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Heartland Weekly – Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Blog - Education - February 12, 2016, 4:09 PM

If you don’t visit Somewhat Reasonable and the Heartlander digital magazine every day, you’re missing out on some of the best news and commentary on liberty and free markets you can find. But worry not, freedom lovers! The Heartland Weekly Email is here for you every Friday with a highlight show. Subscribe to the email today, and read this week’s edition below.

300 Scientists Request Explanation for Temperature Shenanigans H. Sterling Burnett, Climate Change Weekly In support of U.S. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s investigation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 300 scientists, engineers, economists, and other experts sent a letter requesting an explanation for what appears to be manipulated temperature data. The letter challenges NOAA’s findings that eliminated the 18-year “pause” in global temperature increase and demands the agency reveal its data and methodology for public examination. READ MORE Parents Lack Honest Data Necessary for School Choice Decisions David V. Anderson, The Hill For any market to work efficiently, there needs to be a free flow of information so consumers can make educated choices. This is a missing ingredient in America’s education system. Accurate consumer information would enable parents to make wise choices in the selection of schools and other educational services. Unfortunately, most parents today operate in a sea of misinformation about school performance levels and other characteristics. READ MORE Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan H. Sterling Burnett, The Heartlander The U.S. Supreme Court did something remarkable on Tuesday: It respected the separation of powers and finally shouted “ENOUGH!” to the lawless rule of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Court stayed President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” a radical, law-by-decree scheme that would put this nation’s enormously complex energy-delivery system into the hands of central planners in Washington, DC. READ MORE Bonus Podcast: In The Tank (ep24) – Exploring the World of Think Tanks Hosts Donny Kendal and John Nothdurft have tweaked the format of their weekly podcast to highlight the work of think tanks across the country. Segments now include “Better Know a Think Tank,” in which a think tank spokesman talks about his or her organization’s mission, and “Featured Work of the Week,” which highlights recent research from a think tank. Donny and John kick off the feature by talking about (you guessed it) The Heartland Institute, as well as The Heritage Foundation’s “World Economic Freedom Ranking.” LISTEN TO MORE

Never Lose a Debate with a Global Warming Alarmist! The Heartland Institute’s newest book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, demolishes the most pernicious myth in the global warming debate: that “97% of scientists” believe mankind is the cause of a global warming catastrophe. Heartland President Joseph Bast, who edited the book, will discuss his findings and bid a fond farewell to one of the coauthors, Robert Carter who passed away on January 19, at a free event at Heartland’s headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois, on March 9. Go to Amazon.com or the Heartland store [store.heartland.org] now and order a copy, or become a Heartland donor and get a free copy! Ride-Sharing Saves Time, Money, and Lives Jesse Hathaway, Real Clear Policy The popular peer-to-peer ride-sharing service, Uber, enjoyed a recent victory in New York City’s “war on ride-sharing.” An impact study released by Mayor Bill de Blasio showed Uber had not contributed significantly to the traffic congestion that has worsened recently in the Big Apple. Perhaps this will convince lawmakers to give up their efforts to hold back the wave of the future, and instead reap the benefits of the refreshingly entrepreneurial sharing economy.  READ MORE The Politics Behind the Anti-Fossil Fuels Campaign Donn Dears and H. Sterling Burnett,Washington Times Political leaders at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year admitted their push to limit carbon dioxide emissions is not about protecting human health or the environment: It’s about giving governments control over the world’s economy. Said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.” This moment of accidental honesty must not be forgotten.  READ MORE

NYC Public Schools Try to Keep Vouchers to Themselves Joy Pullmann, School Choice Weekly A little-known fact about public schools is that they have the ability to contract out special-needs children to private schools or tutors. A recent federal investigation found 83 percent of public schools are not “fully accessible” to children with disabilities. The decision to contract these students out lies only with public schools themselves. Parents who want to put their child in a different school do not have that right. READ MORE Medical School Costs Keep Young Doctors Out of Primary Care Justin Haskins, Consumer Power Report Health care reform efforts over the past two decades have focused primarily on creating ways to help more Americans obtain health insurance. But little has been done to address the rapid increases in medical school costs plaguing hundreds of thousands of new doctors. Unless those costs come down – via market forces that are currently crowded out by government loans – America is going to see an accelerating drop in vital primary care physicians. READ MORE Featured Podcast: Kyle Maichle: Free Speech on College Campuses The hysteria at Yale University over “offensive” Halloween costumes supposedly threatening “safe” and “comfortable” spaces for students put free speech on campus into the national spotlight. Kyle Maichle, project manager for constitutional reform at The Heartland Institute, joins host Donald Kendal in a conversation about these basic free speech issues. Maichle discusses the history of speech codes on campus and gives an update on some of the more recent threats to freedom of expression at our institutions of higher learning. LISTEN TO MORE Surgeon Posts Prices Online to Improve Transparency, Competition Tony Corvo, The Heartlander One of the major contributing factors to the increasing costs of health care is the failure of hospitals and physicians to tell consumers the cost of procedures and treatments. One surgeon in Oklahoma City has found a simple way to help: He tells his patients the prices. His clinic’s website gives people the opportunity to research prices in advance and choose between the Surgery Center and other providers. How revolutionary! “I’m a free-market guy,” said Dr. Keith Smith. “We decided to put our money where our mouth was and post the prices online for everyone to see.”  READ MORE Invest in the Future of Freedom! Are you considering 2015 gifts to your favorite charities? We hope The Heartland Institute is on your list. Preserving and expanding individual freedom is the surest way to advance many good and noble objectives, from feeding and clothing the poor to encouraging excellence and great achievement. Making charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations dedicated to individual freedom is the most highly leveraged investment a philanthropist can make. Click here to make a contribution online, or mail your gift to The Heartland Institute, One South Wacker Drive, Suite 2740, Chicago, IL 60606. To request a FREE wills guide or to get more information to plan your future please visit My Gift Legacy http://legacy.heartland.org/ or contact Gwen Carver at 312/377-4000 or by email at gcarver@heartland.org.  

