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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

America now being challenged by a crisis of integrity


 Integrity is defined as adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. As a society we have moral values, professional ethics and other rules that we are expected to uphold at all times and under all circumstances. When we adhere to professional ethics, the rules of life, and the body of laws, we have a desirable society that is principled, and functions smoothly and efficiently.


In today’s America, evidence of lost integrity is all around us: millions of out-of-wedlock children, people who are not needy collecting welfare benefits, frivolous or questionable lawsuits, and a long list of crimes.

And in the political realm we witness inflammatory language, protests shutting down protected free speech, media taking sides, mob violence and other outrages that have grown to epidemic proportions. These activities are strong evidence of the abandonment of basic human integrity as well as professional integrity.

An immediate danger to the nation and its people is the insanity that has evolved since the election of Donald Trump as president. Lots of people – Republicans, Democrats and the politically unaffiliated – show signs of hysteria. Many are dedicated to bringing Trump down, and seem to be devoted to a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” philosophy, giving little thought to the repercussions this ill-advised path may likely produce.

Trump’s enemies say that he lit the fuse, and he undoubtedly contributed to the current atmosphere. But just because you dislike or hate Trump and his policies, does not entitle you to lie, cheat, commit acts of violence, and behave in a manner that subverts America. If you didn’t support Trump in the election there is only one sensible and honorable path for you to take: Get over it. And remember that you are an American and he legitimately is America’s president.

Three areas are very dangerous for integrity failure: News journalism, the federal judiciary and government bureaucracies.

Last week The New York Times published an editorial stating as fact that when a gunman shot Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011, he was reacting to a political map created by Sarah Palin showing areas that were “targeted” in the coming election. That was untrue, discredited years ago, and The Times corrected its humiliating blunder. But doesn’t journalistic integrity demand that such known details be found before publication? Clearly, integrity sometimes takes a holiday at The Times.

It is very common these days for a news organization to attribute information to an “anonymous” or “unnamed” source. Sometimes, of course, a legitimate source needs the protection of anonymity. But the downside is that this tool can be overused, can be used to cover a non-credible source, or even used when there is no source at all. Add to this the tendency to exaggerate, and even create false stories, and the information upon which we all rely becomes unreliable.

If you’ve ever worked with an attorney you probably noticed how detailed legal language is, so that the exact intent of a document is clear. Yet, we find judges today who abandon the plain language of an Executive Order in favor of what they imagine was in the mind of its author in ruling in favor of a challenge to the Order. It looks as if political desire replaced judicial integrity.

And what about administrative agency employees who abandon their duty to their country, the American people they are paid to serve, and their ultimate boss, to play politics, leaking sensitive information, and even classified information in a cheap and disgusting ploy to damage a duly elected president?

Those who foolishly undermine national security because of their emotional inability to adapt to reality may someday wonder what exactly their behavior has done to their once free and wonderful country.

A lot of political hay can be made in such an atmosphere, and the beneficiaries of this are some elected public servants as well as appointed bureaucrats. Such behavior is the stuff of third-world hellholes, and the abandonment of professional and personal integrity moves America ever closer to becoming one of those.

On the one hand anti-Trumpers denigrate and belittle Trump, and on the other hand they raise him to a high level, one so great that they use it to justify abandoning near-sacred elements of their professions and common decency. It is Trump’s fault, they assert, that they indulged in behavior that is dangerous and often illegal.

Commentator Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News recently, “When you say ‘unless we stop Donald Trump, the republic will not survive,’ then that justifies anything. That’s the language, the ideology, the rationale of terrorists...” And, it produces behavior that will destroy the republic.

We cannot and must not excuse criminal behavior, like the shooting at a Republican Congressional baseball game practice earlier this month, or even the mob violence of late, as the result of foolish and inflammatory language. But it does not help diffuse the raw craving of those who consider resorting to violence when politicians speak rashly, the news media takes a partisan position, the judiciary abandons plain language in favor of political expediency, and other examples of acting outside the narrow path dictated by integrity and moral character.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Making government operate more like a business: a really smart idea


One good thing about President Donald Trump is his businessman’s approach to government. He understands that like a business, a nation cannot survive endless deficit spending and an ever-growing national debt.

To the horror of those on the left of our political system he proposes significant, but not massive, cuts to government spending. And while the cuts are not excessive, the idea still cranked up the wild imaginations and scaremongering mechanisms of Congressional Democrats and other liberals who think money grows on trees and that the national debt is a number that really isn’t important.

Trump understands what so many on the left do not: much of government spending is wasted, fraudulent and abused, and therefore unnecessary and foolish. Actually, it’s not that the left doesn’t understand this, it’s that they couldn’t care less, because they benefit at the ballot box from lax programs that waste your money, and therefore eschew fiscal responsibility, in favor of positive elections results.

Human nature plays a role here: people often will take advantage of what is available to them free of charge. As evidence, consider the recent results from Alabama.

The Daily Signal reported that when “The Heart of Dixie” this year began requiring food stamp recipients to work, look for work, or get approved job training to get food stamps, 13 counties saw participants drop by 85 percent over a four-month period from 5,538 able-bodied adults without dependents to 831 such recipients.

“Statewide, a total of 13,663 able-bodied adults without children or other dependents were enrolled in the food stamp program before the change [was] implemented Jan. 1, according to the Alabama Department of Human Resources,” the news site AL.com reported. “As of May 1, that statewide number had dropped to 7,483, the agency said.”

Clearly, Alabama was going well beyond the goal of helping those who really need it, and Alabamans were availing themselves of Uncle Sugar’s federal assistance in a welfare program that was not being operated in a sensible manner.

