Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Washington in the 21st century:
Failing to learn from history

The brilliant economist Dr. Thomas Sowell looks back on the Great Depression: “Nothing established the idea that government intervention in the economy is essential like the Great Depression of the 1930s. The raw facts tell the story of that historic tragedy: National output fell by one-third between 1929 and 1933, thousands of banks failed, unemployment peaked at 25%, corporations as a whole lost money two years in a row. Prior to this time, no president had attempted to have the federal government intervene to bring a depression to an end.” Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt opted for government intervention and the results of that ill-advised approach are a painful part of our history.

Contrast that with the stock market crash of 1987, which was similar in size to the crash of 1929, but the recovery from it was years shorter in duration. President Ronald Reagan’s administration, in sharp contrast to the administrations of Hoover and FDR, and despite media outrage at the government's inaction, did nothing; no bailout, no stimulus, nothing, according to Dr. Sowell.

Those two experiences have taught our elected leaders nothing. Beginning with the administration of George W. Bush and continuing with, and accelerated by, the administration of Barack Obama, we have embraced the failed policies that gave us the Great Depression and, interestingly, the same policies that brought on the financial crisis of 2008: excessive government intervention in the private economy.

On October 14, 2008, the Bush administration announced a series of initiatives to stabilize the markets, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Then on February 18, 2009, in Colorado, Mr. Obama signed the $787 billion– now up to $865 billion – stimulus bill.
How have these measure fared in ending the recession that began in December of 2007?

The Government Accountability Office said last October, a year after TARP was born, that it found no evidence that the program prevented a financial meltdown, nor did it stimulate banks to start lending to business again at needed levels. Although $500 billion in TARP loans have been repaid to the federal treasury, the program did not accomplish the vast majority of its goals.

The president and other supporters of the stimulus bill touted its investments in job creation, saying it would save or create 3.5 million jobs. Without this bill, the president predicted, unemployment would rise from eight percent to more than nine percent. In fact, after its enactment, unemployment shot through the nine percent level to above 10 percent. Clearly, the stimulus did not succeed in stopping job losses, and since it aimed more money at pork barrel projects than actual stimulus activities, and delayed most payments for a year or more, little real stimulation has taken place.

We can’t know for certain what would have happened if TARP and the stimulus hadn’t been implemented, but evidence from both the 1929 and 1987 examples strongly suggests that doing nothing back in October of 2008 and February of 2009 would have been the better decision. And, the country would be $1.5 trillion better off.

Dr. Sowell points out something else we should think about: “This administration and Congress are now in a position to do what Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression of the 1930s – use a crisis of the times to create new institutions that will last for generations. To this day, we are still subsidizing millionaires in agriculture because farmers were having a tough time in the 1930s. We have the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") taking reckless chances in the housing market that have blown up in our faces today, because FDR decided to create a new federal housing agency in 1938. Who knows what bright ideas this administration will turn into permanent institutions for our children and grandchildren to try to cope with?”

Well, how about a nationalized health care system, an economy-busting energy tax, and enormous deficits as far as the eye can see?

Despite massive public disapproval, the president and Congressional leaders seem hell-bent on creating a healthcare system heavily controlled by government. And despite the fraud and deceit in climate change science, they still want to impose economy crippling levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

President Obama says that when he "walked in the door" in January of 2009 he inherited a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion. But he misstated the Bush deficit, which actually was slightly less than $800 billion when correct computations of the deficit and TARP money are used, and his deficit for 2010 is double what he inherited.

The budget deficit forecast for 2010 is 10.6 percent of GDP, up from 9.9 percent of GDP in 2009, and according to Reuters, “the budget still forecasts U.S. public debt rising above 71 percent of GDP by 2013, up from 53 percent in 2009, and almost 80 percent by 2020 -- levels that could spook investors.” Americans recognize how serious this situation is, even if their leaders do not.

They are following White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s dictum “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” even if that means wrecking the country to push through their ideological agenda.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It has been a challenging year for
Global Warming/Climate Change

The recent epidemic of snow, ice and cold temperatures has given rise to lots of joking about global warming, such as, “How’s that global warming working out for you?” and “we have 10 inches of global warming on the ground.” The Associated Press noted on Saturday, “Forget red and blue - color America white. There was snow on the ground in 49 states Friday. Hawaii was the holdout.”

