Experience shows that green business subsidies are a green light for misallocation and inefficiency. Subsidy programs seem to prompt company leaders to think:
- “Washington experts say this is a good idea. Let’s do it!”
- “Yeehaw, we’re getting free money. Let’s blow the bank!”
Those sorts of thoughts seem to have steered Southern Company into building a very expressive boondoggle project in Mississippi. The clean coal plant is to include a complex carbon capture system with a 62-mile pipeline. The Washington Post reports:
The only thing the Kemper power plant is burning now is money. The plant has suffered almost every kind of cost overrun, beset by bad weather, labor costs, shortages and “inconsistent” quality of equipment and materials, and contractor and supplier delays. Southern said in April that it was raising the projected cost of the plant by $235 million, to a total of $5.5 billion, more than double the original estimate.
So the Kemper plant yielded to Edwards’ Law of cost overruns. When the government subsidizes large and complex projects, costs tend to double. The Southern plant “received a $270 million grant from the Energy Department and $133 million of federal investment tax credits — though by blowing a deadline, Southern will lose some tax benefits.”
The Post story mentions another company that was led astray by the pied piper of green subsidies:
The electric utility AEP, one of the largest U.S. emitters of greenhouse gases, built a pilot plant (half financed by the Energy Department) for capturing and burying CO2 from its Mountaineer plant in New Haven, W.Va. But the project was abandoned because it was too expensive.
There is one more failure mentioned by the Post: “… for years a proposed carbon capture and storage consortium called FutureGen, backed in part by federal funds, has failed to get off the ground.”
These projects indicate that when considering the waste caused by business subsidies, you cannot just tally up the federal cash out of the door. You also need to consider the private money following the government money as it is flushed down the drain.
Of all the Obama administration’s scandals—Benghazi, IRS/tea party, AP/Fox News, the near daily rewrite of Obamacare, and more—perhaps none is as telling as the unfolding VA Hospital debacle, now reaching seven states, with officials in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, hospital busy destroying records to cover their tracks, we learn today from the Daily Beast. And it isn’t simply because the outrage over the VA scandal, unlike with the others, is bipartisan that the scandal is so telling. No, it’s telling because it says so much about what’s wrong with the president’s political vision.
This is an administration, after all, that’s dedicated, root and branch, to government. (Recall the much parodied “Life of Julia” White House cartoon from the 2012 campaign—the story of a woman whose entire life was lived through government.) No problem for Mr. Obama is too trivial or too personal not simply for state but for federal attention, no less.
With veterans, of course, a measure of public responsibility is in order, whether justified as entailed by the conscription policies of the past or by the contractual arrangements of the all-volunteer military today. But how that is done is no small matter. To be sure, veterans hospitals preceded the great wave of veterans returning from World War II: in fact, 54 existed in 1930 when Congress created the Veterans Administration. But as those veterans were returning, Congress in 1944 passed the G.I. Bill, which was noteworthy for two of its core programs: low-cost mortgages, and cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school, or vocational education.
Note the difference, however, between those programs and the VA hospitals. Congress didn’t build houses for the returning veterans, or build colleges or vocational schools. It simply gave the vets “vouchers,” as we’d say today, which they could use in the already existing, largely private housing and educational markets. But on the hospital side, service was to be provided by the government itself. Ever more VA hospitals were built—some 152 hospitals exist today. And they’re run with all the efficiency and accountability we’ve come to expect from government institutions.
Indeed, the Daily Beast story today puts some perspective on that. Looking at the long wait times to see a cardiologist in the Albuquerque VA hospital, the reporter Jacob Siegel writes:
There are eight physicians in the cardiology department. But at any given time, only three are working in the clinic, where they see fewer than two patients per day, so on average there are only 36 veterans seen per week. That means the entire eight-person department sees as many patients in a week as a single private practice cardiologist sees in two days, according to the doctor.
For perspective, 60% of cardiologists reported seeing between 50 and 124 patients per week, according to a 2013 survey of medical professionals’ compensation conducted by Medscape. On the low end, the average single private practice cardiologist who participated in the study saw more patients in a week than the Albuquerque VA’s entire eight-person cardiology department.
The lesson is clear: Even in those cases where there’s a credible argument for the government to be involved with a service, it’s far better for it to stay out of the business of actually providing the service—far better to leave it to private individuals and institutions to provide it through the competitive markets that reason and experience tell us will ensure both liberty and efficiency. This latest scandal, if we learn the right lesson from it, may be a blessing in disguise.
K. William Watson
Government has so many ignoble tendencies, it’s often difficult to guess which ones are driving any particular policy choice. For example, how does the government decide which products are available for purchase using WIC benefits? As reported today in DC political newspaper, The Hill:
A new rider to the 2014 funding bill for the Agriculture Department forbids the agency from excluding “any variety of fresh, whole, or cut vegetables, except for vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils, from being provided as supplemental foods” under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is a lead sponsor of the language and can be expected to defend it from attacks during a full committee markup of the bill.
The Agriculture Department excluded white potatoes from its list of approved items in 2009 because it argued they do not contain enough nutritional value and people shouldn’t be encouraged to buy them. Lawmakers fighting the exclusion are predominantly from the largest potato-growing areas such as Idaho and Maine.
I’m hopeful that Congress and the USDA will figure out just the right mix of paternalism and cronyism needed to ensure the effectiveness of federal food assistance programs.
Christopher A. Preble
Yale Senior John Kerry, speaking in 1966 (courtesy of POLITICO):
“What was an excess of isolationism has become an excess of interventionism,” Kerry told Yale graduates in his Class Day speech. There’s a “serious danger of assuming the roles of policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jury, all at one time, and then, rationalizing our way deeper and deeper into a hold of commitment which other nations neither understand nor support.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking at Yale this past weekend (from The Hill):
“In 1966 I had suggested an excess of isolation had led to an excess of interventionism,” he said. “We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade.”
