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Ray Rice’s knockout punch is ample reason to teach boys never to strike a woman

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 2:13 PM

This week, the Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice, their star running back, after additional video emerged of him knocking out his future wife, Janay Palmer, in an elevator altercation in Atlantic City, N.J. The National Football League also suspended Rice indefinitely.

The irony is that the NFL only suspended Rice for two games after a previous video of the same incident showed Rice dragging the unconscious Palmer from the elevator. After public backlash, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conceded that Rice’s punishment was too lenient and subsequently strengthened the NFL’s domestic violence policy.

Sadly, the difference between the two responses highlights the failed reaction to domestic abuse by many Americans.  It was not until Rice was caught on camera actually hitting Palmer that he truly felt the consequences of his actions.

Rice’s violent act is a more public example of a larger problem in our society. How many Americans have seen bruises and the look of fear in a woman’s eyes and thought of every plausible explanation other than the obvious?

Is that the best we can do for our wives, sisters and mothers?

If callously dragging someone’s unconscious body can plausibly be interpreted as “an argument that got out of hand,” then we need to reconsider our perspectives. Do we really need to see the blows on tape before we can respond?

I teach my boys that physical violence is never acceptable except to protect themselves or others from bodily harm. Admittedly, that exception is a hard line to walk and an even harder concept to convey to growing boys. The same strength that can be used to protect can quickly turn into a dangerous weapon.

That protective maxim has a further clarification: NEVER strike a woman. My boys ask all sorts of follow-up questions. What if she makes me mad? NEVER strike a woman. What if she hits me first? NEVER strike a woman. What if she takes my toys? NEVER strike a woman.

That life lesson is may not be politically correct or gender sensitive, but a man has no business ever striking a woman. Period.

The lesson carries important corollaries. If you see a man hitting a woman, stop him. If you suspect abuse, confront it. Men can have a significant impact on reducing domestic violence by setting an example and being willing to oppose domestic abuse as they encounter it.

We cannot afford to accept more excuses or continue to believe that a victim’s contributions to a conflict somehow mitigate extremely violent physical responses.

Tempers flare, people yell and they sometimes do things to hurt one another. That is a sad reality of humanity. At the very least, men should hold onto one rule no matter how tough situations become:

NEVER strike a woman.

Letter to U.S. Congress on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 2:06 PM

 

 

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington DC 20510

Dear Leader Reid,

We write to urge you to bring to the floor S. 607, the bipartisan Leahy-­Lee bill updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Updating ECPA would respond to the deeply held concerns of Americans about their privacy. S. 607 would make it clear that the warrant standard of the U.S. Constitution applies to private digital information just as it applies to physical property.

The Leahy‐Lee bill would aid American companies seeking to innovate and compete globally. It would eliminate outdated discrepancies between the legal process for government access to data stored locally in one’s home or office and the process for the same data stored with third parties in the Internet “cloud.” Consumers and businesses large and small are increasingly taking advantage of the efficiencies offered by web‐based services. American companies have been leaders in this field. Yet ECPA, written in 1986, says that data stored in the cloud should be afforded less protection than data stored locally. Removing uncertainty about the standards for government access to data stored online will encourage consumers and companies, including those outside the United States, to utilize these services.

S. 607 would not impede law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Justice already follows the warrant‐for‐content rule of S. 607. The only resistance to reform comes from civil regulatory agencies that want an exception allowing them to obtain the content of customer documents and communications directly from third-party service providers. That would expand government power; government regulators currently cannot compel service providers to disclose their customers’ communications. It would prejudice the innovative services that we want to support, creating one procedure for data stored locally and a different one for data stored in the cloud. For these reasons, we oppose a carve‐out for regulatory agencies or other rules that would treat private data differently depending on the type of technology used to store it.

S. 607 was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year. We urge you to bring it to the floor. We believe it would pass overwhelmingly, proving to Americans and the rest of the world that the U.S. legal system values privacy in the digital age.

 

Sincerely,

 

Adobe
ACT | The App Association
American Association of Law Libraries
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Americans for Tax Reform
AOL
Apple
A Small Orange
Association of Research Libraries
Automattic
Autonet Mobile
Blacklight
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
BSA | The Software Alliance
Center for Democracy & Technology
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Cheval Capital
CloudTech1
Code Guard
Coughlin Associates
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA)
The Constitution Project
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Data Foundry
Digital Liberty
Direct Marketing Association
Disconnect
Discovery Institute
Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA)
Dropbox
DuckDuckGo
Endurance International Group
Evernote
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Engine Advocacy
Facebook
Foursquare
FreedomWorks
Future of Privacy Forum
Gandi
Golden Frog
Google
Hewlett‐Packard
Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)
The Internet Association
Intuit
Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition)
Kwaai Oak
Less Government
LinkedIn
Media Science International (MSI)
Microsoft
NetChoice
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Newspaper Association of America
Oracle
Peer1 Hosting
Personal
Rackspace
Records Preservation and Access Committee
R Street Institute
reddit
ScreenPlay
Servint
Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA)
Symantec
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Tech Assets
TechFreedom
TechNet
Tucows
Tumblr
Twitter
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Yahoo! Inc.

The inequality of unisex pricing

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 12:34 PM

Equality before the law is a foundational principle of American democracy. Many policymakers are proud to pursue efforts to realize that principle. Perhaps that is why, cloaked by a sense of constitutional righteousness, California legislators have adopted a high level of deference for proposals intended to achieve equality.

As a matter of politics or philosophy, their devotion is laudable. As a matter of policy development, their enthusiasm is sometimes misdirected.

One such equality-inspired proposal, A.B. 1553, seeks to prohibit long-term care insurance premiums from reflecting the cost differences between insuring men and insuring women. Authored by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, AB 1553 may be well meaning, but by restricting insurers from using actuarially sound rating factors, it does more harm than good.

The very nature of insurance demands concessions to distinctions based on immutable physical realities. For instance: women live longer than men.

In the case of long-term care insurance, the product is designed to provide insurance coverage to people as they age and become infirm. It does so by spreading the cost of their care among a pool of similarly situated individuals. The fact that policyholders are charged a premium that reflects the risk of similarly situated individuals ensures that those who pose a greater risk of utilizing the coverage do not inflate the premiums of others, whose risk is less.

Because women live longer than men, and are more likely to utilize their coverage, their rates must be higher. In fact, according to the Society of Actuaries, their premiums should be between 15 and 30 percent higher than men. Failing this, adverse selection can occur.

Adverse selection is what happens when insureds have more knowledge about the likelihood of loss than an insurer does. Even the best case outcome of adverse selection – one group paying to subsidize the risk of another, more expensive group – is problematic. The worst case outcome is a “death spiral,” which becomes progressively more expensive until the market simply collapses.

The risk that unisex pricing poses to long-term care insurance is different than the doomsday scenarios espoused by the right concerning the Affordable Care Act. Unlike the health-care market under the ACA, which compels participation and in which the possibility of a death spiral is contingent upon the failure of the law’s penalties and subsidies, the long-term care market is structurally vulnerable to a death spiral as a result of its voluntary participation.

Consider the following scenario. Faced with prices that do not reflect the true cost of their risk, lower-risk individuals (men) choose not to purchase long-term-care insurance. They steadily abandon the market. When only high-risk candidates (women) enter or remain in the pool, policy premiums inevitably increase, since those providing subsidies are gone. Higher prices result in a cascading decrease in both demand and product availability, as companies withdraw from unprofitable lines of business.

Because there is such a strong actuarial case for treating men and women differently in long-term care, the consequence of not doing so is the potential removal of the product from the market. Therein lies the great calamity of Yamada’s bill.

Sham equality hurts those that it claims to help. Thus, in the context of long-term care rating, treating men and women differently is not pernicious – it is essential. Fortunately for California women, the bill died in the Assembly Insurance Committee, for lack of a second motion to proceed to a vote.

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

Don’t give up America’s Economic and Competitive Advantage

Somewhat Reasonable - September 09, 2014, 11:09 AM

“This is the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.”

With 9-11 nearly upon us, ISIS is brazenly beheading American journalists—with a promise of more to come; Christian congregations have been bombed during worship, churches have been destroyed, monasteries attacked, entire cities purged, hundreds of thousands have fled, while others have been slaughtered; and cities, weapons, banks, and key infrastructures are being captured. Surely, with all of these horrors playing out before our eyes, the crisis in Syria and Iraq is the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face.” No, the quote above was made about climate change by Hillary Clinton—the heavy favorite for the Democratic 2016 presidential nomination—before a standing-room-only crowd at Senator Harry Reid’s seventhNational Clean Energy Summit (NCES 7.0) held in Las Vegas on Thursday, September 4.

We could almost forgive Secretary of State John Kerry for his similar statement made in Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 16, when he referred to climate change as: “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” ISIS hadn’t yet erupted onto the international stage. But now we know better. We know that the world isn’t less violent than it has ever been. We know that it isn’t more tolerant than it has ever been.

