In this Huffington Post piece, Bill Shireman of Future 500 means well — or at least he means to mean well — with his attempt to nurture a middle ground in the “climate wars.” He’s a left-leaning writer, so I give him credit for trying to spray pox upon both the “warmist” and “skeptic” houses instead of just the the “skeptics,” which is the usual HuffPost angle.
The Heartland Institute is chiefly featured in Shireman’s piece — which is a tribute to the hard work of an organization that has had enormous impact on the debate while enjoying just a tiny fraction of the funding of our prominent peers in on the “other side.” (One demerit for Shireman, however: Heartland never compared “climate advocates” to Nazis.)
That aside, Shireman’s theme is that “both sides” are to blame for the caustic state of the climate debate in this country. The left has wrongly cast the Koch Brothers as “demons,” he writes, while “anti-climate” forces on the right have vaguely done the same. OK. The world knows the former is true of the left, but what is his example of the same from the right? Apparently, The Heartland Institute is to blame for shaping “the climate-policy prescriptions of its chief rhetorical nemesis, Naomi Klein.”
Some background: In 2011, Klein attended Heartland’s sixth International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC6) in Washington. For a yet-to-be-released documentary on climate change, she interviewed many of the scientists Heartland invited. I happily arranged all those interviews, and sat in on most of them. Klein is one of the most prominent and articulate leftists in America, and she came prepared with very challenging questions — which her subjects addressed with honesty and expertise.
But according to Shireman, Klein wasn’t an informed leftist journalist and intellectual. She was merely an empty vessel into which Heartland poured its viewpoint of the leftst climate position:
For example, the Heartland Institute, which prides itself on being the premier climate-change-denying [sic] NGO, directly shaped the climate-policy prescriptions of its chief rhetorical nemesis, Naomi Klein. They crafted her positions to directly match their caricatures of the anti-freedom environmental extremist.
I hope Klein is as insulted by that telling as we are surprised. Shireman would have his readers believe that what Klein subsequently wrote in The Nation was not her own observations, but “extremist” views planted in her brain by Heartland and the scientists who attended our conference.
Shireman quotes a bit from Klein long piece on the conference in The Nation:
The deniers [sic] did not decide that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy by uncovering some covert socialist plot. They arrived at this analysis by taking a hard look at what it would take to lower global emissions as drastically and as rapidly as climate science demands. They have concluded that this can be done only by radically reordering our economic and political systems in ways antithetical to their “free market” belief system.
So, let’s see if I have this straight. Naomi Klein — a proud, educated, and informed leftist who writes for a staunch socialist publication — attends ICCC6 in 2011. Klein hears presenters state plainly the aims and methods of the left when it comes to the political ends of the climate change agenda. Klein does not dismiss the statements she hears at Heartland’s conference as some wild conspiracy or a “covert socialist plot,” but affirms that it is what leftists must publicly admit needs to be done.
Yes. She did that. From later in her piece at The Nation:
Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative.
This is clearly what Klein believes, and has always believed. But, according to Shireman, Klein’s beliefs — “a top-10 list of libertarians’ worst nightmares” — have been “framed” and planted in her mind by Heartland.
We wish moving the public debate was so easy.
From National Journal:
At this morning’s briefing, Congressman Daines and Attorney General Fox were joined by Phil Bond, executive director of We R Here, a nationwide coalition of small businesses and entrepreneurs opposed to the Internet sales tax bill. Attendees at the briefing also heard from Andrew Moylan of R Street, who discussed polling indicating 57% of Americans oppose an Internet sales tax.
In the Obama administration’s effort to talk about anything other than Obamacare and Obama’s near-jobless recovery, the president flew across the country to find the one part of the United States which is having a warm, dry spell. The other 90+ percent of the nation’s landmass has been suffering through a terribly cold and expensive winter.
A meteorologist at the National Weather Service created a “winter extremity index” — which some are calling a “winter misery index” — that, as the Associated Press reports, “confirms what many Americans in the Midwest and East know in their all-too-chilled bones: This has been one of the harshest winters of our lifetimes.”
Where’s Algore when you need him? One thing is for sure: He isn’t in England.
