.

Listening to WABC radio follow events with callers from around the Tri-State area calling in with far more accurate reports than the meteorologists was an education in the way those trained in meteorology and the rest of us have been conditioned to believe that something is happening to planet Earth that, quite simply, is not happening.

The meteorologists spent their time trying to figure out the difference between a European computer model and one generated here in the U.S. The former predicted far worse conditions. The latter fell victim, along with the rest of us, to the mindset that the conditions the computers were interpreting did not reflect what was actually happening.

At this early morning hour, it is clear that Long Island, parts of Connecticut, and generally along the coastlines, there has been a heavier snowfall. A few miles inland however it is a far different story. Callers who had been out in the midst of the storm described light, powdery snow and perhaps two to four inches at most.

Why, they asked, did the Governors of New York and New Jersey, along with the Mayor of New York City close down the metropolitan area? They speculated on the millions of lost income for everyone involved in a storm that was not posing a significant traffic or other problems, but who had seen businesses, schools, bus lines, and other public facilities shut down. When a significantly incorrect weather prediction does that, it demonstrates how important it is to correctly interpret the data being provided by the satellites—the best source.

When, earlier in January, NOAA and NASA reported that 2014 had been “the warmest year” it should have raised far more questions and media coverage given the sheer absurdity of such a report. Remember, though, these are two federal government agencies we expect to get it right. They didn’t just get it wrong, skeptical scientists were quick to note how they had deliberately distorted the data on which they based the claim.

That is the heart of the issue surrounding the endless claims of “global warming” or “climate change.”  The planet has not been warming for 19 years at this point because the sun has been in a perfectly natural cycle of low radiation.

Centuries ago, it was noticed that when there are few sunspots, magnetic storms, the Earth got colder. Thus, “climate change” is not an unusual event, but rather a reflection of the well-known cycles of warmth or cold that the planet has passed through for billions of years.

At this writing it is too early in the morning hours to know what the rest of the East Coast looks like, but the indications are that, as one moves westward the “blizzard” has been far less than the one predicted and will likely be downgraded to a standard winter snowstorm.

That’s the good news. The bad news was the over-reaction of meteorologists and politicians. No doubt they wanted to be “safe than sorry” but they inadvertently taught us all a lesson about the way environmental organizations and a government led by a President telling us that “climate change” is the most dangerous challenge facing us have been deliberately lying about the true meteorological record in order to drag us all back to a time in which we burned wood for heat and rode horses for transportation.

The Greens don’t like humans much and that is why they have been lying about “man-made” climate change when the climate has nothing to do with human activities.

Listen to the skeptics, often maliciously called “deniers”, when they tell you the truth about the meteorological science that has been deliberately distorted since the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. It has been lying to us ever since.

Depending on where you live in the area in which the snow fell and the winds blew, trust your eyes. Trust your commonsense. Be more skeptical because the blizzard that wasn’t is not a lesson you want to forget anytime soon.

Categories: On the Blog

Deception, Agenda and Folly Drive Latest Obama EPA Anti-hydrocarbon Rules. Are Farmers Next?

Somewhat Reasonable - January 27, 2015, 12:38 PM

First they came for the coal mining and power plant industry, and most people did not speak out because they didn’t rely on coal, accepted Environmental Protection Agency justifications at face value, or thought EPA’s war on coal would benefit them.

In fact, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon gave the Sierra Club $26 million, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the Club $50 million, to help it wage a Beyond Coal campaign. The Sierra Club later claimed its efforts forced 142 U.S. coal-fired power plants to close, raising electricity rates, threatening grid reliability, and costing thousands of jobs in dozens of states.

Mr. McClendon apparently figured eliminating coal from America’s energy mix would improve his natural gas business. The mayor likes renewable energy and detests fossil fuels, which he blames for climate change that he tried to finger for the damages “Superstorm” Sandy inflicted on his city.

Now the Obama EPA is coming after the natural gas industry. Hopefully many will speak out this time, before more costly rules kill more jobs and damage the health and welfare of more middle class Americans. The war on coal, after all, is really a war on fossil fuels and affordable energy, and an integral component of President Obama’s determination to “fundamentally transform” the United States.

Proposed EPA regulations would compel drilling and fracking companies to reduce methane (natural gas or CH4) emissions by 40-45% by 2025, compared to 2012. Companies would have to install technologies that monitor operations and prevent inadvertent leaks. The rules would apply only to new or modified sites, not existing operations. However, Big Green activist groups are already campaigning to have EPA expand the rule to cover existing gas wells, fracking operations, gas processing facilities and pipelines.