Other states have had this same experience. In 2013 and 2014 Kansas and Maine implemented work requirements and reduced the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps, and last year Georgia followed suit.

And when Maine imposed work requirements on food stamp recipients in December of 2014 officials reported that the number of able-bodied adults without dependents declined from 13,332 to just 2,678 over a three-month period. Maine officials concluded that many food stamp recipients would do without the benefit rather than perform a minimum of six hours per week of community service, or other aspects of the work requirements.

These results prompted Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation who specializes in poverty and welfare programs, to project that, “If the federal government establishes and enforces similar work requirements nationwide, total food stamp enrollment would plummet in a few years, possibly saving taxpayers $10 billion per year or as much as $100 billion over the next decade,” The Daily Signal reported.

Not all of that money is federal money, of course, but about 90 percent of it is. And keeping the federal portion of those dollars in the nation’s treasury certainly is a positive thing. It’s even better when you understand that those truly needing help are not part of the reductions, and that other federal programs also suffer these same problems.

It is widely acknowledged that Americans are the most compassionate people in the world, and they certainly have no objection to helping their fellow citizens in need. Even so, they do not want their hard-earned tax dollars being wasted on people who can earn their own way. Sound business practices prohibit such sloppiness; they are business killers.

Of course, with all of these people no longer getting food stamps, having available jobs for them is important, and that feeds right into Trump’s goal of bringing back jobs and creating an environment for new job production to flourish.

Trump managed to get pledges from several companies that said they would invest in America, bringing back or creating new jobs. And good things are also happening because of his effort to remove job-killing regulations.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace recently, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “We’ve had almost 50,000 jobs created in the mining and coal sector alone. In fact, in the month of May, almost 7,000 jobs,” Pruitt told Wallace.

Naysayers will note that this number really isn’t that significant, but the important reality is that it is a step in the right direction, and a dramatic shift in direction from the dangerous, job-killing policies of the Obama administration.

Coal industry and related jobs killed by Obama are coming back following the removal of the foolish regulations that killed them. No one expects that coal will reach its former economic glory, but a lot of people put out of work by merciless regulations will be productive again.

Obama and others on the left think they know best and will try to control every aspect of our lives to achieve their vision. But that isn’t what America is all about. Thank goodness that Trump understands that.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Journalists Creed: Another tradition fallen by the wayside


Several years ago on a trip to Washington, DC, my wife and I visited the National Press Club for lunch and a tour of the Club. Among the many things that impressed me there was a bronze plaque on a wall, The Journalists Creed, which the Press Club has had on display since 1958.

The Creed is the product of Walter Williams, not the excellent columnist of today, but an older gentleman who is credited with starting the world’s first school of journalism in 1908 at the University of Missouri. In 1914 Williams created the Creed, as “a declaration and personal affirmation of the principles, values and standards of journalists throughout the world,” according to the Fourth Estate organization. It regards journalism as an ethical public trust that requires accuracy and fairness.

Since Williams created the Creed, and even since the Press Club’s acknowledgement of it in ’58, huge changes in the way news is distributed have taken place. Now in addition to newspapers, periodicals, radio and television we have the Internet and social media.

These days absolutely anyone can appear to be a legitimate news source on the Internet. Many or most of these sources may have good intentions, but lack the background or discipline to do it correctly. They are unaware of, or ignore the Creed.

These days even some who know the importance of the ethics with which news journalism should be practiced don’t always stick to the straight and narrow. Being first is often more important than being correct. “Click bait,” sensational headlines designed to increase the number of visitors to Web sites, are common.

In addition to new media technologies are also new media genres, such as the speculative media: Trying to be first, a hint of something often spurs frantic action to get out there before anyone else through online or on-air media. For example, when President Donald Trump reached back for Malania’s hand while exiting a plane on their recent trip abroad, and she sort of flipped her hand away, the media reported that there might be trouble in their marriage.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who is catholic, was not among those who met the Pope on the trip, so the media reported that his being excluded might signal that Spicer was on his way out as spokesman.

Neither of these were true.

The assumption media: When Trump mentioned being “wiretapped,” it was “assumed” that he meant wiretapping and only wiretapping, not the newer, more modern methods of surveillance, apparently widely used in the Obama administration.

The agenda media: We saw very little reporting on the positive aspects of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and NATO, but there was plenty on the “troubles” in Trump’s administration.

And then there’s Kathy Griffin, the self-described “D-list comedian,” who worked very hard to create a disgusting, low-class image of her holding a bloody likeness of the decapitated head of the President of the United States ISIS-like, by its hair.

Criticized for this repulsive display of what today passes for humor by nearly everyone, she finally issued an apology, except not apologizing to her target, Trump and his family. Shortly thereafter, the firestorm of anger and disgust she stirred up created for her a moment of brilliant insight: The negative reaction to her gross attempt at humor, and her resulting misery is actually Trump’s fault.

And guess which one gets too much coverage? Poor deranged Kathy’s campaign about her hurt feelings at the hands of her imaginarily beheaded enemy.

Wesley Pruden, Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times, is a man trained in and who worked in journalism when standards were more broadly expected of practitioners. He characterized a Bloomberg News reporter’s G7 coverage like this: “Just what a ‘bromance’ is [between France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau], beyond the not-so-clever wordplay, sounds like too much information, something you ought not to want to know about. It’s no doubt overheated reporting by a reporter who never had an editor to teach him the rewards of restraint.

“But romance was clearly in the air, not between the leaders of France and Canada, but by reporters nurtured not on the rough edges of politics and discipline of newspapers, but by too much time spent watching soap operas.”