In November, the British Met Office, the analog to our National Weather Service, predicted that the December – February period would be “drier than usual.” Instead, as the Met Office themselves pointed out on Twitter last week, “Early statistics show it has been the wettest winter in the UK in records going back to 1910.”
Is it any wonder that the American public and the British public are getting increasingly skeptical about man-made climate change as well as souring on the left’s “renewable energy” religion?
One wonders whether members of that particular cult, especially those in the public eye, will ever recognize that they damage what little credibility they have left with performances like this.
[First published at the American Spectator.]
After several of his department’s finest were caught on video roughing up a young woman jogger who was wearing earbuds and therefore could not hear an order to stop running, Acevedo said at least his cops didn’t rape her as cops in other towns might have done.
Here are his exact words:
Cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.
Let that sink in a moment . . .
A police chief in a major city says people should be happy his cops did not rape a young woman whom they stopped for jaywalking. Doesn’t that speak volumes about the nation’s police?
Cops are also committing many other crimes on duty, including murder, and often getting away with it. Just last month, two Fullerton, Calif., cops were acquitted of beating to death a homeless man in a crowded commuter parking lot. Dozens of people witnessed the savage attack and recorded it. But in rock-ribbed Republican and law-and-order Orange County, Calif., juries apparently believe people who are mentally ill and wandering through a commuter parking lot should be summarily beaten to death if they don’t obey a police order.
Remember when nearly every cop car had the words “To Protect and to Serve” emblazoned on it? We don’t see that so much anymore. I think it’s because cops do little to serve but a lot to harass, bully and intimidate. If they protect anyone, it’s themselves.
Just ask Jonathan Ferrell. Oh, wait, we can’t because he’s dead. Last fall the former Florida A&M football player, just 24 years old, was shot 10 times and killed by an apparently panic-stricken cop near Charlotte, N.C. Ferrell had been in a late-night car crash and walked to a nearby house to ask for help. The woman who answered the door feared a break-in and called police.
A few minutes later police arrived at the house. Instead of helping Ferrell, one of them fired 12 shots, striking him 10 times. Toxicology reports showed Ferrell had no drugs or alcohol in his system, and he had no weapons. Here’s the latest development on this case.
We could ask Jonathan Meister about the protection and service police provided him, but we’d need to know sign language. Meister is profoundly deaf. About two weeks ago he filed a lawsuit against the City of Hawthorne, Calif., and the city’s police department. Here’s why:
A former roommate of his told him he could go into his yard and remove some snowboarding gear. Neighbors saw Meister, thought he might be stealing the things, and called police. Meister started using sign language to explain to the police that he is deaf. The cops thought the gestures were threats. They grabbed his hands.
We’ll let Jean Trinh of laist.com pick up the story from here:
Things escalated from that point. The lawsuit says:
According to the officers’ reports, Officer Salmon tried to put a potentially lethal carotid choke hold around Mr. Meister’s neck, and after being unable to do so, kneed him twice in the abdomen.
Then things got worse:
At some point, HPD officers Erica Bristow and Mark Hultgren joined the beating of Mr. Meister. After being unable to pull Mr. Meister to the ground (Mr. Meister played club rugby at Ohio State and instinctively tries to stay on his feet when being tackled), Office Tysl punched him in the face repeatedly while Officer Salmon shot darts from a TASER Model X26 electrical control device into Mr. Meister’s left side, causing five seconds of rapidly pulsing electrical shocks. Officer Salmon reported that the X26 current had the desired result and Mr. Meister fell face down. … The officers allegedly kicked, elbowed and Tasered Meister multiple times before he was taken to the hospital to be treated for his injuries.
All because cops were too stupid to recognize sign language when they saw it. Read the whole thing for yourself. And also this article, posted yesterday, shows how incidents like these have become routine.
I was raised by authoritarian parents who, naturally, taught me to respect, submit to and obey authority — particularly authority wielded by cops, because they serve the most authoritarian institution of all, government. So I grew up fearing cops while at the same time believing they could be trusted. After a few years as a newspaper reporter who covered cops and courts, I became convinced the fear of cops was correct but the trust was wrong.
I wrote about one cop who got his own 15-year-old daughter pregnant. During the trial it was revealed he had been offering pelvic exams to his daughter’s friends. I wrote about another who helped cover up his kid’s bicycle theft ring.