The story went on to quote David Robinson, head of the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University, that on Friday morning “67.1 percent of the U.S. had snow on the ground, with the average depth a healthy 8 inches. Normally, about 40 or 50 percent of the U.S. has snow cover this time of year.”

Everyone who has ever looked into it knows that the Earth goes through alternate cycles of warming and cooling that last thousands of years, and shorter cycles of warming and cooling within the longer cycles.

The global warming/climate change advocates (warmists) believe human activity since the onset of the Industrial Age is producing rising global temperatures. Skeptics point to other reasons for the increase, such as normal cyclical change and changes in Sun activity, among other reasons, and note that for the last several years there has actually been a cooling trend.

Warmists, however, behave as if the question is finally and unquestionably resolved, claiming there is a “consensus” and saying that it is “settled science.”’s glossary says this about consensus: “The Scientific Consensus represents the position generally agreed upon at a given time by most scientists specialized in a given field. Scientific Consensus does NOT mean that:
• all scientist[s] are unanimous: disagreements may occur and can be necessary for science to progress,
• the position is definitive: the consensus can evolve with the results from further research and contrary opinions.
Therefore, Scientific Consensus is NOT a synonym of ‘Certain Truth.’"

NASA’s Home Page informs us that: “It may surprise many people that science -- the de facto source of dependable knowledge about the natural world -- cannot deliver an unqualified, unanimous answer about something as important as climate change.”

The idea that consensus does not equal certain truth – indeed, that in science certain truth does not exist because of the possibility of new information being discovered – is a major feature of the scientific method.

The University of Rochchester Physics Department defines the scientific method as “the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world.

Recognizing that personal and cultural beliefs influence both our perceptions and our interpretations of natural phenomena, we aim through the use of standard procedures and criteria to minimize those influences when developing a theory. As a famous scientist once said, ‘Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view.’ … It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory. "

The certainty with which warmists dismiss skeptical views of their pet theory seems to run counter to the spirit of scientific investigation.

Worse, warmists’ attitude toward and treatment of skeptics are clearly non-scientific. They include ridicule, intimidation of skeptical colleagues, personal destruction and calls for legal prosecution, all because they disagree on a scientific theory.

Worse, yet, is that in an effort to perpetuate their alarmist scenarios, some warmists have resorted to deceit and outright fraud at Penn State University and England’s University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU).

The UK Telegraph reports that “perhaps the most damaging revelations … are those concerning the way Warmist scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence in order to support their cause.”

A hacker broke into computers at the CRU, releasing 61 megabytes of confidential emails and documents onto the Internet. Knowing what these documents and emails contain, it is clear why the CRU scientists are upset that their duplicity has become public, a scandal some believe could be the greatest in modern science. These documents and emails involve some of the most prominent scientists advocating anthropogenic global warming theory and suggest conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organized resistance to disclosure, efforts to squeeze dissenting scientists out of the peer review process, manipulation of data, and private admissions of flaws in their public claims.

We can justifiably ask, “If man’s activities truly cause the Earth to warm, why do they need to deceive the public?” What do they fear from being honest?

As the science of global warming crumbles, the reaction of warmists to the revelations is interesting. The scientists say these revelations are a petty issue, while the policymakers go merrily on as if man-caused warming is settled science and everything is just hunky-dory.

All of this supports the idea that “saving the Earth from humans” is more about an ideology turned into a religion than about a real threat to the environment.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Courts sometimes thwart justice

An interesting situation has developed over the last year or so regarding challenging the qualifications and eligibility of people to hold the offices they hold.

In one, Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State has been challenged on the basis that when she was a U.S. Senator, immediately prior to being appointed by President Obama as Secretary of State, the Senate increased the salary of that position three times. The U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 6, clause 2, provides: "No senator or representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been [increased] during such time."

That language prohibits Mrs. Clinton from holding the office of Secretary of State, despite a “legislative fix” to roll back the compensation increase before she actually took office, according to a challenge by Judicial Watch, which disputed the appointment in the name of a State Department employee.

The details of the complaint are less important than the reason for it being dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Court concluded the State Department employee lacked legal standing to bring suit.

Another similar case involves President Barack Obama, whose citizenship, and thus his eligibility to be President of the United States, has been called into question by some citizens. A number of suits have been filed, and most have been dismissed, some of them because, again, those filing the suits lack legal standing to sue a candidate or office holder.

