“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C. S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and many other works of literature.
It is one of the great mysteries that, for progressives, also called liberals, the past provides no lessons, no warnings that would prevent them from repeating their errors. Progressives are always focused on a magical future in which there will be no wars, no hunger, no poverty. Their belief in the redistribution of wealth—communism—is, in Winston Churchill’s words, “the equal sharing of misery.”
Obamacare is a perfect example of the progressive inability to accept that socialism and/or communism simply does not work. It depends on coercion and in the case of communism it left hundreds of millions dead in its wake over the course of the last century. Obamacare depends on (1) the belief that human nature will change—which it will not—and (2) the lies to implement it.
The news is filled with the failure of the government, despite the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars, to provide a working website. Even assuming that the technical problems are solved, the failure of Obamacare is built-in because Americans have always enjoyed a culture of independence, despite the creep of government programs that occurred over the last half century.
The trust in the federal government, of Congress, is at an all-time low.
Social Security is insolvent or soon will be. Medicare was rendered even more insolvent when billions were transferred to Obamacare. Medicaid will bankrupt states as thousands more sign up for this program of minimal medical service.
As I listened to and read about the Obamacare roll-out, I was reminded of an earlier program that was adopted, Prohibition. It involved a nationwide ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. It was the law of the land from 1920 until 1933. When it went into effect it was hailed as a victory for public morals and health. By the time it was repealed with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, Americans had seen the growth of organized crime, the corruption that permitted ordinary citizens to ignore it, and the loss of the taxes to fund other aspects of governance.
Wikipedia notes that “By 1925, in New York City alone, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs” where liquor was sold. Prohibition proved nearly impossible to implement and enforce.”
Barack Obama represents the high-water mark of progressives to impose communism on America. A totalitarian form of government, we have witnessed how his administration has turned the Internal Revenue Service into a political instrument to suppress its opponents and has expanded the National Security Agency into a means to spy on all Americans, accessing every piece of communication between them. Obamacare enables the government to know every bit of information about individual’s health records.
It is, as C.S. Lewis said, “tyranny exercised for the good of its victims.” Even so, the progressives ignore the failure of communism in the former Soviet Union and the decision of China to move to a capitalist economy while endeavoring to retain a single party government that is encountering increasing protests and resistance from its population.
Obamacare is being imposed at the same time that socialist healthcare programs are in retreat in Europe. In Britain, the government led by Prime Minister David Cameron has introduced a bill seeking to partially privatize the National Health Service (NHS) in an effort to avoid the Greek-style financial meltdown that threatens the European Union member states. Cameron’s argument for the bill is that there is too much bureaucracy in the NHS system and that it interferes will patient care. NHS is based on the rationing of medical care as opposed to the free market system where costs are determined by supply.
As reported in a recent article by Arnold Ahlert on Front Page Magazine.com, “Last November, such rationing reached a scandalous level. A study by the Co-operation and Competition Panel revealed that Primary Care Trust heads were imposing arbitrary spending caps, denying patients procedures such as hip replacements and cataract removals—and that waiting times for services were seen” to be deliberately extended ‘so patients would go private or die before they were seen,’ to slash costs.”
Obamacare, as has been widely reported, has increased the costs of healthcare insurance, particularly for the young on whom the system relies to pay for the costs of caring for the elderly. It has led to the cancellation of millions of healthcare insurance plans and millions more will lose their plans.
In a November 30 Washington Times article by Jennifer Oliver O’Connell, it is reported that the inherent unconstitutionality of Obamacare will bring about its end. Cases making their way through the judicial system such as Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Sebelius, Indiana v. IRS, Pruitt v. Sebelius, “may be the final nails in the coffin of Obamacare.” The first two cases cited will likely be heard in March with a final ruling in the summer of 2014. There are others such as Halbig v. Sebelius, King v. Sebelius, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, as well as the HHS employer mandate and origination clause challenges are among the many cases challenging the basis of Obamacare.
Finally, in the November 2014 midterm elections, political pundits are virtually unanimous in the prediction that Democrats will be driven from their control of the Senate and Republicans will increase their control of the House.
Obamacare is the ultimate expression of the progressive and/or liberal approach to government and it is, just as was the case of Prohibition, the increasing resistance of the American public and will be, at some point, repealed.
Last week’s punishment/settlement between the Department of Justice and Duke Energy over bird deaths caused by its wind turbines gives evidence that the Obama administration needed a scapegoat, to defuse accusations that it applies a double-standard in enforcement of wildlife laws.
The Friday before Thanksgiving both parties announced that Duke would pay $1 million for the deaths of more than 160 birds that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The incidents occurred over the last four years at two Wyoming sites operated by the utility’s Duke Energy Renewables subsidiary.
“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, in a statement.
That’s nice. The problem is the timing of the action coincided with aresponse by the Justice Department to Republican Sens. David Vitter (La.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). The delayed reaction came ten months after they challenged Attorney General Eric Holder over an obvious double standard, in which fossil-fueled energy producers have been penalized for killing birds, while wind energy was allowed to apply for permits to kill bald eagles and other protected birds.
“It appears the Justice Department is hand-picking which migratory bird mortality cases to pursue with an obvious preference of going after oil and gas producers,” said Vitter in a January 30 statement. “For example, while three oil and gas companies are facing fines for killing birds, a wind energy company is applying for permits to kill up to fifteen bald eagles. We obviously don’t want to see any indiscriminate killing of birds from any sort of energy production, yet the Justice Department’s ridiculous inconsistencies begs questioning and clarity.”
The senators waited, and waited, and waited for an answer. By mid-May they had still not received one, but again publicly questioned the administration’s policy as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service informed wind operator Terra-Gen Power that they would not be subject to prosecution for killing California condors, another protected species.
“Basically, the federal government has issued a condor hunting permit to big wind companies,” said Sen. Alexander in May. “Federal law designed to protect a species from extinction doesn’t distinguish between oil and gas companies and wind farms. Equal protection of the law means laws should be enforced evenly, and it’s wrong for the Department of Justice to enforce the law against oil and gas companies but not against wind companies.”
Two days after the Senator’s joint criticism, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) requested extensive documentation from the Fish and Wildlife Service about its decision-making regarding the enforcement of the Migratory Bird law and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and asked for a response by May 30. After five months the agency had not responded with the information and Hastings accordingly slammed Director Daniel Ashe in a follow-up letteron November 4.
Finally, two days before the settlement with Duke Energy was announced, the Justice Department answered Sens. Vitter and Alexander about their January inquiry. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams told the senators there has been no double standard in enforcement of the wildlife laws.
“Violations of the (Migratory Bird Treaty Act) are referred to the Department only when companies fail to make good-faith efforts to avoid, minimize, and mitigate avian take,” Williams wrote.
Nevertheless the delay – and then the sudden confluence of Justice’s answer to the senators and the announcement of the Duke settlement – gives the strong impression that Fish & Wildlife and the government lawyers wanted a “scalp” to show the senators that they are evenhanded in their pursuit of the law. But Vitter, for one, wasn’t buying it.
“It looks like DOJ is making an example out of this particular case to shift the focus away from the Administration’s bias of using the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to go after oil, gas and other businesses,” he said in a statement on Monday. “The instances of wind energy’s favoritism have been so egregious under this Administration, and DOJ’s settlement and response still don’t explain the Administration’s obvious bias.”
How biased? An independent study published by the Wildlife Society Bulletin, cited by the Daily Caller, found that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind projects in the U.S. every year. And according to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own analysis, the number of birds killed is 440,000 per year, National Review reported. With those kinds of numbers it’s hard for Justice Department to make a serious case for no prosecutions under the migratory bird law.
So Duke Energy, the nation’s largest publicly owned utility and a close friend of the administration, was an obvious “offender” that could afford to step forward and take a hit for the overall cause of wind energy – after all, $1 million is pocket change for the company that lives and breathes regulatory favoritism.
As NLPC has reported, Duke has been on a wind (and solar) project-buying spree for years. The utility, which sells its “retail” power to customers in the Carolinas, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida, has been building up its renewable resources for its wholesale energy delivery as well. The company, in part, benefits from the existence of renewable energy mandates in about 30 states, and lobbyists helped form North Carolina’s standard which requires Duke to generate 12.5 percent of its power from renewables by the year 2021.
The stimulus also provided handsome subsidies for Duke Energy renewable projects, with the Department of Energy providing a $22 million grant for Duke’s Notrees Windpower Project in Texas, more than half the estimated $43.6 million cost for the 20-megawatt energy storage experiment. And DOE also came through with $204 million under the Recovery Act for Duke’s smart grid projects in the Midwest and in the Carolinas.
Duke followed with solar and wind energy projects that it has either purchased or launched, after announcements in 2007 in Ohio (“Duke Energy Ohio to ‘Go Green’”), Indiana and the Carolinas that the company was seeking bids from providers of renewable power. “Duke Energy is interested in talking with potential suppliers about purchased power agreements, purchasing a generating facility, or purchased power agreements with the option to buy the facility,” a company press release said.
The buying bender of wind and solar projects immediately followed: 100 wind turbines from GE and 1,000 megawatts of wind assets in Texas (Dec. ’07); a 20-year commitment to buy solar power from SunEdison (May ’08); the purchase of wind company Catamount Energy (June ’08); and so on. Hardly a month has gone by since where Duke doesn’t announce some new purchase of solar or wind resources, including this past week.
Mandates and subsidies aren’t the only things that make the economics of wind energy extremely profitable for Duke. As Glenn Schleede, a former Atomic Energy Commission official, has detailed in the past, utilities invested in wind and solar reap an array of financial breaks including “Five-Year Double Declining Balance Accelerated Depreciation,” which frees up massive amounts of tax-free cash from capital investments, and also reduces corporate income taxes. Duke also has benefited from the Federal Production Tax Credit, Investment Tax Credits or Production Tax Credits, additional state subsidies for utilities, and other Department of Energy subsidies such as research and development grants and contracts. As Schleede said, this transfers “hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the pockets of ordinary taxpayers and electric customers to a few large corporations that own wind farms….”
If there is any doubt left about Duke’s cash flow thanks to renewables, recently departed CEO James Rogers told energy expert Robert Bryce in mid 2011 that wind subsidies enabled the utility to earn returns on equity of 17 to 22 percent.
So clearly, with wind energy bringing in so much money, a $1 million token fine over less than 200 bird deaths is not going to affect Duke Energy. The Charlotte-based utility frittered away at least ten times that much as a host of the Democratic National Convention last year.
Last week, writing for the Wall Street Journal, Bryce suggested the action by the Justice Department might mean the “green bubble” is about to burst with possibly more actions coming. But it’s hard to imagine the Obama administration doing much more of significance on that front after it has poured billions of dollars into the expansion of renewables via grants, loans and subsidies.
[Originally published on the National and Legal Policy Center]
Stenhouse and his team used a state tax modeling tool to determine what kind of tax reforms would best suit their state. They concluded that ending the sales tax would make their state more friendly to businesses and residents, creat 20,000-25,000 more jobs and eliminate 30% of their unemployed. Nationally, it makes more sense to lower the income tax, but due to Rhode Island’s geographical location, the sales tax is a better option for them.
