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Documents show ‘Free Press’ interest group leveraged ties to Google, Obama administration

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - December 16, 2014, 11:54 AM
The lobby group Free Press, a self-styled “public interest” organization, has worked hard over the years to forge alliances with corporate players and federal…

Big CRomnibus winners: NSA, hungry kids, farting cows

Out of the Storm News - December 16, 2014, 10:41 AM

If there was any good news to come out of this weekend’s CRomnibus festivities, it was that you can now make any Democrat immediately cringe by implying that Eizabeth Warren is their side’s equivalent of everyone’s favorite showboating Republican presidential contender, Ted Cruz. But that’s about it. The rest of the CRomnibus is just an endless string of soul-crushing spending provisions, Wall Street handouts and complete budget funding for a bunch of agencies you don’t even know exist until you accidentally run afoul of them.

There were some winners, though. Republican legislators managed to scale back a few of Michelle Obama’s school lunch reforms, which will mean that fewer middle- and high-school kids will be able to gross out the Internet with their meager and disgusting meals (proven to keep them from obesity by ruining their delicate teenage appetites). Leadership was also able to cancel out EPA regulations that would have compelled cattle and dairy farmers to report and control the “methane gas emissions” from their herd, and prevent them from having to purchase EPA indulgences just so that their cows can safely fart and burp on American soil.

And while you were busy wondering if the government was going to shut down, and busily poring over 15 pounds of the CRomnibus bill, Congress took advantage of the distraction to pass a sweeping endorsement of the NSA’s warrantless data collection program.

With nearly no public notice or debate, Congress on Wednesday approved legislation that critics say blesses the warrantless collection, dissemination and five-year retention of everyday Americans’ phone and Internet communications

The controversial language was quietly incorporated into an intelligence authorization bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday and then the House on Wednesday.

The legislation, privacy advocates say, sanctions for the first time the executive branch’s warrantless collection of American communications under Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981 to authorize the interception of communications overseas.

Section 309 of the intelligence bill sets a five-year limit, with many exceptions, on the retention of U.S. persons’ communications collected under that order, which was issued well before widespread use of cellphones and the Internet….

The good news is that Congress has managed to update a law that was written in 1981, before anyone was using email to do anything other than direct troop movements along the USSR’s Western border. The bad news is, they don’t much care to do anything to the law that reflects any update in technology made since the Reagan administration, and the provision basically rubber stamps what the NSA is already doing. But at least they’re being remarkably efficient in the Obama administration’s service for once: the update comes just in time for a rather large expansion in the Obama Administration’s surveillance program.

The New York Times reported in August that the Obama administration is rewriting internal policies to allow the FBI direct access to a database of raw communications collected under the executive order.

Yaaaaaaaay. I suppose it’s only perfectly appropriate that the U.S. Congress is taking note of the holiday spirit by adopting the same policy towards privacy as the Elf on a Shelf.

 

Cromnibus: Some Good, Some Bad

Somewhat Reasonable - December 16, 2014, 2:08 AM

They , whoever they is, say you’ve got to take the good with the bad. In my opinion, most laws are almost all bad despite the often good intentions of their authors and sponsors.  They routinely violate the constitution and beyond that, after they go through the legislative meat-grinder, result more havoc and unintended harms than fixes for the problems they were meant to correct.

And end all, be all budget bills, where you’ve got to fund the entire government with one big package rather than examining the merits of each line item as an independent measure, are usually the worst kind of wrong, with present and future taxpayers paying billions in welfare to the well-to-do as industry after industry and special interest after special interest gets their own bit of graft.

The so-called Cromnibus passed last weekend was no exception. Still, while limiting myself to environmental provisions in the bill, rather than focusing entirely on the bad provisions, I want to also extoll the merits of the good parts of the final law.

First, on the negative side of the ledger, the Cromnibus resurrected the wind industry’s primary giveaway, the Production Tax Credit.  This boondoggle gives billions of dollars away to wealthy wind developers each year. They are paid not for the electric power actually produced, but rather by the amount of power the wind farms could theoretically deliver in a year.  Wind power wouldn’t survive without subsidies. Despite decades of federal largesse, wind has never been able to compete with coal or more recently natural gas on the basis of either reliability or price. House Republicans fought the PTC for years and were finally successful in preventing it from being renewed in the budget last year.  I’m just flummoxed, as to why, they would pull the stake out and let this vampire rise from the grave to suck more blood from taxpayers. Especially when they will have an even larger majority in the house and control of the Senate next year.

In addition, most of the EPA’s recent regulatory actions and proposals were funded, including the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emission.  This in itself is a huge blow to the economy since regulations of the EPA are a growing as a share of regulatory costs to the economy and studies show that, relative to other agencies, EPA regulations are more cost more per benefit delivered (e.g. lives saved, jobs created, illness prevented) than regulations from almost any other agency. And with the EPA’s carbon and ozone rules promise to be two of the most costly, least beneficial regulations of all time.

There are other provisions that merit thorough critiques, but frankly I’m getting depressed and want to point out some of the nice surprises found in the law.

First, idiotic biofuels programs, experienced a minor cut in funding — $18 million was cut from $694 million in mandatory spending in the 2014 budget bills. Every little bit helps!  Better still, the EPA’s budget was cut by $60 million from its 2014 levels and staffing at the agency could reach a 25-year low next year.  Budget and the staffing numbers are going in the right direction, at least if you subscribe to my view that fewer people and less funding means less mischief.  Also, the law blocks President Obama’s $3 billion pledge to the UN climate fund. I can already see climate treaty’s unraveling.  Going further on the climate front, one provision in the Cromnibus blocks the Export-Import bank from denying financing to coal-fired power plants in developing countries. The Obama administration had been denying such funding as a way to prevent poor countries from using greenhouse gas emitting, but life saving coal powered electricity.

In addition, the cromnibus has provisions that: prevent the the administration listing two types of sage grouse, that live smack dab in the middle of oil and gas country, as endangered species; delay the phase out of traditional incandescent light bulbs; block the EPA from regulation methane emissions from livestock and from farm manure management systems; prevent the EPA and the Army Corp of Engineer’s from issuing new Waters of the Untied States regulations that would have restricted certain agricultural practices and allowed the regulation farm ponds and irrigation ditches under the Clean Water Act.

In an attempt to end costly lawsuits filed by environmental and anti-gun extremists, the cromnibus blocks the EPA from regulating lead in ammunition and fishing lures – something the EPA has repeatedly and correctly asserted it had no power to do. Still that hasn’t stopped environmentalist from filing costly lawsuits; perhaps this provision will.

There is much to bemoan within the environmental portions of the bill and certainly in the more than 1,600 page monstrosity as a whole.  Others will no doubt point out these flaws better than I in the coming days, still to prevent those who like me, care about both a healthy, biodiverse environment and individual freedom and economic prosperity, from pulling out all of their hair or opening a vein, I thought it important to point out at least some of the positive aspects of the bill.

