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Monday Update on Heartland’s trip to Rome for Vatican Climate Summit

Somewhat Reasonable - April 27, 2015, 4:51 PM

Step outside Heartland’s hotel, look left, there’s the Vatican. [Photo: Jim Lakely]

The Heartland Institute today held and excellent 90-minute event for press today in Rome — especially considering the event was only announced to the press on Friday at about 10:30 a.m. CT.

(Why so late? We decided to travel to Rome only a couple of days before Friday — and arranging speakers, travel, lodging, and event space from the middle of America for the middle of Europe on a tight schedule is a tricky juggle.)

Media in attendance included reporters from:

Associated Press
Reuters
New York Times
Breitbart
CBC Radio (Canada)
Boston Globe
Catholic News Service
Catholic Reporter
Guardian

Other reporters have contacted us about attending our longer event Tuesday afternoon, and we also expect some allies here in Rome to attend. The Tuesday program gives our seven presenters a little more time to address in more detail the science, policy, and moral angles of the Vatican’s climate summit. Yesterday’s event, like Tuesday’s, will be held just steps from St. Peter’s Square.

Tuesday’s event is from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (lunch served at noon) at:

Palazzo Cardinal Cesi
Via della Conciliazione n. 51 (Piazza S.Pietro)
00193
Rome, Italy

Our presenters Tuesday:

E. Calvin Beisner
Hal Doiron
Richard Keen
Christopher Monckton
Marc Morano
Tom Sheahen
Elizabeth Yore

All but Yore have given presentations at Heartland’s nine previous conferences on climate change. Click on their names at this archive page and click on the speakers’ names to see their bios and previous presentations.

Video of Monday’s event will be available later this week at this blog, and kept long-term on YouTube and at our page dedicated to this visit and the Pope’s climate summit. (Italy has notoriously bad broadband, and our wifi-only hotel here in Rome is no exception, so it’s a tough upload.) Visit that page to see the latest coverage, research, and commentary from an important trip.

Categories: On the Blog

Libertarian groups press McConnell on surveillance reform

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 4:15 PM

From The Hill:

“Today’s domestic surveillance programs are just the tip of the iceberg compared to how the NSA could use its current authority to spy on Americans’ communications on the Internet and future technologies we haven’t even imagined,” the group wrote in the letter to McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). 

The letter was signed by 13 groups, including TechFreedom, R Street Institute, FreedomWorks and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

It is a Bad Time to be in the Renewable Energy Industry

Somewhat Reasonable - April 27, 2015, 2:37 PM

2015 may go down in the books as the year support for renewable energy died—and we are only a few months in. Policy adjustments—whether for electricity generation or transportation fuels—are in the works on both the state and federal levels.

While the public is generally positive about the idea of renewable energy, the reality of years-long policy implementation that offers it special favors has changed public opinions. An October 2014 report in Oklahoma’s Enid News titled: “Wind worries?: A decade after welcoming wind farms, states reconsider,” offers this insightful summary:

“A decade ago, states offered wind-energy developers an open-armed embrace, envisioning a bright future for an industry that would offer cheap electricity, new jobs and steady income for large landowners, especially in rural areas with few other economic prospects. To ensure the opportunity didn’t slip away, lawmakers promised little or no regulation and generous tax breaks. But now that wind turbines stand tall across many parts of the nation’s windy heartland, some leaders in Oklahoma and other states fear their efforts succeeded too well, attracting an industry that gobbles up huge subsidies, draws frequent complaints and uses its powerful lobby to resist any reforms.”

But, it isn’t just wind energy that has fallen from favor. 2015 state and federal legislation reflects the “reconsider” prediction. Likewise “powerful” lobbyists are resisting the proposed reforms.

Oklahoma is just one state in what has become a new trend.

About a decade ago, when more than half of the states enacted strict Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), Oklahoma, and a few other states, agreed to voluntary targets. Now, nearly one-third of those states are reconsidering the legislation that sounded so good in a different energy era. Back then, it was widely believed that there was an energy shortage and “dealing with global warming” was a higher public priority.

“Roughly 30 bills relating to the Oklahoma wind industry have been filed in the state legislature in the 2015 session, including at least one targeting the tax breaks and others attempting to alter regulatory policies,” reports Fox News. On April 16, the Oklahoma House voted, 78-3, to eliminate the wind energy tax credit. The measure now moves to the Senate, which will review a companion bill introduced by Senator Mike Mazzei—it is expected to pass and will likely be headed to Governor Mary Fallin soon.

Oklahoma isn’t the first state to reconsider its renewable energy policies. That distinction goes to Ohio, which in May 2014, passed legislation that paused the state’s RPS for two years. Governor Kasich signed it in June. Meanwhile, according to Eli Miller, the Ohio State Director for Americans for Prosperity: “the economic well-being of our working families and businesses can be factored in before moving forward.” The International Business Times projects that the two years a commission has to study will lead to a “permanent reduction.”

Earlier this year, West Virginia became the first state to repeal its RPS. With unanimous support in the Senate and a 95-4 vote in the House, renewable energy supporters are dismayed. Calling it “pure political theater and probably a flop,” Nick Lawton, Staff Attorney at the Green Energy Institute dismisses the move: “West Virginia’s withdrawal of its weak renewable energy policy is unlikely to significantly change that state’s energy markets.” Nancy Guthrie, one of the four Democrats who voted “No,” did so because she believes “we are running out of coal, it’s that simple”—which is, of course, totally incorrect.

Last month the Texas Senate voted to end its RPS and another program that, according to the Star Telegram, “helped fuel the state’s years-long surge in wind energy production.” The bill now moves to the House State Affairs Committee. It is expected to pass the House and be signed by Governor Greg Abbott. While Texas is known for its leadership in wind energy, the termination of the RPS will impact the solar industry as well. Charlie Hemmeline, executive director of the Texas Solar Power Association, states: “Increasing uncertainty for our industry raises the cost of doing business in the state.”

Coming up, Kansas, North Carolina, and Michigan have legislation that revisits the states’ favorable renewable energy policies.

New Mexico and Colorado had bills to repeal or revise the RPS that passed in one chamber, but not in the other.

While Louisiana doesn’t have an RPS, it does have generous tax credits for solar panel installations that have exploded the cost to the state’s taxpayers. The credits were originally expected to cost the state $500,000 million a year. In 2014 the payouts ballooned to $63.5 according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Repealing or revising the policy is a key priority in the current legislative session.

“Taxpayer support for wind energy is also losing momentum in Congress,” says Fox News. It points out: “Capitol Hill lawmakers at the end of last year did not extend the Federal Production Tax Credit (PTC). And in March, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), failed to rally support behind an amendment that would have put a five-year extension on the PTC.”

It is not just wind energy that has lost favor in Congress. The Ethanol mandates—known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—are being re-examined, too.

On January 16, 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced the “Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015.”

More recently, a “former Obama economic adviser” issued a report that calls for changes to the 10-year-old RFS. Harvard University Professor Jim Stock served on the Council of Economic Advisers in 2013 and 2014. The Hill states: “His report comes at a time of growing angst among lawmakers, regulators and the industry over the future of the RFS, which mandates fuel refiners blend a certain volume of ethanol and biodiesel into their traditional gasoline and diesel supplies.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) supports the sentiment calling Stock’s report: “a key voice to a growing chorus of people who say the policy isn’t working.” It continues: “The report adds to a growing body of politicians and experts who are questioning the law’s effectiveness amid regulatory uncertainty and lower prices.”

Hawaii, uniquely, has its own ethanol mandate, but it, too, is coming under attack. KHON states: “Nine years after a major change at the gas pump was forced on Hawaii drivers, many are now calling it a failed experiment and want it gone.”