Maybe Kerry, and other foreign policy makers, shouldn’t be so quick to reach for the term isolationism? And maybe avoiding excesses on both extremes–neither reckless military interventions that undermine U.S. security, nor a foolish attempt to separate from the rest of the world–is the goal that critics of U.S. foreign policy are actually seeking? If Kerry and others ignore this sentiment, or continue to mischaracterize it, they will bear much of the blame if true isolationism takes root.
I warned about this in my book, The Power Problem (2009):
Surveying the high costs and dubious benefits of our frequent interventions over the past two decades, many Americans are now asking themselves, “what’s the point?” Why provide these so-called global public goods if we will be resented and reviled–and occasionally targeted–for having made the effort? When Americans tell pollsters that we should “mind our own business” they are rejecting the global public goods argument in its entirety…
The defenders of the status quo like to describe such sentiments as isolationist, a gross oversimplification that has the additional object of unfairly tarring the advocates of an alternative foreign policy–any alternative–with an obnoxious slur. There is, however, an ugly streak to the United States’ turn inward. It appears in the form of anti-immigrant sentiment and hostility to free trade….
For the most part, Americans want to remain actively engaged in the world without having to be in charge of it. We tire of being held responsible for everything bad that happens, and always on the hook to pick up the costs….But if Washington refuses to [change course], or simply tinkers around the margins while largely ignoring public sentiment, then we should not be surprised if many Americans choose to throw the good engagement out with the bad, opting for genuine isolationism, with all of its nasty connotations.
That would be tragic. It would also be dangerous….If Americans reject the peaceful coexistence, trade, and voluntary person-to-person contact that has been the touchstone of U.S. foreign policy since the nation’s founding, the gap between the United States and the rest of the world will grow only worse, with negative ramifications for U.S. security for many years to come.
For years India has disappointed expectations. Tagged as the next great power preparing to challenge China and eventually America, India instead has lagged economically, stagnated politically, and battled religiously.
Now Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won a stunning political victory. India’s future depends on Modi’s ability to transcend his sectarian roots and govern on behalf of all Indians.
Throughout the Cold War the Delhi government kept its people poor by mismanaging the economy. Politics was dominated by the dynastic India National Congress Party. Eventually the Congress Party began economic reforms and the BJP broke the Congress political monopoly.
India is a secular republic in which freedom of religion is formally protected. However, legislation authorizes government interference in the name of preventing conduct “promoting enmity,” undermining “harmony,” and more. Moreover, 7 of 28 states have passed anti-conversion laws, which target proselytizing. Of particular concern is the government’s inability or unwillingness to combat religious violence and prosecute those responsible.
Much violence occurs between the two largest groups, Hindus and Muslims, but other religious minorities also are targeted. In 2007 and 2008 in the state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa) rioting Hindus murdered scores of Christians, forced thousands to flee, and destroyed many homes and churches.
Unfortunately, India’s presumptive prime minister, Narentra Modi, was implicated in one of the country’s worst episodes of sectarian violence. In 2002 in the state of Gujarat, in which Modi served as chief minister, Hindu rioters killed more than 1200 people, mostly Muslims, and forced 150,000 people from their homes. Critics charged Modi with both encouraging the violence and failing to stop it. He defends his conduct, saying he only wishes he had handled the media better.
However, Modi has ridden a sectarian tide to power. He graduated to the BJP from the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“National Volunteer Society”), which he joined young. He denounced Muslims early in his career and received strong backing from the RSS.
The good news in Modi’s victory is that he was elected to reform the faltering economy, not stoke the fires of religious hatred. Gujarat has prospered and the BJP is committed to relaxing India’s often stultifying government regulations. The quickest way for the new government to discourage foreign investment would be to trigger more sectarian violence.
Relations with the U.S. will be a key issue. The Bush administration formally acknowledged Delhi’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, improving bilateral ties. Since then, however, relations have stagnated.
Modi’s election poses another challenge. In 2005 the State Department refused to issue him a visa because of his presumed role in the Gujarat violence.
But the U.S. ambassador to India met with him in February. President Barack Obama congratulated Modi after the latter’s victory and extended an invitation to visit America. No doubt the visa ban will be quietly forgotten.
As I point out in my new Forbes online column: “The responsibility to reconcile is not Washington’s alone. Set to become perhaps the most powerful Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi three decades ago, he should attempt to set foreign governments and, even more important, his own citizens at ease.”
After the election results were announced, he said that “The age of divisive politics has ended, from today onwards the politics of uniting people will begin.” It was a good beginning, but he needs to clearly communicate that he will be prime minister of all and his government will not tolerate violence or discrimination against religious minorities.
Modi has a historic opportunity. His government will be the first in years to enjoy a solid majority in the Lok Sabha, or lower house. The people he will represent are both entrepreneurial and impatient, demanding the chance to better their lives. The Indian people need more opportunity, not more dependency.
The choice soon will be up to Narendra Modi. Much around the globe depends on what he decides.
Washington Post reporter Bill Turque swallowed the Democrats’ spin hook, line, and sinker. He reports in Friday’s paper:
The Potomac estate of IT entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Islam seemed more fitting for a Republican soiree than a Democratic fundraiser, some of Maryland’s top elected officials said Wednesday.
But big-time donors, including developers Aris Mardirossian and Fred Ezra, hotel and nursing home magnate Stewart Bainum and auto executive Tammy Darvish, gathered there to raise big bucks for the re-election campaign of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
“There are not too many people who own homes like this who are great Democrats,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) told the audience of about 400.
