Earning my presidential vote: trade and job creation

I am finally approaching the halfway point in this quest, and pocketbook issues have considerable importance. This section is the first of two consecutive segments dealing with the economic end of government. Trade and job creation, to me, are the areas of government which most directly affect your income. (The next section, taxation, is the other end of the pocketbook equation.)

As I have noted throughout, you can work your way through the series by starting here and working forward as issues gain in weighting my decision.

In five bullet points or less, our next President should:

  • Revisit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and other deals) to see if they can be salvaged as a good deal for the United States – which provides the majority of the GDP in each deal and should have the most favorable terms while maintaining our sovereignty. Otherwise, I believe in free trade that is fair, so we should work to isolate countries who don’t play by the rules.
  • Get government out of the way! According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, regulations cost business $1.885 trillion in 2015. That has to stop.
  • Rather than knuckle under to the knuckleheads who think we should have a “living wage,” the federal minimum wage should be abolished entirely. States are free to continue the lunacy and watch their businesses suffer the consequences when minimum wages get too high for the market.
  • Be an advocate and cheerleader for the right-to-work movement.
  • Invest in necessary federal infrastructure, particularly highways – the “post roads” of the modern era. Not only does this benefit job creation but it would assist in getting goods from place to place more quickly.

So where do my contenders stand? Let’s find out how many of the nine points they will receive.

Castle: Opposed to TPP as “the worst of our free-trade agreements.” Should freely trade with all nations but formal agreements cost us sovereignty. (Facebook)

Hedges: Opposes Republican policy of giving away our jobs through free trade.

Supports “appropriate employment at a living wage available to all citizens who are able to work.”

“The importing of goods from and the offshoring of services to other nations are the primary causes of lost jobs and impoverished communities in America. We favor free trade only on a reciprocal basis among equals. We will impose balancing tariffs on all goods imported from countries whose wage scales, labor benefits, and environmental protections are not similar to our own. No nation which fails to protect the civil rights of its citizens may be accorded ‘most favored nation.'” (party platform)

As a party they also support right-to-work states and would index Congressional pay to the minimum wage.

Hoefling: “Politicians constantly talk about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ even though they don’t have any jobs to offer that aren’t government jobs, or jobs that are subsidized by the taxpayers, and by debt shoved off on our grandchildren. As if we don’t already have more than enough of those kinds of jobs, right?

Here’s another thing: while working for a paycheck is certainly an honorable thing, it is not the American ideal. The ideal is for YOU to OWN your own piece of this country.

My goal, should I become the governor, is not to offer jobs to my fellow Iowans, or to use your money to bribe some company to provide you with a job. My goal is to secure your rights, and to then create an economic environment of FREEDOM, low taxes, reasonable, minimal regulation, and OWNERSHIP, an environment that will quite naturally lead to productivity and prosperity for all.

And, of course, the bonus is, companies will line up to do business in a state like that. You know it’s true.

‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’?

NO!

OWN, OWN, OWN!” (as Iowa gubernatorial candidate, 2014)

Johnson: Reduce the administrative burden. Level the playing field. Incentivize job growth.

As governors, both Gary Johnson and Bill Weld supported policies that incentivized job growth. In 2012, Gov. Johnson was praised as having the best “job creation” record of all presidential candidates. And Weld transformed Massachusetts from having the highest to the lowest unemployment rate of any industrialized state in less than 8 years.

Yet, Johnson has said that, “As Governor, I didn’t create a single job.” His point, of course, being that government doesn’t “create” jobs. Entrepreneurs, businesses, and economic prosperity are the building blocks for job growth.

Governors Johnson and Weld believe that we must allow a regulatory and tax environment that incentivizes fairness. Not one that picks winners and losers. The purpose of government regulation is to protect citizens from bad actors and the harm they might do to health, safety, and property. But regulation should not be used to manipulate the economy, to manage private lives and businesses, or to place unnecessary burdens on those who make our economy work.

Today, the reason so much corruption and power thrive in Washington, D.C., is that powerful corporate interests actually benefit from over-regulation. After all, they have the resources to comply with onerous laws. But for the average American, entrepreneur, or small businessperson, they don’t have teams of high-priced attorneys to help them navigate the bureaucracy.

We simply need to apply common sense to regulatory policy. Let’s get rid of the unnecessary laws and taxes that siphon the resources businesses use to create the jobs we need.

Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld helped create the conditions for job growth in their states. In the White House, they will create the conditions for massive job growth across the entire country. (campaign website)

McMullin: American businesses export more than $2.2 trillion per year of goods and services. The demand for American exports supported 11.5 million jobs, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. On average, these jobs pay 18 percent more than jobs that are unrelated to exports. For all these reasons, Evan believes that trade is an engine of prosperity and that well-designed trade agreements can help our economy grow even more.

At the same time, we can do more to help American workers adjust and thrive in the 21st century. Since 2000, the U.S. economy has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, although more than 12 million Americans still work at factories. The main driver of this trend is advanced technology, especially advances in robotics and computing. Today, U.S. automakers produce just as many cars as they did 20 years ago, yet the auto industry employs 300,000 fewer workers, a reduction of almost 25 percent.

Therefore, Evan believes that one of the most important ways to help American workers is to make education more affordable while supporting the growth of technical schools, online education, and work-based training programs. It is essential to support these alternatives to the typical full-time four-year degree program, which may not be a good fit for older students who need to work and support their families while studying. While U.S. factories have cut millions of jobs for those with a high school education or less, hiring of college graduates remains stable, while hiring of those with graduate degrees continues to demonstrate strong growth.

Around the globe—even in China—manufacturing employment is shrinking rapidly as factories rely more and more on advanced technology. Thus, using tariffs to raise the cost of Chinese imports won’t bring those jobs back to the United States. In fact, it will kill American jobs, because China and others will block U.S. exports, which now support more than 11 million jobs.

In addition, raising the cost of imports will force hard-pressed American families to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars more each year for basic necessities, from clothing to pots and pans and diapers.

Evan supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress, which must vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without making any changes to the agreement.

One of the biggest advantages of the TPP is that reducing tariffs to zero favors American companies. Right now, America has low tariffs, not far above zero. In contrast, other countries’ tariffs will plunge when the TPP goes into effect, opening up their markets to U.S. exports. TPP is still a good deal for those countries, because it gives them better access to the biggest market in the world (ours) and the third biggest (Japan).

TPP also helps create a level playing field between U.S. workers and their counterparts overseas. If foreign companies lower their costs by mistreating workers and polluting the environment, then its puts American companies at an unfair disadvantage. However, TPP has the strongest protections for labor and the environment of any major trade deal.

Finally, TPP is important for national security reasons. Our allies in Asia are watching to see whether the U.S. still has the ability to set the rules of the road, or whether their security depends on submitting to China. That is why the secretary of defense has said, “TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.” If the U.S. abandons TPP, China is likely to intensify its campaign of intimidation in the South China Sea. Thus, support for TPP is a win-win proposition; it enhances our security and reinforces the growth of job-creating American export industries.

Americans are ready to work hard to provide for their families, but fewer and fewer are capable of finding the good jobs necessary to support a middle-class standard of living and help them to pursue their dreams. If we accept the slow growth of the Obama years this won’t change. Only if the economy begins to grow faster—at a rate of more than 3 percent year instead of less than 2—will good jobs become more widely available.

Right now, there are three major roadblocks standing in the way of a stronger economy: a tax code that rewards special interests while hurting small businesses, excessive regulations that cost businesses almost $2 trillion per year, and runaway entitlement spending that multiplies the national debt.

Evan McMullin will dismantle these roadblocks. (Editor’s note: see my next part, taxation, for point 1).

Federal regulations play an essential role in making sure that Americans have clean air, clean water, and safe food. Yet the blizzard of intrusive regulations issued by the Obama administration have gone far beyond what is necessary to protect our health and the natural environment. Instead, these regulations serve as an invisible tax that raises the cost of doing business and prevents firms from creating jobs. As president, Evan McMullin would direct federal agencies to identify a clear problem that needs to be fixed before resorting to further regulation. If an agency believes regulation is necessary, it would still have to prove that the benefits of a proposed regulation are greater than its costs. The same test would also be applied to existing regulations, which would be lifted if they were not achieving their goals.

