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R Street Panels at SXSW 2015

Out of the Storm News - March 13, 2015, 3:00 AM
Join the R Street Institute in Austin, Texas for three policy-focused panels during SXSW Interactive.

Ace of Spades HQ - Economics and Plato's Cave

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - 58 min 57 sec ago
If you had occasion to take a Philosophy 101 course in college, you may remember the allegory of Plato's cave.

Obama Disses Alaska

Somewhat Reasonable - 2 hours 18 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

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

Somewhat Reasonable - 2 hours 47 min ago

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

The Blizzard That Wasn’t

Somewhat Reasonable - 3 hours 20 min ago

The Blizzard of 2015 was largely a dud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

How to Fix the Internet , by Tom Giovanetti, National Review

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - 3 hours 48 min ago
The Obama administration has certainly racked up an impressive string of successes. At last the Middle East is stabilized, and the threat of terrorism has been…

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

Somewhat Reasonable - 4 hours 33 min ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

Katz and Gattuso: Government regulations getting out of control

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - 4 hours 59 min ago
To say that Americans have a regulation problem is putting it lightly. For instance, the government is now setting the serving size of breath mints and…

Public Sector Unions Gain Power, Lose Popularity, says Economist

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 3:52 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the nature of pubic unions versus private unions?

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

Consequences of union inequality and imbalance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

Climate Cliche Watch, Chapter 1

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - January 26, 2015, 2:31 PM
It’s about time someone—why not Power Line?—developed a Climate Change Cliché Counter: a checklist and score sheet for the number of mindless clichés that…

If You Like Your Medicare, You Can Keep Your Medicare

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 2:16 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should this be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: On the Blog

Note to GOP: Talking About Raising Taxes is a Bad Idea

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 1:42 PM

What are the Republicans thinking? Coming right out of the gate, at the start of the new GOP-controlled Congress, they began talking about the crazy idea of increasing the gasoline tax. It has little chance of passing, yet can easily taint the party with a tax-raising reputation.

Just two days after the swearing in of the new Congress, the January 8 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) headline reads: “Senate Republicans: Higher Gas Taxes are on the Table.” It states: “Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R., Okla.), who just took the reins of the panel, said he is open to considering raising the gas tax as a way to help pay for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund that keeps up the nation’s roads and other transportation infrastructure.”

Many of Inhofe’s Senate colleagues are clear about gas tax increase’s future. According to the Associated Press (AP), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said: “I don’t know of any support for a gas tax increase in Congress.” The WSJ cites Senator John Barasso (R-WY), “who said he doesn’t support an increase and doesn’t think there is a political appetite for doing so on Capitol Hill.”

The House isn’t any more optimistic. According to the AP, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) doesn’t think there “are enough votes in the House for a gas tax increase.” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, said: “I don’t think there’s a will in Congress and the American People don’t want it.”

Even the New York Times touts: “Gasoline-tax increase finds little support.”

However, Inhofe’s apparent willingness to consider an increase in the gas tax, along with Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT) and John Thune (R-SD), has given fodder to those who long for a carbon tax. A San Francisco Chronicle article titled: “Odds of gas-tax hike grow with quiet support of GOP Senators,” opens: “With Washington’s most famous climate-change skeptic expressing interest in raising the federal gasoline tax, Bay area Rep. Jared Huffman sees an opening to grab the brass ring of the environmental movement: a tax on carbon.” Huffman sees that “it’s a good time to make the tax a little more sophisticated so it reflects the carbon content of all fuels.”

The gas tax creates headlines because the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which finances the interstate highway system, faces insolvency due to spending more than it takes in. Had Congress not come up with a solution to the $16 billion shortfall by August 1, 2014, federal highway projects would have ground to a halt and as many as 700,000 people would have received lay-off notices. An agreed upon “patch” put the crisis off until after the elections. That fix ends in May and the new Congress must now come up with another way to fund America’s roads and bridges. A gas-tax increase is the obvious solution as the concept means those who use the roads most, pay for them—supposedly making it more of a “user fee” than a tax.

