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The Pathetic Record of Environmentalist Pessimism

Environment Suite - In The News - August 27, 2014, 9:46 AM
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 49:23 — 45.3MB) This conversation with Patrick Allitt on his latest book, A Climate of Crisis, provides a…

Political Clout Pays Off Big for Elon Musk’s SpaceX

Budget and Tax Suite - In The News - August 27, 2014, 9:44 AM
Elon Musk shows up his SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in Texas / Ap BY: Lachlan Markay August 27, 2014 5:00 am Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test…

Can Prop 103 handle driverless cars?

Out of the Storm News - August 27, 2014, 8:00 AM

Earlier this year, Google announced the introduction of a completely driverless car. On this blog, Eli Lehrer took time to discuss the insurance implications of such a development. Among other things, he posited that, as drivers become less involved in the decisions made by their car, the associated risks of operating the vehicle will go down.

It stands to reason that a reduction in the risk presented by a driver’s behavior may lead to a reduction in the amount that a driver will pay for auto insurance – provided that the current model of individual vehicle ownership and auto insurance coverage persists.

Insurance products designed to cover autonomous vehicles will likely need to parallel whatever evolutionary course of technological development autonomous vehicles take.

In the near-term, the autonomous vehicles taking to the roads will likely be incremental in their approach to reducing driver involvement. For the sake of continuity alone, those vehicles will look and operate more like the Lexus SUVs driving around Mountain View today than they will the grinning ovoid pods touted on Google’s blog. Early adapters of autonomous vehicles will still enjoy the presence of steering wheels and pedals that will allow them to maintain control over the vehicle.

In California, it is an open question as to whether and how early autonomous vehicle adapters will enjoy auto insurance rates that reflect the reduced risk their limited involvement will represent.

The current system for determining rates and premiums for auto insurance policies is dictated in code by 1988′s Proposition 103. California Insurance Code Section 1861.02(e) lays out with great specificity a list of rating factors that insurers are obligated to use as they develop auto insurance rates. The list of rating factors is divided between mandatory and optional factors. Today, there are three mandatory factors and 16 optional factors. Additional rating factors may be adopted via regulation by the insurance commissioner, so long as those factors have a “substantial relationship to the risk of loss.”

What is significant about Prop 103′s mandatory rating factors is that they have very little relationship to the risk of loss presented by the operator of an autonomous vehicle. Consider, in decreasing order of importance, what the three rating factors are now:

  1. The insured’s driving safety record.
  2. The number of miles he or she drives annually.
  3. The number of years of driving experience the insured has had.

As operator influence over the course and speed of a vehicle wanes, so too will the importance of an operator’s driving record and the number of years of experience they have sitting in their vehicle. Of Prop 103′s three mandatory rating factors, only the number of miles annually driven will bear directly on the risk presented by autonomous vehicle operation.

Because of Prop 103′s rigid control of rating practices, absurd scenarios involving autonomous vehicle insurance policies are not hard to imagine. For instance, an autonomous vehicle operator with a poor conventional driving history who operates her Google car very little could pay more for her insurance than another adopter with a better history who operates his autonomous vehicle a great deal. Both drivers would present the same risk, but old rules would make one pay more, unnecessarily.

To avoid absurdity, policy makers, regulators and stakeholders will have to craft a new system that can accommodate the risks presented by autonomous vehicles. And yet, while it seems inevitable that some changes will be needed, changing Prop 103 is not a straightforward task. On the one hand, a legislative fix would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature on a measure that courts could deem “furthers the purposes” of Prop 103. On the other hand, interested parties could qualify an initiative and work to convince 50.1 percent of Californians of the merits of their new system.

In either case, the sooner that all parties can agree upon a system and an approach, the better.

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

Enter Here to Win School Choice Weekly’s Anniversary Prizes!

Blog - Education - August 26, 2014, 8:48 PM

No, this isn’t a missive from Nigerian scam artist. Next week is School Choice Weekly’s first anniversary, and to celebrate, we’re handing out prizes for readers who share our free weekly education e-newsletter with friends you think would be interested in a weekly education news roundup from a pro-liberty perspective.

The prizes: A pair of tickets to Heartland’s benefit dinner on September 12, 2014, featuring columnist Michelle Malkin; and two copies of the new book, Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn (And Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well), by Joseph Bast and Herbert Walberg.

How to enter? We’re running the competition on the honor system. There are two ways to enter. For the first, email the SCW email or this entire post to five friends. They can subscribe, completely free, by entering their email address and checking the “School Choice Weekly” box at this link. After you forward, register that you’ve done so by commenting on this blog post. Just leave a comment. It can say anything (okay, keep it G-rated), but make sure to include your email address in the commenter box, or we cannot contact those who win.

In two weeks, SCW will use a random number generator to pick three numbers among the number of comments on the post. The three winning numbers will be matched to their corresponding comment numbers, and SCW will email the winners to get their mailing addresses for prize shipping.

Wait! It gets better. Here’s the second entry method, perhaps more appropriate to this blog post. If you post the subscribe link, with an explanatory message, on your Facebook profile, you may post two comments on the entry page, for two chances to win. Sample Facebook message: “Interested in liberty-loving education news, and having someone else sift and deliver it to your email each week, free? Join me in subscribing to School Choice Weekly.”

Okay, sales pitch out. Get forwarding and posting, then comment to enter our drawing!

Enter Here to Win School Choice Weekly’s Anniversary Prizes!

Somewhat Reasonable - August 26, 2014, 8:48 PM

No, this isn’t a missive from Nigerian scam artist. Next week is School Choice Weekly’s first anniversary, and to celebrate, we’re handing out prizes for readers who share our free weekly education e-newsletter with friends you think would be interested in a weekly education news roundup from a pro-liberty perspective.

The prizes: A pair of tickets to Heartland’s benefit dinner on September 12, 2014, featuring columnist Michelle Malkin; and two copies of the new book, Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn (And Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well), by Joseph Bast and Herbert Walberg.

How to enter? We’re running the competition on the honor system. There are two ways to enter. For the first, email the SCW email or this entire post to five friends. They can subscribe, completely free, by entering their email address and checking the “School Choice Weekly” box at this link. After you forward, register that you’ve done so by commenting on this blog post. Just leave a comment. It can say anything (okay, keep it G-rated), but make sure to include your email address in the commenter box, or we cannot contact those who win.

In two weeks, SCW will use a random number generator to pick three numbers among the number of comments on the post. The three winning numbers will be matched to their corresponding comment numbers, and SCW will email the winners to get their mailing addresses for prize shipping.

Wait! It gets better. Here’s the second entry method, perhaps more appropriate to this blog post. If you post the subscribe link, with an explanatory message, on your Facebook profile, you may post two comments on the entry page, for two chances to win. Sample Facebook message: “Interested in liberty-loving education news, and having someone else sift and deliver it to your email each week, free? Join me in subscribing to School Choice Weekly.”

Okay, sales pitch out. Get forwarding and posting, then comment to enter our drawing!

Categories: On the Blog

Delaware becomes first state to include digital accounts in estate law

Out of the Storm News - August 26, 2014, 4:08 PM

Say you have an iTunes library that’s the envy of the most obsessive music collectors. Or a Facebook account with thousands of friends who obsessively share and “like” anything you post. Or a Twitter account that can drive media discourse due to its massive number of followers.

And then, you die.

What happens to these very real forms of digital and (in some cases) social capital?

Believe it or not, under the status quo, your heirs could (and probably would) be completely shut out of any inheritance of these things. In fact, given that Facebook and Twitter’s current terms of use explicitly foreclose people logging into accounts they don’t own, any attempt to claim a dead relative’s social media account could very well lead to the destruction of that social media account, along with whatever was built into it.

Even worse, iTunes has no mechanism by which ownership can be transferred to an heir, which in the real world is like having one’s record collection go up in flames the instant he or she dies. Something clearly needs to be done to remedy these problems.

Fortunately, in at least one state, something has. This month, Delaware enacted the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, which permits people to leave instructions in their wills for social media and email accounts, blogs, iTunes and cloud storage lockers like Dropbox to be passed onto their heirs. And if Suzanne Brown Walsh of the Uniform Law Commission has her way, similar laws will be enacted in all 50 states.

On the one hand, the fact that such a law passed apparently without resistance is welcome news. On the other hand, the fact that a law like this is only now being pushed, despite the fact that iTunes and cloud computing are both years old, is a troubling sign of how slow the law is to change in an era when planned obsolescence sometimes happens in mere months, rather than years. It also is emblematic of a failure by lawmakers to view digital assets as real in the same sense as actual physical ones, despite the fact that they often mimic physical assets.

Just as iTunes is, in principle, no different from a collection of compact discs, blogs can easily be thought of as collections of correspondence and/or private diaries that, in an older era, might have been passed down in actual physical form. Emails are clearly analogous with letters. Cloud computing of the type practiced by Dropbox may as well be considered the equivalent of a safety deposit box, and no one would contest the right of loved ones to inherit those.

While most of the digital goods under consideration look and act like physical goods of times past, there is another element to the issue that makes it especially puzzling that it has taken so long to address this issue. That is, unlike physical goods, which can depreciate with the effects of time, it’s taken for granted that the Internet is forever. The existence of the Wayback Machine, as well as numerous other means by which archived materials can be recovered from digital netherspace (that is, if it even needs to be recovered at all) speak very well to this sense of agelessness. If a person’s perishable physical assets can be passed down, then surely goods that can last forever without aging or depreciating should be covered the same way.

Whatever the reason that it has taken so long to update the law, hopefully the rest of the nation will look to Delaware as an example. And hopefully in future, the law can change in response to technological shifts at the speed of email, rather than lagging behind it like some imitation of the Pony Express.

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

Forbes/Ames Talk Monetary Wisdom and Common Sense

Somewhat Reasonable - August 26, 2014, 3:20 PM

One-hundred-twenty fellow lovers of liberty signed up to attend an evening with Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames at the historic Union League Club in Chicago on Wednesday, August 13, for a special edition of The Heartland Institute’s Author Series to hear Forbes and Ames discuss their new book, “Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy, and What We Can Do About It.”

Steve Forbes is coauthor of the New York Times bestseller “Power Ambition Glory” and the Wall Street Journal bestseller “How Capitalism Will Save Us.” He is also Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. In 1998 Steve Forbes was a Republican candidate for president.

Elizabeth Ames is a communications executive, and has written two previous books with Steve Forbes, “How Capitalism Will Save Us” and “Freedom Manifesto.”

What prompted the Forbes/Ames book collaboration?