If the United States can’t get its national debt under control, the government will eventually have to impose harsh taxes or pursue other policies that would drive the economy into a deep recession, destroying millions of jobs. The number one cause of runaway debt—now more than $19 trillion—is the cost of entitlements. Our country needs Social Security and Medicare to ensure the health of senior citizens and prevent them from falling into poverty. We also need Medicaid to provide health care to the needy. Yet these programs are so inefficient, wasteful, and susceptible to fraud that their costs are out of control. The result is that the government must borrow vast sums to keep the programs going. The Obama administration has already added $9 trillion to the debt, almost as much as every previous administration combined.

With a smarter tax code, streamlined regulations, and entitlement reform, the U.S. economy can begin to grow again at the rates it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Evan McMullin believes that America should be the best place in the world for innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity. We must reform a system that too often benefits the politically connected and the corporate elite, while leaving too many Americans without good jobs. By running for president, Evan McMullin is giving voters the opportunity to get the economy moving again instead of doubling down on the status quo. (campaign website)

**********

I wish Darrell Castle had been more specific and forthcoming on his economic policy. I’m sort of stuck here – on the one hand, the fealty to the Constitution he advocates would mean he would properly address most of my issues, but there are always the provisos and conditions to watch out for. I consider this a wasted opportunity for him. 3 points.

Jim Hedges has somewhat of a right idea on free trade, but the rub comes in dictating what policies other nations may have – particularly when we are so overregulated. Moreover, his stance on jobs at a “living wage” is troubling, and suggests he may not be as strongly in favor of the right-to-work platform plank. I can only give him 1.5 points.

I suspect Tom Hoefling is speaking of entrepreneurship, which is indeed sorely lacking in this country. Even better, it is a philosophy that is scalable to a national level, although the details could really be fleshed out more. He has the same problem as Castle insofar as the specifics aren’t being put out there and easily available. I give him more credit since he addressed the more important aspect of job creation. 4 points.

Gary Johnson gets it insofar as the philosophy goes, and he makes an extremely salient point regarding how the regulatory climate stifles competition. Big corporations become big donors, and then they move into the realm of lobbying for regulations designed to keep small players from gaining market share. But the question is how much will he do to promote “fairness” vs. to promote “opportunity.” There is a subtle but important difference, because fairness implies equality of outcome and that isn’t the way a free market works. Maybe I’m being picky with the term, but generally these campaign issue statements are thought through to make a certain point. 5.5 points.

Evan McMullin is much more sold on TPP than I am, particularly because China is not a party to it. One has to ask what we are giving up if other nations are suddenly going to reduce their tariffs to our level. I don’t think not having access to economies in Chile, Brunei, and several other signatories will break us.

And there’s the idea of justifying regulations – well, any idiot will tell you that of course the government agency that writes and enforces regulations will say they are justified. This needs to be determined independently of the government because job one for a bureaucrat is preserving his job, not solving problems. It’s also telling to me that Evan really didn’t discuss these educational alternatives in workforce training in his general education segment. Here he seems to want more government involvement, not less.

Note that I moved the taxation part of job creation to the next installment, but left the part about entitlements in because he also makes those same points there. I’ll discuss that subject in due course. Anyhow, Evan doesn’t do that well in this category with his political-speak. 2.5 points.

As I noted above, it’s certain my next part is taxation.

The Renewable Fuel Standard: “set up for fraud”

August 2, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on The Renewable Fuel Standard: “set up for fraud” 

Commentary by Marita Noon

America’s rush to renewables has invited corruption and fraud.

Researcher Christine Lakatos and I, together, have produced the single largest body of work on green-energy crony-corruption. Our years of collaboration have revealed that those with special access and influence have cashed in on the various green-energy programs and benefitted from the mandates, rules, and regulations that accompany the huge scheme. Dozens of the projects, including biofuel, which required the unwitting investment of taxpayer dollars have failed – leaving employees without jobs, buildings without tenants, taxpayers without repayment, and cronies without pain (even snatching hefty bonuses on the way down). Most people know about Solyndra, the first bankruptcy, and some may know about Abengoa, the biggest bankruptcy, but there are many more.

These big projects allowed the politically connected to bilk taxpayers of billions and is the definition of corruption. But, there’s fraud in renewable energy, too – and, while it doesn’t hit us as hard as taxpayers, it does cost us as consumers.

Wednesday, July 20, representing the latest fraudster to be convicted – but not the first and surely not the last – “a jury found an Indiana man guilty of securities fraud and other crimes connected to a massive biodiesel fraud scheme,” reported Greenwire. It turns out, Jeffrey Wilson and his multistate cohorts pretended to manufacture biodiesel, which allowed them to claim renewable fuel credits – known as Renewable Identification Numbers or RINs. The Department of Justice said Wilson’s actions resulted in a $20 million loss to investors, $140 million in revenue, and $56 million in criminal profit.

I know more than most about the corruption surrounding green energy, but I hadn’t followed this. I dug further.

Just two weeks earlier, two men in Florida pled guilty to a “multistate biodiesel fraud scheme.” Biodiesel Magazine says Thomas Davanzo and Robert Fedyna operated several shell companies that were used to facilitate the “multistate scheme to defraud biodiesel buyers and U.S. taxpayers by fraudulently selling biodiesel credits and fraudulently claiming tax credits.”

Six months before, on December 21, 2015, two men were indicted on “101 charges alleging they abused incentives offered to companies that produced biodiesel fuels.” According to The Morning Call: “A federal prosecutor says they took subsidies for fuel they did not produce and sold renewable energy credits to unsuspecting buyers.” The charges include conspiracy, wire fraud, filing false tax documents, obstruction of the Internal Revenue Service, and obstructing a federal investigation. The indictment claims Dave Dunham and Ralph Tommaso used a complex scheme that reached from Lehigh Valley, PA, to Washington state and into Canada and allowed them to apply for and receive government subsidies for producing clean diesel.

Also in 2015, two Las Vegas men and an Australian man were sentenced to federal prison for schemes to generate and sell fraudulent biodiesel credits. In another case, Rodney Hailey, owner of Clean Green Fuels in Maryland, was convicted of selling $9 million in counterfeit RINs from his garage without even trying to make biodiesel. Hailey’s neighbors called authorities because they were alarmed by the “profusion of luxury cars” that showed up in his “suburban Baltimore neighborhood” – 22 in all, claims a report in Bioenergy Connection. Then there is Jeffrey David Gunselman, owner of Absolute Fuels in Lubbock, TX, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas for lying about producing biodiesel fuel and selling the resulting renewable fuel credits. Reports indicate that he generated some 48 million RINs without actually producing any biodiesel fuel. He’s remembered for using his ill-gotten gain to purchase, among numerous luxury items, a demilitarized Patton tank.

The most interesting biodiesel fraud case may be that of Philip Rivkin, founder and chief executive of Houston-based Green Diesel who is now serving a 10-year sentence for selling fraudulent RINs. Over a seven-year period he concocted an elaborate scheme that included, according to Bloomberg: “a three-story steel skeleton crammed with pipes and valves” – some of which were not connected to anything. In late 2008, Green Diesel did reportedly produce a batch of about 130,000 gallons of biodiesel, but the quality was “too poor for commercial sale.”

Biodiesel RINs have become a valuable commodity because, as a result of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), refiners are required to blend biofuels into the nation’s fuel supply and the RINs supposedly prove they’ve complied. Rivkin sold more than $78 million in sham RINs. He bragged about building a $500 million company without any debt. When he fled the U.S. in 2011, prior to his 2014 capture, he did so in his $3.4 million Canadair Challenger jet.

These cases of RIN fraud are just those who’ve been caught – but they all have a common thread. They aren’t the names we are used to in the green-energy corruption story like billionaires Warren Buffet and Tom Steyer or former politicos like Al Gore and Bill Richardson. They aren’t cronies who’ve used political connections to work the system. They are fraudsters who found a way to fortune through the flawed RFS – first enacted by Congress in 2005 and expanded in 2007 – which contains a credit-trading program.

In a July 25 report on the RFS, Marlo Lewis, Jr., a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, explains: “Each gallon of biofuel produced is assigned a unique 38-digit Renewable Identification Number (RIN). When a refiner sells a gallon of biofuel in the motor fuel market, it earns a RIN credit. A refiner that does not meet its annual obligation by actually blending and selling biofuel can comply by purchasing surplus RIN credits from another refiner that exceeded its obligation. A refiner can also bank surplus RIN credits to meet up to 20 percent of the following year’s obligation.”