I wrote about others who had the mysterious ability to get into bar fights while off duty and never be charged with a crime. In every instance, the victims of the numerous attacks by these off-duty cops were charged.
I wrote about a man who was wrongly charged with and convicted of murdering both his parents and sentenced to death. Nearly four years later, he was cleared after the FBI — by pure dumb luck in a totally unrelated investigation — recorded the actual killers talking about their crime and how the poor schmuck son would die for it. When the FBI presented the indisputable evidence to the local cops and prosecutors, they changed their story.
From the first day, and all the years until then, cops and prosecutors had said the son committed the murders by himself in a drug-induced blackout rage – even though they had no physical evidence against him. They they said he was the mastermind of a criminal plot to have others commit the murders. The Illinois Appellate Court saw through their pathetic attempt to cover up their incompetence and immorality.
Since 2010, in the county next to the one in which I live (the county line is just three miles from my house) five people convicted of murder have been freed after the courts were confronted with DNA or other indisputable evidence showing the convicted persons could not possibly have committed the crimes. Here’s the most recent release.
These people were wrongly convicted of murder because cops or prosecutors (or both) made up evidence, missed evidence, withheld evidence, suborned perjury, or engaged in other acts that would have been considered negligent or criminal if you or I or anyone else not a cop or prosecutor would have committed them.
In instance after instance — no matter how outrageous their conduct has been — police and prosecutors have tried to defend, downplay, and explain away their actions.
Now comes Austin Police Chief Acevedo, who has told America we should be thankful his cops did not rape a female jaywalker. Applaud him, Dear Reader, applaud him. We need more candor like this from America’s police chiefs.
From the Times-Picayune:
Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the R-Street Institute, a conservative advocacy group, said both Republicans and Democrats feel pressured to act to protect their candidates running in the fall mid-term elections. It is clear that congressional leaders from both parties don’t want constituents taking out their frustration over higher flood insurance premiums on their candidates in the fall elections, although they’d be happy if they blame their political opponents.
A prime mover of the flood insurance debate, Moylan said, is the Louisiana Senate race with Democrats wanting to show that Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., “is doing the most to stop premium increases” and Republicans wanting the credit for congressional action to go to Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, her leading Republican challenger.
Political considerations, he said, led House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to take the unusual move of removing authority over the flood insurance issue from House Financial Services Committee Chair Jon Hensarling, R-Texas., who opposes major changes in the 2012 law.
Other races influencing Cantor’s decision, he said, include the New York Congressional race in which Republican Michael Grimm is fighting for his political life in a district full of homeowners who suffered major losses during Super Storm Sandy; and a special Florida House race in which both the Democratic and Republican candidates are vowing to fight large premium increases. Grimm is the lead sponsor of the new House flood insurance bill.
”It’s all about the politics,” said Moylan, who contends that groups pushing for congressional action are exaggerating the extent of rate increases and pushing for legislation that undermines the Biggert-Waters goal of making the program more sustainable.
Cassidy said he’s unperturbed by R-Street’s contention that his and others’ fight against flood insurance rate hikes is being aided by political considerations of congressional leaders.
“Good policy is good politics and this is good policy,” Cassidy said. “I’m fighting for the interests of Louisiana. I am not bothered by the ‘inside-the-beltway’ crowd that does not understand the needs of Louisiana families facing unfair flood insurance rate hikes. Also, this isn’t just for Louisiana, this helps Americans across the country.”
WASHINGTON (Feb. 26, 2014) - The R Street Institute welcomed news that the credit union tax exemption is protected in the latest draft of the House Ways & Means Committee’s tax reform bill.
Credit unions are not-for-profit, community-based organizations that serve members with a common bond. Throughout their history, they have serviced segments of the population and small businesses that have had difficulty obtaining credit from traditional bank channels.
“The committee should be commended for recognizing that the tax exemption for credit unions is vital to ensuring that credit unions can continue to provide the same level of service and competitive lending rates that customers have relied on for generations,” said R.J. Lehmann, senior fellow at R Street.
There are currently about 7,000 credit unions with roughly 96 million members in the United States. Recent research by the National Association of Federal Credit Unions finds that eliminating the credit union federal tax exemption would result in $17 billion in lost economic benefits.
