Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Politics, ideology often trump duty and honor among public servants

Here in America, the land of the free, it ought to take actual wrongdoing for government to act against individuals and organizations. And when those in positions of authority in government are properly serving the people they work for, that is the way it is.

Alas, that is not always so. It seems to be getting more frequent to see misfeasance by public servants who, rather than seeking out criminal or civil misbehavior, now use their offices that they are paid to operate honorably for purposes outside their scope of responsibility. Apparently the punishment for abdicating one’s sworn duty to honorably do his/her job are insufficient to discourage bad behavior. Or maybe it is because people rarely are held accountable and punished for their misfeasance.

Perhaps the best-known recent episode of such public dis-service was the targeting for harassment of conservative organizations that had filed for non-profit status with the IRS, a function under the control of one Lois Lerner.

During a Congressional hearing investigating the affair, Lerner refused to answer questions, hiding behind the 5Th Amendment’s protection from self-incrimination, later resigning her federal position and, having avoided criminal charges, lives peacefully on her government pension.

While Lerner used her IRS position against political adversaries, public servant misbehavior also creeps into the area of harassing ideological adversaries. The environmental left’s position that burning fossil fuels significantly harms the environment is based upon evidence so weak and heavily disputed that a substantial number of Americans – perhaps a majority – reject the idea. Unable to convince people through the strength of scientific evidence, the liberals then resort to using the power of government to force people into line.

This time the target is ExxonMobil and a dozen independent groups that are in the crosshairs of a state prosecutor because they do not accept the idea that fossil fuels significantly damage the environment, and have had the unmitigated gall to express their opinion publicly.

Earlier this month ExxonMobil released a copy of an April 19 subpoena filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey demanding forty years of communications regarding climate change from the company and the organizations. Exxon has filed a motion for injunction in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, accusing Healey of waging a politically motivated fishing expedition aimed at silencing oppositional opinion on climate change.

Did Exxon engage in legally actionable fraud as Healy claims? “Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be held accountable,” she said, referring to what she called the “troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public.”

Healy’s statement suggests that someone can be held criminally liable for knowing the left’s argument about climate change, and failing to discard their own opinion in favor of that argument. Merely knowing that the environmental faction thinks fossil fuel use is harming the environment makes you legally obligated to adopt it, even if you do not agree and, more importantly, even if there is no actual proof that assumption is correct.

Healy and the fellow travelers on the left seem to believe that their opinion becomes truth, merely because they believe it, even if it has never been proven true or valid, and if you disagree you can face legal action. Free speech and the First Amendment apparently no longer apply where climate change is concerned.

Of this poorly thought through legal fiasco, Alex Epstein, whose Center for Industrial Progress is one of the dozen organizations targeted by Healy along with Exxon, had this to say: “What ExxonMobil is being prosecuted for is expressing an opinion about the evidence that the government disagrees with … There is a fundamental distinction in civilized society between fraud and opinion.”

In his excellent book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Epstein advances the position that fossil fuel use has provided millions and millions of people wonderful advantages in terms of higher living standards, increased life expectancy, decreased infant and child mortality than they would have had without fossil fuels, and he references the manic climate change narrative that produced repeated predictions of doom that did not materialize.

A fundamental truth in the United States is that one may hold and espouse any opinion he or she chooses, without regard to whether that opinion is true or false; it is not a crime to disagree, even if the subject is climate change.

This effort to force acceptance of the weak theory of fossil fuels damaging the environment is an initiative of “AGs United for Clean Power.” This perhaps signals a coming expanded effort to silence disagreement. But it has aroused the attention of 13 attorneys general, who signed a letter to their counterparts across the country that said: “We think this effort by our colleagues to police the global warming debate through the power of the subpoena is a grave mistake.”

Whether that letter will help redirect AGs tempted to the dark side or not is unknown. But it is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mass shootings: Attention must be focused on reality, not politics

The liberal left’s Pavlovian response to mass shooting incidents is always blaming too many guns, too easy access to guns, and the availability of the wrong kind of guns. More recently the subject has broadened to include keeping certain types of people from buying guns, an aspect that at least contains a degree of rationality.

President Barack Obama went to Orlando, FL last week to offer condolences to the families of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, but could not resist turning the subject from the victims and their suffering in this tragedy into an opportunity talk about guns.

Three Democrats walked out of the House of Representatives chamber when Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., asked for a moment of silence in memory of those killed and injured in the Orlando shooting, and later during regular House business when Ryan tried to call up a measure for a vote, Democrats began shouting over the announcement of the bill being voted on.

Favored targets for blame, rather than the actual perpetrators and their motives, are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and conservatives and/or Republicans, which is a common theme despite the fact that none of the killers have been members of the NRA, conservatives or Republicans. What the NRA, conservatives and Republicans realize that liberals do not is that absent the intent to commit murder, guns – like hammers, butcher knives and motor vehicles – are inanimate objects. Every day tens of millions of guns harm no one, especially those under control of law-abiding citizens. Guns are not the problem; they are but a tool and only harm when used by someone with the intent to harm or occasionally by accident.