Their proposal has bipartisan support and is gaining more traction in the legislature than they ever thought possible. The bottom line is that no one in the state has proposed a tax reform measure that is outside the box and would institute real change. People know that this it.
Stenhouse doesn’t believe that they will get the sales tax to zero, but he thinks they can make a significant reduction and is excited to see what happens in the future.
Listen to the podcast in the player above.
The media is giving mixed reports of Cardinal Dolan’s interview on Meet the Press with David Gregory. According to Fox News, the Catholics oppose Obamacare and, according to NBC News, the Catholics embrace it.
FOX NEWS link:
NBC NEWS link:
The reports merely focus on two different parts of the Cardinal’s discussion. The Catholics (A) support universal health insurance and (B) oppose the parts of Obamacare that mandate Catholic institutions provide coverage for contraception, abortion and other procedures prohibited by the Catholic Church.
Giving the recent dramatic shift in the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding free market-oriented economics, I’m going to say a few words on behalf of the Cardinal Dolan:
The Catholics generally support a government that is medium-size. They cannot support big government. The opposition to big government is very clear. They generally do not support a government that is small. From time to time, they have attacked small government, but not in ways that are as clear as their attacks on big government. It may be possible for the Catholics to encompass both the small and the medium-sized government-types; but, the Catholic Church has generally not been a comfortable place for small government-types.
Pope John Paul II was kind of an exception to the rule among the leaders of the Catholic Church with regard to small government, at least with regard to the focus and tenor of his teachings. I may be exaggerating a bit, but when John Paul II was Pope, atheistic communism was the Great Satan in the world. Today, according to Pope Francis, it is free market economics. In his words, the “trickle down theory” of economics is the “new tyranny” in the world.
Thus, Cardinal Dolan, in defending universal health insurance, is in keeping with the mainstream of Catholic political economy. My defense of Cardinal Dolan will be based, however, on a different principle. instead of supporting medium-sized government, I will say that it is unjust to condition charity on not working. This principle is called “less eligibility.” A person should not be made less eligible for benefits because he works. This principle was developed by the private charity movement of the 19th Century, which was mostly a Protestant initiative, but was embraced at the time by some Catholics. I am not aware, however, that the Catholics have ever spoken on this principle.
According to the principle of less eligibility, denying charity to poor people because they work is evil. It not only undermines the incentive to work, it robs the poor of the dignity that comes with work, and it replaces “agape” or friendly love with sympathy. Instead of seeing the poor as like ourselves, in that they, too, work, it sees the poor as objects of pity, and replaces brotherhood as the basis of charity with victimhood.
According to the principle of less eligibility, once the government starts to get into the charity business, and starts to dispense goodies like cash benefits, food stamps, health insurance, housing vouchers, Pell Grants, and so forth, the discrimination among the poor based on working becomes an issue. If those on welfare who do not work have health insurance, why is health insurance denied to those who are poor who work.
My mother, who was one of the working poor of this country, in her old age put it this way: Why do prisoners have health care, and she did not? It was no use for me to remind her that she had health insurance through Medicare, as she had problems with her memory. I told her, Mom, if you need an operation, you can rob a bank. If you’re successful, you’ll have the money for your operation. And, if you’re not successful, you’ll wind up in prison where you’ll get the operation for free.
In theory, we could have a tax and welfare system consisting of (A) a package of benefits, mostly non-cash, and including health insurance, for those at the very bottom, and (B) a tax rate – let’s say 20 percent – where you start losing the benefits as you start to have income, eventually come to a break-even point, and then start paying taxes. With this kind of system, we would have a floor but no ceiling to income, and at every point along the income distribution people would have a good incentive to work. I think the system I have just described would be o.k. with most people who support small to medium-sized government, although maybe it would not be o.k. to all at either end of this range.
But, here’s the problem for the Catholic Church: church leaders cannot pretend to know what is the right amount of the basic grant or what is the right mix of cash and non-cash benefits in that basic grant, and what is the right tax rate to make this tax and welfare system work. That would be for government leaders to decide, relying on economic advisors and their own good judgment.
My judgment, as an economist, is that the dollar value of Obamacare is way too high for it to be affordable by the taxpayer for those who are subsidized, or to be affordable by those at the lower end of the income distribution who are not subsidized. Also, that the dollar value of the total package of welfare benefits – cash and non-cash benefits – is too high (mostly because of the health insurance part of the package). And, that the effective tax rate on those at the low end of the income distribution is way too high, approximately 100 percent, so that there is little incentive to work.
So, speaking as an economist, the particulars of Obamacare and of the tax system have to be addressed. But, the principle that nobody should be treated more shabbily because they work implies that if welfare recipients get health insurance so too should poor working people.
I would to conclude by returning to the insight into brotherhood developed by the 19th century private charity movement. As described by Joseph Tuckerman, the first leader of this movement in this country, we are all called to be our brother’s keeper, both the rich and the poor, each of us expected to work and be self-responsible to the extent that we are able. To this teaching, I would like to append the remarkable insight into brotherhood developed by Pope John Paul II. He said that by developing a sense of self in the context of a private property-based, market-oriented economy, a person might fall in love with himself; and, by entering into relations with others on the basis of free association, he might come to love others as he loves himself.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has the power of interpreting laws regarding the voucher system and has increased and changed its reporting procedures that end up placing burdens on participating voucher schools and limit eligibility for students. Apparently, DPI makes complicated rules, like requiring parents to actually staple their income tax return to their voucher application. Although the state legislature has rectified some of these issues, DPI seems to come up with more and more.
Voucher school officials are bogged down by the never ending rules placed on them; they just want to run their schools efficiently and help the kids the best they can, but they just keep running into road block after road block. They keep participating in the voucher system because their communities have a demand for better education options.
It doesn’t help that the elected State Superintendent, Tony Evers, does not think voucher systems should exist. It’s a giant conflict of interest for the state of Wisconsin.
Listen to the podcast in the player above.
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Today the Illinois Legislature is expected to take up a faux pension reform bill that is being heralded by many business groups, lawmakers, and the media as real “fundamental reform.” The financial problems facing Illinois’ pension system are massive and obvious, and yet the minor changes being proposed are being heralded by various advocates and some opponents as being significant or even “extreme.”
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The reforms being proposed won’t lead to a fully funded system for another 30 years, assuming the overly optimistic estimates and rate of return assumptions are correct. Benjamin VanMetre of the Illinois Policy Institute points out the “plan is really no different than the ramp Illinois has today, which is expected to have the systems 90 percent funded by 2045. The truth is there is no difference between the old plan and the new one.”
While compromise is a basic element of politics and policy-making, compromise also can give the public the illusion that the problem has been solved, when in fact such compromises purposely avoid the root of the problem.
The fundamental source of the pension problem in Illinois is the “defined-benefit” pension plan system, which goes practically untouched by the proposal except for a few minor tweaks to retirement age and COLAs. Public employees will continue to receive a pre-set benefit amount upon retirement for an indeterminate amount of time. This type of system is financially unsustainable and will crowd out spending for other programs such as education.
Here are the three biggest problems with the pension proposal:
1. The optional defined-contribution plan included is capped at 5 percent enrollment. One could assume this is out of fear that too many public employees will want to take control of their own retirement and be given the flexibility to change jobs, thereby undercutting the current Ponzi scheme. Cunningly, the proposal includes language that would allow government to cancel these defined-contribution plans and seize the money in them. The combination of the enrollment cap and the provision allowing the state to seize these plans makes this aspect of the proposal nothing more than window-dressing for what is truly needed as part of any fundamental pension reform. At minimum, the state should have stopped the bleeding by enrolling all new employees in a true, employee-owned 401k-style pension plan.
2. Changes to cost-drivers are minor or are actually harmful. The changes to the COLA formula and a pension cap of nearly $110,000 do little to curb costs and change the financial trajectory of the system. Phasing in a five-year increase in the retirement age is a step in the right direction but one that will still allow pensioners to retire much earlier than private-sector employees and collect millions of dollars’ worth of pension benefits for an indeterminately lengthy amount of time.
3. Prioritizing and guaranteeing pensions payments above other government expenditures, such as education and public safety, is a guarantee for higher taxes and higher spending. The guarantee written into the proposal is somewhat vague, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be applied at the expense of other core functions of government or taxpayers.
Illinois politicians are refusing to acknowledge they are guilty of promising overly generous benefits while pushing the costs onto future generations of taxpayers by failing to fully fund the pensions. Those who say this plan is the best one that is politically viable in Illinois are being disingenuous or haven’t been paying attention. Rhode Island – a very blue state with a similar per-capita proportion of state and local public employees – passed fundamental pension reforms that go much further than Illinois’ proposal does.
Illinois may have only one opportunity to get pension reform right, and this proposal is not it. More than likely, this proposal will set back the true fundamental pension reform that is required to protect taxpayers from further tax hikes, give public employees more job flexibility, and put Illinois on a sustainable fiscal path.
“Rich countries are still not pledging enough money to begin financing a shift to a cleaner global economy,” reports the Financial Times (FT) in its coverage of the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw that ended with little more than a “vague road map on how to prepare for a global climate pact they’re supposed to adopt in two years.”
Leading into what has now been called an “unsatisfactory summit,” predictions suggested the “talks could collapse because of a lack of financial support from rich nations.” Delegates from developing countries, such as Ecuador’s lead negotiator Daniel Ortega, believe “an effective 2015 emissions reduction agreement has to be based on a clear financial package.”
Ortega stated: “I’m not personally expecting any commitment by Warsaw. What we need to have is a clear roadmap of how the discussions of financing will allow us to have a clear idea of commitments by 2015.”
Even low expectations like Ortega’s were dashed when, on the opening day of the climate talks, November 11, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government produced a document, outlining its position at the Warsaw conference, which boldly stated: “Federal cabinet has ruled that Australia will not sign up to any new contributions, taxes or charges at this week’s global summit on climate change.” The Australian points out: “This rules out Australia playing any role in a wealth transfer from rich countries to developing nations to pay them to decrease their carbon emissions.” But, perhaps, the most dramatic line in the government document is: Australia “will not support any measures which are socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”
A few days later, November 15, Japan announced that “its emissions would increase slightly rather than fall 25 per cent as promised in 2009.” Japan was struggling to meet its previous emissions promises—which were the most aggressive of any big developed country—even before the Fukushima accident prompted the shutdown of its 50 still-operable nuclear reactors and its corresponding rise in the supplemental use of fossil fuels.
Then on November 20, news came out of England stating that Prime Minister Cameron is telling everyone: “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.”
All of this is on the foundation of Todd Stern, the Obama Administration’s chief climate diplomat, dialing back expectations when, during an October 22 speech in London, he addressed U.S. involvement: “an international agreement is by no means the whole answer.” He pointed out “the need to be creative and flexible” and acknowledged the “hard reality” that “no step change in overall levels of public funding from developed countries is likely to come anytime soon.” Stern added: “The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it.”