But companies already control their emissions, to avoid polluting the air, and because natural gas is a valuable resource that they would much rather sell than waste. That’s why EPA data show methane emissions falling 17% even as gas production increased by 37% between 1990 and 2014, and why natural gas operations employing hydraulic fracturing reduced their methane emissions by 73% from 2011 to 2013. The rules are costly and unnecessary, and would bring few benefits.

The Obama Administration thus justifies them by claiming they will help prevent “dangerous manmade climate change.” Methane, EPA says, has a warming effect 50 times greater than carbon dioxide. This assertion is wildly inflated, by as much as a factor of 100, Dr. Fred Singer says. Atmospheric water vapor already absorbs nearly all the infrared radiation (heat) that methane could, and the same radiation cannot be absorbed twice. The physics of Earth’s surface infrared emission spectrum are also important.

More importantly, to borrow a favorite Obama phrase, let me make one thing perfectly clear. There is no dangerous manmade climate change, now or on the horizon. There is no evidence that methane or carbon dioxide emissions have replaced the complex, powerful, interconnected natural forces that have driven warming, cooling, climate and weather fluctuations throughout Earth and human history. There is no evidence that recent extreme weather events are more frequent or severe than over the previous 100 years.

Indeed, planetary temperatures have not budged for more than 18 years, and we are amid the longest stretch since at least 1900 (more than nine years) without a Category 3-5 hurricane hitting the United States. If CO2 and CH4 are to be blamed for every temperature change or extreme weather event, then shouldn’t they also be credited for this lack of warming and deadly storms? But climate hype continues.

We are repeatedly told, “Climate change is real, and humans are partly to blame.” The statement is utterly meaningless. Earth’s climate fluctuates frequently, and human activities undoubtedly have some influences, at least on local (especially urban) temperatures. The question is, How much of an effect? Are the temperature and other effects harmful or beneficial, especially when carbon dioxide’s enormous role in improved plant growth is factored in? Would slashing U.S. CO2 and CH4 emissions mean one iota of difference, when China, India and other countries are doing nothing to reduce their emissions?

Nevertheless, the latest NASA press release asserts that 2014 was “the hottest since the modern instrumental record began,” and again blames mankind’s carbon dioxide emissions. This deliberately deceptive, fear-inducing claim was quickly retracted, but not before it got extensive front-page coverage.

Let me make another fact perfectly clear. The alleged global temperature increase was 0.02 degrees C (0.04 degrees F). It is not even measurable by our most sensitive instruments. It is one-fifth the margin of error in these measurements. It ignores satellite data and is based on ground-level instruments that are contaminated by urban heat and cover less than 15% of Earth’s surface. Even NASA admitted it was only 38% confident of being correct – and 62% certain that it was wrong. Analyses by Dr. Tim Ball, Marc Morano, Anthony Watts and other experts provide more details eviscerating this bogus claim.

In the end, though, all these real-world facts are irrelevant. We are dealing with a catechism of climate cataclysm: near-religious zealotry by a scientific-industrial-government-activist alliance that has built a financial, political and regulatory empire. They are not about to renounce any claims of climate catastrophe, no matter how much actual evidence debunks their far-fetched computer model scenarios.

Their EPA-IPCC “science” is actively supported by most of the “mainstream media” and by the World Bank, universities, renewable energy companies and even some churches. They will never willingly surrender the political influence and billions of dollars that CAGW claims bring them. They won’t even admit that wind and solar facilities butcher birds and bats by the millions, scar landscapes, impair human health, cannot exist without coal and natural gas, and are probably our least sustainable energy option. They want gas prices to rise again, so that heavily subsidized renewable energy is competitive once more.

Meanwhile, polls reveal that regular, hard-working, middle-income Americans care most about terrorism, the economy, jobs, healthcare costs, education and job opportunities after graduation; climate change is always dead last on any list. Regular Europeans want to end the “energy poverty” that has killed countless jobs, and each winter kills thousands of elderly people who can no longer afford to eat their homes properly. The world’s poorest citizens want affordable electricity, higher living standards, and an end to the lung infections, severe diarrhea, malaria and other diseases of poverty that kill millions of children and parents year after year – largely because alarmists oppose nuclear, coal and gas-fired power plants.