Because the law requires ever-increasing quantities of biofuel be produced – even beyond what consumers want or most vehicles can handle – RINs offer refiners a way to presumably meet the mandates while providing the market with what it wants. But, according to Brendan E. Williams, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers executive vice president, biodiesel RINs are especially lucrative: “Ethanol RINs stay attached to physical gallons of ethanol until the ethanol gallon is blended with petroleum.  This separation usually occurs at terminals, which are rarely owned by ethanol producers. Once ethanol is blended, the RIN is detached and becomes a tradable commodity.  Therefore, rather than a refiner or ethanol producer, it is often the terminal operator who does the blending that controls ethanol RINs.  A refiner that has a terminal rack at the refinery for local gasoline distribution can also do this blending, but this is not the usual situation because refineries are not located everywhere.  Biodiesel RINs work differently. EPA allows biodiesel producers to detach the RIN as soon as the biodiesel is produced. There is no requirement for biodiesel to be blended to petroleum diesel before the RIN is detached. This difference highlights why there is more fraud in biodiesel. The biodiesel fraudsters lie about producing physical biodiesel just so they can generate RINs on paper to sell. This is made possible based on the previously mentioned fact that there is no requirement for biodiesel to be blended with petroleum diesel.” A graphic in the Bloomberg report adds: “Biodiesel RINs tend to cost more than ethanol RINs or other types because they are scarcer and can be used to satisfy multiple requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

“RIN swaps,” according to Bloomberg, “are usually agreed upon between companies, traders, and brokers via email, phone, texts, and chatroom messages.” The onus is on the buyers, “if the RINS are found to be fraudulent, the holder has to purchase new credits to replace the phony ones” – and the new credits must be purchased at the current price that may be higher than the original purchase.

Of course, the refiners’ purchase of RINs – and in the case of fraudulent RINs, the double purchase – is passed on to the consumer. We are stuck holding the bag for the fraudsters’ get-rich-quick scheme that is enabled by the RFS.

“Because refiners can buy them to satisfy their obligations to introduce renewable fuels into the national market,” Scott Irwin, an agriculture economic professor at the University of Illinois, according to The Morning Call, calls the RINs: “valuable.” He explains: “A combination of little regulation, the small-business nature of biodiesel producers and higher-than-expected prices for credits produced a rash of fraud. … It was kind of set up for fraud.”

Because the EPA, whose expertise is in things like oil spills and air pollution, isn’t equipped to handle these cases of sophisticated financial fraud, Bloomberg reports, it has reached out to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission – “which is itself stretched thin because of its responsibilities under Dodd-Frank.” The lack of oversight made the RFS biodiesel program a “government playground for con artists.”

The biofuel fraud is just one prong in the growing push for RFS reform. The economic and technical realities of the “blend wall,” as detailed in Lewis’ report, is another. On July 27, Bloomberg chronicled the history of the unlikely third prong: big green groups’ biofuel blunder. They’ve now turned against ethanol due to the agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland. Environmentalists, who once championed biofuels, are now seen as a factor in “improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year.”

Reforming the RFS is not a partisan issue. Free market advocates don’t like the mandates. Consumers resist been forced to purchase something they don’t want. Environmentalists don’t like the loss of prairie land and damage to the water supply. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) says the RFS has “truly been a flop. The environmental promise has been transformed into an environmental detriment.”

The only resistance to calls for RFS repeal or reform comes from the biofuel producers lobby – though as I’ve previously addressed, corn ethanol would likely still be blended into our fuel supply at about the current levels as it is a valuable oxygenate that increases octane.

Lewis concludes his report with this admonition: “Congress should repeal the RFS so that consumer preference and competition, rather than central planning policies, determine which fuels succeed or fail in the U.S. marketplace. Failing that, Congress should sunset the RFS so it ends after 2022. In the meantime, the EPA should cap mandatory biofuel sales at the E10 blend wall, while allowing biofuel producers to sell as much additional renewable fuel as consumers actually want to buy.”

Every politician in Washington talks about getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse. Getting rid of the RFS would go a long way to achieving that goal.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy – which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

May free speech reign and scientific inquiry prevail

July 5, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Marita Noon, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on May free speech reign and scientific inquiry prevail 

Commentary by Marita Noon

Throughout the past four years, climate change activists have been secretly coordinating with one another regarding ways to prosecute individuals, organizations, and companies that are their ideological foes. They met to develop a strategy to use RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), which was intended to provide stronger weapons for prosecuting organized crime, against those who speak out against the Obama administration’s war on fossil fuels.

More recently, the activists, including Naomi Oreskes and Bill McKibben, have coordinated with Attorneys General (AG) culminating with a March 29 press conference, led by New York AG Eric Schneiderman and joined by former Vice President Al Gore. There the “unprecedented coalition” – as Schneiderman’s press release called it – was announced: the newly formed AGs for Clean Power. Though “vague” on their specific plans, 17 AGs (16 Democrats and 1 Independent) have, as the Huffington Post reported: “committed to pursuing an all-levers approach” to, as Gore said: “hold to account those commercial interests that have been, according to the best available evidence, deceiving the American people, communicating in a fraudulent way.”

ExxonMobil has been the first and most obvious target. While the RICO Act is federal legislation passed in 1970, more than two dozen states have “Baby RICO” laws – which are, according to InsideClimateNews.org, “broader than the federal version.”

Four different investigations claiming that Exxon conspired to cover up its understanding of climate science have been launched. Schneiderman was the first. Last November, he issued a subpoena demanding: “that ExxonMobil Corporation give investigators documents spanning four decades of research findings and communications about climate change.” In January, the Los Angeles Times announced: “California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris is investigating whether Exxon Mobil Corp. repeatedly lied to the public and its shareholders about the risk to its business from climate change – and whether such actions could amount to securities fraud and violations of environmental laws.” On April 19, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey opened an investigation to seek “information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon’s business.” Just days after the March 29 press conference, Virgin Islands’ AG Claude Walker, in his demand for records, became the first to cite the racketeering law to “probe Exxon over its longtime denial of climate change and its products’ role in it.” Additionally, he listed roughly 100 academic institutions and free market think tanks in his subpoena. The National Review reports that Walker promised a “transformational” use of his prosecutorial powers in the global-warming crusade. Separately, Walker also subpoenaed records from the respected Washington DC think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Schneiderman and Healey have also requested records from research and advocacy groups. Harris, who is running for the Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), “isn’t expected to do much in terms of investigating Exxon,” according to the Daily Caller.

The Free Beacon references “internal documents” stating that the goals of the larger campaign are:

  • “delegitimize [ExxonMobil] as a political actor,”
  • “force officials to disassociate themselves from Exxon,”
  • “drive divestment from Exxon,” and
  • “to drive Exxon & climate into center of 2016 election.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) adds:

  • “to establish in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm.”

Despite the attacks on Exxon, WSJ quotes Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund – one of the foundations behind the crusade – as saying: “It’s not really about Exxon.” Instead: “It’s about helping the larger public understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has long advocated that the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate whether Exxon and other fossil fuel companies violated the RICO statute by disputing the role of fossil fuel burning in global warming, at a recent hearing, asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch if she’d considered using RICO against fossil fuel companies. She replied: “This matter has been discussed. We have received information about it and have referred it to the FBI to consider whether or not it meets the criteria for which we could take action on.”

WSJ reports: “The new legal theory has yet to gain momentum within the Justice Department, according to officials familiar with internal discussions. But after prodding by lawmakers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a preliminary review.”

Even legal scholars, such as Columbia Law School professor Merritt B. Fox, who, according to Reuters, agrees with the importance of climate change, expressed skepticism about the legal strategy of the prosecutors: “The market was well supplied with information about climate change from a variety of sources.” Reuters adds: “investors get information on climate change from many sources and Exxon would probably not be able to alter the ‘total mix’ of publically available information.” Similarly, Pat Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at the Vermont Law School, is quoted by InsideClimateNews.org: “Hopefully there is something more than unsubstantiated suspicion to support this.” Parenteau explains: “The most serious question is whether the attorney general [Walker] has any basis to suspect that Exxon has engaged in activities that violate the statutes about obtaining money by false pretense and fraud.” In WSJ, David Uhlmann, a university of Michigan law professor and former federal crimes prosecutor, expressed concern regarding the ability to establish “clear culpability for global warming.” The reporting says: “Millions of individuals contribute with their use of fossil fuels, while national governments have done little despite knowing the risks.” Uhlmann states: “Exxon should have been far more forthright about the risks associated with climate change, but all of us are culpable for our collective failure to change.”

Then there are the opponents. WSJ points out: “Both sides see this as a pivotal moment in a growing campaign by environmentalists to deploy a legal strategy used against tobacco companies in the 1990s by arguing that oil companies have long hidden what they know about climate change.”