Heartland Weekly – Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Somewhat Reasonable - February 12, 2016, 4:09 PM

If you don’t visit Somewhat Reasonable and the Heartlander digital magazine every day, you’re missing out on some of the best news and commentary on liberty and free markets you can find. But worry not, freedom lovers! The Heartland Weekly Email is here for you every Friday with a highlight show. Subscribe to the email today, and read this week’s edition below.

300 Scientists Request Explanation for Temperature Shenanigans H. Sterling Burnett, Climate Change Weekly In support of U.S. House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith’s investigation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), approximately 300 scientists, engineers, economists, and other experts sent a letter requesting an explanation for what appears to be manipulated temperature data. The letter challenges NOAA’s findings that eliminated the 18-year “pause” in global temperature increase and demands the agency reveal its data and methodology for public examination. READ MORE Parents Lack Honest Data Necessary for School Choice Decisions David V. Anderson, The Hill For any market to work efficiently, there needs to be a free flow of information so consumers can make educated choices. This is a missing ingredient in America’s education system. Accurate consumer information would enable parents to make wise choices in the selection of schools and other educational services. Unfortunately, most parents today operate in a sea of misinformation about school performance levels and other characteristics. READ MORE Supreme Court Blocks Obama’s Clean Power Plan H. Sterling Burnett, The Heartlander The U.S. Supreme Court did something remarkable on Tuesday: It respected the separation of powers and finally shouted “ENOUGH!” to the lawless rule of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Court stayed President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” a radical, law-by-decree scheme that would put this nation’s enormously complex energy-delivery system into the hands of central planners in Washington, DC. READ MORE Bonus Podcast: In The Tank (ep24) – Exploring the World of Think Tanks Hosts Donny Kendal and John Nothdurft have tweaked the format of their weekly podcast to highlight the work of think tanks across the country. Segments now include “Better Know a Think Tank,” in which a think tank spokesman talks about his or her organization’s mission, and “Featured Work of the Week,” which highlights recent research from a think tank. Donny and John kick off the feature by talking about (you guessed it) The Heartland Institute, as well as The Heritage Foundation’s “World Economic Freedom Ranking.” LISTEN TO MORE

Never Lose a Debate with a Global Warming Alarmist! The Heartland Institute’s newest book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming, demolishes the most pernicious myth in the global warming debate: that “97% of scientists” believe mankind is the cause of a global warming catastrophe. Heartland President Joseph Bast, who edited the book, will discuss his findings and bid a fond farewell to one of the coauthors, Robert Carter who passed away on January 19, at a free event at Heartland’s headquarters in Arlington Heights, Illinois, on March 9. Go to Amazon.com or the Heartland store [store.heartland.org] now and order a copy, or become a Heartland donor and get a free copy! Ride-Sharing Saves Time, Money, and Lives Jesse Hathaway, Real Clear Policy The popular peer-to-peer ride-sharing service, Uber, enjoyed a recent victory in New York City’s “war on ride-sharing.” An impact study released by Mayor Bill de Blasio showed Uber had not contributed significantly to the traffic congestion that has worsened recently in the Big Apple. Perhaps this will convince lawmakers to give up their efforts to hold back the wave of the future, and instead reap the benefits of the refreshingly entrepreneurial sharing economy.  READ MORE The Politics Behind the Anti-Fossil Fuels Campaign Donn Dears and H. Sterling Burnett,Washington Times Political leaders at the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year admitted their push to limit carbon dioxide emissions is not about protecting human health or the environment: It’s about giving governments control over the world’s economy. Said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.” This moment of accidental honesty must not be forgotten.  READ MORE