In both the case of Hawaii and the federal government, lawmakers are looking toward advanced biofuels that don’t raise food costs. However, the Environmental Protection Agency—tasked with implementing the RFS—has repeatedly waived or reduced the cellulosic biofuel requirements because, despite more than $126 billion invested since 2003, the industry has yet to produce commercially viable quantities of fuel.

Addressing dwindling investment in biofuels and growing skepticism, The Economist, on April 18, says: “Campaigners generally find it easier to fulminate against those which damage the environment or food security than to explain exactly how they ought to be grown.” It concludes: “Whether such bright ideas can be commercialised at scale is a different question. Some companies, indeed, are starting to give up. Several algae-to-fuel ventures in America are switching to the manufacture of high-value chemicals instead. Sunlight is a great source of energy. Biology may not be the best way of storing it.”

And this doesn’t include the public’s failure to embrace higher-priced electric cars—even with tens of thousands of dollars of subsidies and tax credits.

Looking at all the policy reviews, the trend is clear. As Watchdog.org, in a report titled: “Why repealing the renewable energy mandates is good for the economy,” concludes: “The best policy for the states is to leave energy consumption decisions to consumers in the market rather than legislate them.”

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Heather Kays: Common Core Updates and Homeschooling Regulation

Blog - Education - April 27, 2015, 2:04 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, we listen in as Managing Editor of School Reform News Heather Kays talks with Paul Molloy in a segment of the Freedom Works Show on Tantalk 1340 in Florida. Molloy and Kays discuss Common Core, standardized testing and the opt out movement.

Kays brings us up to date on all the Common Core news that has occurred across the country. During the interview, Molloy and Kays also talk about a Michigan legislator attempting to further regulate homeschooling after one tragic incident. This proposed legislation would mandate a registry of home-schooled students and require regular check-ups by a government agency.

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

Heartland Daily Podcast – Heather Kays: Common Core Updates and Homeschooling Regulation

Somewhat Reasonable - April 27, 2015, 2:04 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, we listen in as Managing Editor of School Reform News Heather Kays talks with Paul Molloy in a segment of the Freedom Works Show on Tantalk 1340 in Florida. Molloy and Kays discuss Common Core, standardized testing and the opt out movement.

Kays brings us up to date on all the Common Core news that has occurred across the country. During the interview, Molloy and Kays also talk about a Michigan legislator attempting to further regulate homeschooling after one tragic incident. This proposed legislation would mandate a registry of home-schooled students and require regular check-ups by a government agency.

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

Categories: On the Blog

Global Warming? The Pope is Wrong

Somewhat Reasonable - April 27, 2015, 11:36 AM

I have devoted the better part of more than two and a half decades speaking out against the charlatans that have created and maintained the greatest hoax ever imposed on modern man. At the heart of this hoax has been the United Nations environmental program and at the heart of that program is an agenda to initiate a massive redistribution of wealth from industrialized, successful nations to those who have suffered, as often as not, from being ruled by despots of one description or another.

It is with profound sorrow and disappointment that I must now speak out against the policy seemingly being pursued by Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, whom observers have noted has “a green agenda.” He has become an outspoken advocate on environmental issues, saying that taking action is “essential to faith” and calling the destruction of nature a modern sin.

Before proceeding, let me note that I am not Catholic. My thoughts regarding the Pope are rooted in my knowledge of the long record of lies, false predictions, and claims by various environmentalists over the years.

When the Vatican announced it would hold a conference on April 28 called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”, I wondered why the Vatican is not holding a conference to organize the protection of Christians—particularly in the Middle East—against the wholesale genocide that is occurring. The Pope is not alone in this. There appears to be little urgency in addressing a threat comparable to the Holocaust of the last century that consigned six million Jews to death for being Jews.

I frankly do not know what is meant by “the moral dimensions of climate change.” Climate change is something that was occurring long before there was a human population on planet Earth. It is the measurement of the previous global cycles through which the Earth has passed for billions of years. It is profoundly natural. Applying a moral dimension to it makes no sense whatever.

As for “sustainable development”, that is a term that environmentalists use to deny any development that benefits the human population.

Environmentalism is deeply opposed to the use of any energy resource, coal, oil, natural gas, as well as other elements of the Earth we use to enhance and improve our lives with habitat of every description from a hut to a skyscraper. Over the last five thousand years we have gone from being largely dependent on wood to the use of fossil fuel energy that keeps us safe against nature—blizzards, floods, hurricanes, forest fires, et cetera.

At the heart of environmentalism, however, is a deep disdain and antagonism to the human race. From its earliest advocates, one can find allusions to humanity as “a cancer” on the Earth. The Catholic Church has been an advocate for the human race, most notably opposing abortion that kills humans in the womb. Its charitable work is legendary.

To grasp how far the forthcoming conference is from the most basic beliefs of Catholicism, one need only take note of the persons scheduled to speak. They include the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, the leader of the institution in which the hoax of global warming was created and advanced. Another is Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, another voice for global warming, but neither is going to tell those attending the conference that there is no warming and that the Earth has been a natural cooling cycle for the past eighteen years, tied entirely to a comparable cycle of the Sun.

The Green’s response to the voices of those scientists who courageously spoke out to debunk their lies has been to denounce and try to silence them. There is no science to support the global warming hoax.

The one-day summit will include participants from major world religions. The Pope will issue an encyclical on the environment later this year.

Is there a religious or spiritual aspect to opposing the forthcoming conference and encyclical? One need look no further than Genesis. In a Wall Street Journal commentary, William McGurn drew the lesson that it offers “a reminder that God’s creation is meant to serve man—not man the environment.

Quoting Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” concluding that “the Earth is to be worked and that this work and the fruit it bears are also blessed.” The spiritual truth to be drawn from this is that man is the steward of the Earth. That does not mean its resources should be abandoned because of bogus claims that the Earth is doomed.

McGurn reminds us that “it is the have-nots who pay the highest price for the statist interventions so beloved the Church of St. Green.” There are more than a billion on Earth who do not have any access to electricity which, in addition to hydropower, is generated by coal, oil and natural gas. Lacking the means to deter the impact of insects and weeds on agriculture, much of the Earth’s annual crops are lost. Lacking access to the beneficial chemicals that protect humans from the diseases transmitted by insects, millions die needlessly.

The Heartland Institute, a free market think tank is leading the effort to alert people to the dangerous message of the Vatican conference because “many people of faith who are familiar with the science and economics of climate change are worried this event will become a platform for alarmism over a controversial scientific issue” noting that “there is no scientific ‘consensus’ on whether there is any need to reduce mankind’s use of fossil fuels.”

The conference agenda is “profoundly anti-poor and anti-life” says the Institute. Plainly said, the Vatican conference incomprehensibly would advocate policies whose only result would be the reduction of human life in order to “sustain” the Earth.

“These unnecessary policies would cause the suffering and even death of billions of people. All people of faith should rise up in opposition to such policies.”

The Heartland Institute is sending a team of scientists and climate policy experts to Rome where they will be joined by Marc Morano of the think tank, CFACT. Says Morano, ‘Instead of entering into an invalid marriage with climate fear promoters—a marriage that is destined for an annulment—Pope Francis should administer last rites to the promotion of man-made climate fears and their so-called solutions. This unholy alliance must be prevented.”

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Coalition letter to Senate leadership on USA PATRIOT Act

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 11:28 AM

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Reid:

As organizations and individuals dedicated to free markets and constitutionally limited government, we write to express our strong opposition to the Senate’s latest attempt to fast-track an unamended reauthorization of expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act without meaningful reforms to protect Americans’ privacy.

