Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two topics: Cultural change and raising the minimum wage

Cultural transformation is slow and very often quite difficult

August is notable for several reasons, among which is that it marks the end of summer for school children and the beginnings of football season, but more importantly because it was this month in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, at long last giving the right of the vote to all American women.

An article on by Trevor Hammond gives the following information on this event: “Women’s suffrage in America was a divisive issue from the very beginning of the organized movement at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Over the ensuing 72 years, while women gradually won the right to vote in some state and local elections, they continued to fight for full suffrage. Eventually, the suffragists of the 19th century gave way to the ‘suffragettes’ of the 20th century, with their more confrontational tactics, influenced by the militant women’s suffrage movement in Britain.”

The organizers of the Senaca Falls Convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, and along with Susan B. Anthony they generated the effort that raised public awareness and lobbied the government to grant voting rights to women.

The next seven decades were marked by successes, failures, civil disobedience from those both pro and con, and finally Tennessee’s state legislature voted to ratify the amendment on August 18 after the 48-48 tie was broken when Rep. Harry Burn changed his mind, deciding to support the amendment at the behest of his mother. That made Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Days later, on August 26, the vote became official when U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the document.

Today, we wonder at how it could have ever been that women did not have the same rights as men for many things, not just for voting. Some believe that this inequality was due simply to the fact that men deliberately kept women in subservient positions; they were misogynists and domineering louts.

And, of course, through the ages there were and still are domineering louts among us. But that is not why it took so long for women to get the right to vote; men had their roles and women had theirs, for entirely different reasons, and it was like that for a long, long time.

Maybe that all started in the Garden of Eden, or with the first homo sapiens, whichever version you prefer, but the early gender roles were pre-determined not by what one gender or the other chose to do, but by the physical attributes of the two genders and the duties placed on each by the need to survive and procreate. Women were child bearers and nurturers, and men hunted and defended the home.

Cultural change is a slow, deliberate process.

* * * * *

The Effects of Raising the Minimum Wage

More clear thinking on the idea of a higher minimum wage comes from Douglas Holtz-Eakin, by way of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

Mr. Holtz-Eakin is a former economics professor and former Director of the Congressional Budget Office, and produced a piece for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research this past July, which NCPA recently highlighted.

He reminds readers of the economic reality that higher minimum wages will ultimately eliminate jobs and/or reduce employment growth, and can harm the very poor, who are the ones the higher minimum was intended to help.

Of the political drive to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to as high as $12 or $15 an hour, supported by the White House, Mr. Holtz-Eakin says, “While a minimum-wage hike would benefit millions of workers with higher earnings, it would also hurt millions of others who would lose earnings because they cannot attain or retain a job. Our estimates show that raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would:
   * Affect 38.3 million low-wage workers.
   * Cost 3.8 million low-wage jobs.
   * Only 5.8 percent of the total income raise would go to low-wage workers who are actually in poverty.”

Focusing on the benefits of working, he notes, “it's important to keep in mind that work itself benefits those of modest means. In other words, [raising the minimum wage] is the reverse of Robin Hoodism: taking jobs and income from the poorest to give to those who are better off. The wealthy, whom demagogues now attack, would be untouched. The first job, even at relatively low pay, provides that first step on the ladder of upward mobility. Eliminating those rungs on the ladder threatens the future of workers who are starting out today.”

There are better ways to assist low-income Americans than raising the minimum wage to a level that ultimately hurts them more than it helps, he wrote, among which are the Earned Income Tax Credit, targeted wage supplements and a more effective public-education system that will assist low-income Americans and to make work pay, while not reducing job growth. “The poor cannot afford counterproductive initiatives advanced in their name but harmful to their lives.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The $64,000 question: What in the world was she thinking?

