Feed aggregator

Nina: Not racist, just terrible

Out of the Storm News - April 22, 2016, 11:03 AM

Among all the many problems that bedevil Nina, the Nina Simone biopic that finally comes to theatres this Friday nearly two years after making its debut at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, the natural pigmentation of star Zoe Saldana does not feature among the 10 or 20 or 30 biggest.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the news coverage around the film, which has focused equally on the epic shade thrown Saldana’s way by Simone’s estate via Twitter (“Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”) and the filmmakers’ decision to use makeup to darken Saldana’s relatively light-skinned complexion to more closely match the late singer, which has raised the usual concerns about “blackface.”

It’s true that Saldana bears not the slightest physical resemblance to Simone, even with the cosmetic enhancements and the Jan Brady fright wig. Where the film’s makeup crew actually fall most short is in their utter failure to allow any in the audience to suspend disbelief, even momentarily, that this beautiful 33-year-old actress (at the time of filming) could convincingly portray a 62-year-old alcoholic manic depressive.

But in truth, when all is said and done, Saldana is almost certainly the best thing about this muddled mess of a picture. Her performance, while displaying more ham than an Easter dinner, clearly demonstrates that she studied Simone’s staccato mannerisms and haughty affectations pretty intensely. She even acquits herself well behind the microphone, doing her own singing and making the wise choice not to strive for a Simone impression in that arena.

Given a career and a life as big and intense and all-too-often tragic as Nina Simone’s – from 1959’s I Loves You, Porgy through her political radicalization and support for black separatism through her decision, in 1974, to leave the United States behind forever – any biopic would have difficulty finding the appropriate focus. First-time director Cynthia Mort, previously best known as a writer for 1990s sitcoms, chooses as her window the Nina Simone of 1995 — embittered, paranoid and ready to draw a gun at the slightest provocation.

Nina sees its protagonist become enamored with a handsome young psychiatric nurse, played by Selma’s David Oyelowo, who is equally taken with her, albeit in a purely platonic way. As fate would have it, Oyelowo’s Clifton Henderson goes on to become Simone’s personal assistant and, later, her manager, guiding her toward a planned comeback/farewell concert in Central Park, even as he must endure her personal instability, unwelcome sexual harassment and homophobic slurs. In this way, the plot positions Henderson as Joe Gillis to Simone’s Gloria Swanson.

All of which might be a perfectly serviceable, if well-trodden framing device for ruminations on Simone’s life, the passions that animated her and the forces that conspired to keep her down, including her own self-destructive streak. The film does offer some flashbacks, but none that illuminate how such a unique talent ended up so broken down. Meanwhile, the plot never quite manages to shift out of neutral and the hokey and cliché-ridden script does its talented leads no favors. The film’s best moments tend to be its quietest, as Saldana works through the unique facial and body language to express all 36 flavors of “tortured.”

Its billing as a racially problematic film probably isn’t fully deserved. But Nina does manage to accomplish one final indignity that actual racist segregationists and a corrupt music industry and mental illness combined could not: It makes this towering figure of the 20th century appear small.

Chilling Scientific Inquiry

Somewhat Reasonable - April 22, 2016, 10:00 AM

In 2009, there was a massive email leak from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia. Supporters of global warming claimed the disclosures were out of context while opponents claimed they showed efforts to manipulate data. One of the quoted emails, Professor Phil Jones, while discussing paleo-data used to reconstruct past temperatures, says, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” (Emphasis added.) The House of Commons investigated and concluded, “insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to ‘hide the decline’—we consider that there is no case to answer.”

In the 1970s, scientists told us to fear global cooling and warned about the coming ice age. In 1970 alone, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the LA Times all published stories with headlines like “Scientists See Ice Age in the Future.” Time Magazine’s cover story on Jan. 31, 1973, (still posted on the Magazine’s website) was all about “The Big Freeze.” Two years later, Newsweek reported, “There are ominous signs that the earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production—with serious political implications.” The problem—warming? No, cooling! The story concluded, “Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend,” but “they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century.”

For whatever reasons, polls consistently indicate that many Americans are skeptical that global warming is a serious problem. If it is a problem, many question whether it is a man-made problem. Change is, after all, what the climate does. Americans share their skepticism with most of the rest of the world. One recent poll found only 9.2 percent of Americans rate global warming as their top concern.

What should the government do about this general disbelief about global warming? Normally, one should think that if the government should do anything, it would be to encourage further scientific research and publish the results of that research. If others embrace an incorrect view of the facts, the remedy is more speech (not less) so that all the speech can be tested in the market place of ideas.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. told us nearly a century ago that the “ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.” [Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616,630 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting).] Even if the other fellow says something you think is impossible (he claims to have squared the circle), just allow more speech, and others will eventually understand that he is wrong if we protect the free marketplace of ideas.

Or, maybe this free marketplace will allow us to discover that the other fellow is right. It was not until 1985 that scientists discovered physical evidence of the Big Bang. Georges Lemaître, a physicist at the Catholic University of Leuven and a Belgian priest, first proposed the Big Bang in 1927. Einstein rejected Lemaître’s theory, saying, “Your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious.”

Although Einstein knew Lemaître was wrong, Einstein did not seek to silence him. In modern times, Lemaître’s theory might bring in some major grant money. Still, in the prior century, no government would sue Lemaître for fraud in propounding his theory—even though the government’s expert witness would be none other than Albert Einstein himself, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.