From the Weekly Standard:
Of course, raising the minimum wage is not the only, and certainly not the most efficient way to increase the value of work. There is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which rebates employer and employee payroll taxes to low-wage workers, and which Eli Lehrer and Lori Sanders of the R Street Institute described in these pages (“Let’s Move,” February 10, 2014) as providing “virtually perfect incentives. . . . [I]t’s also entirely portable . . . [but] remains quite modest.” There is also a negative income tax. I leave it to others to devise ways to make work pay more, the funding to come from the savings in the benefits programs or from part two of a conservative back-to-work policy: accelerated growth.
From the Washington Examiner:
That will be a constant threat, especially in an era of fiscal tightening, for the relatively young program, said Eli Lehrer, president of the conservative R Street Institute.
“Age certainly affects it, because when you’ve been around a while, you’ve built a constituency,” Lehrer told the Washington Examiner. “So zero-funding [the National Science Foundation], the national labs or DARPA is unthinkable. But ARPA-E gets talked about all the time.”
From the St. Petersburg Tribune:
Influential conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the R Street Institute have written editorials and lobbied members of Congress to oppose changes to the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, which was broadly supported by both parties two years ago.
Political races are likely driving some elected officials in coastal states such as Louisiana and New York to go against principle to appease constituents who are angry about the premium hikes, says Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the R Street Institute.
“Everybody knows what the right thing to do policywise here is and they are actively choosing not to do it because of the political situation,” he said in a conference call Wednesday.
Moylan was joined by Rob Moore, of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, who said continuing to offer rates that don’t reflect true risk only creates more peril for people in flood zones.
From the Wall Street Journal:
An unlikely coalition of conservatives, environmental groups and the insurance industry has opposed the latest legislative proposals to blunt the premium increases.
The House bill “represents a fundamental betrayal” of free-market principles, said R.J. Lehmann, senior fellow at R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Still, the proposed legislation leaves open a potentially substantial role for private-sector reinsurers, he noted.
February 25, 2014
Dear Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor,
We the undersigned organizations and individuals are extremely disappointed in the addition of a poison pill amendment to H.R. 1123, the Unlocking Consumer Choice Act, and urge you to pass companion legislation that restores the full rights of all consumers to freely own,
unlock, use and sell their phones and other wireless devices.
Cell phone unlocking allows consumers to keep their cellphone, change carriers, or sell their phone after their contract has expired. It’s a critical part of how a dynamic and competitive mobile market functions. This technology was lawful from 2006-2013, when the Librarian of Congress effectively made phone unlocking a crime. Since then, the White House and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have come out in opposition to this ruling, even pressuring major wireless carriers to promise to unlock their mobile devices. But it is the
responsibility of Congress to permanently fix the problem, not rely on executive agencies and rule-making bodies.
Last summer, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice Act, which made the first step toward reversing the ban on phone unlocking, and received support from many of the undersigned organizations. Not a single organization formally came out against the legislation, including representatives of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and The Wireless Association (CTIA) collectively representing the entire wireless industry.
Then, last week when Congress was out of session, lobbyists added a poison pill to legislation that had already passed committee. This incredibly duplicitous move undermined the legal nature of phone unlocking and singled out small businesses through a ban on “bulk
unlocking.” What is the threshold? No one even knows – that will be decided later.
Copyright is designed to protect content owners and creators, but it can be a powerful weapon when allowed to be a tool by special interest lobbyists to protect their market models. Copyright should not be used to stifle innovation, hurt consumers, or prohibit market models.
Yet this is precisely what this new language does. This new language uses “copyright infringement” as a justification to exclude certain business models from emerging. Unlocking is an activity completely removed from violating copyright. Why should individual unlocking
and resale be legal, but illegal for a small business?
We implore House leadership to bring to the floor the original version of HR 1123 without the poisoned section on “bulk unlocking.” The original supporters and members of the House Judiciary Committee deserve an honest vote.
Norm Singleton, Vice President of Policy – Campaign for Liberty
Derek Khanna, Yale Law Fellow – Information Society Project
A story in the Feb. 24 edition of the San Jose Mercury News noted that the drought in California has raised the profile of Peter Gleick and his Pacific Institute.
But in what certainly came as a shock to Gleick, the liberal Bay Area paper dedicated one-quarter of its 775-word story outlining his admitted identity theft and fraud against The Heartland Institute — the scandal known as Fakegate.