Apparently, Clinton hasn’t been following the news. Or, as Senator Rand Paul pointed out: she’s “battling climate change instead of terrorism.”

Clinton’s speech on Thursday was presented to a “friendly crowd,” who cheered her on. In his introduction, Reid declared that Clinton is: “able to explain things in a way we all understand” and said that she was: “the first to identify the fact that there is something called climate change.” Her spot on the program has been referenced as: “her first energy and climate speech of a publicity tour that many believe is the springboard to a presidential campaign.”

While no one in the Mandalay Bay ballroom questioned the validity of her statements—and the Q & A session led by White House Senior Advisor John Podesta resembled a lovefest—there was more than her misperception about “the challenges we face as a nation and a world” to question.

For example, when addressing “unpredictable” subsidies for green energy projects, she claimed that $500 billion is spent every year subsidizing fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2012, global fossil fuel subsidies did, in fact, total $544 billion, however, citing that figure in the same breath as U.S. tax incentives for renewable energy is deceptive at best.

The Institute for Energy Research (IER) did a study on global energy subsidies that revealed: “Fossil fuel consumption subsidies are most prevalent in the Middle East and in North Africa.” The IER report states: “On a per-person basis, fossil fuel consumption subsidies are highest for the United Arab Emirates at $4,172 per person, Kuwait at $3,729 per person and Saudi Arabia at $2,291 per person.” It concludes: “Many Americans are confused by the large amount of global fossil fuel consumption subsidies that the IEA calculates, not realizing that these subsidies have nothing to do with tax policy, research and development or loan guarantees, where most U.S. programs are directed.”

white paper from the Independent Petroleum Association of America offered the following insights culled from a Congressional Research Service Memo titled Energy Production by Source and Energy Tax Incentives. “While fossil fuels (including oil, natural gas, and coal) accounted for 78 percent of domestic energy production, they received just 13 percent of energy related ‘tax incentives’ in 2009. Meanwhile, renewables accounted for more than 77 percent of the roughly $20 billion in ‘tax incentives’ that went to energy, but generated less than 11 percent of domestic energy production. Renewables have received additional boosts as part of Federal spending packages enacted under the banner of economic recovery.”

Let’s look at those “incentives” for renewables and why they are “unpredictable.” Germany and Spain led the world in green energy subsidies but have since considerably dialed back on them.

In Germany, after more than a decade of green-energy subsidies, its electricity rates and carbon-dioxide emissions have gone up. According to a September 4 Reuter’s report, Germany’s reliance on coal has gone up each of the past four years. Germany is looking at levies for residential photo-voltaic system owners—something also being considered (and, in some cases, implemented) in the U.S.

After nearly 100 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to green-energy projects, the stimulus-funded program has been plagued with failure, corruption, and illegal activity—though the Department of Energy recently announced a new round of loan guarantees for green-energy projects. Meanwhile—as has happened in Germany—utility bills have gone up and public support for subsidies has declined. After more than twenty years, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy finally expired on December 31, 2013—though forces that benefit from it are still hoping to extend it retroactively. (Clinton did point out that wind energy is a very big part of farmers’ income in New York.) The PTC is “unpredictable” at best.

In her Q & A session, Clinton said: “One day last summer, Germany got 74 percent of its energy from renewables.” Like the comment about $500 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels, her speech writers did their homework—but they plucked data without looking deeper and as a result made her look foolish. The 74 percent figure is fact. But it represents a fraction of only one day, not recent history, or even a pattern. One month later, Germany got 50 percent of its electricity demand from solar—but six months earlier, in the January cold, it got only 0.1 percent. In his postin the Energy Collective, Robert Wilson, a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, calls Germany’s situation: “more of a coal lock-in than a solar revolution,” as the need for electricity, especially in the cold, grey days of January, requires the steady supply of coal-fueled electricity.

One other item to question: Clinton clearly collaborates with her former boss on his Clean Power Plan, which has a growing coalition of opponents as diverse as the Exotic Wildlife Association, the Foundry Association of Michigan, California Cotton Growers Association, Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association, The Fertilizer Institute, Georgia Railroad Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, electric utilities and co-ops, and city and state Chambers of Commerce from coast-to-coast.

The Clean Power Plan is about reducing carbon-dioxide emission from existing power plants. In her speech, Clinton repeated a falsehood Obama likes to reference: reducing CO2 emissions will improve children’s’ respiratory health.

“Hillary apparently doesn’t know the difference between soot and CO2,” quipped Jane Orient, MD, and president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. She continued: “And the American Lung Association pretends it doesn’t. No one can claim that the tiny increase in CO2 from coal-fueled generating stations increases asthma—just being indoors with other breathing humans increases CO2 much more and doesn’t cause asthma.”

Orient went on to explain: “Some very bad studies of associations between high air pollution days and ‘premature’ deaths are used to extrapolate as with the liner no-threshold radiation hypothesis—lots of diesel exhaust may provoke an asthma attack, therefore a vanishingly small increase in soot affecting many people will cause some asthma. Some dust is soot, which is carbon, quod erat demonstratum.” She added: “Unemployment, poverty, high electricity bills don’t figure into the calculation.”

Dr. Charles Battig, a board certified anesthesiologist, told me: “asthma sufferers, just like individuals without any respiratory disease, have 4 to 5 percent CO2 in their lungs as a normal component of their exhaled air. The CO2 levels will vary during an asthma attack. The presence of CO2 in expired air is normal for all humans, and ambient CO2 is not a trigger for an asthmatic attack.  CO2 is not a pathological pollutant per se at levels 100 times that of ambient (inspired air); 400ppm ambient vs. 40,000 ppm in expired air.”

As Reid announced, Clinton may be able to “able to explain things in a way we all understand,” but she is creative with the data—using it to make the points she needed to curry favor with the NCES 7.0 audience.

In its review of her speech, the National Journal pointed out: “As expected, Clinton’s keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit didn’t wade into much controversial territory.” She never touched on the Keystone pipeline that the State Department positively reviewed under her watch and which, in 2010, she stated that she was “inclined to approve.”

Clinton did, however, take a couple risks for which she deserves some credit. She strayed from the safe turf, when she admitted that Obama’s trajectory on climate change policy hit “a brick wall of opposition” at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen.

She also acknowledged: “Energy is a major part of our foreign policy.” As such, she supports development of American natural gas and oil, calling it an example “of American innovation changing the game.”

Addressing the benefits of producing and exporting natural gas and oil, she said: “Assuming that our production stays at the levels, or even as some predict, goes higher, I do think there’s a play there.” Noting it could help Europe and Asia, she added: “This is a great economic advantage, a competitive advantage, for us. …We don’t want to give that up.”

America does have an energy advantage—and Clinton is correct: “We don’t want to give that up.” Why then, does she (and President Obama) support policies that would take that away—or at least, not encourage our energy growth?

That fact that Clinton chose to start her publicity tour, the perceived springboard to her presidential campaign, with a speech on energy should signal to all of America how important the topic truly is. Energy makes America great!

Categories: On the Blog

Official policy on ninjas

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 8:42 AM

The R Street Institute, a free market think tank located in Washington, D.C., stands opposed to ninjas. Firmly. We believe that excessive fanboy/fangirl interest in ninjas is inconsistent with our free market ideology.

While we acknowledge that some ninjas may have a number of reasonably cool attributes—such as the ability to use shuriken and fukiya to carry out silent assassinations of those who opposed their daimyo—we do not encourage ninjas to work here. We will never hire an office ninja to carry out assassinations or offer employee training in ninjitsu. While we reimburse gym membership for employees, the reimbursement may not be used for any type of ninja training. Those who hold college degrees in ninja arts need not apply for any jobs that R Street offers.

In short, we discriminate against those who work as professional ninjas.

Our reasons for opposition to ninjas are many:

  1. Ninjas were not involved in the market economy. They swore oaths of fealty to their liege lords, usually daimyos. Since daimyos represented the state, they were basically just government bureaucrats. And we favor fewer bureaucrats, not more.
  2. Ninja’s covert ways of waging war were not consistent with our desire to get ourselves in the media. A ninja would not do well during a talk radio interview, for example.
  3. Pirates are much, much, much cooler than ninjas in all respects. We explain why here.

We have likewise refused to swear fealty to any daimyo and, indeed, maintain a firm policy against any participation in the four-tier system of Japanese feudalism.

Local governments should reform to encourage broadband investment

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 8:03 AM

WASHINGTON (Sept. 9, 2014) – Local governments should explore ways to cut taxes, fees and regulations to spur renewed investment in broadband infrastructure, according to a new paper released today by the R Street Institute.

The paper, “Alternatives to Government Broadband,” authored by R Street Associate Fellow Steven Titch, argues that government-run broadband projects have largely failed. By contrast, the recent example of cities cutting through red tape for the roll-out of Google Fiber serves as a model that should be expanded to all competitors in the broadband market.

While the U.S. broadband industry invested $1.2 trillion in capital expenditures from 1996 through 2012, investment plummeted during and following the dot-com crash of the early 2000s, falling from a peak of $118 billion in 2000 to just $57 billion in 2003. Annual nominal capital expenditures have been roughly flat since 2005, still coming nowhere near their turn-of-the-century peaks.