NYC Public Schools Try to Keep Vouchers to Themselves Joy Pullmann, School Choice Weekly A little-known fact about public schools is that they have the ability to contract out special-needs children to private schools or tutors. A recent federal investigation found 83 percent of public schools are not “fully accessible” to children with disabilities. The decision to contract these students out lies only with public schools themselves. Parents who want to put their child in a different school do not have that right. READ MORE Medical School Costs Keep Young Doctors Out of Primary Care Justin Haskins, Consumer Power Report Health care reform efforts over the past two decades have focused primarily on creating ways to help more Americans obtain health insurance. But little has been done to address the rapid increases in medical school costs plaguing hundreds of thousands of new doctors. Unless those costs come down – via market forces that are currently crowded out by government loans – America is going to see an accelerating drop in vital primary care physicians. READ MORE Featured Podcast: Kyle Maichle: Free Speech on College Campuses The hysteria at Yale University over “offensive” Halloween costumes supposedly threatening “safe” and “comfortable” spaces for students put free speech on campus into the national spotlight. Kyle Maichle, project manager for constitutional reform at The Heartland Institute, joins host Donald Kendal in a conversation about these basic free speech issues. Maichle discusses the history of speech codes on campus and gives an update on some of the more recent threats to freedom of expression at our institutions of higher learning. LISTEN TO MORE Surgeon Posts Prices Online to Improve Transparency, Competition Tony Corvo, The Heartlander One of the major contributing factors to the increasing costs of health care is the failure of hospitals and physicians to tell consumers the cost of procedures and treatments. One surgeon in Oklahoma City has found a simple way to help: He tells his patients the prices. His clinic’s website gives people the opportunity to research prices in advance and choose between the Surgery Center and other providers. How revolutionary! “I’m a free-market guy,” said Dr. Keith Smith. “We decided to put our money where our mouth was and post the prices online for everyone to see.”  READ MORE Invest in the Future of Freedom! Are you considering 2015 gifts to your favorite charities? We hope The Heartland Institute is on your list. Preserving and expanding individual freedom is the surest way to advance many good and noble objectives, from feeding and clothing the poor to encouraging excellence and great achievement. Making charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations dedicated to individual freedom is the most highly leveraged investment a philanthropist can make. Click here to make a contribution online, or mail your gift to The Heartland Institute, One South Wacker Drive, Suite 2740, Chicago, IL 60606. To request a FREE wills guide or to get more information to plan your future please visit My Gift Legacy http://legacy.heartland.org/ or contact Gwen Carver at 312/377-4000 or by email at gcarver@heartland.org.  
Categories: On the Blog

Obama Continues to Impede Domestic Energy Production

Somewhat Reasonable - February 12, 2016, 3:52 PM

With less than a year left in office, President Barack Obama is upping the pressure on America’s fossil fuel industries with a slew of new regulations and tax proposals.

Last month, Obama ordered a moratorium on new coal leasing on federal lands. Unlike oil and gas production, which occurs primarily on private land, 40 percent of U.S. coal mining takes place on federal lands.

Coal use has been declining in power generation for several years, in part because of abundant natural gas.

But it still accounts for 39 percent of our electricity, it remains the cheapest way to generate power and coal is a major export commodity.

Over time, the moratorium will drive up electricity costs for households and businesses, destroy jobs, diminish federal, state and local tax revenues and widen America’s trade deficit.

The administration also wants to put further limits on offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Under the 2012-2017 lease program, no sales were permitted on the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic Coast, the eastern third of the Gulf of Mexico and much of Alaska.

Then last October, the Interior Department canceled two planned lease sales for Arctic drilling rights and denied two companies’ requests for lease extensions.

Now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is putting together its 2017-2022 program for offshore lease sales.

A first draft of the plan, released last year, would allow offshore drilling on the Atlantic outer continental shelf, parts of the Gulf of Mexico and limited tracts of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.

But environmental groups are pushing for a total moratorium on offshore drilling. More than 100 East Coast communities have passed anti-drilling resolutions, while 100 members of Congress, as well as 650 state and local elected officials, have expressed opposition to Atlantic drilling.

In today’s low-price environment, it might seem counterintuitive that investors would want to bid on leases in fields that have no production history and limited seismic testing. But they’re thinking long term — perhaps 10 to 20 years out.

Should the final 2017-2022 lease plan be modified to prohibit drilling in the Atlantic, not only will imports increase but communities along the East Coast will be forfeiting high-wage jobs, income and tax revenue.

In its most recent attack on hydrocarbons, the Obama administration is proposing a $10-per-barrel tax on oil companies as part of its fiscal 2017 budget.

Ostensibly, the tax — which is equivalent to 30 percent at today’s prices — would help finance the Highway Trust Fund while providing money to invest in “sustainable transportation programs.”

In practice, it would further erode the earnings of an industry going through its greatest financial crisis in 25 years.

Oil imports would rise, because foreign producers would not be subject to the tax.

Today, with the world drowning in oil, and gasoline and diesel prices at their lowest levels in 15 years, the siren song of “keep it in the ground” (or keep it under the ocean floor) may be alluring.

But the American economy runs on energy, and oil, gas and coal will be providing the lion’s share of transportation and power generation fuel for decades to come.