Toward the end of the conference, “six environment and development groups walked out, saying the annual round of talks had delivered little more than hot air.” A statement from Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Trade Union Confederation and Friends of the Earth said: “The Warsaw climate conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing.” Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF’s climate and energy initiative called the meeting a “farce.” She told the FT: “Finance is one of the big reasons we walked out. Expectations were that developed countries were going to put money on the table, but what happened when we got here was exactly the opposite.”
In a statement, Smith blamed: “Japan’s announcement that it would not reduce emissions as promised, Australia’s decision to end its carbon tax and Canada’s congratulating the latter on its new climate policy.”
Just as it looked like predictions of collapse would come true, a last-minute compromise came through in overtime: the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage (IMLD). Stern led the 36 straight hours of “bad-tempered negotiations”—including a standoff between the US and developing nations—in which “countries of the South … finally won.”
Addressing the IMLD, the Associated Press (AP) reports: “agreements were watered down to a point where no country was promising anything concrete.” While the IMLD was agreed upon, according to The Hindu, “deciding how this mechanism would get the funds in future” remained unresolved. And, BusinessGreen.com bemoans: “the vague wording fell short of the kind of detailed commitments on additional funding and avoided a commitment to compensation that many developing nations had been seeking.”
So, while a deal was reached that allows “just enough to keep things moving,” little is really expected. The AP states: “In two-decades, the U.N. talks have failed to provide a cure to the world’s fever.” Even Connie Hedegaard, European climate commissioner, acknowledges: “the process needs to provide a ‘substantive answer’ to global warming in two years to remain relevant.”
Fortunately, Mother Nature can’t be bought. Despite the billions the world’s wealthy nations have provided to poorer countries, global CO2 emissions have continued to rise. As the Washington Post reports, from 2010-2012 only about $5 billion of the $35 billion actually went toward helping poor countries prepare for actual climate change impacts. $100 billion per year is expected by 2020 but “most developed countries are failing to demonstrate promised increases.”
Britain was one of the “wealthier nations” to promise billions in aid, but it is balking, too. Ed Davey, energy and climate secretary, believes that paying additional compensation to poorer nations is “not fair or sensible.” The Telegraph states: “Growing numbers of Tory backbenchers are now calling for the government to withdraw from expensive climate change and carbon commitments.”
Douglas Carswell, Tory MP, sums up the so-called climate compensations: “We’re spending money that we don’t have to solve a problem that doesn’t exist at the behest of people we didn’t elect.”
Canada, Australia, Britain, and even Japan—home of the landmark Kyoto climate talks two decades ago—are coming to their senses. The US held out until the very last minute—and then capitulated by agreeing to the IMLD.
It really is all about the money. The Abbott Administration has stated: Australia’s efforts on greenhouse gases will be conditioned by “fiscal circumstances.” Japan, acknowledges its need for energy: “Although Japan’s economy is one of the world’s most energy efficient, the country is still the fifth-biggest CO2 emitter, owing to its large-scale concentration of manufacturing industries.” Britain’s Carswell says: “The rethinks that have happened in Japan and Australia and elsewhere desperately need to happen here as well.” Ditto for America. After all, they’ve had their way for twenty years—CO2 emissions have gone up, the economy has gone down, and global warming has stalled.
[Originally published on Townhall.com]
We probably all know at least one: the person who comes to a family gathering primed to talk about politics – particularly, to let you know why their view is right, and yours is dead, dead wrong. These are the worst kind of guests. They have no interest in catching up and spending a brief moment in time out of the precious few we get on this earth avoiding politics. Insufferable in their insistence in turning the conversation into Crossfire, they can’t even take a holiday from partisanship and just be happy to ask someone to pass the gravy.
Thanks to the White House and Organizing for Action, there may be a marked increase in such guests this holiday season, thanks to this push to have you come to Thanksgiving dinner – and the other holidays too! – with your administration-approved talking points in hand. Oh frabjous day indeed.
President Obama has done a lot of things I dislike, but ruining Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner is a bit much. And to let him be clear: that’s exactly what he’s doing. Instead of letting families argue about perfectly reasonable things to discuss over holiday dinners – such as when Mike Shanahan should be fired, which Bound 2 parody is the best, and whether Miley Cyrus should be launched into the sun for the good of humanity – the president wants to insist on inserting his priorities into family gatherings across the country. “I understand you worked hard to brine this bird, but let’s refocus on what matters: why you haven’t signed up at healthcare.gov yet. Did you hear it’s getting much better? Don’t talk about the Iron Bowl or Aunt Jenny’s wedding, let’s turn this conversation back to what really matters: avoiding a death spiral and ensuring stability in the insurance market!”
We’ve certainly come very far from an era when people of different political mind were urged to set aside their differences and come together for a meal and football and gather round the hearth in peace. Instead we’re in the era of “argue with your neighbors, get in their face”. Maybe it’s that social media sparring fuels these political grudge matches, or that political allegiances are worn less as choosing between the lessers of evils and more as teams of red and blue. But if you want to talk about death spirals, this is one I wish we’d get out of, and soon. Talking points beget talking points and before you know it the Thanksgiving table has turned into the McLaughlin group, except with the added challenge of your uncle having had six Cranberry Old Fashioneds and a carving knife within handy reach.
What’s more, now that these insufferable partisans in the administration have distributed their talkers, you’re a lot more likely to hear any one of these ten statements at tomorrow’s dinner, to which I am now obligated to offer a prebuttal. And yes, Mr. President, I hate you for making me write this.
1) Healthcare.gov may suck, but state exchanges are performing really well.
No, most of them aren’t. They’re way behind, too. Exchanges such as those in Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, Vermont, Hawaii, and other states which have led the charge in implementation have fallen flat on their faces. Oregon, which had total buy-in at all levels of the state and no political opposition to speak of, has signed up exactly zero people. And while states like California, Connecticut, and Kentucky have had better success, the vast majority of signups in the state exchanges are within Medicaid, not private insurance – in part because the eligibility is easier to determine. But that has negative outcomes as well, as those with private insurance are now required to go on Medicaid – such as this woman in Washington state.
2) The website’s problem is demand and once the front-end problems are fixed, it’ll work great.
No, it’s not – in fact, the website couldn’t even handle 500 visitors without problems according to internal documents from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, released in hearings last week (the all-caps emails are the best ones). The real problem with the website at this point isn’t capacity at all: it’s the extremely delayed back-end – major portions of which apparently haven’t even been built yet – which are supposed to hand off people to the actual insurers they select, and handle the payments for plans (the point at which people are actually “enrolled”). Collecting these premiums and making sure insurers get them has always been the heaviest lift under Obamacare, and the lack of these systems is far more problematic than just the front-end frustrations of delays and glitches. It’s along the lines of having an Expedia-like site that “works” because you can select your flight, but doesn’t actually have the capability for sellers to charge you, or reserve your ticket. Which is, let’s face it, kind of key. There is no public deadline for these remaining critical fixes, and they’ve already missed their first deadline for the front-end.
3) Only a few young and healthy people will pay more – for most people, they will keep their plans or have something better.
No, actually, premiums are going up just about everywhere, and for most people. In 41 states, premiums in the individual market are going up by an average of 41%. Only eight states – generally those with the most heavily regulated markets – will see premium reductions ranging between 3% and 40%. But according to The Manhattan Institute’s analysis, for those who have it bad, it’s really bad: the eight worst states are seeing huge premium hikes, including Nevada (+179%), New Mexico (+142%), Arkansas (+138%), North Carolina (+136%), Vermont (+117%), Georgia (+92%), South Dakota (+77%), and Nebraska (+74%). While the young and healthy get the brunt of these increases, the older folks aren’t exempt, either – and even if their premiums don’t increase that much, it’s likely they’ll see larger deductibles and narrower networks.
4) The pre-Obamacare health insurance market was a “free market” full of “junk” insurance plans, which screwed people over and dropped their insurance when they got sick.
No, this simply isn’t true. The American health insurance system prior to Obamacare was in some senses the worst of both worlds: one torn between single payer and third party payer, where while most of the care offered was superior to the rest of the world, the chief problem was explosive growth in costs… because no one cares what something costs when someone else is paying for it (in this case, your employer or the government). No one in their right mind would describe a reality in which the government holds so much market sway, and in which consumers have near-zero price transparency, as a free market system. And as for screwing over people who got sick: it’s been illegal for insurers in the employer market to drop people who get sick since 1997 (thanks, HIPAA!). This means the problem only applies to the individual market (10% of private health insurance), where people were dropped less than 4/10ths of 1% of the time, typically after an appeals process. You really want to argue we needed to disrupt the entire marketplace to solve a problem which impacted such a small portion of the population? It would’ve been cheaper to just hand them all a check for higher-subsidized coverage… such as those offered through high risk pools, the type states like Maryland and New Hampshire are trying to keep open since their exchanges are broken. Oh, and if you’re in the employer market and feel left out by all this disruption, don’t worry – you’re next.
5) Obamacare is already controlling health care costs and it’ll eventually control premium costs.
No, it isn’t. Health care spending has actually been on the decline for some time, when measured per capita, in large part because of the economic decline. It’s also possible the dramatic growth of high deductible plans with health savings accounts, which have exploded in popularity since they came into being in 2003, (HSA enrollment has quintupled just since 2006), have factored into the slowdown. These plans behave more like real insurance and less like an overpriced payment plan, and so people behave more like consumers. National health spending per capita rose just 3.7 percent in 2008… two years before Obamacare was enacted. And keep in mind, we’re talking about all health care spending here – not the price of insurance premiums, which Obama promised would be down $2,500 for a family of four. But even analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found in 2009, well before the law passed, that premiums would go up because of Obamacare’s regulatory requirements. Obama didn’t promise premiums would go up by less than estimated, but that they would go down. Since Obamacare has passed, they’ve gone up, and they’re probably going to continue doing so for the foreseeable future… in part because of Obamacare’s faulty exchange design.
6) Once you’re able to get onto the website, you’ll have plenty of cheaper/better choices and be able to qualify for a subsidy.
No, you probably won’t. While the subsidies are generous for people on the lowest income end, many people – even low-income people – will be surprised to find how little the subsidy hides the aforementioned growth in premiums or how expensive the new plans are. And the rate shock they perceive for those premiums will likely be deceptive as well, as ProPublica notes here, because of the increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket co-pays associated with the new policies. Polling data thus far shows one of the major reasons people are coming to the website but not selecting a plan is because they’re surprised by the costs. For many people, $190 a month is absolutely affordable – but for those who weren’t buying insurance when it was $160 a month, they’re balking.
7) When people get covered under Obamacare, they’ll start liking the new system because they’ll get the same health care, but cheaper.