“As service providers make decisions about where and when to build or add broadband capacity, upfront and ongoing costs are a significant factor,” writes Titch. “Cities and towns that make adjustments and reforms to their legacy utility regulations and fees will reduce barriers to investment and signal they want the private sector to succeed.”

Titch lays out several ways municipalities can achieve this goal, including abolishing unnecessary taxes and fees to enter the market; to the extent feasible, making requirements uniform across all broadband technologies; and making it easier to use the existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure where needed.

Google Fiber has been able to strike attractive deals with cities it has chosen for its new 1 Gbps broadband service, and 34 new cities have applied to lure Google Fiber to their area in the next round of development. Municipalities would do well to extend similar breaks on franchise fees, right-of-way costs and other regulations to incumbent service providers and any other new competitors who can provide the same level of service.

“Perhaps the ideal solution is being missed because it is so obvious. Reduce or repeal taxes, eliminate outdated regulations and bureaucracy, and broadband investment will increase,” Titch wrote. “Competitors will be willing to enter a market against entrenched incumbents. Incumbents will raise investment.”

The full paper can be found at:

http://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/RSTREET27.pdf

Alternatives to government broadband

Out of the Storm News - September 09, 2014, 8:00 AM

 

Universal access to high-speed broadband is a desirable social goal. There is no question that broadband brings incalculable utility and value to individuals, businesses and organizations. Because broadband expands the Internet as a whole, it also creates a “network effect,” in which each marginal addition to the network substantially multiplies the value of the network as a whole.

While there is little debate that widespread broadband access has social value, there has been considerable policy tension about how best to accomplish it. This tension is rooted in the massive telecommunications deregulations of the early-to-mid-1990s that were designed to introduce competition and steer the industry away from the monopoly-utility model that had been the rule since the 1920s. The concurrent expansion of the Internet and introduction of the World Wide Web upended traditional monopoly phone models, as well. The development of the early browsers, such as Mosaic, gave users a point-and-click interface to the Web and opened the Internet to images, video and other applications that called for more bandwidth than copper land lines could handle. Service providers had to alter their long-term network-evolution plans to accommodate developments beyond their control. They faced huge capital outlays to upgrade their networks and to meet the burgeoning demand for household broadband.

Up until deregulation, U.S. telephone companies guaranteed universal phone service in return for a regulated monopoly. The standard utility thinking applied: telephone service was a social good that could best be met with one network per franchised area. Universal service goals could be met through a variety of subsidy formulas: business subsidizes residential; long-distance service subsidizes local service; urban subsidizes rural and so forth.

The emerging trends of long-distance competition, followed in short order by cable entry into broadband and, finally, the transition of telephone users from wired to wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) all upended the monopoly-utility model. The upshot was that, by the mid- to late 1990s, it was clear that broadband infrastructure was going to be expanded by companies with private investment, taking risks in a competitive market.

As a result, concern arose that many high-cost areas would be left behind, as telecom companies pursued wealthier communities in more densely populated areas. One idea that took hold to alleviate this perceived problem was municipal broadband. Local governments would take responsibility for financing and building broadband networks, as well as providing service and support. As a model, supporters cited telephone and electric co-operatives that brought service to many rural towns in the 1930s and 1940s. Their belief was that broadband could be done just as easily.

However, some correctly feared that municipal broadband was too risky. However laudable the goal, a municipal system would require a small city to borrow millions of dollars against projected revenue streams 10 to 20 years out. There also would always be the lingering threat that a private-sector competitor would enter the market at some future date, placing the municipality in direct competition with a deep-pocketed commercial provider with a national footprint and the accompanying marketing and technological clout.

While some local governments explored municipal broadband, others looked to exploit market forces that were in the process of transforming telecom’s value proposition from a one-size-fits-all utility to a tool that businesses and individuals could shape in line with their own needs. Private enterprises operating in a competitive environment could respond to opportunities more quickly, meet customer needs more efficiently and, if need be, react more decisively to changing market conditions. Rather than invest taxpayer money in government-run broadband operations, the alternative approach to encourage broadband expansion would be to make local investment in infrastructure as attractive as possible.

Yet to do so meant revisiting some long-held tax and regulatory shibboleths of the monopoly era. These included special taxes and fees on service, franchise fees and onerous charges for rights-of-way and pole attachments. Under the monopoly model, these costs were passed along to captive customers, so local governments saw an easy way to raise revenue without resorting to higher sales or property taxes. But now that broadband service providers were in competition, these extra costs created barriers to entry in local communities.

The latest major entrant into the broadband market, Google Fiber, has upped the stakes of this contest. In response to Google’s promise to build 1 Gbps fiber-optic broadband networks in select cities, municipalities across the country have fallen over themselves to make their towns attractive. In some cases, the efforts have become theatrical, such as when Topeka, Kan., temporarily renamed itself Google and Greenville, S.C. arranged for 1,000 citizens to use glow sticks to spell out the name “Google” large enough to be visible from the air.

As discussions between Google and prospective fiber cities have gotten serious, the company has generally asked that various fees and requirements that are imposed on incumbent broadband providers be waived. The emergence of Google Fiber is helping local governments understand how their legacy of regulations inhibits broadband investment. Unfortunately, for the most part, cities have thus far mostly only been willing to make regulatory accommodations for this one competitor. But Google is not the only broadband player. If certain changes in local regulatory requirements are enough to spark investment from one major company, there’s every reason to believe the same approach would work with others.

This paper will review reasons government broadband largely have failed and why, despite continued cheerleading from some corners, its prospects are worse now than they have ever been. It will then look at some of the major legacy costs and regulations that inhibit the spread of broadband and how cities are beginning to confront them. Finally, it will look at the lessons that can be learned from Google Fiber’s entry into broadband service provision.

Letter to Congress: Oppose the Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act!

Out of the Storm News - September 08, 2014, 4:10 PM

 

 

Dear Member of Congress,

On behalf of the millions of citizens represented by the undersigned organizations, we write in strong opposition to S. 2609, the so-called “Marketplace and Internet Tax Fairness Act.” This confused legislation is a strange combination of a common sense extension of the federal ban on state efforts to tax Internet access with highly unpopular and misguided legislation to grant states cross-border tax authority for businesses located outside their jurisdiction. While we support a ban on Internet access taxes, the provision previously known as the “Marketplace Fairness Act” would dismantle proper limits on state tax-collection authority, while causing serious damage to electronic and interstate commerce.

The “Marketplace Fairness Act” would countenance an enormous expansion in state tax-collection authority by wiping away the “physical presence standard,” a baseline protection that shields taxpayers from harassment by out-of-state collectors. Far from a “loophole” intended to advantage the Internet, it is the result of a Supreme Court decision grounded in a bedrock foundational principle of tax policy: states must not be allowed to extend their taxation and regulatory authorities beyond their borders. Dismantling this protection for remote retail sales would create a very slippery slope for states to attempt collection of business or even income taxes from out-of-state entities.

Furthermore, the bill would create a decidedly “unlevel” playing field between brick-and-mortar and online sales. Brick-and-mortar sales across the country are governed by a simple rule that allows the business to collect sales tax based on its physical location, not that of the item’s buyer. Under the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” that convenient collection standard would be denied for online sales, forcing remote retailers to determine the appropriate rules and regulations in as many as 46 different states with sales taxes, and then collect and remit sales tax for that distant authority.

Imposing this unworkable collection standard on remote retail sales but not on brick-and-mortar retail sales would not only be unfair, it would result in enormous complexity while damaging interstate commerce. Online sellers would be weighed down by substantial compliance burdens and the bill’s paltry “small seller exception” of just $1 million (when the Small Business Administration sets the limit as high as $30 million in some cases) in remote sales does little to mitigate the damage.

In seeking to address the failures of the “use tax” systems employed by states, the “Marketplace Fairness Act” ends up giving a federal blessing to a massive expansion in state tax-collection authority, the dismantling of a vital taxpayer protection upon which virtually all tax systems are based, while harming a segment (online sales) that despite its dramatic expansion still only accounts for roughly $0.07 of every $1 in retail spending.

We urge you to oppose attaching this destructive language to an uncontroversial extension of a ban on Internet access taxes and moving it through procedural sleight-of-hand, once again bypassing the committee of jurisdiction.

Andrew Moylan
R Street Institute

Phil Kerpen
American Commitment

Brent Wm. Gardner
Americans for Prosperity

Grover Norquist
Americans for Tax Reform

Norm Singleton
Campaign for Liberty

Andrew F. Quinlan
Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Jeff Mazzella
Center for Individual Freedom

Tom Schatz
Citizens Against Government Waste

Wayne Crews
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Katie McAuliffe
Digital Liberty

Matt Kibbe
FreedomWorks

Joe Bast
The Heartland Institute

Mike Needham
Heritage Action for America

Tom Giovanetti
Institute for Policy Innovation

Seton Motley
Less Government

Pete Sepp
National Taxpayers Union

David Williams
Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Why Academic Achievement Matters

Blog - Education - September 08, 2014, 3:29 PM

[NOTE: The following is excerpted from a chapter of the next Heartland Institute book titled Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn — and why teachers don’t use them well.]

 Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He was reflecting on the private benefits of learning about ourselves and the world around us. The more we learn about our own thoughts and desires, abilities, limitations, and surroundings, the better able we are to make informed choices about our health, family, occupation, recreation, and myriad other parts of our lives. The non-monetary benefits of learning may be difficult to measure, but they shape and determine what we recognize to be the quality of our life.1

Academic achievement produces public as well as private benefits. Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and his colleagues have shown the strong relationship between school achievement and economic growth.2Hanushek and former secretary of state George P. Shultz estimate that if our school mathematics scores were comparable to Canada’s over the next 20 years, U.S. gross domestic product (the value of goods and services produced in the country) would improve by $70 billion over the next 80 years, a figure equivalent to an income boost of 20 percent for each U.S. worker.3 That would be a considerable social benefit.

Academic achievement also benefits democratic institutions. When compared to other nations, those with higher levels of education and ability show stronger democracy, less crime, and greater political liberty.4 Corruption is less common in countries where citizens are well educated.5

Within societies, academic abilities increase in step with levels of education, and a nation’s relative wealth increases along with both.6 Cities also tend to grow more quickly when this kind of human capital creates a capable workforce that remains economically productive over time.7

Nations tend to benefit to the degree their citizens fulfill their potential. When citizens develop their abilities, liberty tends to expand and moral behavior tends to be higher.8Following Hanushek’s work, Heiner Rindermann of Germany’s Chemnitz University of Technology and James Thompson of University College London found a nation’s overall abilities and knowledge are deciding factors in a nation’s wealth, scientific progress, and economic freedom.9 The world’s wealthiest nations have sustained strong intellectual traditions that result in notable accomplishments in engineering, mathematics, technology, and basic and applied science.10 Cross-national studies emphasize the importance of encouraging exemplary learners to achieve as much as they are able. Societies that support top performers and seek to maximize their abilities appear most likely to benefit all their citizens.11

Finally, the quick early learners become ever more knowledgeable and skilled as time goes on, the result of what is called the “Matthew Effect” after this passage in the Bible’s Book of Matthew: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” Their work becomes increasingly better than others’ and easier for them, which can reinforce their desire and ability to persevere through ever-more-difficult challenges.12 Academic achievement in elementary and secondary school can foster higher levels of achievement in college and beyond.

Effective primary and secondary schools offer learning opportunities and rewards for acquiring the knowledge and developing the thinking skills students need to succeed in college and workplaces and to participate as citizens in free societies.13 If more students can achieve at high levels, they, their compatriots, and their society stand to benefit.

Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast are chairman and president, respectively, of The Heartland Institute and authors of Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn – and why teachers don’t use them well (October 1, 2014; ISBN 978-1-934791-38-7), from which this article is excerpted.

Notes

1. Luis E. Vila, “The Non-Monetary Benefits of Education,” European Journal of Education 35, no. 1 (March, 2000): 21–32, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1503615.

2. Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, “The Role of School Improvement in Economic Development,” PEPG 07/01, Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University, January 9, 2007, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG07-01-Hanushek-Woessmann.pdf.

3. Eric Hanushek and George P. Shultz, “Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy,”The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB1000142405270230351340 4577356422025164482.html.

4. Heiner Rindermann, “Relevance of Education and Intelligence for the Political Development of Nations: Democracy, Rule of Law, and Political Liberty,” Intelligence 36, no. 4 (July–August 2008): 306–22.

5. Edward L. Glaeser and Raven Saks, “Corruption in America,” Discussion Paper Number 2043, Harvard Institute of Economic Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2004).

6. Heiner Rindermann, “Relevance of Education and Intelligence at the National Level for the Economic Welfare of People,” Intelligence 36, no. 2 (March–April 2008): 127–42.

7. Edward L. Glaeser and Albert Saiz, “The Rise of the Skilled City,” Discussion Paper Number 2025, Harvard Institute of Economic Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2003).

8. Heiner Rindermann, supra note 6.

9. Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson, “Cognitive Capitalism: The Effect of Cognitive Ability on Wealth, as Mediated Through Scientific Achievement and Economic Freedom,” Psychological Science 22, no. 6 (June 2011): 754–63.

10. Heiner Rindermann, Michael Sailer, and James Thompson, “The Impact of Smart Fractions, Cognitive Ability of Politicians and Average Competence of Peoples on Social Development,” Talent Development and Excellence 1 (July 2009): 3–25. Knowledge in the humanities, social sciences, and literature may also promote aspects of national well-being, but fair and objective measures in these fields are nearly impossible to develop.

11. Nancy Ewald Jackson and Earl C. Butterfield, “A Conception of Giftedness Designed to Promote Research,” in Robert J. Sternberg and Janet E. Davidson, eds., Conceptions of Giftedness (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 151–82.

12. Herbert J. Walberg and Shiow-Ling Tsai, “Matthew Effects in Education,” American Educational Research Journal 20, no. 3 (Fall 1983): 359–74; Marian J. Bakermans-Krannenburg, Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, and Robert H. Bradley, “Those Who Have, Receive: The Matthew Effect in Early Childhood Intervention in the Home Environment,” Review of Educational Research 75, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 1–26.

13. Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo A. Ponzetto, and Andrei Shleifer, “Why Does Democracy Need Education?” Journal of Economic Growth 12, no. 2 (June 2007): 77–99.

[First published at Human Events.]

Why Academic Achievement Matters

Somewhat Reasonable - September 08, 2014, 3:29 PM

[NOTE: The following is excerpted from a chapter of the next Heartland Institute book titled Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn — and why teachers don’t use them well.]

 Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He was reflecting on the private benefits of learning about ourselves and the world around us. The more we learn about our own thoughts and desires, abilities, limitations, and surroundings, the better able we are to make informed choices about our health, family, occupation, recreation, and myriad other parts of our lives. The non-monetary benefits of learning may be difficult to measure, but they shape and determine what we recognize to be the quality of our life.1

Academic achievement produces public as well as private benefits. Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution and his colleagues have shown the strong relationship between school achievement and economic growth.2Hanushek and former secretary of state George P. Shultz estimate that if our school mathematics scores were comparable to Canada’s over the next 20 years, U.S. gross domestic product (the value of goods and services produced in the country) would improve by $70 billion over the next 80 years, a figure equivalent to an income boost of 20 percent for each U.S. worker.3 That would be a considerable social benefit.

Academic achievement also benefits democratic institutions. When compared to other nations, those with higher levels of education and ability show stronger democracy, less crime, and greater political liberty.4 Corruption is less common in countries where citizens are well educated.5

Within societies, academic abilities increase in step with levels of education, and a nation’s relative wealth increases along with both.6 Cities also tend to grow more quickly when this kind of human capital creates a capable workforce that remains economically productive over time.7

Nations tend to benefit to the degree their citizens fulfill their potential. When citizens develop their abilities, liberty tends to expand and moral behavior tends to be higher.8Following Hanushek’s work, Heiner Rindermann of Germany’s Chemnitz University of Technology and James Thompson of University College London found a nation’s overall abilities and knowledge are deciding factors in a nation’s wealth, scientific progress, and economic freedom.9 The world’s wealthiest nations have sustained strong intellectual traditions that result in notable accomplishments in engineering, mathematics, technology, and basic and applied science.10 Cross-national studies emphasize the importance of encouraging exemplary learners to achieve as much as they are able. Societies that support top performers and seek to maximize their abilities appear most likely to benefit all their citizens.11

Finally, the quick early learners become ever more knowledgeable and skilled as time goes on, the result of what is called the “Matthew Effect” after this passage in the Bible’s Book of Matthew: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” Their work becomes increasingly better than others’ and easier for them, which can reinforce their desire and ability to persevere through ever-more-difficult challenges.12 Academic achievement in elementary and secondary school can foster higher levels of achievement in college and beyond.

Effective primary and secondary schools offer learning opportunities and rewards for acquiring the knowledge and developing the thinking skills students need to succeed in college and workplaces and to participate as citizens in free societies.13 If more students can achieve at high levels, they, their compatriots, and their society stand to benefit.

Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast are chairman and president, respectively, of The Heartland Institute and authors of Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn – and why teachers don’t use them well (October 1, 2014; ISBN 978-1-934791-38-7), from which this article is excerpted.

Notes

1. Luis E. Vila, “The Non-Monetary Benefits of Education,” European Journal of Education 35, no. 1 (March, 2000): 21–32, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1503615.

2. Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, “The Role of School Improvement in Economic Development,” PEPG 07/01, Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University, January 9, 2007, http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG07-01-Hanushek-Woessmann.pdf.

3. Eric Hanushek and George P. Shultz, “Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy,”The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB1000142405270230351340 4577356422025164482.html.

4. Heiner Rindermann, “Relevance of Education and Intelligence for the Political Development of Nations: Democracy, Rule of Law, and Political Liberty,” Intelligence 36, no. 4 (July–August 2008): 306–22.