Imagine your political party has won the recent presidential election, and the man elected to be president has pegged you to be Secretary of State. What an honor. Secretary of State is one of the most important and prestigious positions in the federal government; it is one of the most critical positions in the government, dealing with sensitive international matters, such as agreements and disputes, the communications associated with which often carry security classifications, such as “classified,” “secret,” or “top secret.”

There are processes and systems in place to facilitate your communications, both classified and unclassified, between and among individuals and departments within the government, and with officials of other governments, official systems and processes that track these official communications as a matter of efficiency, accountability, national security and historical record.

With this in mind, and after going through the FBI’s briefing on the official communications protocol, and swearing under oath that you have been briefed and understand the process and protocol and why it exists, you then decide that rather than utilize the official secured government communications system you have been briefed on, as your predecessors did, you will use your own private email server to handle official government business as well as your own personal email communications.

Question: What would be the reason for making the unusual and unprecedented decision to conduct official communications on a private system instead of on the official and secured government system, a system to which only you have access, and that denies the government the ability to have complete access to your official communications?

Eventually, this decision enters the public sphere and is predictably met with many questions, and very effectively fertilizes the environment for suspicion of your motives. Political opponents will be emboldened, and you are the one who has emboldened them, and questions will arise about both your judgment and the possibility of illegal activity.

This is the sticky wicket that Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State from January 21, 2009 to February 1, 2013, and now candidate for the Democrat nomination for President of the United States, created for herself with this curious decision as she assumed the position of Secretary of State.

Mrs. Clinton’s political opponents – the “vast right-wing conspiracy” – have indeed noticed this irregularity, and finally the mainstream media is also taking notice.

NBC News commentator Andrea Mitchell – no right-wing conspirator she – shared comments from intelligence officials who have told her that, “nobody can give an explanation for why a cabinet secretary would have a private email system other than to thwart inquiries, FOIAs [Freedom of Information Act inquiries],” which she mentioned recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

Andrea Mitchell is not the only one interested in the question raised by those intelligence officials. And the new questions raised by those other interested parties go beyond mere curiosity about why a cabinet secretary would have taken this unusual step. The more serious issue is whether or not classified information passed through Mrs. Clinton’s private email system, a clear violation of federal law.

Mark Levin, former chief of staff for Attorney General Edwin Meese in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, also an attorney, author and talk show host, sees breaches of the federal Penal Code, specifically Section 793 of the Penal Code, Subsection (f).

“My point is,” Mr. Levin said, “when you set up an unsecured server in your barn adjacent to your home in Chappaqua, New York, you have intentionally – forget about negligence – you have intentionally bypassed the security process for that server.”

If a private system was her chosen method for email communication, both personal and governmental, even if she avoided sending emails containing classified information, how could she prevent classified information from being sent to her on her private system? In short: How could Mrs. Clinton not have had classified information on her private server?

Some offer the defense of intent, suggesting that it matters if she did not intend to allow classified information to be lost, stolen, abstracted or destroyed. But Mr. Levin says, “No it doesn’t, not with respect to this, Subsection (f).”

Former federal judge and Attorney General Michael Mukasey comments: “Once you assume a public office, your communications about anything having to do with your job are not your personal business or property. They are the public’s business and the public’s property, and are to be treated as no different from communications of like sensitivity.”

And this from McClatchy DC last Wednesday: “The inspectors general for the U.S. Intelligence Community and the State Department have disclosed over the last week that at least five emails, routed through a private server that Clinton used throughout her tenure as secretary of state, contained classified information, including two emails whose content is now deemed to be ‘Top Secret.’”

Even if somehow Mrs. Clinton escapes being charged with crimes in this incident, her behavior – from the idea of having her own private email server in the first place, to the elaborate cleansing process she utilized to clear all data from the email server, and the release of the email communications that she alone determined was relevant – raises important questions about her lack of judgment and what her motivation was.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Here’s the other side of the argument: Appreciating fossil fuels

Predictions of horrible things happening if we continue burning fossil fuels are fairly common these days. Man is killing the Earth by continuing to use fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – to power electricity generation, make motor vehicles go, and now even to cook your dinner outside on the grill.