No, they probably won’t get what they expect. While I am amazed by how much the administration has bungled the rollout of the law, the real Achilles’ heel from my perspective has always been the second round of hits: the doc shock as people learn about the newly restricted networks under the plans offered via the exchanges. Many states have one insurer with dominant, near-monopoly market share, and in these states not having a critical hospital in the network can be a major problem for the ill. The best hospitals in the country – the Mayo Clinic, Cedars-Sinai, and other such household names – are typically also the most expensive hospitals in an insurer’s network. This means that the quickest way to be able to make a plan that is solvent under Obamacare’s regulatory model is to drop some of these expensive hospitals and systems from your plans. This is going to hit the sickest Americans hardest, as stories like this one show. In Washington State, Seattle’s Children’s Hospital is actually suing the state’s insurance commissioner after being dropped by so many insurers, disrupting the care of sick children. The Cleveland Clinic, which accepts dozens of plans, is included in just one insurer’s network through Obamacare. Get ready for a lot of stories about other children’s hospitals and cancer-focused clinics in January.
8) The Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which only neo-Confederates oppose, is giving millions of people access to affordable health care.
No, it won’t – it will give them a card promising access, which isn’t the same thing. Medicaid really is a well-intentioned ghetto of lousy health care, with terrible outcomes and access problems galore in many states, particularly for kids and for those with serious illnesses. We have hard evidence from the experience in Oregon that Medicaid doesn’t lead to better health outcomes. And for those Medicaid recipients who do need help, they already refer to their cards as a “useless piece of plastic” because they can’t actually find a doctor or dentist to accept them in a timely manner. To combat this, politicians in states like Massachusetts and Virginia have proposed making it mandatory for doctors licensed in the state to accept Medicaid patients, even as doctors accepting such patients continue to experience payment cutbacks, just as they’re seeing in California today. Cramming hundreds of thousands of new enrollees into systems which already can’t handle the people on the program? That seems like a great idea.
9) This whole thing would have worked just fine except for the Republican commitment to kill it.
No, it wouldn’t have. The Democrats in Congress wrote the bill with the federal/state exchange choice in it: they have only themselves to blame for the fact that many state legislators in both parties realized early on that making a state exchange meant owning its performance. Distrusting Obamacare’s feasibility, most states took the path of least resistance, and left it to the feds to do the work. But the administration dawdled and delayed in moving forward on key regulations because they didn’t want them to factor into the 2012 election – that was their decision alone, significantly delaying rules and red tape which was key to the implementation process. It was the Obama administration’s decision alone to put the gun to the head of lawmakers and offer only a full expansion of Medicaid, not a partial one, or no Medicaid dollars at all — meaning that negotiating was basically out of the question except as window dressing, until seven Supreme Court Justices (including two Democratically appointed ones – including one appointed by Obama!) said no dice. And finally, it was their decision alone to plunge forward with the website, when they absolutely could’ve offered delay as an olive branch to Republicans earlier this year and come away seeming both magnanimous and responsible, even as the bureaucrats in the know breathed a sigh of relief. Republicans have certainly stirred up a lot of political opposition to the law in Congress and across the country, but other than killing a few aspects of Obamacare unrelated to the core issue (things like the CLASS Act and the 1099 requirements), they’ve just been Statler and Waldorf providing color commentary at the movies. This was a monopartisan bill, and that decision has consequences… but the fundamentals of the law are failing to match up with the promises the president made to the American people, and none of those fundamentals were altered by Republicans.
10) We’re just trying to help poor people get health care! How can that be wrong? Why do you hate poor people?
Okay, you’ve got me there. Most Republicans hate poor people because they worry that their poor germs will prove contagious, and next thing you know you’re standing in a Walmart at 1 AM sorting through a bin of DVDs looking desperately for cheap Christmas presents and wondering why they ever made so many movies where Matthew McConaughey is leaning on things in a totally natural fashion. (I have it on good info that this is a recurring nightmare in the Romney household.)
The big distinction between the Left and the Right on health care policy is their different aims: the Left pushes getting people “covered” – via insurance, private and governmental. But what the Right pushes generally is greater access to quality, affordable care. This latter approach is generally the more popular one – which is why Obama sounded so much like he was echoing it during the 2008 election, where he focused on cost, not on coverage! The truth is that health insurance – particularly in the form of programs like Medicaid – does not guarantee quality health care any more than car insurance guarantees you a mechanic who fixes what’s actually wrong with your car without overcharging you. They want people getting insured because insurance is more affordable, competing in a marketplace to provide people with what they want – and thus Republicans are focused on cost, while Democrats are focused on coverage. The point is that we can subsidize the poor inefficiently (and create all sorts of access problems) through the existing broken programs, or we can subsidize them more efficiently through funded HSAs or direct delivery of services – treating low-income Americans as consumers, not as wards of the state. The Obamacare Medicaid expansion actually goes against this line of thought: it crams large numbers of healthy able-bodied childless adults into a program originally meant to serve the poorest of the poor and sickest of the sick… which is what a true safety net should do, after all.
I can’t believe President Obama made me write this, or made you have to read it. Come on, people, it’s the holidays – if you really can’t take a few days off from partisan politics, maybe it’s time to admit you have a problem. So please, do us all a favor, and ignore The Man’s push to spend Thanksgiving dinner talking about entitlement programs as our eyes glaze over. These administration folks don’t respect you – they lied to you in their talking points for years, and even now apparently think you’re too dumb to even talk to your family without their help. So if you find that as you ask for the gravy that you’re talking more about your BFFs Chait, Cohn, and Pollack than you do about friends you know in real life, may I respectfully suggest you consider making a New Year’s resolution to get a life outside of politics. Trust me: it’ll give everyone else something to be thankful about.
[Originally published on The Federalist]
NHTSA said no he didn’t.
Tesla has been saying it received the highest safety rating in the U.S., a “new combined record of 5.4 stars.”
NHTSA says there’s no such thing.
Musk said he expects the investigation will clear Tesla after incidents in which metal objects struck the underside where the Model S battery is located.
NHTSA says we’ll see, and a decision whether there should be a recall will likely take months. Maybe a lie detector test needs to be part of the study.
Musk thought he had averted scrutiny after the first fire in Washington state last month, when NHTSA declined to investigate the cause. Then another fire followed a collision in Mexico, and another blaze ignited in Tennessee a couple weeks ago after a Model S struck debris in the road (allegedly).
Musk doesn’t think it’s fair that Tesla has received so much negative media attention when there are hundreds of fires every year in gasoline-powered vehicles.
“Musk described the weeks since the fires as ‘torture,’” the Associated Press reported Friday. “He said the crashes have received an unreasonable amount of media attention given that no one was injured and the passenger compartments remained intact. He understands that a new technology such as electric cars will get more scrutiny, ‘but not to the insane degree that we’re receiving.’”
The reason for the insanity – or, at least the reason there should be insanity – is the fact that Tesla is trying to build its business on the backs of taxpayers and government distortion of free markets, rather than on the merits of its automotive product. Sure, Musk had the company repay its $465 million loan from the Department of Energy’s stimulus stash, but as NLPC has reported Tesla has vacuumed up millions of dollars in California zero-emissions credits it has sold to other vehicle manufacturers. The company also enjoys advantages such as the buyer’s federal tax credit for each vehicle, state tax credits and incentives, subsidies for battery manufacturers, and perks to offer buyers (who aremostly rich Californians) such as the use of high-occupancy highway lanes.
So for a company so dependent on a government that mandates your product and taxpayers who subsidize it, you can expect “insane” scrutiny when you hit some glitches. After all, Americans are coerced “investors.” In addition, President Obama’s new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has held up Tesla as a successful product of DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, and thus plans to revive the program that had received horrible publicity thanks to the failures of Vehicle Production Group and Fisker. The future of DOE’s electric vehicle “investments” has a lot to do with whether Tesla is viable or not.
But for all the brilliance and innovation that Musk has accumulated to his credit – leading tech pioneers such as Paypal and SpaceX – he obviously doesn’t get that with public money comes extra accountability. He enjoyed the attention earlier this year when the accolades came one after another, such as “safest car of all time” and Consumer Reports’ label as(almost) “the best car ever.” Wall Street pumped up the stock price near $200 with its two (alleged) profitable quarters in a row and $20 billion market capitalization. A seemingly lone voice – John Petersen of SeekingAlpha.com – sought to bring some sanity to the overwrought hype about Tesla’s value that even Musk has said was unjustified, and was promptly hammered by critics for his negativity.
A little over a month later came the first fire. It’s been downhill since. The share price fell to $121.38 upon Friday’s closing, and whereas Musk was happy to feed the positivity pump, he is dismayed at the attention now. Even when he tried to put a happy spin on the NHTSA investigation by saying Tesla asked for it, he was quickly refuted by the agency.
“The swift rebuttal of Mr. Musk underscores how Tesla’s relentless promotional campaign is wearing thin on regulators charged with making the nation’s vehicles and roadways safe,” the New York Times reported.
Another reason to doubt Musk is the claim that the two Model S fires in the U.S. were caused by running over debris in the road. In Washington a “large metallic object” allegedly triggered the event, and in Tennessee the culprit was said to be a trailer hitch. The only problem is, while there have been plenty of photos distributed of the charred Model S’s in the media and online, no pictures have been revealed of the alleged “perpetrators” (or “penetrators”): the “debris.”
“If that incident had occurred exactly as Tesla has theorized (near-instantaneous impalement of the battery pack by a 3” diameter sharp metallic object), in my opinion the car would have been instantly disabled (no chance to keep driving for another 2 – 3 minutes to get off the main highway, park, and exit the vehicle without injury) and might even have detonated the battery pack…,” wrote Lattice Energy’s Lewis Larsen, a physicist who has been a frequent critic of companies that depend on the viability of lithium ion batteries, in an email.
“Why hasn’t Tesla held a news conference and Elon Musk conducted a public ‘perp walk’ with the guilty piece of highway debris that they initially claimed had been recovered by a Washington Dept. of Transportation road crew that had been working in the area at the time of the incident?” he added.
In both incidents Tesla released statements that emphasized the battery fires were not “spontaneous,” which speaks to the company’s concern about the reputation for lithium ion technology’s “thermal runaway.” Larsen said if Musk really wanted to debunk that suspicion, then he would have employed his massive resources to hold up the offending debris for the world to see. That didn’t happen.
Unusual behavior and circumstances have surrounded fires that have occurred with electric vehicles and Boeing’s lithium-ion battery-dependent Dreamliner. In the case of two Chevy Volt residential garage fires in Connecticut and North Carolina, General Motors (as well as local officials and insurance companies) deployed teams that took over a year to investigate, only to determine the cause of the fires were “inconclusive.”In fires that involved the Fisker Karma, the company quickly emphasized their battery was not the cause and in the case of a Houston-area fire,suggested the vehicle owner might be to blame.
And with the case of the broadly publicized Boeing 787 fires, which shut down production of the newfangled airliner for months earlier this year, a company official concluded that it “almost doesn’t matter” what caused the fires as it announced a new “fix” for the undetermined problem.
Transparency, honesty and conclusive findings have been mostly absent from lithium ion battery incidents that affect the transportation sector. Taxpayers have been forced to heavily “invest” in this stuff and they deserve the truth.