5. Edward L. Glaeser and Raven Saks, “Corruption in America,” Discussion Paper Number 2043, Harvard Institute of Economic Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2004).

6. Heiner Rindermann, “Relevance of Education and Intelligence at the National Level for the Economic Welfare of People,” Intelligence 36, no. 2 (March–April 2008): 127–42.

7. Edward L. Glaeser and Albert Saiz, “The Rise of the Skilled City,” Discussion Paper Number 2025, Harvard Institute of Economic Research (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2003).

8. Heiner Rindermann, supra note 6.

9. Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson, “Cognitive Capitalism: The Effect of Cognitive Ability on Wealth, as Mediated Through Scientific Achievement and Economic Freedom,” Psychological Science 22, no. 6 (June 2011): 754–63.

10. Heiner Rindermann, Michael Sailer, and James Thompson, “The Impact of Smart Fractions, Cognitive Ability of Politicians and Average Competence of Peoples on Social Development,” Talent Development and Excellence 1 (July 2009): 3–25. Knowledge in the humanities, social sciences, and literature may also promote aspects of national well-being, but fair and objective measures in these fields are nearly impossible to develop.

11. Nancy Ewald Jackson and Earl C. Butterfield, “A Conception of Giftedness Designed to Promote Research,” in Robert J. Sternberg and Janet E. Davidson, eds., Conceptions of Giftedness (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 151–82.

12. Herbert J. Walberg and Shiow-Ling Tsai, “Matthew Effects in Education,” American Educational Research Journal 20, no. 3 (Fall 1983): 359–74; Marian J. Bakermans-Krannenburg, Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, and Robert H. Bradley, “Those Who Have, Receive: The Matthew Effect in Early Childhood Intervention in the Home Environment,” Review of Educational Research 75, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 1–26.

13. Edward L. Glaeser, Giacomo A. Ponzetto, and Andrei Shleifer, “Why Does Democracy Need Education?” Journal of Economic Growth 12, no. 2 (June 2007): 77–99.

[First published at Human Events.]

Categories: On the Blog

Proud to be an American: What Should It Mean?

Somewhat Reasonable - September 08, 2014, 11:38 AM

America! For more than two hundred years the word has represented hope, opportunity, a second chance, and freedom. In America the accident of a man’s birth did not serve as an inescapable weight that dictated a person’s fate or that of his family. The individual owned his own life and was free to shape it as his own mind guided him.

Once a newcomer stepped on American soil he left the political tyrannies and economic barriers of the “old world” behind. A willingness to work hard and to bear the risks of one’s own decisions, the possession of a spirit of enterprise, and a little bit of luck were the keys to the doors of success in their “new world” home.

American Spirit of Independence, Innovation and Benevolence

Visitors from Europe traveling to America in the 19th century, Frenchmen like Alexis de Tocqueville and Michel Chevalier, marveled at the energy and adaptability of the ordinary American. An American paid his own way, took responsibility for his actions, and showed versatility in the face of change, often switching his occupation, profession, or trade several times during his life, and frequently moving about from one part of the country to another.

What’s more, individual Americans demonstrated a generous spirit of benevolence and voluntary effort to assist those who had fallen upon hard times, as well as to deal with a wide variety of common community services in their cities, towns, and villages.

Those foreign observers of American life noted that no man bowed to another because of the hereditary accident of birth. Each man viewed himself as good as any other, to be judged on the basis of his talents and abilities as well as his character and conduct as an individual human being.

Even the scar of slavery that blemished the American landscape through more than half of the 19th century stood out as something inherently inconsistent and untrue to the vision and conception of a society of free men laid down by the Founding Fathers. The logic of liberty meant that slavery would eventually have to end, in one way or another, if the claim of freedom for all was not to remain confronted with a cruel hypocrisy to the ideal.

A Land of Free, Self-Made Citizens

What a glorious country this America was. Here was a land of free men who were able to pursue their dreams and fulfill their peaceful desires. They were free men who could put their own labor to work, acquire property, accumulate wealth, and fashion their own lives. They associated on the basis of freedom of exchange, and benefited each other by trading their talents through a network of division of labor that was kept in order through the competitive processes of market-guided supply and demand.

In this competitive marketplace, the creative entrepreneurial spirit was set free. Every American was at liberty to try his hand, if he chose, to start his own business and devise innovative ways to offer new and better products to others in the market, through which he hoped to earn his living. No man was bond to the soil upon which he was born or tied to an occupation or profession inherited from his ancestors. Every individual had an opportunity to be the master of his own fate, with the freedom to move where inclination led him and choose the work that seemed most profitable and attractive.

The Turn Toward Collectivism

Then something began to happen in America. The socialist and collectivist ideas that were growing in influence in Europe during the last decades of the 19th century began to spread over to the United States. Two generations of young American scholars went off to study in Europe, particularly in Imperial Germany, in the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s. They became imbued with socialist and state paternalistic conceptions, especially the interventionist and welfare statist ideas that were being taught at the universities in Bismarck’s Germany.

These scholars came back to the United States enthusiastic about their newly learned ideas, convinced that the “negative” idea of freedom dominant in America – an idea of freedom that argued that government’s role was only to secure each person in his individual right to life, liberty, and property – needed to be replaced by a more “positive” notion of freedom.

Government should not merely protect citizens from violence and fraud. It should guarantee their health care and retirement pensions; it should regulate their industry and trade, including their wages and conditions of work. The government needed to secure the members of society from all the uncertainties of life, “from cradle to grave” – a phrase that was first popularized during this time.

These European-trained students and academics soon filled the teaching positions in the colleges and universities around the country; they occupied a growing number of jobs in the federal and state bureaucracies; they became the fashionable and “progressive” forward- looking authors of books and magazine articles; they came to dominate the culture of ideas in America.

The Rationale of Relativist Change

How did they sway an increasing number of Americans? They asked people to look around them and observe the radical changes in technologies and styles of life. They pointed to the rapid shift from the countryside to growing urban areas. And they asked, how could such a transformed and transforming society remain wedded to the ideas of men who had lived so long ago, in the 18th century? How could a great and growing country be tied down to a Constitution written for a bygone era?

The Constitution, these “progressives” argued, had to reflect the changing times – it had to be a “living” and “evolving” document. Progress, for these proselytizers of Prussian paternalism, required a new political elite who would guide and lead the nation into a more collectivist future.

The Fruits of Collectivism in America

The fruits of their work are, now, after well over a century, all around us. At the beginning of the 20th century all levels of government in the United States took in taxes around 8 percent of the people’s wealth and income. Now all levels of government extract in many cases over fifty percent of our earnings, in one way or another.

One hundred years ago, government hardly regulated and controlled any of the personal and commercial affairs of the American citizenry. Now, government’s hand intrudes into every corner of our private, business, and social affairs. Indeed, it is hard to find one area of our daily lives that does not pass through the interventionist sieve of state management, oversight, restriction, and command.

Perhaps worst of all, too many of our fellow Americans have become accustomed to and, indeed, demanding of government protection or subsidy of their personal and economic affairs. We are increasingly no longer free, self-supporting individuals who solely make our own ways through the peaceful transactions and exchanges of the marketplace.

We have become collective “interest groups” who lobby and pressure those in political office for favors and privileges at the expense of our neighbors. And the political officeholders are only too happy to grant these political gifts to those who supply campaign contributions and votes as the avenue to their own desires for power and control over those whom they claim to serve.

It is sometimes said, “But we are still the freest country in the world. Our wealth and standard of living are the envy of tens of millions all around the globe. We should be proud of what and who we are.”

The Standard for Judging America

Our present greatness in terms of these things, however, is only relative to how much farther other countries have gone down the path of government paternalism and regulation during these past one hundred years.

The benchmark of comparison should not be America in relation to other countries in the contemporary world. The standard by which we should judge our freedom should be how much freer the American people were from the stranglehold of government more than one hundred years ago, before those proselytizers of paternalism began to change the political and cultural character of the United States.

By this standard, today’s American people are extremely unfree in many aspects of their life. Of course, there have been important, valuable and even essential economic, social and cultural improvements for many individuals and groups in American society, who one hundred years ago still suffered from various degrees of racial, social or ethic bigotry and politically enforced discrimination. Many of these wrongs are now gone, or at least far less than in that earlier time.

But the fact remains that over many areas of our personal, social and especially economic activities we have all become increasingly wards of the state. And like the convict who has spent so many years in prison that he is afraid of being released and no longer having his jail keepers to tell him what to do and how to live, we are fearful of even the thought of a life without government caring for us, protecting us, subsidizing us, guiding us, and educating us.

Loss of Understanding Liberty

Too many in the older generation in America have lost their understanding of what freedom means and why constitutionally limited government is both necessary and desirable. And the vast majority of the young have never been taught in our government-run schools the ideas, ideals, and political institutional foundations upon which this country of ours was created. They have been taught to think that there are no absolute truths or any important insights from long human experience concerning why individual freedom is a valuable and precious thing.