 

 

Categories: On the Blog

Think Three Unelected Bureaucrats Should Raise Taxes Whenever They Want?

Somewhat Reasonable - December 15, 2014, 2:03 PM

That’s what Title II Reclassification of the Internet means.  And that’s what President Barack Obama wants – so as to then impose Network Neutrality.  Last month, President Obama said:

I believe the (Federal Communications Commission) FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act….

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the FCC is supposed to be an independent agency – removed from the influence of politicians and political pressure.  President Obama dropping this bomb is a nigh unprecedented overt effort to exert influence on the Commission’s allegedly non-partisan, fact-based deliberations.

Let’s ignore the fact that Congress passed law – signed by then-President Bill Clinton – that classified the Internet the way it is currently classified.  Thus only Congress can Re-classify it.  This would be yet another unilateral Obama Administration fiat.

Let’s ignore the fact that how Congress classified the Internet has already been adjudicated up to and through the Supreme Court – and the Court ruled it’s classified as it’s classified.

Let’s ignore the fact that the FCC has already twice imposed Net Neutrality – and twice been unanimously told by the D.C. Circuit Court that they don’t have the authority to do so.

Let’s ignore the fact that being twice with unanimity rebuked for overreaching on Net Neutrality and then going for Title II Reclassification is responding to being twice rebuked for a power grab – with an exponentially larger power grab.  Like being twice told you can’t have a piece of pie – and your responding by taking the entire pie.

 

 

Let’s ignore the fact that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler – a President Obama campaign-coin-bundling appointee – is often developing policies, including his looming prospective Title II-Net Neutrality power grab, while completely cutting out of the process the two Commission Republicans (Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly).  And that Commissioners Pai and O’Reilly are routinely delivered hundreds of pages on which they’re supposed to vote – just a scant few hours before they are supposed to vote.  If all of this sounds like, well, most of Congress – it’s only because it should.

The FCC is made up of five voting Commissioners – one of whom also serves as Chairman.  Three are of the President’s Party – two of the opposition Party.  So right now it’s 3-2 Democrat – and Democrat Chairman Wheeler is more and more pressing his partisan advantage.

Let’s ignore all of that.  Let’s instead focus on this.

Should Chairman Wheeler and his two fellow unelected FCC Democrats behave like President Obama, their fellow Donkeys and their ideological brethren want them to and Reclassify the Internet – any three unelected FCC bureaucrats will from then on be able to raise taxes on the Internet whenever they want.

How do we know this?  Phones are regulated under Title II – and this just happened.

FCC Agrees to Raise Taxes on Phones

Except the FCC didn’t.  Three unelected Democrat FCC Commissioners did.  By an additional 17.2%.  Without their two Republican Commission-mates – and without Congress.

The FCC votes on these sorts of items every month.  Which means they could raise taxes on phones every month.  And – post-Reclassification – the Internet.  This phone tax increase will also serve as a preemptive Net tax increase.

And all of this is on top of the gi-normous phone taxes baseline that will immediately apply to the post-Reclassification Web.  This 17.2% hike is a Universal Service Fund (USF) tax increase.  That tax was already absurdly high – a pre-hoist 16.1% of our phone bill.  And even without an FCC vote it goes up every quarter – automatically.

Do we want three unelected FCC Democrat bureaucrats to unilaterally grant themselves the power to tax the Internet at this ridiculous level? And have these tax rates increase automatically – and whenever three unelected bureaucrats want besides?

I didn’t think so.

Categories: On the Blog

We’re Number Two

Somewhat Reasonable - December 15, 2014, 1:44 PM

The U.S. was the world’s number one economy prior to World War II, but it took off bigtime after the war and there has not been a day of my long life in which we were not number one—until now.

 The International Monetary Fund recently released its calculations regarding the world’s economy and concluded that China is the number one economy, producing $17.6 trillion in terms of goods and services, as compared with the U.S. producing $17.4 trillion. It’s not an overwhelming gap, but it is a warning that our economy is going in the wrong direction and has been before and since the financial crisis of 2008.

 Writing in Market Watch, Brett Arends, put it succinctly. “As recently as 2000, we produced nearly three times as much as the Chinese.”

 As discomforting as the IMF news is, the worst news has been significantly under-reported in the nation’s media. The U.S. is now $18 TRILLION in debt.

 In February of 2014, CNS News reported that “The debt of the U.S. government has increased $6,666 trillion since President Barack Obama took office on January 20, 2009, according to the latest numbers released by the Treasury Department.”

 President Obama has been responsible for more debt over the course of his two terms to date than all previous U.S. Presidents in the first 227 years combined.

 Writing in the Daily Caller, Tracy Miller, an associate professor at Grove City College, noted that “Over the first five years of Obama’s presidency, the U.S. economy grew more slowly than during any five-year period since just after the end of World War II, averaging less than 1.3 percent per year. If we leave out the sharp recession of 1945-46 following World War II, Obama looks even worse, ranking dead last among all Presidents since 1932.”

 Why was this man reelected in 2012? One is inclined to find common ground with ObamaCare “architect”, Jonathan Gruber, who called voters “stupid.” 

 I prefer to believe, however, that the voters have been subjected to a non-stop campaign in the national media to get the first black American elected President and then to ignore some truly horrible facts about his two terms in office thus far.

 The voters are not stupid, but they have been deliberately misled by the careful exclusion of news about the actual state of the economy.

Reality caught up with Obama in the two midterm elections of 2012 and 2014. The voters shifted power in Congress to the Republican Party. In the most recent midterms thirteen of the Senators who had voted for ObamaCare were defeated.

As December began, CNS News reported that “The labor force participation rate remained at a 36-year low of 62.8 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

 The BLS measures the percentage of “non-institutional population” in the labor force, those 16 years or older who were not in the military or working in a governmental job, i.e. the private sector.  In September, the rate was the lowest since February 1978!

 To put this in perspective, by November, the number of beneficiaries on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—food stamps—had topped 46,000,000 for 36 straight months according to data released by the Department of Agriculture. The Census Bureau reports that there are 115,048,000 households in the nation as of August 2014. That means the number of households on food stamps equaled 19.75% of all the households in the nation; one out of five. Those on this program outnumber the entire populations of nations such as Poland or Argentina.

 It doesn’t stop there. On December 3 CNS News reported “The total number of people in the United States now receiving federal disability benefits hit a record 10,982,920 in November, up from the previous record set in May, according to newly released data from the Social Security Administration.”