The story accurately quoted me about Gleick’s admitted crimes, and how Gleick’s years of advocacy about global warming have “actually decreased the public’s understanding of the climate”:
But Gleick, 57, got tripped up in heated climate politics in 2012 when he admitted to using a fake name to obtain internal documents from the libertarian Heartland Institute, an anti-regulation group that works to minimize or refute global warming. He took a four-month leave of absence and was reinstated after the Pacific Institute cleared him of wrongdoing. The incident gained national attention, and Gleick was forced to resign from the chairmanship of the American Geophysical Union’s ethics committee.
The Heartland Institute continues to push for criminal charges.
Gleick proved he “has no moral qualms about committing serious crimes to advance an ideological agenda,” said Heartland spokesman Jim Lakely. No one “should take seriously anything he has to say about the climate. To the extent he’s shaped public opinion, he’s actually decreased the public’s understanding of the climate.”
Frankly, that’s more than I expected from a MSM outlet, but I’m grateful. And it’s gotta smart Gleick — and Michael Mann (also quoted in this story), and every alarmsit who is used to glowing coverage in the MSM to see those quotes in print. At the end of this post are the questions asked of me by the reporter and my emailed responses in full.
When asked about his crimes by the San Jose Mercury News, Gleick said he “is not remorseful”:
“The science of climate change is incredibly strong,” Gleick said. “There is a remaining small group of deniers who try to misuse the science but I think are really afraid of the policy debate about what to do about climate change. Like the tobacco industry, I think history will show them for what they are.”
One does not have to wait for history to see Peter Gleick’s legacy. The San Jose Mercury News helped its readers show Gleick for what he is now. And it’s quite rich for Gleick to suggest the scientists and policy experts Heartland works with are “really afraid of the policy debate.” Gleick began the crime spree that ruined his reputation shortly after he was invited to debate those he calls “deniers” at a Heartland Institute event. We offered to donate $5,000 to the charity of his choice. Gleick chose, instead, to commit a crime.
For the record, here’s a taste of the “horror” Gleick had in store: A cordial and informative debate between a “warmist” and a “skeptic” at one of one of Heartland’s eight international conferences on climate change. The “warmist” (for lack of a better term, to his dismay) is Scott Denning, Ph.D., the Monfort Professor of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and an editor of Journal of Climate who has given two other presentaions at Heartland’s climate conferences. The “skeptic” is Roy W. Spencer, Ph.D., principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.
I’ve embedded at the end of this post the impromptu tribute the charming Scott Denning gave to Heartland and the scientists we assembled at the end of our fourth conference in Chicago in May 2010. Denning’s testimony of how welcome he felt and how intellectually stimulating he found the conference speaks for itself. (SPOILER: Denning said it was “really too bad” more of his colleagues didn’t have the good sense to attend. They’d have learned a lot, as he did. “We need public policy that’s based on facts,” Denning said, “rather than ‘facts’ that are based on a policy agenda.” BTW: Heartland is planning a ninth international conference on climate change this year … stay tuned.)
Meanwhile, click around at Fakegate.org to get the full story of Gleick’s crimes — including a plethora of independent media analysis of his pathetic, fumbled caper. (Be sure not to miss this devastating piece of sleuthing by Megan McArdle, as well as this one by her — both published before Gleick confessed). You can also see the criminal case The Heartland Institute presented to federal prosecutors. The case is still open, because the crimes still stand.
My email correspondence with reporter Heather Somerville:
Q: How did Peter’s fraudulent actions against Heartland impact the scientific community, in the context of credibility and trust? Have you seen any long-term impacts?
A: Gleick’s fraud damaged the climate alarmists in the scientific community — especially because many of his colleagues applauded him for his crimes. The observable climate data of about the last two decades has served to disprove the computer-modeled hypothesis of man-caused global warming. That true data is what Heartland and the scientists we work with have published in two volumes of research and eight international climate conferences.
Gleick was apparently so frustrated by the inconvenient truth that he sought to take down a small, but influential organization through criminal activity. The actual effect was to generate more attention to, and more funding, for our work. Gleick damaged his side of the climate debate, not ours.
Q: How did Peter’s fraudulent actions impact his own reputation, in your view?