Another old pro, Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal, said this about today’s practice of the profession: “When journalists drop objectivity to become part of the shout-fest, and when grass-roots activists move beyond making voices heard to voicing threats against those with whom they disagree, they are adding to the problem.”

These examples of journalistic malpractice and comments about news coverage from two old timers show how far news reporting has strayed early in the 21st century.

Combined with a general public largely unconcerned with studying current events America has a true problem. So many consumers of news get their “news” from their friends on social media, and accept as true those communications that fit their preconceptions. They just don’t look beneath the surface for fact.

With all these factors, the public is largely under-informed, or misinformed, a circumstance both dangerous and foolish.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Democrats say that Trump’s budget proposal is “dead on arrival”



President Donald Trump’s budget proposal went to Congress last week, while Trump was on his first overseas trip visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinians, the Vatican and NATO. Trump’s $4.1 trillion plan is titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”

Predictably, upon release of the proposal Democrats burst forth to condemn the budget. A couple of Congressional Democrats eagerly, and with as much flourish as they could muster, termed the proposal “dead on arrival” which, like so much of what they say, is much ado about nothing. Every budget proposal from every president is “dead on arrival,” the word “proposal” being the operative word. A president’s proposal is merely a starting point.

Since you can’t swing a dead cat without seeing the negative coverage of everything Trump says or does, this article will summarize the positive elements of the proposal.

Trump’s proposal focuses on national defense areas by boosting spending on the military and border security. This focus is what Trump campaigned on, budget director Nick Mulvaney said.

As reported on foxnews.com, Mulvaney said, “There’s not a single thing [cut] from Social Security or Medicare. Why? Because that’s what he promised.” However, other programs such as Medicaid and food stamps will see cuts.

"We look at spending differently," Mulvaney explained. “We are not going to measure compassion by the number of programs or [the number of] people on them.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in support of the budget plan that “We can finally turn the page on the Obama era of bloated budgets that never balance.” “President Trump has proven his commitment to fiscal responsibility with a budget that … prioritizes American taxpayers over bureaucrats in Washington.”

Focusing on national defense through restoring the military and tightening our borders are badly needed corrections to critical failures of the Obama administration. The last eight years saw serious weakening of the military and policies that encouraged illegal entry into the country.

While Obama foolishly reduced the size and strength of all military forces, the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano tells us that the “most neglected of all U.S. national security elements are our strategic forces. Here, President Obama has reined in development and deployment of ballistic missile defenses,” and “cut all advanced missile defense programs designed to keep the United States ahead of the ballistic missile threat in the future.” And, “to curry favor with Russia, he pulled the plug on planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, simultaneously alienating those allies while displaying weakness to Moscow.”

The plan addresses the dangerously high national debt of nearly $20 trillion and takes a fiscally responsible approach aimed at beginning the process of reducing the large annual deficits to zero in ten years, and perhaps produce a relatively small surplus by 2027.

While this year’s deficit will be a little higher than last year’s, the initiatives contained in the plan will turn the habit of annual deficits around, if they are successful. Trump depends upon producing growth in our economy, although many economists say his goals are too optimistic.

Modifications to the tax system are an important part of Trump’s plan, and include reducing tax brackets from seven to three with rates of 10, 25 and 35 percent, and will eliminate tax breaks to balance the loss of income to the Treasury from lower tax rates.

Lower rates are a good thing; they leave taxpayers with more spendable dollars, which increases consumer spending and spurs economic activity that produces jobs, and new jobs produce additional taxpayers and increase tax collections.

Big government types, which include most Democrats and liberals, believe cuts in federal spending are always a bad thing. But cuts can be made without hurting people who truly need the government payments they receive.

The Trump proposal cuts almost $3.6 trillion from an array of benefit programs, domestic agencies and war spending over the coming decade, including Medicaid, student loan subsidies, food stamps, and the highway formula for the states.

“We are not kicking anybody off any program who needs it,” said Mulvaney, who explained that the proposal doesn’t cut Medicaid, just grows it more slowly over 10 years.

However, while cutting some federal spending, the plan features one major new domestic initiative: paid parental leave estimated to cost $25 billion over the next decade.

But in this discussion of cuts let us not forget that waste, fraud and abuse account for billions of dollars of federal spending annually that accomplish nothing.

GovTechWorks.com reports on federal estimates showing “Improper payments account for about 5 cents of every Medicaid dollar, … or about $29.1 billion of the $547.7 billion program in 2015 alone,” through intentional deception or misrepresentation; inappropriate use of services and resources; and practices inconsistent with sound fiscal, business or medical practices.

And that is just one federal program. Ending or reducing those problems will go a long way to counter spending cuts.
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Those who believe the federal government cannot spend less and accomplish just as much good are living in Fantasy Land. Too many people automatically believe the scare mongering of those who profit politically from supporting high levels of spending.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Restoring government’s three branches to Constitutional balance

The unequaled genius of the Founders produced an original form of government that included a system of checks and balances to maintain its integrity. That design has been substantially abandoned, and all three branches of government are guilty of creating this situation.

The Legislative Branch is now weaker and the Executive Branch now stronger due to malfeasance by the Congress and the eager acceptance of extra-constitutional power by administrative agencies. Likewise, failure of the duty to the Constitution’s original language and intent has increased power to the Judicial Branch.

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress, and only Congress, the authority to pass laws. But through laziness and other misfeasance through the years Congress has abdicated much of that duty by allowing administrative agencies to pass rules that are in effect laws. That is how the EPA is able to implement a rule that absurdly allows it to tell a farmer in Iowa that the drainage ditch along his dirt road is a waterway that falls under federal control.