I’m not surprised that Senator Cardin would press the line that Republicans are the rich guys with mansions. But why would the Post report it as fact? Consider a few other news articles from the past few days. Here’s the Post’s Zachary Goldfarb reporting from California:
As he toured a series of mansions,…at the home of Walt Disney Studios chief executive Alan Horn… at an event hosted by Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, and Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator…At the home of Irwin Jacobs, founder of the telecom giant Qualcomm,…Obama put the blame for failing to make progress squarely on the Republicans — “a party that has been captive to an ideology, to a theory of economics, that says those folks, they’re on their own and government doesn’t have an appropriate role to play.”
Later that day, the Associated Press reported,
Obama was to attend a fundraiser hosted by Anne Wojcicki, a biotech entrepreneur who founded the personal-genomics startup 23andMe. The event is advertised as a Tech Roundtable, with 30 guests and tickets set at $32,400 — a nearly $1 million potential haul for the Democratic National Committee.
A couple of days later the AP reported:
In what’s become an election-year routine for the president, Obama took the mic at an opulent Manhattan apartment and urged Democrats not to let their party’s tendency to neglect midterm elections hand Republicans a chance to capture the Senate.
Money-and-politics watchdog Ken Vogel wrote up a monied Democratic gathering in Politico two weeks ago:
During a gathering here of major Democratic donors this week that has raised more than $30 million for liberal groups, questions about the party’s split personality on the issue were dodged, rejected or answered with an array of rationalizations. That is, when they weren’t met with recriminations or even gentle physical force.
Those who did address the issue at the annual spring meeting of the Democracy Alliance donor club at the Ritz-Carlton sounded not unlike the conservatives who bristle at questions about their own big-money activity….
San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, whose aides delivered a Tuesday morning presentation to DA donors on his plan to spend $100 million in the 2014 midterms boosting environmentally minded candidates, has invested in renewable energy initiatives that could be boosted by his advocacy.
And here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story from a year ago:
About 100 guests gathered at the home of Democratic billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer to hear President Obama Wednesday — an event inside a three story stucco home which overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge (and lists for $5.8 million on Zillow).
The setting was spectacular — at the end of a peninsula and a dead end road in the tony Sea Cliff neighborhood.
Seems like Democrats don’t have much trouble finding billionaires and mansions for fundraising events. Reporters shouldn’t act like it’s an unusual event.
Jack Martin at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) argues that I inaccurately characterized FAIR’s pledge as anti–legal immigration. On FAIR’s pledge, it states that its purpose is this:
It is therefore essential that we know whether you will support TRUE immigration reform policies.
What are FAIR’s “TRUE immigration reform policies” that the pledge references and emphasizes with blue underlined font? Here they are, in a document with the same title. One of FAIR’s points of “TRUE immigration reform” reads as follows:
End family chain migration. Family-based immigration must be limited to spouses and unmarried minor children. Entitlements for extended family migration lead to an immigration system that is not based on merit, runs on autopilot and fosters exponential growth in immigration.
Depending on what FAIR means exactly, such a policy change would decrease annual lawful immigration to the United States by at least 138,066 or as many as 340,000 annually if we use 2011 as a benchmark. To put that in perspective, FAIR’s TRUE immigration reform policies advocate for a decrease in legal immigration of between 13 percent and 32 percent. Sound anti–legal immigration to me. If Mr. Martin is so concerned about inaccurate characterizations of FAIR’s pledge, perhaps he should be more troubled by FAIR President Dan Stein’s reference to it as the “No New Amnesty Pledge” since most of the pledge’s points concern opposition to legal immigration and not amnesty.
Infrastructure is in the news as policymakers face a deadline to pass a new highway bill. President Obama visited the Tappan Zee Bridge yesterday and said that “rebuilding America … shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” and then cast blame on the Republicans.
The president is right that America ought to have better infrastructure. But the leaders of both parties are overlooking the most straightforward and powerful way to do it: slashing taxes on business investment.
Most of America’s infrastructure is provided by the private sector, not governments. In fact, private infrastructure spending—on factories, freight rail, cell phone towers, pipelines, refineries, and many other items—is more than four times larger than federal, state, and local government infrastructure spending combined. BEA Table 1.5.5 shows that gross private fixed investment in 2013 was $2.56 trillion, while investment by all levels of government was $606 billion.
Private investment was $2.05 trillion when you take out residential. And government investment was $448 billion when you take out defense. Thus, when infrastructure is measured this way, private investment is also more than four times larger than government investment.
Why do U.S. companies spend more than $2 trillion a year on infrastructure? They do it in the hopes of earning profits years down the road from often risky investments. The government stands in the way of these growth-generating investments by confiscating a large share of those profits with income taxes.
We have the highest federal-state corporate income tax rate in the world at 40 percent, which sends a strong signal to manufacturers, utilities, energy firms, and other infrastructure companies not to expand and upgrade their facilities. If policymakers want infrastructure, they should slash the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, which is the rate in Canada after recent reforms.
Another reform is “capital expensing,” meaning allowing businesses to immediately deduct the cost of new fixed investments. That tax treatment would be a huge simplification, and it would end the anti-investment bias in our income tax system. In recent years, Congress has passed temporary and partial capital expensing measures, but we really need a permanent policy change so that businesses could plan for the long term.
Also, expensing should be expanded to include business structures, such as factory buildings, and not just business equipment as has been the case in recent years. The chart at the bottom shows that real U.S. investment in structures was hammered by the recession and still remains at disturbingly low levels (BEA Table 1.5.6).