Late last month, five Republican Senators sent a letter to Lynch demanding that: “the DOJ immediately cease its ongoing use of law enforcement to stifle private debate on one of the most controversial issues of our time – climate change.”

William Perry Pendley, whose group, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, is named in Walker’s subpoena, told me the effort by environmental groups is: “an abuse of power that we haven’t seen in this country since Woodrow Wilson.” His foundation, according to the Washington Times, has “long acknowledged that Exxon is one of its many funders.” Pendley says: “accepting funding from Exxon and disagreeing with Greenpeace on the causes and extent of climate change are not crimes. What we are accused of saying is: ‘Maybe there isn’t global warming, maybe it’s not caused by man, and maybe your solution won’t work. It will be too expensive and drive us into poverty.'”

Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for the Reason Foundation – also named in Walker’s subpoena – said, according to the Washington Times: “These subpoenas are a huge step in using courts to silence people who hold views that differ from those of powerful government officials.”

CEI, the organization singled out for Walker’s separate subpoena, issued the following statement from president Ken Lassman: “All Americans have the right to support causes they believe in and the CEI subpoena is an abuse of the legal system and an effort to intimidate and silence individuals who disagree with certain attorneys general on the climate debate. Disagreeing with a government official is not a crime; abusing government power to take away Americans’ rights is.”

I know this to be true as my organization, though not featured on Walker’s list, is still a victim. We had some essential funding in place that would have allowed us to continue for months without extreme financial stress. However the DC policy shop that was to provide the support for our efforts, pulled it as a result of the AG’s campaign. I was told that the funding was approved, but that when I wrote my April 25 column on the film Climate Hustle – which questions the science behind the politically correct narrative of manmade catastrophic climate change – the board got cold feet because they, too, are one of the organizations on the list. At first, I wanted to quit, as without the funding I couldn’t continue. But then, I got mad. I realized that if I stopped doing what I do, these AGs would win – which is their goal. Indirectly, they attempted to silence me. I am grateful for individuals and companies who believe in my work and who have stepped up to fill the funding gap – at least for a few months.

Those of us who’ve been attacked are not the only ones who saw the flaw of the AG’s crusade. Exxon and CEI have filed lawsuits against the accusers. Exxon claimed that the subpoenas “violated constitutional amendments on free speech, unreasonable search and seizure and equal protection.” As a result, last week, Walker withdrew his subpoenas and Healey, reports the Daily Caller, has “agreed to an abeyance of the subpoena, meaning her office won’t enforce the subpoena until all legal appeals are exhausted, which may take a couple of years.”

In a big victory for free speech, The Hill states: “The withdrawal closes a major chapter in the drive by liberals and environmentalists to punish Exxon over allegations that it knew decades ago that fossil fuels were causing climate change but denied it publically.”

In response to the “retreat,” Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology said: it “confirms what my committee has known all along – these legal actions were conceived and driven by environmental groups with an extreme political agenda and no actual regard for the law.” His statement added: “Companies, nonprofit organizations and scientists deserve the ability to pursue research free from intimidation and threat of prosecution.”

The Heartland Institute, for which I serve as an “expert” on energy issues, is also on the “list.” Its president, Joe Bast, told me: “because there is a lively debate over the causes and consequences of climate change, this litigation has First Amendment implications.” He added: “It is not the possibility of harm to the public that led the AGs and DOJ to decide to enter into a wickedly complicated scientific debate, but the possibility of harm to the current administration in the White House. Their objective is to silence opposition by ExxonMobil and CEI (and other nonprofit organizations similar to CEI) to this administration’s draconian energy policies.”

Where these attacks on free speech go next remains to be seen. But as Texas AG Ken Paxton said in response to Walker’s withdrawal: “In America, we have the freedom to disagree, and we do not legally prosecute people just because their opinion is different from ours.”

May free speech reign and scientific inquiry prevail. True science welcomes a challenge because it can stand up to it – while political correctness must silence challenge.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy – which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Tax credits blown away?

A sideline of mine – besides the frequent discussions of Maryland politics I write – is discussing energy issues. I didn’t seek out that aspect of the universe to write on, but I find it fascinating and quite important at the same time.

Today was a monumental day in Congress for the wind industry – yes, wind blows every day but those who profit from collecting the energy created and converting it (albeit somewhat clumsily and inefficiently) to electricity had their day in Congress today. Their goal: maintaining their cherished production tax credit at a hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Yet a large group of conservative and pro-liberty organizations are urging Congress to dump this credit, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute a leading voice. They co-wrote a letter last month calling on Congress to dump the subsidy, and followed up with further guidance today from CEI’s Myron Ebell:

Congress should not renew the Wind Production Tax Credit for another year and thereby upset the planned phase-out that was passed just last year.

The wind energy lobbyists spend more time seeking handouts than in trying to make their product competitive. The tax credit amounts to the worst kind of cronyism, costing taxpayers billions, foisting mandates on states and driving up electricity rates for consumers and manufacturers.

Over the course of the last several years, efforts in both Maryland and Delaware to harness the wind have fizzled out, most notably the lockdown of the much-ballyhooed Bluewater Wind project. And while Maryland is attempting to jumpstart that market with a public subsidy effective this fiscal year, it’s questionable whether anyone will attempt to build the turbines, even with the set-aside put in place.

Unfortunately, while the wind blows for free, the places where it blows the best tend to be difficult locations for infrastructure. Moreover, as we all know, those hot, humid days during the summer when we could use the cooling breeze rarely have enough wind to blow a scrap of paper around, let alone turn a turbine. It’s one of many good points made by Dr. Robert J. Michaels, a professor of economics at Cal State – Fullerton and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

Surely some will counter with the fact that fossil fuel industries have their own set of tax benefits and these subsidies for wind energy are simply a matter of leveling the playing field. But consider the number of jobs in these fossil fuel industries everywhere in the process – everything from working at the point of extraction to transport to conversion into electricity. In many cases, these jobs are among the most lucrative in their respective fields despite the fact the raw material is relatively cheap compared to the cost of wind energy.

It’s also worth pointing out that the “market” for wind energy is a relatively artificial one thanks to those states which have a carveout for a renewable energy portfolio, including Maryland. Generally, since neither the cost-effectiveness nor the necessary infrastructure is in place, the laws simply serve as another form of taxation of already-beleaguered utility companies because non-compliance carries a monetary cost. On the other hand, no one is saying that any proportion of our electricity has to come from coal or natural gas nor is it necessary because the market price dictates the direction utilities prefer to go.

With any luck, the production tax credits will become a thing of the past at the end of the year. Like zombies, they were resurrected from the dead at the end of last year thanks to a Congressional deal but maybe this year their time will run out.

Reading my mind?

August 14, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Reading my mind? 

Since I spoke about ethanol Sunday, I found it quite funny that a free-market coalition of groups put out a letter dated today regarding the repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard. I’ll start by quoting their release under the moniker of the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

The RFS is frequently criticized for its adverse impacts on food prices, wildlife habitat, and hunger-stricken nations, and potentially devastating impact on fuel prices. “These criticisms are valid and important,” said CEI Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis. “But even apart from those concerns, Congress should repeal the RFS because it conflicts with basic tenets of a free society. In a free society, no company should be forced to execute and assure the success of another company’s business plan.”

It’s an angle I considered in a roundabout way when I wrote about the benefits of scrapping the RFS on Sunday, obviously not knowing this letter was in the works. Interestingly enough, a similar broad coalition of groups objected a few weeks back when the Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2013 was proposed, a proposal I also wrote on.

Of course, we can complain all we want now because no proposal to scuttle the RFS will be going anywhere, particularly when Democrats generally favor more expensive “alternative” energy and farm-state Republicans won’t cross their key constituency, which is being made fat and happy by artificially high corn prices. Worth pointing out is that, had the economy grown as it was during the pre-Speaker Pelosi Bush years, we may be using enough gasoline that we could accommodate increased ethanol supplies without bumping into the “blend wall” as we threaten to do now. Even environmentalists have a problem with ethanol, although their solution is accelerating standards in other areas instead of properly dismissing them entirely.

So perhaps this is a situation where great minds think alike, but in the grand scheme of things we’re not going to see real solutions until the political climate in Washington changes and a cool front of common sense blows in.

Upcoming jobs rally accessible to locals

July 5, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Upcoming jobs rally accessible to locals 

In case you haven’t heard – and there’s a pretty good chance you haven’t, what with all the summer activities going on – there’s a D.C. March for Jobs coming up on Monday, July 15.