In the two years since Americans learned of the NSA’s mass surveillance, they have grown increasingly skeptical about whether the government’s intrusive surveillance programs serve the public interest — and rightly so: the speculative benefits of these programs simply are not worth their cost, in constitutional, practical or economic terms.

Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the statutory basis for bulk collection of domestic telephone records, is set to expire May 31, 2015. The Senate has a duty to carefully evaluate existing programs before voting on whether to simply reauthorize them without reforms — especially because lawmakers in 2001 didn’t set out to create a vast surveillance state. Indeed, the PATRIOT Act’s primary author, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has denounced this administration’s sweeping interpretation of Section 215 as greatly exceeding what Congress intended.

The reasons to reform Section 215 are compelling.

Blanket surveillance violates basic constitutional values. Our forefathers threw off the yoke of colonial rule in large part because of British surveillance of innocent Americans for “national security” purposes. The Fourth Amendment originated with Virginia’s June 1776 Declaration of Rights, which denounced “general warrants” as “grievous and oppressive.” For 223 years, the Constitution’s prohibition against mass surveillance has stood alongside free speech and the right to bear arms as the crown jewels of our civil liberties.

These mass surveillance programs are unnecessary and costly. The government has identified only one case in which bulk collection of telephone records might have been useful in helping “connect the dots” faster about national security threats. But even in this case, the FBI waited two months after using the NSA’s telephone metadata database before tapping the suspect’s phone. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 made no concrete difference in any counterterrorism investigation. The privacy intrusion of such programs heavily outweighs any conjectural national security benefit as a supposed “insurance policy.”

Bulk collection undermines consumer confidence in U.S. Internet businesses. Studies estimate that current surveillance programs could, overall, cost the American cloud computing industry between $22 billion and $180 billion over three years in direct costs and lost revenue. Growing suspicion of American products around the world helps foreign competitors gain a competitive edge — from social networks to hardware. This helps foreign governments surveil and censor such systems while hampering U.S. signals intelligence. To help restore global trust in U.S. tech products and services, Congress must take meaningful steps to protect privacy from overbroad government surveillance.

Legislative sunsets offer a valuable opportunity for careful reconsideration. Understanding the need for careful evaluation and scrutiny in the years following the passage of the PATRIOT Act, legislators wisely included a sunset provision requiring future reauthorization of Section 215. By not taking the opportunity for careful reconsideration, Congress risks becoming subordinate to the administration’s creative reinterpretation of the inevitable statutory ambiguities. Sunsets are especially important when dealing with fast-changing technologies, which can quickly upset the balance of power between citizens and their government. Today’s domestic surveillance programs are just the tip of the iceberg compared to how the NSA could use its current authority to spy on Americans’ communicationson the Internet and future technologies we haven’t even imagined.

For all these reasons, we strongly urge the U.S. Senate not to renew the expiring PATRIOT provisions, especially Section 215, without significant reform.

Libertarian groups urge McConnell to change course on surveillance

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 10:46 AM

From Politico:

TechFreedom, the R Street Institute and a coalition of other limited-government groups are today asking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to drop his clean reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and his effort to fast-track it through the chamber. In a letter to McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid, the groups outline a series of reforms they want when Congress addresses surveillance laws set to expire at the end of next month. “[Americans] have grown increasingly skeptical about whether the government’s intrusive surveillance programs serve the public interest — and rightly so,” they write. “The Senate has a duty to carefully evaluate existing programs before voting on whether to simply reauthorize them without reforms.”

The groups say the NSA’s mass surveillance practices are unconstitutional, unnecessary and costly. They also say it “undermines consumer confidence in U.S. Internet companies” and gives foreign competitors an advantage abroad. More than a dozen groups have signed on to the letter, including the National Taxpayers Union and FreedomWorks. The letter: http://bit.ly/1E9xn7o

A Message for Pope Francis

Somewhat Reasonable - April 27, 2015, 9:41 AM

Pope Francis plans to deliver an encyclical on climate change this summer. To pave the way and outline the Pope’s positions, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding a workshop on the topic, April 28 in Rome. The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Heartland Institute will be there.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, director of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and an author of the draft encyclical, says the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has determined that “our planet is getting warmer.” Christians have a duty to help the poor, “irrespective of the causes of climate change,” and address what Pope Francis apparently believes is an imminent climate crisis. The encyclical will likely present global warming as “a critical moral issue” and increase pressure for a new climate treaty.

That raises serious questions, which I have addressed in many articles – and which prompted Dr. E. Calvin Beisner and the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation to write an open letter to Pope Francis. The articles and letter reflect our years of studying climate change assertions and realities, and the ways climate-related restrictions on energy harm poor families far more than climate change will.

At the most fundamental level, too many IPCC reports and the apparent new papal position represent the rejection of Judeo-Christianity’s illustrious tradition of scientific inquiry, which has brought monumental improvements to our understanding of nature and creation – and to humanity’s once “nasty, brutish and short” lives on this planet. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman explained, we begin with a guess about a law of nature. Then we compute the consequences that would result if our hypothesis is correct – and compare actual observations, evidence and experimental data to the predicted consequences.

If the hypothesis and predictions are borne out by the observations, we have a new rule. But if the hypothesis “disagrees with the experiment, it is wrong,” Feynman says. That is honest, genuine science.

Alarmist climate science is precisely the opposite. That distorted version of science began with the hypothesis that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels cause global warming. It served as the basis for computer models that assume rising CO2 and GHG levels will cause planetary temperatures and sea levels to soar, and hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts to increase in number and intensity. The models predicted many such “scenarios” over the coming decades.

But Earth stopped warming 18 years ago; no major hurricane hit the USA for a record 9-1/2 years; seas are rising at barely seven inches per century; and even IPCC experts agree that long-term trends in weather disasters are not out of historic norms and are not attributable to human causes. The CO2-driven global warming disaster hypothesis and models do not reflect reality and are obviously wrong.

So alarmists began talking about “climate change,” blaming extreme weather events on human emissions and manipulating temperature data. They say terrible things are happening at unprecedented levels, when they are not. Worst, they say we must slash hydrocarbon energy use that has brought once unimaginable health, prosperity, living standards and life spans to billions of people, after countless millennia of crushing poverty, malnutrition, disease, and death before age 40. Fossil fuels still represent 85% of the world’s energy – and they are essential if the rest of humanity is to catch up and improve their lives.

Denying humanity the use of still bountiful hydrocarbon energy is thus not simply wrong. It is immoral – and lethal. This is the real reason that climate change is a critical moral issue. No one has a right to tell the world’s poor they cannot use fossil fuels to improve their lives, or to tell others they must reduce their living standards, based on speculation and unfounded fears about a manmade climate crisis.

As Dr. Beisner notes, “Alongside good science in our approach to climate policy must be two preferential options: for humanity and, among humanity, for the poor.” This does not mean pitting humanity against nature, any more than to pit the poor against the rich. It means any effort to protect the environment must be centered on scientific truth and human well-being, and in particular the well-being of the poor, because they are more vulnerable, and less able to protect themselves. Climate alarmism does not do that.

Over the past three decades, fossil fuels helped 1.3 billion people get electricity and escape debilitating energy poverty – over 830 million because of coal. China connected 99% of its population to the grid and increased its steel production eight times over, mostly with coal, energy analyst Roger Bezdek points out.

Abundant, reliable, affordable motor fuels and electricity empower people and support mobility, modern agriculture, homes and hospitals, computers and communications, lights and refrigerators, job creation, life and study after sundown, indoor plumbing, safe drinking water, less disease and longer lives. In conjunction with property rights and entrepreneurship, protected by laws enforced by limited, responsive, responsible governments, fossil fuels will continue transforming lives and nations the world over.