For most of human history, scientists and philosophes going back to Aristotle believed the universe just is—it was always here. After Lemaître, scientists, and those who funded them, tried to find proof, and the answer they got surprised them: Lemaître was right. Now, most scientists believe that our universe had a beginning, and they debate whether it will have an end.

So, what should we do about those people who are trying to show that global warming is not man-made, that it is not coming as soon as others claim, or that the benefits of warming outweigh the burdens? We could emulate the open debate between Lemaître and Einstein.

Ah, that’s so twentieth century. If the people do not believe something, the government should sue. Litigation is the American way. The Attorney General of California, Kamala D. Harris, is using her power to investigate those who sell fossil fuels. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also calling for criminal investigations.

Attorney General Harris—who is supposed to use her office to protect constitutional rights—is investigating whether companies like Exxon Mobil Corp. lied to the public about global warming, whether that amounts to securities fraud and violations of environmental laws.

Not to be outdone, the New York Attorney General is also investigating. Eighteen other state attorneys general are also exploring alleged crimes. That will teach those who question global warming that the government is not fooling around. Investigations will cost the companies and the scientists a lot of money to answer subpoenas and interrogatories. That is the point of chilling scientific inquiry.

Things could go well beyond that. Search warrants executed at night may be the next step for Harris’s investigation. That’s what she did when whistleblowers released video evidence of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of body parts. The Attorney General’s investigators burst into the home of David Daleiden, the man behind the video release, as if he were a Mexican drug lord kingpin. They seized his laptop and other material and tried to seize his phone while he was using it to talk to his lawyers. However, they “ignored” evidence “in his homethat showed an illegal agreement between StemExpress, a tissue procurement company, and Planned Parenthood.”

Meanwhile, Exxon has “unequivocally” rejected the allegations that it “suppressed climate change research,” given “Exxon Mobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research that was conducted publicly in conjunction with the Department of Energy, academics and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.“

Let us put to one side an inconvenient truth—Exxon could hardly “suppress” any research given the fact that research warning about global warming has been published continually for many decades.

Another inconvenient truth is that there are still many open questions about global warming that need answers—why has the rate of global warming not followed what most scientific models predicted; are the oceans absorbing substantially more carbon dioxide that anyone expects; should there have been more global warming during WWI and WWII, when the massive bombings unleashed a deluge of carbon dioxide?

We are allowed to dispute other scientific theories. Scientists argue whether man will ever be able to travel faster than light, although Einstein said that is the universal speed limit. Scientists argue whether our universe is the only one or merely one of an infinite number. Some scientists believe that the universe is in a steady state, with the spontaneous creation of matter and energy out of a vacuum.

We develop human knowledge by testing competing theories, not outlawing them. The thought that government authority would investigate those who advocate one position instead of the other is baffling. This is, after all, not the Middle Ages, when people were punished if they did not believe that the earth was the center of the solar system.

Kamala Harris does not use her prosecutorial powers to chill expression about global warming in any principled way. Consider marijuana. For many decades, the government told us that marijuana is a drug, with no legitimate use. During that time, it was not unusual for the federal government to fund research on why marijuana is detrimental. Should the State Attorney General investigate those who received these federal grants and prosecute them for lying about marijuana because they engaged in advocacy research?

The federal government will soon reschedule marijuana. That change will allow researchers to study whether marijuana can be beneficial. Once the federal government reschedules marijuana, will Harris now be investigating those who engage in advocacy research to show the beneficial effects of marijuana?

In 1970 and for years after that, the government urged us to avoid red meat, egg yolks, and whole milk (too much fat). We complied with the food pyramid. From 1970 to 2005, the Department of Agriculture reported, proudly, that consumption of eggs and red meat fell by 17 percent, and whole milk by 73 percent.

We should be glad that there was no ambitious Attorney General Kamala D. Harris around, because she would have tried to prosecute food industry companies if they funded research into the benefits of eggs, meat, and milk. You see, during the same period (1970-2005) where the public followed the Federal Food Pyramid, the incidence of diabetes doubled! Studies now show that people eating dairy products like whole milk have less of a problem with heart disease than those who do not.

In United States v. Alvarez (2012) (6 to 3), the Supreme Court told us that we have a constitutional right to lie about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Court was not recommending lying, but it recognized that if the government can punish that, we go down a steep slippery slope. Justice Kennedy said that the government cannot “compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable.” Justice Breyer defended lying, “even in technical, philosophical, and scientific contexts, where (as Socrates’ methods suggest) examination of a false statement (even if made deliberately to mislead) can promote a form of thought that ultimately helps realize the truth.”

Even the three dissenters in Alvarez would protect lying in matters of science: “Laws restricting false statements about philosophy, religion, history, the social sciences, the arts, and other matters of public concern” would “present a grave and unacceptable danger of suppressing truthful speech.” Harris and the other Attorneys General should read Alvarez.

The marketplace of ideas, not the subpoena power of government, should decide what is true or false.

[Originally published at Verdict]

Categories: On the Blog

The Cold, Hard Truth About Global Warming Health Myths

Somewhat Reasonable - April 22, 2016, 9:13 AM

Multiple attorneys general in the United States celebrated the country’s 47th annual recognition of Earth Day on April 22 by issuing subpoenas to so-called global warming “deniers” in the preceding weeks.