The stagnant investment in structures is troubling because it suggests a major lack of confidence in the outlook for U.S. economic policy. If business leaders see little hope for relief from Washington’s aggressive tax and regulatory policies, they will build their factories elsewhere and supply expanding global markets from abroad.
President Obama is right to focus on “rebuilding America,” but step one should be to remove the high tax barriers to private infrastructure investment. Let’s follow the successful Canadian approach and slash our corporate tax rate. And then let’s move toward permanent expensing for structures and equipment. As William McBribe of the Tax Foundation notes in a new analysis of expensing, the benefits would “go primarily to workers with low incomes due to higher productivity, higher wages, and more jobs.”
Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.
“It’s not worth it anymore,” said Rodrigo Silla, 50, a lifelong cannabis farmer who said he couldn’t remember the last time his family and others in their tiny hamlet gave up growing mota. “I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
That’s actually great news: along with the big profits, marijuana brought northern Mexico tens of thousands of murders. We can all do without those.
One possible negative consequence has been an observed increase in Mexican opium production, although it may be too soon to say whether opiate use is really on the rise, and if so, whether it’s been driven by a greater availability of heroin, or by the government cracking down harder on prescription opiate addicts.
Of course, the answer to that problem resembles the answer to our marijuana problem, and both resemble the way we finally stopped bootleggers under alcohol Prohibition: legalize, establish relatively sensible regulations, and let addicts get treatment in an environment free of fear and threat. One doesn’t have to be a Harvard economist to see why that approach makes sense.
The New York Times reported that a drop in mortality in Massachusetts not seen elsewhere can be attributed to its adoption of mandatory health care coverage:
The death rate in Massachusetts dropped significantly after it adopted mandatory health care coverage…offering evidence that the country’s first experiment with universal coverage…has saved lives… In contrast, the mortality rate in a group of counties similar to Massachusetts in other states was largely unchanged.
Implying causality based on this evidence is misleading in several ways as discussed here. In particular, I take fault with mentioning mortality reductions only in locations with mandatory health care coverage even though mortality has been dropping throughout the United States and the world since at least the 1960s. According to the World Bank, American males’ mortality rate has dropped by 3.6 percent between 2000 and 2007—a greater rate over a shorter time period than covered in this study. Over the same period, American females’ mortality rate has dropped by close to four percent.
The mortality rate is dropping, on average, throughout the United States, yet only Massachusetts adopted the mandatory health care law. Therefore, we may conclude that reductions in death rates happen for many reasons that do not restrict human freedom. One possible cause is new technologies that inform and enable proactive people to improve their health, ushered in through greater economic freedom. Check out Cato’s new website, HumanProgress.org, to see more positive changes to our health that are highly correlated with liberty.
Congress is currently debating options to solve the “transportation cliff.” Broadly, the federal government spends more on highways and transit than it collects in fuel tax revenue, which has depleted the Highway Trust Fund. One reason for the imbalance is the federal government’s inability to control costs on projects. Federal transportation projects frequently go over budget.
This morning’s Washington Post details a cost overrun in Congress’ back yard. Arlington County, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is building a 4.5 mile street car project. Costs are currently estimated at $358 million—up $100 million from original estimates and up $48 million from just last year. If the project goes ahead, federal taxpayers are on the hook for $140 million of the project’s costs.
This is just one of many examples of government transportation projects going over budget. Transportation cost overruns are not new. A Government Accountability Office report of federal highway projects found that a quarter of them went over budget. Costs of the infamous Big Dig in Boston grew from $2.6 billion to $14 billion.
A study by Danish economists in 2003 examined 258 large transportation projects across Europe and North America. Eighty-six percent of projects went over budget; the average cost overrun was 28 percent. Rail projects were the worst offenders, with an average cost overrun of 45 percent.
Why does this happen? In the United States, cost overruns are partly caused by the complex nature of transportation funding, which reduces political responsibility. The federal government collects much of the revenue, divides it up, and sends it back to the states. Grants are handed out mostly by formula, and the states are generally not rewarded for using the money in an efficient and frugal manner.
As a result, neither level of government has an incentive to control costs. When a project goes over budget, the federal government often points the finger at the state government and the state often returns the gesture. GAO frankly said that “this fragmented approach impedes effective decision making.”
Controlling spending on projects would help to close the $14 billion annual gap between spending and revenue in the Highway Trust Fund. Unfortunately, the new Senate highway bill actually increases spending, and it fails to address wasteful spending problems such as cost overruns.
A better approach is the TEA proposal by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Tom Graves, which would devolve most highway and transit spending to the states. State and local governments would have stronger incentives to control project costs if it were their own taxpayers footing the bill.
Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger
Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”
—Award-winning climate modeler experiences “a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy”
An interesting juxtaposition of items appeared in our Inbox today.
First was an announcement that Dr. Lennart Bengtsson, former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, had resigned from the Academic Advisory Council of the U.K.’s Global Warming Policy Foundation. What was surprising about this announcement was that it was just announced a week or so ago that Dr. Bengtsson—a prominent and leading climate modeler and research scientist—was joining the GWPF Council. At that time, there was some wondering aloud as to why Dr. Bengtsson would join an organization that was somewhat “skeptical” when it comes to the projections and impacts of climate change and the effectiveness and direction of climate change policy.
During one recent interview Dr. Bengtsson explained:
I think the climate community shall be more critical and spend more time to understand what they are doing instead of presenting endless and often superficial results and to do this with a critical mind. I do not believe that the IPCC machinery is what is best for science in the long term. We are still in a situation where our knowledge is insufficient and climate models are not good enough. What we need is more basic research freely organized and driven by leading scientists without time pressure to deliver and only deliver when they believe the result is good and solid enough. It is not for scientists to determine what society should do. In order for society to make sensible decisions in complex issues it is essential to have input from different areas and from different individuals. The whole concept behind IPCC is basically wrong.