[Originally published on the National Legal and Policy Center]
The “knockout game” is in the news these days along with much discussion of bullying. Football is a game of violence with rules in which players frequently sustain injuries. Terrorism has been adopted to advance the Islamic goal of global domination. And the administration just announced an agreement with Iran in a vain effort to slow their intention to join the nuclear club of nations with the capacity to kill thousands, if not millions.It is impossible not to conclude that violence is not built into the DNA of mankind.
In his 2007 book, “The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War”, David Livingston Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of New England, wrote: “The track record of our species shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are extremely dangerous animals, and the balance of evidence suggests that our taste for killing is not some sort of cultural artifact, but was bred into us over millions of years by natural and sexual selections.”
On the plus side, he wrote “But we have also seen that there is something in human nature that recoils from killing and pulls us in the opposite direction.”
It’s worthwhile to take a moment to contemplate violence. A statistical analysis, Smith noted, reveals the constancy of war. “Looking at forty-one modern nation-states between 1800 and 1945, we find that they average 1.4 wars per generation and 18.5 years of war per generation.”
“Almost 200 million human beings, mostly civilians, have died in wars over the last century, and there is no end of slaughter in sight,” wrote Smith. “The threat hangs over all of us, constant and unrelenting.”
The brief notice of the slaughter occurring in Syria when poison gas was used is instructive. A wider war was avoided when Russia stepped in to negotiate the destruction of this weapon and was occasioned only when President Obama contemplated military strikes. At this writing, 100,000 Syrians and combatants have died. It is no longer an on-going news story.
“The Value of Violence” is a new book by Benjamin Ginsberg. “Honesty would be so frequently damaging that virtually all politicians and public officials become practiced liars,” notes Ginsberg, suggesting that “cynicism should be understood as a reasonable, if mainly intuitive, popular response to the realities of politics.”
The deal with Iran, albeit for only six months, was conducted in such secrecy that none of the members of Congress, including its leadership, were aware of it. The killing of a U.S. ambassador in 2012 on the anniversary of 9/11 was immediately surrounded in lies when Americans were told it was initiated by a video no one had seen, rather than one more episode in the war that Islamic fascists have engaged in since the 1980s. The nation is trying to extract itself from Afghanistan after the 2001 act of war we call 9/11 and has left Iraq after a war whose justification is subject to question. Long wars of attrition sap the strength and will of even a superpower.
The reason the deal with Iran is so suspect is the fact that it is the nexus for much of the terrorism in the world, sponsoring organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. It has engaged in every manner of violence from assassination to kidnapping and hostage-taking.
Ginsberg notes that “In recent decades, for example, armed insurgents have employed violence or the threat of violence to overthrow a number of established regimes. The African continent alone has experienced some eighty-five successful military coups during the past sixty years.” It is Africa that mankind evolved, standing upright, and walking to inhabit all the other continents.
Much is made of violence in America. It is the daily content of news. “In the United States alone, nearly one and a half million individuals become the victims of violence every year—pushed, kicked, pummeled, stabbed, and shot—while tens of thousands of others are the perpetrators of these same acts.”
Indeed, America was born in violence as citizens took up arms against the British to establish the nation. Not that long after, it fought a bloody civil war to retain the union. The right to bear arms, as much to hold the government in check as any other, is part of our Constitution. An estimated eighty million Americans own a gun or rifle or both.
One can argue that violence on the individual, national, and international level is the price that humanity pays for its own inherent, even genetic, inclination to use violence for a wide variety of purposes. It has been used by the great religions and by nations alike.
It will not end. Our best efforts can only restrain it within ourselves, but weakness, too, is an ancient invitation to violence. Appeasement is a trap.[Originally published on Warning Signs]
The year 2013 has been a great year for global agriculture. Record world production of rice and healthy production of wheat and corn produced strong harvests across the world. These gains were achieved despite continuing predictions that world agricultural output is headed for a decline.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that world rice harvests for 2012/2013 were a record 469 million metric tons. Corn and wheat harvests were also strong, following record harvests for both grains during the 2011/2012 season. The USDA is now projecting world record harvests for corn, wheat, and rice for 2013/2014.
These numbers cap a 50-year trend of remarkable growth in world grain production. Since 1960, global wheat and rice production has tripled, and corn production is almost five times higher.
For decades, doomsayers predicted that food production would fail to keep up with the needs of humanity. In 1972, Donella Meadows and others of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published The Limits to Growth, which asked the question, “Do these rather dismal statistics mean that the limits of food production on the earth have already been reached?” Paul Ehrlich wrote in The End of Affluence in 1974, “Due to a combination of ignorance, greed and callousness, a situation has been created that could lead to a billion or more people starving to death.”
But Norman Borlaug’s development of disease-resistant, high-yield strains of wheat and rice had already revolutionized twentieth century agriculture. A few years before Meadows and Ehrlich warned about coming famines, Borlaug’s wheat and rice were introduced into Latin America and Asia with astounding results. Mexico’s wheat production soared six-fold by 1970 from levels in the 1940s. India’s wheat production jumped from a huge deficit in 1965 to a surplus only five years later.
Food production continues to grow faster than population. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows a 30 percent gain in the per capita agricultural production index from 1980 to 2010. World citizens have access to more grain, meat, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. Even fish production is climbing with large gains in aquaculture fish farming.
The increased availability of food reduced the undernourished portion of the world’s population from 18.6 percent in 1990 to 12.5 percent in 2010, according to the FAO. A total of 868 million people are still classified as undernourished.
Today’s leading agriculture alarmists are proponents of the ideology of Climatism, the belief that man-made greenhouse gases are destroying Earth’s climate. Earlier this month, a leaked draft report from Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that man-made climate change would reduce global agricultural production yields by up to two percent per decade throughout the twenty-first century.
Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute has long been a predictor of agricultural collapse. His website states, “…climate change is heightening the likelihood of weather extremes, like heat waves, droughts, and flooding, that can so easily decimate harvests.” Even the USDA warns that man-made climate change threatens US agriculture.
Yet, one must wonder when the climate-damaging effects on agriculture will appear. The IPCC states that 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period in the Northern Hemisphere of the last 1,400 years. Certainly we should have seen some negative agricultural impact by now?
Maybe rising agricultural production is like rising polar bear populations―the decline begins tomorrow.
[Originally published in The Washington Times]
With everyone from the Pope to the president spouting off these days about the alleged evil of purportedly growing wealth disparity in the world, it’s worth a few moments to remind ourselves – and to help educate others – about what wealth actually means. Let’s start with what it is not.
Wealth is not the same as money, which as Steve Forbes frequently points out is simply a medium of exchange. Instead of my having to trade legal services for goats, which I then trade for chickens, which I then trade for vegetables, which I then cook and eat, I can instead receive a universally accepted medium of exchange called money, in the amount of the value of the service I have provided. I can then spend it on goat meat or chicken or vegetables or anything else of value equal to the services I have provided. Money is simply a shortcut that eliminates a lot of otherwise complicated transaction costs.
Nor should wealth be confused with income. The spendthrift through whose pockets millions of dollars flow but who spends them recklessly and accumulates nothing has little wealth, and the heir or heiress who lives in a mansion with servants but has no job may have great wealth but little income.
Wealth is also not the same as simply land or gold or other natural resources, which are useless if one does not trade or develop them. An unplanted acre of ground on which no house is built, no well sunk nor drilled, no crops planted, or no cattle or sheep grazed is worth very little. All the grains of sand in the world were not worth much until humans learned to build roads and glass and computer chips from them. Even gold has no value except for the goods and services for which it can be exchanged or the uses to which it can be put: crowns or inlays for teeth, decorative uses such as jewelry, or electrical connections in microelectronics or radio equipment.
Putting aside spiritual wealth and personal health (the value of which are incalculable and cannot be exchanged with others) material wealth is simply the accumulation of added value, nothing more, nothing less. Any time you are adding value by providing goods or services or discovering new uses for existing resources, you are creating wealth.
Unlike matter or energy, therefore, wealth can be both created and destroyed. When people discover new uses for natural resources and build businesses around them, then they have created wealth. When misguided government policies cause the stock market or the housing market to crash or hyperinflation to set in, on the other hand, then they have destroyed or diminished wealth.
Once one properly understands wealth, it makes absolutely no sense for governments, churches, or other institutions to think they can make the world or the country better off by confiscating wealth from some people and giving it to others – especially after taking pieces of it for themselves. They are simply redistributing wealth, at both direct and indirect cost.
Directly, redistribution imposes obvious transaction costs, whether through the administrative costs of transferring funds or the logistical costs of shipping commodities overseas as part of “foreign aid.”
Indirectly, third-party redistribution of wealth diminishes wealth in the long run by discouraging its production in the first place. Who, after all, is inclined to work harder than he has to if he is not allowed to keep the fruits of his labor?
A decent society will always take care of its least fortunate, but mission-oriented civic organizations and individuals generally do a better and more cost-effective job of that than hierarchical organizations spending other people’s money.
So whether it’s the president or the Pope, be wary when anyone starts decrying the “inequality” of wealth in the world.
Chances are, they’re coming after yours.
Some wireless competitors and the DOJ/OSTP are urging the FCC to effectively change their spectrum aggregation rules to treat low-band spectrum-technology <1 GHz competitively different than high-band spectrum-technology >1 GHz.
If the FCC complies, it effectively would subdivide the current spectrum marketplace into two technology markets: <1GHz and >1GHz, for the first time in twenty years of spectrum auction history. It also would set the precedent for the FCC to arbitrarily subdivide the spectrum market further in future auctions based on the FCC’s latest technology-mix prognostications at that time.
Big picture, it would represent a regression back towards the 1980s pre-auction period when the FCC, not competitive market auctions, decided which company got what spectrum, and how certain spectrum was allocated.
Specifically, Sprint, T-Mobile, Dish and other competitors want the FCC effectively to exclude some competitive bidders from fully participating in the associated spectrum auction rules so that Sprint et al can enjoy a “fair opportunity to acquire low band spectrum” (at a lower price) in the FCC’s upcoming incentive auction for TV broadcasters’ 600 MHz spectrum.
Tellingly, these pleaders define a “fair” auction as one that abruptly changes the most fundamental rules of spectrum auctions mid-game to ensure that they are the ones most likely to win what they want in an exceptional FCC-steered auction.
Not only are they proposing the FCC effectively pick some companies’ winners and other companies’ losers before the bidding starts, but they also want the FCC to de facto pick “optimal” wireless technology mixes between low-band vs. high-band for different companies.
From a technology perspective, it is arbitrary to draw a line between low-band <1GHz and high band >1GHz technology. There is nothing intrinsic about 1GHz to justify the boundary it draws except its clean numeric appellation. That’s because because radio spectrum is simply a continuum of the ever-shortening of radio frequency waves as one moves up the radio spectrum chart.
The spectrum bifurcation proposal is obviously an outcome-driven line drawn to contrive a market definition to cherry-pick maximal market concentration, in order to provide cover for regulatory intervention into an otherwise market-competitive auction.
At core the FCC would be picking one wireless technology attribute over another, rather than letting the marketplace decide who values what technology attribute the highest – in this particular instance: signal strength vs. signal speed.
The DOJ’s competitive logic here is that the propagation characteristics of low band spectrum are better for low-density areas and inside buildings.