 How bad is the U.S. economy? In August, CNS News’ Terence P. Jeffrey reported that “109,631,000 Americans lived in households that received benefits from one or more federally funded ‘means-tested programs’—also known as welfare—as of the fourth quarter of 2012.” The data came from the Census Bureau. That was the same year Obama was reelected and it represented 35.4% of the entire U.S. population at the time. By the end of 2012, it had increased to 49.5%!

 Means-tested government programs include Social Security, Medicare, railroad retirement, unemployed compensation, worker’s compensation, Veteran’s compensation and Veteran’s educational assistance. The largest of these programs are Social Security and Medicare.

 Why does the U.S. have an $18 TRILLION dollar debt?

 Consider that, in fiscal year 2013, the federal government paid out more than $2 TRILLION in benefits and entitlements according to data from the Bureau of the Fiscal Services’ Monthly Treasury Statement. You don’t have to be a mathematician to conclude that, if more Americans were working, there would be less need for many of the benefits programs and the largest among them would be more financially sound.

 News of new jobs is always welcome, but it hides the deeper problem of too many unemployed and while Congress continues to debate what to do about Obama’s effort to give work permits to illegal aliens and protect them from deportation, the Center for Immigration Studies announced in June that “Since the year 2000 all of the net increase in the number of working-age (16 to 65) people holding a job has gone to immigrants (legal and illegal).” Should the U.S. make five million or more illegal aliens eligible to compete for jobs with its native-born and naturalized population?

 The U.S. must pay billions in interest on its debt. The failure of Congress to address the need to reform the tax code, reduce the deluge of regulations negatively affecting the business and industrial sector, and get control over spending has dug the nation a very deep and dangerous hole.

 Statistics can be daunting, but we all can feel that something is terribly wrong with the economy despite the news about a vigorous Wall Street. The fact remains that Main Street is in trouble.  The nation requires an economy in which new businesses are created and existing ones can afford to expand. That is not happening.

 That is why we are Number Two.

 

Categories: On the Blog

Rising Seas are Nothing New

Somewhat Reasonable - December 15, 2014, 11:31 AM

The most careful analysis of world sea levels suggests they are rising at between zero and 2mm per year.

Sea levels are never still, but with global temperatures flat and snow cover and polar ice steady, sea levels are probably as stable today as they ever get.

However, we still have climatists creating computer models that predict dangerously rising seas to justify their goal to ban coastal development and to revive their failing war on carbon.

Alarmists should study earth history.

At the depth of our most recent ice age, just 16,000 years ago, a thick sheet of ice covered much of North America and Northern Europe. So much water was locked up in ice that humans could walk on dry land from London to Paris, from Siberia to Alaska and from New Guinea to Australia.

There was no Great Barrier Reef as Queensland’s continental shelf was part of the coastal plain, and rivers like the Burdekin met the ocean about 160 km east of its current mouth.

Then, about 13,000 years ago, with no help from man-made engines burning hydrocarbons, the Earth began warming. This was probably caused by natural cycles affecting our sun and the solar system, aided by volcanic heat along Earth’s Rings of Fire under the oceans.

The great ice sheets melted, sea levels rapidly rose some 130m and coastal settlements and ancient port cities were drowned. Without zoning laws to guide them, our smart ancestors moved ahead of the rising waters and adapted happily to the warmer climate with less snow, more rain, more carbon dioxide plant food and more ice-free land.

This warming phase peaked in the Medieval Warm Era about 1,000 years ago, when sea levels also peaked. They fell during the Little Ice Age, rose slightly during the Modern Warm Era, and are relatively stable now.

Rising seas are never a lethal threat to life on Earth. The danger sign is falling sea levels caused by return of the great ice sheets. This would quickly put high-latitude farming into the deep freezer, thus creating widespread starvation. Trying to grow crops on emerging salty mudflats in an icy climate will give future farmers a real climate concern.

And despite World Heritage listing, when the next ice age comes, the skeletons of the stranded Great Barrier Reef will become bleached limestone deposits on the coastal plain. The indestructible coral populations will abandon their marooned homes and build new reefs further out under the retreating seas.

Categories: On the Blog

Still More Politicized Pseudo-Science? The Neonics and Honeybees Saga Takes Interesting, Potentially Fraudulent Turn

Blog - Education - December 15, 2014, 11:26 AM

Widening efforts to blame neonicotinoid pesticides for honeybee “colony collapse disorder” and other “beepocalypse” problems have taken a fascinating turn.

Insisting that scientific evidence shows a clear link between neonics and honeybee population declines, EU anti-insecticide campaigners persuaded the European Union to impose a two-year ban on using the chemicals. Farm organizations and the Union’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Department unsuccessfully opposed the ban, arguing that evidence for a link is not persuasive, and actual field studies in Canada and elsewhere have found little risk to bees from the pesticides.

Then this year’s canola (rapeseed) crop suffered serious losses of 30-50 percent, due to rampaging flea beetles. Over 44,000 acres (18,000 hectares) were declared a total loss. Euro farmers blamed the ban.

Now it appears that the campaign against these newer, safer pesticides – and the scientific papers that supposedly justify the ban – were all part of a rigged, carefully orchestrated environmentalist strategy.

A recently leaked memorandum, dated June 14, 2010, summarizes a discussion earlier that month among four European scientists who wanted to block neonic use. The memo says the four agreed to find prominent authors who could write scientific papers and coordinate their publication in respected journals, so as to “obtain the necessary policy change to have these pesticides banned.”

“If we are successful in getting these two papers published,” the memo continues, “there will be enormous impact, and a campaign led by WWF etc could be launched right away. It will be much harder for politicians to ignore a research paper and a policy forum paper” in a major scientific journal. Initial papers would demonstrate that neonics adversely affect bees, other insects, birds and other species; they would be written by a carefully selected primary author and a team of scientists from around the world. Additional papers would be posted online to support these documents – and a separate paper would simultaneously call for a ban on the sale and use of neonicotinoids.

(The WWF is the activist group World Wildlife Fund or World Wide Fund for Nature.)

One meeting attendee was Piet Wit, chairman of the ecosystems management commission of the environmentalist organization International Union for Conservation of Nature. Another was Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, who became chairman of the IUCN’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which was inaugurated in March 2011, just after the European Union agreed to finance the Task Force to the tune of €431,337 ($540,000). Vouching for the Task Force as an “independent and unbiased” scientific “advisory” group was the same Dr. Maarten Bijleveld, who is also a founding member of the WWF’s Netherlands branch and an executive officer of the IUCN’s environmental committee.

Further underscoring the “independent” nature of these organizations, the EU awarded the IUCN €24,014,125 ($30,000,000) between 2007 and 2013. Moreover, IUCN task force membership is by invitation only – making it easier to implement the Systemic Pesticides Task Force’s stated purpose: to “bring together the scientific evidence needed to underpin action on neonicotinoid pesticides.”