The Obama administration supplied the pretext for investigating and potentially prosecuting scientists for such thoughtcrime when President Barack Obama told Congress in his 2015 State of the Union Address “no challenge”—not ISIS, North Korea, or the incorrigible Vladimir Putin—“poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

The alarmists’ health scare focuses on fears of increasing sickness and death from heat waves, air pollution, and disease. These health fears are not only baseless but in fact defy common sense. An abundance of scientific research shows global warming threatens no one’s health and in fact is probably salubrious. First, scientific studies contradict the notion a warming planet will cause heat waves and therefore more sickness and death. The temperature increases tend to be at night and in cooler climes, not a uniform warming.

Dangerously Cold

We typically suffer from more illness during cold winters than in warm summers. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control peg the U.S. influenza season as being between November and April, the winter months. The World Health Organization defines the Southern Hemisphere flu season as May to October, the winter months for that portion of the planet. Countless other diseases follow this pattern.

It has always been true more people get sick during periods of cold weather, and more people die as a result. The late Dr. William Keating, professor of physiology at Queen Mary and Westfield College, led a team in 2000 that studied temperature-related deaths for people between the ages of 65 and 74 in England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. The team found deaths related to cold temperatures were more than nine times greater than those related to hot temperatures. Heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory illness were responsible for most of the cold weather deaths.

A similar study by Dr. Matthew Falagas at the Alfa Institute of Medical Science in Athens, Greece studied seasonal mortality for Australia, Canada, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Spain, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States. Falagas’ team found the average number of deaths per month was lowest in summer and fall and peaked in the cold months for all nations.

Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, points out any global warming that occurs in the foreseeable future will likely reduce human mortality. In Great Britain alone, 25,000 to 50,000 people die each year from excess cold, Lomborg calculates.

So, it seems strange on all counts the White House released a report in April 2016 predicting a heat wave in summer 2030—yes, you read that right—that is projected to cause 11,000 premature deaths.

The 2009 U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), led by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, predicted hotter summers due to global warming would take more lives than a warmer planet’s milder winters would save.

Were such a prediction accurate, one would expect Alaska, North Dakota, and Canada to share renown for weather conducive to better health, and one would assume older people would want to move there to improve their life expectancy. Obviously, that’s not the case. How could our older relatives retiring in droves to Arizona, Florida, and Texas be so daft? Don’t they know they’re suffering?

Hot (Clean) Air

The USGCRP report tried to make the case warmer temperatures will cause more air pollution, specifically an increase in ozone caused by “higher temperatures and associated stagnant air masses.” But in earlier chapters, the report warns warmer temperatures will cause more frequent, heavier rainfall and intense turbulent weather events, which surely does not sound like stagnant air masses. As for ozone increases, over recent decades—when Earth’s temperature did increase nearly a degree Fahrenheit—airborne ozone consistently declined. The notion warmer temperatures will increase air pollution is feeble.

Temperatures Tangential 

The same report makes a weak case for a global warming-induced increase of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria, West Nile Virus, and other parasites, but most scientific studies show temperature is a minor factor in the spread of disease.

Dr. Paul Reiter, medical entomologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, pointed out malaria was endemic to England during the colder climate of the Little Ice Age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Reiter also reported the Soviet Union experienced an estimated 16 million cases of malaria during the years 1923–25, with 30,000 cases in Archangel, a city located very close to the Arctic Circle.

Despite the rise in temperature experienced as the Little Ice Age came to a close in the twentieth century, infectious diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, tuberculosis, and malaria have all been eliminated in developed countries. The reasons were improved sanitation, water purification, vaccines, mosquito control, and other public health programs, whereas temperature was an insignificant factor and remains so.

Ignoring the evidence regarding the real health effects of warmer temperatures is central to global warming alarmists’ efforts to make the public fearful. Recent surveys list global warming at the bottom of topics that concern the public, but do not expect the fear-mongering to end any time soon.

Jay Lehr (jlehr@heartland.org) is science director at The Heartland Institute. Steve Goreham (gorehamsa@comcast.net) is executive director of the Climate Science Coalition of America.

Image via Thinkstock

Categories: On the Blog

#65 Government Transparency

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 4:54 PM

From TechFreedom

These days, it costs almost nothing to publish information online. So why isn’t more government information available to the public? Taxpayers spend $100 million a year on the Congressional Research Service (CRS), but only Congress gets to decide whether the research gets published. Is that fair? Should the CRS just put it all online? Evan is joined by Kevin Kosar, Senior Fellow at the R Street Institute and a supporter of legislation that would make all CRS reports public. Is there any potential harm to releasing this information? Could more transparency improve citizens’ view of government? For more, see Kevin’spost on Medium.

Five climate lies the attorneys general aren’t investigating

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 4:20 PM

The attorneys general of 20 states have launched an investigation into groups they suggest have misled the public on the dangerous reality of climate change. Caught up in the inquisition of climate heretics are ExxonMobil, which has funded much private sector climate research and which today supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that rejects climate alarmism in favor of advocating energy affordability and abundance.

Through subpoenas for communications and research on climate change, the AGs aim to unearth any intentional misinterpretation of climate science. But the real inconvenient truth in this situation is that science itself is very much open to interpretation. It is, in fact, possible to disagree over the causes, effects and severity of climate change, and the pursuit of science and an appropriate policy response is advanced by having numerous voices engaging these difficult questions.

Misstating or exaggerating scientific consensus is a bipartisan offense. While we at R Street would never condone going after any organization for exercising its rights to free speech and advocacy, especially in pursuit of scientific truth, a few examples of scientific misinterpretation from the environmental community may serve as a helpful counterpoint to the witch-hunt pursued by these overzealous AGs.

Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation: “There will be no polar ice by 2060 … Somewhere along that path, the polar bear drops out.”

Yes, Arctic sea ice is shrinking and seasonal sea-ice loss continues to grow, but the former president of the National Wildlife Federation takes it a step too far when it comes to the polar bears. What we know today is that bear populations are stable and adapting well to changes in ice patterns and their health parameters, including weight and reproductive rates, are strong. Zoologists have documented population declines in just 3 of 19 subpopulations, and those declines have stabilized or rebounded in recent years.

Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “We’re in for a rough ride over the next 10 years.”

In 2005, fresh off speculation about the link between hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and climate change, meteorology researcher Kerry Emanuel predicted a devastating decade of hurricane activity. While climate change unequivocally is increasing the ocean temperatures that lend hurricanes more energy and destructive power, we’re not yet certain whether hurricane frequency and intensity are actually increasing. The record actually suggests the number of hurricanes to make U.S. landfall has declined over the past 150 years. In fact, it has been more than a decade since a major hurricane – Category 3 or higher – has made landfall in the United States.

Rhea Suh, Natural Resources Defense Council: “Climate change played a direct and possibly determinative role in the death and destruction of a huge swath of the southern Philippines.”

The NRDC president attributed 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon in Philippine history, to climate change. Again, no particular weather event can be tied to a changing climate, even if anthropogenic forces make certain types of weather events more likely. The typhoon was a devastating tragedy, but that does not justify seizing on the deaths of 6,300 people to generate irrational and reactionary fear about the future impacts of climate change.

James Hansen, Columbia University: “Game over for the climate.”

With a doctorate in physics and a long career in climatological research, this former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies should know better than to offer overly simplistic sound bites on complex policy decisions – in this case, whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Yes, combustion of fossil fuels will add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, but it’s far beyond scientific consensus to suggest that forestalling climate catastrophe requires closing off any one source of carbon.

Leonardo DiCaprio, United Nations: “We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections.”

This U.N. Messenger of Peace falls into a familiar trap. Scientists are still trying to parse which weather events might be made more likely by a changing climate, but we do have a rich data record for the pace of temperature rise and ice melt. Researchers have been trying to determine why warming has slowed of late, pointing to several factors that might help reduce the sensitivity of the atmosphere to greenhouse-gas-forced warming. The short answer is that the climate system is a bit more dynamic than we’d appreciated. Ice is proving similarly durable. The Greenland and West Antarctic glaciers hold enough water to raise sea levels alarmingly, so scientists keep a close eye on melting patterns. Thankfully, geologic features are working against runaway melting, restricting glacial flow, slowing the pace of glacial retreat and delaying sea-level rise.

If Al Gore weren’t part of this activist push against scientific dissent, the AGs might want to look into his history of bombastic statements about the future of our climate as well. Consider, “I believe it is appropriate to have an overrepresentation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are.” It’s enraging to see one of the principle instigators of this investigation openly admit to engaging in the very behavior he wants to expose.

Of course, this isn’t actually about rooting out scientific misrepresentation, but rather discrediting any analysis that derails support for aggressive cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions. Climate change is real, happening, and human caused to a significant extent. It demands a thought-out, hotly debated, well-informed policy response that accounts not just for the science but also for the non-climatic consequences of any decision. Suggesting caution isn’t wicked, but necessary to the debate.

Data can only inform policy choices, not direct them. The AGs’ crusade is a dogmatic and political attack on First Amendment rights – not a scientific one.

In The Tank Podcast (ep35): Empower Mississippi, Weirdest Taxes by State, Privatize Space Travel, and Recruiting Free Agents

Blog - Education - April 21, 2016, 3:47 PM

John and Donny continue their exploration of think tanks in #35 of the In The Tank Podcast. This weekly podcast features (as always) interviews, debates, and roundtable discussions that explore the work of think tanks across the country. The show is available for download as part of the Heartland Daily Podcast every Friday. Today’s podcast features work from Empower Mississippi, Freedom Partners, Freedom Works, and the Washington Policy Center.

Better Know a Think Tank

In this edition of Better Know a Think Tank, John and Donny speak with Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi. Empower Mississippi is a state-based organization dedicated to expanding school choice. Their mission is to “to ensure that every child in Mississippi has the opportunity to flourish through access to a high quality education.” Callen discusses the progress that has been made in the state so far and what the ideal education system would look like.

Featured Work of the Week

This week’s featured work of the week is from Freedom Partners – a nonprofit organization based out of Virginia. The piece highlighted is titled “Here are the Most Absurd Taxes by State.” Donny and John pick out and discuss some of the most outrageous taxes highlighted in this report. For Example, In Tennessee there is an Illegal Drug Tax where citizens are expected to purchase a stamp to attach to their illegal products. Bizarre.

In the World of Think Tankery

Today Donny and John discuss space travel. FreedomWorks, a conservative/libertarian advocacy group based in D.C., published an article titled “Privatize Planetary Pursuits.” The article does a great job of explaining why the commonly-heard justification for a publicly funded space exploration program is weak at best.

The last topic discussed by Donny and John is how professional sports teams lure free agents by promoting the tax friendliness of their state. The Washington Policy Center produced an article titled “Will Olympia take away Seahawks’ advantage recruiting free agents.” The article does a great job explaining how big a difference a state income tax of 13.3 percent will make compared to a state with no income tax.