It simply makes more economic and political sense to develop our own hydrocarbon resources, in an environmentally responsible manner, rather than increase our dependency on imported energy.

[Originally published at the Star-Telegram]
Categories: On the Blog

Can “Bright Line” FCC Title II Discrimination Bans Be Just and Reasonable?

Somewhat Reasonable - February 12, 2016, 2:58 PM

Net neutrality absolutists are overreaching yet again in their push for a practical FCC ban of ISP zero rating offers under the FCC’s case-by-case “General Conduct Standard” review, by claiming violations of the “bright-line rules” in the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

The problem here is that net neutrality absolutists, in exploiting the political pejorative power of the word ‘discrimination,’ have politically oversold their Title II net neutrality policy as “bright-line” ‘non-discrimination’ bans, implying no discrimination allowed, when Title II actually only bans “unjust and unreasonable discrimination.”

This is a distinction here with a huge difference; and it apparently is giving the net neutrality absolutists fits. They want to imagine that Title II prohibits their absolutist ‘no discrimination’ frame when it clearly does not.

They want to find a technical “gotcha” in every zero-rating or sponsored data offering, no matter how unreasonable their conclusion, so they can politically ask it be banned by the FCC under their concept of what a ‘no discrimination’ principle should be.

With T-Mobile’s Binge On, Stanford Professor Van Schewick charges that Binge On violates net neutrality because it favors commercial content over Google-YouTube’s user-generated videos. How is it unreasonably discriminatory when most every other company can interface with T-Mobile’s non-discriminatory Binge On interface, but the world’s most dominant and most technically-advanced digital video distributor, Google-YouTube, somehow can’t figure out what everyone else has figured out?

EFF also tested T-Mobile’s Binge On offering and charges that it violates net neutrality because it throttles everyone the same way to provide more data for less cost. How is that unjust and unreasonable network management?

With the news that Verizon’s Go90 video service is now using Verizon’s FreeBee Data 360 offering, some are insinuating sponsored data plans like this are somehow a net neutrality violation when offered as an “open, non-exclusive service available to other content providers on a non-discriminatory basis.” How is its unreasonably discriminatory when any content provider can enjoy the same thing Go90 does?

The problem here is that the net neutrality absolutists demanded the FCC adopt their politically correct, “bright-line” ‘no discrimination’ version of net neutrality, and not what Title II allows under the law and decades of FCC and court precedents.

The FCC’s Open Internet Order states: “Clear, Bright-Line Rules: Because the record overwhelmingly supports adopting rules and demonstrates that three specific practices invariably harm the open Internet—Blocking, Throttling, and Paid Prioritization—this Order bans each of them, applying the same rules to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service.” (Para 14) (Bold added for emphasis)

In promising not just net neutrality rules, but “bright line” (i.e. absolute) open Internet rules, and in claiming the three banned practices – blocking, throttling and no paid prioritization – “invariably” (i.e. absolutely always) harm the Open Internet, the FCC has created a real problem for itself.

How can the FCC reasonably rule under its ‘General Conduct Standard’ that any action that blocks or throttles Internet traffic can never be reasonable network management when the FCC itself is requiring ISPs to block robo-calls to users, or when ISPs are expected by the FCC to filter (i.e. block) viruses and malware, and to throttle the traffic of edge-driven denial-of-service-attacks that routinely assault ISP networks.

How can the FCC reasonably enforce absolute “bright-line” bans on blocking and throttling when the FCC Open Internet Order states: “The record broadly supports maintaining an exception for reasonable network management. We agree that a network management exception to the no-blocking rule, the no-throttling rule, and the no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage standard is necessary for broadband providers to optimize overall network performance and maintain a consistent quality experience for consumers while carrying a variety of traffic over their networks.” (para 215)

The FCC once again has got itself in a pickle in promising conflicting outcomes. On one hand it tells the public, industry and the reviewing court absolutely that blocking and throttling harm the Open Internet, but on the other hand it rules an exception is necessary for ‘reasonable network management.’

In conclusion, why FCC net neutrality policy is such a mess is that the absolutists are really not complaining about ISP “blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization.”

Their real beef is much less a Title II regulatory unreasonable discrimination problem, and much more akin to a lawsuit under antitrust law that alleges an ISP is a vertically-integrated monopoly that needs to be forever enjoined by a court from vertical integration.

And it is telling that the net neutrality absolutists effectively are trying to use Title II authority as antitrust law to preemptively ban a whole category of market participants from certain types of market behavior, with no investigation or finding of market power, and with no evidence that the targeted market participants actually did anything wrong, because no court would entertain such a baseless and senseless notion of antitrust law.

At bottom, net neutrality absolutists are demanding the FCC preemptively and absolutely ban market behaviors that no American law considers unreasonable on their face.

[Originally published at the Precursor Blog]

Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.