That is also how the Department of Education justifies using SWAT teams to break down the doors of people because their education loan payments are past due. There are dozens of other examples of this unconstitutional over-reach by federal agencies.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee confirms this unconstitutional transfer of power, and blames lawmakers, saying, “We are not, in fact, the victims, we are the perpetrators.” He went on to tell The Daily Signal that this was done to make Congress’ job easier, because it is less politically risky to let others do the lawmaking through the rule-making function.

Speaking at the Federalist Society’s 5th annual Executive Branch Review Conference, Lee talked about his efforts to combat this situation through the Article One Project. He outlined three pieces of legislation designed to address the problem.

The REINS Act would require both Congress and the president to approve any administrative rule with an economic impact of $100 million or more. Lee said that ultimately, “Congress would be responsible for every major regulation that went into effect.” The Act has passed the House, but not the Senate.

The second measure is the Separation of Powers Restoration Act (SOPRA), which Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe told The Daily Signal would reverse the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision that established the “Chevron doctrine” that “determined that courts must defer to agencies’ interpretation of ambiguous laws as long as their interpretation is deemed ‘reasonable.’”

“This bill would end the dysfunctional status quo that tilts the legal playing field in favor of bureaucrats,” Lee said. SOPRA passed the House last year, and Ratcliffe has introduced it again this year.

Currently, federal agencies use funds received through fines, fees, and proceeds from legal settlements at their own discretion, thereby avoiding the formal appropriations process, and escaping congressional oversight. It may also encourage agency action aimed at raising funds. The Agency Accountability Act will require funds acquired by agencies outside the appropriations process to be turned over to the Treasury.

Lee commented, “You see the Constitution has this pesky little provision that … Congress has the power and the responsibility to direct spending of federal dollars. The power of the purse is one of Congress’ most potent tools for controlling bureaucracies.”

The Judicial Branch also has strayed from the straight and narrow path created by the Constitution through increasingly liberal interpretation of the language and intent of the Constitution and federal laws, citing how society has changed over the years as the need to reinterpret them. Amending them is too slow and difficult, you see.

Carson Holloway, author of “Hamilton versus Jefferson in the Washington Administration,” explains another liberal judicial technique. President Donald Trump’s revised Executive Order temporarily halting travel to the U.S. from several countries with ties to terrorism was found unconstitutional by some lower courts, which agreed with opponents that the order actually bans Muslim immigration.

The order does no such thing, Holloway notes, since it applies to only a fraction of Muslim countries, and that the lower courts reacted not to the language of the order, but to things Trump said during the campaign. In other words, the courts abandoned interpreting actual written language in favor of reading the president’s mind, and finding a hidden agenda there.

Looking back in history to the days of Chief Justice John Marshall, Holloway explains that while Marshall acknowledged both the letter and spirit of the law, Marshall said, “the spirit is to be collected chiefly from its words,” not the imagination of judges.

Holloway said, “rule of law does not mean rule by judges acting on their whim,” but that it requires “judicial modesty.” And Marshall noted in Fletcher v. Peck that “an inquiry into the subjective motives of the lawmaker quickly leads judges into a realm in which there are no clear, compelling standards of judgment.”

Holloway concludes with the hope that the Appellate Court “follows the path of judicial modesty … and not the endlessly debatable intentions that may lie behind” the order.

Our government is badly out of balance, and a quick return to constitutional government and originalism in the courts is essential.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wind and solar energy have failed to perform as advertised


The bad news for what we have been told are superior energy sources keeps piling up. Even European countries, with their strong preference for things that don’t work, like socialist government, have begun pulling back from wind energy as a major energy source, and solar energy isn’t doing so well, either.

German-owned solar panel producer SolarWorld has filed for what it termed “insolvency” in a European court, saying it was “over-indebted” and did not have a “positive going concern prognosis.” Translated into the plain language of American business, SolarWorld is filing for bankruptcy.

In America bankruptcy does not necessarily mean the end for a company, so perhaps “insolvency” is only a temporary side trip, but it certainly falls well below the description of a successful company.

Here at home, that raises concerns over the company’s U.S. division, SolarWorld America, Inc., which operates a $600 million panel plant in Hillsboro, Oregon. Democrat Gov. Ted Kulongoski praised the plant as an economic development beacon “in the Silicon forest” during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, also attended by Democrats Sen. Ron Wyden and then-Rep. David Wu.

The facility was purchased in 2007 from Japan's Komatsu Group, and by 2012 had collected $57 million in Business Energy Tax Credits from the state. Reports say it now has received $100 million in tax breaks just from state and local government. It also benefitted from a $4 million grant from Barack Obama’s Department of Energy.

SolarWorld notes, however, that despite its problems in Germany, the Hillsboro plant that employs 800 people continues to operate. The question now is how long before the Oregon plant, which its previous owner wanted rid of, joins the infamous Solyndra and Solar Trust green energy fiascos, that cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars?

Across the country in Rhode Island a new offshore wind farm just went online last week. The five-turbine farm cost $300 million and currently powers just 2,000 homes, which works out to a bargain-basement price of only $150,000 per household. Ultimately, it is expected to power 17,000 homes, which will lower the cost per home, but progressives and environmentalists believe the price per home isn’t important. They believe that “it’s the precedent that counts,” according to Salon.com.

The Daily Caller News Foundation calculated the difference in wind and nuclear power by comparing this wind farm with a new nuclear plant, Watts Bar Unit 2, which cost $4.7 billion to build. The important difference is not the price, but the result: the nuclear facility will power 4.5 million homes at a comparatively cheap $1,044 per house.

Even with 17,000 customers, the wind farm is still 17 times more expensive than nuclear. Despite this ridiculous situation, the feds want to use offshore wind to power 23 million homes by 2050. However, Germany has finally been shocked into reality as to the inefficiency of wind power, and now plans to stop building wind facilities.