A good summary of the buzz that surrounded Dr. Bengtsson and his association with GWPF is contained over at Judith Curry’s website, Climate Etc.
So why did Dr. Bengtsson suddenly resign?
Here is the content of his resignation letter, written to GWPF Academic Advisory Council Chairman, Dr. David Henderson:
Dear Professor Henderson,
I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expect[ed] such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc.
I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expect[ed] anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.
[glad you noticed!—eds]
Under these [sic] situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.
With my best regards
This letter is stunning in its candor and shows that that all the conspiring and bullying that the was on full display in the Climategate email release continues unabashedly today.
Aside from a bit of personal embarrassment from particularly bad behavior, by and large the climate science establishment just shrugged its shoulders at the Climategate revelations with a “Yeah, so what?” That’s a fitting response as they seek to control the scientific discourse when it comes to climate change. Group pressure is an effective means of doing so.
What Climategate taught the bully cohort of scientists was they could continue to bully their colleagues, sabotage their publications, and intimidate journal editors with impunity. As evidenced from Dr. Bengtsson’s resignation letter, if it has changed at all, the situation in climate science is worse now than it was before the emails were leaked.
Which leads to this email that we got today from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):
Anyone thinking that there is an open flow of ideas in climate science is 100 percent wrong.
I’ve written before about the curious and recurring desire of some Hawaiians to treat other Hawaiians differently based on the quantum of “native Hawaiian” blood they have coursing through their veins. In 2005, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a scathing report saying that Hawaii was “in a league by itself” regarding racial discrimination by government entities. Yet again and again, advocates for race-based government and tax treatment seek to push their divisive policies into the most racially integrated state of the union.
The latest such development comes to us in the form of a seemingly technocratic Senate bill, S.1352, the “Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act,” which was introduced last July and has slowly been making its way through the relevant committees. One particular provision of this dry legislation, when cross-referenced to the underlying law that it reauthorizes, is relevant to the racial shenanigans in the Aloha State. As Hans von Spakovsky describes:
S.1352 has a seemingly innocuous provision, Section 503, which simply re-authorizes the Native Hawaiian Home-Ownership Act through 2018. You have to dig into the existing federal law to find out that, under 25 U.S.C. §4223(d), Hawaii is exempt from the nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act when it is distributing federal housing funds made available by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to “Native Hawaiians” or “a Native Hawaiian family.”
This exemption means the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands can discriminate in favor of “Native Hawaiians” and a “Native Hawaiian family” and against others such as whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. In other words, the federal government is authorizing Hawaii (and providing it with taxpayer funds) to engage in blatant discrimination by providing government benefits for some of its residents and denying federally funded benefits to others based solely on their ancestry and “blood quantum.”
Advocates of these sorts of eyebrow-raising policies point to the fact that American law contains separate provisions regarding Native Americans – note the title of the bill where the troublesome Hawaiian provision appears – which regularly exempt tribal sovereigns from various federal laws. But such analogies misconstrue both the history and legal status of peoples who predate the United States.
The Constitution’s Indian law exception is controversial enough, but it was created by the document itself, arising as a unique historical compromise with pre-constitutional realities. Once the Constitution was ratified, no government organized under it could exempt some states (or some people) from the Constitution as it sees fit. Official racial discrimination is facially disallowed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. While nobody disputes that Native Hawaiians are an ethnic group – the Supreme Court even recognized this fact in a 2000 case, Rice v. Cayetano, that struck down racial restrictions on voting for trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) – Congress can’t pass a law giving them rights denied other Americans.
And Hawaiians simply aren’t American Indians in the constitutional sense. The term “Indian tribes” has a fixed meaning, limited to preexisting North American tribes that were “dependent nations” at the time of the Founding. Such tribes, to benefit from Indian law, must have an independent existence and “community” apart from the rest of American society, and their separate government structure must have a continuous history for at least the past century. By these standards, Native Hawaiians don’t qualify.
As one federal court (three judges appointed by Democratic presidents, including the notoriously liberal Stephen Reinhardt) put it nearly a decade ago, “the history of indigenous Hawaiians … is fundamentally different from that of indigenous groups and federally recognized Indian Tribes in the continental United States.” The United States seized tribal lands and persecuted their inhabitants, while Hawaiians overwhelmingly voted to become a state.
Even if Congress could create from whole cloth the equivalent of an Indian tribe, there’s no good reason to label racial or ethnic groups as distinct legal entities solely because they have unique cultural traits or were once victims of oppression or discrimination. Otherwise, what’s to stop African or Jewish or Catholic or Chinese Americans from demanding their own racial carve-outs?
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (enacted July 2, 1964), we should ensure that its protections against government racism extend to the farthest corners of the country, including its tropical-paradise state. This isn’t a parochial island issue but one that affects how the law treats all Americans.
Thailand continues its slow motion political implosion. The prime minister has been ousted and a new election has been scheduled for July 20, but the latter will settle nothing unless traditional ruling elites are willing to accept a government run by their opponents. If not, the country risks a violent explosion.
Bangkok’s politics long leaned authoritarian. However, in 2001 telecommunications executive Thaksin Shinawatra campaigned as a populist, winning the votes of Thailand’s neglected rural poor to become prime minister.
Instead of figuring out how to better appeal to the popular majority, his opponents organized the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy which launched protests to topple his government. The military ousted the traveling Thaksin in 2006 and tried him in absentia for alleged corruption. The generals then rewrote the constitution and called new elections.