What those earlier German-trained political and cultural relativists set out to do in America at the beginning of the 20th century has been to a great extent accomplished. We are threatened with becoming a people who have no sense of an invariant nature of man, and who possess no idea of those values and attitudes in the human character so necessary for preserving freedom and prosperity.

Most especially, there has been lost among too many any understanding or appreciation of the concept of individual rights, without which a free society is not sustainable in the long run. The collectivist mind-sets of our time have weakened the most fundamental concept underlying the idea of individual rights:

That the individual has a right to live for himself, guided by his own reasoning and judgment, and that he should not be considered and treated as a physical or financial beast of burden expected to sacrifice his life and its potentials for a tribe, whether it is called “the nation,” the “social class,” the “race,” the “democratic majority,” or “mankind.”

Individual Rights are Changeless in a Changing World

The Founding Fathers were not unaware that “times change.” But in the whirlwind of life they saw that reason and experience could and had demonstrated that there were unchanging qualities to the human condition, grounded in the fundamental political idea of individual rights.

They understood the various mantles that tyranny could take on – including the cloak of false benevolence in the form of compulsory redistribution of wealth. They established a constitutional order that was meant to guard us from the plunder of violent and greedy men, while leaving each of us that wide latitude of personal and economic freedom in which we could find our own meanings for life, and adapt to new circumstances consistent with our conscience and concerns.

This is what made America great. This is what made a country in which individuals could say without embarrassment or conceit that they were “proud to be Americans.”

The task for those of us who have not yet lost that true sense of the meaning of freedom is to dedicate ourselves to restoring and refining that noble American ideal of individual rights and liberty. Let us work together to be the stewards of liberty so that freedom may, once again, rekindle its consistent and bright torch in the America of the 21st century.

[Originally published at EpicTimes]

Categories: On the Blog

EPA’s Phony “Environmental Justice” Caper

Somewhat Reasonable - September 08, 2014, 11:06 AM

The agency’s real agenda: empire, control, and inverted justice for poor and minority families

When it comes to energy, climate change, justice and transparency, the Obama Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency want it every possible way. Their only consistency is their double standards and their determination to slash hydrocarbon use, ensure that electricity prices “necessarily skyrocket,” expand federal government command and control, and “fundamentally transform” America.

The president was thus eager to give away Seal Team secrets in bragging about “he” got Osama bin Laden. But in sharp contrast, there has been no transparency on Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS scandal – or the data and analyses that supposedly support Environmental Protection Agency claims that “dangerous manmade climate change” is “not just a future threat; it is happening right now.”

That rhetoric made it sound like EPA’s Clean Power Plan was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, in July EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made it clear that her initiative “is not about pollution control.” Rather, it is an “investment strategy” designed to spur renewable energy.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) opined that the agency does not have “explicit statutory authority” to steer investments toward “green” energy. Perhaps so, McCarthy replied, but her actions are legal under the Clean Air Act and within the agency’s ever broadening purview – as are EPA’s attempts to expand its mission and oversight authority by emphasizing “sustainable development” and “environmental justice.”

The ironies abound. Wind, solar and ethanol power were intended to address “imminent oil and gas depletion” that ended with the hydraulic fracturing revolution, and prevent “global warming” that ended some 18 years ago. Now “investment” in these “alternative” energy technologies primarily involves greenback dollars taken from hard-working taxpayers and delivered to crony corporatists and campaign contributors who want to earn fat profits from climate scares, renewable energy mandates and subsidies.

A 2010 report suggested that EPA should begin to examine how it might “encourage the development of sustainable communities, biodiversity protection, clean energy, environmentally sustainable economic development and climate change.” Talk about an open-ended invitation to control our lives. A few weeks ago, EPA proclaimed “environmental justice” as yet another newcause celebre. The agency claims low-income groups are “disproportionately affected” by airborne pollution, and therefore it must tighten air quality standards yet again. The results will likely be a perverse opposite of true justice.

The agency’s own Urban Air Toxics report chronicles a 66% reduction in benzene levels, 84% in outdoor airborne lead, 84% in mercury from coal-fueled power plants, and huge reductions in particulates (soot). “But we know our work is not done yet,” McCarthy said. “At the core of EPA’s mission is the pursuit of environmental justice – striving for clean air, water and healthy land for every American; and we are committed to reducing remaining pollution, especially in low-income neighborhoods.”

Most air quality and health experts say America’s air is completely safe. That’s why EPA pays its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the American Lung Association millions of dollars a year to say otherwise. It’s why the EPA, CASAC and ALA refuse to discuss the $353 billion in annual regulatory compliance costs that EPA alone imposes on U.S. businesses and families (out of a total federal regulatory bill of $1.9 trillion), according to Competitive Enterprise Institute studies.

Those costs mean too many people lose their jobs. Their hopes, dreams, pride and work ethic are replaced by despair and dependency. If they can find new work, they are forced to work multiple jobs, commute longer distances, and spend greater portions of their incomes on gasoline and electricity. They suffer greater sleep deprivation, stress, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, spousal and child abuse, and poorer nutrition and medical care. More people have strokes and heart attacks; more die prematurely.

EPA’s new 54.5-mile-per-gallon standards mean cars are lighter and less safe in accidents. That means more people suffer severe injuries or get killed. Minority and other poor families are especially at risk.

Every one of these impacts is also a matter of environmental justice. But EPA chooses to ignore them.

Moreover, nothing in the law says EPA has a right to declare that it intends to seek “justice” by drawing a line between poor people and other Americans, all of whom have a stake in clean air. McCarthy’s language is more befitting a rabble-rouser than an agency administrator who is supposed make decisions based on science – not on emotions, politics, or racial and class divisiveness.

EPA’s climate and environmental policies appear destined to become even more insane. Just two months after calling climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” – and amid radical Islamist chaos and conflagrations across the Arab world – on September 3, Secretary of State John Kerry actually said “Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable” to climate change. “Scriptures,” he claimed, make it clear that Americans have a “responsibility” to prevent this calamity.

McCarthy’s environmental justice claims also appear to be based on an ugly premise that undergirds many Obama Administration policies: that low-income people are victims and businesspeople are guilty of doing irreparable harm to their health and communities. (At least business people who are not aligned with Obama and don’t support liberal/Democrat agendas and candidates are guilty.)

Such sentiments pit low-income and working-class Americans against businesses. They are a divisive throwback to the 99% versus 1% protests. They ignore the fact that Mr. Kerry, climate politics bankroller Tom Steyer, and President Obama and his fundraiser dinner companions are all part of the 0.1 percent.

These sentiments also ignore the fact that businesspeople create jobs, give workers opportunities to earn a living for themselves and their families, and develop the employment and life skills to successfully climb the socio-economic ladder. Any company that violates environmental, health, safety, tax and other laws is penalized civilly or criminally – whereas all too often the regulators themselves escape any accountability or liability for accidental, incompetent and even deliberate actions that hurt their fellow citizens.

Ms. McCarthy’s statements also reflect the lengths to which EPA will go to continue expanding its reach and grow its bureaucracy. The agency cannot admit that it has nearly won the battle against dirty air, because thousands of government regulators could lose their jobs. (Never mind the millions of Americans who lose their jobs because of EPA regulators and regulations.) To protect its legions of workers, justify its massive taxpayer-provided budget, and expand it many times over, EPA continues to move the goal posts, by invoking environmental justice, climate change and sustainability – for which there can never be objective goals and achievements, but only political considerations and subjective “feelings.”

Apparently Ms. McCarthy embraces the ideology that ignores the benefits of affordable energy and of a robust economy that creates jobs and opportunities. In her view, government controls are paramount, even when they stifle self-reliance, creativity and entrepreneurship, destroy jobs, harm human health and welfare, and cast low-income Americans as perpetual victims.

As Congress of Racial Equality national chairman Roy Innis emphasizes in his book, Energy Keepers / Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle: access to abundant, reliable, affordable energy is essential for individuals, families and communities that want to improve their lives and living standards.

Jason Riley puts it just as forcefully in his new book, Please Stop Helping Us: How liberals make it harder for blacks to succeed. Blacks must “develop the habits and attitudes that other groups had to develop” to improve their lives, he writes. The real secret to rolling back black unemployment and poverty is to change a culture that has allowed too many black children to grow up without the benefit of a father in the home, and that scorns black intellectual achievement as “acting white.”

Environmental protection should never be an “us vs. them” mentality. Such attitudes divide us, rather than bringing us together to improve our nation and world for everyone’s benefit. Ms. McCarthy should base environmental policy on sound science – and check her phony justice rhetoric at the door.

Categories: On the Blog

Alabama’s Uber failures showcase big brother bureaucracy over consumer opportunity

Out of the Storm News - September 08, 2014, 10:42 AM

First it was Birmingham that refused to accommodate Uber, the popular app-driven transportation service, and then the Tuscaloosa Police Department began enforcing the city’s transportation regulations against drivers working with the company.