Further illustrating the calamity of the world’s environmental mania is the condition of the environment. The Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), which because of its European connection ought to have more credibility with the environmental faction than do Americans who don’t buy into the green energy hype, made data public recently that even the most strident greenie ought to consider.

As published by the UK Telegraph, “ever since December temperatures in the Arctic have consistently been lower than minus 20 [degrees]C. In April the extent of Arctic sea ice was back to where it was in April 13 years ago. Furthermore, whereas in 2008 most of the ice was extremely thin, this year most has been at least two metres thick. The Greenland ice cap last winter increased in volume faster than at any time for years.”

The Telegraph goes on to say that “as for those record temperatures brought in 2016 by an exceptionally strong El Niño, the satellites now show that in recent months global temperatures have plummeted by more than 0.6 degrees, just as happened 17 years ago after a similarly strong El Niño had also made 1998 the ‘hottest year on record.’”

The DMI reported actual measurements of climate information, rather than the results of climate models, which are projections that are often wrong. The DMI data shows there has been no additional warming for the last 19 years, which is “an inconvenient truth,” to environmental zealots.

The shortcomings of wind and solar power and the mounting evidence that fossil fuels have not caused the environment to warm significantly cast doubt on the idea that we need expensive “green” energy. In addition to their high costs, wind and solar energy are inefficient, and not as “green” as they are advertised. Both cause environmental harm in their construction and operation.

Non-fossil fuel energy sources are not yet ready to replace coal, oil and natural gas, but they may be in the future.

As with most things the secret to better, cleaner energy is through natural processes, not government force. As technology develops, improvements in how we use fossil fuels make even the dirtiest sources of much cleaner and less objectionable. This process may also make wind and solar energy more efficient, and therefore desirable.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away! Or, maybe not!

 

U.S. airlines have been attracting enormous amounts of negative, but well-deserved attention recently.

The most notorious of these outrages is the dragging of a paying, seated United Airlines customer off an airplane so that an employee could take the seat, instead. United CEO Oscar Munoz finally got it together, backtracked on his lame initial statement, and told a Congressional committee that he realized how badly his airline had screwed up and explained what it was doing to repair its policies. Time will tell about that.

A Delta flight more recently had an incident where a customer was told that a seat he had purchased for one of his children, but that was occupied by a different child, was no longer his, and he and his wife were threatened with jail time and losing custody of their children for breaching a federal law if he did not comply with the airline’s demand to give up the seat he paid for to another flyer.

And then there were the thousands of stranded passengers and many cancelled or delayed flights because Delta‘s mid-20th century communications system failed.

The airlines are within their “rights” in the first two of these incidents, by virtue of their passenger agreements that cover aspects of flying on their planes.

Passenger agreements run to dozens of pages and contain all the fine print necessary to allow an airline to pretty much treat the people it depends upon for survival any way it pleases. United’s Contract of Carriage Document, for example, takes 37,531 words covering 63 normally formatted Word document pages to explain what it can do with/to you.

That’s as long as two or three chapters in a good book. How many people actually read these things? Is this document even easily available to people booking a flight?

Located online, United’s document says, in part: “Each United Carrier reserves the right to … change or modify any of its conditions of contract with or without notice to ticketed passengers.” If you have read this tiny piece of those 35 thousand words, you have been forewarned that United can have its way with you, and you have apparently no recourse, no matter how stupid, violent or unfair its actions may be.

While airlines have the right to do what their agreements state they can do, they first and foremost have an obligation to treat their customers with respect and deference and bend a little sometimes, because it often makes more sense to treat people well than to strictly follow the rules, especially with passengers that airline personnel have allowed to board a plane. A good rule to follow is: Just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.

The United and Delta incidents demonstrate that some airlines tend to view their customers more as cargo than as customers. How did this idiotic situation come to be?

The “Economic Letter” of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from January 2002 provides some insight into how the airline industry has changed from 1975 to 2000.

When airline deregulation began in 1979, it started an increase in passengers that tripled by 2000, while average fares dropped by about two-thirds. So, in 2000 there were three times as many passengers as in the 70s paying a third the price per ticket (in 1983 dollars).

With more people flying at fewer dollars per ticket, filling every seat became important. To address this factor airlines adopted the practice of deliberately over-booking seats, so that there are more passengers with tickets than seats on the plane, meaning that even no-shows don’t prevent every seat from being filled, maximizing revenue per flight. The need for revenue may also explain the explosion of fees and crazy rules.

However, over-booking also means that lots of people don't get on their chosen flight, unless some passenger fails to show up, or is dragged off a plane. Perhaps ticket holders are aware of that going in, being placed on standby status, or some other similar situation.

As bad as it may be to not be allowed to board the flight you paid for, it is far worse to have bought a ticket and be seated on the plane with your luggage also on the plane and be asked or told to vacate the seat because the airline needs it for an employee.

If the airline needs seats to move employees from place to place, they should reserve them prior to letting paying customers be boarded. That’s just common sense. If they can’t do that, the employee should wait, not the customer.

Perhaps turning a profit in the airline industry is particularly difficult because of the highly competitive nature of that market. Even so, taking paying customers out of a seat on a plane they have paid for and already occupy is not what you would call a smart business plan.

Inexpensive airline tickets certainly attract passengers, but many flyers are able and willing to pay a little more for better accommodations, and knowing they will not be beaten into submission and dragged from paid-for seats to make room for an employee.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Left declares war on expressing ideas, except for their ideas



 
 
In many American colleges, students expect to be protected from any material that is at odds with their limited ideas. Easily frustrated when their expectations of ideological isolation are breached, petulance results and protests are organized.