The intent of the authors is to covey that money is a simple, basic subject that all can understand.  Much education is needed on the subject, which becomes apparent when individuals respond in many different ways when questioned about money.  Even among intelligent, self-confident and very capable people, the subject of money is often beyond their comprehension.  Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames are counting on those who take the time to read their book to become better versed about money than most people are today in the highest government positions.

Introduction of Ames and Forbes  

Joe Bast, president and CEO of The Heartland Institute (visit Heartland’s Web site), described the purpose of Heartland for those in attendance who were unfamiliar with the Chicago-based free market think tank “as a 29-year-old Chicago based think tank promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, and free markets.”  In remarks prior to introducing Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames, Mr. Bast spoke of four public policy areas of utmost importance which pose immediate challenges to this nation’s prosperity:

1) Out-of-control government spending at the national, state, municipal, and local levels of government, with special emphasis on the City of Chicago;

2) Obamacare, with its extensive regulations and control over the healthcare system;

3)  Common Core, a curriculum not created by the states and which does not prepare students for college, but instead represents a politicized curriculum imposed upon the states, sight unseen, via Obama’s Race to the Top program, sight unseen, which shamefully teaches a distorted history of this nation. This article by Stanley Kurtz, published July 10, 2014, presents a shocking account of the new history standards under Common Core  “New War Over High School U.S. History” .

4) Global Warming, which 10 years ago became of prime interest to The Heartland Institute   For as mentioned by Joe Bast, the issue was too important for conservatives and libertarians not to touch just because they were not scientists. Since its involvement with Global Warming, The Heartland Institute has produced many reports that counter the reports put out by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change), which show the inaccuracies of climate models used by the IPCC, and further expose contradictions made through observation.  With China and India not willing to reduce their CO2 levels, might the U.S. be expected to reduce her CO2 levels by 120% so world standards can be met?  An unrealistic goal, indeed, and one that would raise the cost of all purchased goods, destroy this nation’s economy, and give the government power of control over everything.

Forbes and Ames in agreement over a stable monetary system and the gold standard

Both Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames agree that stable money is the only way to a true recovery and a stable and prosperous economy.  In shopping for groceries, noticeable is that the cost of meat, coffee, cocoa and other essentials are reaching record high.  For this Forbes and Ames lay blame at the feet of Federal Reserve Chairman, Janet Yellen, for believing that a little inflation is harmless and even a good thing.  Ms. Yellen, along with others of the Washington establishment, view price increases as mere background noise against an economy that is on the road to recovery.  As Forbes remarked, “The Fed hasn’t learned anything.”  According to Steve Forbes, Yellen seems not to recognize how reckless sending over decades have given way today to this nation’s unstable, ever-weakening dollar. Instead of experiencing a recovery that the American people can believe in, the Obama/Bernanke/Yellen Federal Reserve and its unstable dollar policies have resulted in what is a feeble recovery at best, and perhaps the start of hyperinflation brought on by the Fed’s historic money printing via quantitative easing. Regarding Janet Yellen’s confirmation hearing and her remark that more inflation is needed to stimulate the economy, Steve Forbe’s expressed astonishment that not one senator asked Yellen how asking taxpayers to pay $1,000 more or so a year for goods and services through inflated money would stimulate the economy!

An article written by Ralph Banko at the time the U. S. Senate was moving toward the confirmation of Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve System, reflects on what John Maynard Keynes and Nicolas Copernicus had to say about social order and government when money is debased. Further shared are Lenin’s view on the practice of debasing money(of lowering the value of currency.).

The best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, buy they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.

Another area of expressed agreement by Forbes and Ames is in their belief that a true recovery and a prosperous economy can only be achieved through the gold standard as a measure of value.  Why gold?  Because gold keeps its value better than anything else.  Nevertheless, Forbes recommends against investing more than 5% to 10% in gold and then only for the purpose of serving as monetary policy insurance.

This nation’s monetary system based on fixed exchange rates ended in the 1970s, when under Nixon this county went off the gold standard to today’s system of fluctuating “fiat” money. This move has proved disastrous for the U.S. and the global economy.

In the more than four decades since abandoning the gold standard, the U.S. dollar has dramatically declined in value. Furthermore, U.S. economic growth has been below historic standards.  According to Forbes the housing meltdown and the turmoil that followed would never have occurred with stable money.

Summary of Elizabeth Ames’ remarks

Ms. Ames based her remarks on Chapter 5 of her collaboration with Steve Forbes: Money and Morality: How Debasing Money Debases Society. According to Ames, the malaise created by unstable money afflicts not only the economy but all of society.  In addition to being a yardstick of value, money is a vital facilitator of social trust in that it expresses the priorities of a society.  When money is unstable it acts as a catalyst for disorder. Monetary debasement to the extreme happened under Hitler when money became almost worthless.  Ames attributes the destruction of money as a key reason for the recent rise of political polarization and unrest in this nation.

Ms. Ames compared unstable money to Carbon Dioxide.  Both are ordorless and colorless.  Weak money helped to create the foreclosure crisis (housing bubble) of 2010 and likewise triggered the depression of 2008.  Ames emphasized the importance of trust existing in a monetary system. When money is corrupted unrest develops from a lack of trust between effort put forth and just reward.  According to Elizabeth Ames, a loss of trust in the monetary system was a factor in destroying McCain’s 2008 candidacy for president. During the foreclosure crisis a definite shift in attitude was noted by Ames when instead of trying to make good on a debt, it was not considered immoral to simply walk away. With an unstable dollar, there is more of both corruption and crime. While the media is focusing on the social unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, it is folly to ignore the community’s poor economic conditions as a contributing factor.  For without an education, a job, and a bleak future, individuals are prone to exploit situations and turn to criminal activities for personal gain.

Summary of Steve Forbes’ remarks

It was touch and go whether Steve Forbes would be able to arrive in time to fulfill his speaking engagement, having experienced a delay in his flight to O’Hare.  Fortunately for all, Forbes arrived at the Union League Club as Elizabeth Ames was finishing up with her remark.

Needing little introduction, Steve Forbes advanced to the podium and immediately plunged into the topic at hand, that of money, cautioning that if the money issue isn’t handled properly in an economy nothing else ultimately matters. The result will be an economy that is undermined.  As related by Forbes, wealth is created through conducting transactions with one another. It is money that makes transactions possible and easy to do, in contrast to when bartering was used to acquire goods and services.  But money in itself is not wealth.  Wealth is created by people engaging in transactions with one another. It is the use of money that enables individuals to figure out what something is worth.  Accordingly,money works best when it has a fixed value.  If the value of money is not known risk goes up, bringing with it economic chaos.  Consider what occurred in the 1970′s when people poured money into oil and farmland wrongly believing that increases in price must mean there was a shortage of both which necessitated increasing supply. When the price of oil and farmland crashed, however, prior investments made in farmland and oil went south.  Even though oil and farm land have both increased in value during the last decade, how much of the added value is real and how much is inflation?

As to why this nation must get back to pegging our currency to gold standard, Forbes used familiar measurements of time and distance to explain the devastating and disrupting consequences of a constantly declining in value of an inflationary “fiat” monetary system.  Currency to work is like having sixty minutes in an hour or 12 inches in a foot.  These are fixed value so when you make an exchange, do a trade, or buy and sell, it is known what each party is receiving.   Forbes further noted that nothing over thousands of years has kept its value as well as gold. Investors need to know that they are not going to be left with devalued dollars.

Asserted by Forbes is that had Nixon not completely unpegged the dollar from the price of gold in 1971, and had this nation maintained the growth rates that she had experienced for the previous 180 years before the dollar was unpegged — despite boom times, depressions, and everything else — the size of the economy today would be 50% larger than it now is

With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, Forbes remarked that if we returned to the gold standard, one-world socialist currency manipulator George Soros “would have to find another line of work.”

When questioned about the future of Bitcoin, Forbes described it as a high tech cry for help in response to the unstable dollar, further remarking that Bitcoin is still in its infancy and has not yet been able to achieve stability so it is trusted.

Past and Present

Steve Forbes and Elizabeth Ames were with Heartland at the Union League Club in November, 2012, to talk about their book collaboration “Freedom Manifesto.” Listen to Forbes’ talk about the book in this video.

Save the date of Friday, September 12, 2014, to attend The Heartland Institute’s 30th Anniversary Benefit Dinner with Michelle Malkin as Keynote Speaker.  For more informationvisit Heartland’s Web site or call 312/377-4000.


[Originally published at Illinois Reveiw]

Categories: On the Blog

Justice Department confirms Lois Lerner emails still exist, proving that IRS officials are a pack of liars

Out of the Storm News - August 26, 2014, 2:53 PM

Well, look at that. The Justice Department has confirmed to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch that the emails of several IRS officials, including those of Lois Lerner, still exist, despite claims that they’d been lost due to hard-drive crashes and destroyed backup tapes:

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said Justice Department lawyers informed him that the federal government keeps a back-up copy of every email and record in the event of a government-wide catastrophe.

The back-up system includes the IRS emails, too.

“So, the emails may inconvenient to access, but they are not gone with the [broken] hard drive,” Judicial Watch spokeswoman Jill Farrell told the Washington Examiner.

Judicial Watch is now seeking the release of the emails, which Justice Department lawyers say would be hard to find because of the significant size of the backup system.

Yeah, Judicial Watch is probably the least of the Justice Department and IRS’s concerns. The House Oversight and Government Reform and House Ways and Means committees, both of which are investigating the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, aren’t going to care how difficult of a task it will be to recover these emails.

There’s also IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who has been uncooperative with congressional committees and investigators. He claimed that the emails had been lost due to technical problems, and there was nothing that could be done to recover them. And, then, the IRS official in charge document compliance revealed that the backup tapes on which Lerner’s emails are stored could still be around. Koskinen confirmed that fact a day or two later.

Needless to say, House committees investigating the IRS scandal could have a field day with this. One would imagine that Koskinen will, once again, be forced to go to the Hill for hearings over the issues, where he’ll be subject to more harsh testimony, perhaps even more assertions that he lied under oath in his previous visit. And the thing is, both Koskinen and the IRS deserve every bit of scrutiny they’ve received and what will undoubtedly continue to come their way.

Ten great policy panels to vote for at SXSW

Out of the Storm News - August 26, 2014, 12:44 PM

I recently wrote a short post highlighting the four panels we put forward for the 2015 SXSW Interactive conference, including the one I’ll be on (along with folks from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology and Internews). Here at R Street, we think this is a great way to bring free-market ideas to one of the biggest annual gatherings of technologists, activists, and entrepreneurs.