While the Birmingham City Council has managed to bungle a badly needed economic opportunity for the city, the Tuscaloosa Police Department is simply enforcing the regulations as they read them and highlighting the need for Tuscaloosa to revisit the issue.

Birmingham and cities throughout Alabama need jobs of any stripe. Not only do Uber and companies like them create employment, but they offer even more value by providing a tech-savvy convenience to move about Alabama’s cities. Many of the state’s cities are less walking-friendly than larger metropolitan counterparts around the nation. These transportation innovation companies sound like the kind of business opportunities politicians would be begging to have.

Instead, the message from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa is that Alabamians need to be protected from the likes of Uber. They claim that public safety is at stake.

Uber and similar app-based transportation services function by contracting with drivers in cities where they operate. Uber, for example, manages a web-based interface that connects passengers and contract drivers. Some of the contract drivers are simply interested in picking up some part-time cash.

That is where city governments start to have conniptions. For many politicians, bureaucracy must be preserved. After all, there is paperwork that needs to be filled out, inspections to be performed, background checks to conduct. Without layers of government, some city leaders apparently feel that Alabamians would not be able to make reasonable decisions.

Never mind the fact that Uber already requires proper insurance, a valid driver’s license and passage of DMV and background checks. City leaders feel that they must protect the taxi industry public from the growing transportation menace.

Since I discovered Uber, I have not taken a taxi in a city where they operate. Safety is a big reason why. My family or I could get into a taxi with precious little information about the fare, route or driver. On the other hand, I could take Uber, where the ride is tracked and information about the driver and passenger is retained. Not only am I able to access my account and see a record of all my trips, but the service radically improves my chances of recovering items I might accidentally leave behind in the car. Most importantly, I am able to focus on getting my family or myself out of the car safely rather than fiddling with a cash transaction.

If private citizens are able to get into a car with a complete stranger at any time, why are they incapable of making that same decision when it comes to a private transportation service?

Alabama’s cities should find ways to expand employment opportunities and choices for consumers, rather than maintaining an unyielding devotion to a one-size-fits-all regulation, especially in a situation where there is no clear and immediate danger to the public.

Taxis should have same opportunities as companies like Uber, but Alabamians, not city bureaucracies, should be able to decide which type of transportation meets their needs, ensures their safety and is more reliable.

Time to Stop Worrying About GMOs

Somewhat Reasonable - September 07, 2014, 3:36 PM

The organic food movement grows every year. Many people are attracted to its acclaimed health benefits and superior produce compared to more ordinary foods. Organically grown food is particularly favored over genetically modified foods (GMOs). Indeed, it is hard to find an upscale restaurant or grocery store that does not loudly proclaim its non-GMO status.

Yet, is there any real health benefit to organic and non-GMO foods? The answer (perhaps shockingly to foodies,) is no. The media and internet have been alive for years with the supposed horrific side effects of eating GMOs, with so-called experts claiming that they cause all kinds of disease, including cancer. But these “experts” rarely, if ever, have any data to back up their claims. In fact, the one major study that offered some credible evidence of negative health effects from GMOs was ultimately discreditedand has since been retracted.

If there is so little serious evidence of the negative side effects of GMOs, why is there so much news about it? The answer is simple: there is profit to be made. The individuals marketing organic and non-GMO items have a real financial incentive to keep the fear alive. Without it, their whole business collapses. Not many people would pay extra for food that offers no meaningful health benefits. A study by the Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom has demonstrated this fact, showing that there is no meaningful health benefit accrued from the additional cost of organically grown food.

This is not to say that organic food promoters are charlatans, or in any way dishonest. No doubt the vast majority of them believe in what they are selling as much as consumers believe in what they are buying: better, healthier food. But good intentions are wasted when the actions rising from them do no good.

The problem really isn’t that people like to eat organic or non-GMO products. In the developed world, many people can easily afford such luxuries. The real problem is when unjustified prejudices toward GMOs spread into the public sphere and cause real harm in places where they are needed. In Africa and parts of Asia, food is a scarce resource. We have seven billion people on this planet, most of whom live in poverty. For many, GMOs are not a matter of choice, but of necessity. In India, a genetically modified strain of wheat called dwarf wheat, (which allowed for much higher crop yields) prevented a massive food crisis that would have killed millions of people. Another grain, golden wheat, has been enriched with nutrients that have reduced child mortality and improved public health in numerous countries.

When people in America start scares about GMOs, it does more than change what people buy. It can cost lives. A few African countries, responding to hysterical claims by faux experts, have banned GMOs. The result has been needless death and deprivation.

A court ruling this month in Hawaii has overturned a ban on GMO research passed earlier this year. This is a positive step, but it has done little to alter public perceptions about GMOs. That will require a much more concentrated push on the part of the agriculture industry and public health officials. More must be done to dispel irrational and erroneous beliefs.

It is easy to understand why people are susceptible to scares about GMOs. It is strange and Frankensteinesque for scientists to manipulate the genetic code of the things we eat. Of course we should be mindful of what we put in our bodies. But we should also be aware of (and act in accord with) the evidence, and the evidence continuously shows no meaningful harm from GMOs.

So don’t be too concerned about buying organic. It’s no better for the health of your body and whole lot worse for the health of your bank account!

 

[Originally published at IOnTheScene]

 

Categories: On the Blog

Joan Rivers, R.I.P.

Somewhat Reasonable - September 07, 2014, 12:52 AM

Comedienne Joan Rivers has passed away last week at the age of 81, shortly after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest during a procedure on her throat. The evening before the terrible event, Ms. Rivers joked about her age and that she could die “at any second.” State health officials are investigating the clinic at which the procedure took place.

Joan Rivers was basically “discovered” by Johnny Carson and was a frequent guest and guest-host of the Tonight Show in the early 1980s.

Recently, Ms. Rivers, never a stranger to controversy, made a bit of news when suggesting that Barack Obama was America’s first gay president and calling Michelle Obama a “tranny.” In typical Rivers style, no apology was forthcoming for the not-particularly-humorous comment.

OK, not every joke hits its target, but for decades of sometimes-shocking entertainment and breaking the glass ceiling for female comedians, Joan Rivers deserves our appreciation.

Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

[First published at the American Spectator.]

[Editor: Here's a bit of Joan from Jimmy Fallon's first day hosting the Tonight Show. Let's just say that having Joan on that night was no accident]:

 

Categories: On the Blog

Survey: Ky. against Internet tax

Out of the Storm News - September 05, 2014, 4:57 PM

From the Bowling Green Daily News:

States rely on taxpayers to report their online purchases and remit the taxes that are due, but few do. Online retailers that have a physical presence in the state where a purchase is made usually collect and remit the tax, as is the case with Kentucky. The National Taxpayers Union and R Street Institute conducted a poll among several states, including Kentucky, to gauge how state taxpayers felt about legislation that could be passed someday to change the current sales tax laws.

“When we looked at all the demographic background … we found pretty consistently across the board not just opposition, but double-digit opposition,” said Andrew Moylan, executive director of R Street Institute.

Letter to Senate on USA FREEDOM Act

Out of the Storm News - September 05, 2014, 11:31 AM

 

 

Majority Leader Harry Reid
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
U.S. Senate

Chairman Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Member Charles E. Grassley
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Chairman Dianne Feinstein
Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Chairman Thomas R. Carper
Ranking Member Tom Coburn
U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairmen Leahy, Feinstein, and Carper, Ranking Members Grassley and Coburn, and Vice Chairman Chambliss:

As Congress begins its next work session, the undersigned civil liberties, human rights, and other public interest organizations are writing to urge the Senate to quickly pass the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) without adding new data retention requirements, and without further consideration of the gravely concerning Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA, S. 2588).

On July 30, 2014, many of the undersigned groups sent a letter to Congressional leadership voicing a unified statement of support for the new version of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685). Though further reform will still be needed, it is an important first step to reining in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) overbroad surveillance authorities.

As that letter explained, S. 2685 in its current form would provide significant transparency and privacy safeguards while preserving the tools intelligence agencies need to protect national security. The bill would prohibit “bulk” and limit large-scale data collection under the USA PATRIOT Act Section 215, the FISA pen register authority, and National Security Letter authorities. The bill would also enhance public reporting of surveillance orders by the private sector and the government, and reform the FISA Court to provide more accountability and transparency, including by appointing a special panel of civil liberties and privacy advocates to the court. Additionally, this version of the USA FREEDOM Act would permit the new call detail records (CDRs) authority under Section 215 to be used only for counterterrorism purposes, and avoid implicitly codifying controversial “about searches” under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act that implicate the privacy of millions of Americans. Based on these important improvements, a wide range of major technology companies and public interest groups spanning the political spectrum is eager for Congress to pass this legislation swiftly and without weakening the bill.

However, as we made clear in both our July 30 letter and our previous letter of June 18, the broad consensus in support of the USA FREEDOM Act among companies and advocacy groups would be severely disrupted if any new mandatory data retention requirement were added to the bill. Data retention requirements pose significant threats not only to privacy and civil liberties, but also to data security, as stories of data breaches at major corporations like Target, Neiman Marcus, UPS, and major banks demonstrate.