There is also a near-universal misidentification of weapons these killers use: “assault weapons.” The fact is that no true assault weapon has been used in any mass shooting.

Assault weapons – which are fully automatic, or have the capability to be used in fully-automatic mode – are illegal in the U.S. Weapons used in mass shootings are semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic rifles, revolvers, or shotguns. Just because a weapon has characteristics of appearance and similar accessories to assault weapons does not make it an assault weapon. Those using that term are either ignorant about the subject, or are deceptively using it for its emotional value, trying to gin up support for their cause.

The gun control faction’s desires run a broad gamut from banning all guns, to banning some types of guns, to preventing some particular people from getting any sort of gun at all, and using the no-fly list, the terror watch list and mental health issues as disqualifying elements.

Before starting down the road to implementing some restrictions, we must remember that America is “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” formed to guarantee personal liberty, and America reached heights previously unknown in history due to its singular devotion to freedom. We cannot trample on the freedoms of millions of American citizens in order to discover the relative few who have evil intent.

* Suggesting a total gun ban is dead on arrival.
* Trying to limit the kinds of guns people may purchase begs the question of who decides, and how; and opens the door for dictatorial abuse by the politically motivated.
* Denying gun purchases to people on the no-fly list, terror watch list or who have been flagged for a mental health issue is fraught with potential for errors and abuse. Journalist Stephen Hayes found himself on a terrorist watch list, as did South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and at least two children 6 and 8 years of age. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy was denied boarding a plane back to Washington while in the Senate. What could possibly go wrong?

Americans are protected from arbitrary denial of Constitutional rights through a legal due process proceeding, where evidence must be offered and a specific ruling made to approve taking one’s rights. West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin seems ready to ditch due process. The Weekly Standard quoted Manchin as saying, "The problem we have — and really, the firewall we have right now, is due process. It's all due process … due process is what's killing us right now."

Two other factors scream out for attention, things that mass shootings have in common. First, all of them have occurred in places that were declared “gun-free zones,” where guns were forbidden. This is an open invitation to someone bent on committing an atrocity.

Second, many/most of them were committed by Muslims inspired by al Qaeda, ISIS or some other source of Islamist anti-American fervor. That factor existed in the Pulse nightclub, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Fort Hood, and the San Bernardino shootings, for example.

President Obama turns back-flips to avoid using the term “radical Islam” to describe these murders, saying that Islam is a religion of peace. Okay, fine. But not all Muslims adhere to that creed, and the killers among them pledged allegiance to Allah during these far too-frequent events.

We cannot eliminate or reduce these atrocities by continuing to ignore these two factors. Political correctness be damned; our lives are too important for PC.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Obama’s failed record and legacy is Hillary’s campaign platform

Yes, it was a significant recession, deep enough to earn the title the “Great Recession.” But since the Great Depression there have been several recessions that, at the time they occurred, were called the “Great Recession.”

Since the Great Depression and including the latest incarnation of the Great Recession, none of them have come anywhere close to the horrible conditions during the 1930s. Thus, Barack Obama’s citing of the Great Recession falls short in excusing the dismal economy and the failed Obama recovery. The lousy economy is due to faulty policies since the end of the recession in June 2009.
As the end of Obama’s presidency nears the U.S. is more than $19 trillion in debt, and the debt nearly doubled during Obama’s presidency. At a seriously high $10.6 trillion when he began, Obama’s policies have added about a trillion dollars for each of his eight years in office.

During the Obama recovery, Gross Domestic Product has not once reached 3.0 percent. “Adding insult to injury,” The Daily Signal reports, “Obama coupled an incredibly weak economic recovery with a more than trillion-dollar tax hike.  By allegedly making the rich ‘pay their fair share’ through the $620 billion (2013-2022) fiscal cliff tax increase, the administration really pushed for everyday Americans to sacrifice lower take-home pay for more government spending and intervention in their lives.”

Obama has claimed the creation of millions of jobs. "We're in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history,” he said. “More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the 1990s; an unemployment rate cut in half."

Well, sort of. When a recession produces job losses, the recovery – even a poor recovery like this one – produces some “new jobs.” And according to CNN Money, Obama created 9.3 million, not 14 million, new jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that the U-6 unemployment rate reflects “total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.” At the end of the first quarter of 2016, the U-6 rate was 10.1 percent. 

These unemployed, discouraged workers who have stopped looking for a job, and underemployed workers are not counted in the unemployment figure the administration brags about, but are nonetheless part of the American workforce, which totals 243 million people, and currently more than 90 million of them are unemployed or underemployed, putting the workforce participation rate at a decades-low 62.6 percent.

In a May open-ended Gallop survey, participants noted general economic issues as the most important thing on their minds, but not far behind were issues with their government, such as immigration and race relations, two things Obama has made worse.

Potentially more serious, however, is the disintegrating U.S. influence across the globe and our severely weakened military, issues considered so serious that Congressional Republicans have developed a 23-page policy document to address them, under the leadership of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis).

“In the past seven years, our friendships have frayed, our rivalries have intensified. It’s not too much to say that our enemies no longer fear us and too many of our allies no long trust us. And I think this is the direct result of the president’s foreign policy,” Ryan said. “All he did was create … many voids around the world and now our enemies are stepping in to fill those voids. This is what happens when America does not lead.”