To determine its final program, SXSW relies in part on a public voting process to sort through the thousands of submissions it gets each year. Now through Sept. 6, you can vote for all the panel ideas you like. To participate, just go to panelpicker.sxsw.com.

There are a lot of other great organizations putting together policy-focused events for next year. Here are some of the best:

  1. Putting Policymakers to Work for You
    Featuring: Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform; Michael Petricone, Consumer Electronics Association; Adrian Fenty, Perkins Cole; Julie Samuels, Engine Advocacy
  2. Legal Hackers: A Global Movement to Reform the Law
    Featuring: Jameson Dempsey, Kelley Drye & Warren; Amy Wan, Patch of Land; Phil Weiss, Fridman Law Group; Dan Lear, Avvo Inc.
  3. Government Surveillance: How You Can Change It
    Featuring: Harley Geiger, CDT; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, U.S. House; Christian Dawson, Internet Infrastructure Coalition; Ben Young, Peer 1 Hosting
  4. Disruptive Innovators Under Attack
    Featuring: Gary Shapiro, CEA; Robert Scoble, Rackspace; Kevin O’Malley, TechTalk
  5. Keeping America Competitive: Tech Policy in 2015
    Featuring: Sen. Jerry Moran, U.S. Senate
  6. Public Policy and Ridesharing: Lyfting Communities
    Featuring: Rep. Blake Farenthold, U.S. House; Sara Weir, National Down Syndrome Society; Chris Massey, Lyft; J.T. Griffin, Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  7. Privacy Matters: Baking Privacy Into Your Apps
    Featuring: Gautam Hans, CDT; Jon Callas, Silent Circle; Deepti Rohatgi, Lookout
  8. Operation Choke Point and Alternative Currencies
    Featuring: Mark Calabria, Cato Institute; Perianne Boring, Chamber of Digital Commerce; Ashe Schow, Washington Examiner; Cathy Reisenwitz, Sex and the State
  9. Friend or Foe? How the Government Impacts Startups
    Featuring: Rep. Darrell Issa, U.S. House; Rep. Jared Polis, U.S. House; Virginia Lam, Aereo; Rachel Wolbers, TwinLogic Strategies
  10. How Public Policy Protects Patents and Startups
    Featuring: Rep. Peter DeFazio, U.S. House; Vishal Amin, U.S. House; Tim Sparapani, Application Developers Alliance; Kate Doersken, Ditto.com
  11. Bonus: The Changing Privacy Landscape
    Featuring: Nuala O’Connor, CDT; Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

How big government and cronyism are slowing the growth of solar in the south

Out of the Storm News - August 26, 2014, 12:01 PM

An Aug. 9 article in the Los Angeles Times explored why states in the U.S. South that get plenty of sunlight — such as Virginia, South Carolina and, of course, the Sunshine State itself, Florida — are not embracing solar.

The answer the article found was not the lack of demand. In fact, there is a lot of demand for the energy source. Rather, governments in these states have made it extremely difficult for solar companies to do business through regulations and taxes. Which industry is supporting these taxes and regulations? The utility industry, which largely generates power by conventional and dirtier fuels such as coal and natural gas, and largely enjoys a state-protected monopoly on service.

The first thing that needs to be understood is how a utility’s business model works. While some states allow nominal competition among utilities, the way it works in most of the country is that a utility goes to the state government and essentially gets a monopoly to build and sell electric services within a particular area of the state. In exchange for letting state utility regulators set utility rates, utilities are guaranteed a profit on every kilowatt hour of electricity they sell.

The very recent rise and proliferation of solar companies, new ways of financing solar installation, continued generous federal subsidies for renewables and the falling price of solar panels combine to make rooftop solar a viable option for more and more homeowners across the country. The growth of rooftop solar and increased energy efficiency are threatening the old utility business model. Not only are rooftop solar customers using less energy from the grid, but they’re able to sell excess power back to the grid at favorable rates through net metering laws which have been in place on the federal level since 2005. These factors have traditional utilities up in arms and they have been trying to kill new solar projects, especially in the Southeast, which has lots of sunshine. This has set up a political battle royale between heavily monopolized crony utilities and federally subsidized crony solar companies.

One of the weapons traditional utilities have used against solar companies is to threaten lawsuits against companies who offer to lease solar panels and systems to homeowners. South Carolina until this month was one of the states that outlawed companies who lease solar panels and systems as energy providers who compete with the official monopolies. Florida, Georgia and North Carolina still outlaw solar leasing and/or power purchase agreements (PPAs), which essentially keeps solar a privilege of the more well to do. In the rest of the Southeast, the regulatory status is still unclear, because most states have not explicitly legalized the practice. (Texas is the only state in the South where solar leasing/PPAs are explicitly legal.)

Some southern states also make it difficult to install solar systems by assessing taxes and fees on solar that don’t exist in other places. States in the region also make the solar installation process difficult with burdensome laws and a heavily complicated permitting process. These obstacles have combined to place the Southeast far behind regions of the country like New England, which isn’t exactly known for its sunny skies, in solar-electricity production.

What southern states need to do is simply open up a free market in energy in order to take advantage of the solar boom. State legislatures should repeal bans on solar leasing and PPAs. This will make solar affordable for middle-class homeowners instead of merely a privilege for the wealthy. States also need to repeal any and all special taxes and fees on solar panels and equipment and make solar panels and systems on residential properties property tax exempt. Across the South, lawmakers should streamline the permitting process to install solar panels and systems in ways similar to what California has recently done.

The South could and should take the lead in energy deregulation. Currently, no southern states except for Texas has deregulated electricity. Not only has Texas experienced lower rates since it deregulated in 2002, but a variety of renewable have come to take appeal to Texans who are now able to choose their energy provider. Considering the near obsolescence of the old utility business model, states should consider deregulating their electric grid as well.

The ideal free-market energy program would be to end all energy subsidies, whether for so-called “green” energy or conventional fossil fuels. But until the federal government moves forward on that front, southern states can and should open up their own energy markets to allow consumers to switch to solar energy. The South can and should be an example of promoting both free markets and a cleaner environment. With free-market energy, it can have both.

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

U.S. Government Releases Predators Against its Own People

Somewhat Reasonable - August 26, 2014, 11:57 AM

Many times the sound of howling and yelping coyotes awake me from a sound and cozy slumber. I sit bolt upright in my bed as my sleep-filled brain tries to calculate where my critters are and whether or not they are safe. The dogs on the floor beside me, the cat on the foot of the bed, I roll over and go back to sleep.

In the years that I’ve lived in the mountains outside Albuquerque, I’ve lost three cats and three ducks to coyotes. I know they are natural predators and if my pets are outside, there is a chance they’ll fall prey. I hear the coyotes, but I hardly see them. They don’t generally come close to humans. They are after the squirrels and rabbits—and an occasional cat or duck.

But that could all change due to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plan to expand the area for the Mexican grey wolf reintroduction. The current plan calls for virtually all the southern half of New Mexico to become wolf habitat—but wolf advocates at a hearing about the plan, held in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on Wednesday, August 13, repeatedly declared that Southern New Mexico wasn’t enough. They want the wolf introduced north of I-40—which would include Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Some called for wolves to be released in the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners area.

Wolves are master predators—and they are enemies of coyotes. Wolves attack bigger prey: deer and elk, horses and cattle—but are known to carry off a dog or cat as well. The wolves that are a part of the reintroduction program are not afraid of people and will come right up to a house if they are hungry.

Supporters of the expanded plan, plead for people to “open their eyes and hearts to wolves, to remove boundaries.” One claimed: “The big bad wolf isn’t so bad after all,” and added, “there’s no proof a wolf has ever harmed a human.”  “Wolves are demonized” and “wolves don’t hurt humans” were reoccurring themes throughout the evening hearing—where 70 people spoke (48 for the expanded plan, 22 against). Not everyone who wanted to be heard was given the opportunity. The hearing was conducted with precision—cutting people off midsentence at the two-minute mark—and ended promptly at 9:00PM.

Most of the 22 against the plan live in the areas already impacted by the current wolf reintroduction—the Gila National Forest on the New Mexico/Arizona border.

One woman told of growing up on her family’s ranch. She remembers being able to play by the stream without fear. But now, with wolves around, it is a different story for her grandchildren. They came to visit one day. They brought their new puppy. As they bounded out of the car, toward the house, two wolves emerged from the creek and snatched the puppy as the shocked children helplessly watched. They are now afraid to go to grandma’s house. They have nightmares.

Another told how she felt when a wolf was spotted less than 35 feet from her children. Her husband was away. She grabbed the children and, along with the dogs, stayed locked in the house—only to see the wolf on the front porch with its nose pressed against the window pane. She has reported on the incident: “Throughout the evening my border collie whimpered at the front door, aggressively trying to get out. Both dogs paced on high alert all night.” The next day wolf tracks were found all around the house—including the children’s play yard. The wolf was euthanized on private property within 150 yards of the house. She concludes her story: “It’s difficult to describe the terror of a predator so fearless and eager to get into my home.”

Others told similar stories. Children, waiting for the school bus, have to be caged to be protected from the wolves. Nine ranches in the current habitat area along the New Mexico/Arizona border, have been sold due to wolf predation—too many cattle are killed and ranchers are forced off the land.

Had I been allowed to speak—and I did sign up, I would have addressed the lunacy of the plan. After huge amounts of effort and resources have been invested to save the sand dune lizard and the lesser prairie chicken in and around the oil patch of southeastern New Mexico, they now want to introduce a master predator that will gobble up the other endangered species? After all, as many proponents pointed out, “wolves don’t have maps.” They don’t stay within the boundaries on the FWS maps, they go where the food is—just ask the families living in the current range.

As I listened to the presenters, I wondered: “Why do they do this?” People and their property need to be protected. Instead, supporters whined that capturing wolves and moving them away from communities “traumatizes” them. What about the harm to humans; the traumatized children? Does human blood need to be shed to consider that they have been harmed?

Perhaps the answer to “why?” came from one wolf supporter who opened with this: “I am from New York. I don’t know anything about ranching or wolves.” And then added: “Ranching will be outdated in 10-15 years. We can’t keep eating meat.”

State Senator Bill Soules, from Las Cruces, supports the new, expanded plan. He said: “I’ve had many people contact me wanting wolves protected. I’ve had no one contact me with the opposing view”—perhaps that is because neither phone number listed on his New Mexico Legislature webpage takes you to a person or voicemail.