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Cathy Keim of the Wicomico Society of Patriots alerted me to a local bus which is going to the event, embarking from Salisbury at 5:30 a.m. It won’t cost riders anything but their time and may be a tipping point in killing this amnesty bill once and for all.

And note the group which is putting this together: the Black American Leadership Alliance. While it’s a fairly new group, they have managed to secure a little bit of media coverage, survived a Twitter attack, and aroused the ire of People for Against the American Way. They’ve also put together a good roster of speakers for the March for Jobs, including former Congressman Lt. Col. Allen West and Senator Ted Cruz, who was just added to the list.

Overall, they restate a good point which has been made by others – allowing those here illegally to stay without significant punishment will only intensify the competition for the lower-rung jobs many in the black community rely on. And while my long-term preference would be for all members of our society to improve themselves so that they can take on tasks requiring more skills, the reality is that we’ll always need ditch diggers and they’re not going to be paid a whole lot. At the current time many in the black community face direct competition in the job market from illegal aliens who are happy to work under the table for less money. (Anecdotal evidence also suggests illegal aliens who have been here awhile and began to move up the job chain are also worried about a new influx of even cheaper workers, sort of like how the Chinese have been aced out by even cheaper Vietnamese labor.)

But there is the emotional argument about separating families by deportation and how it wasn’t the kids’ fault the parents came here illegally. It’s how we were saddled with in-state tuition for illegal aliens; too many voters believed the sob stories and forgot we are a nation based on the rule of law.

This brings up a point somewhat unrelated to the D.C. March for Jobs, but an idea worth discussing nonetheless. While I’m normally well in line with the Competitive Enterprise Institute – citing CEI is common around these parts – I tend to disagree with them on the immigration issue. Yet they came up with this:

(T)o prevent individuals from overstaying their visas, Congress should scrap time-restricted work visas and move to a system where the IRS withholds a certain percentage of guest workers’ wages until they either naturalize or return home.

It’s part of a sequence which, to them, would also include a higher number of guest worker visas. I may not mind that either, provided those who are here illegally return home to apply for them. Somehow I don’t think all that many would take up that sort of offer, and why should they when we bend over backwards to cater to them despite their shadowy status?

But returning to the main subject of this piece, hopefully there will be a good showing of local people at this Washington event. Yes, it is very early in the morning but Cathy figures on a 2 p.m. return so there’s time for a siesta upon arrival in Salisbury.

The wrong direction

June 30, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on The wrong direction 

If it’s not bad enough that Maryland drivers will be suffering from the first of what now promises to be annual hikes in the state’s gasoline tax, due to a combination of adding gasoline to the palette of items subject to the state’s sales tax and eventual indexing of the existing gasoline tax to inflation, a pending federal bill may allow the addition of natural gas-based ethanol as an allowed blending agent, joining the corn-based ethanol that’s currently allowed to comprise up to 10% of most available gasoline.

H.R. 1959, the Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2013, was introduced as an effort to provide other options for attaining the renewable fuel standard already codified into law. But a coalition of groups, led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recently wrote a letter to Congress urging the bill be defeated, citing the idea that renewable fuel standards should be scrapped, not enhanced:

The undersigned organizations urge you to oppose H.R. 1959, the Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2013. The bill would allow ethanol derived from natural gas to count toward the mandatory blending targets established by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the EPA’s implementing regulations.

We commend Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) and his co-sponsors for seeking to break the corn lobby’s legal monopoly on a significant and growing share of the U.S. motor fuel market. However, the solution is not to make the RFS more inclusive, so that more special interests profit at consumer expense, but to dismantle the program.

The other eleven groups signing with CEI represent a broad spectrum of conservative and free market entities: 60 Plus, American Commitment, Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance, Club for Growth, Commonwealth Foundation, Freedom Action, FreedomWorks, Frontiers of Freedom, Let Freedom Ring, and the National Taxpayers Union.

On balance, the groups are correct in wishing the ethanol mandate be eliminated. Even with the abundant supplies of natural gas which weren’t in play just a few short years ago when the original RFS was cast in place, there is no need to supplement the fuel we use in our vehicles; in fact, eliminating the mandate would probably make those who own watercraft or items with small gasoline engines ecstatic since they’ll no longer have to search for ethanol-free fuel to maintain their equipment.

The EPA’s push toward allowing E15 fuel stems from the increasing amount of ethanol required to satisfy these artificially-induced mandates for usage running into a “blend wall” where it becomes physically impossible to limit the amount of ethanol in a gallon of fuel to just 10 percent and comply with the law. Writers of the RFS miscalculated the future demand for fuel, which is increasing more slowly than predicted due to a number of factors: more fuel-efficient cars and a sputtering economy most prominent among them.

Interestingly enough, Rep. Olson is also in favor of eliminating the mandates, but he obviously feels that’s politically impossible at this time:

The RFS’ singular focus on corn ethanol translates into higher food costs for working families, as well as higher feed costs for livestock producers. To be clear, my primary goal will always be the full repeal of the market distorting RFS. However, until then, we can take care of immediate problems by providing greater participation and competition under the program. Expanding the sources for ethanol will only benefit all Americans. I’m pleased this measure enjoys bipartisan and widespread support.

But this bill promises to align two key constituencies which aren’t always in the same room. It’s a point made by CEI Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis:

Enacting this bill would align the natural gas lobby with the corn lobby. Their common interest would be to increase the overall RFS blending target beyond 36 billion gallons, mandate the sale of E20 or even higher ethanol blends, and relax environmental criteria so that corn- and gas-based ethanol can fill the void created by non-existent advanced biofuels.

All this would do is create yet another group of hogs lining up at the federal cronyism trough, trying to grow their business at the expense of competition despite having an inferior product. You may not remember the gasoline price shock of 2008, but one outgrowth of it that I noted at the time was a video campaign dubbed Nozzlerage and the formation of a group called Citizens for Energy Freedom, a subgroup of another entity called the Center for Security Policy (CSP). Their solution was to give ethanol a permanent market by mandating cars sold in the United States be flexfuel vehicles. As I said back then:

Regardless of how little it supposedly costs to convert cars to flexfuel, the truth is that the option has been available for some time and the market has proven it to be a slow seller. Thus, the soon-to-be-created CSP subgroup (Citizens for Energy Freedom – ed.) is looking to lobby for the bill’s passage and force automakers into another mandate, just like CAFE standards, air bags, catalytic converters, and many other features that were foisted upon automakers by big government. Certainly the idea has some merit but by placing the initial meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s a safe bet that ethanol created from corn will take center stage and we’ve already seen the impact ethanol mandates and subsidies have had on our food prices.

Taking food out of our mouths and dumping it into our gas tanks has always been a bad idea, particularly when there is a cost-effective and inedible solution already in place. CEI and its allies make a sound point, but it will be up to someone in Congress to introduce the bill to eliminate RFS mandates. Of course, we need a President who would sign such a common sense bill and right now common sense is in short supply around the Oval Office and probably will be until at least January, 2017.

The lesson of ‘Julius’

May 12, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on The lesson of ‘Julius’ 

Remember last year when the Obama campaign came up with the idea for “Julia”, a fictional woman who was supposed to represent how Obama made life better for women everywhere? (You know, that phony, made-up ‘War on Women’ and all that.) I wrote about this about a year ago.

Well, one year later the good folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute came up with the idea of “Julius”, a black worker affected by Big Labor and its policies and politics. It’s well worth the three minutes of your time to watch. I’ll wait.

While the account is fictional, the problems being caused by these policies are not. Yet the liberals never seem to learn – they seem to think that just one more increase in the minimum wage will do the trick, or one more revenue hike will lead to the proper “investments” of taxpayer money. And the golden goose will never stop a-layin’.

All these ideas, though, defy logic.

For example, the idea of paying just minimum wage is that of giving someone who doesn’t have a high skill level and is not all that valuable to the employer the amount which has to be given by an artificially-created law which has no relation to the actual market. If someone’s labor is worth $7.25 an hour to the company and no more, well, then that person will be a minimum wage hire. But if the minimum wage is $10 an hour – and they’ve tried to do this in Maryland on a couple of occasions – there’s no reason to hire someone who’s still only worth $7 or $8 an hour to the compamy because it would be unprofitable in the long run. That’s the point made in the video. (One thing not mentioned is that the reason unions push for minimum wage increases is because many labor contracts are pegged to maintaining a salary point a certain percentage or dollar figure above the minimum, which means automatic but unearned and non-negotiated wage increases for their workers if the minimum wage goes up.)