But federal regulators, climate chaos “ethicists” and “progressives” who loudly profess they care deeply about the poor and middle classes – all ignore these realities. They focus on methane, because they view it as a clever way to inject federal oversight and control into an energy sector that had been largely free of such interference, because the fracking revolution has thus far taken place mostly on state and private lands governed effectively by state and local regulators. (Federal lands are mostly off limits.)

The proposed methane rules would generate more delays, paperwork, costs and job losses, to comply with more federal regulations that will bring no detectable benefits – and much harm, at a time when plunging oil and gas prices are forcing drillers to reduce operations and lay people off.

President Obama devoted 15 lines of his 2015 State of the Union speech to climate fables and propaganda. His goal is steadily greater control over our lives, livelihoods, living standards and liberties, with little or no transparency or accountability for regulators, pseudo-scientists or activists.

It won’t be long before EPA and Big Green come for farmers and ranchers – to curtail “climate-wrecking” methane emissions from cattle, pig and sheep flatulence and dung, and exert greater control over agricultural water, dust and carbon dioxide. By then, there may be no one left to speak out.

Categories: On the Blog

Europe’s Move in the Direction of More Monetary Mischief.”

Somewhat Reasonable - January 27, 2015, 12:12 PM

The European Central Bank has announced its intention to create out of thin air over one trillion new Euros from March 2015 to September 2016. The rationale, the monetary central planners say, is to prevent price deflation and “stimulate” the European economy into prosperity.

The only problem with their plan is that their concern about “deflation” is a misguided fear, and printing money can never serve as a long-term solution to bring about sustainable economic growth and prosperity.

Europe’s High Unemployment and Economic Stagnation

The European Union (of which the Euro currency zone is a subset) is experiencing staggering levels of unemployment. The EU as a whole has 10 percent of the work force unemployed, and 11.5 percent in the Euro Zone.

But breaking these numbers down to the national levels show just how bad the unemployment levels are in the different member countries. In Greece it is nearly 26 percent of the work force. In Spain, it is 24 percent; Italy and Portugal are both over 13 percent. France has over 10 percent unemployment, with Sweden at 8 percent. Only Germany and Austria have unemployment of 5 percent or less out of the 28-member countries of the European Union.

Youth unemployment (defined as those between 16 and 25 years of age unable to find desired work) is even more catastrophic. For the European Union as a whole it is an average of over 22 percent, and more than 23 percent in the Euro Zone.

In Greece, its almost 60 percent of those under 25; in Spain, it is nearly 55 percent, with Italy at 43 percent, and over 22 percent in both France and Sweden. Only in Norway and Germany is youth unemployment less than 8 percent. Almost all the other EU countries are in the double-digit range.

At the same time, growth in Gross Domestic Product for the European Union as a whole in 2014 was well below one percent. Only in the Czech Republic, Norway, and Poland was it above 2 percent among the EU members.

Consumer prices for the EU averaged 0.4 percent in 2014, with most of the member countries experiencing average consumer price increases between 0.2 and 2 percent for the year. Only in Greece was the average level of prices calculated as having absolutely declined by a minus 1.3 percent. Hardly a measured sign of dramatically suffered price deflation in the EU or the Euro Zone!

Fears of Price Deflation are Misplaced

The monetary central planners who manage the European Central Bank are fearful that the Euro Zone may be plagued by a prolonged period of generally falling prices if they do not act to push measured price inflation towards their desired target of around two percent a year.

(It is worth pointing out that if the Euro Zone monetary central planners were to succeed with their goal and maintain two percent average annual price inflation, this would mean that over a twenty-year period the purchasing power of a Euro would decline by around 50 percent.)

Many commentators inside and outside of the European Union and the Euro Zone have insisted that price deflation needs to be prevented or reversed at all costs. The implicit premise behind their arguments is that deflation equals economic depression or recession, and therefore any such decline in prices in general must not be allowed.

In all these discussions it is often ignored or forgotten that annual falling prices can well be an indication of economic prosperity and rising standards of living. For instance, between 1865 and 1900, prices in general in the United States declined by around 50 percent, with overall standards of living in general estimated to have increased by 100 percent over these 35 years. This period is usually recognized as America’s time of rapid industrialization in the post-Civil War era that set the United States on the path to becoming the world’s economic giant through most of the 20th century.

Falling Prices and Improved Standards of Living

A hallmark of an innovative and competitive free market economy is precisely the never-ending attempt by entrepreneurs and enterprisers to devise ways to make new, better and less expensive goods to sell to the consuming public. The stereotypes in modern times have been pocket calculators, mobile phones, DVD players, and flat-screen TVs.