This same fear of and intolerance for different ideas brings out older protesters who also are intolerant of having to work to convince non-believers of the superiority of their ideas, which leads to breaking, burning, and otherwise damaging and destroying things, and bullying their way along, because that is an easy substitute for the arduous work of intellectual persuasion.

The ideological divide is so great that many on the Left will not listen to, read, or otherwise have any contact with ideas that disagree with their millimeter-wide field of views, and worse, they will try to prevent even those who choose to explore those ideas from doing so.

The protests of old, once an activity to show one’s disagreement with disliked ideas in a constitutional, legal and peaceful protest with marchers carrying signs, has devolved into crime-laden events where black-clad, mask-wearing, anti-free speech mobs commit violence, property damage and personal injury.

Increasingly violent protests at the University of California - Berkeley prompted officials to cancel a speech by conservative writer and activist Milo Yiannopoulous in February. More than 1,500 people gathered to protest Yiannopoulous, at the time was an editor for the Breitbart News website. Protesters held signs that read "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech,” pledging to shut down the event, all the while demonstrating their profound ignorance of the First Amendment.

What began as a peaceful demonstration degenerated as the night wore on, police said. Protesters threw smoke bombs, knocked down barriers, set fires and started fights.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter was slated to speak at UC - Berkeley late last month at the invitation of the Berkeley College Republicans. But the school said the event couldn’t be held on campus because of the potential for violent protests between pro-Coulter groups and anti-Coulter groups. Berkeley was unwilling to discourage violence and protect people on its campus, so the speech was moved off campus.

Ironically, these two events occurred at the site where the free speech movement originated in the 60s when Berkeley students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students' right to free speech and academic freedom. Is UC - Berkeley now the home of the anti-free speech movement?

Ultimately, the speech was cancelled when UC – Berkeley caved in its duty to uphold its noble defense of free speech.

Not all of the Left is opposed to different ideas, or the concept of free speech. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., while condemning Coulter’s ideas, to his credit defended her right to express them, and said “people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.”

“Berkeley used to be the cradle of free speech. Now it’s just the cradle for [expletive deleted] babies,” said Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time. “… I feel like this is the liberals’ version of book burning. It’s got to stop.”

An anonymous email is the reason that Portland, Oregon cancelled last weekend’s annual Rose Festival parade, according to The Washington Post. Angered by the participation of the Multnomah County Republican Party, two self-described antifascist groups pledged to protest and disrupt the event.

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” the email said, referring to the post-election violence last year. “This is nonnegotiable.” The groups threatened to “rush into the parade” and “drag and push” those Republicans participating.

Many of these protesters are victims of coddling and protective treatment that has convinced them that they are somehow special and entitled to play by their own rules, which more and more reflect a tendency toward exercising strong dictatorial control where people are not allowed to disagree with them – in a word: fascism. More confusion by the Left was demonstrated when the people who call their movement “antifascism” depend upon fascist tactics to accomplish their fascist goals.

Many people, including those on the right who are the target of these criminal acts, are fed up with this behavior to the point of taking action. Some of them are willing to meet violence with violence, as was cited by UC-Berkeley in the Coulter speech calamity. This fascist behavior is a large pimple on the face of the Left, making Democrats and others on that side of the political spectrum look particularly foolish, and un-American.

The Democrat Party is generally regarded as the head of the American Left, but the Democrats are in disarray, desperately searching for a leader – will it be Schumer, Obama, Biden, Hillary, Perez (Heaven help us) – and a sensible course to follow, other than merely stomping their feet and holding their breath protesting the election of five months ago, and obstructing everything.

And the fascist wing needs to very quickly be educated the about the freedoms this great country provides that they apparently didn’t learn in school.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The debate over the death penalty in the United States begins anew


Since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College to win the presidency, and especially since Trump was sworn in, the news has been filled with all manner of items, some of them silly, nit-picking and embarrassing for the media, and others of varying degrees of importance and interest.

Among the actual news items was the choice of the excellent Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court and the battle that ensued to confirm him; the Syrian air base strike and the MOAB bombing of an ISIS tunnel/cave installation in Afghanistan; and more recently the situation in Arkansas where the state intended to execute eight death row inmates in the 11 days remaining before the end of April when one of the drugs used in executions reached its expiration date.

This latter development produced quite a lot of comment, most of it negative from opponents of the death penalty.

The death penalty is sanctioned through the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and each death row inmate had been convicted and had many years to appeal their sentence or conviction, so why so much controversy? Many were horrified not about the death penalty itself, but that Arkansas would conduct so many executions in such a short period.

The death penalty is a matter of long, spirited debate, notwithstanding its constitutional and Biblical validations.

The religious aspect is important in the United States, since among the volumes of things former President Barack Obama misunderstands about America is its still-strong religious nature. Of the 35,000 participants from all 50 states polled in a 2014 Pew Research Center study of Religion and Public Life, Christians accounted for 70 percent of participants, and more than 75 percent claimed some religious affiliation.

While our government is not founded on any set of religious beliefs, people with religious beliefs have been a major segment of the population since the nation’s founding, and their beliefs heavily influenced the founding principles, and that influence still exists today.

Many Christians, along with people holding other religious beliefs, and still others who do not cite religion at all, object to the death penalty on its failure of compassion. “How can religious and other compassionate people indulge in such a barbaric act?” the argument goes.

Steve Stephens, a 37-year-old black man, was having trouble with his girlfriend, so naturally he decided the solution was to randomly pick out someone to kill. After mentioning the woman’s name to 74 year-old Robert Godwin Sr., also a black man that he came upon while searching for a victim, he shot and killed the unsuspecting and totally innocent Godwin.