They will also enable people to respond and adapt to future climate changes and extreme weather events, floods and droughts, heat waves, new “little ice ages” and other disasters, natural or manmade. More plant-fertilizing carbon dioxidein the atmosphere would enhance wildlife habitats and food production.

However, 1.3 billion people (the population of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe combined) still do not have electricity. In India alone, more people than live in the USA still lack electricity. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 730 million (equal to Europe) still cook and heat with wood, charcoal and animal dung. Hundreds of millions get horribly sick and four million die every year from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having clean water, refrigeration and safe food.

Imposing fossil fuel restrictions and renewable energy mandates – in the name of stabilizing planetary climate that has never been stable – would perpetuate Third World poverty, disease and death. In developed nations, it would reduce living standards, affect everything we make, grow, ship, eat and do – and cause thousands to die during cold winters, because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly.

It would be a needless tragedy – an unconscionable crime against humanity – if the world implemented policies to protect the world’s still impoverished and energy-deprived masses from hypothetical manmade climate dangers decades from now, by perpetuating poverty and disease, and killing millions tomorrow.

Just eight years ago, Pope Benedict XVI warned that any proposed “solutions” to global warming and climate change must be based on solid evidence, and not on computer models, unsupported assertions and dubious ideology. He suggested that concerns about man-made emissions melting ice caps and causing waves of unprecedented disasters were little more than fear-mongering. He argued that ecological concerns must be balanced against the needs of current and future generations of people.

Pope Francis apparently does not share his predecessor’s view about climate change fears. However, if he is truly committed to advancing science, the poor and creation, he should reject climate chaos claims unless and until alarmists can provide solid evidence to back up their assertions and models.

He should recognize that the issue is not global warming or climate change. It is whether human actions now dominate climate and weather fluctuations that have been common throughout Earth and human history – and whether those actions will cause dangerous or catastrophic changes in the future. Science-based answers to these questions are essential if we are to forecast future climate and weather accurately – and safeguard poor families, modern living standards and environmental quality.

Dr. Beisner has posted his letter to Pope Francis, for others to endorse this commonsense approach.

It is unwise and unjust to adopt policies requiring reduced use of fossil fuels, unless it can be conclusively shown that doing so will stabilize Earth’ fickle climate and prevent future climate disasters, Dr. Beisner concludes. “Such policies would condemn hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings to ongoing poverty.” We therefore respectfully ask Pope Francis to advise the world’s leaders to reject those policies.

Categories: On the Blog

Catrina Rorke joins R Street as director of energy policy

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 9:40 AM

WASHINGTON (April 27, 2015) – The R Street Institute is proud to announce Catrina Rorke has joined the organization as director of energy policy.

Rorke brings with her significant experience in energy policy, having worked as policy adviser to former Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C. While working with Inglis’ office, Rorke oversaw the drafting of climate change legislation and spearheaded efforts to better communicate climate science to Republican members of Congress.

“We couldn’t have found a better person than Catrina to head our energy program,” said Eli Lehrer, president of R Street. “The combination of her knowledge of the issues and her relationships with influential lawmakers and stakeholders will be a fantastic asset to R Street’s work on these issues.”

In her most recent position, Rorke served as director of energy policy at the American Action Forum, where she founded the organization’s energy policy portfolio.

“I’m thrilled to be joining R Street to address the important energy issues facing us today,” said Rorke. “In its short history, R Street has proven itself a valuable and influential resource in the space and I’m eager to help take that to the next level.”

Rorke has also worked on energy issues at Lighthouse Consulting Group and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and received a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, with a concentration in environmental and science policy.

 

A ‘believer’ takes over conservative carbon tax effort

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 9:21 AM

From ClimateWire:

The first time Catrina Rorke worked on a carbon tax, it got her boss fired.

Now, she has another shot. The millennial 30-year-old, with bold-rimmed glasses and a composite political identity, is the first director of energy policy for the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank formed almost three years ago when its founder, Eli Lehrer, broke away from the Heartland Institute over its contravening positions on climate change.

Rorke will shoulder R Street’s growing energy program at a time when it’s expanding into state policies on clean electricity, like solar, and other “no duh” issues, such as grid and pipeline infrastructure, she said. Keystone XL is among them.

But the gem in her new job is the group’s work on a revenue-neutral carbon tax that some conservative policy professionals see as a key to broader tax reform. R Street is among the first Republican outfits to push for it, and Rorke said, “I’m a believer.”

She has been since 2008. That’s when Rorke signed up for a six-month stint in then-Rep. Bob Inglis’ (R-S.C.) office as a presidential management fellow with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She anticipated a beginner’s course in politics. Not so much.

“I get to his office and he says, ‘Why don’t you help me write a carbon tax bill?'” she recalled.

A couple of drafts were in the works, but the heavy lifting was still to come. Inglis called Rorke “the principal” aide on the bill, along with Garth Meter, his legislative director. Not only did she help write the final bill, something she had never done before, but she also searched around Capitol Hill for Republican supporters — not an easy task, considering that the GOP was unifying against the Democratic push for cap and trade.

Still, she helped convince one.

EPA a ‘horrible solution’ to warming

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), then a congressman, came aboard as a co-sponsor, and the bill was introduced in early 2009 as an alternative to cap and trade. Rorke and her colleagues were “elated.” They thought Flake’s high-profile endorsement might open the floodgates.

It did, but not in the way they had hoped. Inglis was attacked politically, and in 2010, he drew a conservative primary opponent in Rep. Trey Gowdy, who won the June runoff in a landslide. Afterward, Inglis said his belief in climate change led to his defeat (ClimateWire, Nov. 22, 2010).

The experience has had lasting influence on Rorke, who seems to believe that addressing climate change will require some political crossbreeding. Democrats do a better job of seeing the problem, but she doesn’t trust them to fix it. Republicans have the solution, but they’re largely blind to the risks.

“I am convinced that Democrats don’t think a price signal works,” Rorke said over coffee recently. “I don’t think that they would ever buy into a carbon price signal without the EPA still implementing the Clean Power Plan. And those two things are not possible. You need one or the other. I think the Clean Power Plan is a horrible solution. It’s not going to reduce emissions at a rate that’s great. It’s hard to implement.”

On the other hand, she added, “I’m really disappointed that a lot of elected conservatives don’t get on board and think that climate change is a problem. I find that deeply disappointing, because it’s a problem that their party is made to solve.”

Rorke seems to dislike labels. She doesn’t call herself a Republican, but she’s spent most of her professional life working for them. She’s been at the American Action Forum, a group founded by Republican economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, for the last 3½ years. She was director of its energy and environment program, and although Holtz-Eakin has expressed support for carbon taxing, the group doesn’t emphasize it.

Lehrer, president of R Street, said Rorke will focus on “smart, small government energy policy and conservative solutions to climate change.” She begins today.

Inglis joked that he might try to recruit Rorke if he weren’t a board member of R Street. He runs the Energy and Enterprise Institute at George Mason University but recalled when he and NOAA got into a “bidding war” for Rorke in 2009.

“We stole her fair and square,” he said.

Michigan House could vote this week on auto insurance reforms

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 8:00 AM

For a brief moment early this year, social media made James Robertson an international celebrity. The story of the 56–year-old Detroit man whose commute involved both an arduous bus ride and walking 21 miles every day inspired an online fundraising campaign that in short order raised more than $350,000.

The funds allowed Robertson to buy a new 2015 Ford Taurus. But perhaps more importantly, they’ll take care of what, for many Michiganders, is the single-highest cost associated with owning a car: auto insurance.