However, Thaksin’s successor party won a plurality and dominated the resulting coalition. Thaksin’s opponents then launched a wave of demonstrations and the courts ousted the prime minister on dubious grounds.
When so-called Red Shirt Thaksin supporters flooded into Bangkok to protest the de facto coup, Democrat Party Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government, backed by the military, killed scores and injured thousands of demonstrators, and imprisoned numerous opposition leaders.
Then Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, and her Pheu Thai party won an absolute majority in the 2011 election. So PAD morphed into the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by former DP deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, one of those responsible for the 2010 killings. Channeling Benito Mussolini and his infamous Black Shirts, Suthep organized mobs to drive her from office and called on the military to stage a coup.
In response, Prime Minister Yingluck called new elections, further angering the opposition which knew it would lose. Suthep’s forces blocked many Thais from voting in February. His attacks left enough constituencies unfilled to prevent the new parliament from taking office.
Then, in March, the opposition-controlled Constitutional Court invalidated the entire election because the government’s opponents had prevented Thais from voting. Yingluck remained caretaker prime minister with only limited power to govern. Now the Constitutional Court has ousted her over the attempted reassignment of a government official. Suthep and his allies hope to install a compliant unelected prime minister.
But leaders of the United Front for Democracy, or Red Shirts, promised to respond violently to any judicial coup. In the past, the widely respected king was able to transcend party factions, but he is aged and largely disengaged while other members of the court back Suthep.
As I point out in my new article on National Interest online: “Thaksin has been justifiably criticized, but his opponents generate more heat than light. For instance, his corruption conviction, in absentia by a compliant court under a military regime, proves little. One can criticize Thaksin’s populist approach, but political parties around the world commonly adopt a “tax and tax, spend and spend” election strategy.”
Suthep denounced Yingluck as a tool of her brother, but many Thais supported her because they believe she represents his views. Ultimately, Suthep and his supporters are most interested in gaining power for themselves.
So far Thailand’s generals have demonstrated no interest in taking control again. The only real solution can come from the political process.
For instance, a Thaksin family withdrawal from politics would help ease political tensions. However, that would be more likely if he did not fear, with good cause, being targeted by his enemies. It is even more essential to exclude those who have been employing violence for their own political ends, most notably Suthep and Abhisit.
Constitutional reform also might ease social conflict. Reducing the central government’s reach and devolving authority to provinces would reduce the winner-take-all character of Thai politics.
Putative authoritarians like Suthep most risk plunging Thai society into violence. Establishment elites must pull their country back from the brink.
Vox has a nice piece on the difficulties faced by Colorado marijuana businesses due to the continued Federal prohibition of marijuana:
Even after legalization, it’s still very difficult — and potentially dangerous — to operate a marijuana business in Colorado.
The big problem: pot shops and producers still can’t work with banks, which see marijuana as too risky of a business due to federal prohibition. This is true in Colorado, where state law says marijuana is legal but federal law says it’s not.
This means marijuana businesses can’t take conventional loans, and they have to operate with only cash. And although several levels of government have tried to address the issue, they’ve had no success so far.
None of this is surprising, but it emphasizes that true legalization requires repeal of the federal ban. State-level legalizations are valuable, partly because they put pressure on the feds, but they are not enough. Remember that during Prohibition, many states (including New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) never banned alcohol, yet the federal prohibition did substantial harm, including in those states.
Remember that so-called “reset” button that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her opposite Russian number back in 2009, to symbolize the Obama administration’s hopelessly naive fresh approach to relations with the Kremlin? You know, the one that actually said “overload” or “power surge,” depending on your preferred translation of peregruzka? Rather than a hilarious snafu, maybe the mistranslation was actually a Freudian slip, indicating the agreement between the presidents of two federal republics about the true scope of executive power. Not that President Obama has invaded a sovereign nation out of historical revanchism or thrown his political enemies in jail (or worse) – though the IRS scandal is the same kind of abuse, on a lesser degree – but the contempt that White House’s current occupant has shown to federalism, the separation of powers, and other aspects of the rule of law is breathtaking and unprecedented in the American context.
It’s thus no surprise that my most popular op-eds during my time at Cato have been the two examinations of Obama’s high rate of unanimous Supreme Court losses – one for the Wall Street Journal in 2012, the other for Bloomberg last year – plus the two “top 10 constitutional violations” pieces I’ve done, one for the Daily Caller in 2011, the other for Forbes last year.
Well, apparently I’ve been lazy. Comes now the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, with a report called “The Obama Administration’s Abuse of Power” that lists no fewer than 76 charges. They’re divided into the following categories:
- Governing by Executive Fiat (9 items)
- National Security (5 items)
- Obamacare (10 items)
- Economy (6 items)
- Executive Nominees and Personnel (4 items)
- Free Speech and Privacy (7 items)
- Other Lawless Acts (9 items)
- Other Abuses of Power (26 items)
To be fair, not all of these are unconstitutional actions, or even illegal ones. (For example: “Increased the national debt more in one term than President Bush did in two terms.”) Others are a bit inside-baseball. (“Reneged on a campaign promise to wait five days before signing any non-emergency bill (at least 10 times during first 3 months in office),” citing my colleague Jim Harper writing at this blog.) A few bad ones can’t really be attributed to the president’s actions or policy preferences. (“As of 2011, 311,566 federal employees or retirees owed $3.5 billion in taxes.”)
Still, it’s quite an indictment, one that’s broad in scope, varied in types of abuses, and diligently footnoted.