Events 

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

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

In The Tank Podcast (ep35): Empower Mississippi, Weirdest Taxes by State, Privatize Space Travel, and Recruiting Free Agents

Somewhat Reasonable - April 21, 2016, 3:47 PM

John and Donny continue their exploration of think tanks in #35 of the In The Tank Podcast. This weekly podcast features (as always) interviews, debates, and roundtable discussions that explore the work of think tanks across the country. The show is available for download as part of the Heartland Daily Podcast every Friday. Today’s podcast features work from Empower Mississippi, Freedom Partners, Freedom Works, and the Washington Policy Center.

Better Know a Think Tank

In this edition of Better Know a Think Tank, John and Donny speak with Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi. Empower Mississippi is a state-based organization dedicated to expanding school choice. Their mission is to “to ensure that every child in Mississippi has the opportunity to flourish through access to a high quality education.” Callen discusses the progress that has been made in the state so far and what the ideal education system would look like.

Featured Work of the Week

This week’s featured work of the week is from Freedom Partners – a nonprofit organization based out of Virginia. The piece highlighted is titled “Here are the Most Absurd Taxes by State.” Donny and John pick out and discuss some of the most outrageous taxes highlighted in this report. For Example, In Tennessee there is an Illegal Drug Tax where citizens are expected to purchase a stamp to attach to their illegal products. Bizarre.

In the World of Think Tankery

Today Donny and John discuss space travel. FreedomWorks, a conservative/libertarian advocacy group based in D.C., published an article titled “Privatize Planetary Pursuits.” The article does a great job of explaining why the commonly-heard justification for a publicly funded space exploration program is weak at best.

The last topic discussed by Donny and John is how professional sports teams lure free agents by promoting the tax friendliness of their state. The Washington Policy Center produced an article titled “Will Olympia take away Seahawks’ advantage recruiting free agents.” The article does a great job explaining how big a difference a state income tax of 13.3 percent will make compared to a state with no income tax.

Events 

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

Free-market groups to Congress: Oppose federal bailouts for Florida’s government-run property insurance plans

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 1:51 PM

Dear Representative,

On behalf of the millions of citizens represented by the undersigned groups, we write in strong opposition to H.R. 4947, the misleadingly titled “Homeowners Insurance Protection Act” (HIPA) introduced by Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla. This legislation would establish a so-called “national catastrophe fund” that could result in enormous taxpayer bailouts for ill-conceived state government-run insurance schemes. Far from protecting taxpayers by reducing future costs, this type of legislation could potentially burden them with billions of dollars in liabilities and create a massive federal bailout facility for failing state-run plans.

By establishing a federal reinsurance facility for broken state-run programs, H.R. 4847 would discourage ongoing reform in states like Florida, where the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund has $17 billion in liabilities. While Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature have worked hard to reduce the Cat Fund’s risk to taxpayers in recent years, legislation like HIPA would encourage future leaders to reverse that progress, secure in the knowledge that the federal government would come to the rescue following a sufficiently large storm.

In fact, as currently written, Florida is the only state that would be eligible for the bill’s bailout facility, calling into question its stated commitment to improve disaster planning nationwide. Perhaps even worse, it would encourage other states to copy Florida’s failed model, creating state catastrophe funds that displace the private sector in order to capitalize on guarantees from federal taxpayers.

Establishing a federal bailout for failing state systems would represent a tremendous expansion of the federal government’s already excessive role in disaster recovery. It would amount to forcing taxpayers to guarantee against losses that currently are covered by the private sector. There is a vibrant, well-capitalized reinsurance market that clearly could and does bear these risks at market-based, actuarially sound rates.

“National catastrophe fund” legislation runs counter to the most basic principles of insurance, which manages risk by spreading it broadly as possible. By creating a federal government-run reinsurer, the Jolly bill would lead to dramatically higher concentrations of risk within our borders and concentrated risk is always more expensive. No longer would claims on Florida hurricanes be balanced in global reinsurance markets by premiums paid for, say, earthquake risks in Japan. Instead, U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook for huge losses.

H.R. 4947 would increase the size and scope of the federal government and encourage states to create and maintain reckless government-backed insurance schemes. This legislation is not federal assistance for natural disasters; it is a federal bailout for state-created financial disasters. In essence, it would countenance open-ended federal subsidies for “too big to fail” state insurance plans that are wholly incapable of dealing with a major catastrophe. This bill is counterproductive to sound insurance policy and poses unacceptable risks for taxpayers. We urge you to oppose it vigorously.

Sincerely,

Andrew Moylan, R Street Institute

Norman Singleton, Campaign for Liberty

Kent Lassman, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Seton Motley, Less Government

Brandon Arnold, National Taxpayers Union

Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense

David Williams, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

California’s Soviet-like kangaroo ‘courtroom’

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 12:44 PM

It’s hard to spend time on Facebook without finding examples of “Godwin’s Law”: The longer an online discussion goes on, the higher the likelihood someone will use a Nazi analogy. After reading social-media posts about the presidential race, it’s clear such discussions — Is Hitlery (Clinton) creepier than (Donald) Trumpolini? — needn’t go on very long before someone mentions a dead dictator.

Unfortunately, the overuse of such comparisons numbs us to those instances where only such an analogy will suffice. Consider the following situation and ask yourself whether this is the type of thing that happens in free or totalitarian societies:

People vote in an election. The government suspects the vote will go against its allies, so it seizes the ballots. Officials overseeing the election seem to be in cahoots with the suspected losers. They hold proceedings that have the trappings of an impartial legal process, but the results are a foregone conclusion. After three years of bureaucratic machinations, officials decide to destroy the ballots — and tout the decision as a victory for voters’ rights.