Categories: On the Blog

What We Know About CO2, Global Atmospheric Temperatures

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 12, 2016, 1:00 PM
How much will the doubling of CO2 in the air warm the global temperature? How do scientists take an accurate measurement of the temperature of the Earth’s…

In The Tank Podcast (ep25): Georgia Public Policy Foundation, The FDA, and Utah’s Zion Curtain

Somewhat Reasonable - February 12, 2016, 12:28 PM

Hosts Donny Kendal and John Nothdurft continue to explore the world of think tanks in episode #25 of the In The Tank Podcast. This weekly podcast features (as always) interviews, debates, roundtable discussions, stories, and light-hearted segments on a variety of topics on the latest news. The show is available for download as part of the Heartland Daily Podcast every Friday. Today’s podcast features work from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Mercatus Center, and the Libertas Institute.

Better Know a Think Tank

In this “Better Know a Think Tank” segment, Donny and John talk to Benita Dodd, Vice President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Benita talks about the background, history and mission of the Georgia-based think tank, and what they are currently working on.

Featured Work of the Week

Featured this week is a report by the Mercatus Center titled “The Proper Role of the FDA for the 21st Century.” They explain how the FDA got so far off their originally mission, what their proper role should be, and how to get them back to that narrow role.

Youtube video – Freedom and the FDA: The Matt Bellina Story

In the World of Think Tankery

Today Donny and John discuss a bizarre law out of Utah called the Zion Curtain – a law that requires restaurants and bars to pour alcoholic drinks out of the view of patrons. Our friends at the Libertas Institute, a Utah-based libertarian think tank, brought this to our attention.

They also talk about the work The Heartland Institute has done on the recent Supreme Court ruling which halted the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Events

Here are a handful of upcoming events that you may be interested in attending.

Mercatus Center – Conversations with Tyler: A Conversation with Nate Silver (Tuesday, Feb 16) @ George Mason University

Georgia Public Policy Foundation – Leadership Breakfast: Georgia Criminal Justice Reform: Looking Ahead, Staying Ahead – (Wednesday, Feb 17) @ The Georgian Club, Atlanta

Libertas Institute – Annual Liberty Forum with keynote speakers Larry Reed & Matt Kibbe (Saturday, May 7)

Mackinac Center For Public Policy – Let Them Work: Solutions for Michigan’s Overbearing Occupational Licensing Laws (Wednesday, Feb 17) in Lansing, Michigan.

I hope you’ll listen in, subscribe, and leave a review for our podcast on iTunes. We welcome your feedback in our new show’s inbox at InTheTankPodcast@gmail.com or follow us on twitter @InTheTankPod.

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

Categories: On the Blog

Free speech is flunking out on college campuses

Education - In The News - February 12, 2016, 12:22 PM
Women, sexual assault victims, people of color, transgender students. College campuses have created “safe spaces” for all sorts of marginalized groups. But in…

Liberal intolerance is on the rise on America’s college campuses

Education - In The News - February 12, 2016, 12:17 PM
Okay, maybe conservatives are right to freak out about illiberal lefty militancy on college campuses. Today’s students are indeed both more left wing and more…

BP outlook: American shale gas revolution to go global by 2035

Environment Suite - In The News - February 12, 2016, 11:28 AM
Oil companies of Global Fortune 500 2015 Image 1 out of 25Paul O'Driscoll / BLOOMBERG NEWSSHELL STRATEGIC OILNo. 2 Royal Dutch Shell (The Netherlands) Revenue:…

Hey, Obama: For Most Americans the Economy Still Stinks

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 12, 2016, 11:27 AM
I wonder if Obama and the White House spinmeisters wish they could take back his claims on Friday that the economy is crackling along and that the big problem…

The Motion that Won the Stay

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 12, 2016, 10:51 AM
The Supreme Court’s decision to put a stay on EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan took nearly everyone by surprise. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had already…

You’ll never guess who’s targeting federal disaster spending

Out of the Storm News - February 12, 2016, 8:58 AM

Politicians of both parties have learned in recent decades the perils of being seen handling a disaster poorly — as was the case with George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina — as well as the potential dividends that come from handling a disaster well. Bill Clinton, after all, helped turn around his presidency with a resolute response to the Oklahoma City bombing.

But the politics of disaster are almost always bad news for taxpayers. After all, few leaders suffer at the polls for spendingtoo much on disaster recovery, and the regular budget-vetting process tends to break down when it comes to emergency appropriations. After natural catastrophes or terrorist attacks, the incentive is to keep the largess flowing. The problem with disaster costs isn’t just that they’re wasteful; they also reduce incentives for communities to prepare for the next big storm or other calamity.

But two recent initiatives by the Obama administration could actually help put the brakes on out-of-control federal disaster spending. The first — an executive order handed down last year ordering agencies to adopt more stringent building and siting standards in flood-prone areas — received a cool reception from some on Capitol Hill, who complained that it would kill some federal projects. Meanwhile, a new disaster “deductible” proposal for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s public assistance program could save taxpayers billions by encouraging states to invest in appropriate disaster planning and risk mitigation. Whether it faces similar pushback may depend on how skillfully it is framed.