Stephens’ stupid and vicious murder highlights this issue. Many believe that someone who intentionally and deliberately murders another person and inflicts shock and grief on that person’s family and friends somehow is entitled to the compassion the murderer sadistically denied the victim(s).

One religious argument against executions is that it denies the criminal the opportunity to repent and even use his/her experience to try to turn others to religion and away from crime.

Others believe, however, the condemned deserves no consideration or compassion when his or her justice is rendered. “Should not that person suffer at least as much as the victim and those close to the victim?” this argument goes.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972 allowed the resumption of the death penalty, its use has dropped off substantially. While 31 states still legally allow executions, ten of them have executed no one in the last ten years, and 26 have executed no one in the last five years.

Several reasons are cited: the possibility of executing an innocent person; botched executions; a decline in the crime rate; and the cost of fighting those opposing the imposition of the death penalty in capital cases.

There are five legal methods of execution – firing squad, gas chamber, hanging, electrocution, and lethal injection – and lethal injection is the hands-down preferred method. Much of the opposition to the other four comes down to how “unpleasant” each of those methods is to the condemned, with lethal injection normally being the least uncomfortable. However, even lethal injections sometimes cause suffering to the condemned.

There is an on-going debate over whether the United States should have a death penalty. Another debate centers on making the execution as easy on the condemned as possible.

Perhaps this represents a true expression of compassion, or maybe it is one more step toward making executions so difficult and expensive that eventually it will be abandoned, in favor of keeping vicious criminals alive and relatively comfortable in prison for the rest of their lives at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.

As long as there is a death penalty, someone who is absolutely proven guilty of committing a capital crime and sentenced to death should collect his or her just reward in a reasonable amount of time (which will be in fewer than 10 or 20 years), as efficiently as possible, and as inexpensively as possible. If it hurts a little, or a lot, too bad.

Of all factors involved, the concerns of the criminal come last.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The willful subversion of critical institutions threatens America


As the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was wrapping up, Benjamin Franklin was asked this question: “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy.”  Franklin replied, “A republic ... if you can keep it.”

That has been one of America’s greatest challenges ever since, and there certainly are numerous discernible threats to our republic today.

Certain of our institutions play a critical role in sustaining the republic and promoting and protecting the unique character of the United States of America, and they therefore have a tremendous obligation to operate ethically and honorably. To the extent that they abandon their obligation, the country’s fundamental character is threatened.

Those institutions are: the justice system, the education system, and the information media.

Imagine you have a business renting apartments. One of your tenants, who has rented a place for $1,500 a month for three years sends you a check for only $900 for the current month.

You contact the tenant and are told that he views the lease that both you and he signed as a “living document,” the meaning of which may be altered as circumstances change. Having lost the job that paid $73,000 a year, his new job pays only $45,000, and he says he can now only afford $900 rent a month.

That is precisely the rationale that activist judges apply when they abandon the clear language of the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the land to make rulings they say are in line with current circumstances and the “mood” of the country, and because the Founders and those who enacted older laws were unable at that time to imagine current circumstances, that old stuff must be modernized.

However, the laws or Constitutional principles that activist judges disagree with must be amended or repealed through existing formal processes, not ignored or altered because they are viewed as inconvenient. If momentary interpretations are all that matter, and the Constitution is merely a “living document,” we don’t have a Constitution and we are not a nation of laws.

A nation needs its history and culture – all of it: the good, the bad, and the ugly – to be passed down from generation to generation so that its people will know who they are and where the came from, and can properly determine where they want to go and why.

While families should pass much of this along to children, we largely entrust this duty to formal education. To guide the learning process and assist students in learning an array of important and useful subjects and life lessons, we employ teachers, professors, instructors, and such, who coach and assist students.

Most of us had at least some teachers, professors, coaches who inspired us and helped us learn difficult subject matter, develop our skills, and learn how to think critically and logically. Hopefully, we did not have any that strayed from their professional duties and tried to tell us what to think about things, rather than developing the ability to think for ourselves.

Today, among the great number of effective educators there are too many who stray from the straight and narrow, especially in colleges and universities, where education too often takes a back seat to political and ideological indoctrination and politically correct policies. Imposing beliefs on students is worse than merely disrespecting the student; it is an outright abandonment of integrity and principle.

Along with an accurate base of knowledge about the country’s founding and history presented to them in schools, the people need to be well informed about current events. Information journalism contains two parts, and they must be kept separate. One is news about events, which must be accurate, honest and objective. The other is opinion, and must be clearly defined and omitted from straight news.

But far too often, opinion and political considerations sneak into news reporting, and also into the selection of what news gets reported and how it is reported, as well as what news does not get coverage. This is like playing golf blindfolded. You might find your driver, your ball and a tee, and you might tee up and actually hit the ball, but after that, you are literally in the dark, depending on the honesty of those around you to accurately describe the situation for you.

The American Left – liberals, progressives, socialists, etc. – has a vision of America that is in many ways sharply at odds with the founding principles. Both beneficial and harmful ideas that the Left pursues are at odds with the ideal of limited government, because using government to force things on the people is the Left’s tool of choice.

Fortunately, there are obstacles to using government to “fundamentally transform the United States of America,” as a former leftist president pledged. These obstacles are difficult to remove, as they should be. So the Left resorts not infrequently to re-interpreting the Constitution and the laws; managing and manipulating the information coming through much of the mass media; and sometimes indoctrinating children.

