Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The inevitable results of a government grown beyond its limits

There are tens of thousands of pages of federal laws and regulations, so many that every living person has broken at least one. And our devoted regulators and legislators annually churn out roughly 80,000 pages of new and proposed regulations to justify their jobs, producing a stack 23 feet high if you piled those pages on top of each other.

These edicts range from how much water your toilet uses, to replacing incandescent bulbs with “newer, better,” costlier ones containing toxic mercury, to regulating dust on farms, to the EPA water quality standards allowing so little conductivity that they make apple juice, Gatorade and Evian and Perrier bottled water harmful, as well as a long list of crimes, both serious and trivial.

This hyper-activity punishes and imposes enormous costs on individuals, businesses and state and local governments, costs that are ultimately borne by consumers and taxpayers.

One example of how regulations can negatively affect a business is the case of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. As detailed by Fox Business Network host John Stossel, “One rule that just went into effect, which you can find by flipping to page 56,236 of the 2010 regulations, will require all hotels with a pool -- or a hot tub -- to install wheelchair accessible ramps or lifts into the water.”

Due to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the hotel already had portable ramps that can assist handicapped people. But resort manager Greg Miller said the ramps have not been used in 15 years. Now, the Department of Justice has decided that the portable ramps are not adequate, and has mandated that permanent ramps be installed, which Mr. Miller said will cost about $40,000 for every pool and hot tub on the premises. But there is an alternative: pay a $55,000 fine for each pool and hot tub.

Mr. Stossel’s report continues: “Regulators admit that it's likely that fewer people will use pools with ramps in them ‘because the new requirements for a sloped entry might make the pool too shallow.’"

A lot of folks regard this as somewhat academic because they aren’t directly affected, and to really bring home how out of control our once limited federal government has grown, you have to actually feel the pain. And while low-flow toilets and expensive CFL light bulbs help understanding this in some small way, they fail to fully illustrate the pain of unfunded federal mandates.

For a starker dose of reality, consider the plight of the City of Bluefield, West Virginia, where the royal pains of too much government are being felt.

The City is the proud owner of Mitchell Stadium, a 10,000 seat football venue that has been around since 1935. It is the site of football games for local middle school and high school teams, and for other events like open air concerts, fund raising walks and other outdoor activities. It will be the home field for Bluefield College when its re-established football team begins playing regular season games this fall.

The City receives income from the two county school systems whose teams use the stadium, which helps defray expenses, and over the years expensive improvements and upgrades to the facility, like the new playing surface a few years back, often have been funded with private money.

But now the City must make upgrades to the stadium to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a half-million dollars. This new mandate came along when someone filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, which apparently hasn’t enough really important things to do, or has so many people working there that they could send someone right out and investigate the complaint, then issue orders to the City to either make the necessary modifications ASAP, or the DOJ will padlock Mitchell Stadium.

During the vast majority of events the stadium is far from full, and in fact, standing-room-only is a rare thing. So, it’s a fair question just how many people will really benefit from a half-million bucks of improved access for disabled visitors. The ADA called for modifying the entrance ramps from the parking lot up to the gates, and accommodating 67 wheel chairs inside the stadium. Apparently, even though there have likely never been 67 wheelchair-bound people attending an event at the same time, or even close to that number, the facility must be ready to accommodate them, just in case.

Owning and operating a football stadium is not normal for a city like Bluefield, and the City would rather not be in that business. But there are no options for transferring ownership to someone else, and the City understands that allowing the federal government to shut down Mitchell Stadium is not acceptable, so somehow it will have to come up with $500,000 this summer to keep the facility open.

This is what happens when there’s too much government. Be thankful we don’t get all that we pay for.

The good people of Bluefield and the surrounding area should keep this foolishness in mind when they go to the polls in November.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Obama plays fast and furious with oil production data

President Barack Obama calls fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – the “fuel of the past,” and heralds wind, solar and algae as the fuels of the future. But he ignored talking about the fuel of the present, as if it really doesn’t matter. But it does matter. The fuel of the present must exist in sufficient quantity, with sufficient infrastructure to get it to consumers, and be affordable. And there is only one source that meets those requirements: fossil fuels.

Despite his apparent disregard of this obvious fact, it does not take a rocket scientist, a community organizer, or even a law school lecturer to understand the importance of today’s situation: Fossil fuels work; green energy does not.

Favoring an impossible scenario, Mr. Obama resorts to being the class clown, offering playground humor to deflect the harsh criticism his foolish energy policy has earned. He told a fawning audience, "So do not tell me that we're not drilling. We're drilling all over this country. There are a few spots we're not drilling. We're not drilling in the National Mall. We're not drilling at your house."

Now, that’s a real knee-slapper. But the joke’s on those that believe this hogwash, and dream of plentiful wind farms standing motionless among dead birds waiting on a breeze, and seas of solar panels waiting in the dark for a cloudless sunrise.