Calls to our elected officials do matter. Contact yours and tell him/her that you want people protected, that humans shouldn’t be harmed by an expanded wolf reintroduction territory.

I wrote a short version of my experience at the hearing for the Albuquerque Journal because I wanted people there to be aware of the plan to introduce wolves into close proximity to the Albuquerque area. Myop-ed in the local paper generated a vitriolic dialogue on the website—with more than 90 comments at the time of this writing. Many said things like this one, supposedly from a woman in Concord, New Hampshire: “If you don’t like it move to the city it is their home and you moved into it so either deal with it and stop your whining or move back to the city.” Yeah, that will work really well for the ranchers who earn their living and feed America by raising livestock.

This story is about New Mexico, Arizona and the Mexican grey wolf. But similar stories can easily be found in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana where the Canadian grey wolf was reintroduced nearly two decades ago. The wolf population has grown so rapidly that they have been known to aggressively kill livestock and cause millions of dollars of loss to ranching families—with the Idaho record being 176 sheep killed in one night. In Wyoming, the Wolf has been removed from the endangered species list and ranchers can now kill the wolf and protect their herds without fear of punishment from our government. Even the U.S. FWS is removing and euthanizing the wolves that were intentionally introduced into the region. As recently as August 21, 2014, wolves are wreaking havoc, killing sheep just 50 miles outside of Spokane, Washington—where the U.S. FWS has authorized a rancher to kill the wolves and, much to the dismay of environmental groups, state wildlife agents are killing wolves to protect people and property.

Environmental groups have been pushing to bring the wolf back to Colorado through the Rocky Mountain National Park.

While the public hearing regarding the expanded introduction of the Mexican Grey Wolf is over, the U.S. FWS is accepting written comments on the proposed revision to the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf through September 23. Please add to the discussion—though they don’t make it easy as to be accepted, comments must be substantive, related to the proposed alternatives, or scientifically valid, and something not yet considered.

People shouldn’t lie awake in fear for their families and property because our own government introduces a predator amongst us.

[Originally published at Red State]


Categories: On the Blog

Taxpayers, Beware – of Big Wind’s Latest Deceitful Ad Campaign

Somewhat Reasonable - August 25, 2014, 1:45 PM

If you watch much mainstream TV, you’ve probably seen Siemens’ new multi-million-dollaradvertising blitz  to sell the American public on industrial wind. Why the sudden ad onslaught?

The wind business abroad has taken a huge hit of late. European countries have begun slashing renewable mandates, due to the ever-broadening realization that renewables cost far more than industrial wind proponents have led people to believe: economicallyenvironmentallytechnically, and civilly.

Siemens’ energy business took a €48m hit in the second quarter due to a bearings issue with onshore turbines, and a €23m charge due to ongoing offshore grid issues in Germany – on top of subsidy and feed-in tariff cutbacks, recent articles have pointed out.

As Siemens’ tax-sheltering market dries up in Europe, its U.S. marketing efforts are clearly geared toward increasing its income and profits via wind’s tax sheltering schemes in the United States. The company stands to make millions, so Siemens ad campaign is obviously part of an overall pitch to persuade Congress to extend the hefty wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), more accurately called“Pork-To-Cronies.” As Warren Buffett recently admitted, “We get tax credits if we build lots of wind farms.  That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Taxpayers and ratepayers, beware!

President Obama often says he intends to “close corporate loopholes,” but his PTC and other policies continue funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to his wealthy corporate insiders and campaign contributors – while we continue to rack up unconscionable debt for our children and grandchildren.

Increasing public awareness of the wind energy scam has led to increased opposition to extendingany more corporate welfare to Big Wind via the PTC and energy investment tax credit (ITC). Enter another bureaucratic end-run around once clear statutory language by this Administration.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the increasingly politicized IRS recently relaxed the definition of “commence construction” to the point where the definition bears no resemblance to the actual words.  During a hearing by the House Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements subcommittee last October, Curtis G. Wilson of the IRS admitted that developers can now game the system to the point where projects built years in the future could still meet the eligibility requirement for “commence” now.

U.S. taxpayers and ratepayers are doomed when, instead of allowing the markets to work, crony-corruptocrats are picking the winners and losers in the energy marketplace, using such nefarious tactics.

Sadly, most people don’t even know the difference between energy and power. This reality has built the framework for the biggest swindle ever perpetrated on citizens worldwide.  Many have bought into the alarmist argument that “we have to do something” to stop “dangerous manmade global warming.” Enter the wind industry sales department, primed to capitalize on public fears and alarmist hype.

Siemens also needs to convince the 80% of U.S. citizens who live in suburbia that industrial wind factories are “environment-friendly,” and everyone loves them. Thus, as usual for these disingenuous ad campaigns, a sprawling wind facility is pictured among green fields, with no homes anywhere to be seen, no birds are being slaughtered, while a happy Iowa leaseholder smiles and says she loves wind.

A drive out Route 20A in Wyoming County, western New York State, however, tells a far different story. The western side of Wyoming County – which used to be some of the most beautiful countryside in New York State, has been industrialized with 308 giant, 430-foot-tall towers, and their 11-ton, bird-chopping blades spinning overhead, only hundreds of feet from peoples’ homes and roadways. There’s no doubt that Siemens won’t be showing you this reality in any of their TV ads!

Unfortunately for the residents of Orangeville in Wyoming County, greed at the top in Washington, DC determined their fate. The sole reason Invenergy went ahead with its plan to build its 58-turbine project was that, in the early morning hours of January 1, 2013, the PTC was added as pork for companies sucking at the wind welfare teat.

Ever appreciative of the handouts, Invenergy owner Ukrainian Michael Polsky rewarded President Obama by holding a $35,000 a plate fundraiser at his Chicago mansion. Mr. Obama is so committed to Big Wind that he’s even legalized 30-year eagle kill permits just for the wind industry. Anyone else harming an eagle, or even possessing a single bald eagle feather, is penalized with an iron fist.

There you have it – corporate cronyism in all its glory, with bird murder as its crowning achievement.

Word of impending lawsuits lingers in Orangeville. It remains to be seen if disenchanted leaseholders will end up suing Big Wind, as others have. In the meantime, we’re hoping we don’t have any 11-ton blade breaks that throw shrapnel for thousands of feet, or any airplanes crashing into wind turbines during fog, as occurred in South Dakota earlier this year, killing all four on board. (I’ll bet you won’t be seeing any of these facts in Siemens’ ads, either.)

Our elected officials need energy literacy. Even a small dose would help.

What’s most frustrating, when attempting any kind of correspondence regarding these energy issues with many elected officials, is the kind of response I received from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY)  when I wrote him a letter about ending the Wind PTC. Senator Schumer never even mentioned the PTC in his response. Instead, he rambled on about the need to “reduce foreign oil imports,” and increase “efficiency” – neither of which has a thing to do with wind-generated electricity.

Mr. Schumer recently feigned alarm following complaints by citizens about soaring electric rates – demanding answers about it, while simultaneously supporting yet another Wind PTC extension (plus other rate-increasing “renewable” projects). Senator Schumer’s hypocrisy is outrageous, and unacceptable.

Perhaps it’s time for U.S. ratepayers and taxpayers to demand that their elected officials first pass an energy literacy exam, before they pass such cost-exorbitant, “green” boondoggles on to consumers.

Congress is on vacation through Labor Day, which makes this the perfect time to approach your senators and representatives while they’re home.  Attend town hall meetings and in-district fundraisers. Remind your representatives that we put them in office, and that we can also vote them out!

Since energy plays a pivotal role in our national economy – impacting the cost of absolutely everything else – candidates should have “energy” listed on their “issues” webpage.

Good candidates will support an All of the Sensible” energy policy, as opposed to the “All of the Above” energy policy which President Obama has been pushing on behalf of the “green” movement. “Sensible” alternative energy options are those that are backed up by scientific and economic proof that they provide net societal benefits. Industrial wind fails this test miserably!

For more information, refer friends and elected officials to Robert Bryce’s excellent book, Power Hungry: The myths of “green” energy and the real fuels of the future.

Continue to call and write their offices, and encourage them to oppose any extension of the PTC and ITC! Write letters to your local newspapers, copy their district offices, and post information on their social media pages (e.g., Face Book & Twitter).

We must demand accountability from elected officials, or vote them out! Reliable, affordable energy is what has made America great. We need to keep it that way.

Categories: On the Blog

Calling for a Different Approach to Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation

Somewhat Reasonable - August 25, 2014, 1:32 PM

Cigarette smoking is the most harmful form of tobacco use. Alternatives to smoking that supply users with, yes, addictive, but not particularly harmful nicotine, are significantly less dangerous.

Examples of lower risk products include smokeless tobacco such as swedish style snus, increasingly popular e-cigarettes, and next generation products such as Philip Morris International’s HeatStick, (which heats but does not burn tobacco), due out in cities in Japan and Italy later this year. British American Tobacco is engaged with regulatory agencies around the world as they prepare to roll out a variety of lower-risk products. And small innovators around the world are developing better e-cigarettes, almost daily. Each of these products come with some degree of risk, but those risks pale in comparison to the well-established and overwhelming harm that comes from smoking cigarettes.

United States law allows companies selling lower risk products to point to that difference in risk. Those wishing to make the claim must first prove to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the product is not only less harmful to the individual user, but to the population as a whole. At the heart of this regulatory approach is adherence to rigorous science. This approach promises to significantly reduce the harm from tobacco by giving consumers accurate information that could prompt them to switch to lower risk products, even if they don’t (or can’t) follow the best advice: quit all forms of tobacco.

Yet regulators in much of the rest of the world eschew the scientifically rigorous approach in favor of grandstanding, anti-business rhetoric, and bizarre theories that seek to punish tobacco companies rather than help smokers.

The harm reduction model works in Sweden, the only European country where snus is legal and widely used by men instead of cigarettes. Not coincidentally, Swedish men have strikingly lower rates of tobacco-related disease than other Europeans.

Last month, Swedish Match applied to the FDA for permission to tell users that it’s snus isn’t as harmful as smoking. The proposed language would accurately and simply state, “no tobacco product is safe, but this product presents substantially lower risks to health than cigarettes.

The company backed up the “modified risk tobacco product” claim with some 120,000 pages packed with the very type of peer-reviewed research the law requires and that the FDA requested. That’s approximately 119,999 pages more than necessary to prove that cigarettes are more dangerous than a non-combustible product like snus.