But if there were no minimum wage, all it would mean is that the labor market would find its level. Arguably, this is one problem which is blamed on illegal immigration and the penchant to work on a cash or “under the table” basis – they could be happy with $5 an hour if taxes aren’t taken out and there’s no need for a Social Security number.

Taken to its opposite extreme, what if there were a maximum wage and no one could work for more than, say, $20 an hour? What incentive would anyone have to succeed knowing they could only reach a certain level, and what enjoyable parts of life would we have to do without given the artificial limit of $800 a week for 40 hours of labor? That’s only $41,600 a year before taxes. To me, having a minimum wage is just as unrealistic as having a maximum one – and don’t get me started on the idiocy presented by the so-called “living wage.”

Without a minimum wage, would employers try to take advantage and pay, say, $5 an hour? (Ironically, that was my hourly wage on my first job in 1986 – one Lincoln per hour.) Some would, but in time these low-level employers would find that the labor pool willing to take that kind of wage would leave a lot to be desired, so they would have to increase their offerings to find better workers. On the other hand, in places where labor is in high demand, like the oil-rich portions of North Dakota, even workers at menial jobs get double-digit hourly pay. (Incidentally, North Dakota is a right-to-work state.) Once the employment market levels out there, that boom will slow down and wages will come back to a particular supportable level for both employers and employees, with those who work in the oil fields remaining on the top of the wage totem pole because their work is more valuable to their employer than a guy flipping burgers at the local fast food joint, as it should be.

But there is one entity which will never settle for the minimum wage, and that’s government. Living in a state which seems to be the leader in one category above all else – tax and fee increases – it always seems as though Big Labor is right behind them every time the state wants a little more out of our pockets. Perhaps this is more understandable in the case of increasing the gas tax, as those unions involved in construction moaned and complained that we hadn’t increased the tax in over two decades. (To which I replied: so?) Supposedly, the additional jobs created by building new infrastructure – even as frivolous as new light rail mass transit lines will eventually be – will assist in jump-starting the state economy.

Again, however, this is a case of gaming the market and not allowing it to seek its own level. Granted, to use the example above, we do need to improve our roads and transportation infrastructure but there were other methods of doing so and more productive ways to spend the money. Nor does this count the other tax increases we have endured over the last half-decade on income and sales taxes, additional fees, and various other methods of vacuuming our hard-earned dollars out of our greedy little fingers and into the deserving coffers of the state for “investment.” Instead of each of the six million or so Marylanders making their own decisions on where to spend, they get part of their check confiscated from them so the state can transfer wealth from flush to impoverished, taking a decent-sized cut for themselves in the process and producing nothing. Julius is the one left poorer for it.

In the video, Julius reaches what’s supposed to be his golden years without a pension because his company was driven to bankruptcy by the union he didn’t belong to. Unfortunately, the creation of promises over a generation – without the actual funding to back them up – are poised to harm both union and non-union retirees alike. Public pension funds nationwide on the aggregate have a funding gap between assets and promised benefits estimated at around $1,000,000,000,000. (That’s one trillion dollars, or about 3/10 of our annual federal budget.) While that pales next to the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare, this is still a vast sum which in all likelihood won’t be made whole without rampant inflation or a significant devaluation of the dollar.

Perhaps it’s a good plan for those under 50 to plan on a retirement – if leaving a job is even a possibility in that distant of a future – without either Social Security or Medicare because neither can survive in their present form. Simply put, they aren’t taking in as much as they are putting out. A half-century or more of promises and IOUs was never addressed because people thought the good times would last and last while the bill never arrived. That simply defies common sense, and here’s your invoice.

We don’t know what happened to “Julius” but I’m sure a lot of people can guess the rest – he dies a pauper, having done things the way he was told to do and getting no reward for it because other special interests figured out how to prime the political pump and have the system rigged in their favor. This all can be changed, but it will take a long-term concerted effort and there will be some bitter, bitter medicine to swallow in the interregnum.

As the son of a former union worker whose plant was a casualty of the recession of the early 1990s and a mom who worked for over 20 years to help support the family, I can understand just where this was coming from. My mom might not agree, but I hope she has a happy Mother’s Day nonetheless.

One of my favorite hours

Tonight some people will sit in the dark and cold, thinking they’re making a difference in global climate. Fools!

Instead, you should do what I’ve told you to do a few times in the past and celebrate Human Achievement Hour, a brainchild of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This occurs at 8:30 tonight, which so happens to be the same time as that dark and cold hour some “celebrate” – I guess they call it Earth Hour, perhaps because it reminds them of the unlit mud huts they seem to prefer as our standard of living. But while the global climate change brigade talks a good game, the list of confirmed participants in Earth Hour seems to be dwindling in number each year.

At that moment in time, we will be wrapping up our Lincoln Day Dinner, while others will be partaking in a local event I’ve enjoyed before during Human Achievement Hour.

Unfortunately, while Maryland isn’t officially celebrating Earth Hour insofar as I’m aware – although the city of Gaithersburg had a one-minute celebration, proving the absolute folly of the idea – they are working very hard to enact the ideas behind Earth Hour by restricting rural development, making ratepayers pay for unreliable offshore wind while stopping the economically more sensible development of natural gas along Maryland’s panhandle, and making driving more expensive while subsidizing mass transit only a small percentage of state residents use.

Even environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg disagrees with the Earth Hour concept:

I’m not keen on the “investment” in green energy (having witnessed Solyndra, Ener1, and dozens of other failed Obama plays) but I’m certain that someday there will be a place for those in “energy poverty” to be brought up. Lomborg seems to agree with the philosophy that a rising tide lifts all boats rather than taking from those who have to make everyone except a well-connected elite equally miserable. Come to think of it, that’s the sort of government most of those 1.3 billion probably live with.

In the end, CEI says it’s indeed about lifting up all of us:

HAH is an annual event meant to recognize and celebrate the fact that this is the greatest time to be alive, and that the reason we have come (this far) is that people have been free to use their minds and the resources in their environment to experiment, create, and innovate. Participants in HAH recognize the necessity to protect the individual persons from government coercion, so that we may continue innovating and improving our lives and the world around us.

While I have lived during a period which is but a speck of a particle of human history, I vaguely remember the hubbub of man walking on the moon (I was only 4 at the time.) Only the brightest among us at the time could contemplate the world in which we live now, where for example I type on a screen and my words are instantly transmitted to those corners of the globe where there’s the means for them to be seen. Unfortunately, some are still living with standards which were primitive in 1964 when I was born.

Earth Hour won’t do a thing to help those unfortunate souls, but allowing unfettered human achievement might.

Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban banished by court

March 11, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban banished by court 

Calling the measure “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of the separation of powers, a New York judge permanently enjoined the city of New York from carrying out their proposed soda ban, one day before it was to take effect.

New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling tossed out the law, which was contested by a broad coalition of groups representing grocers, restaurants, theaters, and unions all affected by the proposed regulation.

Yet the law wasn’t necessarily denied on the idea of being an overly intrusive effort by the nanny state as evidenced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s willingness to police the size of sodas, but instead mainly as an exercise in the separation of powers. Had the City Council of New York passed the law instead of a Board of Health appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, and had the bill come out as a blanket prohibition instead of only applying to establishments under the purview of the Board of Health (as opposed to exempting grocery stores and the like) there’s a very real chance the law would have stood.

Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has some of the same line of reasoning I do:

My first thought, of course, is “Sweet!” My second is that although it’s great a judge has recognized the error of Mayor Bloomberg’s ways, it shouldn’t take a court ruling for New York City residents to have the right to make their own decisions about how and when to consume goods like soda.

As I have said before, the constant onslaught of regulation that has been the hallmark of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration hurts New York’s economy. It favors large corporations over smaller businesses and hurts those with low incomes more than those with high incomes. More importantly, it raises some important questions about who has the right to choose what an individual consumes. As silly as the soda ban may seem, it forces us to consider: When do policies that ‘nudge’ us toward ‘healthier lifestyles’ become unacceptable intrusions into our lives?

If you substitute the phrase “Governor O’Malley” for “Mayor Bloomberg” and “Maryland” for “New York” you could say the exact same thing about our state. (There was a transfats prohibition bill introduced and heard this session in the General Assembly, so we’re not that far behind.)

In my lifetime, we have seen the government take a number of steps to reduce freedom in the name of safety: smoking bans which began on airplanes then expanded to portions of restaurants and eventually practically all public places, seat belt laws which were originally up to each state until Uncle Sam started to threaten highway money if states didn’t fall in line (the same was true with lowering allowable blood alcohol levels), and even the banning of the sale of  raw milk. Are we really better off with all these intrusions? Where is the line in the sand where the public will say stop?