A: Gleick seriously harmed his reputation through his criminal actions. No serious scientist, reporter, or the public should take seriously anything he has to say about the climate.
Q: Is Heartland still seeking criminal prosecution?
Q: What has been Peter’s and the Pacific Institute’s contribution to the scientific community?
A: Gleick’s greatest contribution to the scientific community is showing the world that global warming alarmists have no moral qualms about committing serious crimes to advance an ideological agenda. The Pacific Institute has also ruined its own reputation by conducting a sham investigation, reinstating Gleick as president, and not addressing any of the questions Heartland posed to them in two open letters.
Q: How do you believe his work has shaped the public’s understanding of climate and water issues?
A: Gleick is not a climate scientist. His expertise is in hydrology. To the extent he’s shaped public opinion, he’s actually decreased the public’s understanding of the climate by falsely claiming there is a man-caused crisis.
Q: What scientific research and data does Heartland draw on to formulate it’s position on climate change? (just a few examples, please)
A: Heartland has a global network of hundreds of climate scientists who write for us, participate in peer review, and speak at our international conferences. We support the efforts of more climate scientists than any other free-market think tank in the world.
The best and most comprehensive examples of their work are the “Climate Change Reconsidered” reports by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, or NIPCC. These volumes, including a new one coming out in March, amount to more than 3,000 pages of research taken from the peer-reviewed literature that suggest the conclusions of the United Nations’ IPCC are wildly off the mark. The “Climate Change Reconsidered”series looks at the data first, then draws conclusions, rather than the other way around. The volumes have been reviewed by scores of scientists from around the world under the leadership of three main editors: Dr. S. Fred Singer, Dr. Craig Idso, and Dr. Robert Carter. More info about the series of reports can be found at the link above.
Heartland has also hosted eight International Conferences on Climate Change, with work already begun on hosting a ninth. The eight ICCCs so far have featured 350 presentations from 187 scientists, economists, and other public policy experts. Many of the hundreds of scientists that Heartland works with have presented at those conferences.
Q: Does Heartland offer any alternative solutions to the drought crisis in California, that either are similar or dissimilar to recommendations made by the Pacific institute?
A: I’m not familiar with what the Pacific Institute recommends to help alleviate the drought crisis in California. But activists like Gleick were at the forefront of the push to stop the flow of water from the Sacramento Delta to the farm country in the Central Valley in the service of “protecting” a small bait fish. Tens of billions of gallons of fresh water were instead diverted into the sea. The drought in California is as much the fault of senseless decisions by man as it is of Mother Nature.
The Scott Denning video:
One of President Obama’s defining convictions is that he is the most reasonable man in our nation’s capitol. He seems to view opposition to his agenda as a reflection of intellectual or moral failures (my opponents don’t understand the underlying issues well enough, or their hearts aren’t big enough) or as a product of naked cynicism (my opponents are dishonest and they will do anything to defeat me). To prove his point, the president will occasionally tout an idea from the other side of the aisle, or rather an idea he imagines to be from the other side of the aisle. And when his political opponents don’t embrace the idea, well, that means that they are acting in bad faith.
So I was delighted by the news that the Obama administration is changing its tune on Social Security in its forthcoming budget proposal. Last year, the president included a Social Security reform compromise in the budget proposal he presented to Congress. This year he has decided not to do so. But the truth is that the president’s Social Security compromise wasn’t a compromise at all. His decision to jettison it is a refreshing change of pace. And while the reforms aren’t officially part of the 2015 budget proposal, they remain relevant because Obama is treating them as a concession he’ll make if Republicans agree to raise taxes.
According to the president and his allies, the White House was only willing to compromise on Social Security, by cutting benefits, if Republicans were willing to give a little too, by agreeing to higher taxes. The problem is that his idea for cutting Social Security benefits is actually pretty bad, and it would also raise taxes. In other words, the president’s offer to the GOP is, “hey, why don’t you share the blame for this thing that will make Social Security worse for seniors and raise taxes, and in return for my generosity you’ll let me raise taxes even more?” You will be shocked to learn that Republican lawmakers were not thrilled by this idea.