The tax is currently 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel—more than double the oil companies’ profit on that same gallon of gas. (Note: the gas tax is a flat figure, not a percent. With lower prices, people are driving more so revenues should be up.) With gasoline prices at historic lows, many think now is the time to raise the tax, as it will hardly be noticed.

But there are other options that don’t require raising taxes—or instituting a new carbon tax.

The fact that modern cars are more efficient than they were when the gas-tax was first instituted in 1956 at 3 cents a gallon is a major problem with HTF funding. Because drivers now go farther on less fuel, the roadways receive wear and tear without enough taxes collected to cover the use. As more electric cars fill our roads, the problem is exacerbated. Electric cars use the roadways for free while everyone else pays for them. Therefore many have proposed a mileage fee rather than a gas tax—or in addition to it. With a voluntary program passed in 2013, Oregon has been at the forefront of what is called mileage-based user fees (MBUF). The pilot program, which takes advantage of smart technology, has been hailed as a great success.

However, MBUFs should concern everyone concerned about more government involvement in our lives. At the Detroit auto show, BMW sounded an alarm about the “fine line between performance and privacy.” While the Financial Times (FT) report focuses on the pressure carmakers receive from technology companies and advertisers who want data collected by “connected cars,” one doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to imagine the data collection morphing into a big-brother-like intrusion. According to the FT: “About two-thirds of today’s new cars have sensors and communications systems that send and receive data.” At last year’s consumer electronics show, Jim Farley, then Ford’s head of marketing, said: “We know everyone breaks the law. We know exactly when you do it because we have a GPS sensor in your car.” Imagine Environmental Protection Agency officers showing up on your doorstep because you have driven more than the allowed amount. Or, more likely, your gas supply getting cut off because you used up this month’s allotment early.

MBUFs may serve as a good option for electric vehicles, but implementation should not be universal—and therefore do not create the full answer to the HTFs funding woes.

The answer requires an understanding of the problem.

Gas taxes used to be more of a user fee—which made it fairer. “But since the 1990s the Highway Trust Fund has come to fund much more than new roads and bridges and highway maintenance,” claims a WSJ editorial. Heritage Foundation transportation and infrastructure analyst Emily Goff believes the problem is: “Spending priorities are determined more by politicians appeasing special interests than local needs or consumer choices. And the federal regulatory burden delays projects and smothers state and private-sector innovation.” She points out: “Washington diverts more than 25% of that money to subways, streetcars, buses, bicycle and nature paths, and landscaping, at the expense of road and bridge projects.” Users of these HTF projects utilize the infrastructure but don’t contribute to it. Cutting non-highway spending would go a long way to closing the funding gap. As the WSJ puts it: “Simply using the taxes that are supposed to pay for highways to, well, pay for highways makes the HTF 98% solvent for the next decade, no tax increase necessary.”

Another part of the solution, would redirect highway projects to the states. Chris Chocola, president of The Club for Growth, explains: “All 50 states have Departments of Transportation. More than 70% of all transportation spending in this country is already financed and spent at the state and local level. Each state has very specific infrastructure needs, and those needs are most effectively addressed at the local level, where those making the decisions are held most accountable by the taxpayers.”

States can more easily innovate and have already solved some highway issues with toll-concession private-public partnerships (PPP). Douglas Holtz-Eakin, head of the American Action Forum, a conservative advocacy group, and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, sees creating more PPPs as an alternative to an increase in the gasoline tax.

A Reason Foundation FAQ on Toll Concession PPPs explains them this way: “A toll concession is a DBFOM (design-build-finance-operate-maintain) highway contract in which the principal funding source is tolls charged to users of the highway project. The projected toll revenue stream is used to support long-term revenue bonds, in addition to covering operation and maintenance costs of the project. In a toll concession, the consortium that wins the right to do the project takes on the risks of (a) construction cost overruns, (b) late completion, and (c) inadequate traffic and revenue. Those risks would otherwise be borne by the government (and hence, the taxpayers).”