Perhaps it was the Big Gulp which captured public awareness, but I suppose better late than never is the word here. But there are so many intrusions which go hardly noticed that it’s only the most brazen prohibitions which attract attention – meanwhile, your freedom to develop your land as you wish or raise your child as you see fit continues to be threatened.

Odds and ends number 73

As I often do, here’s a collection of little items which grow to become one BIG item. And I have a LOT of them – so read fast.

For example, I learned the other day that Richard Rothschild, who spoke so passionately about private property rights (and the Constitution in general) will be back in our area Saturday, March 2nd as the speaker for Dorchester County’s Lincoln Day Dinner. That’s being held at the Elks Lodge outside Cambridge beginning at 3 p.m. Tickets, which are just $30, are available through the county party.

While Rothschild is the featured speaker, you shouldn’t miss some of the others scheduled to grace the podium, particularly gubernatorial candidates Charles Lollar and Blaine Young as well as Congressman Andy Harris. For a small county like Dorchester, that’s quite a lineup!

The controversy over the Septic Bill is far from the only item liberty-minded Marylanders have to worry about. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been bombarded with notices over a number of issues.

For example, after what State Senator E.J. Pipkin termed as a “structural failure” regarding hearing testimony on Senate Bill 281 (the gun-grabber bill) he offered an amendment to the Senate rules to handle these cases. However, I could not find a follow-up to that bill.

What I could find, though, was Pipkin’s statement that the state was making citizens into criminals, stating “The penalties embedded within the Governor’s Gun Control bill are extreme; they would criminalize paperwork errors in ways that destroy careers, lives, and families.” And he’s absolutely correct.

“This bill does not address the issue of gun violence in Maryland. The real issue is illegal firearms in Maryland, something the Governor’s bill does not target,” Pipkin concluded.

But guns aren’t the only problem. Unfortunately, we are one step closer to an offshore wind boondoggle in Maryland despite the best efforts of those who deal in the realm of reality to stop it. One bastion of sanity in Maryland is Change Maryland, whose Chair Larry Hogan expressed the following regarding offshore wind:

It seems Martin O’Malley’s priority is to make electricity and gas more expensive. He is pushing an increase in the gas tax and pushing a wind energy policy that is not cost effective and guarantees that electricity will be more expensive for rate payers.

At the close of the last session, the governor ignored the budgeting process which resulted in a train wreck.  Instead he was out on the steps of the capital, leading wind energy activists in chant that said ‘all we re saying is give wind a chance.’

There are no assurances that this offshore wind proposal will not devolve into crony-capitalism that reward friends of the governor and political donors.

Actually, Hogan slightly misses the point because true capitalism would occur when the market continues to shun the expense and non-reliability of offshore wind. I guarantee that if this project goes through it will cost those of us who use electricity in Maryland a LOT more than $1.50 a month – subsidies can always change, just like tax rates on casinos.

The aforementioned Pipkin also weighed in on offshore wind:

This legislation may represent a shift in how private business is done in and regulated by the state.

This bill requires the Public Service Commission (PSC) to weigh new criteria in approving private development contracts to build off-shore wind turbines.  The Commission will now consider prevailing wage and Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) participation as criteria in its contract award.

This could set new precedent. In the future, we could see every business now regulated by a state agency subject to prevailing wage and MBE requirements.

You think? Our Big Labor-friendly governor stops at nothing – nothing – to grease the skids for his union cronies. And surely this will extend to whatever road work is performed once the gas tax is increased by O’Malley and General Assembly Democrats. Wait, did I say road work? Hogan and Change Maryland question that assumption, too:

Change Maryland Chairman Larry Hogan backed transportation reform which has emerged as a key issue this legislative session after several years of being relegated to the back burner.  Specifically, key members of the Maryland House of Delegates are advocating guiding principles to ensure much-needed investments are made in infrastructure and fundamental reforms made to transportation policy.

“Previous attempts to improve our transportation network in Maryland have been an abject failure. Our top elected officials are saying roads and bridges are crumbling, but what they won’t tell you is they are the ones who caused the problem in the first place,” said Hogan.  “Another myth that is being foisted upon us is that there is an urgent need to raise the gasoline tax, and that is simply not true.”

Hogan joins Del. Susan Krebs and other House members in instilling common-sense policy solutions to making transportation policy.  These include protecting the transportation trust fund with a constitutional amendment, realigning infrastructure investments to reflect how Marylanders actually travel and restoring funds for transportation. (Emphasis mine.)

I highlighted the above phrase as a way to say, “bingo!” That, folks, is the problem in a nutshell.

This is a state which jacked up the tolls on the Bay Bridge to create a cash cow for other projects which don’t pay their own way, like the Inter-County Connector outside Washington. O’Malley’s gas tax is really intended to build rail lines most of us will never ride rather than build projects we could use, like perhaps a limited-access Easton bypass for U.S. 50, widening Maryland Route 90 into Ocean City, or building an interchange at the dangerous U.S. 113 – Maryland Route 12 intersection in Worcester County.

The gas tax proposal has led to acrimony in Annapolis, as Delegate Kathy Szeliga points out:

(Senate President Mike) Miller called House Republicans who oppose his gas tax proposal, “Neanderthals,” and “obstructionists.” In response to his comments, Delegate Szeliga tweeted, “Yabba-dabba-do, Mr. Miller,” further commenting that she hopes to obstruct and stop this massive 70% increase in the gas tax and government expansion. In response to Senator Miller’s jabs at Republicans, Delegate Herb McMillan added, “Even a caveman can see that it’s stupid to raise gas taxes when there’s no guarantee they’ll be used for roads.”

Kidding aside, you can call me a “total obstructionist” as well, Senator Miller. On the road to serfdom someone has to stand in the way, and I’m one of those someones.

Notice that I haven’t even talked about the federal government yet. One sure sign of a new year, though, is the ubiquitous Congressional scorecard. Two organizations which have released theirs recently are Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action for America.

Not surprisingly, Harris scored a 95% grade from AFP, leading the Maryland delegation – former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett had the second highest grade at 91%. As for the rest, well, their COMBINED score was 50 percent. Heritage Action, however, graded Andy more harshly with an 81% grade (Bartlett scored 67%.) Once again, the remainder of Maryland’s delegation scored anywhere from a lackluster 17% to a pathetic 4 percent.

We’re also talking about immigration reform more these days. I happen to lean somewhat on the hawkish side, so I believe these reports from the Center for Immigration Studies are worth discussing. In one, former Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia looks at what happened the last time we went down this road insofar as collecting back taxes from illegal aliens – a key part of the compromise provision – was handled after the 1986 reform.

The second CIS report looks at recommendations the bipartisan Jordan Commission made in 1997, after the 1986 immigration amnesty program failed. This middle ground made five recommendations:

  • Integrate the immigrants now in the United States more thoroughly;
  • Reduce the total number of legal immigrants to about 550,000 a year;
  • Rationalize the nonimmigrant visa programs and regulate them;
  • Enforce the immigration law vigorously with no further amnesties; and
  • Re-organize the management of the immigration processes within the government.

That seems like a pretty good starting point to work from, particularly the first recommendation.

Another study worth reading is this one from Competitive Enterprise Institute called “The Wages of Sin Taxes.” In it, author Chris Snowden takes an unflinching look at who really pays for these tolls. As CEI states in their summary:

Most remarkably, Snowdon, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, demonstrates that financial burden supposedly placed on society through the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, high-calorie foods, has little basis in reality. The myth that these “sinners” cost the rest of us money is perpetuated in large part because “government has no incentive to tell the public that these groups are being exploited, and the affected industries dare not advertise the savings that come from lives being cut short by excessive use of their products.”  This type of tax is actually a regressive “stealth tax” that allows lawmakers to take money from their constituents with the lowest incomes without the pushback an upfront tax would provoke.

I would put that in the category of “duh.”  Ask yourself: how much state-sanctioned money and effort do you see given by government to prevent drinking, smoking, and gambling? Yet they rake their cut off the top in each of these three vices, which are only legal because government and society have compromised on these issues.

On the other hand, those who grow or smoke marijuana or do other illegal drugs are considered criminals and tossed in jail or fined. The same is true with prostitutes in most locales. If there were tax money to be made, though, and societal mores shifted ever-so-slightly toward a more libertarian viewpoint with regards to these self-inflicted actions, they would be legal – but you’d certainly still see the public service announcements about “just say no” or the dangers of selling one’s body. (Oddly enough, I doubt we buy time around the world to warn about the dangers of illegally immigrating to the United States. Why do you think that is?)