Specifically, the White House called for changing the index used to both calculate cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security payments and set tax brackets in its budget for the 2014 fiscal year. This new method for gauging consumer price inflation (“chained CPI”) is considered more accurate than the federal government’s standard Consumer Price Index (“CPI”). But the appeal of chained CPI is not just that it’s more accurate. It just so happens that chained CPI is expected to yield inflation rates around 0.3 percentage points lower than old-school CPI.
This is where the magic happens. By using chained CPI instead of CPI, Social Security benefits would grow at a somewhat slower rate over time, thus containing the Social Security system’s cost as baby boomers exit the workforce. If the only thing Republicans cared about was cutting Social Security spending, this would make the new index pretty appealing.
Yet many Republicans, believe it or not, also want to protect the economic security of older Americans. And there is a real danger that chained CPI might cause problems for the oldest retirees, who in some cases are decades away from leaving the workforce, when their initial benefit levels were set. In fairness, champions of chained CPI tend to advocate building in some added protection for the oldest of the old, to keep them from falling into poverty.
But as Andrew Biggs, a Social Security expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has argued, it would make far more sense to lower the initial retirement-benefit level to encourage workers right around retirement age to keep working, while actually allowing retirement benefits to grow faster by pegging them to overall wage growth.
Biggs also reminds us that chained CPI would also cause tax brackets to change more slowly, and thus would represent a substantial tax increase for middle-income households over time. If the inflation rate is 1 percent a year but average wages increase at a rate of 2 percent a year, you will hit the dollar amount that puts you in a higher tax bracket faster than you will hit the dollar amount that puts you in a higher income percentile. Over the long run, this “bracket creep” from chained CPI will raise more revenue than Social Security benefit cuts will yield in spending reductions. How is this a compromise again?
There are Social Security reforms that Democrats and Republicans could get behind, at least in theory. Andrew Biggs has proposed cutting or even eliminating the Social Security payroll tax for workers over the age of 62, a step that would reduce payroll tax revenues, but increase other tax revenues as older workers choose to work longer hours and to retire later in life. This tax cut wouldn’t quite be a free lunch, but it would come pretty close. Charles Blahous and Jason Fichtner of the libertarian Mercatus Center have suggested cutting Social Security payroll taxes for households with children, while raising them for households without them, a controversial step that would give low- and middle-income working families a big economic boost.
But as journalist Ezra Klein has observed, presidents are ill-suited to forging legislative compromises. Rather than bring partisans together, they tend to polarize them. Instead of offering pseudo-compromises in his budget proposal, the president should stick to laying out his vision for America’s future, in which higher taxes, higher spending and more onerous regulations will lead us to the promised land. The Republicans should do a better job of laying out their vision as well. And then, come November, in House and Senate races across the country, voters will decide which vision they prefer.
In a debate near the end of her premiership, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was faced with a questioner who complained that while “the prime minister has achieved substantial success with the economy…the gap between the richest ten percent, and the poorest ten percent in this country, has widened substantially.” Thatcher shot back with sneering disdain, “What the right honorable gentleman is saying is that he would rather the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich.”
It’s hard not to read that precise sentiment in Sean McElwee’s recent article in the Huffington Post. McElwee, best known only for transparently tendentious articles on how to convince one’s presumptively crazy conservative uncle to become a liberal, apparently takes umbrage at the GOP’s attempt to speak in the language of upward mobility. To quote McElwee:
The only way to increase upward mobility is more government spending[…] Republicans want a strong, upwardly mobile middle class and a weak government, but the two cannot coexist.
Never mind that small government and weak government are not the same thing, for that’s the least of the problems with McElwee’s essay. Or that the entire piece is almost too contentless to rebut. Its sophomoric analysis is just simply too lazy to pass unremarked upon.
It would be very easy to nitpick McElwee’s article by questioning his statistics or defending the policy analysts he dismisses out of hand. For the sake of argument, I’ll even concede some of McElwee’s points, just to show where they lead. Let’s stipulate that he is correct that:
- Government spending increases upward mobility.
- Redistribution props up the middle class.
- Inequality hinders upward mobility.
With respect to the first point, we do have to ask, government spending by whom and on what? Most of the sorts of programs McElwee favors – expanded spending on education, daycare, etc. – are, in our system, state responsibilities. Republicans largely agree that such state programs require additional support, but they propose offering that support via block grants, which McElwee opposes. He argues that “if you’re not increasing spending, you’re just shifting around authority at best and sneaking in cuts at worst.”