What the DOJ’s arbitrary analysis misses entirely is the speed characteristics of current high-band spectrum licenses are dramatically faster than the speed characteristics of current low-band spectrum licenses. That is because licenses in the high-band generally have more contiguous megahertz amounts than low-band licenses have.
Physics largely determines that the wireless broadband speed a provider can provide a particular user, is driven by the amount of megahertz in a license, not the propagation characteristics of the spectrum.
Simply as a very general rule of thumb, the megahertz amount of a license, say 6, 10, 20 or, 100MHz, is the amount of broadband speed it can potentially provide to a customer. A low-band 6 MHz TV license intrinsically can deliver roughly 6 megabits of speed, whereas Sprint’s Clearwire, high-band, ~100 MHz license intrinsically can deliver roughly a 100 megabits of bandwidth or broadband speed.
Given the FCC’s public obsession with promoting ever-faster broadband speeds to all Americans, how could the FCC argue that slower-speed signals from smaller low-band licenses are so much more important to consumers than higher-speed signals from larger high-band licenses? Was the FCC right in the National Broadband Plan that high broadband speeds are very important to consumers, or is the DOJ right that consumers going forward want good propagation characteristics of low-band spectrum over broadband speed?
To be fair here it is not either or, consumers want both, and different users want different mixes of the two characteristics at different times at different places with different devices.
Providing ubiquitous, quality, broadband service is very complex and a difficult endeavor, especially given the very different mixes of spectrum that each competitor has.
The big takeaway here is who is better to figure out what precise mix of power and speed characteristics consumers want at what price when – private carriers who are held accountable in the marketplace every day on whether their technology and economic judgments are accurate, or government personnel who have less practical current expertise or data, and little accountability for guessing wrong on technology?
In the modern era, the complexity and speed of spectrum markets demand market-mechanisms to allocate very scarce radio spectrum initially broad-brush in auctions and secondarily in secondary markets to fine tune and optimize holdings as real world needs change.
In short, some wireless competitors and the DOJ/OSTP are pushing the FCC down a slippery slope of arbitrary and preemptive spectrum micro-management where the FCC would not only be managing overall spectrum screens, but also proposed spectrum band sub-screens, and even spectrum-technology-mix sub-screens.
The FCC should beware of the siren song that government somehow can better allocate spectrum competitive inputs than market economics and competition can.
The last time the FCC imagined it could manage competitive inputs better than competitive market forces could, the entire CLEC industry the FCC heavily-subsidized went bankrupt.
Real sustainable wireless competition depends on market economics and market-driven auctions, not government outcome-driven auctions, laden with uneconomic implicit subsidies at taxpayers’ expense.
In the United States policies are being promulgated by those with political power in Washington, D. C. that involve a massive and dangerous growth in the size and scope of government. At the core of the Obama administration’s push for implementing a comprehensive national health care system and related programs is a radical ideological belief in political paternalism and the welfare state.
In the face of the euphoria of those demanding such a huge expansion of “Big Brother” over even more of our lives, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the premises behind and the realities of welfare statism.
Power and Paternalism
First and foremost, the guiding idea behind political paternalism is that the individual cannot be trusted to be a free and responsible human being. Those who wish to socially engineer our lives consider us too ignorant, too irresponsible, and too narrow in our own personal planning horizons to intelligently and reasonably take care of our own health care, our own retirement, our own family’s education, or our own spending and consumption choices.
These political paternalists who are proposing to enlarge the agenda of the welfare state implicitly consider themselves superior to the rest of us. With arrogance and immeasurable hubris, they presume to know what is good for us, better than we know ourselves. They are nothing less than would-be tyrants and despots determined to make the world over in their own ideological image – and, of course, all for our own good, whether we want it or not.
In addition, they are willing to use force against their fellow human beings to attain their paternalistic ends. That is, they believe that it is morally right for the state to use its coercive powers to take the income and wealth of some to give to others.
If an innocent citizen were to resist having his income and wealth redistributed, the paternalists clearly believe that the state has the right to even kill him (since the police agents of the state have the legitimized authority to use lethal force against those who resist its power) so someone else can have his or her food stamps, or public housing apartment, or for the government pay their visit to the doctor’s office.
If this seems like an “extreme” or an exaggerated statement, see how the government will react if on the day your income taxes are due you inform the tax authority that you are sending in a tax payment to pay your contribution for police, courts and national defense, but you’re withholding any amount that would fund any of its redistributive programs because you consider them unnecessary and immoral. You soon may be facing jail time or physical harm if you resist their confiscatory seizure of your property for unpaid taxes.
Second, a number of economists, such as Nobel Laureate, James Buchanan, have taught us that the actual politics of government intervention and redistribution have little to do with high-minded notions concerning some hypothetical “public good” or “general interest.”
The reality of democratic politics is that politicians want campaign contributions and votes to be elected and reelected, and they offer in exchange other people’s money. Those who supply those campaign contributions and votes want the money of others, which they are not able to honestly earn through the free play of open competition in the market place.
The bias in the democratic process toward political plunder is due to what is called a “concentration of benefits and a diffusion of burdens” that results from various government interventions. Suppose that in a country of 30 million people, the government taxes each citizen $1, and then redistributes that $30 million among a special interest group of 30 individuals. Each taxpayer will have one extra dollar taken away from them by the government for the year, while each of the 30 recipients of this wealth transfer will gain an extra $1 million.
The 30 recipients will collectively have a strong incentive to lobby, influence and even corruptly “buy” the votes of the politicians able to pass this redistributive legislation. Each individual taxpayer, on the other hand, will have little incentive to spend the time and effort to counter-lobby, influence, and petition members of the legislature merely to save $1 off his or her annual tax bill.
Thus, modern democracy has degenerated into a system of political plunder and special privilege at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and competing producers in society.
The Mirage of Social Justice
Third, as another Nobel Prize-winning economist, Friedrich A. Hayek, persuasively argued, even if we assumed that the political paternalists have the most benevolent motives in mind, there is no real meaning to ideas such as “social justice” or politically enforced “fairness.” They are all “mirages,” Hayek warned. The market does not reward some hypothetical notion of “merit” or “goodness.” The market rewards “service,” i.e., did an individual succeed in offering to others some specialized product in the market system of division of labor that was valued by those others who were willing to pay a particular price for it?
There is, in fact, no objective measure of an individual’s “real merit” or “worth” or “need,” and therefore there is no impartial and unbiased way the state can bestow on each member of society some fraction of national income that reflects their “socially just” and deserved amount.
Hence, it is far better to leave such issues to the private-sector charity of individuals and voluntary associations, who in spending their own money will do so based on their own evaluation of who may or may not deserve charitable support guided by their own personal standards of benevolence.
Plus, private charity, precisely because it relies on voluntary contributions, is far more efficient in their tasks than the coercive monopoly welfare state. Why? Because private charities must demonstrate to their voluntary supporters that their dollars have been spent effectively; otherwise, their support diminishes over time in competition with other charities and other uses the donors have for their own money.
Fourth, the welfare state produces over time perverse incentives and behavior among the members of society. Economists call this “moral hazard.” If the costs and consequences of someone’s mistakes and bad judgment are paid for and subsidized by others, then the person making those mistakes or acts of bad judgment has no incentive to learn from his mistakes and act more carefully and wisely in the future. Thus, you create an incentive for such individuals to do the same thoughtless or reckless actions again in the future. Plus, you signal to others in society that they, too, can act in the same irresponsible ways, and have someone else – the taxpayer – pick up the tab for their mistakes in the future, as well.
Because of earlier government bailouts, the “too big to fail” financial institutions on Wall Street believed they could act recklessly with their depositors’ and investors’ money, because they were confident (and have been right for the most part) that government would bail them out, also, if their “creative” investment strategies were to turn into big losses.
If individuals expect the government to plan for their old age, provide their healthcare needs, oversee the education of their children, guarantee them a job, monitor what they eat, drink, watch and read, as well as cover their losses from bad decisions, then why or how shall those individuals ever learn or be motivated to be more self-responsible in these and related affairs of everyday life? This does not make for a healthy and productive society in the longer run.
Government Deficits and Growing Debt
Fifth, an expanding welfare state generates growing financial demands on the regulatory and redistributive powers of the state. With no “fiscal constitution” imposing a balanced budget or other limits on the expenditures of the government, modern democratic society has plunged further and further into deficit spending and mounting government debt. We are right now witnessing that government debt grow by the trillions of dollars.
Government debt is a lien on citizens’ income in the future, since the principle and interest is supposed to be paid off at some point as the government’s IOUs come due. Thus today’s deficits mean higher taxes or even more government borrowing tomorrow to at least pay the growing interest on that accumulated debt.
But we also need to remember that we pay for that deficit spending not only tomorrow when the borrowed sums and interest payments are supposed to paid. We pay for it in the present, as well. Every dollar borrowed today by the government siphons off a dollar that, otherwise, would have been available for private sector investment and use. The society’s resources are finite at any moment in time. Those scarce resources are used either by individuals in the private sector or by those running the government. They cannot be used by both of these potential users at the same time.
Thus, every dollar borrowed by the government today (and the real resources that dollar’s purchasing power represents in the market place) is a dollar not being used for, say, capital formation, technological innovation, or improvements in private sector job skills so workers may earn higher wages in the future.
Instead, that dollar (and the real resources it represents) is used by government for current consumption: government employee salaries, welfare payments, or the fuel to fly the president’s “Air Force One.”
As a result, we are that much poorer as a society due to those resources being used for current consumption rather than future-oriented capital formation for higher and better standards of living tomorrow.
The New Road to Serfdom
All of these factors, and others that could be listed, show the menace and the immorality of the welfare state. The welfare state has been and will continue to lead us down a dangerous new “road to serfdom” in which our lives are more and more controlled, managed and manipulated by those in political power who claim the right to dictate how we are to live and work.
It encapsulates an evil immorality in which political force continues to claim the authority to deny us our individual rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. The interventionist-welfare state has been creating a new feudalism with political and special interest elites who serve as the “lords” who rule over and ruin the rest of us, the modern serfs who are expected to toil for their benefit under strangling regulations, burdensome taxes, and most likely worsening inflation as the years go by.
All of us who prefer to be free men in a free society with a free market need to do all in our intellectual power to stop and reverse this reactionary counter-revolution against the ideal of human liberty. Otherwise, our civilization may be heading for a terrible collapse that will leave nothing but tyranny and poverty for generations to come.
[First published at Epic Times.]
As reported by Fox News on November 22, President Obama postponed the 2014 sign-up date for Obamacare until two weeks after the mid-term elections: Obamacare enrollment for 2015 to reportedly be delayed until after midterms.
On the same day, November 22, David Martosko, U.S. Political Editor at the Daily Mail, United Kingdom, reported Obama’s arbitrary change of the Obamacare sign-up date in far more strident and honest terms with this headline than were found in U.S. media account with this headline: ‘How nakedly political can you get?’: Obamacare year-two signups delayed until after 2014 election .