According to the Center for American Progress, between 2011 and 2013, federal disaster spending totaled nearly $140 billion. While CAP’s number includes some expenses, like drought costs, that may stretch the definition of “disaster,” it is a good ballpark estimate. And many expenses are off the books. For example, the National Flood Insurance Program owes the Treasury more than $22 billion — including more than $8 billion rung up during 2012’s Superstorm Sandy— that every expert believes Congress eventually will have to forgive.

This growth in disaster costs is likely to accelerate, as Americans continue to move to disaster-prone areas. To take just one example, before World War II, hurricane- and flood-prone Florida was the least-populated state in the South, with just 1.9 million people. Last year, it crossed the 20 million mark, passing New York to become the third-most-populous state.

Floods account for roughly half of all disaster costs and 80 percent of all disaster declarations. Obama’s building standards order could thus save a big chunk of the $260 billion the federal government has spent on flooding over the past 30 years. It would have no impact on private property or even on local governments’ own spending. It would simply require that federal building projects meet certain flood-control benchmarks. Eight Gulf Coast Republican senators signed letters opposing the new standards, but they went forward, more-or-less intact, as part of the recent budget deal.

The more recent FEMA proposal, published in the January 20 edition of the Federal Register, would go further still in stemming the tide of federal aid by giving local governments a stronger incentive to prepare. While details remain to be worked out, the proposed program changes would ask that states, territories, and tribes do things like set aside their own disaster funds, improve building standards, or purchase privately backed insurance if they hope to receive full levels of federal aid in the wake of a disaster. Those local governments that fail to prepare adequately would be subject to a “deductible.” If properly implemented, the plan would create strong incentives for underprepared localities to get their affairs in order, as they no longer would enjoy the certainty of a generous federal bailout in the event of a disaster.

But it certainly does not help the prospects for this sensible plan that, as with the earlier building standard order, the Obama administration has sought to sell it as a “climate change” measure. While there’s little doubt that such initiatives would help to deal with climate change arising from human activity, that’s far from the only, or even the most pressing, reason to support them.

In fact, a review of the literature conducted by the Berkeley Earth Group makes it clear that the jury is still out on the link between greenhouse gas emissions and most natural disasters. Obviously, there’s no causal link between climate change and earthquakes (although some environmentalists have actually tried to claim there is). And even when it comes to more common events, like tornadoes, evidence of a direct link is close to nonexistent.

There is ample evidence that increased coastal floods have resulted from sea-level rise and that official heat waves would almost certainly be less common if there were no greenhouse gas emissions. But linkages between other disasters and climate change are harder to tease out. For example, while climate models do provide reason to speculate that hurricane formations and/or intensity might increase in the future as temperatures rise, there’s much less certainty about the frequency of storms making landfall. (Florida is now in the midst of one of its longest-ever periods without a direct strike from a major storm.) Meanwhile, analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the 2011-2014 California droughts — which environmentalists largely blamed on climate change — were “dominated by natural variability.”

If the link between climate change and natural disasters is often overstated, the fiscal case for addressing runaway disaster spending is compelling. More people will almost certainly continue to move into disaster-prone areas no matter what happens. The new building standards and proposed disaster deductibles would cut federal spending and create incentives to prepare. To be sure, they’re “tough love” measures that an administration seeking a second term probably wouldn’t risk politically. But they should be embraced as a rare outbreak of fiscal common sense from an administration that will go down in history mostly for its profligacy.

Washington Metro Getting Ready for Bankruptcy?

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 12, 2016, 8:52 AM
Research Studies Centers and Projects Research by Topic Recent Books Reading Lists Latest Study Is the Doha Round Over? The WTO’s Negotiating Agenda for 2016…

Internet Tax Freedom—at Last

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 12, 2016, 8:46 AM
Photo: Getty Images It’s been a long, hard slog, but we can report some good news from Washington. On Thursday the Senate finally passed—and the White House…

Heartland Daily Podcast – Marita Noon: Presidential Candidates’ Energy Positions, and The Truth About Renewable Subsidies

Somewhat Reasonable - February 11, 2016, 5:40 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Marita Noon, executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), joins Managing Editor of Environment & Climate News H. Sterling Burnett. Noon joins the podcast to discuss the different Presidential candidates positions on energy and other energy related topics.

Together, Energy Makes America Great Inc. and CARE, work to educate the public and influence policy makers on energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Also in the podcast, Noon talks about some of the positive provisions in an energy bill presently being developed in the Senate, and the truth about renewables and energy subsidies.

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

Categories: On the Blog

Is privacy possible in the Internet of Things?

Out of the Storm News - February 11, 2016, 1:02 PM

In past policy reports, I’ve supported the right of private-sector companies to collect personal information on individuals who voluntarily agree to disclose it. Whether it was Google, Facebook, Amazon or the local brick-and-mortar supermarket, it was my choice to tell a third party more about myself in exchange for better prices, better service or more convenience. My answer to those who raised privacy concerns was to note there was always the choice to opt out.