The entire operation is odorously reminiscent of ClimateGate orchestration of alarmist research and banning of studies questioning “dangerous manmade climate change” assertions, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1972 DDT ban, regarding which then-EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus later admitted that he had not attended a single minute of his own task force’s lengthy hearings or read a single page of its findings, which concluded that the insecticide was not dangerous to humans or most wildlife.

The IUCN/WWF campaign also recalls the equally well coordinated effort by Fenton Communications, CBS “60 Minutes” and the Natural Resources Defense Council to ban Alar (a chemical used to keep apples ripening longer on trees), in a way that would channel millions of dollars to the NRDC. It reminds me of former Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Charles Wurster’s assertion that, “If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they never had before.”

Never mind that the Alar scam sent many family apple orchards into bankruptcy – or that millions of African and Asian parents and children have died from malaria because radical greens have made DDT largely unavailable even for disease control. For them, humanitarian concerns rarely enter the discussion.

As science writer Hank Campbell observes, all these campaigns reflect proven strategies “to manipulate science to achieve a political goal.” They follow the Saul Alinsky/Big Green script summarized by Madeleine Cosman: Select and vilify a target. Devise a “scientific study” that predicts a public health disaster. Release it to the media, before legitimate scientists can analyze and criticize it. Generate emotional headlines and public reactions. Develop a government “solution,” and intimidate legislatures or government regulators to impose it. Coerce manufacturers to stop making and selling the product.

Environmental pressure groups have repeatedly and successfully employed these steps.

In a recent speech, Harvard School of Public Health Professor Chensheng Lu claimed that his “Harvard Study” clearly demonstrated that neonics “are highly likely to be responsible for triggering Colony Collapse Disorder.” However, pesticide expert and professional pest exterminator Rich Kozlovich says the vast majority of scientists who study bees for a living vigorously disagree. They cite multiple problems, including the fact that small bee populations were fed “astronomical” levels of insecticide-laced corn syrup, and the colonies examined for Lu’s paper did not even exhibit CCD symptoms.

President Obama has nevertheless relied heavily on all this pseudo-science, to support his June 2014 memorandum instructing relevant U.S. agencies “to develop a plan for protecting pollinators such as honey bees …in response to mounting concerns about [their] dwindling populations on American crops.” The “serious” problem, Mr. Obama insists, “requires immediate attention.”

He is playing his role in the Big Green script but, as my previous articles have noted (here, here and here), nothing in honest, actual science supports his call for yet another Executive Branch end-run around the Legislative Branch and a proper vetting of what we do know about neonics and honeybee problems.

Neonics are vital for numerous crops: canola, soybeans, wheat, winter squash, citrus groves and others.

Derived from a synthetic form of nicotine and often applied to seeds, “neonicotinoids” are incorporated into plants to defend them against pests. This allows growers to be much more targeted in killing crop-threatening insects: only those that actually feed on the plants are affected. This approach (or spraying) also means growers can successfully grow crops with far fewer large-scale insecticide applications, and dramatically reduce reliance on more toxic pesticides that do harm wildlife, including bees. Real-world field studies have shown that bees collecting pollen from plants treated with neonics are not harmed.

Other research has identified serious problems that truly are afflicting bees in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Varroa mites carry at least 19 bee viruses and diseases – and parasitic phorid flies, Nosema intestinal fungi and the tobacco ringspot virus also cause significant colony losses. Beekeepers have accidentally killed entire hives, while trying to address such problems.

Colony Collapse Disorder has shown up from time to time for centuries. A hundred years ago it was called the “disappearing disease.” It now seems to be ebbing, and bee and beehive numbers are climbing.

We need to let real science do its job, and stop jumping to conclusions or short-circuiting the process with politicized papers, anti-neonic campaigns and presidential memorandums. We need answers, not scapegoats. Otherwise, bee mortality problems are likely to spread, go untreated and get even worse, while neonic bans cause widespread crop failures and huge financial losses for farmers.

Still More Politicized Pseudo-Science? The Neonics and Honeybees Saga Takes Interesting, Potentially Fraudulent Turn

Somewhat Reasonable - December 15, 2014, 11:26 AM

Widening efforts to blame neonicotinoid pesticides for honeybee “colony collapse disorder” and other “beepocalypse” problems have taken a fascinating turn.

Insisting that scientific evidence shows a clear link between neonics and honeybee population declines, EU anti-insecticide campaigners persuaded the European Union to impose a two-year ban on using the chemicals. Farm organizations and the Union’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Department unsuccessfully opposed the ban, arguing that evidence for a link is not persuasive, and actual field studies in Canada and elsewhere have found little risk to bees from the pesticides.

Then this year’s canola (rapeseed) crop suffered serious losses of 30-50 percent, due to rampaging flea beetles. Over 44,000 acres (18,000 hectares) were declared a total loss. Euro farmers blamed the ban.

Now it appears that the campaign against these newer, safer pesticides – and the scientific papers that supposedly justify the ban – were all part of a rigged, carefully orchestrated environmentalist strategy.

A recently leaked memorandum, dated June 14, 2010, summarizes a discussion earlier that month among four European scientists who wanted to block neonic use. The memo says the four agreed to find prominent authors who could write scientific papers and coordinate their publication in respected journals, so as to “obtain the necessary policy change to have these pesticides banned.”

“If we are successful in getting these two papers published,” the memo continues, “there will be enormous impact, and a campaign led by WWF etc could be launched right away. It will be much harder for politicians to ignore a research paper and a policy forum paper” in a major scientific journal. Initial papers would demonstrate that neonics adversely affect bees, other insects, birds and other species; they would be written by a carefully selected primary author and a team of scientists from around the world. Additional papers would be posted online to support these documents – and a separate paper would simultaneously call for a ban on the sale and use of neonicotinoids.

(The WWF is the activist group World Wildlife Fund or World Wide Fund for Nature.)

One meeting attendee was Piet Wit, chairman of the ecosystems management commission of the environmentalist organization International Union for Conservation of Nature. Another was Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, who became chairman of the IUCN’s Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, which was inaugurated in March 2011, just after the European Union agreed to finance the Task Force to the tune of €431,337 ($540,000). Vouching for the Task Force as an “independent and unbiased” scientific “advisory” group was the same Dr. Maarten Bijleveld, who is also a founding member of the WWF’s Netherlands branch and an executive officer of the IUCN’s environmental committee.

Further underscoring the “independent” nature of these organizations, the EU awarded the IUCN €24,014,125 ($30,000,000) between 2007 and 2013. Moreover, IUCN task force membership is by invitation only – making it easier to implement the Systemic Pesticides Task Force’s stated purpose: to “bring together the scientific evidence needed to underpin action on neonicotinoid pesticides.”