The term “Soviet-esque” jumps to mind. The Soviet Union did indeed have elections. It had a constitution, too. In a banana republic, the voting boxes would have been seized, the voters rounded up, and that would have been that. In totalitarian regimes, image is important. It’s not a Nazi analogy, but I can’t resist the Soviet comparisons.

The example here was inspired by a union decertification election at one of the nation’s largest fruit farms. As many workers allege, the United Farm Workers — the union founded by Cesar Chavez — won an organizing election at Gerawan Farming near Fresno in 1990. Then the UFW largely disappeared from the scene, reappearing 22 years later and claiming to be the rightful dues-collecting representatives of the workers.

The farm is known for paying some of the best wages in the industry. Its workers held an election in 2013 on whether to decertify the UFW, figuring it wasn’t much help, due to the long absence. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board — created under Gov. Jerry Brown decades ago to assure that farmworkers can choose their labor representatives — oversaw the voting. It then grabbed the ballots and has kept them in a vault ever since. It recently voted to destroy them.

“It almost seems like (ALRB) is in cahoots (with the union),” said a Fresno County judge at one point in the latest fracas. You think? Instead of telling 3,000 farm workers the government knows best and will never count votes to decertify the union, the Brown administration let them trudge up to the ALRB headquarters in Sacramento, where they were treated to a kind of bureaucratic callousness one would expect in — here I go again — the Soviet Union.

Instead of counting the votes, the labor board forced the workers into “mandatory mediation and conciliation,” where it and UFW leaders crafted the workers’ contract. Workers even were denied an opportunity to be in the room where their contract was being hammered out. The Legislature weighed in — on the side of the union — by passing a bill that gives the agency even more power to impose contracts on workers unilaterally.

For a while, it looked like the governor might save the dignity of his agency. He vetoed that bill (S.B. 25) and brought in an old hand, former National Labor Relations Board Chairman William B. Gould IV, to run it. Some personnel changed, but nothing substantive did. On April 15, the board affirmed its own past findings and set aside the election. It said the farm “unlawfully supported and assisted a petition to decertify the UFW,” although there “was insufficient evidence that the employer… initiated an effort to decertify” the union.

Among its findings: the farm helped send buses to Sacramento to protest the board’s action and thus “sent a signal to all employees that it supported the decertification effort.” The “employer unlawfully granted a wage increase during the decertification campaign and unlawfully solicited employee grievances.” By the way, the ALRB spent more than $10 million in tax dollars on these show trials.

“In its decision to destroy the ballots, the board ignores the desires of workers to determine their own economic future,” according to a Gerawan Farming statement. “Chairman Gould justifies the board’s power to trump worker rights. He insinuates that Gerawan’s employees have become ‘servile pawns’ of ‘masters,’ subjugated to a ‘tyranny’ of their employer. He frames the issues as a parable to the ‘storm clouds’ that ‘gathered so ominously’ in Nazi Germany. He cloaks his decision in the language of democracy, in order to destroy a democratic right.”

Gould thus confirmed Godwin’s Law doesn’t only apply to the Internet, but to bureaucratic pronouncements as well. But it gets even more dystopian. Two weeks before his decision, the ALRB chairman penned a column in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a prominent legal publication, defending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding mandatory union-dues payments (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).

First, the hypocrisy: “If teachers object to union policies with regard to seniority, tenure and teacher evaluations, they can always campaign against the union’s attempt to become a representative,” Gould wrote. “Dissenters are always free to vote for someone else at an appropriate time and dissatisfied workers can always get no union, another union or new leadership.” Unless, of course, a union-friendly government official decides to shred their votes.

Second, there’s a broader issue raised by the attorney representing some of the disenfranchised Gerawan workers. “(I)f the contract is imposed on these workers, and the UFW is permitted to siphon away workers’ hard-earned wages, the union stands to approximately double its membership and annual revenue,” Anthony Raimondo wrote in a recent letter to Gould. Based on the view expressed in the Daily Journal column, “such an outcome would be a wonderful benefit to your beloved Democratic Party, and a boon to a legislative agenda that you personally support. Such a public position is inappropriate for a person in your position….”

Alas, in Sacramento’s one-party state, no one with any clout is likely to object. It may not be Nazi-like, but it’s certainly totalitarian.

On empty: Watchdog covers demise of Mississippi gas tax proposal - Franklin Center

Budget and Tax Suite - In The News - April 21, 2016, 12:13 PM
It began with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s state of the state speech at the Capitol in January. The governor wanted a middle-class tax cut, but there was a…

Realizing Texas’ Clean Energy Potential

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 12:08 PM

WASHINGTON (April 21, 2016) – Texas’ solar-power potential outpaces that of nearly every other state. But according to a new R Street policy brief, that potential remains largely unrealized.

“Despite falling prices, Texas ranks behind such states as Colorado and New Jersey in solar-electric capacity,” writes R Street Senior Fellow Josiah Neeley. “Many energy-efficiency and other projects that generate significant cost savings on paper remain undeveloped.”

The report notes two particular mechanisms that could help ease the often prohibitively expensive entry costs typically necessary to make energy saving improvements to properties.

The first is property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing, under which “the responsibility to repay the loan to finance a property’s energy-efficiency improvements attaches to the property itself, rather than the property owner.” This is intended to address situations in which commercial property owners are hesitant to make clean-energy upgrades to a property, due to uncertainty over whether they will remain in the property long enough to pay off the loan and recoup the long-term financial savings.