But opting out isn’t easy anymore. In many areas of private-sector commerce – such as banking, air travel and health care – the government now requires private-sector companies to collect certain personal information. Dealing directly with the government usually requires it, too. Other times, the government just takes it, as with the National Security Agency’s warrantless bulk-data collection under the Patriot Act.

Beyond that, we are nearing a point where sharing of all manner of personal data will be necessary to accomplish the tasks of everyday life. All that data are stored in third-party servers, in the figurative Internet cloud. With each new technology cycle, that data becomes easier and cheaper to find, search, cross-reference and analyze. At the same time, the line separating data collected by industry and data collected by the government has been blurred, if not erased altogether.

A recent Fox News report offered a disquieting preview. Vigilant Solutions, a supplier of license-plate-reading technology, is providing local police in two Texas jurisdictions access to its database of license plates gathered from red-light cameras. The police cross-reference this data against license plates of vehicles with outstanding speeding tickets or other traffic fines. Officers are then given a list of vehicles and plate numbers to watch out for, and instructions to stop those vehicles when spotted. Police are even given credit-card processing terminals to collect fines during a roadside stop. Vigilant, for its part, takes a 25 percent cut on all fines recouped using its data.

What’s troubling here is that the police are using data collected by a private company for one specific purpose—traffic-light enforcement—and combining it with data collected by separate agencies to isolate individuals who may or may not be guilty of another, unrelated offense. Remember: license-plate readers identify vehicles, not drivers.

This is different from using license-plate readers and traffic cameras for forensic investigation; for instance, to track a vehicle used in a bank robbery or assault. When the police use cameras and other tracking devices to collect information on all citizens with intent to use that information against them in the future, it’s called surveillance.

Police and lawmakers may argue that catching scofflaws—and the fines they owe— is important to the community. Still, the end does not always justify the means, particularly when we consider the proliferation of laws and ordinances that legislatures and government agencies seem bent on creating.

For example, if the Department of Housing and Urban Development gets its way and bans smoking in public housing, will the surveillance cameras that are supposed to be keeping residents safe be used to see who is buying cigarettes at the local bodega and taking them home? Will analytics kick in and dispatch an officer to come knocking and catch the resident puffing, simply for the chance to write a citation and collect a fine?

The so-called Internet of Things really kicks things up a notch. Anyone who attended January’s Winter Consumer Electronics Show can appreciate how close we are to having everything from our cars to our home appliances connected to the Internet. We aren’t quite to the point where, just as you leave your office, your refrigerator can prepare a shopping list and send it to your phone, which can then link to Google Maps to find the nearest grocery store, then link to another app and generate an electronic coupon for your favorite brand. But very soon, you’ll be able to buy a refrigerator with an interior camera that you can access on your smartphone to see if you’re short on milk or beer.

Cool, yes, but the buzz is tempered when you remember that all this information about you—where you go, what you buy, what you eat, what media you stream—is now out there in the cloud. Think of all the data you and your devices transmit or access over the Internet every day. At the moment, there are no laws that protect it from search or seizure by any inquisitive government agency. Think no one in the government cares what’s in your refrigerator? Look at how intrusive child protective services departments have become. CPS will write you up if you let your children play unsupervised in your own front yard. Next thing you know, a nosy agent will be demanding third-party cloud data to see what you’re feeding your children or how much beer you’re drinking every weekend.

During the presidential debates in the current election cycle, candidates in both parties, when asked about improving homeland security, have said they would seek to work with private-sector technology companies. Beyond that, they offer few specifics.

Certainly the private sector has much to teach the government, particularly in areas of cybersecurity. But I would hate to see the government deputize companies that engage in cloud-services management—Google and Amazon are the two biggest—to provide personal information about the habits of individual citizens without explicit constitutional safeguards in place.

The counterargument that law enforcement likes to use, that there is no expectation of privacy, has limits. While there’s no right of privacy for activities done in public, neither is there an expectation of constant surveillance. On a societal level, the law recognizes this as stalking and allows court-ordered redress.

The Fourth Amendment protects our property and documents from warrantless search. The Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination. If an individual can’t go anywhere, meet anyone or transact any business without the government either recording that event or using its power to demand a third party to surrender that record, it can be interpreted as a way to compel testimony  against oneself.

The majority of Americans believe it is important that they be able to maintain privacy and confidentiality in commonplace activities of their lives, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center for Internet, Science and Tech. In the study, 93 percent of adults said that being in control of who can get information about them is important; 90 percent said that controlling what information is collected about them is important.

The Pew report found these views are especially pronounced when it comes to individuals knowing what information about them is collected and who does the collecting. Those feelings extend to Americans’ desire to maintain privacy in their homes, at work, during social gatherings, at times when they want to be alone and when they are moving around in public.