We all need to remember that worthy and broadly beneficial ideas will sell themselves; they don’t need people to take short cuts or cheat to get them accepted.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It's time to bring the airlines down to Earth


It's time to bring the airlines down to Earth, so to speak, and remind them who's in charge.
The United Airlines outrageous treatment of a paid passenger, admitted through the gate to board a UA flight, in his seat ready to fly home, gets dragged from his seat and suffers significant injuries, all because UA knowingly over-booked the flight, and after boarding a plane full of passengers realized that getting some of its employees to the plane's destination is more important than those paid, seated passengers.
UA made an offer, sort of, to get some passengers to voluntarily give up their seats. But this paltry offer did not work, and so the purge began, and a doctor flying home so that he could keep appointments in his office the next day was selected to be removed from the plane, one way or another.
Despite an insulting and embarrassing initial response from the airline's CEO, and a more thoroughly thought out response a couple of days later, UA now properly is the target of a law suit to impose both financial punishment and well-earned financial renumeratiion, and is enduring the abundant and well-deserved ridicule and criticism for its arrogant position re: passengers.
Less objectionable than the United fiasco, but no less ridiculous, is the practice of the American Airlines change policy, which imposed a 57% fee on two potential passengers wanting to change their flight date because a visit to an active duty USAF member was interrupted by orders for the airman to go overseas at the exact time the couple was going to visit the airman.
Other outrageous items also exist.
A news report noted that among all U.S. airlines, paid-up passengers had been bumped from the flights they had booked some 430,000 times in 2016. A common excuse for these inconveniences was to allow airline employees to travel, instead of paying passengers.
Let's not lose site of the importance of all businesses, even airlines, to turn a profit. And perhaps it is a difficult situation for airlines to show a profit in the current environment.
But U.S. airlines had better wake up and smell the anger that their potential and actual passengers harbor: They are POed.
After all, without passengers, we don't need airlines or airports. Flying is sometimes necessary, but more often it is a convenience, and there are other ways to move about than flying.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some good news for local economies battered by the War on Coal



It is a common idea among many Americans that coal as a major industrial fuel is dead, or at least dying, and cleaner fuels, like wind and solar energy, and natural gas, are taking over. There is some truth there; but there are other influences on coal’s recent decline.

Less costly natural gas has become the fuel of choice in power plants and for other industrial uses, not because of the natural relative price of the fuels, but because of the cost of regulatory demands on mining and burning coal that require enormous investments that have priced coal higher than natural gas. Remember former President Barack Obama’s prediction: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them.”

These regulations produced the closing of more than 400 coal-burning power plants, which dropped the demand for coal, and altogether put 63,000 people in the coal industry, electric production industry and related support industries out of work in just the last few years.

At just the right time hydraulic fracturing (fracking) became popular, after lying mostly dormant since its first commercial application in 1957, and that produced a boom in natural gas production at attractive prices to compete with coal.

Many think burning less coal is a great thing, because burning coal fouls the air and is dangerous to our health, a “truth” which loses importance when you know the actual infinitesimal improvement in air quality derived from burning less coal.

However, considering all those factors, and paraphrasing a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain, the rumors of coal’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Of course, coal will never regain its former dominance among industrial fuels; time and technological/industrial evolution would just as certainly, although much more gradually, have eaten into coal’s popularity without the help of the Obama War on Coal.

But the regulatory adjustments of the Trump administration, the growing acceptance of the idea that the climate change/global warming mania is dramatically overstated, the reality that coal is still the best fuel for many things, the fact that many countries that do not have domestic coal supplies depend upon it for fuel, and the improvement in coal-burning technology all point to a continued market for American coal.

And let’s not forget that fossil fuels made up 81 percent of the fuels used to produce electricity in 2016, and coal is still the primary fossil fuel in electricity production.

Industry insiders, like Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray, see a partial resurgence in coal. “Coal will grow back,” he told Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney. “But we’re in a decline right now.”

He went on to say that Trump “can bring back at least half of those [63,000 lost] jobs as the economy grows and as he ends the regulations on coal.” He noted that we have not had a level playing field in coal; “the government has been picking winners and losers.”

And he told Maria Bartiromo, also on Fox Business Network, former President Obama closed 411 coal-fired plants, and that the Clean Power Plan which Trump ended recently, would have closed 56 more plants. That, he said, would have caused a steep spike in electric rates.

“As [Trump] grows the economy [and] brings jobs back to America, coal will participate in that growth because we are one-sixth the cost of a windmill and one-fourth the cost of natural gas,” Murray said.

Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said, “The coal industry knows and understands how to mine coal … and protect our environment. We don’t do it the way it was done 50, 60 years ago.”

Here are a few pieces of evidence:

* Reports from the Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia coalfield regions say that mines are cranking back up and miners are being rehired. Train yards are seeing cars filled with coal moving through them in greater numbers.

* Bluefield State College recently held a Job Fair to immediately fill 85 open coal positions at Wyoming and McDowell county mines that mine coal used in making steel.

* Fox News reports that in Wise County, Virginia, a “long-awaited revival is under way in this beleaguered Central Appalachia community where residents see coal as the once and future king. Trucks are running again. Miners working seven days a week cannot keep up with current demand.”

* Coal exports through Hampton Roads last month rose more than 50 percent from last year's level, led by a nearly five-fold increase at Newport News' Pier IX, according to the most recent Virginia Maritime Association statistics. "A lot of mines are open again," said Harry Childress, president of the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance."

Few if any argue that the coal industry will return to its former greatness, but it will certainly endure for many years at a lower level if natural forces are allowed to work, free of politically correct environmental engineering.

When you replace regulations resulting from selfish ideological goals with a business regulatory level based upon common sense, good things can happen.


And for areas of the country like ours, that have suffered so greatly from Obama’s over-zealous EPA, this is good news.