When pocket calculators first came on the market in the 1980s, they were too big to fit in your shirt pocket, basically performed only the most elementary arithmetic functions, and cost hundreds of dollars. Within a few years they fit in your shirt pocket with space to spare, performed increasingly complex mathematical functions, and became so inexpensive that many companies would give them away as advertising gimmicks.

The companies that made them did not proclaim their distress due to the lower and lower prices at which they sold the devices. Cost efficiencies were developed and introduced in their manufacture so they could be sold for less to consumers to expand demand and capture a larger share of a growing market.

In a dynamic, innovative and growing free market economy there normally would be a tendency for one product after another being improved in its quality and offered at lower prices as productivity gains and decreased costs made them less expensive to market and still make a profit.

Looking over a period of time, a statistical averaging of prices in general in the economy would no doubt show a falling price level, or “price deflation,” as one price after another experienced such a decline. This would be an indication of rising standards of living as the real cost of buying desired goods with our money incomes was decreasing.

Europe’s Problems are Due to Anti-Market Burdens

Relatively stagnant economies with high rates of unemployment like in the European Union and the Euro Zone are not signs of deflationary forces preventing growth and job creation. Indeed, since 2008, the European Central Bank has increased its balance sheet through monetary expansion by well over one trillion Euros, and prices in the Euro Zone, in general, have been rising on average between 0.5 and 2 percent throughout this period. Hardly an indication of “deflationary” forces at work.

The European Union’s problems are not caused by a lack of “aggregate demand” in the form of money spending. Its problems are on the “supply-side.” The EU is notorious for rigid labor markets in which trade unions limit worker flexibility and workplace adaptiveness to global market change.

Above market-determined wages and benefits price many who could be gainfully employed out of a possible job, because government policies and union power price these potential employees out of the market. Plus, the difficulty of firing someone once a worker is hired undermines the incentives of European companies to want to expand their work forces.

Even a number of international organizations, usually culprits in fostering anti-free market policies, have pointed out the need for European governments to introduce workplace reforms to free up labor markets in their countries, along with general reductions in regulations on business than hamper entrepreneurial incentives and prevent greater profit-oriented competitiveness.

Creating a Trillion Euros will only Imbalance Europe More

Creating a trillion more Euros cannot overcome or get around anti-competitive regulations, cost-price mismatches and imbalances due to government interventions and union restrictions, or the burdensomeness of taxes that reduce the willingness and ability of businessmen to undertake the enterprising activities that could lift Europe out of its economic malaise.

Furthermore, to the extent to which the European Central Bank succeeds in injecting this trillion Euros into the European economy it will only set in motion the danger of another future economic downturn. Not only may it feed an unsustainable financial and stock market run-up. The very manner in which the new money is introduced into the European-wide economy will inevitably distort the structure of relative prices and wages; wrongly twist the patterns of resource and labor uses; and induce forms of mal-invested capital.

Thus, the attempt to overcome Europe’s stagnant economy through monetary expansion will be the cause of a misdirection of labor, capital and production that will inescapably require readjustments and rebalances of supplies and demands, and price relationships that will mean people living through another recession at some point in the future.

A Market-Based Agenda for Growth and Jobs

What, then might be a “positive” pro-market agenda for economic recovery and job creation in the European Union, and in the United States, as well, for that matter? Among such policies should be:

  • Significantly reduce marginal personal tax rates and corporate taxes, and eliminate inheritance taxes; this would create greater incentives and the financial means for private investment, capital formation and job creation;
  • Cut government spending across the board by at a minimum of 10 percent more than taxes have been cut so to move the government in the direction of a balanced budget without any tax increases; this would take pressure off financial markets to fund government deficits, and end the growth in accumulated government debt, until finally government budgets would have surpluses to start paying down that debt;
  • Reduce and repeal government regulations over the business sector and financial institutions to allow competitive forces to operate and bring about necessary adjustments and corrections for restoring economic balance;
  • Institute real free trade through elimination and radical reduction of remaining financial and regulatory barriers to the competitive free flow of goods among countries;
  • End central bank monetary expansions and manipulation of interest rates; interest rates need to tell the truth about savings availability and investment profitability for long-run growth that is market-based and sustainable. Monetary expansion merely sends out false signals that distort the normal functioning of the market economy.