A positive decision from the FDA would open the door to similar claims from other companies and spur investment in new lower-risk alternatives to smoking. This would be a win for public health. And by “public health,” I mean the health of the people we should be trying to help, not the activists who have co-opted the term and regularly oppose tobacco harm reduction.

Yet sadly, regulatory bodies in much the rest of the world are rushing to cut off long-existing products like snus, new products like e-cigarettes, and future products that are being developed using cutting edge science meant to deliver more satisfaction and less harm. Activist opposition to these newest products makes it evident that their problem isn’t with the harm, it’s with the satisfaction. If that’s the case, they aren’t advancing public health, they are advancing a form of public puratinism.

In the EU, with the exception of Sweden, snus is already banned as part of the Tobacco Product Directive. Now, according to reporting by the Financial Times, elements within the World Health Organization are trying to classify e-cigarettes as “tobacco: under the Framework Convention on Tobacco control (FCTC), which has 168 signatories. E-cigarettes contain nicotine derived from tobacco, but do not contain tobacco. Such a move would mean that the same strict advertising restrictions, public use bans, and possibly even sin taxes that apply to cigarettes, would automatically be applied to less harmful products, without any review of the scientific justifications or consideration of the unintended consequences of such rules.

Why would regulators treat dramatically less-harmful e-cigarettes the same way they treat actual cigarettes? They are reportedly concerned that the use of e-cigarettes will “normalise” smoking, according to published reports?

E-cigarettes “could result in a new wave of tobacco epidemic,” said top FCTC official Dr. Haik Nikogosian, in a meeting to set the agenda for a full FCTC gathering in Moscow in the fall. Dr. Nikogosian subscribes to the bizarre and undocumented theory that non-smokers will see former smokers now using e-cigarettes, and as a result from seeing it, decide themselves not only to start using e-cigarettes, but to start smoking cigarettes. This type of twisted thinking, if it finds its way into policy, is sure to inhibit smokers from switching to e-cigarettes, ironically doing the opposite of what countries who signed the FCTC wanted to accomplish, which was reduce smoking rates.

In fact, there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that e-cigarettes are helping smokers quit. In a study published this spring in the journal, Addiction, Professor Robert West found that e-cigarettes are 60 percent more effective than nicotine replacement therapies at helping smokers achieve their goal of quitting. Perhaps the FCTC should encourage more private sector investment in harm-reduction products. It could do so, in part, by establishing rules, much like those in place in the U.S. (not a party to the FCTC), where innovators know what scientific standards they’ll be held to.

The WHO approach is facing stiff opposition from scientists. In May, 53 leading researchers urged the WHO to think twice (or even once) about the wisdom of it’s ant-harm reduction approach. They wrote that “The 1.3 billion people who currently smoke could do much less harm to their health if they consumed nicotine in low-risk non-combustible form.”

They added that “we have known for years that people ‘smoke for the nicotine but die from the smoke…There are now rapid developments in nicotine-based products that can effectivelysubstitute for cigarettes but with very low risks.”

The EU, the WHO, and other bodies would serve the public well if they could garner the fortitude to put aside any preconceived notions about products of the private sector, and simply follow only the science.

The FDA should follow that science and apply already existing common sense regulations by swiftly approving Swedish Match’s application. Doing so would not only encourage smokers to quit, but it would give industry enough confidence in the regulatory system so that the private sector will continue to invest in other harm reduction approaches. As far as public health is concerned, the more non-cigarette options available, the better.


[Originally published at Pundicity]

Categories: On the Blog

The Libertarian Moment Can’t Just Be A Moment

Somewhat Reasonable - August 25, 2014, 9:45 AM

Robert Draper’s piece on The Libertarian Moment in the New York Times magazine has been receiving a great deal of attention over the past week or so. Much of this attention has just illustrated that critics of the idea of a “libertarian moment” are misunderstanding a great deal about this movement, where it came from, and what it means for the future.

A friend in political science was recently asking me about this, and he echoed critics like David Frum and Paul Krugman, who have pointed to poll data which illustrate that Millennials are more liberal than ever.

“Aren’t Millennials just a bunch of socialists?” he asked.

“Of course!” I responded. “They’re that, and more libertarian, too.”

He seemed very confused for a moment. “Uh, what?”

How can this be? Well, I think that should be pretty obvious, as both political poles are responses to the same social trend: the atomization of the American people. One represents a populist reaction that demands more equal personal liberty; the other, a call to the ruling elite to enforce equality by solving the problems they claimed they would address. And which path the majority of Millennials choose will likely dictate the direction of our political scene for several decades to come.

Let’s dispense with Frum and Krugman first: I don’t think they understand what’s being argued here at all. The argument that a libertarian moment is happening is essentially an argument that there are more Millennial libertarians than there were in prior generations. Of course there are. We’re talking about the largest generation in American history here, dwarfing the Baby Boomers. There’s more of just about everything in it. No one is arguing that a majority of Millennials are libertarian – they’re arguing that there are more libertarians among the Millennial cohort. And there are probably more socialists, too (generations – how do they work?).

It is absolutely ludicrous to argue that the momentum in our political sphere among the younger generation is not more libertarian. It’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention to politics on the ground. Why is that? Well, it’s not because of the Libertarian Party. It’s because there’s a host of younger people, the children of George W. Bush voters or Bush voters themselves, who realized that libertarianism speaks more to their worldview than modern day conservatism. It’s because Ron Paul worked to build an army of volunteers and took the message of libertarian ideas to a generation of voters, with a focus on slowly taking over the Republican Party. It’s because the views of Ron and Rand, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, and other libertarian-leaning Republicans on the issue of abortion made them more palatable to a Christian audience (as opposed to someone like former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who takes the opposite view on the abortion issue). Why is the Token Libertarian Girl, pro-life Christian Julie Borowski, not just a typical Republican? The Pauls evangelized libertarian ideas to a young audience ready to hear them and eager to make them a reality; and then, with the rise of the Tea Party, they expanded that appeal beyond the youngsters, too. That’s why.

If the Drug War made Generation X more libertarian than the Boomers, the War War has made Millennials even more libertarian than both. That doesn’t mean that the generation is libertarian as a whole, it just means it has more libertarians in it – libertarians who, given their parentage and lifestyle and churchgoing patterns, might have been expected to have more conventional views. They rejected the idea that the Republican Party was any less hypocritical than the Democrats, that the Ruling Class knew best about which direction to take the country, and accepted the idea that the Compassionate Conservative approach to policy has failed. In place of all these, they accept a view that liberty is better than paternalism from the left or right – even paternalism applied with good intentions.

The Ruling Class And The Administrative State

The engine of this paternalism predates both the Millennials and their parents, of course. It was created by the Progressives and Woodrow Wilson, reinvigorated by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and reached its fulfillment with Lyndon B. Johnson. The Administrative State, constructed as an arbiter and implementer of social equality and expediency, was created to insulate the non-political and presumably superior academic and policy leaders from the vagaries of politics. The legislative branch was largely happy to assent to this, as it turns the process of legislation into one of delegating the power to decide things as opposed to having to decide them yourself (decisions being little more than political vulnerabilities, after all).

This Administrative State was also built on a new conception of rights, and the relationship of government to the citizenry. As Frank Goodnow, founding president of the American Political Science Association, put it:

“The rights which [an individual] possesses are, it is believed, conferred upon him, not by his Creator, but rather by the society to which he belongs. What they are is to be determined by the legislative authority in view of the needs of that society. Social expediency, rather than natural right, is thus to determine the sphere of individual freedom of action.”

Government must therefore adapt in order to seek the needs of society, as opposed to protecting the rights of individuals to freely associate, speak, and govern themselves. Wilson was even more clear about his perspective on what must be done: “All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.” The expansion of the state, in this view, was designed to protect a people who did not know what was best for themselves.

So much for James Madison’s description that “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined… exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce”. The message here was that you need a powerful and infinitely adaptable state to protect the people in a time when they cannot trust business or the marketplace to serve their interests. A full 62 years before his reincarnation as Elizabeth Warren, Wilson wrote in 1887:

“The socialist does not disregard the obvious lessons of history concerning overwrought government: at least he thinks he does not. He denies that he is urging the resumption of tasks which have been repeatedly shown to be impossible. He points to the incontrovertible fact that the economic and social conditions of life in our century are not only superficially but radically different from those of any other time whatever. Many affairs of life which were once easily to be handled by individuals have now become so entangled amongst the complexities of international trade relations, so confused by the multiplicity of news-voices, or so hoisted into the winds of speculation that only powerful combinations of wealth and influence can compass them. Corporations grow on every hand, and on every hand not only swallow and overawe individuals but also compete with governments. The contest is no longer between government and individuals; it is now between government and dangerous combinations and individuals. Here is a monstrously changed aspect of the social world. In face of such circumstances, must not government lay aside all timid scruple and boldly make itself an agency for social reform as well as for political control?”

The problem, of course, is that the Administrative State has failed – not just in the War on Poverty, but in so many of its other promises in seeking to benefit American lives. Instead, it has turned into a Nanny State – one which is the real arbiter of rules and regulations on how we live, not our elected representatives (who spend an inordinate amount of their time complaining about the administrated outcomes of the authority they delegated).

No wonder Americans just don’t trust the government that has mismanaged wars and intelligence, emergency response and transportation security, spied on American citizens and invaded our privacy, violated our trust, lied to our faces, and dictated what we can and cannot eat and drink and smoke. And all the while, it has seized more control and power for itself in the name of the public good. It’s little wonder that four decades after Watergate, trust in the U.S. government is at an all-time low – in fact, trust in government is even lower than the business barons Wilson once railed against.

“Just 13% of Americans say the government can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time, with just over three-quarters saying only some of the time and one in 10 saying they never trust the government, according to the poll. “The number who trust the government all or most of the time has sunk so low that it is hard to remember that there was ever a time when Americans routinely trusted the government,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “But polls conducted by the University of Michigan consistently found a majority of Americans in the 1960s and early 1970s saying that the government could be trusted all or most of the time – until Watergate. In 1972, 53% said they trusted the government always or most of the time. By 1974, that figure had plummeted to 36%, and except for a brief period of patriotic sentiment immediately after the 9/11 attacks, it has remained under 50% ever since,” Holland added. The survey indicates that skepticism doesn’t stop at the White House and Capitol Hill: Only 17% of Americans believe that big business can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time.”