I’ve outlined just four possible options to fund our roadways without raising the gas tax—which will still exist when gas prices go up and impacts the price of almost everything:

  • MBUFs for electric cars;
  • Limit spending to actual highway projects—not mass transit or nature trails;
  • Redirect some projects to the states; and
  • Toll concession PPPS.

Surely, the great minds in Washington could come up with more ideas.

With several options available to support the nation’s highways, the GOP needs create, innovate, and unify in fixing problems—like the HTF—and show America that they can do it without raising taxes.

(A version of this content was originally published on Breitbart.com.)

Categories: On the Blog

The last refuge of Internet regulators: the theory of the “terminating access monopoly” |

Tech Suite - In The News - January 26, 2015, 1:33 PM
Net neutrality activists have deployed a long series of rationales in their quest for government control of the Internet. As each rationale is found wanting,…

ObamaCare Must Go!

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 12:14 PM

Can anyone remember how awful the U.S. healthcare free market system was that it needed to be replaced by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare? Can’t remember? That’s because it was ranked one of the best of the world and represented 17.9% of the nation’s economy in 2014. That’s down from the 20% it represented in 2009 when ObamaCare was foisted on Americans.

One of the best ways to follow the ObamaCare story is via Health Care News, a monthly newspaper published by The Heartland Institute. The January issue begins with an article by Sean Parnell, the managing editor, reporting that ObamaCare enrollment is overstated by 400,000.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) once again lowered its estimate of the number of Americans enrolled in health plans through government exchanges in 2014. The 6.7 million enrollees who remain are far lower than the eight million touted in May at the end of the last open-enrollment period.”

ObamaCare has been a lie from the moment it was introduced for a vote, all 2,700 pages of it, to the present day. Everything President Obama said about it was a lie. As to its present enrollments, they keep dropping because some 900,000 who did sign up did not make the first premium payment or later stopped paying.

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies as the Cato Institute, said the dropout rate is a troubling trend. “It means that potentially hundreds of thousands of Exchange enrollees are realizing they are better off waiting until they get sick to purchase coverage. If enough people come to that conclusion, the exchanges collapse.”

Elsewhere in this month’s edition, there is an article, “States Struggle to Fund Exchanges”, that reports on the difficulties that “states are experiencing difficulty in paying the ongoing costs of the exchanges, especially small states. “’The feds are asking us to do their jobs for them. We get saddled with the operating costs,’ said Edmund Haislmaier, senior research fellow for health care policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.” Some are imposing a two percent tax on the insurance companies which, of course, gets passed along to the consumer. Even so, the exchanges are not generating enough income to be maintained.

Why would anyone want ObamaCare insurance when its rates keep rising dramatically? In Nebraska the rates have nearly doubled and another article notes that “A 2014 study finds large numbers of doctors are declining to participate in health plans offered through exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, raising questions about whether people buying insurance through exchanges will be able to access health care in a timely manner.” One reason physicians gave was that they would have to hire additional staff “just to manage the insurance verification process.”

Dr. Kris Held, a Texas eye surgeon, said ObamaCare “fails to provide affordable health insurance and fails to provide access to actual medical care to more people, but succeeds in compounding existing health care costs and accessibility problems and creating new ones.”

Health Care News reports what few other news outlets have noted. “In Section 227 of the recently enacted ‘Cromnibus’ spending measure, Congress added critical but little-noticed language that prohibits the use of funds appropriated to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to pay for insurance company bailouts.” William Todd, an Ohio attorney, further noted that “Congress did not appropriate any separate funding for ‘bailouts.’” Todd predicted that “some insurers are likely to raise premiums to avoid losses, or they will simply stop offering policies on the exchanges altogether.”

The picture of ObamaCare failure emerging from these excerpts is a very true one. Its momentum, in fact, is gaining.