And I don’t think items like this upcoming movie will help the libertarian cause – not because of the message per se, but the poor quality of the animation. It reminds me of those cheesy Xtranormal movies people make, sorry to say.

I also have a couple items – as I get closer to wrapping this up – that I think are worth reading. Paul Jacobs is on Townhall giving our state a little tough love regarding the drive to tighten petition rules (in a state where it’s already very difficult to succeed) while Mike Shedlock is there making a point I’ve made for several years – my daughter’s generation is being hosed.

While he’s a little bit older than the Millennial Generation, I think Dan Bongino can relate. This video is now going viral on Youtube, in part thanks to the Blaze.

Finally, I think it’s worth alerting my readers that this may be the last edition of odds and ends for awhile. No, I’m not going anywhere but in the interest of bringing more readership I’m in the process of exploring the concept of a quicker posting tempo which may or may not feature shorter posts.

I’ve always felt the ideal post was somewhere between 500 and 1,000 words, but these odds and ends posts can run 2,000 words or more. Maybe it’s better for both readers and this writer to space things out and perhaps devote 200-300 words to an item rather than wait and collect a bunch of items which could get stale after a week or two. I can’t always control the length of my Ten Question Tuesday posts or ones where I report on an event, but I can work with items like these and see what’s truly worth writing about.

As the political world and internet evolve, I think the time is right to change up the mix and tempo here just a little bit. Certainly I won’t get to a point where I’m simply rehashing press releases but I think it’s a better use of my time to shorten the average post I write.

So there you have it: another post which weighs in at 2,000 words, exactly.

Odds and ends number 72

Perhaps rainy days and Mondays always get you down, but this potpourri of snippets I’ve collected over the last couple weeks will hopefully brighten your day. As always, they’re items which merit anywhere from a paragraph to four to five.

First of all, you are probably aware that Indiana and Michigan are the two latest states to throw the yoke of forced unionism off their workers and adopt right-to-work laws, with Pennsylvania also strongly considering such a measure. Conversely, I’m not hearing about hitherto right-to-work states making much of an effort to close their shops, which should tell you something.

And while Maryland is not a state one would consider a candidate ripe for such a refreshing change, there is a bill out there to bring our state out of the unionized Dark Ages and join other states where workers are free to choose affiliation regardless of where they work.

Best of all, this news comes from one of my favorite counties to cover, Cecil County. HB318 is being heard tomorrow, and their Republican Party leadership under county Chair Chris Zeauskas has taken a bold stand on the issue. They’re calling out Delegate David Rudolph, the Vice-Chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, as “bought and paid for by compulsory unionism – and that’s wrong.” Certainly the unions donate thousands and thousands of dollars to state politicians, most of which goes to Democrats.

But the question I have is more local. To what extent has Big Labor “bought and paid for” Delegates Rudy Cane and Norm “Five Dollar” Conway, or State Senator Jim Mathias – the king of across-the-Bay fundraisers? Surely a significant portion of their largess comes from the coffers of workers who may not necessarily prefer these policies be enacted. HB318 can help change that, but my guess is – if they get to vote on it at all (neither Cane nor Conway is on Economic Matters) – they’ll play along with the union line like good little minions.

Meanwhile, our tone-deaf governor doesn’t get it on wind farms, and I had to chuckle when I saw even the Washington Post admits Big Wind “(d)evelopers and industry analysts say those and other (subsidy) concessions will make the project reliant on further federal tax incentives or help from other states to make it profitable.” At a quarter per kilowatt hour, you better believe it needs a subsidy. Yet the Post believes it’s “likely to pass.” That depends on the level of sanity in the General Assembly; yes, a dubious precipice to cling to, but one nonetheless.

And here I thought wind was free – that’s what people tell me, anyway.

I also thought Maryland had a top-notch school system, but President Obama’s Department of Education begs to differ. This nugget came to me from Change Maryland, which continues to occupy that little place in Martin O’Malley’s mind reserved for those who have pwned him:

In the second year of the $5 billion Race to the Top initiative, the Obama Administration singled out Maryland, Washington D.C. and Georgia as coming up short on progress in fundamental areas.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, Maryland did not set clear expectations for the 2011-2012 school year in the development of a teacher and principal evaluation system which rendered the data meaningless and inconsistent.  Lack of coordination between the state and local school districts was cited as the primary reason for the data collection failure.

“I would like to see Gov. O’Malley reach out to President Obama while he has his attention… and seek assistance on properly implementing the Race to the Top initiative,” said (Change Maryland head Larry) Hogan. “Our students and their parents deserve a way to measure how effective their teachers are.”

I have one bone to pick with that approach, though. I would really rather not have a dependence on federal money or a federal role for education, which is more properly a state- and local-level concern. But there should be some consistency in evaluations so that underperforming teachers and principals don’t lead to underperforming schools – unfortunately, that seems to be more and more the case.

And here’s yet another example of state incompetence. On Thursday, State Senator E.J. Pipkin blasted a process which shut out hundreds of people from testifying against SB281, the gun bill:

We can’t turn away people who take the day off, drive for hours and wait even longer, to have their voices heard.  Turning away interested citizens in such a manner further fuels cynicism about our legislative process.  Next time, they might not come back.

Yesterday, a system that can accommodate 100, 200, or 300 people, broke down when numbers reached into the thousands.

Thousands couldn’t get into the Senate’s Miller building to sign in to testify. Those who signed in but left the building were unable to reenter.  At the end of the evening, some who stayed 10 to 12 hours, were brought through the committee room, allowed to say their name, home town, and whether they supported or opposed the legislation. (Emphasis mine.)

The reason I put part of the above statement in bold: that’s what they want. The majority – not just in the General Assembly, but in Congress  and 49 other state capitols as well – really would rather we just leave them alone to do what they do, enriching themselves and a chosen few cronies while leaving the rest of us to pay for it and suffer the consequences of their actions.

Now for something completely different. Several years ago, I copied a late, lamented blog whose owner is no longer with us in offering “Sunday evening reading.” Well, today is Monday but there are some items I wanted to include that I read and felt they would add to the well-informed conversation in some way.

My old friend Jane Van Ryan (who I thought “retired” but seems now as active as ever) sent along the link to this piece by Paul Driessen which discusses the concept of “sustainability.” She thought I would have something to say about it, and I do.

Driessen’s main point is that the concept of “sustainability” as preached by Radical Green doesn’t take into account future technology. It would be like watching “Back to the Future” knowing that it was filmed three decades ago but set in the modern day today – for example, who drives a DeLorean these days? Sometimes their predictions seem quite humorous, but we know technology has taken many turns they couldn’t predict when the movie was written and filmed.

While oil, gas, and coal are “old” technologies, who’s to say we can’t improve on them? As long as there is a supply which comes to us at reasonable cost, you can’t beat their reliability when compared to wind which may not blow (or gale too hard) and the sun which seems to be stubbornly parked behind a bank of clouds as I write this. Instead of dead-ends like the E15 technology which ruins engines (but is acceptable to Radical Green) why not work with what works?

But perhaps there is a sense of foreboding brought on by the Radical Green propaganda of a collapsing ecosystem. One way this manifests itself is by a lack of willingness to have children, which goes in well with the decaying culture of life in this country.

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, author Jonathan Last advanced his theory that our nation is heading down the same road as other moribund industrialized nations – not necessarily because of policy, but because of falling birthrates. According to Last, we as a nation have been below the replacement birthrate for most of the last forty years. Whether this is through abortion or other lifestyle choices isn’t important to him; instead, it’s become an ongoing problem of our population aging – as Jonathan puts it, “(l)ow-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt increasingly toward health care.” Put another way, those energy advances I write about above may not appear because more demand will come for health-related technology advancements.

Instead, what has primarily increased our population over the last few decades is immigration, a large part of it illegal. Normally I’m right with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but I have to disagree with their stance on E-Verify. I can understand their point regarding civil liberties, but no one says mandatory E-Verify has to be permanent. Instead, I would like to see it set up to be a five-year plan with one possible five-year renewal – this would give us ample time to secure the borders and address those who are already here illegally. (Ideally, they would return to their country of origin and reapply to come here legally.)

Understandably, that may be a pipe dream but I’d prefer not to reward lawbreakers in a nation built on the rule of law. We have enough of that already given the greed of the redistributionist state.

And so ends another edition of odds and ends, right around the length I like.

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