This is what happens when you have a Ruling Class and an Administrative State insulated from the people they are supposed to represent. As Dave Corbin and Matt Parks note:

“Progressive ideology requires the centralization of power in federal and then executive hands–not to protect rights, but to right (perceived) wrongs. The ruling class, divided only between intentional (generally Democratic) and accidental (generally Republican) Progressives, naturally assimilates with the culture and power structure of the City of Government.”

The typically insightful Alexander Hamilton predicted that this would not matter: “It ought also to be remembered that the citizens who inhabit the country at and near the seat of government will, in all questions that affect the general liberty and prosperity, have the same interest with those who are at a distance, and that they will stand ready to sound the alarm when necessary, and to point out the actors in any pernicious project.” Well, not so much. It took him a long time to be wrong, but now, he is wrong.

There is more than one understanding of insulated. The general sense among many Americans is that too many in Washington and on Wall Street live in a different country from the people they supposedly serve. And that’s right: there are two Americas, one where tenure and bailout and cartel and capture and contract make you unfirable and eliminate your ability to fail, and one where none of that is true. But in a far more important and dangerous sense, the word insulated really means “immune to judgment.”

The way our republic is supposed to work is that our would-be Ruling Class can neither seize power nor wealth, nor keep it, except by the active, ongoing consent of the people. So the congressman who goes native loses, the CEO who approves New Coke gets fired, and so on. The secret sauce of American exceptionalism is that in every sector of life, success depended on service, mostly service to each other. But today the elites have figured out how to mercantilize the economy, and deployed the Administrative State as a paternalistic substitute for civil society. Look at any law, and you’ll find that the Ruling Class consistently benefits, directly or indirectly, by severing the links between the elites’ success and public approval.

What Republicans have forgotten, or never really knew, is that the free market and constitutional republicanism and federalism (localism) were all specifically designed to empower the little people over the big. They can’t get it through their heads that, yes, the point of the Constitution and of America was to reject the remnants of mercantile feudalism and all its side effects. The point of America is not that a single mom in Nevada and a mechanic in Ohio are just as important as Harry Reid and John Boehner, but in the ways that matter most, they are more important. It is by their consent that they are governed, not the other way around.

Toward a Coherent Millennial Politics

This is what the “libertarian moment” speaks to in ways its critics do not fully appreciate. The Millennial generation has not yet achieved a coherent political narrative, in part because the experiences of the older and younger Millennials are so different. For those born in the 1980s, social media has largely been a professional phenomenon – others were making YouTube videos when they were twelve. For some, 9/11 was a defining moment; for others, a vague memory, and the deaths of their friends all the more nonsensical. Some feel betrayed by Obama’s broken promises about the economy; others have never known an economy that was better than this.

You see that in the recent Reason-Rupe YouGov survey on Millennial attitudes toward politics, which indicates the degree to which they are struggling with this reality. While Millennials may endorse the general vague idea that cutting taxes and regulations and increasing government efficiency would help the economy, a majority are also completely opposed to basic policy aims of fiscal conservatives. According to the poll, 57 percent of Millennials say they favor a smaller government with less services… but 74 percent think it’s government’s job to feed and house every single person in the country. (So the 57 percent is basically lying: they want less services only in the sense that those services don’t go to a sympathetic group.) As for other policy positions: 71 percent of Millennials favor raising the federal minimum wage to 10.10 an hour and 68 percent favor a government-mandated “living wage”; 69 percent say it is government’s responsibility to provide everyone with health care insurance (though only half approve of Obamacare); 66 percent say raising taxes on the wealthy would help the economy; 63 percent say spending more on job training would help the economy; 58 percent say the government should spend more on assistance to the poor even it means higher taxes; 57 percent favor spending more money on infrastructure; and 53 percent want government to guarantee everyone in America gets a college education.

Needless to say, this is not Rand Paul’s fiscal agenda, or even Chris Christie’s. The majority of Millennials may claim they would support a fiscally conservative and socially liberal candidate: the problem is that they’re describing Hillary Clinton. That’s why the “libertarian moment” is also about more than just ditching social conservatism. If a mere nine percent more Millennials are self-identified fiscal conservatives compared to the number of social conservatives, becoming socially liberal doesn’t help you much at all. And these two questions alone put the lie to that social liberal/fiscally conservative message: “Government should promote traditional values in our society: 38% Government should not favor any particular set of values: 47%” vs. “Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest: 46% Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good: 37%”.

Now, this could change as Millennials get older – or, rather, as they grow up, which is a different proposition entirely – and get married, and buy houses, and have kids (something they have delayed to a greater degree than prior generations, for both economic and social reasons). And as I said, I’m absolutely convinced there’s a higher percentage of libertarians in this generation and a rising skepticism about government which animates a not-insignificant portion of Millennial voters, and a higher portion than in prior generations. But what this poll indicates is the potential danger for Millennials who have not heard an alternate message about government and its promises and its relationship with us. This lack of an alternative message is entirely in the interest of the progressives and the Administrative State, of course: it was not enough that birth control was cheap and accessible everywhere – it must beguaranteed as a human right. Think of James Poulos’s Pink Police State as the logical end of SandraFlukism: what is government but the thing that keeps us safe, warm, and happy? What is the price of tampons but a patriarchal tax on femininity?

The Millennial motivation to provide equality for all can have a solution in more freedom or in more government. This “moment” could turn into something that accepts the permanent atomization of individuals via the Pink Police State model or something similar (see Mexico’s societal breakdown and acceptance of a Hobbesian leviathan as noted by Jorge Castañeda) – which trades individual freedom for the government guarantee of health and safety by new agencies and powers – or one which empowers individuals by returning to them power seized by the Ruling Class and the Administrative State.

The Hopefulness of Liberty

Our future politics is going to depend on this decision: whether we reject the solution of the state and instead turn with confidence toward the natural communitarianism of freedom. This is the case for liberty and federalism based on an understanding of the value of self-government, that the best policy is locally grown in your community, made for you and by you, not by the Ruling Class or the Administrative State, not by the elites of Wall Street or the Ivory Tower or the Beltway Bureaucrats who actually run things.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote frequently about the challenge of the atomized populace in a democracy, bereft of the ordered understanding of aristocracy, and he was clear on what offsets it: “Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.” The question we don’t have any kind of answer for yet is how a generation totally immersed on online life as the definition of community will come to understand and define all of these terms. But there are positive signs. One of my favorite Millennial writers, Gracy Olmstead, cites this Tocqueville quote and compares the civil society of the past to the farmer’s market of today:

So where do we congregate? How can we gather across party lines, in a way that helps us flourish as a community? How can we rebuild the “severed chain”? There probably isn’t one perfect answer—there are a variety of associations that, hopefully with time, will begin to cultivate a wider array of community attention and support. One hopes that churches will discover new ways to build rapport amongst their communities. Maybe tools like Facebook can actually draw citizens back to town meetings and civic involvement, by connecting them in a way they understand and identify with.

But when I attend the Saturday market—eat my breakfast alongside newfound friends, buy heirloom tomatoes and homemade granola at Becky’s recommendation from other vendors, pet friendly dogs and admire newborn babies—I get a taste of a community that I once thought was fading, something that seemed antiquated and rare in modern society. I wonder whether the private associations of the future may look different from the ones of our past. But that doesn’t mean they’re going extinct—we just have to look for them, nurture them, and even sacrifice our own comforts to keep the rituals alive.

Now, libertarian political scientist Charles Murray may have a reply to Gracy Olmstead on this front. Who goes to farmers markets, after all? Who has thus far navigated the reality of Ruling Class and Administrative State governance and found new ways of expressing and maintaining communitarian bonds? To put it bluntly: upper class white Americans. Why is this? Because, as Murray has noted for years, the problem of the nanny state is that rich and talented people can still find ways to pursue happiness and live lives of meaning without church, neighborhood, family and kids, and the other traditional outlets. They are happy to leave the lower classes to their better Soma, engulfed and managed by the Administrative State, so long as they can pursue their own ends.

The warning of responsible conservatives against the libertarian moment is that this movement will perpetuate and reinforce the current stratification and bifurcation of “coming apart.” Imagine a decade from now, when rich cognitive elites are still marrying like Ozzie and Harriet and communitying it up like Little House on the Prairie with a Tesla while the unwashed masses sit in Walmart parking lots at midnight on the first day of the month waiting for their food stamp debt cards to replenish (with Citi taking their cut, of course!), with doors locked, afraid of being jumped on the way back to the car. There will be many words to describe such a moment, but “libertarian” will not be one of them.

That’s why the connection between federalism, localism, civil society and personal happiness is so important, something that the Founders understood. Even though Americans’ lives were locally based, they were grateful for a national government that enabled them to enjoy lives like that. As Murray notes in In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government, just as food is a resource necessary to meet the human need for nourishment, challenge is a resource to meet the human need for happiness. The Administrative State seeks to remove this challenge, as they do all challenges, from life, and in doing so inculcate an understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the state which leads to an unending series of damaging outcomes. For the high school graduate trying to find a job who discovers government will pay him not to work, gives his girlfriend and his child money and housing, and treat his public education as a disability, it’s not surprising how his life will turn out. And the Ruling Class and Administrative State are perfectly content with that.

This is the last thing the critics of the “libertarian moment” are missing: that this is a fundamentally hopeful message, based on a higher view of what free communities can achieve in the absence of the Administrative State. This massive generation has more individuals friendly to liberty and also more who are open to socialism. If the progressive view prevails, the “libertarian moment” will only be a moment – it will be crushed by the call by a permanently atomized people for government mandated equality via the Administrative State, at the behest of the Ruling Class. But if the view that favors human liberty prevails, it will be more than a moment – and we could be on the cusp of an amazing resurgence of the very values that made America exceptional in the first place. David Frum believes that the rise of libertarianism amounts to an expression of hopelessness and despair on the part of conservatives, that it amounts to surrender in the battle over “competing to govern the state”. No, it’s not – it is merely an acknowledgement that the policies he favors have failed, and that the next generation would rather try something different. It is driven by an understanding that as dangerous as it sounds, there is nothing better than when free people govern themselves.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the broken copyright law

Out of the Storm News - August 25, 2014, 8:00 AM

Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is fond of saying that one must never alter facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Given this, Holmes might have had quite a few problems with the lawsuit involving the Conan Doyle Estate that was resolved this June.

The case originated with an author named Leslie Klinger, who wanted to publish his own book of Holmes stories, and involved a dispute over whether the Holmes character had, in fact, entered the public domain or whether the Conan Doyle Estate could still claim rights to the character.