Not surprisingly, the report raised the hackles of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who found that the report “reveals less about the lawlessness of the accused than about the recklessness of the accuser.” Milbank called the 76-item list a “recitation of policy grievances … interspersed with some whoppers that the senator, a former Texas solicitor general, couldn’t have researched thoroughly.”
The biggest “whopper” – or at least the one worth mentioning first – is that the president “[b]acked the release of the Lockerbie bomber.” While Milbank is correct that the the article Cruz cites says that “the U.S. wanted Megrahi to remain imprisoned in view of the nature of the crime,” the thrust of the piece, titled “White House Backed Release of Lockerbie Bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi,” is that the administration worked to secure the bomber’s “compassionate release” back to Libya (see also here).
Milbank’s on surer footing in criticizing the allegation that Obama wrongly “extended federal marriage benefits by recognizing, under federal law, same-sex marriages . . . even if the couple is living in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.” The practical effect of the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor – striking down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act regarding federal benefits – was precisely to require the federal government to treat people who were lawfully married the same regardless of sexual orientation. Yes, that presents cases of Schrodinger’s marriage for same-sex couples who, say, move to Texas after having gotten hitched in New York – married for federal but not state purposes – but such is the current lay of the legal land.
And Milbank is right that some of the items are there to score political points rather than as an example of a high crime or misdemenor. (“Canceled all White House tours after sequestration . . . even though President Obama had spent more than $1 million in tax money to golf with Tiger Woods.”) (Though I would argue that this item, like putting up barricades around national monuments during the sequester, is very much an abuse of political power, if not quite rising to the level of all the Obamacare and IRS stuff.)
Nevertheless, Milbank’s complaint – and this is common to all critics of critiques of Obama’s abuses, as I’ve witnessed first-hand in debating the subject around the country – boils down to the conclusion that what’s really at issue is a difference of policy preference.
Well, there is some truth to that: some people believe that the government’s range of policy options is limited by the Constitution’s structural limits on federal power, while others don’t. But you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any attack on Barack Obama’s abuse of executive power or expansion of federal power is mere political sour grapes. (And I should add that Cato calls out presidents of both parties when they stray.) As the Cruz report’s preamble states:
In the more than two centuries of our nation’s history, there is simply no precedent for the White House wantonly ignoring federal law and asking others to do the same.
For all those who are silent now: What would they think of a Republican president who announced that he was going to ignore the law, or unilaterally change the law? Imagine a future president setting aside environmental laws, or tax laws, or labor laws, or tort laws with which he or she disagreed.
That would be wrong—and it is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness. As Montesquieu knew, an imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen. Because when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president.
For more on these sorts of issues, please join us for a policy forum May 21 called “Suspending the Law: The Obama Administration’s Approach to Extending Executive Power and Evading Judicial Review.”
The Philadelphia officers’ excuse for their raid on Jose Duran’s bodega was the same as their excuse for other bodega raids: he was selling grocery zip-lock bags, and Pennsylvania law makes it unlawful to sell containers that a seller reasonably knew or should have known will be used to store drugs. The cops methodically snipped the wires to seven or eight security cameras around the store, and Duran said nearly $10,000 in cash, cigarettes, batteries and other goods then mysteriously vanished from the store.
The story shocked others, too, especially given corroborative accounts from other bodega owners who reported that police had begun the raids by taking care to disable cameras, in one case allegedly by smashing them with metal rods or hammers, in another case destroying a computer that had retained images of the raid. Money, cigarettes, and other property typically vanished during the raid without account, and some owners were brutalized as well. The Philadelphia Daily News investigated extensively and found that because one surveillance camera had a concealed backup hard drive, it retained video of an invading officer actually reaching up to cut its wires.
Like others, I suspect, I assumed that with evidence like this on hand and numerous bodega owners willing to talk with the press, it was safe to stop following the story, since the justice system surely could be trusted to run its course. The last thing I imagined was that every single officer would walk. How wrong I was:
Last week, news broke that federal prosecutors had decided not to file criminal charges against the officers. And the five-year statute of limitations has run out, not just in Collado’s case but for nearly two dozen other merchants with similar allegations.
“They played the clock game. They let time run out,” said Danilo Burgos, the former head of the 300-member Dominican Grocers Association who is running for a state House seat in North Philadelphia. “Now no charges will be filed and people have no confidence whatsoever in the process.” …
Several merchants told reporters this week that they were angry - and puzzled: How could U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger close the case without conducting, in their minds, a thorough investigation? …
The Daily News could not find a single merchant who said they had been called to testify before a grand jury, which mystified several former federal prosecutors.
One Jordanian-American family that owns a tobacco shop said FBI investigators did come to interview them, but they never heard a followup.
A few questions:
* If you were an immigrant shopkeeper, what lessons would you draw from this about America’s promise of equality under the law?
* Does it still seem like minor harmless nannyism to pass laws banning things like mini-zip-lock bags as potential drug paraphernalia, laws that are widely ignored and may even be unknown to the regulated parties, given that it allows police like this a perfect basis to go to a judge and obtain formally valid search warrants?
* Note that the former head of the Dominican grocers association is running for the Pennsylvania legislature, perhaps an indication that with the law having failed to protect them from oppression, some groups feel they have little choice but to turn to politics. What do we tell groups that lack the collective means or will to assert themselves in politics? That we will offer them no way to protect themselves from predation?
Each year, the homeland security appropriations bill provides for funding that supports REAL ID, the national ID law that Congress passed in haste in 2005.
States across the country originally refused to implement the national ID law, but as we showed in the recently released report, “REAL ID: A State-by-State Update,” some states are reversing course and beginning to implement, and in other states bureaucrats are moving forward with REAL ID contrary to state policy.