Thanks in large part to the state’s unique personal injury protection system, which requires insurers provide unlimited lifetime medical benefits for auto accidents, Michigan consistently ranks among the top five states in the nation for high auto insurance. In recent years the average price for car insurance in Michigan has been more than $2,000 per year, reaching as high as $10,000 in Detroit.

Those astronomical costs have contributed significantly to uninsured rates of 17 percent statewide and 60 percent in Detroit. Combined with a massive insurance fraud problem — Secretary of State Ruth Johnson estimates fraud costs Michigan drivers more than $220 million a year – and you’ve got the recipe for one of the most dysfunctional insurance markets in the country.

But after years of fits and starts, real reform may actually finally be on the verge of reality for Michigan. We noted back on April 17 that the state Senate successfully pushed through a bill that includes a number of ideas we at R Street have been promoting for years: creation of a fraud bureau; payment reforms; and an overhaul of the state-run Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association.

Now, it’s the House of Representatives’ turn, with action expected this week. Following seven hours of hearings held over a three-day period, the House Insurance Committee voted 9-to-6 late last week to approve its amended version of S.B. 248. Unlike the Senate bill, which would calculate appropriate medical charges based on the average of fees paid by private health insurers, the House version includes an explicit fee schedule for medical providers, allowing them to charge auto insurers no more than 150 percent of the rates they currently charge Medicare.

A more problematic tweak is a requirement that, for two years, Michigan auto insurers must roll back rates by $100 per-driver. This was a brazenly political move made to smooth over some of the expected backlash from those who say the bill doesn’t do enough to address rate. Insurance Committee Chairman Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, bragged that the rollback will save the state’s 7 million drivers some $700 million annually.

But it also will be particularly problematic in a state whose auto insurance market, as we showed in our 2014 Insurance Regulation Report Card, has averaged a loss ratio of 122.8 over the last five years. That means Michigan auto insurers regularly pay out nearly a quarter more in claims and claims adjustment expenses than they collect in premiums.

Not only does that mean there has been no profit, but there haven’t been enough premiums even to pay such basic expenses as agent commissions. Michigan’s five-year loss ratio was a whopping six standard deviations above the mean of the 50 states and nearly double the 69.0 ratio of the next-highest state, Oklahoma.

The House bill is also structured to avoid the potential of a public referendum to block the changes. The bill includes a $150,000 appropriation, specifically because state law prohibits the public from voting on appropriations measures. This may not be the most democratic of provisions, but it’s also not an idle concern. Earlier reform efforts have twice been scuttled by such referenda.

Nonetheless, the trade-off might be one Michigan insurers are willing to take for the chance at serious long-term reforms, which include creating an industry-funded fraud bureau (based on one that has been successful in Pennsylvania) to tackle a problem of rampant suspicious claims and a restructuring of the MCCA from a reinsurer to a writer of mandatory excess coverage. The latter shift will help clear up what has long been one of the biggest’s balance sheet risks for the state’s insurance industry – the potential that the authority might not be able to make good on all of its obligations.

And whatever its failings, the bill certainly would be better than an alternative plan by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to create a city-run insurance company.

We’re going to start our own insurance company that we call D-Insurance… It’s going to take us a while, but we’re starting the process this summer and we’re going to keep going until we give people an affordable car insurance option.

It’s fitting that would be the name of the company, which Duggan also plans to roll out as a more formal proposal this week, as “D” is the grade Michigan earned in our 2014 report card. Even if the reform plan now under consideration in the House deserves no better than a B-, that’s still a marked improvement.

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

Pointier Heads: Efficiency shrinks while government grows

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 7:30 AM

I had my first reckoning with big government in a small town in New Jersey. The incident remains startlingly fresh in my mind, although it was years ago. A traffic island on a main road, perhaps 20 feet in length, was being demolished. Perched above the brightly vested construction workers was a white metal sign with black letters. The cost of the project was close to $500,000, much of it provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation. I was gobsmacked. The community’s average household income was north of $100,000. The project was plainly local, not interstate commerce by any stretch of the imagination. Why were the feds paying anything?

This, in a nutshell, is an example of what John DiIulio calls “leviathan by proxy.” The federal government now spends $3.5 trillion annually, much of which is transferred to state and local governments and private organizations. In 2012, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services gave out 81,000 grants amounting to $350 billion. The Department of Defense relies on 710,000 contractors. States and localities reap $600 billion in federal funds every year. Approximately 56,000 not-for-profit organizations receive federal largesse.

DiIulio brings leviathan’s scope into focus with this chilling challenge:

Just try to name ten adult U.S. citizens you know who have never received any federal, state, local or intergovernmental payments, loans, subsidies, grants, contracts, or other benefits whatsoever. (O.K., can you name just five?) Or just try to identify any activity in which you engage; any space that you traverse; any building that you enter (including your own private home); any product or service that you produce, buy or sell (including private health insurance); or, for that matter, any air that you breathe on which there is no government policy, program, or regulation. (Give up?)

How did we get here?

It’s a complex story, one DiIulio can’t fully tell in this trim volume. He points out that a big piece of it comes down to elected officials rationally pursuing their short-term interests (i.e., reelection) at the country’s long-term cost. Congressmen rail against big government and trash federal bureaucrats, but simultaneously promise the public more and more benefits. Our representatives authorize new programs and appropriate more and more money, but fail to make taxpayers foot the bill immediately.

It is an insidious form of government that masks its size by borrowing and by using nonfederal actors to administer federal programs. Thus, America today is a “debt-financed, proxy-administered, superficially antistatist form of government” whose total government debt-to-GDP ratio topped 100 percent last year. The federal government has more than $16 trillion in debt, not counting various unfunded promises. (Medicare, DiIulio notes, is a $40 trillion unfunded liability.)

DiIulio’s ameliorative for our republic’s ills is counterintuitive: We can curb government growth and improve its performance by hiring one million more bureaucrats by 2035. The idea is not a batty one: Since 1960, federal spending has quintupled, yet the number of civil servants (two million) has remained flat.

With more federal employees, the public could better discern the size of the government. Work outsourced and granted to unaccountable proxies would be insourced to these new civil servants. Democratic accountability would be improved, as Congress could keep a closer eye on civil servants than is possible with sub-subcontractors and grantees scattered all over the nation. Costs might possibly be reduced, as funds would be transferred through fewer parties that each take a cut. (This is the “leaky bucket” problem that the late economist Arthur Okun identified long ago.)

Certainly, some agencies would benefit from more staff. It is very difficult for a bureaucrat at a desk in Washington to know whether the grant for a traffic island he approved actually has been well-expended. It seems doubtful, however, that Congress would take work and funds away from private proxies and give them to federal employees. Proxies vote and lobby aggressively. Additionally, as a Government Accountability Office study recently showed, federal employees, in effect, have lifetime tenure. Republicans will not go for a million more unionized lifers demanding annual raises. Perhaps the circle can be squared by authorizing agencies to hire more bureaucrats who are put on multiyear, performance-based contracts.

Still, we should not give up the pursuit of direct cuts to spending. Leaders of both chambers should schedule more votes to cut programs and spending than to authorize new ones. Congress could adopt a policy to vote on the president’s annual “kill list.” Officially titled “Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings,” the list is part of the annual presidential budget. It is a grab bag of billions of dollars in zombie programs. This BRAC-like process would allow congressmen to act on their professed small-government principles with less heat. Each year, Barack Obama has identified around 100 programs for elimination. One can envision a conservative president identifying far more.

Legislative project ideas for coders and noncoders

Out of the Storm News - April 27, 2015, 7:00 AM

I thought it would be useful to identify legislative data projects in advance of the House’s annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference and #Hack4Congress, a congressional hackathon the Congressional Data Coalition is co-hosting with our friends, the OpenGov Foundation. I have written about some ideas previously, and others are newly published or elaborations. Not all are mine, but I like them all.