Moving on to redistribution, McElwee cites programs like the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction, the employer-provided healthcare tax exclusion, Social Security and Medicare as examples of good redistributive policy. Ironically, none of these represent particularly progressive policies. The mortgage interest deduction only helps those who itemize deductions and provides disproportionately more relief to those with bigger homes and those in the higher income tax brackets. The employer-provided tax exclusion only applies to those who have employer-provided health care, and similarly provides disproportionate benefits to those in the upper income tax brackets. As for Social Security and Medicare, an argument can be made they are deeply regressive, given that they take money from millennials (a relatively poor generation) in order to fund Baby Boomers (the richest generation currently living, if not in history).
When it comes to the negative impacts of inequality, McElwee deploys some of his strongest rhetoric:
Mobility in many parts of America is abysmal. In some cities, children born in the poorest quintile have a less than 3 percent chance of reaching the top quintile. Across the country, a child born in the poorest quintile has a 60 percent chance of staying in the bottom two quintiles.
It’s a two-part problem. First, there is opportunity hoarding at the top, wherein the wealthy invest heavily in their children’s education and job prospects, while also passing their wealth on to their children. Then there is stagnation at the bottom, caused largely by reverse trends, economic and racial segregation, awful schools and poor parents without much money to invest in children.
Notice that McElwee doesn’t make the case for equality being a good thing, in and of itself. It’s solely important insofar as it increases mobility. This effectively means that he’s conceding the premise that Republicans start from, even if he thinks their policies won’t get us as far as we need. That’s an awfully big concession for someone who claims to care so much about inequality.
Imagine a society where everyone’s wages were legally mandated to stay exactly the same until they were 30, at which point their wages were mandated to increase by, say, $5,000. This would surely be both an extremely equal society and an extremely upwardly mobile one, because 100 percent of the bottom quintile would inevitably reach the top quintile, yet one doubts that it would be particularly prosperous.
What if you had a society where some people were working at subsistence level and others were working at just slightly above subsistence level? I would wager that upward mobility between the top and bottom of the income distribution would be very high, not because people would be getting meaningfully better off, but just because there would be such a small distance to travel in terms of incomes. By McElwee’s standard, this would be a preferable society to the one we have now because it’s more equal and more mobile. In short, better to have the poor poorer, provided the rich are much less rich.
There is little doubt that in our increasingly globalized, technological world, America faces challenges in maintaining a vibrant middle class. The fact that Hollywood and Silicon Valley dominate American exports is surely a mixed bag. While both industries carry the potential for volcanic mobility, they are also two of the last hotbeds of Darwinistic competition. The rise of the machine-like efficiency of outsourced workers has rendered the cozy entitlements of a union job increasingly obsolete, and America’s education system is still desperately playing catch-up. These are economic problems, but they are also hard and complicated cultural, social and generational ones, and not likely to yield to the partisan reductionism of unserious, pedantic redistributionism.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
From Bay News 9:
Opponents like R Street Institute said, “less than two years after passing landmark reforms to fix the National Flood Insurance Program, which remains $25 billion in debt to American taxpayers, lawmakers appear poised to gut just about all of those reforms, all to score cheap political points.”
The attorneys general of 42 states have signed a letter supporting efforts in Congress to enact comprehensive patent reform legislation. The letter emphasizes the need for increased transparency, curbing demand letter abuse, litigation reform that would undermine the patent troll business model, and clarification of federal supremacy when it comes to what the states can do. Read the letter in full here.
It’s worth emphasizing the importance of clarifying the law when it comes to how states can crack down on demand letter abuse through consumer protection powers. I moderated an R Street organized panel at ALEC’s last winter meeting on what states can do about patent trolls, following the Vermont model. Listen to the full panel, or read more about it here.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
From the Palm Beach Post:
“This bill represents a fundamental betrayal of the free-market principles and fiscal responsibility the House leadership claims to embrace,” said R.J. Lehmann, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C. public-policy research group R Street Institute. “Less than two years after passing landmark reforms to fix the NFIP, which remains $25 billion in debt to American taxpayers, lawmakers appear poised to gut just about all of those reforms, all to score cheap political points.”