As far as twisting facts to suit theories, the Conan Doyle Estate practically taught a master class in the business. The Hollywood Reporter describes their argument and the reception it received:

On appeal, the Doyle camp attempted to raise an argument that had been unsuccessful at the district court: that Sherlock Holmes is a ‘complex’ character, that his background and attributes had been created over time, and that to deny copyright on the whole Sherlock Holmes character would be tantamount to giving the famous detective ‘multiple personalities.’

On Monday, after dispensing with the Doyle estate’s other argument that the controversy wasn’t ripe enough to be adjudicated, 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner rejected that assessment. ‘We cannot find any basis in statute or case law for extending a copyright beyond its expiration,’ writes Judge Posner. ‘When a story falls into the public domain, story elements — including characters covered by the expired copyright — become fair game for follow-on authors, as held in Silverman v. CBS Inc.’

Judge Posner explicitly cited the example of William Shakespeare, who famously adapted stories taken from other sources (“The Tempest” is Shakespeare’s only completely original work), and defended the idea that allowing multiple interpretations of stories/characters will also encourage creativity. Posner handed the decision of which interpretation of a given character is truly the best to the market. He steadfastly refused to treat the Conan Doyle Estate’s request as anything but what it truly is – an appeal for nearly perpetual copyright. Under their theory of the law, Holmes would be under copyright for no less than 135 years.

It is fortunate that Judge Posner saw through the Doyle family’s attempt to keep a character whose legacy they have been profiting from for more than a century (while mostly allowing the character himself to languish, unused) under proverbial lock and key. What is less fortunate is that so many other powerful actors in American politics seem to want a similar degree of punitive power. The Walt Disney Corp., for instance, lobbies frantically to keep the cartoon “Steamboat Willy” (the first cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse) out of the public domain, presumably out of fear of losing creative control of their treasured mascot.

Make no mistake, there is a role for copyright to play in creative works. However, the current regime serves neither the artists it is supposed to protect nor the entrepreneurs who live in fear of lawsuits. Rather, the system is, at best, an outdated relic of the pre-digital age. At worst, it is a system rigged solely to benefit middlemen with influential lobbyists, instead of producing an environment where the creative can be assured control of their work, but the innovative can also be assured of the freedom to build on others’ achievements.

One of the more silly loopholes to survive to the modern day in copyright law is the fact that terrestrial radio stations are not required to pay royalties to the artists whose work they play. The theory underlying this exemption originally was that terrestrial radio stations were a form of free advertising, which was doubtlessly true at a time when radio was the primary means of exposure to new music. These days, this standard serves only to allow broadcasters to profit off others’ work. What’s more, broadcasters themselves seem aware that this “free advertising” logic is silly, given that they reject it when used as a rationale to lower their retransmission consent fees. If radio stations can only survive by freeloading off others’ creativity, their business model needs to change.

Moreover, it’s absurd that it took Rep. George Holding’s introduction of the RESPECT Act to call attention to the fact that artists who are still alive, such as Aretha Franklin, aren’t entitled to copyright on works of theirs performed prior to 1972. Even the most staunch opponent of copyright would probably agree that an icon like Franklin deserves to profit from all her contributions to the arts, and that simply cutting off protection at a certain year is arbitrary and silly.

So we have a system that, on the one hand, protects the obsolete business models of broadcasters at the expense of artists. What about the other side? Here, abuses abound.

To begin with, copyright damages desperately need to be reformed. Consider this alarming paragraph from a San Francisco Chronicle article in 2010:

Did you ever imagine you could be held liable for copyright infringement for storing your music collection on your hard drive, downloading photos from the Internet or forwarding news articles to your friends?

If you did not get the copyright owner’s permission for these actions, you could be violating the law. It sounds absurd, but copyright owners have the right to control reproductions of their works and claim statutory damages even when a use does not harm the market for their works.

Besides these absurd restrictions on entirely harmless activities, the actual amount of money applied in damages for copyright lawsuits can reach blasphemous proportions. One file sharer was ordered to pay $2 million for illegally downloading 24 songs. That’s higher than many wrongful death lawsuits.

The problem here is simple: on this point, copyright law hasn’t been updated since the 1960s, when infringement was usually for widescale commercial purposes. In the same way that treating terrestrial radio as “free advertising” harkens back to a mindset from that era, treating piracy as anything but free advertising is economically and technologically backwards, at least for the music industry. According to a study from the BI Norwegian School of Management, pirates are 10 times more likely to buy music digitally. Another study by Columbia University found that peer-to-peer users purchase 30 percent more music than non-filesharers.

At least some actors within the entertainment industry seem to recognize this, which is why the creators of “Game of Thrones” rightfully responded to news their show is the most pirated on the Internet by being flattered.

Who benefits from these backward rules? Only industries with a pathological aversion to change, such as the film industry, which despite its constant alarmist rhetoric about piracy, is doing quite well, a couple bad summers notwithstanding. That industry’s reaction to the VCR, as well as its support of the totalitarian SOPA/PIPA legislation, should have shown the lengths to which it will go in order to avoid having to adapt. But in a world where freer copyright law gives us Shakespeare, and modern copyright law gives us Transformers 2, there is little doubt from whence the better art comes.

Some language in the final paragraph of this post was altered to reflect the film industry’s recent global financial performance.

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

Lessons from Napa’s ‘winequake’

Out of the Storm News - August 25, 2014, 7:22 AM

In the early hours Sunday morning, Northern California shook with the largest earthquake it has experienced since 1989. The South Napa Earthquake, as it is being referred to by the U.S. Geological Survey, was a magnitude 6.0 event that was felt as far as 150 miles from the epicenter. USGS estimates that within that radius “15,000 people experienced severe shaking, 106,000 people felt very strong shaking, 176,000 felt strong shaking, and 738,000 felt moderate shaking.”

Preliminary damage reports have prompted the declaration of a state of emergency by Gov. Jerry Brown. Dozens of people have been injured and electrical service has been interrupted in much of the area. In spite of the severity, given the quake’s location, much of the post-event coverage posted online has focused on piles of shattered wine bottles…

Unfortunately for those private homeowners with extensive wine collections, loss of their favorite vintage may not be covered by insurance. Damage caused by earth movement, like damage caused by flooding, is often excluded from standard homeowners coverage. Thus, in the case of the South Napa Earthquake, for those wine connoisseurs with only homeowners insurance, their wine likely will be an uncovered loss. Those more fortunate or prudent might have had their collection insured under a separate “all-peril,” itemized, floater policy.

In the end, earthquake coverage is a sensible proposition for the millions of Californians who live daily with heightened earthquake risk. It is easy to forget that five of the 10 most costly earthquakes to strike the U.S. took place in California. Yet, only a fraction of Californians own an earthquake policy.

The single largest writer of earthquake coverage in California is the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). The CEA is a publicly managed, privately funded, state residual market entity that was created after the Northridge earthquake to provide the coverage necessary to maintain the viability of the homeowners’ insurance market, since California mandates that companies that sell homeowners insurance also sell earthquake coverage.

Whether motivated by cost consciousness or obliviousness to the risk, according to Glenn Pomeroy, the CEA’s CEO, California’s current state of earthquake coverage is “not a rosy picture.” Only 11 percent of Californians with homeowners insurance have an earthquake policy, down from a high of 30 percent two decades ago.

The CEA provides a number of policies that range broadly in price and coverage options so that Californians of all walks of life can ensure their property is covered.

On the lower end, the CEA offers a base-limits policy. This product is designed to provide basic protection against earthquake damage. The policy will pay to repair or replace a dwelling – subject to a deductible – but it excludes some items from coverage such as pools, patios, fences, driveways and detached garages. Only covered, structural damage counts toward meeting the deductible. The base-limits CEA policy pays up to $5,000 to repair or replace personal property and provides $1,500 for any additional living expenses incurred if the home is uninhabitable while being repaired.

More recently, the CEA began offering a new “Homeowners Choice” product, which offers additional selections in coverage and more immediate policy benefits. The product allows a consumer to put together a more customized policy that allows for separate deductibles for the dwelling and the personal property within. Significantly, this policy offers insureds a choice of a 15% or 10% deductible for each coverage. Other coverages include $1,500 in coverage—subject to no deductible—for emergency repairs to protect the covered property from further damage, secure the residence premises, or restore habitability of the dwelling.

Many CEA participating insurers offer CEA’s higher coverage limits to their policyholders. For an additional premium, up to $100,000 in personal property coverage and $25,000 for Additional Living Expenses/Loss of Use coverage is available.

Homeowners in Napa with CEA policies who are currently picking through the remains of their wine collection might take heart. Provided their loss is substantial enough, unlike their neighbors with no such policies, they may be covered.

For other Californians, this could be a teachable moment on earthquake under-insurance. A lesson that they can put into practice immediately, since the CEA does not limit buying or selling CEA products in any way after an earthquake. For policy information, contact a participating insurer today.

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

Big Fat Lies About Fat

Somewhat Reasonable - August 24, 2014, 9:09 AM

Americans are obsessed with fat; either with eating it or being it. We’ve been told that we’re too fat and we’re told that eating fat is bad for you. Being fat is your own business. You’ll feel better if you lose a few pounds, but you will enjoy your next meal if it has a fat content rather than being a bland cereal…which explains why so many cereals today have some sugary covering or content.

The fact is you can eat almost anything you like and remain a healthy weight if you just don’t eat too much of it. It’s not rocket science.

For politicians, however, controlling what we eat has become an obsession. A demented Democratic Representative, Rosa DeLauro, from Connecticut, has proposed a bill—the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax Act—SWEET for short, that would penalize people one-cent for every teaspoon of sugar used in their drink of choice. It’s none of her business, let along the government’s, what you want to drink.

This obsession with what we eat has been personified by First Lady Michelle Obama who championed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kinds Act that overhauled nutrition standards affecting more than thirty million children in schools around the nation.

It authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set standards for all food and beverages sold during the school day. The law includes vending machines, snack cards, and daytime fundraisers. That now means that campus bake sales, the most popular fundraiser, now has to pay heed to a federal law that forbids selling cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.

Laws like this are a perfect example of how intrusive into the ordinary lives of Americans of all ages are laws that are slowly killing the concept of personal choice and personal freedom. They also demonstrate how wrong such laws are when they are written and passed by people who are clueless about nutrition.

A recent Gallup poll on “consumption habits” revealed that “Nearly twice as many Americans say they are actively trying to avoid fat in their diet (56%) as say they are actively avoiding carbohydrates (29%). However, fewer Americans are avoiding fat now more than a decade ago.”

