Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanks, Big Government

By George Will
Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Before the tryptophan in the turkey induces somnolence, give thanks for living in such an entertaining country. This year, for example, we learned that California’s Legislature includes 93 persons who seem never to have had sex. They enacted the “affirmative consent” law directing college administrators to tell students that sexual consent cannot be silence but must be “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” and “ongoing throughout a sexual activity.” Claremont McKenna College requires “all” — not “both,” which would discriminate against groups — participants in a sexual engagement to understand that withdrawal of consent can be any behavior conveying “that an individual is hesitant, confused, uncertain.”

A severely moral California high-school principal prohibited the football booster club from raising money by selling donated Chick-fil-A meals because this company opposed same-sex marriage. The school superintendent approved the ban because “we value inclusivity and diversity.” Up to a point. At a Washington State community college, invitations to a “happy hour” celebrating diversity and combating racism said white people were not invited.

At Broward College near Miami, a conservative who was asking students if they agreed that “big government sucks” was told by a campus security guard that she must take her question to the campus “free-speech area.” She got off lightly: The federal government has distributed to local police, including those of some colleges and school districts, more than 600 surplus MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles designed for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The federal government, which has Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache and Lakota helicopters, used the code name “Geronimo” in the attack that killed Osama bin Laden but objected to the name of the Washington Redskins. The Department of Homeland Security, unsleepingly vigilant, raided a Kansas City shop to stop sales of panties emblazoned with unauthorized Royals logos. A U.S. Forest Service article on safe marshmallow toasting did not neglect to nag us: It suggested fruit rather than chocolate in s’mores. The droll Orange County Register wondered, “Why not replace the marshmallow with a Brussels sprout?” The federal government’s food police began cracking down on schools’ fund-raising bake sales: Step away from those brownies and put your hands on a fruit cup.

Niagara County, N.Y., spent $700,000 of its Tobacco Master Settlement Money not on fighting smoking but on golf-course equipment. In Seattle, the Freedom Socialist party, which favors a $20-an-hour minimum wage, advertised a job opening for a Web developer to be paid $13 an hour.

Joe Biden was off by 160,839 when citing the number of people killed in the 2011 Joplin, Mo., tornado. He said 161,000. But the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed optimism about “the nation of Africa.” Barack Obama explained the Keystone XL pipeline: “It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.” Someone very patient should try to explain to him that prices of petroleum are set by a global market.

    Hamlet: “Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?”

    Polonius: “By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.”

    Hamlet: “Methinks it is like a weasel.”

    Polonius: “It is backed like a weasel.”

    Hamlet: “Or like a whale?”

    Polonius: “Very like a whale.”

Fortunately, Polonius was not among the Colorado Springs second-graders invited to use their imaginations in seeing shapes in clouds. Kody Smith said one looked like a gun. So, a behavior report was filed against the eight-year-old. A South Carolina high school student was arrested and suspended after having written a story about killing a dinosaur with a gun.

“The Great Immensity,” a climate-change musical financed by $700,000 from the National Science Foundation, quickly closed. Outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel, perhaps planning for wars with small carbon footprints, fretted that global warming “could threaten many of our training activities.” Alarmed by reports that global warming will cause a four-foot rise in sea levels, California governor Jerry Brown warned that “Los Angeles’ airport’s going to be underwater.” It is more than 120 feet above sea level. Because everything confirms the theory of impending catastrophic global warming, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina was called a harbinger of increasingly violent weather caused by . . . well, you know. Today, Louisianans are thankful that this was the ninth consecutive hurricane season without a major hurricane landfall.

For Obama, Inconvenient Law Is Irrelevant Law

By Victor Davis Hanson
Thursday, November 27, 2014

There is a humane, transparent, truthful — and constitutional — way to address illegal immigration. Unfortunately, President Obama’s unilateral plan to exempt millions of residents from federal immigration law is none of those things.

Obama said he had to move now because of a dawdling Congress. He forgot to mention that there were Democratic majorities in Congress in 2009 and 2010, yet he did nothing, in fear of punishment at the polls.

Nor did Obama push amnesty in 2011 or 2012, afraid of hurting his own re-election chances.

Worries over sabotaging Democratic chances in the 2014 midterms explain his inaction from 2012 until now. He certainly wouldn’t have waited until 2015 to act, because Republicans will then control Congress.

Given that he has no more elections and can claim no lasting achievements, Obama now sees amnesty as his last desperate chance at establishing some sort of legacy.

Obama cited empathy for undocumented immigrants. But he expressed no such worry about the hundreds of thousands of applicants who wait for years in line rather than simply illegally cross the border.

Any would-be immigrant would have been far wiser to have broken rather than abided by federal laws. Citizens who knowingly offer false information on federal affidavits or provide false Social Security numbers would not receive the sort of amnesties likely to be given to undocumented immigrants.

Obama has downplayed Americans’ worries about social costs and competition for jobs, but studies show illegal immigration has depressed the wages of entry-level American workers while making social services costly for states and burdensome for U.S. citizens.

Obama says he has the legal authority to rewrite immigration law without working with Congress. Yet on more than twenty occasions when it was politically inexpedient to grant amnesties, Obama insisted that he would not — or that such a move was prohibited by the Constitution.

Obama not long ago warned us about the dangers of granting amnesties by fiat. “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States,” he said. On another occasion, he lamented, “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. . . . But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”

By setting aside settled immigration policy and ignoring statutes he finds inconvenient, Obama has set a new precedent that a president can arbitrarily declare what is valid and what is not valid immigration law. Should his successors make up their own versions of any federal statutes they choose, in areas ranging from abortion and gun control to drug enforcement and environmental protection?