The entire operation is odorously reminiscent of ClimateGate orchestration of alarmist research and banning of studies questioning “dangerous manmade climate change” assertions, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s 1972 DDT ban, regarding which then-EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus later admitted that he had not attended a single minute of his own task force’s lengthy hearings or read a single page of its findings, which concluded that the insecticide was not dangerous to humans or most wildlife.

The IUCN/WWF campaign also recalls the equally well coordinated effort by Fenton Communications, CBS “60 Minutes” and the Natural Resources Defense Council to ban Alar (a chemical used to keep apples ripening longer on trees), in a way that would channel millions of dollars to the NRDC. It reminds me of former Environmental Defense Fund senior scientist Charles Wurster’s assertion that, “If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they never had before.”

Never mind that the Alar scam sent many family apple orchards into bankruptcy – or that millions of African and Asian parents and children have died from malaria because radical greens have made DDT largely unavailable even for disease control. For them, humanitarian concerns rarely enter the discussion.

As science writer Hank Campbell observes, all these campaigns reflect proven strategies “to manipulate science to achieve a political goal.” They follow the Saul Alinsky/Big Green script summarized by Madeleine Cosman: Select and vilify a target. Devise a “scientific study” that predicts a public health disaster. Release it to the media, before legitimate scientists can analyze and criticize it. Generate emotional headlines and public reactions. Develop a government “solution,” and intimidate legislatures or government regulators to impose it. Coerce manufacturers to stop making and selling the product.

Environmental pressure groups have repeatedly and successfully employed these steps.

In a recent speech, Harvard School of Public Health Professor Chensheng Lu claimed that his “Harvard Study” clearly demonstrated that neonics “are highly likely to be responsible for triggering Colony Collapse Disorder.” However, pesticide expert and professional pest exterminator Rich Kozlovich says the vast majority of scientists who study bees for a living vigorously disagree. They cite multiple problems, including the fact that small bee populations were fed “astronomical” levels of insecticide-laced corn syrup, and the colonies examined for Lu’s paper did not even exhibit CCD symptoms.

President Obama has nevertheless relied heavily on all this pseudo-science, to support his June 2014 memorandum instructing relevant U.S. agencies “to develop a plan for protecting pollinators such as honey bees …in response to mounting concerns about [their] dwindling populations on American crops.” The “serious” problem, Mr. Obama insists, “requires immediate attention.”

He is playing his role in the Big Green script but, as my previous articles have noted (here, here and here), nothing in honest, actual science supports his call for yet another Executive Branch end-run around the Legislative Branch and a proper vetting of what we do know about neonics and honeybee problems.

Neonics are vital for numerous crops: canola, soybeans, wheat, winter squash, citrus groves and others.

Derived from a synthetic form of nicotine and often applied to seeds, “neonicotinoids” are incorporated into plants to defend them against pests. This allows growers to be much more targeted in killing crop-threatening insects: only those that actually feed on the plants are affected. This approach (or spraying) also means growers can successfully grow crops with far fewer large-scale insecticide applications, and dramatically reduce reliance on more toxic pesticides that do harm wildlife, including bees. Real-world field studies have shown that bees collecting pollen from plants treated with neonics are not harmed.

Other research has identified serious problems that truly are afflicting bees in Canada, the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Varroa mites carry at least 19 bee viruses and diseases – and parasitic phorid flies, Nosema intestinal fungi and the tobacco ringspot virus also cause significant colony losses. Beekeepers have accidentally killed entire hives, while trying to address such problems.

Colony Collapse Disorder has shown up from time to time for centuries. A hundred years ago it was called the “disappearing disease.” It now seems to be ebbing, and bee and beehive numbers are climbing.

We need to let real science do its job, and stop jumping to conclusions or short-circuiting the process with politicized papers, anti-neonic campaigns and presidential memorandums. We need answers, not scapegoats. Otherwise, bee mortality problems are likely to spread, go untreated and get even worse, while neonic bans cause widespread crop failures and huge financial losses for farmers.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast: Alex Epstein – The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Somewhat Reasonable - December 15, 2014, 11:24 AM

Alex Epstein makes one of the most compelling arguments for the moral value of fossil fuels and the need to increase their use I have ever read.

Epstein points out the development and use of fossil fuels has benefitted the poor far more than the rich, making available to the person of average means, food, goods and services which even the rulers of old could hardly dream of. Fossil fuels grant freedom and free up time.

Chapter by chapter, through clear and concise analysis, Epstein demonstrates why fossil fuels are the greatest energy technology of all time; why renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are in no position to replace them; why concerns about global warming are overstated and largely misplaced; how fossil fuel use actually improves environmental quality; and why, with more than 1.3 billion people in the world today without access to electricity and the labor and life-saving bounty it makes available, it would be immoral to artificially restrict growth in the use of fossil fuels to prevent climate change.

Epstein’s key point is:

“Climate is no longer a major cause of deaths, thanks in large part to fossil fuels. … Not only are we ignoring the big picture by making the fight against climate danger the fixation of our culture, we are “fighting” climate change by opposing the weapon that has made it dozens of times less dangerous. The popular climate discussion has the issue backward. It looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe. High-energy civilization, not climate, is the driver of climate livability.”

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

Categories: On the Blog

Patents as weapons of self defense

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 11:21 AM

The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Dean Baker notices something strange in the New York Timesprofile of four-year-old Chinese cell phone manufacturer Xiaomi, an emerging player in the global telecommunications market. Specifically, Baker picks out a seemingly throwaway line highlighting that one of the challenges Xiaomi faces is that it “does not yet have much of a patent portfolio, leaving it vulnerable to lawsuits from competitors.”

Baker asks why the lack of a patent portfolio, in and of itself, would necessarily open an emerging tech company to lawsuits:

The answer of course is that patents are used as a harassing tactic. The idea is to bury your competitor with patent suits in the hope that one may actually get past summary judgement and go to trial. This can be time-consuming and expensive for a small company.

The advantage of having a large patent portfolio in this context is that you get to play tit for tat. You turn around and throw a pile of patent suits back at your competitor. The fight usually ends with both sides agreeing to drop suits, and occasionally some licensing fees being paid.

From an economic standpoint, these patent wars are a complete waste, but they nonetheless may prove profitable for a company that fights effectively. It’s too bad that our “free traders” are so opposed to free trade, otherwise we could reduce this source of waste and upward redistribution (patent lawyers tend to be one percenters).

 

 

 

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

Revealed: Little-known Mississippi attorney general go-to man for Hollywood

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 10:45 AM

It’s easy to see how Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood—a Bible-reading, pro-gun, pro-life Democrat—has survived in statewide office even as his already conservative state has turned a deeper shade of red. Quite simply, he’s a likeable, quotable guy who doesn’t seem to have forgotten his roots in New Houlka, Miss. (population 626).