Over the years as a book reviewer and avid reader, I have read “You Must Eat Meat” by Max Ernest Jutte, MD and Frank Murray, and “The Cholesterol Delusion” by Ernest N. Curtis, MD. Both books authoritatively debunk what Americans have repeatedly been told about meat and cholesterol, but my earliest advisor on these and other food related topics was Rebecca Caruba,my Mother, who taught gourmet cooking for three decades in local adult schools and who authored two cookbooks. She was a keen student of nutrition and early on warned students against margarine, telling them to use real butter and to enjoy all manner of meats, cheeses, and other foods we are constantly told are not good for us.

At this point I want to add Nina Teicholz to the list of heroes like my Mother and the authors of the two books mentioned above. A skilled journalist, she has written a 479-page book, “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” ($28.99, Simon & Schuster). The fact that it includes nearly 140 pages of tiny, single-spaced notes regarding every detail in the book tells you why it took some nine years to write it.

Simply stated, everything Americans think they know about our diets is wrong, the result of a deliberate campaign to convince us that eating fat is bad for us when, in fact, creamy cheeses and sizzling steaks are the key to reversing the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease that affect too many Americans.

As William Davis, MD, author of “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health” said, “A page-turner story of science gone wrong…Misstep by misstep, blunder by blunder by blunder, Teicholz recounts the statistical cherry-picking, political finagling, and pseudoscientific bully that brought us to yet another of the biggest mistakes in health and nutrition, the low-fat and low-saturated fat myth for heart health.”

The myth began in the 1950s with Ancel Benjamin Keys, a biologist and pathologist at the University of Minnesota. He was searching for the causes of heart disease. The nation was extremely fearful about it and the heart attack that President Eisenhower had while in office only added to their fears. Keys concluded that cholesterol was a major factor, but as Teicholz points out “It is a vital component of every cell membrane, controlling what goes in and out of the cell. It is responsible for the metabolism of sex hormones and is found at its highest concentration in the brain.”

Keys and other researchers, however, noting that cholesterol was the primary component of atherosclerotic plaques, assumed it to be “one of the main culprits in the development of coronary disease…This vivid and seemingly intuitive idea,” says Teicholz, “has stayed with us, even as the science has shown this characterization to be a highly simplistic and even inaccurate picture of the problem.” Keys would devote his life to advocating his misinterpretation of cholesterol and fat.

The problem with the word “fat” is that it has two very different meanings. One is the fat we eat and the other is the fat on our bodies. A book worth reading is “Fat: It’s Not What You Think” by Connie Leas, published in 2008 by Prometheus Books. As Ms. Teicholz notes, “A large number of experiments have since confirmed that restricting fat does nothing to slim people down (quite the reverse, actually), yet even so, the idea that there could be such a thing as ‘slimming fat’ will probably always seem to us like an oxymoron.”

I know that few will read Ms. Teicholz book, but you will surely welcome knowing that “saturated fat has not been demonstrated to lead to an increased risk of heart attacks for the great majority of people, and even the narrowing of the arteries has notbeen shown to predict a heart attack.”

The problem for all of us is that the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health both adopted the incorrect analysis of Keys et all, institutionalizing the diet-heart hypothesis and thus are setting the nutrition agenda.

My Mother cooked the most wonderful meals every day and more so on Sundays. She lived to 98 and my Father to 93, eating all manner of meat dishes along with fish and other choices. We all ate cheeses with gusto. And, yes, we loved pasta and Mother’s fabulous home baked breads and desserts. I am coming up soon on age 77 and my diet reflects what kept them alive and disease-free for all of their years.

If you or someone you know is seriously obsessed with their weight and health, recommend “The Big Fat Surprise” to them. I recommend it to you!

© Alan Caruba, 2014

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Progressives Want Everything Locally Grown Except Government

Somewhat Reasonable - August 24, 2014, 8:53 AM

Peter Blair has a piece at The American Interest on the anti-statist alliance that wasn’t. It’s worth a read:

Perhaps sensing an opportunity, social conservatives have used these libertarian fears to make the case for strengthening local communities. They argue that the disappearance of strong neighborhoods and towns created a void into which the overbearing hand of the state has entered. In this way, a roughly overlapping vocabulary of concerns has developed between the two groups. … Social conservatives are right to point out that traditional forms of social trust and community have eroded. There is a real sense of loss and tragedy to all this. But one shouldn’t let a desire to construct a bigger tent for Americans concerned about the growing power of the state lead one to the unwise conflation of two different views of human flourishing.

I am not convinced by Blair’s argument, which strikes me as premature. The overlap of civil libertarianism and the modern libertarian and federalist perspective on limited government is not merely due to shared vocabulary, but to an increasingly shared perspective on the encroachments of life under the ever-expanding scope of a nationalized and unrepresentative government. People with a shared understanding of government’s outsized power can absolutely be at odds over what a good American life looks like. City mice and country mice can both love liberty and understand the appeal of local government over the rule of distant administrators.

Today, progressives want everything locally grown except government. Why is this? In part, it’s because self-government proves the failure of the Administrative State. As a rule, responsible self-governing neighborhoods and communities thrive and foster virtues which lead to close-knit communities and strong civil institutions. Ideally, they turn into little Lake Woebegons, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. The urban elites may mock the little pink houses with their picket fences, the soccer moms making grocery runs in the SUVs, the Vacation Bible Schools … but these are the communities where people actually live good wholesome American lives. The stronger these communities are, the more they form a hedge against the encroachments of government.

Consider the death of the suburbs, which has been predicted eagerly (and inaccurately) by the left for decades. Today just one out of ten Americans live in a square mile of more than 10,000 people. And while just a third of Millennials are the heads of their own households and only 1 in 4 are married, they overwhelmingly say that they want to get married and have a family – 70% for men and 78% for women. The desire of Millennials to own their own home is actually stronger than prior generations. And having a kid accelerates that desire even more, with the cohort with young children the likeliest to move to the suburbs or to small towns. Why is this? Because of the incentives of economy and community – the obvious benefit of neighborhood and homeownership and good schools and churches and community. Many Millennials won’t choose this life, but many more will. The presence of Yelp does not eliminate the lure of this approach.

The progressive left and the technocratic right want the whole world to look like the political machines they know and love. They cannot tolerate the idea that self-governing communities outside their approach to dealmaking and spoils-centered politics could give people an attractive alternative. That’s why it’s so essential to them that the major decisions about our economy, policing, health care, education, transportation funding, and more be made in Washington, where the order they seek to impose on people’s lives can be dictated by administrators beholden to no one except the stakeholders, the political and business interests who have a seat at the table.

The appeal of the self-governing community, which can decide for itself what is encouraged or discouraged, what is banned or made legal, is one directly at odds with this approach. The issue is not whether we all agree about the definition of the life well-lived. The issue remains, as Ronald Reagan framed it a half-century ago, “whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

The Sinestro Theory of The Administrative State

Somewhat Reasonable - August 23, 2014, 9:39 PM

Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a decline in the level of trust in government, and a rise in distrust, to levels unprecedented in American history. But to think this is an entirely new phenomenon is a mistake: trust in government has steadily declined since the Great Society and the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson.

This graph from Pew with data running through the fall of 2013 shows how people answer the question: “How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington?” The answer is pretty clear: not much at all.

There are many reasons that this phenomenon has accelerated despite the promises of one presidential candidate after another to restore our faith in government. But there is one reason in particular which runs through the political stories of the past year – the IRS scandals, the unanticipated failure of Obamacare’s implementation, the broad expansion of the administrative discretion and “the-secretary-shall” lawmaking, executive actions on amnesty and DACA, deleted emails right and left, and, most recently, the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry for vetoing funding for a unit of legal bureaucrats after it became obvious they were headed by a drunk driver who refused to resign. On the whole, it presents a picture of how far the Administrative State is willing to blatantly ignore any checks on their ability to enact their whims.

Government has always been frustrated by any checks on their power. The Founders believed that you can check that power with the mob, either democratic or anarchic, for only so long before government would turn to despotism. So their solution was to deliberately balance the forces of power against each other, to tie the governors’ hands via limited, enumerated powers of national government. The Constitution made the action of government – in nearly all areas outside of waging war – deliberately difficult, and that was on purpose. It was supposed to be hard to pass new laws, not because the Founders were opposed to new laws, but because they wanted to make it impossible for those laws to oppress the people.

What the Founders did not anticipate was the degree to which those invested by the Constitution with the power to make law would find it politically advantageous over the course of a century to steadily cede their power to unelected governmental bodies of vast size and with an ever-enlarged mission. Representative government, it turns out, is very difficult. Better and wiser to shift the responsibility for such decisions to someone else – to tell the frustrated citizen that it is beyond your control to address their concern, and isn’t there an agency for that? This new unchecked branch of government has seized the power it wants along the way: the power to reward friends and grant waivers and special privileges to people and firms who they like or who play by their rules, to abuse their power in the course of punishing those who they don’t, the power to live large and cover up mistakes without that difficult legislative process.

That’s why they are so willing to go to such great lengths to hold on to their jobs. When bad things happen in the real world, heads roll. But in the world of the Administrative State, resignation is the worst possible thing you can demand of someone. So political appointees are given taxpayer funded vacations, cops who break the law are put on leave, and district attorneys who drive out-of-their-minds drunk demand they keep their job. Life in the bureaucracy is too sweet to lose, no matter what – and those who hold those positions know how good a deal they have and won’t give it up under any conditions.

What we’re talking about here is really just human nature, of course. Government employees want just what everyone else wants. The only difference is they think they have the power to make good on their whims. Consider this the right’s corollary to the Green Lantern theory of the presidency. In the era of the Administrative State, big government has been giving out too many rings to too many would-be Sinestros. And when it comes to trust in Washington, it’s the fact that this power is centralized in the Administrative State, rather than localized via federalism, which creates the special class of modern ringbearers. It allows them to work together in common purpose, as the progressives intended, as opposed to balancing and checking each other, as the Founders always understood to be essential.

The progressive view that checks and balances must be eliminated, that things should be organized by wise neutral administrators and we should just make things easier for the government to get things done (even Nuclear Option style), is motivated by the belief that the government can then make things a lot better for the people. But of course, in reality, the Administrative State is most interested in making things better for the people in government. And that’s where little things like trust start to break down.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Categories: On the Blog

1,461 Days of Summer

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - August 22, 2014, 3:30 PM
President Obama golfs with former NBA star Alonzo Mourning in Martha’s Vineyard / AP BY: Matthew ContinettiAugust 22, 2014 5:00 am The headline was brutal.…
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