In mid-December, the Wall Street Journal opined that “With the Supreme Court due to rule on a major ObamaCare legal challenge by next summer, thoughts in Washington are turning to the practical and political response. If the Court does strike down insurance subsidies, the question for Republicans running Congress is whether they will try to fix the problems Democrats created, or merely allow ObamaCare damage to grow.”

“King v. Burwell will be heard in March with a ruling likely in June. “Of the 5.4 million consumers on federal exchanges, some 87% drew subsidies in 2014, according to a Rand Corporation analysis.”

The Wall Street Journal recommended that “The immediate Republican goal should be to make insurance cheaper so people need less of a subsidy to obtain insurance. This means deregulating the exchanges, plank by plank. Devolve to states their traditional insurance oversight role, and allow them to enter into cross-border compacts to increase choice and competition. Allow insurers to sell any configuration of benefits to anyone, anywhere, and the private market will gradually heal.”

Or, to put it another way, eliminate ObamaCare entirely and return to the healthcare insurance system that had served Americans well until the White House decided that socialism was superior to capitalism.

The problem with the Affordable Care Act is that the cost of the insurance sold under the Act is not affordable and ObamaCare is actually causing hospitals and clinics to close their doors, thus reducing healthcare services for those who need them.

ObamaCare must go. If the Republicans in Congress did nothing more than repeal ObamaCare, the outcome of the 2016 election would be a predictable win no matter who their candidate will be. If not repeal, some separate actions must be taken such as eliminating the tax on medical instruments.

If the Republican Congress fails to take swift and deliberate action on ObamaCare between now and the 2016 elections, they will have defeated themselves.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Randal O’Toole: Funding for Highway Construction and Transportation Infrastructure

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2015, 11:10 AM

Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole joins Budget & Tax News managing editor Jesse Hathaway to talk about his work on changing the way the federal government funds highway construction and transportation infrastructure projects. O’Toole explains how the current funding system, based on discretionary grants, is inefficient and wasteful, and proposes a formula-based system.

Formula-based funding, O’Toole says, would fix many of the problems with the current system, removing political considerations and other inefficiencies from decisions on how infrastructure projects are funded. Also, shifting to a formula-based funding system would reduce cities’ incentive to build larger projects than are actually needed, as the system would be based on actual population and ridership statistics.

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

Categories: On the Blog

The Founders Wanted a Laser-Targeted Article V Convention (Part 7 of 8)

Somewhat Reasonable - January 24, 2015, 11:26 AM

This is part 7 of the 8 part series establishing that the laser-focus of the Compact for America approach to organizing an Article V convention with the specific job advancing and ratifying a pre-drafted, specific federal Balanced Budget Amendment is clearly, unequivocally, and overwhelmingly what the Founders expected from the state-originated amendment process.

Exhibit G – George Washington’s Letter to John Armstrong

1788: “It should be remembered that a constitutional door is open for such amendments as shall be thought necessary by nine States.”

George Washington’s statement to his friend John Armstrong clearly indicates that two-thirds of the states (nine at the time) would specify the desired amendments in their Article V application and target the convention agenda accordingly. That’s because the only element of the process controlled by two-thirds of the states is the application!

If you agree, like and share!

[Originally published at Compact for America]

Categories: On the Blog

ECPA letter to U.S. House

Out of the Storm News - January 23, 2015, 5:24 PM
January  22,  2015 The Honorable Robert W. Goodlatte Chairman House Judiciary Committee The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. Ranking  Member House  Judiciary  Committee

We, the undersigned companies and organizations, are writing to urge speedy consideration of Rep.  Yoder and Rep. Polis’ Email Privacy Act that we expect will be introduced in the coming weeks. The bill would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to provide stronger protection to sensitive personal and proprietary communications stored in “the cloud.”

ECPA, which sets standards for government access to private communications, is critically important to businesses, government investigators and ordinary citizens. Though the law was forward-looking when enacted in 1986, technology has advanced dramatically and ECPA has been outpaced. Courts have issued inconsistent interpretations of the law, creating uncertainty for service providers, for law enforcement agencies, and for the hundreds of millions of Americans who use the Internet in their personal and professional lives. Moreover, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in US v. Warshak has held that a provision of ECPA allowing the government to obtain a person’s email without a warrant is unconstitutional.