Here is a definition of legal standing:

The legally protectible stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the controversy before the court to obtain judicial relief.

Standing, sometimes referred to as standing to sue, is the name of the federal law doctrine that focuses on whether a prospective plaintiff can show that some personal legal interest has been invaded by the defendant. It is not enough that a person is merely interested as a member of the general public in the resolution of the dispute. The person must have a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy.

If a senator or representative is prohibited by constitutional provision from holding an office for which the body he/she served in has voted a pay increase, exactly who has standing to challenge that individual’s eligibility? If the employees of the State Department – who are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are thus prohibited from acting on orders from a Secretary that is ineligible for the office – don’t have standing to challenge their boss’s eligibility, who does have standing?

The people who question Mr. Obama’s citizenship are held in contempt by his supporters, and others who believe that Mr. Obama is a citizen as required by the Constitution. But taking the personalities and party affiliations out of the question, the fundamental issue is an important one.

Suppose for the sake of discussion that someone who isn’t a naturalized citizen manages to get through the campaign and is nominated at his/her party, wins the election and is sworn in as President, and at no time along the way was he/she required to prove citizenship. This seems an absurdly unlikely possibility, but the fact is that a candidate’s citizenship is assumed, rather than ascertained. In such a case, how do the American people remove a President from office who isn’t a citizen if no U.S. citizen has standing in the courts to bring the action?

Put another way, what is the point of having laws and established procedures on the books if no one has the standing necessary to apply them by bringing a court action?

In a country where virtually anyone can file a suit against virtually anyone else for any reason (or no reason), citizens are prohibited from filing suit against an elected leader unless they have “standing,” which seems to be so tightly defined as to eliminate nearly everyone who might believe there’s a reason to sue a leader.

If a citizen had irrefutable proof that an elected or appointed official was for some reason ineligible to hold that office, the citizen would be unable to file suit to remove the ineligible official unless he/she met the very thin definition of standing; the citizen would have to show that his/her personal legal interest had been invaded by the illegal President or Secretary in order to remove him/her from office.

And if no one has standing to sue for dismissal, or if those with standing do not sue, the ineligible official would continue to hold office. That is fundamentally wrong in this country, which prides itself on freedom and the rule of law.

For judges to view standing so narrowly in cases of eligibility to hold office is judicial tyranny. It should not be difficult to hold officials accountable to the requirements of the offices they hold or seek.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Defeat the EFCA and Card-Check

Still looming on the legislative horizon is something deceptively called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 800), the provisions of which will make it easier for union organizers to impose union representation on a group of workers by circumventing the current secret ballot method of deciding for or against union representation with an odious mechanism called “card check.”

Secret ballot voting has been a feature in US elections for more than two centuries, and that includes union elections. However, if the EFCA were to become law, the federal government will have tilted the playing field toward labor unions by giving them a tremendous advantage in the effort to organize workplaces.

Unions arose in the US more than a hundred years ago in response to issues in the workplace, but those issues no longer exist, due to an effective set of labor laws that have been enacted through the years that regulate the workplace and how employers deal with employees. Of course, if workers want some organization to represent them they certainly have that right, but the steady decline in union membership over recent years reflects workers’ comfort with the effectiveness of labor laws in satisfying their needs.

The most persuasive factor against the pro-union EFCA, however, is that labor unions produce negative rather than positive results for the economy and society at large.

There are 22 states, mostly in the south, which have right to work laws that allow workers to opt out of joining a union, even if there is union representation where they work. In non-right to work states, primarily in the north, if the business is unionized, all workers must belong to the union to work there. Right to work states have fewer unionized companies, because employees generally see no need to belong to a union and to pay expensive dues each year.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy reports that not only is unionization down in right to work states, but those states also experience lower unemployment levels. “In December 2008, states with right-to-work laws had an average unemployment rate of 6.2 percent compared to 7.0 percent for states without right to work laws.” Michigan is the heaviest unionized state, and had the highest unemployment of all 50 states at 10.6 percent, and Rhode Island, another non-right to work state, had the second highest unemployment rate, at 10.0 percent. The six states with the lowest unemployment rates all have right to work laws.