Requiring tech savvy:

  • A robust roll-call vote comparison tool (more: see vote comparison tool)
  • An easy-but-smart search of the Congressional Record for member statements on a topic (more: see Congressional Record search)
  • A customizable daily or weekly email with all congressional hearings and floor votes, including committees and subcommittees, which at a click of a button would be added to your calendar (more: see open up draft legislation; also GovTrack’s webpage)
  • Congressional Research Service
    • CRS report freshness ratings (more)
    • One-stop source for Congressional Research Service reports (portal to search the Web) (more)
    • Build a tool that allows congressional offices to receive requests to publish CRS reports and to host the publication of those reports; bonus if it allows the member office to publish a list of all reports that a constituent/the public could request
  • A means to transform draft (pre-introduction) bills from PDF to a format that supports easy comparison, markup and public discussion (more: see open up draft legislation)
  • A user-friendly webpage for the federal law website LegisLink (more: see federal law online)
  • Build a dashboard that reports on all House and Senate personal and committee websites that indicates whether they are Secure Sockets Layer-compliant (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)
  • Expand Capitol Bells to the Senate (see: Ted Henderson about Capitol Bells)
  • Build a congressional correspondence tracker that allows member offices to track all communications, automatically publish and thread letters and responses to the public (with redactions as appropriate)
  • Transform the Congressional Record into structured data
  • Transform the Constitution Annotated into structured data (pull it out of PDFs) (more: see public the Constitution Annotated as data)
  • Transform the entirety of House and Senate expenditure reports into structured data (CSVs) (more: see Sunlight blogpost and 1-pager)

For noncoders and coders:

  • Transform the Rules of the House of Representatives from PDF to TXT (or DOCX); ideally set up to reflect the organization of the document (e.g., indentations) (more: House Rules)
  • Transform the Rules of the Senate from HTML to something with proper indentations
  • Transform House and Senate Committee Rules from PDFs to TXT (or DOCX); ideally set up to reflect the organization of the document (e.g., indentations) (see: Rules of the Senate)
  • Build a wiki that links to or contains all the non-PDF versions of Chamber and Committee Rules (more: House committees; Senate committees)
  • Check House and Senate Committee websites to see if they work as HTTPS and compile as a list on a wiki (make a table)

ObamaNet vs EuroNet — “Competing” Protectionist Industrial Policies

Somewhat Reasonable - April 26, 2015, 4:44 PM

The US-EU “competition” of protectionist digital industrial policies — U.S. Title II net neutrality vs. the EU’s emerging “platform neutrality” plans — creates an ironic backdrop to negotiations for the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) “free” trade agreement. Heightening the irony, the Obama Administration, not the European Commission, has been the protectionist digital industrial policy leader, trailblazing the political path for the EU’s Single Digital Market to follow.

At least on the digital markets front, TTIP will be much less a commercial “free” trade negotiation and much more a political “fair” trade negotiation.

The U.S. has long set the tone and trajectory for this digital “fair” trade dynamic in championing net neutrality to protect its Silicon Valley national champions, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc., and by skewing antitrust enforcement to benefit Google and Silicon Valley.

Last November, President Obama publicly triggered this protectionist digital industrial policy “competition” dynamic by publicly urging the FCC to mandate the “the strongest possible” telephone utility regulations for the Internet, which the FCC dutifully did February 26th with maximal fanfare.

To protect Silicon Valley commercial interests domestically, the ObamaNet industrial policy effectively has reversed twenty years of U.S. led, global Internet free trade policy. The EU and other countries are embracing the political cover of this American digital protectionism to impose new laws and regulations to advance and protect their sovereign interests.

While U.S. proponents have politically framed net neutrality as non-commercial, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the trade context, net neutrality is all about who pays, i.e. who enjoys a rigged trade surplus or trade deficit.

The essence of the FCC’s net neutrality policy is to permanently mandate a zero price for Silicon Valley’s downstream Internet traffic. This protectionist policy creates a multi-billion dollar implicit subsidy system for the Silicon Valley cartel interests that have leveraged the artificial benefit of zero distribution cost to dominate over 90% of the Internet’s downstream traffic in the U.S. and Europe.

The EU and other sovereign nations know they can never hope to develop their own national digital sectors as long as they continue to massively subsidize Silicon Valley with a one-sided, U.S. definition of net-neutrality, that mandates a receiving-party-pays economic model where their countries and their consumers subsidize Silicon Valley’s distribution costs at the expense of their domestic competitors and consumers.

President Obama’s call for the “strongest possible” telecommunications monopoly rules for the Internet enable the EU and other countries to define net neutrality nationalistically as well and impose a telecommunications sending-party-pays model on Internet traffic, that would level the competitive playing field to maximize their own national economic interests and development.

European interests, primarily France and Germany, reportedly are looking to also impose “platform neutrality” i.e. telephone utility rules on foreign digital platforms, i.e. Silicon Valley companies, to require them to treat domestic competitors “fairly.”

In addition to the FCC skewing net neutrality policy to pick winners (Google and Silicon Valley) and losers (broadband providers), the U.S. has also skewed antitrust enforcement in favor of Google’s and Silicon Valley’s interests.

The Obama Administration has made its antitrust favoritism toward Google and Silicon Valley interests apparent.

In apparent violation of ethics policies that require the avoidance of the appearance of conflict of interest, the Obama Administration appointed two former Google outside antitrust counsels that represented Google before the Obama DOJ and FTC on antitrust matters,Renata Hesse and David Gelfand, to be two of the five Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals for antitrust. In addition, it appointed a Google consultant to be a Federal Trade Commissioner,Joshua Wright. The appearance of antitrust favoritism is clear.

In 2013, the FTC dropped its search bias investigation despite a staff report finding that Google manipulated its search results to favor its own content over others, and despite Google’s ~70% market share, i.e. “gatekeeper” power in the U.S.

Tellingly, during the Obama Administration, Google has acquired 130 companies and Facebook 50 companies.

In stark contrast, former Google outside antitrust counsel, Ms. Renata Hesse, as the acting DOJ deciding official, effectively decided to block two high-profile communications mergers over concerns of “gatekeeper” power.

This week, former Google outside antitrust counsel, and now DOJ decider Ms. Renata Hesseand the FCC effectively blocked the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger by contriving highly-artificial broadband market definitions, since Comcast and Time Warner Cable are not broadband competitors.

In 2011, former Google outside antitrust counsel, and now DOJ decider Ms. Renata Hesse and the FCC also blocked the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger, by breaking antitrust precedent and requiring four competitors in a high-fixed cost market rather than the three high-fixed-cost market-competitor precedent of the past.

In sum, the Obama Administration industrial policy to powerfully advantage Google and Silicon Valley interests at the expense of other U.S. communications interests and consumers, leads by example and provides huge political cover for Europe and other countries around the globe to put their sovereign interests ahead of global free trade interests going forward.

[Originally published at Precursor Blog]

Categories: On the Blog

U.K., U.S. Science, Policy Experts to Probe Falsified Climate Change Data

Somewhat Reasonable - April 26, 2015, 3:16 PM

A panel of scientists and science policy experts is planning to probe the sources and methods of the researchers who have been reported to have falsified climate change temperature data.

There is concern that the data has been intentionally “adjusted” to fit into the policy point of view espoused by the global Left on climate change, according to a report in the Independent newspaper, a U.K. daily.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), established by climate-change skeptic Lord Nigel Lawson, announced last week that an international team of “eminent climatologists, physicists and statisticians” would investigate the reliability of the current data available to science.