The ECPA Amendments Act would update ECPA in one key respect, making it clear that, except in emergencies, or under other existing exceptions, the government must obtain a warrant in order to compel a service provider to disclose the content of emails, texts or other private material stored by the service provider on behalf of its users.

This standard would provide greater privacy protections and create a more level playing field for technology. It would cure the constitutional defect identified by the Sixth Circuit. It would allow law enforcement officials to obtain electronic communications in all appropriate cases while protecting Americans’ constitutional rights. Notably, the Department of Justice and FBI already follow the warrant-for-content rule. It would provide certainty for American businesses developing innovative new services and competing in a global marketplace. It would implement a core principle supported by Digital Due Process, www.digitaldueprocess.org, a broad coalition of companies, privacy groups, think tanks, academics and other groups.

This legislation has seemingly been held up by only one issue – an effort to allow civil regulators to demand, without a warrant, the content of customer documents and communications directly from third party service providers. This should not be permitted. Such warrantless access would expand government power; government regulators currently cannot compel service providers to disclose their customers’ communications. It would prejudice the innovative services that all stakeholders support, and would create one procedure for data stored locally and a different one for data stored in the cloud.

Because of all its benefits, there is an extraordinary consensus around ECPA reform – one unmatched by any other technology and privacy issue. Successful passage of ECPA reform sends a powerful message – Congress can act swiftly on crucial, widely supported, bipartisan legislation. Failure to enact reform sends an equally powerful message – that privacy protections are lacking in law enforcement access to user information and that constitutional values are imperiled in a digital world.

For all these reasons, we strongly urge all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the ECPA Amendments Act.

Sincerely

ACT | The App Association
Adobe
Amazon
American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty
Aol
Association of Research Libraries
Autonet Mobile
Automattic
Brennan Center for Justice
BSA  | The Software Alliance
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for National Security Studies
Cisco
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Computer & Communications Industry Association
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Data Foundry
Deluxe Corporation
Demand Progress
Direct Marketing Association
Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA)
Discovery Institute
Dropbox
eBay
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Engine
Evernote
Facebook
First Amendment Coalition
Foursquare
FreedomWorks
Future of Privacy Forum
Gen Opp
Golden Frog
Google
Hewlett-Packard
Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)
Internet Association
Internet Infrastructure Coalition (I2Coalition)
Intuit
Less Government
Liberty Coalition
LinkedIn
NetChoice
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Newspaper Association of America
Oracle
Personal
R Street
ServInt
SIIA:  Software & Information Industry Association
Snapchat
Sonic
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
TechFreedom
TechNet
The Constitution Project
The Federation of Genealogical Societies
Tumblr
Twitter
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Venture Politics
Yahoo

Sen. Inhofe Uses Heartland Poster to Debunk Climate Alarmism

Somewhat Reasonable - January 23, 2015, 5:08 PM

On Wednesday January 21, in his first speech on the floor of the senate as the Chairman of the Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) used a poster supplied by The Heartland Institute to drive home the point that the theory of man-made climate change is highly contested.

The poster, which can be seen here, identifies 58 climate experts who “don’t believe global warming is a crisis.” Among those listed are Dr. Richard Lindzen, Dr. Tim Ball, and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt – all of whom reject the UN IPCC’s conclusions regarding the human impact on our climate.

Inhofe used his time on the floor to poke holes in the arguments of climate alarmists in the Senate, who still believe that “97-98 percent of scientists agree” about the causes of global warming. “It just isn’t true,” Inhofe said.

He uses the poster to illustrate the large amount of dissenting opinion in the face of the generally held “consensus” on man-made climate change. Sen. Inhofe reassures us that there are going to be hearings in the future on the subject and “we’ll be there to be the truth-squad.”

Watch the speech in full above, and visit the archive site of Heartland’s nine International Conferences on Climate Change to see presentations by many of the scientists featured on that poster.