Mr. Obama might have mentioned that we also are not drilling for oil off the Mid-Atlantic coast, off the Florida Gulf Coast and generally in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on federal lands in the Rockies. You know: places where billions of barrels of American oil await an American company with American workers operating drilling rigs. In these areas, drilling leases are down 70 percent under the Obama administration’s fairy-tale energy strategy. And while the president yuks it up in campaign appearances, Americans still get pummeled at the gas pump and are ignored in the presidential narrative.

But humor was not the only trick up Mr. Obama’s sleeve. He also slipped in a large dose of taking credit where credit is not due, and added a substantial measure of distorted facts. “Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That's a fact. That's a fact. We've quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high. So do not tell me that we're not drilling. We're drilling all over this country.”

Well, sort of. While that statement may be technically true, it turns reality on its head. By saying “under my administration” he suggests that it is because of his policies that drilling has increased. Actually, he had absolutely nothing to do with the policies that prompted all that drilling, which is being done on private land where he cannot stop it, as he has with drilling on federal lands. Oil production has increased in spite of his policies, not because of them. For the increase in drilling he can correctly blame George W. Bush.

The president should have stopped with the ridiculing of the clear thinkers who want to harvest our own oil and natural gas and build energy independence. But he just had to distort more facts for good measure. “America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil,” he declared. “If we drilled every square inch of this country …. we would still have only two percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

Not so fast, Mr. President. The Institute for Energy Research reports that “in classic fashion, he’s using a technicality to skirt the facts and keep the myth of energy scarcity alive. The reality is that the U.S. has enough recoverable oil for the next 200 years, despite only having 2 percent of the world’s current proven oil reserves.”

Even The Washington Post decries the president’s tactic. “The president should drop this fact … or he runs the risk of misleading Americans about the extent of the U.S. oil resources.” It’s too late; he has already misled us.

According to the American Petroleum Institute’s online publication, Energy Tomorrow: “The market sees 87 percent of our offshore acreage off-limits, it sees Federal permits lagging in the areas we are allowed to develop in, both offshore and onshore.  It sees a million barrels a day from ANWR sitting on the sidelines, and it sees the U.S. blocking upwards of 800,000 barrels a day from Canada. The market sees that the U.S. could secure 100 percent of its liquid fuel needs by 2024.”

The CIA World Factbook lists the U.S. third in world oil production in 2011 at just below 9 percent of the total, a little behind Russia at 10.06 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 12.01 percent.

Apparently, Mr. Obama feels comfortable spreading falsehoods to the public, knowing that his fawning followers will believe anything he says, and the media, paralyzed by his charm, will not fact-check what he says.  But while he’s busy being fabulous, wowing the throngs, the country continues to suffer under punishing unemployment and gas prices predicted to set new records this summer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

After February’s jobs report, some straight talk about unemployment

President Barack Obama told workers at an aircraft-parts manufacturing plant in Virginia that "More companies are bringing jobs back and investing in America. And manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s." "The economy is getting stronger" he said.

The Labor Department revised the figures for job growth up by 61,000 in December and January, even though unemployment remained at 8.3 percent. Cumulative job growth for the three months through February was the fastest pace since early 2006.

Reuters trumpeted the job figures as great news for Mr. Obama: “Employers added more than 200,000 workers to their payrolls for a third straight month in February, a sign the economy was strengthening. … Friday's Labor Department report, which showed nonfarm payrolls increased 227,000 last month, also bolstered President Barack Obama's chances for re-election.”

The glee continued to flow: “The jobless rate held at a three-year low of 8.3 percent even as people flooded back into the labor force to hunt for work, and 61,000 more jobs were created in December and January than previously thought.”

Hooray and hallelujah! After three long years, at last the economy has begun to recover from the Obama Recovery. However, even the media cheerleading for the president cannot change reality.

President Obama boasts of 4 million jobs having been created during his tenure. That’s an impressive number. But it is substantially less impressive when we know the rest of the story. Consider that during the downturn an estimated 8-10 million jobs were lost, so after three years more than half the jobs – approximately 5.2 million – are still missing in action.

Further, if you have a tingle running up your leg after hearing the president’s job creation number, looking at the Initial Claims for Unemployment Insurance will sober you up quickly. For the unemployment rate to be affected positively, fewer than 400,000 new jobless claims must be filed each week. Since March of last year, 30 of those 52 weekly reports showed new jobless claims exceeding 400,000, ranging from a low of 354,000 to a high of 478,000. Weekly new jobless claims since last March averaged 401,300, and the total number of new jobless claims for 52 weeks is 20,866,000. That means that during the last 52 weeks, nearly 21 million Americans lost their job and filed for unemployment insurance for the first time, and some of them are still jobless.

“Some economists say the real reason for the recent fast drop in unemployment isn't that there are suddenly so many new jobs — it's that far fewer people than expected are looking for work,” writes Tim Mullaney in USA Today. “Nearly three years into the recovery, the unemployment rate has tumbled even though new job gains are far smaller than in past recoveries. Americans could see the unemployment rate continue dropping to — or even breaking through — the psychologically important 8 percent mark by Election Day with far fewer net gains in jobs each month,” he notes. He goes on to explain that Mr. Obama may benefit from a politically beneficial unemployment rate as the election approaches, even though there will be substantially fewer jobs in America this year than four year ago.