Right to work states also have a better record than non-right to work states in three important categories, according to Americans for Prosperity (AFP):
• Productivity growth - 18.6 percent to 17.3 percent;
• Job growth - 17.6 percent to 8.9 percent;
• Economic growth - 41.6 percent to 33.4 percent.

The National Legal and Policy Center and The John M. Olin Institute for Employment Practice and Policy issued a report titled "Do Unions Help the Economy? The Economic Effects of Labor Unions Revisited," which states that studies that have looked at the impacts of proposed card check feature of the EFCA legislation have found:
• Real GDP was depressed by about $3.5 trillion dollars from 1947 to 2000 due to unions. If you added the decrease in real wages paid to employees, the total impact rises to more than $50 trillion.
• One study found that union-produced "deadweight" loss to the US economy of 0.91% of GDP in 1980 fell to 0.34% of GDP in 2000 as union membership declined.

AFP further states that right to work states have had significantly more population growth than union shop states since 1990, seeing “on average, a 65.5% increase in population over the 16-year period while states with union shops laws only experienced an average of a 45% increase.” Right to work states also have experienced a higher level of growth, AFP notes, as businesses move their operations to states that promote a friendly environment.

Proponents of the EFCA boast that union workers are paid higher wages than their non-union colleagues, but this contention fails the truth test. Workers in right to work states saw an average 23 percent increase while union shop states wages increased only 15 percent on average.

"Right to work laws make unions more accountable to their rank and file," said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center. "When you make unions more accountable to workers, you make a state more attractive to employers. A right-to-work law by itself doesn't guarantee prosperity, but it does seem to help. Allowing workers to decide for themselves whether or not to support a union does attract job-creating businesses, making work easier to find. These numbers bear that out."

Unions may serve a useful purpose in select circumstances, but the evidence heavily supports right to work laws and keeping the workplace open and free, allowing employees to make a decision about joining a union based upon their own personal situation and desires, and without the coercion that will exist if the EFCA becomes law.

That will not only benefit workers, but the economy of individual states and the nation.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Creating rights from hurt feelings

A man went into a Starbucks in Boca Raton, Florida. As it happened, he suffered from Tourette Syndrome, which according to the Tourette Syndrome Association is a neurological disorder which becomes evident in early childhood or before the age of 18 years and is defined by multiple involuntary motor and vocal actions which may include violent acts, as well as obscene words or socially inappropriate words and phrases.

While in the coffee shop the man had a Tourette’s attack and began uncontrollably beating on a wall and cursing loudly. When customers complained, Starbucks employees called the police and had him removed from the premises.

If you’re thinking that the man probably sued Starbucks, go to the head of the class. He claims that workers at the coffee shop violated his civil rights when he began cursing loudly and punching the wall, disturbing and perhaps terrifying other patrons in the coffee shop.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations, which investigates claims of discrimination, claimed there was evidence that Starbucks did not take steps to accommodate the man's disability, but did not say, of course, what an accommodation for a man screaming obscenities and pounding on a wall uncontrollably would be.

Situations like this are troubling on several levels. We don’t want to mistreat people who have problems they can’t control. But, on the other hand, businesses like Starbucks are not therapy centers. They can’t effectively do what they do, and at the same time incorporate accommodations for every conceivable disability that might come through their doors. More to the point, how do you accommodate people who may, without notice, simply break into fits of violent behavior, or begin shouting profanity?

Furthermore, don’t businesses have an obligation to their non-Tourette Syndrome customers – who comprise the vast majority of their customers, including children – to provide an environment without such aberrant behavior?

Life is not fair; people are not equal. Some of us are not equipped to play a particular sport, despite how badly we may want to. Some of us are incapable of becoming an engineer, or a computer programmer or a designer, even though that is the goal to which we aspire. And some of us have specific problems, such as a disease or disorder, which limit what we can do.

Someone with a disorder like Tourette Syndrome does not have a right to go to Starbucks and disturb other patrons by pounding on the wall and cursing loudly, and Starbucks does not have an obligation to accommodate people with Tourette Syndrome.

If you have a medical condition that produces unpredictable disruptive behavior, you simply have to avoid going to public places where your behavior will be offensive or dangerous to innocent bystanders, and you are not entitled to sue for compensation for your disability. That’s unfortunate for people with Tourette Syndrome, but that’s the way it is.