The other commissioners of the data review project include: Petr Chylek, Richard McNider, Roman Mureika, Roger A Pielke Sr and William van Winjngaarden, who are all associated with universities.

The group’s goals for the inquiry are to “review the technical challenges in accurately measuring surface temperature, and assess the extent of adjustments to the data, their integrity and whether they tend to increase or decrease the warming trend.”

Former U.K. chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lawson, established the GWPF in 2009. His book on climate change is entitled An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.

Categories: On the Blog

Shining Sunlight on Solar City

Somewhat Reasonable - April 26, 2015, 1:12 PM

Billionaire Elon Musk, one of the top one percent in the world in terms of income and wealth, is among the largest recipients of government largesse. He gets millions of dollars in subsidies, tax breaks and tax credits for his electric car company, Tesla motors – which produces a car only his peers, the wealthy, can afford.
It turns out, however, Tesla is not his only company sucking up tax payer’s hard earned dollars. In a six part expose, journalist Tori Richards, examines the dodgy dealings, questionable business practices, and secretive government backing or Musk’s company, Solar City.

Solar City’s pitch, allow us to install solar panels on your home, for a small front fee and a 20 year contract for electricity at a fixed price. The promise, your electric bills will fall. However, all too often, those signing up see their electric bills rise.

Worse, as the series shows, Solar City’s promises of cheap, clean energy, all too often turn into a nightmare as the installations damage the homes or other electrical systems in the homes, complaints, when they are responded too at all, take months receive a response and even more time to the necessary fix – with the fixes often causing further problems – and with homeowners finding themselves fight liens against their home when disputes over payments arise.

At the same time, Solar City has reaped more than $11 million in stimulus funding and $422 million in tax kickbacks from the federal government for the solar power produced (these figures don’t include state subsidies). Speaking of state subsidies, Solar City is soaking New York taxpayers for $750 million for the promised construction of a manufacturing plant. Since the public is footing the bill, one would think the terms of the contract, promises made, etc… would be open to public perusal and review – one would be wrong. When a local television station tried to examine the contract’s details, rather than being transparent and open for review, the station was informed the contract terms were confidential. Forcing the issue using a Freedom of Information Act request, the station finally go the contract, only to find most of the pages were blacked out and the term redacted.

Richards’ series is a real eye-opener, and she has done the public a great service in exposing federal and state governments’ malfeasance, Musk’s undue influence and the extent to which he has his hands in the public’s pocket, the regularity with which solar power promises are not met and the potential dangers facing people buying into Solar City’s promises of clean, cheap, energy.

Categories: On the Blog

Debate on the Merits, Anyone?

Somewhat Reasonable - April 25, 2015, 4:24 PM

Co-authored by: Nick Dranias and Justin Haskins

Marching under the banner of “transparency,” there is a growing movement in the U.S. to limit truly free speech. The movement claims to be attacking “dark money,” but the reality is that its adherents want to shut up its ideological opponents. Independent expressions of support or opposition for candidates or political issues are marginalized by irrelevant questions about funding sources. Honest research and well-formulated arguments are denounced as “biased” or “untrustworthy” because of who the donors are rather than based on the merits of the arguments presented.

One doesn’t need to look further than the tragic case of Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Dr. Willie Soon to see how calls for transparency can unjustly harm others and deter future quality research. Soon was recently smeared by the New York Times and organizations like Greenpeace for his allegedly biased scientific research into the theory of catastrophic man-caused climate change.

The Times and others attacked Soon because he did not openly and immediately disclose that he received funding for his research from organizations that have a financial interest in the energy sector. It didn’t matter that Soon’s research was of the highest quality, that Smithsonian received much of the funding itself, or that numerous organizations and individuals who support the theory of manmade climate change also receive funding from parties who have financial interests in the climate debate.

Another attack last week on the Smithsonian was launched last week by MoveOn.org, the activist group founded in the wake of the Clinton impeachment scandals. Activists want to see David Koch – the philanthropist – removed from the boards of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History for being a “denier” of climate change. Koch has donated tens of millions of dollars to these museums for research and exhibits.

Regardless of what you may believe about global warming, it’s undeniable that these attacks and related calls for “transparency” are simply tools used by one side of the debate in an attempt to silence the other.

Rather than debate those who disagree with them, these progressive activists have learned it is far easier to bully, to retaliate, and to destroy. But to blackball people effectively, they need to know donor names so they can isolate and disrupt funding networks. You can only get so far with smears of the messenger and innuendo about disclosed funders. That’s why this transparently intolerant movement has transitioned from ad hominem attacks and boycotts to enlisting the coercive power of the state.

For a while, the campaign operated below the radar, using the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to conduct inquisitions against Tea Party and conservative groups about their funding sources and affiliations in the course of applying for tax exempt status. Around the same time, Wisconsin prosecutors quietly launched secret “John Doe” investigations exclusively targeting subpoenas and surveillance to legions of center-right political groups and interests who were aligned with the policies of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

But then, far from being shamed by public revelations about Lois Lerner’s coordination of the IRS campaign against conservative nonprofits, the aggressive transparency movement targeting the center-right upped the ante.

Like the opening shot of a starter pistol, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) deployed his official letterhead during the summer of 2013 to demand that dozens of conservative think tanks confess that they had supported the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “Stand Your Ground” laws.

In late 2013, the Center for Media & Democracy and ProgressNow repackaged public form 990 information into lazily crafted so-called exposés to launch ad hominem assaults on private donors and successful advocates of conservative causes, labeling center-right public interest groups “stink tanks.”

By the summer of 2014, Arshad Hasan, executive director of ProgressNow, was openly declaring, “The next step for us is to take down this network of [conservative non-profit] institutions that are state-based in each and every one of our states.”

Supporters of this manifestly totalitarian transparency movement insist the public has the right to know who is financially responsible for various social, cultural, and political movements, because if they don’t know, greedy corporations, manipulative religious zealots, or some other allegedly biased group of people will use their deep pockets and political connections to push oppressive policies regular working Janes and Joes don’t actually want. Transparency, they say, is the only way to hold people accountable.

In reality, as the escalation of ad hominem into coercive state action demonstrates, this campaign is really nothing more than an attempt to silence political opponents. Fear of political or social retribution is used to prevent particular causes from being funded. That’s why legal protections for private civic engagement are necessary to ensure that individuals feel safe donating and advocating for causes they believe in without worrying about being personally attacked as a result. Towards that end, the Heartland Institute recently published a Policy Study, titled “In Defense of Private Civic Engagement: Why the Assault on ‘Dark Money’ Threatens Free Speech–and How to Stop the Assault.” 

The study advocates several methods for protecting the right to private civic engagement, but the passage of two pieces of model legislation are particularly important to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans on all sides of the political spectrum.

The first proposed law is called the “Free Speech Privacy Act,” and it would act as a “federalism shield” for free speech, “prohibiting the enforcement [by the states] of any law directly or indirectly conditioning the exercise of the rights of free speech and association on the disclosure of the identity of a person or entity who fears a reasonable probability of social, political, or economic retaliation from such disclosure.”

The second important reform proposal is the “Publius Confidentiality Act.” Publius would empower individuals by allowing them to register for an official pseudonym that could be used in political and cultural debates of all sorts, thereby forcing opponents to focus attacks on ideas rather than on individuals, their families, or their businesses.

Increasing privacy protections for individuals is an essential part of ensuring the marketplace of ideas is free from coercive fear tactics designed to silence honest debate. Without these protections, politics will continue to devolve into a political war of all against all, rather than focusing on whose ideas are more likely to improve the nation and promote liberty.