Part of the reason this continues is because the federal government continues to funnel money into REAL ID compliance. Year over year, federal grant money keeps state bureaucrats and state bureaucrat interest groups like the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators sniffing around for grant dollars and contracts.
Interestingly, four members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds REAL ID through the Department of Homeland Security are from states that have rejected REAL ID. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) could move to cut off funding for REAL ID if they chose, but, to my knowledge, have not done so in the past.
Senators Tester and Begich are cosponsors of a bill by Senator John Walsh (D-MT) to repeal REAL ID, and Senator Tester came to Cato in 2008 to call out REAL ID’s demerits (his presentation starts at 21:00 in the mp3).
If the senators from anti-REAL-ID states could tap one more member of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee, they would have a majority to amend the bill to withdraw funds from the national ID project. Will they stand by and let REAL ID funding go through again this year?
On her radio show earlier today, Laura Ingraham discussed drug legalization with John Walters, the White House “Drug Czar” under George W. Bush.
Walters had nothing good to say about Cato, George Soros, legalizers in general, or me in particular. Walters’ view comes down to three claims:
1. Legalization will cause drug use to soar;
2. Increased drug use is bad;
3. The negatives of prohibition are more acceptable than negatives of greater use.
On point 1: No existing evidence suggests major increases in use from legalization. Some increase may occur, since drug prices will likely decline. But most drugs are already cheap enough that price is not a major deterrent.
On point 2: Drugs can indeed cause harm, but so can alcohol, tobacco, double-black diamond ski slopes, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and driving on the highway. Many current harms (e.g., accidental overdoses), result from prohibition, which makes it harder for users to determine quality. Walters view that all drug use leads to irresponsible intoxication is utterly inconsistent with the evidence.
And, many people derive a benefit from drugs. Walters thinks people take drugs only because they are addicted; an alternate view is that people choose to use drugs, whether to alleviate pain, aid relaxation, or become intoxicated. Under the second view, increased use is a benefit of legalization, not a cost. And in a free society, individuals, not government, get to make that determination.
On point 3: Drug prohibition generates violence and corruption; reduces quality control and spreads HIV; diminishes civil liberties; restricts medicinal uses of drugs; foments insurrection in source countries; foregoes tens of billions each year in tax revenue; and requires tens of billions more on police, prosecutors, and prisons.
John Walters may believe that all this is preferable to a modest increase in drug use (some of which benefits users); he is entitled to his view.
But I disagree.
The kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls has captured international attention. Yet few outside of Nigeria paid attention as the terrorist group responsible, Boko Haram, killed thousands of people in previous attacks.
Americans understandably want to help, but as I point out in my new Forbes column, “Washington must avoid getting entangled in another interminable conflict, this one featuring relentless Islamic extremists battling brutal security forces.”
The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram began more than a decade ago. The government’s response often has been ineffective, even counterproductive. Unlawful killings, mass arrests, and other abuses help sustain support for the guerrillas.
So far this year 1500 have been murdered. The kidnapping highlighted the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government.
After a month there is little hope of rescuing the girls, who probably have been dispersed throughout the remote region where Boko Haram operates. However, the burst of publicity caused the Obama administration to dispatch a multi-agency delegation.
The mission may meet an emotional need, but offers few benefits and many snares. After all, America can do little to save the girls or stop Boko Haram. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki explained that the U.S. group contained “law enforcement officials with expertise in investigations and hostage negotiations.”
But this is not a complicated “Who done it?” mystery. Moreover, dealing with Boko Haram is not like negotiating with a crew of bank robbers. Boko Haram cheerfully, even gleefully, kills en masse.
The U.S. might have some useful satellite intelligence and specialized equipment, which Abuja previously requested. But those could be transferred without a large and very public delegation.
No doubt the Nigerian army would benefit from professional training—which Washington is already providing. Alas, Nigeria’s military cannot be fixed by America. Worst is the lawless behavior of the security agencies, including police and intelligence agents.
So far Boko Haram has restricted its murderous activities to Nigeria. Active U.S. involvement, however, risks turning the conflict into one of international jihad, when Boko Haram may broaden its attacks to Americans.
Finally, what is the end point for American involvement? What if the girls aren’t located?
With failure almost inevitable, there will be pressure on the U.S. to do more, even enter the conflict directly. Secretary of State John Kerry already has talked of doing “everything possible to counter the menace of Boko Haram.”
Much the same process has occurred with the administration’s expanding mission to eradicate the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA], formed in 1987 in Uganda. The U.S. long provided money, intelligence, and logistical assistance for Kampala’s military operations against the organization. Three years ago President Obama deployed about 100 special forces to aid the Ugandan government in defeating the LRA and capturing its leader, Joseph Kony.
The group was much reduced by then. The LRA in no way threatened America, but the administration promised that the mission would be “short term.”
However, Col. Kevin Leahy, commander of the American troops, admitted last year that “This isn’t searching for a needle in a haystack. It’s like searching for a needle in 20 haystacks.”
Although the LRA is said to have dwindled to just 250 guerrillas, in March the administration announced that it was nearly trebling the number of personnel and deploying at least four CV-22 Ospreys. Will U.S. forces stay on for the rest of Kony’s life—and his successor’s?
The U.S. has been increasingly active across the continent. The Pentagon set up the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and has been steadily augmenting America’s military presence.
Washington’s default policy should be to stay out. The fact that there is conflict somewhere on earth does not require Washington to join it.
One can hardly imagine the pain felt by the families of young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. But the U.S. can do little to help and Washington’s intervention risks are creating blowback Americans cannot afford. Only the Nigerian people can bring peace to Nigeria.