A market-based set of policies such as these would serve as the foundation for a sound and sustainable real “stimulus” for the European and American economies. It also would be consistent with the limited government and free enterprise principles at the foundation of a free society.

[This first appeared at Epic Times]
Categories: On the Blog

Public Sector Unions Gain Power, Lose Popularity, says Economist

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 2:52 PM

While becoming more and more powerful, public sector unions are losing favor with taxpayers, Daniel DiSalvo, author of “Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences,” said during a forum hosted by The Illinois Policy Institute Tuesday in Chicago.

The event’s format was that of a two-way conversational discussion that took place between DiSalvo and Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, about the role of public-sector unions in politics today. Daniel DiSalvo is Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Colin Powell School at The City College of New York-CUNY and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership.

Although Americans have long supported public unions because they associate them with the merits of the working class, recently taxpayers have begun to see reality with polls showing that barely half of Americans approve of unions, while an overwhelming majority approve of Right-to-Work laws.

Emily Rose, Vice President of Development, introduced Paul Kersey and Daniel DiSalvo.  Mr. Kersey directed a series of questions to DiSalvo for his response, all of which were relevant to DiSalvo’s book, “Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and its Consequences.”

The book is about a broken system whose financial consequences have reached the point of being unsustainable. The broken system referenced pertains to unions representing government workers in contrast to those found in the private sphere.

No longer the underdog, public-sector unions since 2009 have totaled more members than the membership in traditional private-sector unions. This imbalance came about when in 1962 President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988 permitting collective bargaining for federal employees.  Around the same time state and city workers, teachers and firemen were starting to unionize.

Following is an account, with photo, of President John F. Kennedy signing Executive Order 10988:

Fifty years ago, on January 17, 1962, Federal employees first obtained the right to engage in collective bargaining through labor organizations when President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10988, “Employee-Management Cooperation in the Federal Sector.” Executive Order 10988 issued as result of the findings of the Task Force on Employee-Management Relations in the Federal Service, which was created by a memorandum issued to all executive department and agency heads by President Kennedy on June 22, 1961. In this memorandum the President noted that, “The participation of employees in the formation and implementation of employee policy and procedures affecting them contributes to the effective conduct of public business,” and that this participation should be extended to representatives of employees and employee organizations.

Public-sector government employment now accounts to 17% of total U.S. employment.  Those employed are mostly found in state and local governments, with teacher having the most members, about 41% of the total public membership. The cost of public sector union employees (teachers) eats up two-thirds of the government’s (school district’s) operational budget. Public sector workers actually fight for benefits whose provision will hurt the public.

What is the nature of pubic unions versus private unions?

  • In public sector unions, pre-existing job protection exists through civil laws that provide protections from arbitrary firing, transfers, and disciplinary actions that private sector workers usually lack.
  • Government can access new revenue through taxation, while private workers are fully exposed to the business cycle.
  • Public sector unions can vote for the politicians who sit across from them at the bargaining table.  This gives politicians (or their delegates) an incentive to give unions concessions instead of bargaining hard, like private-sector unions do.
  • Public sector unions contribute billions to candidates on every level, almost always to candidates from one party.  At one point or other, these are the very candidates who will be “negotiating” contracts with these public sector unions, a definite conflict of interest.  In some states public unions have become so powerful, that there is no opposition.  They can also exert greater influence on their members that private sector unions, through political lobbying.
  • In the private sector the argument is over how to divvy up the profits: How much to owners, how much to management, how much to labor, and how much spent to improve products? If labor gets too greedy, that drives up the cost of whatever they’re making until customers start buying less. Profits then decrease, raises decrease or stop altogether, and jobs start going away.  Labor either wises up of the company goes down. The public sector can’t go out of business no matter how much union members manage to squeeze out of it. Union members have no incentive to settle for less, and the costs get passed along to the taxpayer.  In many cases management benefits from higher settlements.
  • Workers in the private sector struggle with stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and rising retirement ages, while unionized public employees retire in their fifties, many with over $100,000 a year in pension and healthcare benefits.

Consequences of union inequality and imbalance

After work health and pension liabilities are a major source of bankruptcy of the governments that negotiated them.  Retirement pension benefits are increasingly crowding out discretionary spending.

As such, public sector unions threaten the integrity of our democratic process by increasing a disparity in the standard of living between public and private sector workers, by decreasing efficiency in state and local services, and by reducing the number of necessary services that government can provide.  Public sector workers actually fight for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Because public sector unions are rich, taken together they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually lobbying governments on behalf of their members.