There is no evidence that such a mandate is necessary to protect national security. Rather, as Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made clear in a letter earlier this week, and as NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June, the NSA does not need a new data retention requirement to maintain its current level of effectiveness.

At the same hearing, Verizon Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Michael Woods stated unequivocally that Verizon would strongly oppose a new data retention requirement because it would be burdensome to business and pose a significant threat to Americans data and privacy. We agree, and reiterate our strong opposition to the inclusion of any such mandate in the USA FREEDOM Act, which we urge the Senate to pass without delay. Ironically, just as Congress is struggling to pass meaningful surveillance reform to rein in the NSA, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has approved a problematic bill that would give the NSA even more access to Americans’ data: the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S. 2588). Dozens of members of the advocacy community have joined in three coalition letters to the Senate and to the president opposing that bill, which would authorize companies to share with the Department of Homeland Security broadly defined “cyberthreat indicators” from the communications of their users and subscribers. That information would be immediately and automatically disseminated to the NSA and a host of other government agencies. The companies would not be required to affirmatively look for and remove personally identifiable information that is not relevant to the threat before the information is shared. Among other problems, CISA also authorizes companies to monitor their customers’ activities on their networks and employ a range of dangerous countermeasures that could affect innocent Internet users.

Despite the serious privacy problems with CISA, especially in comparison with the last, more privacy protective, cybersecurity information sharing bill considered by the Senate, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 3414), its proponents are urging that the Senate take it up in the limited time that remains after this August recess. Instead, the Senate should make passing the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) a key legislative priority for September. Passing effective and comprehensive surveillance reform is necessary not only to protect our privacy, but also to restore the trust of Internet users around the world who rely on, and are relied upon by, the U.S. Internet industry. The USA FREEDOM Act, as reintroduced last month, would substantially advance both of those goals, whereas CISA would undermine them.

We therefore urge the Senate to swiftly pass the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) without any amendments that would weaken its protections or create any new data retention mandates, and without taking up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S.2588) in its current form. The Senate cannot seriously consider controversial information-sharing legislation such as CISA without first completing the pressing unfinished business of passing meaningful surveillance reform.

Sincerely,

Access
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Arab American Institute
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Brennan Center for Justice
Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights
Center for Democracy & Technology
Citizen Outreach
Competitive Enterprise Institute
The Constitution Project
Constitutional Alliance
Council on American Islamic Relations
Defending Dissent Foundation
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
FreedomWorks
Free Press Action Fund
GenOpp
Government Accountability Project
Hon. Bob Barr, Former Congressman
Human Rights Watch
Liberty Coalition
Media Alliance
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Security Counselors
New America’s Open Technology Institute
OpenMedia.org
OpenTheGovernment.org
PEN American Center
PolitiHacks
Project on Government Oversight
Public Knowledge
Republican Liberty Caucus
R Street
The Rutherford Institute
Student Net Alliance
TechFreedom

Quoth the Reagan, Nevermore

Somewhat Reasonable - September 04, 2014, 3:41 PM

Newt Gingrich’s recent article on CNN asks “What Would Reagan Do About ISIS?” Writing a “speech” from the perspective of Ronald Reagan as if he was still president, Gingrich seeks to show a more assertive, commanding response to the massive unrest in Iraq and Syria. The relative merits of Gingrich’s Reagan’s speech are not worth all that much consideration (In a nutshell, it calls for swift action against the militants, and generally damns the present policy). What is of interest is the strange phenomenon the article reveals about a large section of the American right wing today: dogmatic Ronald Reagan worship.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a big fan of Reagan and I believe he led America as well as anyone could from a time of fearful uncertainty into one of triumphal prosperity. But he was not a god and he did not have the right answer every time on every issue in his own time. It is really strange that conservative commentators trot out the “What would Reagan do?” line so regularly. Sure, we can reflect on the qualities of a president and the character they reveal through their actions. We can express our desires for more forceful and decisive leadership in the mold of Reagan. But to ask his opinion on how to address ISIS? That is a bit of a stretch.

Reagan left the White House in 1989, 25 years. That is a long time for things to change. The world is a radically different place from the one in which Reagan lived and governed. His whole political career was spent as a Cold Warrior. No doubt a man of his skills and leadership quality could make a mark on any era, but to try to envision his exact strategy, or even his general feelings, on specific issues facing us now is not particularly nourishing to intellect or beneficial to the formulation of policy.

This tendency to call up the ghost of Ronald Reagan at the drop of a hat has become a running joke in the liberal media. And if you think about it, it is rather funny. It is, after all, tough to make the case to the public that you have new solutions when you keep dredging up the image of a man who has not governed in two and half decades (and been dead for ten of those years). And that is a really serious problem facing the political right.

When Reagan rose to prominence and won the presidency, he did so by looking forward. He inspired people to believe in a future for America that was bright. He called on many of the timeless words and principles of the American political canon, but he was at his heart an independent animal. He never tried to be a mouthpiece for a preceding generation’s standard-bearer. Reagan’s message was his own, and that is why it resonated so thoroughly with the public.

Trying to be the heir to Reagan’s political legacy, as so many Republican contenders seem to be doing, misses the whole point of what made Reagan special. If the timeless message of individual liberty, of which Reagan was a true champion, is to be carried to another generation, it needs a new voice, not just an echo of an old one.

Categories: On the Blog

It doesn’t take much to imagine that campaign cash is buying influence in the courtroom

Out of the Storm News - September 04, 2014, 10:42 AM

Imagine for a minute that a corporation with an effective monopoly in the State of Alabama became the target of litigation initiated by a state prosecutor. Not only does the corporation use their cash to fight the litigation in court and by lobbying legislators, but they also go after the prosecutor politically in the middle of the legal proceedings.

In an attempt to find a more favorable prosecutor, the corporation funnels $1 million to the prosecutor’s political opponent through a series of vaguely named political action committees (PACs) managed by a former felon.

Why not make it even more interesting? What if the transfers and the amount of money were legal under state law and the manager received a pardon a few months after his conviction?

While the hypothetical might seem like the latest legal fiction thriller, it happens to be reality in Alabama politics. The state prosecutor is none other than Attorney General Luther Strange, the business is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that operates casinos in Alabama, and the A, T, and Speed PACs the tribe funds are managed by former state Sen. John Teague.

Saying that gambling is a controversial issue in Alabama is an understatement, but the fact that the litigation involves gambling does not change the hypothetical situation above.

Nobody believes that the Poarch Creek money is funding Strange’s opponent for any reason other than their legal battles. Even if the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Teague are operating within the law, the scenario still seems off. In Alabama, where we have elected judges and prosecutors, should we permit litigants to make political contributions in support or opposition to officials within the legal system when they have pending litigation involving them?

Contributing to public officials in the legal system to generally shape the legal climate is common in Alabama. For example, trial lawyers and the business community have waged political war for decades in an effort to influence Alabama’s legal system. Political fights over general legal philosophy are a different matter altogether than using campaign cash in response to unfavorable legal proceedings.

Preventing political contributions in a direct conflict situation is already recognized under Alabama law. Utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) are prohibited from making political contributions to candidates for the commission.

If anything, elected state prosecutors and judges have more discretion and individual autonomy over decisions impacting litigants than PSC members have over regulated entities. There are some general ethics rules for attorneys and recusal issues for judges, but none of them squarely take the issue head on.

The very presence of elected public officials in the legal system carries with it politics, campaigns and financial contributions. The question for Alabamians is whether we want to make legal changes that keep those campaign conflicts out of the courtroom.

NEJM irresponsibly damns e-cigarettes as gateway to cocaine, based on mouse nicotine studies

Out of the Storm News - September 04, 2014, 10:33 AM

The New England Journal of Medicine yesterday published an incendiary anti-e-cigarette article that tags nicotine as a gateway to cocaine use… in mice. It’s another sad day for tobacco truth.

The authors are Drs. Denise and Eric Kandel, the latter a Nobel Prize-winner for his work on the physiological basis of memory storage in nerves. Since 1975, Dr. Denise Kandel has aggressively promoted a gateway theory that adolescent use of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco causes use of illegal drugs, starting with marijuana and progressing to cocaine and heroin. The theory is highly contested among addiction research and policy experts because it is not supported by human studies.

The NEJM presents the Kandels’ laboratory data on how nicotine and cocaine affect the mouse brain at the cellular and molecular level. Their experiments involved force-feeding nicotine to and injecting cocaine into mice. Post-mortem studies on the rodent brains led the authors to conclude that nicotine/tobacco causes cocaine use.

Following a nine-page technical discussion of their research that made no mention of e-cigarettes, the authors inserted a concluding three paragraphs claiming that smoking, vaping and even passive smoke are gateways to cocaine.

In a crass attempt to heighten interest in the publication, the Kandels and the NEJM offered the media a press release with an attention-grabbing e-cigarette-bashing headline and inflammatory quotes that exceed and distort the authors’ scientific work.

Shame on all parties for allowing marketing to trump the truth.

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