This compulsive thinking has driven the Environmental Protection Agency to dictate that the nation reduce the 2005 level of carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030, despite that doing so will cost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars, all to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air by one-tenth of a percent.

Almost no one argues that global warming isn’t a reality. However, the current period of global warming has taken a timeout for well more than a decade. Most people know that for thousands of years there have been alternating periods of warming and cooling on the Earth. The important question is, however, whether the low level of recent warming is significant, and more to the point, whether or not the actions of human beings contribute significantly to the slight warming period that is now on hold.

The carbon-mania gripping environmental scaremongers in the U.S. ignores the plain fact that compared to China and India, among others, the U.S. is by far a minor contributor of carbon emissions.

Two things have been forgotten – or perhaps conveniently covered up. One is the long list of predicted global catastrophes that have not come to pass. The other is how much better the lives of human beings are because we have learned how to use fossil fuels to make our lives better.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 “Historical Data Workbook,” 87 percent of the energy mankind uses every second comes from burning one of those fossil fuels.

People who live in cold climates use fossil fuels to warm their homes, and people who live in warm climates use fossil fuels to cool their homes. Fossil fuels are used to plant and harvest crops that feed people, and are used to transport food from places where food is produced to places where it is needed and wanted. Fossil fuels are used to light the darkness, to entertain us, transport us, diagnose disease, communicate with each other, mass-produce products we need and want, and to provide security in our homes and for the nation.

And we also do not hear how much better the lives of the poorest people living in the direst conditions on Earth could be if we were helping them to use fossil fuels to their benefit the way the developed world does.

Technology enables us to modify the way we use fossil fuels to control our climate to our advantage, and to progressively improve the way we use fossil fuels to do less harm. Because of technological advances our air today is much cleaner than it was a hundred years ago. Technology not only provides many wonderful assets for us, but also improves itself, so that these crucial technologies now cause little harm to the environment.

Imagine where the world would be today if we had never learned to use fossil fuels and to develop those technologies for our benefit. Imagine what would happen if suddenly all of the facilities that burn fossil fuels for electricity production and for other purposes just simply stopped doing so for several weeks.

And perhaps that is what is needed to get the American people to open up to the truth that using fossil fuels not only is good for us, but also is not harmful to the environment to a significant degree.

A major fallacy in the war against fossil fuels is the belief that they are harmful because they are dirty, and “natural” sources of energy like wind and solar power are not harmful because they are not dirty. But both wind power and solar power also have their negative side, in addition to not being capable of replacing fossil fuels any time in the foreseeable future.

The rare Earth elements needed for wind turbines, for example, can be acquired only through an enormous and complex mining process to find and excavate them. And that mining process requires machinery driven by fossil fuels.

Establishing a wind farm on a mountaintop requires a great deal of clearing of wooded lands and the building of roads for access and towers for transmission lines. Enormous solar farms both substantially warm the acres of land beneath them and attract and kill birds.

Many leading environmentalists, including those who predict fossil fuel catastrophe, hold as their most important value what they call “pristine” nature or wilderness nature unaltered by man. They see humans as a plague upon the Earth.

Alex Epstein, author of the excellent book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, holds human life as his most important value. When you accept that human life is the most important consideration, then small infringements on nature and the environment that yield great advances and benefits for humans are perfectly acceptable.

That is the sensible way to look at it. That is the human way to look at it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Going Rogue, Part XI: EPA will break the law to do what is right!

The Environmental Protection Agency, long behaving as a narrowly focused ideological organization instead of as a servant of the people, may finally have messed up sufficiently to bring itself down, or at the very least to have earned a significant degree of restriction to its slash-and-burn approach to fossil fuel energy production.