[Originally published at the American Spectator]

Categories: On the Blog

China’s Shifting Population Growth Patterns

Somewhat Reasonable - April 25, 2015, 4:17 PM

As demographers have projected for some time, China’s population growth is slowing. The nation gained population at a rate of 0.49% between 2010 and 2013, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. This is a reduction from the rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010. Further growth rate declines are expected until the 2030s when the total population, according to United Nations projections, will actually begin to decline.

Right now the biggest slowdown is taking place in regions with the greatest and densest urbanization such as in the province of Guangdong, home of the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze Delta, anchored by Shanghai. At the same time, the northern plains economic region of Beijing-Tianjin continues its growth, but following a more decentralized pattern that sees more growth away from Beijing.

Guangdong and the Pearl River Delta

Guangdong is unique in being home to two of the world’s megacities (urban areas over 10 million population), Guangzhou-Foshan and Shenzhen. No other sub-national jurisdiction (province or state) in the world has more than one. The province, anchored along the Pearl River Delta, has been the heart of China’s three decade long economic advance. Between Guangzhou-Foshan and Shenzhen, the Dongguan urban area has 8 million residents. Across the Pearl River, Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai all have more than one million residents. If the China’s adjacent special economic regions of Hong Kong and Macau are included, the area’s population reaches 55 million, nearly one-half more than Tokyo, with nearly the same land area. However, with little day-to-day work trip commuting between, they do not, at least as of yet, represent a single labor market (metropolitan area).

This slowdown comes after years of spectacular growth. Between 1990 and 2000, the province added more than 40 million new residents, more people than live in California. On average, the the population rose 2.1 million every year, an annual rate of 2.6 percent. Just between 2009 and 2010 the increase was 3.1 million. However, over the three years between 2010 and 2013 Guangdong added only 700,000 each year, for an annual growth rate of 0.66 percent.,

Shanghai and the Yangtze Delta

Shanghai, a city province that contains nearly all of the Shanghai mega-city, also experienced a huge drop in its population growth rate (Parts of Shanghai’s continuously built-up area are now stretching into neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces). Between 2000 and 2010, Shanghai grew at an annual rate of 3.65% and added nearly 7 million new residents. Over the last three years, the annual rate of population growth has dropped by more than half, to 1.67% as only 1.1 million new residents have been added. Shanghai was estimated to have a population of 24,150,000 at the end of 2013.

Shanghai is at the core of the larger Yangtze River Delta, home to nearly 160 million residents crowded into an area the size of Oregon. The Yangtze Delta includes the provinces of Zhejiang, Shanghai and Jiangsu and stretches from Ningbo, through Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, Changzhou, and Zhenjiang to Nanjing. Like Guangdong, the Yangtze Delta experienced a substantial drop in its rate of population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, the Yangtze Delta added approximately 20 million new residents, or 1.4 percent annually. This dropped to only 2 million between 2010 and 2013, dropping the annual growth rate  to 0.5%.

Beijing, Tianjin and the Northern China Plain

All the population of the Beijing mega-city is contained within the municipal province of Beijing. With its adjacent megacity of Tianjin (also a municipal province) the two provinces combined have a population of 35 million. When combined with the surrounding province of Hebei (capital Shijiazhuang), the population of this Northern China Plain megalopolis is nearing 110 million. Unlike China’s other two major economic regions, the North China Plain is sustaining its population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, the annual population growth rate was 1.47 percent. Over the past three years, it was 1.46 percent.

Beijing was estimated to have a population of 21,150,000 at the end of 2013.Yet, there has been a substantial slowdown in growth but not as marked as that of Shanghai. Between 2000 and 2010, Beijing added more than 6 million residents, growing at an annual rate of 3.70 percent. Another 1.5 million residents were added between 2010 and 2013, but the growth rate dropped to 2.67 percent.

The trajectory of growth has now shifted to Tianjin. Tianjin is by far the fastest growing provincial level jurisdiction in China. Between 2010 and 2013, Tianjin grew at an annual rate of 4.49 percent, and added 1.7 million new residents. This is more in total numbers than either Beijing or Shanghai, which are both larger. Among the provincial level jurisdictions, only Guangdong, seven times as large, added more residents. Tianjin is estimated to have a population of 14,720,000.

Tianjin appears to be an opportunity corridor for growth. Tianjin is located approximately 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Beijing and is the principal seaport in the area. High speed trains between Tianjin and Beijing operate about 100 times each way daily, completing the trip in 35 minutes. Tianjin is a natural safety valve for the continuing growth of the North China Plain megalopolis.

Hebei continued its stronger than national growth. In the 2000s, Hebei added 5.2 million residents, and added another 1.4 million over the past three years.

This shift of growth from Beijing to surrounding areas could indicate some success in the policy initiatives of the national and Beijing governments to control Beijing’s rapid population growth and shift it to more peripheral areas. More decentralization initiatives are due, such as the plannedseventh ring road, which will traverse most of its distance in surrounding Tianjin and Hebei.

The Dongbei Rust Belt

Population growth continues to elude China’s historic Rust Belt, the Dongbei (“East North,” also called Manchuria). This area, consisting of Lioaning, Jilin and Heliongjiang provinces, with major cities Shenyang, Harbin and Dalian grew by only 200,000 residents, an annual rate of 0.06 percent. This is down from 0.26 percent in the 2000s, which was less than one-half the national growth rate. The Dongbei has nearly 110 million residents.

Other Areas

At the same time, population in the interior province of Hubei (capital Wuhan) has been propelled from 0.14 percent annually between 2000 and 2010 to a near national rate of 0.41 percent since 2010. Adjacent interior province Hunan (capital Changsha) recovered from a 0.01 percent annual growth rate in the 2000s to 0.62 in the last three years. Next to Hunan, city province Chongqingrecovered from a lethargic 0.12 percent growth rate between 2000 and 2010, to an impressive 0.99 percent over the last three years. These cases may also be another indication of the success of government policies to encourage growth away from the East Coast.

Outside of Tianjin, only four regions of China are growing at a greater than one percent annual rate. Three are to the west, including Tibet (1.31 percent), Xinjiang (1.21 percent) and Ningxia (1.12 percent). All are experiencing slower growth than before. To the south, Hainan, the island province, is also growing at just above one percent), about the same rate as in the 2000s.

Floating Population: Slower Growth

China’s large floating population, — internal migrants who have moved to the cities to provide the work force for much of the manufacturing and construction boom — continued to grow, but at a somewhat slower rate. The floating population grew 8 million annually between 2010 and 2013, down from 15 million annually between 2005 and 2010. Of course, that is still a big number. With reform of the internal passport system (“hukou” system) promised, there may be an important incentive for many to remain in the cities, where economic aspirations may be more likely to be met.

China’s Changing Growth Patterns

China is going through an important transition from nearly speed-of-light economic expansion to much slower growth that is, nonetheless the envy of just about every other major economy. Nonetheless, these changes are already bringing spatial changes.

Photo: Dalian (Liaoning), in the Dongbei (by author)

[Originally published at New Geography]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – H. Sterling Burnett: Reducing Poverty with Cheap Energy

Somewhat Reasonable - April 24, 2015, 4:10 PM

In Today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Director of Communications Jim Lakely speaks with the Managing Editor of Environment and Climate News H. Sterling Burnett. Burnett and Lakely discuss a variety of environmental topics.

The topics discussed by Burnett and Lakely include China’s destruction of the coral reef in their attempts to build an island military base and the upcoming climate conference hosted by Pope Francis. They discuss the messages that will most likely come out of the conference. According to Burnett, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere will do nothing to help the poor and malnourished around the world. He says that supplying abundant and inexpensive energy is the best way to improve the lives of those who live in poverty.

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

Categories: On the Blog
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