As we become more dependent on the Internet of Things, to ensure our privacy and right to due process, we need more than mere guidelines and best practices. We need the legal protections stated outright in the Bill of Rights. Here are three ideas to get thinking started:

  • We need a comprehensive rewrite of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to extend explicitly the Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections to personal data stored in the cloud. Private companies should not be required to turn over customer data without a warrant.
  • Without specific legislation and limits, no government agency should be permitted to collect and perform data correlation, analytics or other processing from two or more independent sources unless it pertains to a specific suspect or the target of an investigation. Government agencies should not be able to create databases for non-specific sifting and search for random violators of various laws, ordinances and regulations.
  • Personal data collected for one specific purpose, such as toll collection, should not be used ad hoc for other purposes.

The Internet of Things has terrific potential, but much of it will go unfulfilled if people sense that data they share will be used against them. Vigilant Solutions’ license-plate-sharing program isn’t going down well with the populations affected, and it’s not just the stereotypical crotchety grandpas who see the problems.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Illinois GOP Sees State Takeover as Only Way to Save Chicago Public Schools

Education - In The News - February 11, 2016, 1:00 PM
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has accused Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) of trying to do for her school system what Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R)…

State of the State: Illinois

Budget and Tax Suite - In The News - February 11, 2016, 12:38 PM
Governor Bruce Rauner recently delivered his annual State of the State address – seven months into a budgetary stalemate with Illinois legislators. The governor…

SCOTUS Orders Stay of the Clean Power Plan

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - February 11, 2016, 12:36 PM
In what is undoubtedly one of the most significant blows to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in recent history, the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4…

Don’t Fence Us in: Western States Seek Return of Land From D.C.

Somewhat Reasonable - February 11, 2016, 11:37 AM

According to the United States Geological Survey, nearly half the land in the Western United States is owned by the federal government. This includes 84.9 percent of land in Nevada (hiding UFOs requires lots of space), 64.9 percent of Utah, 61.6 percent of Idaho, 61.2 percent of Alaska, 52.9 percent of Oregon, 48.1 percent of Wyoming, and 45.8 percent in California. Meanwhile, the federal government owns only about 5 percent of the land in states east of the Mississippi River. Altogether, Uncle Sam owns roughly 640 million acres of land.

In March 2012, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act into law, which instructs the federal government to relinquish more than 20 million acres of land to the State of Utah. Although Utah has yet to bring forward a suit in an attempt to enforce the law, a move that is expected to bring strong opposition from the federal government, similar legislation is being considered in nine other Western states. These states are arguing if the federal government turns over its property in the West to the states, it will result in better environmental stewardship of the land, lower management costs, and an increase in productivity.

Environmentalists, support federal government land ownership in Western states because they say these lands contain the most biologically and environmentally valuable ecosystems in the nation that need to be protected by federal officials from less environmentally concerned states.  “If not for federal policies for public land management,” University of Wyoming professor Debra Donahue told the New York Times, “America would lack a world-class system of national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.” This is undeniably true; however national parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and federal wilderness areas (FWAs), essentially the only parts of the West tourists ever lay their eyes on, would be excluded from any future land transfers.

Most of the land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, excluding national parks, monuments, and FWAs, is the result of historical accident, not environmental concerns. During the Progressive and New Deal Eras, Congress created federal agencies to control Western lands under the belief central authorities would dispassionately apply science to determine the best use of natural resources. But as Montana State University professor of economics Holly Fretwell writes, “Science cannot determine whether hiking, biking or timber harvest is a higher-valued use. Instead, management decisions—regarding recreation use, commodity production or restoration activities—depend on budget appropriations and special interest battles.”

Fretwell says this leads to gross mismanagement of public lands, leaving Western communities at risk of wildfires, soil erosion, and other environmental problems that impose steep economic costs.

Without allowing market forces to have a greater say in how federal lands are used, Western states will continue to suffer economic and environmental disadvantages. A recent study from the Institute for Energy Research showed, even in a time of stagnant demand, opening up federal lands to just oil, coal, and gas production would bring many benefits to the states, including $663 billion in increased GDP and 2.7 million jobs created over the next 30 years. The report also found a $3.9 trillion increase over federal tax revenues, and a $1.9 trillion increase in state tax revenues, over the next 37 years. (In addition to coal, oil, and natural gas, federal lands are also a major source of softwood timber, hard metals, and grazing areas.)

study comparing state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico to federal multiple-use lands from 2009–13 by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) found these states earned a combined $14.51 for every dollar spent managing state trust lands, while the federal government earned only 73 cents for every dollar they spent managing federal lands. On a per-acre basis, the states earned $34.60 while the feds lost $4.38.

PERC writes, “State trust management has demonstrated its ability to resist excessive political influence, respond to market signals, and accommodate new resources over time.… Managing these lands should provide a rich source of revenues to benefit the public, but is instead coming at a high cost to taxpayers.”

Not only would a transfer of Western federal lands to the states be better for the preservation of much of the land and the residents of the states, it would also be a better deal for taxpayers nationwide.

[Originally published at American Spectator]

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