These situations prompt sympathy both for the Tourette’s sufferer and for Starbucks, but they are not legitimate subjects for law suits. To the contrary, such law suits are strong evidence in support of tort reform.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Democrats obscure shady process
with "the party of 'No'"

During the early days in the health care reform effort, the atmosphere was a heady one for Democrats, who for the first time in many years held not only the White House, but also both houses of Congress by solid margins.

Consumed by having gained this high degree of power, they saw no need to consult with Republicans to develop a bi-partisan approach to improve the system, because they had the power to do what they wanted to do.

They were unable to resist the temptation to cram everything imaginable into the reform bill, and when they included measures that Republicans found unacceptable, Democrats began calling Republicans obstructionists, giving the clear impression that Republicans simply refused to participate, and only cared about stopping reform.

After locking themselves away and drafting legislation that they knew Republicans couldn’t support, then rejecting Republican proposals to modify the legislation, when Republicans predictably voted against the bill, they called them “the party of ‘No.’”

They denounced Republican opposition with comments like, “Republicans don’t want to help people who can’t afford health insurance,” “Republicans oppose health care reform,” and “Republicans want to maintain the status quo.” All of that may make for exciting political theater, but it accomplishes nothing positive.

Was the reform effort an honest attempt to create useful legislation? No. Was that characterization a fair evaluation of the Republican attitude toward reform? Again, no.

Calling the Republicans “the party of ‘No’” is an effort to distract our attention from the Democrats’ foray into the back rooms of the Capital where they worked against the wishes of their constituents behind closed – and locked – doors.

The Democrats’ contrived frustration at Republican refusal to support their radical reform measures is silly, although it serves their political purposes. They weren’t interested in bi-partisan input on health care reform in the first place, which is why they locked Republicans out of the process.
But just because the Democrats say Republicans were opposed to any kind of reform doesn’t mean that it is true, and in fact that claim is demonstrably false. In May Republicans unveiled a plan that featured these 10 points:
• Lowering health care premiums for American families and small businesses, addressing Americans’ number-one priority for health care reform.
• Establishing Universal Access Programs to guarantee access to affordable health care for those with pre-existing conditions.

• Ending junk lawsuits by enacting medical liability reforms modeled after the successful state laws of California and Texas.
• Preventing insurers from unjustly cancelling a policy.
• Encouraging Small Business Health Plans to give small businesses the power to pool together and offer health care at lower prices, like corporations and labor unions do.
• Encouraging innovative state programs that reduce premiums and the number of uninsured.

• Allowing Americans to buy insurance across state lines, so those living in one state can purchase insurance in another.

• Promoting healthier lifestyles by giving employers greater flexibility to financially reward employees who adopt healthier lifestyles.

• Enhancing Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) by allowing qualified participants to use HSA funds to pay premiums for high deductible health insurance.
• Allowing dependents to remain on their parents’ policies through age 25.

And in early November House Republican Leader John Boehner offered an amendment to the Democrat bill, titled the “Common Sense Health Care Reform and Affordability Act,” which stated: “The purpose of this Act is to take meaningful steps to lower health care costs and increase access to health insurance coverage (especially for individuals with preexisting conditions) without: (1) raising taxes; (2) cutting Medicare benefits for seniors; (3) adding to the national deficit; (4) intervening in the doctor-patient relationship; or (5) instituting a government takeover of health care.”

There’s a fair chance you didn’t hear about either of those things, because the Democrats certainly weren’t going to tell you about a plan that you might like better than you like their plan, and the mainstream media certainly didn’t trumpet the Republican plan with the same enthusiasm as it did the Democrat bill.

These games are not all that unusual. Whenever a political party has a controlling majority in Congress, the potential for political tomfoolery exists, and both parties are guilty of having committed legislative malfeasance when they have held power. However, Democrats are the ones with power at this moment, and they alone are responsible for this badly flawed process.

The fact is that Democrats never cared what reforms Republicans favored; they were determined to ram through their partisan ideological plan to assert government control over private sector health care, and the public and Republicans be damned. Despite resounding defeats to the liberal agenda in recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Democrat leaders still aren’t listening to – or perhaps cannot hear – the strong message against their version of health care reform from a majority of Americans, as reflected in multiple public opinion polls showing opposition by a 15- to-20-point margin.

While Republicans pray the Democrats’ deafness continues through November, the American people should pray they wake up before they ruin the world’s most technologically advanced health care system.

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