The second mechanism is on-bill repayment, which allows individuals to repay loans for energy-efficiency improvements via an assessment on their monthly utility bills. This approach has been used successfully in a number of states and promises simplicity and flexibility for residential homeowners, as well as peace of mind for lenders, given the historically high rate of compliance with utility-bill payments.

“While government should not be picking winners and losers in the energy marketplace, it should take care that it has not created barriers to the emergence of new energy technologies,” the author writes. “Providing mechanisms that allow private financing and voluntary development of clean energy and energy-saving systems offers Texas consumers the ability to decide what makes sense for them. If properly designed, these new options can deliver billions in energy savings to Texans, without using the heavy hand of taxpayer funding or government mandates.”

Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill? Hell yeah

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 10:58 AM

Harriet Tubman is a good choice to replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Jackson, the first Democratic president, is exactly the sort of overheated, pompous populist that has tended to screw up the American political system. His demotion to the back of the bill is long overdue.

But before we act to raise Tubman’s stature to the point that she is memorialized on commonly used currency, it behooves Americans to understand her role in our common history. It’s a lot more interesting than the description of her as an “Underground Railroad conductor” that appears in my son’s elementary-school materials and many popular accounts of her life.

In fact, Harriett Tubman was a gun-toting, Jesus-loving spy who blazed the way for women to play a significant role in military and political affairs.

Indeed, her work on the Underground Railroad was mostly a prelude to her real achievements. Born into slavery as Araminta Ross, Tubman knew the slave system’s inhumanity firsthand: She experienced the savage beatings and family destruction that were par for the course. She eventually escaped and, like most who fled, freed herself largely by her own wits.

She later went back south — always carrying a gun she wasn’t afraid to use — to help guide her own family and many others out of the plantations. The courage and will that this took is difficult to fathom. But she’s really a secondary figure in the history of the Underground Railroad. Historians estimate that she led 300 or so people to freedom, while figures like William Sill and Levi Coffin helped bring freedom to thousands.

This isn’t to say that Tubman is a minor figure. To the contrary, what she did during the Civil War secures her an important place in history. The Union, fighting a war mostly on southern soil, desperately needed good intelligence. Tubman’s exploits on the Underground Railroad, quick wits, mastery of stealth, knowledge of local geography, and personal bravery made her a near-perfect scout and spy. She could often “hide” in plain sight, since white-supremacist southerners probably were not inclined to consider a small African-American woman a threat.

Her quasi-memoir “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman” (told to Sarah Bradford and written in the third person) explains how things worked. While African Americans were suspicious — often rightly — of Union soldiers, they were willing to trust Tubman. “To Harriet they would tell anything,” Bradford writes. “It became quite important that she should accompany expeditions going up the rivers, or into unexplored parts of the country, to control and get information from those whom they took with them as guides.”

Tubman was one of the most valuable field-intelligence assets the Union Army had. She had hundreds of intelligence contacts and could establish new ones — particularly among African Americans — when nobody else could.

During one of her scouting missions along the Combahee River, she became the first woman and one of the first African Americans to command a significant number of U.S. troops in combat. The raid she organized and helped to command freed far more enslaved people than her decades of work on the Underground Railroad. She also was a strong advocate of allowing African Americans into the Union Army. She knew Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the almost entirely African-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment — the unit at the center of the 1989 film “Glory.” A (probably apocryphal) legend even has it that cooked his last meal before the heroic assault in which he and much of his regiment perished.

In her “retirement” — she never really stopped working until she became ill at the very end of her life — Tubman remained a political presence. A friend of Secretary of State William H. Seward, she settled in his hometown of Auburn, New York, on land he sold her. There, she helped to build both a church (she was devoutly religious) and a privately run retirement home. She also fought for women’s suffrage, supported Republican politicians, and advocated for fair treatment of black Civil War veterans, which they rarely received.

In short, Harriett Tubman was a black, Republican, gun-toting, veterans’ activist, with ninja-like spy skills and strong Christian beliefs. She probably wouldn’t have an ounce of patience for the obtuse posturing of some of the tenured radicals hanging around Ivy League faculty lounges. But does she deserve a place on our money? Hell yeah.

Harvard Law activists demand free tuition as a matter of racial justice

Education - In The News - April 21, 2016, 9:47 AM
A group of Harvard Law School activists are demanding the Ivy League school do away with tuition fees, which they argue are “racially biased.”…

Harvard Law activists demand free tuition as a matter of racial justice

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - April 21, 2016, 9:47 AM
A group of Harvard Law School activists are demanding the Ivy League school do away with tuition fees, which they argue are “racially biased.”…

Chairman: 'Sunset' the Tax Code By 2020 If Tax Reform Not Passed

Budget and Tax Suite - In The News - April 21, 2016, 9:45 AM
A group of Republican lawmakers have set a deadline for elimination of the tax code as a way to encourage members of Congress to pass tax reform. The proposed…

Chairman: 'Sunset' the Tax Code By 2020 If Tax Reform Not Passed

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - April 21, 2016, 9:45 AM
A group of Republican lawmakers have set a deadline for elimination of the tax code as a way to encourage members of Congress to pass tax reform. The proposed…

Improving the market for clean energy in Texas

Out of the Storm News - April 21, 2016, 8:00 AM

The last few years have seen an incredible decline in the price of technologies that provide clean energy or increase energy efficiency. The cost of solar power has fallen by more than half since 2009. In April 2015, Tesla announced the release of its new Powerwall battery, providing commercially available electrical-storage options for residential and commercial consumers, as well as for utilities.