Causing misery to thousands of honest, hard-working people who have lost jobs and businesses, suffered downturns in their business and/or paid heavy fines because of the agency’s dogmatic focus on imposing unwarranted restrictions on behaviors the agency dislikes, the EPA has been caught in an incestuous relationship with organizations that advocate the same ideology as agency bureaucrats.

The work of the Environment & Energy Legal Institute (EELI) reveals that the EPA has secretly colluded with environmental activists to drive the Obama administration’s manic global warming agenda. The organization’s report reveals “records showing illegal activities by EPA staff, conspiring with certain environmental group lobbyists to draft EPA’s greenhouse gas rules behind the scenes and outside of public view.”

As reported by The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Michael Bastasch, who quoted Chris Horner, an EELI senior attorney, “These emails, which EPA forced us to litigate to obtain, prove beyond any doubt that EPA conducted its campaign to impose the global warming agenda unlawfully, making the rules themselves unlawful.” Mr. Horner says the EPA’s rules were made in collusion with environmental groups, including the radical Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), thereby excluding the public from the process, and are therefore unlawful.

EELI says the EPA wrote the Clean Power Plan and other agency rules with an “unalterably closed mind” centered on an anti-fossil fuel agenda. The EPA’s behavior and the NRDC’s perspective perfectly fit the dictionary definition of the ideologue: an impractical idealist, an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.

A 2014 EELI report focused on emails released through a Freedom of Information Act request that showed coordination between EPA employees and environmentalists that discussed the Keystone XL pipeline and clean coal technology. The EELI asserts that the records show “the influence on EPA by pressure groups, the same groups from which EPA obtained numerous senior officials,” and that these activists helped to craft the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) that regulates carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

The New York Times found similar connections last year: “Indisputable, however, is that the Natural Resources Defense Council was far ahead of the E.P.A. in drafting the architecture of the proposed regulation.”

Analyzing the EPA’s strategy, Mr. Horner commented: “The issue is solely whether Congress will stop EPA from unlawfully winning by losing, which is to say, using sham rulemaking to metastasize its desired harms before the typical timeline of litigation allows for intervention. The public needs to consider this illegality and cynical lawlessness when the President stands up with the EPA administrator … to lecture us all about how they’re just doing the right thing.”

Question: If the EPA and the Obama administration are doing the right thing, why did they feel compelled to break the law?

The EPA is expected to finalize the CPP this week, and may already have done so by now. According to comments from the White House, this new version of the plan is even stronger than last year’s proposal, which was objectionable enough to prompt several states to file suit opposing the rule, and to outrage some labor unions.

Even before this stronger version of the plan had been developed, United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts said the CPP would result in tens of thousands of union members losing their jobs. Doing the right thing “will lead to long-term and irreversible job losses for thousands of coal miners, electrical workers, utility workers, boilermakers, railroad workers and others without achieving any significant reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr. Roberts said in a statement. In addition to the thousands who have already lost their jobs, he estimates that the rule will cause 75,000 job losses in the coal sector by 2020, rising to 152,000 by 2035.

Apparently unconcerned with the thousands of American workers whose lives will be turned upside-down, an EPA spokesperson said, “The Clean Power Plan follows our clear legal authority under the Clean Air Act,” adding that, “The supreme court has decided multiple times that EPA has an obligation to regulate greenhouse gases,” without apparent concern for the repercussions.

The EPA, like all federal agencies, is duty-bound to enthusiastically adhere to only one ideology, and that is the one outlined by the U.S. Constitution.

The EPA, or any federal agency, may properly seek input from any individual or organization, but they may not take information or advice exclusively from one side without providing the opportunity for opposing points of view and data to be provided, and to objectively consider all points of view to arrive at a fair and sensible conclusion.

Out of control actions by agencies of the federal government are much too frequent, and repercussions for this inappropriate, intolerable and sometimes-illegal behavior are nearly non-existent. A number of people should be fired, and a few deserve to be indicted.

Don’t hold your breath!