Following were these statements made by Martosko:
1. Voters in the insurance exchanges won’t know 11 days after the 2014 election just how much they’ll pay for coverage in 2015.
2. The Treasury department has already delayed implementation of the employer mandate, and its fines, until Election Day has come and gone.
3. Millions of Americans are receiving private-insurance cancellation letters, with many experiencing ticker-shock when they learn their options.
4. One poll released Wednesday [November 20] shows that 48 per cent of taxpayers now want the Obamacare law repealed.
As was conveyed in the UK Mail headline, there was no plausible reason to postpone the 2014 sign-up date for Obamacare other than to keep bad news from reaching voters until after the General Election in November. What could they be?
As set forth in terms that put the cheese on the cracker:
- Insurance mandates for employee benefit plans were previously deferred until 2014. At that time, all insurance plans must include the ten mandates specified in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. These same mandates resulted in the cancellation of about 6 million private insurance policies, and doubled the cost of insurance of policies offered in their place. Most of the added cost comes from two popular mandates – coverage for pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of lifetime benefit limits.
- The huge price increase is concealed in two ways. Nearly half of those affected will receive subsidized health care, and the maximum out-of-pocket expense (deductible) have been doubled or tripled for most policies. Cost of these subsidies are supposed to come from higher premiums for those can afford it, resulting in a charges of up to 4 times the pre-Obamacare costs. In other words, income will be redistributed from those who have to those to do not. It is such a politically toxic term, that the term “redistribution” has been banned from the White House lexicon.
- Many insurance companies wishing to participate in state and federal insurance exchanges were required to cancel all non-conforming policies as a condition of doing business with the government
But the other shoe is yet to drop.
- Pricing for insurance offered through the exchanges is based on young, healthy participants in the insurance pool. The strategy behind the millions of cancellations this fall was to force those people into participation. However, the unemployment among this age group is very high, as much as 25% for college graduates. They simply can’t afford health insurance, and will probably either pay the fines do nothing at all. The “fines” for failing to secure health insurance are imposed on income tax refunds (the Democrats were not willing to impose them directly, or call them a “tax.”) If you aren’t working, or working at minimum wage, you probably don’t owe taxes, hence no refund, hence no Obamafines.
- The early adopters of Obamacare fall mainly in two categories – those who couldn’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions, and those who couldn’t afford insurance without subsidies. The majority of early adopters were, in fact, seeking Medicaid at no cost to themselves. The Affordable Care Act doubled the maximum allowed income to qualify for Medicaid to $32,000, which is twice the presumed poverty level. Subsidies will be granted to those making up to $62,000, four times the “poverty level,” and nearly twice the median wage ($35,000) for working citizens. Somebody has to pay for those shortfalls and subsidies.
- Finally, the deeply flawed www.healthcare.com software has greatly delayed applications through the exchanges, and unresolved security questions will keep many from even trying. This further skews the risk pool and increases the deficit.
The facts so far presented offer a grim picture. It is little wonder why so many Americans are duped, confused and running scared? With such a scenario present, Steven Hayward who writes for Forbes, made this prediction on Monday, November 11th:
Even if HealthCare.gov is fixed by the end of the month (unlikely), Obamacare is going to be repealed well in advance of next year’s election. And if the website continues to fail, the push for repeal — from endangered Democrats — will occur very rapidly. The website is a sideshow: the real action is the number of people and businesses who are losing their health plans or having to pay a lot more. Fixing the website will only delay the inevitable.
It remains to be seen, as predicted by Haywood, whether endangered Senate Democrat up for re-election will lead the charge for repeal perhaps as soon as this January after getting an earful over the Christmas break Unclear also is whether the delay to sign-up for Obamacare until after the November election will mask the bad news the American people will receive regarding sticker price, etc., that will follow in the election’s aftermath.
If Obamacare should remain in place and limping along, Insurance rates for 2015 will be based on a more realistic risk pool, which is weighted to those who will use a lot of health care. As a result, as many as 160 million people, including those now covered by employee benefit plans, will see those plans greatly increased in cost or cancelled altogether. This will drive up the cost of both private policies and of employer benefit plans.
If these plans exceed $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for a family, they will be deemed a “Cadillac” plan, and subjected to a 40% tax on the difference. Unless the quality of coverage is reduced, for example, by greatly increasing the out-of-pocket deductions, nearly all of these plans will fall victim to this surcharge. The more likely outcome is that the benefit plans will be dropped, and employees sent involuntarily to the government exchanges.
By 2016, Obama will have applied a wrecking ball to the health care industry, our lives and our fortunes. The only way out is for Republicans to gain a majority in both houses of Congress in 2014, and the White House in 2016.
The incompetence, dissembling and lack of transparency at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is already well-established. But the degree to which the mess at HHS jeopardizes our health is only beginning to come to light. And it has nothing to do with Obamacare.
As we approach a busy holiday travel season, as cold weather grips much of the nation and as flu season gets into high gear, HHS is failing to make clear their intentions about when they’ll green-light the manufacture of a vaccine for the particularly deadly H7N9 strain of avian flu from China.
H7N9 spread from chickens to humans in China this spring. It killed approximately a third of the people infected. So HHS was right to quickly partner with pharmaceutical firms to develop, test, and order some 20 million doses of vaccine to stockpile for those on the front lines, such as military and first responders. While the doses could be manufactured in record time, 60 days according to estimates, a supply must be in place (but not administered) before a pandemic starts.
While vaccines have been developed and tested, HHS refuses to give the go-ahead for pharmaceutical companies to begin making the vaccines, even though the money is already allocated. Earlier this month, two preliminary human studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, came out supporting the safety and efficacy of new vaccines developed by Novartis and Novavax. The HHS delay is mind-boggling, especially when one considers the warnings from the nation’s top public health officials.
On April 19, 2013, Secretary Sebelius determined that the H7N9 avian flu represents “a significant potential for a public health emergency that has a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad.” This threat of an emergency has not abated. The startling declaration is still in effect, according to an HHS spokeswoman.
And in September, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden ratcheted up the sense of urgency by warning that “the only thing protecting us from a global pandemic right now is the fact that it doesn’t yet spread from person to person…I can’t predict if that’s going to happen tomorrow, in 10 years or never.”
And this week, a Taiwanese paper reported that “the risk of human transmission of the H7N9 strain of avian flu is expected to increase significantly over the next few months,” according to He Jianfeng, head of the National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention in southern China’s Guangdong province.
This is the same province where the government confirmed a three-year-old boy tested positive for H7N9 earlier in November.
The delay, according to HHS, is because it doesn’t have enough data. A spokesman for HHS’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response refused to say specifically what other studies are needed. The spokeswoman said additional studies should be coming out “very, very soon,” but refused to even offer a window of dates when that may happen, nor would she give a deadline as to when HHS would move ahead with the vaccine order. We remain in an indefinite holding pattern as we head towards the heart of flu season.
How long will we wait? This most transparent administration in history won’t tell us. But Dr. Robin Robinson, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority told Reuters this month that results on additional vaccines are not expected for four to six more months.
More data is always better than less data when time is not of the essence. But, especially given the increasingly sobering warnings from Secretary Sebelius, Director Frieden, and Chinese officials, the preference for waiting for more precise data must be balanced against the risk of waiting too long.
Since experts believe it would take 60 days to produce the 20 million doses HHS will eventually request, even if the order were placed today, vaccines wouldn’t be available until the end of January. By then, if the virus spreads from human to human, as the CDC predicts could soon happen, we would be facing a pandemic not seen since 1918, when we also didn’t have a vaccine at the ready. At the risk of sounding like avian little, we don’t have time to wait.
Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division.[Article originally posted on JeffStier.org]
Having already examined the farm subsidy measure of the farm bill in an Illinois Review article published Tuesday, November 26 , it is necessary to bring understanding to the other part of the farm bill, the food stamp measure, which amount to a whopping $750 billion of the trillion dollar farm bill and where waste and fraud are rampant.
Research quickly uncovered six fairly recent noteworthy and eye-opening accounts that tell of a SNAP program (food stamps) badly out-of-control and in desperate need of reform.
- August 13: Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute: Reported how more than 2 million Illinoisans — 16.7% of the state’s population — are on food stamps. These figures represent data taken from the May, 2013, U.S. Department of Agriculture information. Illinois is better at putting residents on food stamps than it is at creating jobs!
- August 15: The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is soliciting people to receive food stamps in the manner of a drug dealer on a grade school playground, such as: “Psst – hey you! I’ve got something for you… it’s free…come on, try it. You’ll like it!” In many locations outreach programs are taking place. The USDA are effectively hunting people down and talking them into accepting benefits that folks never realized they needed or were qualified to receive.
- August 19: Aren’t food stamps supposed to be for food? A study by the Department of Agriculture indicates how more and more food stamp recipients are using this government benefit for items other than food. Food stamps are also being turned into cash, resulting in tax dollars being spent on alcohol, cigarettes, and a host of other non-food items.
- Sept. 10: “Almost one in six, or 47.5 million, Americans now receive food stamps. Over 13 million more people receive the food subsidies today than when Obama took office. . . Despite spending a whopping $80 billion on food stamps last year, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) argues the program needs more funding. . . Documents obtained by Judicial Watch revealed that the USDA works with the Mexican government to promote participation by illegal immigrants.”
- Sept. 17: Households on Food Stamps (SNAP) during the month of June outnumbered all households in the Northeast U.S. — a record 23,116,928 American households. This June figure represented 52% more households on Food Stamps than there were in the average month of the first year President Obama took office.
- Sept. 26: Even as the economy improves, food stamp enrollment continues to hit record highs. In the second-quarter of this year, despite household wealth increasing $1.3 trillion within the same time period, enrollment in the program jumped up by 211,708 people.
Many officials in government, and those who manage feeding program, are paying close attention to the final out come of the farm bill, which could see cuts in the program in addition to the cuts that have already occurred naturally on Nov. 1, when benefits, increased under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly known as the “stimulus package”), and originally meant as a temporary boost, were reduced with the expiration of the 2009 law. A massive 47 million people are enrolled in the $80 billion program.
Food for thought by Dawen Bakst and Rachel Shefield of The Heritage Foundation, which merits serious consideration by House and Senate legislation:
Congress continues to treat agriculture as if it were 1933 instead of 2013. . . Yet every five years when the farm bill is up for renewal, many legislators, including those who claim to be pro-free market and limited government, push a farm bill that is a model of central planning. Agriculture policy continues to emphasize price supports, supply restrictions, import quotas government-subsidized international marketing programs for major corporation, and much more. Quite simply, almost any subsidy that can be dreamed of exists in one form or another in the current farm bill.
Further, food stamps should be reformed to promote self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults. Adults who are able should be required to work, prepare for work, or at least look for work in exchange for receiving food stamp assistance. This principle of reciprocal obligation does not currently exist in the program. Additionally, loopholes that have led to an increase in the food stamp rolls should be closed.
The administration of Ohio Gov. John Kasich rightly believes that able-bodied adults should work for food stamps. Starting on January 1, food stamps will be limited for more than 130,000 adults in all but a few economically depressed area. To qualify for benefits all able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend a least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, etc., unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment.