Liberal Democrats face a bigger political downside when public pension become unsustainable, as they represent the party of bigger government or what government can do for you.  What happens when public sector unions produce a government that costs you ever more and does for you ever less?  If the Democrats cannot fix government, voters eventually conclude that they might as well elect Republicans to deal with the mess, as happened in Wisconsin with the success of Governor Walker.

The burden of public sector pensions alone is frightening, especially in states like Illinois, California and New York.  Illinois not only exempts public sector union pensions from adjustment to meet changed economic circumstances, but also increases such pensions by 3% every year.

As long as the employer (the government) owns the pension liabilities of its employees, the hazard of potential bankruptcy will hover over the taxpayers. Given the political coalition that supports the public union status quo, it will be hard to reform public sector unions.

FDR was correct when he said there should be NO unions of tax paid employees (government unions), for the employees would be bargaining with themselves as they are also the tax payers who would pay them:

“The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place” in the public sector. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.”

When Daniel DiSalvo was asked what Governor Bruce Radner should first tackle, DiSalvo indicated that the Governor should think about pension reform before anything else.  But at the same time, DiSalvo admitted that Illinois and Chicago are still a long way off from adopting any reform measures.

Categories: On the Blog

If You Like Your Medicare, You Can Keep Your Medicare

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 1:16 PM

Not just Barack Obama, but all politicians promise to protect Medicare—even if they are robbing it to pay for ObamaCare. They don’t promise that you can keep your Medicare doctor, however.

And they don’t address the question of what happens if you don’t like your Medicare.

You can drop Medicare Part B, though there is a penalty for getting back in. But to drop Medicare Part A, you have to give back all the Social Security payments you ever received, as well as forgoing future payments. This was litigated in the case of Hall v. Sebelius, and was revisited in the challenge to ObamaCare brought by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), AAPS v. Burwell, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear.

Why would anybody want to turn down free insurance, you may well wonder—especially when there is no private substitute for it. (President Johnson saw to that, to be sure that “his” program was successful.)

That has to do with your Medicare doctor, and your actual care. Medicare rules are forcing many independent physicians to give up their practice, and either retire early or become employees. Physicians who do remain in practice may not accept Medicare patients, or limit the number they see. If you are a Medicare patient, the entire Medicare regime is in the examining room or hospital room with you, like it or not. You are not allowed to be free for a day. Neither is the doctor. There is a way out (opting out or disenrolling), but that’s an all-or-nothing choice for the doctor.

A Medicare beneficiary can see a non-Medicare doctor as a private patient, but is very unlikely to be able to collect any Medicare reimbursement. A Medicare doctor cannot see Medicare-eligible patients as private patients.

Medicare is also making it increasingly difficult for Medicare patients to get tests, consultations, oxygen or other home-health items, or medications prescribed by a non-Medicare doctor, sometimes even if the patient is willing to pay privately.

Why should this be?

Keep in mind that Medicare is not yours. The money you paid in all your working life is long gone. Your benefits are coming out of the wages of people like Larry, John, and Jesus, who toil at Arnold’s gas station, and all of them are having a hard time these days. Now that payroll tax receipts are less than payouts, benefits are coming out of general tax revenues, which redeem the IOUs in the “Trust Fund.” And the ever-increasing Part B premiums pay only 25 percent of benefits. If you are on Medicare, you are a liability—to your doctor and to society.

Medicare does offer some fine new “benefits”—such as paying for “end-of-life” counseling. And why do you need that?

Death is something that could happen to anyone at any moment. If you have obligations or assets, you need to provide for your survivors. Medicare counseling, however, is not about life insurance, wills, or funeral arrangements—or about making peace with your family or God. It’s about reducing the cost of your care. The most expedient way to do that is to use “end” as a verb.

These days you can no longer assume that a hospital will seek to prolong your life and restore you to the health you enjoyed before you fell ill. It is much easier for the hospital if you give them permission ahead of time not to try. The purpose of the “advance directive” is to decline “life-sustaining treatments”—such as food and water.

Do not assume that doctors and hospitals have to “do everything” just because you said you wanted them to. Increasingly, hospitals demand the legal right to refuse care that is “futile”—by their definition. Medicare’s refusal to pay is a strong motive. Your consent provides immunity. Sedatives, to keep you quiet and peaceful, are cheap.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has told us how much the government cares.

 

Categories: On the Blog
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