Since taking office in 2003, Hood has done meritorious work bringing Civil Rights Era murderers to justice and has proven himself willing to tussle with insurance companies (over hurricane claims) and drug companies (about prices). Even his ties to once-wealthier-than-Croesus trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs (who finished up his prison sentence in September) seemed only to add to his populist charm.

That’s why it’s very interesting to learn, via the recently leaked trove of Sony emails, that Hood is the go-to-guy for Hollywood movie studios seeking to gain the upper hand in a complex but high-stakes battle with Internet companies over copyright law. In a nutshell, the studios, through the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), are seeking to revive the principles of the controversial SOPA (Stop Online Piracy) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) that would give them and anyone else who owns intellectual property a huge amount of power over the way websites and search engines operate.

The webzine The Verge first reported that one e-mail from MPAA General Xounsel Steven Fabrizio talks about getting together three to five attorneys general but says that “Hood alone, if necessary” will carry water for the studios. Similarly, the website Torrentfreak reports that Hood’s potential reaction to a press release was key in shaping the studios’ public message. Hood, the moviemakers and their lawyers seem to assume, is the guy who can and will issue civil investigative demands to the search engines on all sorts of things that interest them. As Techdirt reports, the studios are willing to spend heavily to get even more AGs to follow in Hood’s footsteps.

They’ll need some sort of strategy like this because the heavily funded push to pass SOPA and PIPA in 2012 failed dismally after groups on the left, right and center — as well as major Internet sites like Wikipedia — launched a major protest involving mass petitions and a one-day site blackout.

No evidence suggests that Hood’s relationship with the movie industry violates any laws or canons of legal ethics. Moreover, none of Hood’s major financial supporters seem to have strong ties to the movie industry. That makes his behavior all the more unusual, since Mississippi has almost no economic interest in the movie industry.

Indeed, the state lacks a major film school, doesn’t house production for a single scripted TV show and has served as the main shooting location for only five widely released movies over the past decade. The MPAA itself says that the state has a total of 242 film-and-television-production related jobs; one of the smallest per-capita totals in the nation. All in all, Mississippi has more people who make their living arranging flowers (460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ databases) than in film and TV production.

Maybe Jim Hood really likes hanging out with movie moguls?

San Antonio votes to crush ride-sharing companies like Uber

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 10:16 AM

From Breitbart:

San Antonio already had the most restrictive regulations for TNCs, according to a study by the free market think tank R Street Institute, as Breitbart Texas reported last month. “Make no mistake. This is not an ordinance to allow ride-sharing. It’s an ordinance to prevent ride-sharing,” said Josiah Neeley, R Street’s Texas Director. “The regulation throws up so many anti-ride-sharing roadblocks, from millions in insurance to written exams, that it will effectively prohibit ride-sharing companies from operating in San Antonio.”

Fannie and Freddie: Proving that insanity is good for business

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 10:10 AM

Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. Even a casual observer of the U.S. economy since its collapse in 2008 is likely familiar with the terms “toxic debt” and “default risk.” As it happens, the good people within the mortgage industry may need a reminder. Because of them, the risk of an earthquake-triggered mortgage default crisis in California appears to be set for an increase.

Recently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two large government-sponsored mortgage enterprises best known for their catastrophic, wealth-transferring, home mortgage lending habits that necessitated a taxpayer bailout to the tune of $187.5 billion, have determined it appropriate to both raise lending limits and to lower downpayment requirements.

What could go possibly wrong?!

For one, recession could result. Once again, individuals with the least ability to sustain mortgage payments will have access to homes beyond their ability to safely afford. In the event of a financial downturn, such individuals will again be prone to default en masse. While this is fantastic news for secured lenders and bureaucrats, the resultant stress of widespread default could have dire consequences for the U.S. economy as a whole.

But that is a story already well told. What is particularly alarming about the latest decision to increase lending limits is that the areas listed are the last places, geographically, that the government should be accruing greater mortgage exposure.

Furthermore, while Fannie and Freddie have chosen to maintain the national conforming loan limit at the same level (it is at $417k for the tenth consecutive year), loan limits have been raised in 46 high-cost counties. Four new California counties are subject to higher limits: Monterey, Napa, San Diego and Ventura. Those four counties join other high-cost California counties like Los Angeles, Orange and San Francisco.

But wait, there’s more. Virtually contemporaneously, Fannie and Freddie have also detailed plans to lower the minimum downpayment required to qualify for their mortgages from 5 percent to 3 percent.

California’s high cost of living provides a fig leaf of political cover for offering higher loan limits, but the case for lowering downpayment requirements beggars belief.

The merits of each decision aside, because some of the increases are in areas that are among the most catastrophe-prone in the nation, they ignore the fact that there is default risk associated with seismic activity that is currently underappreciated.

When a major earthquake next strikes California’s coast, the cost of the damage easily will run into the billions. It has in the past, as was the case with both the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes, and it will happen again. Since the majority of seismic risk in California is, in essence, publicly held, individuals without private insurance or sufficient financial resources to rebuild their homes will have little option or incentive to avoid defaulting on their mortgage. When they default, taxpayers will again have to bail out Fannie and Freddie.

It bears noting that less than 10 percent of California homeowners currently purchase earthquake insurance, and that it is the one major catastrophe peril for which Fannie and Freddie do not currently require insurance coverage for conforming loans. Earthquake default risk is the stuff that bubbles are made of.

Taken together, by increasing the loan limit and lowering the downpayment threshold Fannie and Freddie are placing taxpayers, particularly California taxpayers, at risk.

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

Senator to EPA: Help states tax carbon

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 9:55 AM

From National Journal:

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse wants EPA, as it crafts a major rule to cut carbon pollution from power plants, to explore how it could help states comply by taxing emissions. His broad comment letter to EPA on the planned rule states: “EPA should … carefully consider comments from the Brookings Institution, R Street Institute, and others on steps EPA could take to enable states to comply using carbon taxes or fees.” It also expresses support for states banding together in carbon trading systems.

Underwater

Out of the Storm News - December 15, 2014, 9:49 AM

From Earth Island Journal:

To this day, there is debate within the SmarterSafer coalition regarding whether the backlash against Biggert-Waters was a grassroots uprising or the result of a professional lobbying campaign. Eli Lehrer of the free-market think tank R Street Institute dismissed the intensity of grassroots protest and attributed the backlash to concerted efforts of groups like the National Association of Realtors. “The people on the other side of reform have a lot more money, incalculably more almost,” he insisted.

Stop the outrageous spending

Somewhat Reasonable - December 14, 2014, 5:25 PM

At some point between Thanksgiving and December 1, the federal government made history, as the value of outstanding U.S. Treasury securities exceeded $18 trillion—that’s an 18 with 12 trailing zeroes. At some point, such numbers begin to lose their meaning because the amounts exceed most people’s ability to comprehend.