With Obama’s tenure ending we are faced with the prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected to what will essentially be Obama’s third term, continuing his disastrous policies, and adding her own signature disasters to the mix.

Among Clinton’s favorite issues are: gun control, climate change, and income inequality.

She says that 33,000 gun deaths every year is unacceptable. But considered in context, 33,000 deaths among our 320 million population is roughly one death for every 10,000 people. And not all gun deaths are murders. Some are killed by police; others by people defending themselves; some are suicides; some are accidents. To Obama and Clinton, the Orlando terrorist attack is a gun control issue.

Obama’s manic compulsion for climate change has produced policies that have destroyed the lives of thousands of energy industry workers, and wasted billions of taxpayer dollars propping up failing green energy companies like Solyndra, based on a theory that is faulty and heavily disputed. Likewise, Clinton wants to install a half-billion solar panels by 2020, seven times what we have today. More bad policies on the horizon.

She favors making incomes more equal, not understanding that wages are based on economic principles, not fairy tale desires. She wants a $12 an hour minimum wage for everyone, trained or not, good at their job or not.

And we cannot ignore her failure to provide adequate security at the Benghazi consulate when evaluating her foreign policy credentials.

Clinton, like Obama, seeks to control and ignores logic and reasoning when seeking solutions. She shares his “big government as the solution to all problems” philosophy, and that is a recipe for continued trouble.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Constitution provides states with a high degree of sovereignty

When the founders of our young nation realized that the original governing document, the Articles of Confederation, was insufficient, the task of creating a better one began. Ultimately, during the process of creating and ratifying the United States Constitution to replace the Articles strong sentiment existed for specific rights to be guaranteed to Americans, and the Bill of Rights was created, consisting of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

As time passed the strength of some of those first 10 amendments has been weakened, and some are under constant attack. As our once-limited national government has grown, the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have diminished.

The Bill of Rights guarantees such things as freedom of speech and religion, the keeping and bearing of arms, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and other protections from a government set on tyranny.

The several states, which represented the interests and will of their citizens, created the national government, and the Tenth Amendment emphasized that the states had protection from the acquisition of powers by the national government outside the limits set forth in the Constitution.

During the process of replacing the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution, a series of essays known as The Federalist Papers stressed that under the Constitution’s governmental structure, the principle of popular sovereignty would continue, with Constitutional protections against the national government trampling on the rights reserved for the states. This was known as “federalism.” The national government has those powers assigned to it; the states or the people have those powers not assigned to the national government, nor prohibited by the Constitution.

The Ninth Amendment strengthens the Tenth, but more than 230 years later, who can argue that the Tenth Amendment's proscription against a power grab by the federal government has actually been respected?

Arguably, the Environmental Protection Agency is the greatest offender of 10th Amendment protections, as it writes regulations and rules with the force of law that have not been made into law by the Congress.

Or maybe it is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – that is a law made by Congress, but shoves Uncle Sam over the edge of the big government cliff. Imagine Washington, Jefferson, Madison and the rest of the Founders agreeing that the national government was allowed someday to impose a healthcare system on the people of the several states, even if it worked as advertised.

The idea that the federal government has the authority to change the operations of hundreds or thousands of individual insurers and healthcare providers in 50 different states, each serving its own separate customer base, into a single system controlled by Washington is as anti-Constitution as it gets.

Other areas of Tenth Amendment abuse are same-sex marriage and abortion, both of which originally were state issues, until the federal government found some way to finagle a national interest in these issues.

Until the Roe v Wade case of 1973, abortion had been a state issue, but the Supreme Court ruled that bans on abortion were unconstitutional on a “right to privacy” basis discovered in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And the federal government was never involved in marriage issues until 1996 when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed.

The Constitution also protected state sovereignty by the way Congress was organized. The House of Representatives, frequently referred to as “the people’s house,” consisted of Representatives directly elected by the citizens of the Congressional Districts. Members of the Senate, on the other hand, were to be elected by the state legislatures, and therefore senators’ loyalty was to the government of the state more than to its citizens.

This protection vanished, however, when the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, and now the citizens of the states also elect Senators, in addition to the Representatives. Members of the Senate no longer have any special reason to protect the interests of the government of the state they represent, and that shifts the governing balance between the states and the federal government toward the federal government.

The result often is that federal mandates, about which the states themselves have nothing to say, not only can and do intrude on state sovereignty, but force states to pay for their implementation, as well.

Some people think these changes are just fine, such as those who have bought into the scare tactics of the climate change catastrophe gang, those who support abortion and same-sex marriage, and those who generally like big government and have never stopped to think how miserable they may be in the future if this big-government mania isn’t stopped.

There is some good news on this issue: States are fighting back against federal over-reach. Twenty-four states filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down the Environmental Protection Agency’s new source performance standards that effectively prohibit the construction of new, coal-fired power plants. And 12 states are fighting the Obama administration’s LGBT rights mandates.

If the courts do not support restoration of state sovereignty in these and other issues, the states will have no other choice but to refuse to follow intrusive federal measures.