With Pat Quinn as governor, there isn’t a ghost of a chance that Illinois would ever echo the reform restrictions imposed by Kasich in Indians on food stamp recipients, of which there are 2 million here in Illinois!
Politically speaking, the political ruse of combining food stamps and agriculture policy into one bill has been successful in passing prior farm bills. Combining the two unrelated entities allowed urban legislators (supporter of food stamps) and rural legislators (supporters of farm programs) to form coalitions to pass farm bills lacking proper scrutiny of their merits.
According to The Heritage Foundation, substantive reform will only occur if the agriculture policy and food stamps are separated into different bills now and in the future, so each bill can be addressed independently. It is not acceptable to raise another bumper crop of agriculture subsidies and to offer food stamps recklessly and often without means testing.
After all, have legislators forgotten that it is taxpayer’s money that is being wasted and spent like there is no tomorrow.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) initially announced on November 17 that bipartisan progress was being made on the farm bill. Lucas further desired that a framework be set up when legislators met again on November 21 for the purpose of passing a House farm bill conference agreement before Congress adjourned for the year on December 13. The current 2008 farm bill expired on October 1st. The bill is up for renewal every five years. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman.
Hopes, however, were dashed that a framework agreement be reached after leaders of the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, having met twice on November 21, hit a wall over food stamps cuts and other things.
About the farm bill, it consists of two separate and diverse measures – farm subsidies and food stamps. Together they represent $1 trillion dollars in government spending, with a whopping $750 billion of the trillion going for the food stamp program now know as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The U.S. House did rebel earlier in the year when it managed to pass a version of the farm bill which separated food stamps from the agriculture program. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that the House had voted on and passed separate and substantive reform bills governing farm and food stamps. At the first meeting of the Farm Bill Conference Committee on October 30, U.S. Congressman Marlin Stutzman lead a group of 27 House members with its message to keep farm policy and food stamp policy separate.
According to Ed Feulner, past president of the Heritage Foundation, in a November 18th commentary:Separation isn’t the only issue. The entire purpose of separating food stamps from agriculture program is to achieve real reform. While there’s a lively debate going on regarding food stamp reform, that’s not the case when it comes to other troubling provisions of the farm bill. As had been the case since FDR was president, agriculture policy is a government-run behemoth that would make a Soviet central planner blush. Agriculture Program Examined: Mr. Feulner goes on to say: The most expensive single farm program subsidizes about 62 percent of the premiums that farmers pay for crop insurance. Yet instead of finding ways to reduce the load on taxpayers, the House and Senate versions would expand this program. . . moreover, The bulk of agriculture subsidies go not to the small, struggling farmers that most Americans envision, but to huge ‘agri-businesses’ with annual incomes well in excess of $1 million.
It is not surprising that disagreement exists between the House and Senate version of the farm policy measure on how to deliver the safety net to producers. After all, insurance is the most expensive subsidy in the farm program.Disagreement centered on whether to give producers (as does the House bill) the choice between a revenue-based coverage program (RLC) or a price-based coverage (PLC); the Senate bill offers both types of coverage. It is thought that going to an all-inclusive system would mean less money within each type of coverage. http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/agriculture/190469-rep-lucas-ca... Another fly-in-the-ointment for the farm policy measure is the language added by House Agriculture Committee to its version of the farm bill earlier this year. Authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the language says that a state cannot impose certain production standards on agricultural products sold on interstate commerce. There is concern that King’s language has the potential to threaten the entire farm bill; the language is not in the Senate bill. The origin of the amendment stems from a longtime fight between agriculture and the Humane Society which has been pushing states to pass animal welfare laws. http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Farm-bill-takes-aim-at-state-animal-welfare-laws-4992673.php Troubling, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), is that between 2008 and 2013 the U.S. Department of Agriculture disbursed more than $36 million to some 6,300 dead farmers or to the bereaved relatives or business partners of the intended recipients. http://blog.heritage.org/2013/08/09/usda-dead-wrong-on-farm-subsidie... While there is much to question about the the agriculture measure of the farm bill, it is the $750 billion food stamp program (SNAP) that remains the thorniest issue in the farm talks. A $33 billion difference in food stamp cuts exist between the House and Senate farm bills. It is now essential to examine the SNAP program (food stamps) which is often abused by food stamp recipients and mismanaged by government. The facts speak for themselves and point unconditionally to the need for reform in the way food stamps are handed out by government, many time without any sort of means testing. I’m sure all have experienced a person in line cavalierly using food stamps in a grocery store when it’s evident their purchases do not qualify as necessity items.
The debate on climate change is over. Anthropogenic (human) activity is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing the global temperature to rise. Anyone who disagrees is a denier and an impediment to climate science.
A new book, Climate Change Reconsidered-II Volume One: The Physical Sciences (CCR-II), by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), published by The Heartland Institute, is sure to heat up the climate science debate, even if global temperatures are not responding in kind.
There are two important reasons to take issue with the no-debate position described above.
First, the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demonstrates global warming has not occurred since 1997, despite an 8 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since that time. Furthermore, that 8 percent increase represents 34 percent of all of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. At this juncture, drawing causation between CO2 emissions and temperature would seem an over-simplification of global climate systems.
Second, and more importantly, when it comes to science, the debate is never over.
Despite what many people seem to think, science does not occur on a linear trajectory, and knowledge is not manufactured by people crunching numbers in clean white lab coats in ivory towers where they find definitive answers.
Science and the discovery of knowledge is an interactive messy process. In order for this process to work, a fundamental rule must be followed, as stated eloquently by Jonathan Rauch in his book Kindly Inquisitors:
“[Y]our knowledge is always tentative and subject to correction. At the bottom of this kind of skepticism is a simple proposition: we must all take seriously the idea that any and all of us might, at any time, be wrong.” [italics in original]
By accepting that we are not immune from error, we implicitly accept that no person, no matter who they are or how strongly they believe, is above possible correction. If anyone can be in error, no one can legitimately claim to have any unique or personal powers to decide who is right and who is wrong. Therefore, a statement may be claimed as established knowledge only if it can be debunked, in principle, and only insofar as it withstands attempts to debunk it (Rauch 1993 pp. 46–48).
This leads to two conclusions:
- No one (or organization) gets the final say on scientific matters.
- No one (or organization) has personal authority to decide a scientific question is “settled.”
These principles have important implications for the climate change debate because the rules of liberal science not only allow but require that those who claim anthropogenic origins for recent rises in global temperature allow their theory to be checked.
Therefore, the NIPCC’s critical review (checking) of IPCC reports is not an attempt to sabotage the advancement of knowledge but a necessary requirement for science, and any attempt to paint it as unscientific is itself unscientific.
Over the past 16 years, the models used by the IPCC to predict rising global temperatures driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been contradicted by the observed evidence. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen without a corresponding rise in temperature and Antarctic ice mass sits near balance.
Clearly, if the predictions made based on IPCC models are not supported by real-world observations, the models need improvement. Whether excess heat is being absorbed by the deep oceans, or increases in global temperatures near the end of the twentieth century were driven primarily by natural forces, it’s obvious there are additional factors affecting the global climate that must be taken into account.
This is certainly not to say that attempting to model and predict what will happen in the future is not a worthwhile pursuit. It does say, however, the IPCC models aren’t there yet. CCR-II explains why.
The debate on climate science is not over, and it never will be. Instead of stooping to name-calling and belittling of those who hold differing views, real scientists check each other’s work to produce the best science possible. CCR-II is a valuable resource for this pursuit.
Isaac Orr is a speaker, researcher, and freelance writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate geology research before taking a position in the Wisconsin State Senate. He is the author of a Heartland Institute Policy Study on hydraulic fracturing.
The release of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science makes it clear that there is no scientific consensus on the causes or consequences of climate change. Some 50 scientists from 15 countries, citing nearly 4,000 peer-reviewed studies, concluded that the human impact on climate is smaller than the United Nations’ IPCC claims and that natural climate variability is the predominant cause of observed changes in weather and climate.
The next step is to take a more direct aim at the belief, which unfortunately is widespread even in the scientific community, that a scientific consensus nevertheless exists. With that in mind, earlier this week The Heartland Institute widely distributed a brief announcement of a new report from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) interpreting a 2012 survey of AMS members. Our email notice appears below. Note that it quotes from the report and provides a link to the document on the AMS Web site.
Perhaps predictably, Keith L. Seitter, executive director of AMS, has posted a comment objecting to our message. (He did not bother contacting anyone at The Heartland Institute.) Here are some brief responses to his objections:
We chose to send this notice using an email address that was descriptive of the message – “AMS Survey [mailto:2013AMSsurvey@gmail.com]” – rather than an address with a Heartland domain to maximize the open rate, a common practice in email marketing. There was no attempt to deceive recipients about who sent the message: “This message was sent to [recipient] from Heartland Institute” and our address appear at the bottom of the message.
We illustrated the message with the same AMS logo that appears on the cover of the AMS report. That, too, is common practice: Heartland’s logo and those of other groups are used countless times without permission in emails, on blogs and web sites, and in print publications from other organizations. If the AMS stands by its report, it’s difficult to understand why they would object to having their logo appear on an announcement of their own research.
So why the objection? Seitter says “The text of the e-mail reports results from the study far differently than I would, leaving an impression that is at odds with how I would characterize those results.” Indeed it does. This is all about “spin” and not, as Seitter says later in his comment, “transparency and scientific integrity.”
The AMS survey found only 52 percent of the members who responded to the survey believe the warming of the past 150 years was man-made. Oddly, that finding, which appears in Table 1 of the report (on the very last page of the pre-publication version), is not mentioned in the report’s commentary, an oversight we corrected with our announcement. The survey also found that members who self-describe as being liberals are far more likely than other members to believe this, which also isn’t plainly stated in the report.
It’s also odd that the report doesn’t reveal what percentage of members believe man-made global warming is harmful, even though that question appeared in the survey and is at the core of the debate between “alarmists” and “skeptics.” From an earlier publication of the survey’s results, though, it appears that 76 percent of those who believe in man-made global warming also believe it is “very harmful” or “somewhat harmful,” so we can estimate that 39.5 percent of all AMS members say they believe man-made global warming is dangerous. That is somewhat less than a “consensus.”
The AMS report doesn’t reveal whether all or just nearly all of the AMS members who believe man-made global warming is dangerous self-identify as being liberals, but since it identifies political ideology as the strongest or second strongest factor in determining a scientist’s position on this matter, one has to suspect this is the case.
If the AMS wants to act with transparency and scientific integrity, it should honestly report all of the results of this survey and not hide those that reveal the absence of consensus. Until they rise to that level, we have little choice but to do our best to correct their errors.
Please check my math and let me know if I got this wrong.
If you are an AMS member, I hope you will ask Seitter why the 52 percent finding wasn’t deemed worthy of comment, and why the percentage of all respondents who believe man-made global warming is dangerous is not reported anywhere in this report. And maybe why the views of 39.5 percent of AMS members dominate its public statements on this controversial issue.