The abstraction of such numbers, in turn, makes it difficult to understand just how gigantic a problem the national debt is. However, using tangible objects to represent the magnitude of the debt can help solve that problem.

Divided equally, each American household’s share of the national debt is roughly $153,846—about enough money to buy a two-story house with four bedrooms in Jacksonville, Florida. Breaking it down further, each American adult’s share of the debt is about $74,074, or the price tag on a real, working, back-mounted personal jetpack.

However, imagining not having an additional Florida home or back-mounted jetpacks may still be a bit too abstract. So try this: Imagine a single 100 dollar bill. For most Americans, that is enough money to fund a really good night out on the town.

Now visualize a pallet of those Benjamins. An ISO-standard pallet of hundreds, wrapped in bundles and stacked on top of one another, is equivalent to $100 million.

Imagine having 10 of these pallets of money, which amounts to $1 billion. Assuming a daily spending rate of $10,000—over $400 per hour—the average individual would require nearly three centuries to spend it all.

On the other hand, the federal government spends at an average rate of roughly $399,315,459 per hour, every hour of every day. In other words, while our hypothetical individual billionaire needs multiple lifetimes to make it rain with such volume, our real-life government spends 10 pallets of one-hundred dollar bills in less than three hours.

As documented by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) this fall, the federal government is very adept at spending money it expects to collect from the taxpayers of tomorrow in order to fund the things it wants today.

For example, 11 federal agencies spent a combined $50 million, amounting to half a pallet of hundreds, on paid administrative leave—or, perhaps more accurately, paid vacations—for public servants accused of bad behavior such as viewing pornography at work or drunk driving.

The U.S. State Department spent nearly a full pallet, $90 million, to promote “cultural exchange programs,” including the rap stylings of Arkansas Bo and Big Piph. Bo and Piph’s message transcends national and cultural barriers, asking the eternal question of “y’all got some ass though … If you don’t want me looking, what the hell you wear ‘em for?”

Another example of the government’s aptitude for spending astronomical amounts of money is literally astronomical. The national government burned through 30 pallets of money, or $3 billion, testing the performance of golf clubs at the International Space Station in 2013. Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mothballed the American space program in 2011, every visit to space costs the taxpayers roughly a pallet and a half of c-notes, payable to the Russian government.

Frivolous spending in the federal government abounds, trading tomorrow’s expected wealth for today’s desires. To many people, the problem seems insurmountable, but the first step to take when stuck at the bottom of a hole is simple: stop digging!

[Originally published at the Washington Times]
Categories: On the Blog

The Expert’s Cloudy Crystal Balls

Somewhat Reasonable - December 13, 2014, 2:12 PM

In late October I wrote a commentary “Is America in Decline?” based on a book by James MacDonald, “When Globalism Fails: The Rise and Fall of Pax Americana”, due for sale in January from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Within days I received “The Accidental Super Power: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and The Coming Global Disorder” by Peter Zeihan. Both authors have good credentials, but the former concludes our position as a super power will recede in the decades ahead and the latter says we will be the only one left as the rest of the world runs into problems that the U.S. will be able to ignore.

Zeihan, a geopolitical analyst, offers the scenario of an America, blessed by its location and ability to provide its own energy and agriculture, that will be largely untouched by a future in which most other nations will suffer various unpleasant levels of decline.

Both Zeihan and MacDonald see the U.S. abandoning its role since the end of World War II in 1945 as the generator and protector of free trade. Our naval capability has kept the world’s sea lanes open and free of predators, a boon to all nations. A system for free trade set up at Breton Woods in 1944 has served the world well, including former enemies, Germany and Japan. Other nations, depending on their location, resources, and population, have had varying degrees of success.

“The conventional wisdom that the United States’ best days are behind it” says Zeihan, “isn’t simply wrong. It’s laughably so. In 2014 we’re not witnessing the beginning of the end of American power, but the end of the beginning. In fact, we’re on the cusp of a shift in the international order just as profound as those delegates back in 1944 experienced.”

While MacDonald sees the role of the U.S. as Pax Americana waning, Zeihan sees a national withdrawal from the international scene based on the wealth the shale oil and natural gas technology is generating and the productivity of our huge agricultural sector to keep us fed while other nations struggle to grow and find food sources.I disagree with Zeihan. Americans don’t like having to be involved in the problems that other nations create, but they also see themselves as the solution whether it is deterring rogue nations that threaten their neighbors or aiding when a natural disaster occurs.Zeihan focuses on the role of maritime power on the oceans that gave rise to Great Britain and other nations that could field a navy that could trade at great distances from their homelands. The history of colonization reflects that power. Internally, he points out how blessed the U.S. has been with a waterway system of numerous navigable rivers that made it possible, for example, to grow wheat in the midland but ship it anywhere. This ability to transport food crops as well as people opened America to fairly rapid expansion and growth.

Unlike other nations, its population came from everywhere and reproduced at rates to meet its need for labor, while its free market system, along with the industrial revolution, stimulated innovation and growth. The oldest constitutional government in the world generated confidence in an “idea” called freedom and liberty instead of relying on blind nationalism.

While I may disagree with some of Zeihan’s predictions about the future, his book provides a wealth of information about the individual advantages and disadvantages of the nations whom we regard as either friendly toward or threatening our nation. Their locations are critical to their future and always have been. Their ability to transport people and goods within and beyond those locations are also critical factors.

Overlaying that is demographics, the statistics of population, identifying which nations whose people are “getting older” and which have enough younger people to generate wealth while the older generation retires and lives off their own savings and/or government programs such as our Social Security and Medicare.

Zeihan points out that “The United States is far and away the world’s largest consumer market and has been since shortly after the Civil War. As of 2014, that consumer base amounts to roughly $1.5 trillion. That’s triple anyone else, larger than the consumer bases of the next six countries—Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, China and Italy—combined, and double that of the combined BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).”

 

Zeihan believes that “the free trade era is closing (and) demography tell us that the era of consumption-driven growth that has been the economic norm for seventy years is coming to an unceremonious end.” He believes that the “global financial wave will crest at some point between 2020 and 2024” and predicts that “Poland and Russia will be among the nations whose populations will not keep up with their need for labor.”

“Between 2020 and 2024, thirteen of the world’s top twenty-five economies will be in the ranks of the financially distressed. The new arrivals will include Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and of course the United States. With 90 percent of the developed world in that unfortunate basket, the availability of capital and credit for all will plummet.”

That Ziehan’s scenario and he blames it on “aging demographies”, but he does not factor in the ability for various elements of the world’s population, the younger ones in particular, to move around the planet and respond to occupational opportunities. A current example is the exodus from Mexico and some Latin American nations to the United States for jobs and better lives. Can we absorb the current numbers of illegal aliens? I think yes and I also believe being able to impose “security” along a two thousand mile southern border is probably a fantasy. If we actually enforced our immigration laws this problem would be reduced.