Categories: On the Blog

Keystone XL Pipeline may force Republicans to embrace climate change

Out of the Storm News - January 23, 2015, 3:57 PM

From Scientific American:

Others say that Democrats could be making inroads with moderate Republicans who might be willing to support climate action, rather than offering “point-scoring” amendments.

Andrew Moylan, executive director of the R Street Institute, which supports enacting a carbon tax in order to lower tax rates on things like income and businesses, wondered why Democrats didn’t offer language that, for example, seeks to reduce emissions while also promising not to expand government.

“If they wanted to be helpful on advancing solutions to climate change, they would do the difficult work of … assuring a wary conservative base and wary Republicans that this is not some sort of a game to advance the [liberal] interests,” Moylan said.

Tools for transparency in copyright law

Out of the Storm News - January 23, 2015, 3:31 PM

Over the span of one week in October 2014, Google received requests to remove more than 11 million URLs from its search engine due to copyright-infringement claims.

Enshrined in Article One of the U.S. Constitution, the purpose of copyright is to provide incentives for innovation by creating financial rewards for new creations. But in the more than two centuries since the Constitution was written, we have witnessed radical evolution in the methods of creation and the rise of lucrative industries that profit from the commodification of creative works.

The result has been a complex and sometimes dizzying web of copyright rules, unevenly and erratically enforced, particularly in the digital realm. For the average Internet user, it can be difficult to discover what materials are in the public domain, and which can be freely accessed and reused. When does fair use apply? What material has been removed from the Internet and on what legal grounds?

Luckily, the same technologies that complicate copyright law also provide us new methods for collecting, analyzing, understanding, and distributing data about how our world operates, both in terms of copyright enforcement and beyond. APIs and Twitterbots continuously scrape information sources and deliver real-time updates, such as every time a congressional staffer edits a Wikipedia page.

By collecting and publishing data about takedown requests, digital platforms like Google and Wikimedia are beginning to provide insight into the ways that rights holders are enforcing copyright law. The reports showcase aggregate trends on how much content is being removed over time and which copyright owners are requesting the most takedowns.

The details reveal some of the unusual and, in some cases, unfair ways that concerned parties try to apply intellectual-property law. Wondering why you’ve had difficulties finding recipes for “Derby Pie”? Kern’s Kitchen trademarked the name and has litigated tirelessly to make sure sites do not post recipes using that name without permission.

The Chilling Effects clearinghouse functions as a searchable archive of requests to remove purportedly copyrighted information from the Internet, most of them made under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Though a popular tool for researchers, advocacy groups, journalists, and interested individuals, the project has been criticized as a tool for pirates as well, as the takedown notices contain links to the allegedly offending content — and it recently removed its individual notice pages from search-engine results. The decision was met with harsh criticism from online news publications TechDirt and TorrentFreak, prompting Chilling Effects to issue an explanation:

Given increased public attention on the project, the wide variety of notices and types of claims that we catalog, and the sheer number of notices included in Chilling Effects database, we decided to take the interim step of de-indexing the site’s individual notice pages from search engines’ search results. Now that we have taken this step, we are hard at work building new tools and workflows that will allow us to better achieve the balance we are constantly seeking to strike between our dual missions of transparency and educating the public (on the one hand) and the strongly-felt concerns of those who send takedown notices (on the other).

That workflow overload attests to the growing appetite for transparency reporting mechanisms. Increased public awareness about how copyright laws are enforced has spurred activism by those who want to develop reasonable copyright solutions for today’s information environment. Transparency sites have changed the game by drawing public scrutiny to information that certain parties have tried to suppress, in accordance with a phenomenon known affectionately as the Streisand effect.

Copyright law does not exist in a vacuum, and transparency mechanisms let us all be part of the debate. Increased access to creative works has the potential to foster new creativity and economic growth. Transparency reporting is just one tool in an ongoing process to reform copyright law to strike a fair balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right of copyright owners to receive compensation for their work.

 

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