The untapped benefits to Texas from clean-energy technologies are enormous. Texas has more solar-power potential than any other state. A 2008 study by the Public Utility Commission of Texas found that energy-efficiency measures could save Texans between $4.2 billion and $11.9 billion. Moreover, the Lone Star State’s considerable manufacturing base is ideally suited to take advantage of large-scale cogeneration, in which heat generated as a side-effect of the manufacturing process is used to produce electricity.

Yet when we turn from potential to reality, Texas often lags. Despite falling prices, Texas ranks behind such states as Colorado and New Jersey in solar-electric capacity. Many energy-efficiency and other projects that generate significant cost savings on paper remain undeveloped.

The key question – is Texas’ low utilization of clean energy and energy efficiency something about which free-market advocates should be concerned? The answer depends on the cause of the lag. Other states may use more solar power because government subsidies and mandates have increased demand artificially.

To the extent that lower use of clean energy and energy-efficiency technologies is genuinely the result of market forces and consumer preferences, this should be respected. Government should not use subsidies or mandates to increase demand for clean-energy sources.

On the other hand, if Texas isn’t meeting its potential on clean energy because of structural factors, regulatory barriers or a lack of appropriate financing options, addressing these problems should be seen as an opportunity to allow the market to function more effectively by removing obstacles in its path. Many clean-energy technologies require high upfront costs that are repaid over the lifetime of the system. These initial costs may deter widespread adoption, either because of uncertainty or lack of financing.

Fortunately, the last few years have seen the development of a number of new financing options that allow for greater access to clean energy without undercutting market forces.

Replacing Butter With Vegetable Oils Doesn't Decrease Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study - Slashdot

Health Care Suite - In The News - April 20, 2016, 11:33 PM
82724255 story Replacing Butter With Vegetable Oils Doesn't Decrease Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study (medicalxpress.com) An anonymous reader writes: A…

Moe Lane » Poster child for CA ‘living wage’ policies planning to start fleeing minimum wage increases.

Budget and Tax Suite - In The News - April 20, 2016, 11:31 PM
Poster child for CA ‘living wage’ policies planning to start fleeing minimum wage increases. Who is surprised ? Last week American Apparel, the biggest clothing…

SCOTUS protects electricity competition, strikes down Maryland subsidies

Out of the Storm News - April 20, 2016, 9:30 PM

Tuesday’s unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating Maryland’s subsidy program to encourage building new power generation marks a welcome defense of the principles of competition in electricity markets.

Authored by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the opinion found the Maryland program set an interstate electricity rate, which falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC had rejected Maryland’s proposal on grounds that free-market forces – namely, the regional PJM Interconnection LLC’s capacity auction market – should determine rates and that Maryland’s subsidy would distort the market price.

Maryland is one of 13 states to participate in PJM, a regional transmission organization charged with operating the Mid-Atlantic grid reliably. Its capacity market helps ensure the grid remains reliable by procuring sufficient resources to meet future demand and by using price signals to determine the type, size and location of these capacity resources. Through this process, market actors help determine when and where it is cost effective to retain existing resources or to install new ones.

But back in 2012, having determined that PJM’s capacity market wasn’t procuring enough in-state resources, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) enacted its own regulatory program that required electric distribution companies to subsidize an in-state power plant. The commission selected CPV Maryland LLC to construct the new plant, which was financed by a contract that provided an income guarantee. Under the agreement, CPM could sell power to PJM, but they would receive the price set out in the contract, rather than the price determined by the PJM capacity market. This ensured enough revenues flowed to CPV to build the plant, regardless whether price signals from the capacity market indicated it was needed. The income guarantee provided an incentive to CPV to offer power at a very low, uncompetitive level.

Maryland’s subsidy program didn’t solve a problem. It created one. The PSC never actually had a convincing case that the program was needed for improved electric reliability, but it did have political motivation to prefer more in-state resources be built.

As the grid operator, PJM has the expertise to determine whether its own resources are sufficient. Maryland couldn’t hope to be better able to determine whether there were enough resources in the PJM than the PJM itself, given that PJM’s capacity market has procured sufficient electricity resources to meet demand for more than a decade.

Electricity resources should be procured competitively, regardless which state those resources reside in. Subsidies like those in the Maryland program serve to suppress capacity-market prices artificially, lead to inefficient procurements and create political risk for market participants, which can translate into higher costs for capital.

The high court’s decision in this case promises direct benefits to Maryland consumers, and to those throughout the rest of the PJM region, by avoiding market distortions and regulatory costs. The precedent it sets should also sink a similarly damaging subsidy program adopted by New Jersey in 2011.

The court restrict its opinion to the type of subsidy designed by Maryland, which is contingent on the capacity market. The ruling does not necessarily apply to distortive subsidies more broadly, although it does note that future state actions to disregard or mute wholesale rates could be prohibited.

While closing the door on one form of damaging subsidy, other forms remain pervasive. The decision explicitly does not apply to land grants, direct subsidies, tax incentives, construction of state-owned generation facilities or re-regulation of the industry. All these forms of subsidies can distort capacity market behavior and results. None looms larger than the recently approved Ohio subsidies for FirstEnergy Corp. and American Electric Power Ohio.

This decision can be put in the win column, but the fight to defend competitive markets from state subsidies wages on.

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