Since the manner of calculating unemployment was changed in the 1990s, only those who are looking for work count as unemployed, and those who have given up looking are not counted, even though many are likely at some point to start looking again. The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed as a percentage of the labor force, which includes only those working or actively looking for work. A smaller number of those categorized as “unemployed” renders a lower unemployment rate.

Another important statistic is the labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the civilian population not in penal or medical institutions, and included only 63.7 percent of Americans in January of this year, the lowest rate in 30 years. Near the start of the recession, that rate stood at 66 percent. “If employment stays the same, a lower participation rate drives down the unemployment rate. If employment gains rise and the participation rate falls, the unemployment rate falls even more,” the USA Today story noted.

The story goes on to say that if “the participation rate had stayed at 66 percent, the economy would have needed 5.1 million more jobs to reach today's unemployment rate. And if the labor force had grown about as fast as mainstream economists expected, job gains since early 2010 would have been too little to reduce the jobless rate from the 9.8% level reached in February 2010, when net job losses from the recession finally ended.”

So, while the jobs picture does reflect some positive change, it is not so much a picture of a beautiful beach scene as one of a pig wearing lipstick.

As the election nears, we have to be aware of all the factors affecting the employment problem, not just the unemployment rate, given that it is a manipulated number that omits much of the story of how many Americans are suffering because they can’t find work.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Conception to birth -- visualized

Using new imaging and computer technology, supported with graphic images, Alexander Tsiaras has created a video illustrating what occurs in the human development process from conception to birth.

This video is fascinating and instructive.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

An update from somewhere near the bottom of the slippery slope

We not infrequently hear an admonition against taking a particular action because doing so is the first step down a slippery slope that leads to disaster, or at least to some negative situation.

Over the last several decades we have seen a steady decline in what once was called “morality,” a concept increasingly regarded as something from the Stone Age; senseless restrictions hampering the good times of no rules and no responsibilities.

Perhaps it is a natural human reaction to want total freedom to do as one pleases, but wisdom and past experience show us that a society cannot succeed without some rules. However, social rules do not carry fines or jail time; breaking the rules brought only shame and having people whisper as you walked by. And as more and more people chose to ignore certain rules, the whispering faded out and the rules and the stigma attached to them gradually disappeared.

Without significant social penalties, the predictable results of casual and often careless sex increased, the most serious being unwanted pregnancy. Back in the day, when a female got pregnant, usually she had the baby and became a mother, and the male involved became a father. But that was inconvenient for one or both parents, so along with the loosening of sexual customs came a relaxed sense of responsibility for one’s actions, and unwed mothers and absentee fathers grew in number, along with children put up for adoption.

But having a baby you didn’t want was inconvenient for the mother, so abortion that was once used only when medical conditions warranted, such as when the health of the mother was at risk, became after-the-fact birth control.

Abortion advocates argue that a fetus, at least in the early stages, is not a human being, only a mass of cells. Therefore, relieving the woman of this tumor-like inhabitant is not killing a child, because it is a “nonviable tissue mass,” not a child.  The determination that a fetus is not a child is based upon the unresolved question of just when the fetus becomes a person: at conception, at viability (however that is defined) or at birth.

Now, two Australian ethicists – Alberto Giubilini with Monash University in Melbourne, and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne – have provided an answer to the question: it doesn’t matter. They argue in the latest online edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics  that if abortion of a fetus is allowable, so, too, should be the “termination” of a newborn. This is what can happen when you climb onto that “slippery slope.”

And what is the philosophical, ethical justification for what once was considered cold-blooded murder? “[If] circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”

In the abstract to the article Giubilini and Minerva explain that “abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” The authors say that adoption is not a viable alternative “because the mother might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption,” but not from killing it, apparently.

In the enlightened 21st century, merely being human does not mean that humans have an actual right to life.

Our two ethicists conclude their article: “If criteria such as the costs (social, psychological, economic) for the potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the fetus is healthy, if the moral status of the newborn is the same as that of the infant and if neither has any moral value by virtue of being a potential person, then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.” Being a newborn, you see, is just another stage along the way to becoming an “actual” person.

In their intellectual wanderings through the amoral desert, the authors discovered that there are “actual people” and persons who are not “actual people,” but merely “potential persons.”

Only a few decades ago this discussion would never have gotten out of the padded room in which it was hatched; today it is considered reasonable, perhaps even enlightened.

However, when a newborn is expendable on the whim of its mother, for any reason or no reason, and is considered less important than some endangered critter like the Clanwilliam Redfin, the Zerene Fritillary, or the Coffin Cave Mold Beetle, how long will it be before “no longer viable persons” with some disease, a mental or physical disability, or who are merely too old to take care of themselves, will also be disposable?

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Middle school coach fired for writing an anti-Obama song

A 26 year-old Tennessee middle school coach lost his job because he wrote and performed a song critical of President Barack Obama.

The song isn't dirty; it doesn't use racist language; doesn't call names. It is a fairly straight ahead country tune with a political point of view. But it is anti-Obama.

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