Mexico is our third largest trading partner. To the north Canada ranks second. Together we make up a continent, as Zeihan predicts, that will not be negatively affected as other nations.

So, while we worry about Russia, Zeihan sees it in rapid decline. While pundits tell us of China’s rise to financial preeminence, he reminds us that we felt the same about Japan not that long ago. And China has massive demographic problems, not the least of which is an aging population. He doesn’t hold out much hope for the European Union. Et cetera.

I do not possess Zeihan’s or MacDonald’s credentials, but my instinct tells me that a sudden, rapid international decline is unlikely to occur. It’s a different world in which we all live and far more connected in many ways. Adjustments and changes will be made as they always have, but we are not likely to see a century like the last one that was dominated by wars. They are just too expensive.

Categories: On the Blog

Poet of understatement: Mark Strand, 1934-2014

Out of the Storm News - December 12, 2014, 5:31 PM

Before his death late last month at the age of 80, Mark Strand could claim one of the most varied careers of Americans active in the arts. Born on Prince Edward Island in 1934 and raised everywhere from Montreal to Brazil to pre-Castro Cuba, Strand was a painter, collage-maker, translator, writer, art critic and, most of all, a poet. He received nearly every honor available to an American poet: poet laureate/poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (1990-91), a Pulitzer Prize (1999), a six-figure no-strings-attached MacArthur Fellowship (1987), and a slew of other awards.

To a large extent, he deserved these laurels: Strand was an almost always good, sometimes great, writer of lyric and prose poems that conjure up moving, striking images in readers’ minds. And Strand wasn’t a lightweight, either: It’s hard to find a word or thought out of place, or an idea uncompleted, in his work. While he could do a fine job with a simple environmental description of snow, water and meadows, his more complex works, dealing with big questions like immortality and love, require careful reading and rereading.

What makes Strand’s work—all together for the first time in this final Collected Poems—all the more impressive is that it isn’t designed to impress: He almost never used a five-dollar word when a five-cent one would do, he rarely wrote in formal meter, and he used personal experience for much of his material. Over the course of an artistic career that lasted a half-century, he found few new tricks. This lack of showiness, more than anything else, established him as a significant artist.

Strand trained as a painter and, in interviews, spoke explicitly about the ways that painting, particularly surrealism, and his artistic training influenced his poetry. Even in his simpler early poems, he shows a keen ability to connect observation and emotion. Take this passage from the title poem of his first published collection, Sleeping with One Eye Open (1964):

Even the half-moon
(Half man,
Half dark), on the horizon,
Lies on
Its side casting a fishy light
Which alights
On my floor, lavishly lording
Its morbid
Look over me. 

This isn’t all that hard to understand or decode, but it’s interesting and lyrical enough to arouse the reader’s emotions. It’s elegantly crafted, if not traditionally metered. And when Strand gets more difficult, he’s just as good. One of his best early poems, “The Story of Our Lives” (1973), might be considered a cubist piece of poetry. Like a painting by Picasso or Klee, it simultaneously describes the same thing from different perspectives: the long-term arc of a relationship between a couple sitting together on a couch, under a variety of circumstances, through the literary device of a written book that is “the story of our lives.” The poem then examines that conceit from perspectives in relativistic space-time before ending on an uncertain, but ultimately affirming, examination of human existence, where a narrator’s voice concludes:

The book would have to be written
And would have to be read.
They are the book and they are
Nothing else.

Hitting this passage, after unraveling a fair amount of Strand’s other work, feels like an accomplishment—and one that makes a rather difficult poem well worth working through. It’s a solution to a longstanding crux of Strand’s own creation.

The Monument (1978), the last major piece of work that can be shelved with “poetry” produced by Strand until 1990, offers similar rewards to those who make their way through Strand’s musings on the philosophical concept of immortality in physical science, literary, philosophical and artistic senses. (Despite its classification, The Monument is almost entirely in prose.) Take, for example, his statement that “it has been necessary to submit to vacancy in order to begin again, to clear ground, to make space. I can allow nothing to be received. Therein lies my triumph and my mediocrity.” It’s a paradoxical thought that raises questions about everything from Harold Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence to the responsibility of authors to their readers.

Strand also had a zest for language itself. His free translations of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade are better and more moving than efforts (including some of his own) to do more direct translations from Drummond de Andrade’s native tongue. Strand changed lyrical Portuguese into a differently pretty, but clearly Germanic, English.

Strand’s short prose poems—which, because they often follow clear narrative arcs, are more like the microcuentos of the Peruvian writer William Guillén Padilla than poems, per se—became a more important part of his body of work over the years. His final collection of new work, Almost Invisible (2012), consists entirely of these. “Harmony in the Boudoir” is a typical example. The plot: A man stands at the foot of the bed and tells his wife that she will never know him. She, surprisingly, isn’t that disturbed and ends her reply by telling him: That you barely exist as you are couldn’t please me more. This is both amusing and thought-provoking: light on its surface, but with deep resonance.

It can be argued that it takes little sophistication to write free verse, and, on their surface, the short prose poems Strand turned to most recently are among the simplest art forms possible: They are the equivalent of anecdotes that just about everyone relates to in one way or another. But the sophistication of all this (and it’s there in almost all of Strand’s works) is often found far from the surface. And much like his poetry, Strand himself was modest and rarely showy in interviews.

There’s a fair amount of critically lauded modern visual art, and even some modern poetry, that just about anybody could produce. Mark Strand’s work—deceptively simple and self-indulgent as it may be—is good, challenging poetry well worth the time and effort it takes to appreciate.

Can a state fill a budget gap with a price on carbon? Wash. may soon know

Out of the Storm News - December 12, 2014, 4:33 PM

From E&E News:

“As much as I wish the EPA rule would be done away with … this is really the best way for states to deal with it,” said Lori Sanders, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute. “Whether it’s cutting corporate income taxes or personal income taxes, they can get rid of those and be pricing their carbon externality.” Sanders made it clear, however, that R Street is not in favor of using a carbon tax to plug budget holes, as Washington’s Inslee may recommend next week. “That’s not really our jam,” she said.

And she conceded that Republican-dominated states likely wouldn’t be interested in creating a new tax, no matter what the circumstances are. “I think the states where [a revenue-neutral carbon tax] works are the states that are the right mix of being Republican enough to look for market-oriented solutions, but maybe Democratic enough that the idea of a carbon price doesn’t scare them away.”

Feeling our ObamaCare pain

Health Care Suite - In The News - December 12, 2014, 2:56 PM
Imagine how long ObamaCare would last if the folks who wrote and approved the law were forced to live by its rules. Sen. David Vitter has been waging this…
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