Obama claims he has the legal authority to grant amnesty because Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush did it. But again, Obama predictably misleads. Both of those presidents worked with Congress to ensure that new immigration legislation would not split apart families. The amnesties they granted were in accordance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and had only a fraction of the impact that Obama’s executive order would have.

More importantly, even those congressionally sanctioned and narrow amnesties were largely seen as failures. Past non-enforcement of immigration law helped lead to the explosion in illegal immigration of recent years.

Obama says Congress is stalling. But his characterization of congressional inaction simply means that the Congress does not wish to pass Obama’s version of immigration reform. In 2015, if the Republican Congress submits an immigration bill to Obama, he will likely veto it. Would he then term his own opposition “obstructionism”?

Obama has claimed that under his administration, deportations have increased. That, too, is untrue.

The fraudulent statistics used to make this claim redefine how deportation is measured — in much the same manner that other federal statistics like unemployment rates and GDP growth were recalibrated for partisan purposes. Under Obama, Mexican citizens who are apprehended after crossing the border and returned to Mexico are classified as having been deported.

Obama carefully omitted key details about qualifications for amnesty. He cited a criminal background check, but does that mean immigrants convicted of crimes such as driving under the influence or other serious misdemeanors will be deported? What about filing false federal affidavits or Social Security numbers — crimes that are usually felonies?

The president suggested that all undocumented immigrants are here to work. Most are. But recent statistics still suggest that almost 40 percent of undocumented immigrants rely on some sort of state or federal welfare assistance.

Obama will immediately reward millions of undocumented immigrants with exemption from immigration law. But does that mean those who do not qualify — those who committed felonies or serious misdemeanors, who have no sustained record of work, or who have been in the United States for only a year or two — will now face deportation that is as rapidly applied as amnesty?

Because Obama has serially misled the American people on key issues such as Obamacare, the Benghazi attacks, and his own prior constitutional inability to grant amnesty, there is no reason to believe him on the details of his new immigration move. Assume instead that Obama sees his executive order simply as a first step in a continual unilateral effort to dismantle immigration law that he finds incompatible with his own larger agenda.

For Obama, federal law is inconvenient — and therefore irrelevant.

The Gruberization of Environmental Policies

Paul Driessen
Friday, November 28, 2014

Call it the Gruberization of America’s energy and environmental policies.

Former White House medical consultant Jonathan Gruber pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars before infamously explaining how ObamaCare was enacted. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” he said. “It was really, really critical to getting the bill passed.” At least one key provision was a “very clever basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”

The Barack Obama/Gina McCarthy Environmental Protection Agency is likewise exploiting its lack of transparency and most Americans’ lack of scientific understanding. EPA bureaucrats and their hired scientists, pressure groups and PR flacks are getting rich and powerful by implementing costly, punitive, dictatorial regulations “for our own good,” and pretending to be honest and publicly spirited.

EPA’s latest regulatory onslaught is its “Clean Power Plan.” The agency claims the CPP will control or prevent “dangerous manmade climate change,” by reducing carbon dioxide and “encouraging” greater use of renewable energy. In reality, as even EPA acknowledges, no commercial-scale technology exists that can remove CO2 from power plant emission streams. The real goal is forcing coal-fired power plants to reduce their operations significantly or (better still) shut down entirely.

The agency justifies this by deceitfully claiming major health benefits will result from eliminating coal in electricity generation – and deceptively ignoring the harmful effects that its regulations are having on people’s livelihoods, living standards, health and well-being. Its assertion that reducing the USA’s coal-related carbon dioxide emissions will make an iota of difference is just as disingenuous. China, India and other fast-developing nations must keep burning coal to generate electricity and lift people out of poverty, and CO2 plays only a tiny (if any) role in climate change and destructive weather events.

The new CPP amplifies Obama Administration diktats targeting coal use. Companion regulations cover mercury, particulates (soot), ozone, “cross-state” air pollution, sulfur and nitrogen oxides that contribute to haze in some areas, and water quality. Their real benefits are minimal to illusory … or fabricated.

American’s air is clean, thanks to scrubbers and other emission control systems that remove the vast majority of pollutants. Remaining pollutants pose few real health problems. To get the results it needs, EPA cherry picks often questionable research that supports its agenda and ignores all other studies. It low-balls costs, pays advisors and outside pressure groups millions of dollars to support its decisions, and ignores the cumulative effects of its regulations on energy costs and thus on businesses, jobs and families.

Now, for the first time, someone has tallied those costs. The results are sobering.

An exhaustive study by Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc. tallies the overall effects of EPA regulations on the electric power industry and provides state-by-state summaries of the rules’ impacts on residential, industrial and overall energy users. The study found that EPA rules and energy markets will inflict $284 billion per year in extra electricity and natural gas costs in 2020, compared to its 2012 baseline year.

The typical household’s annual electricity and natural gas bills will rise 35 percent or $680 by 2020, compared to 2012, and will climb every year after that, as EPA regulations get more and more stringent. Median family incomes are already $2,000 lower since President Obama took office, and electricity prices have soared 14-33 percent in states with the most wind power – so these extra costs will exact a heavy additional toll.

Manufacturing and other businesses will be hit even harder, the study concluded. Their electricity and natural gas costs will almost double between 2012 and 2020, increasing by nearly $200 billion annually over this short period. Energy-intensive industries like aluminum, steel and chemical manufacturing will find it increasingly hard to compete in global markets, but all businesses (and their employees) will suffer.

The EVA analysis calculates that industrial electricity rates will soar by 34 percent in West Virginia, 59 percent in Maryland and New York, and a whopping 74 percent in Ohio. Just imagine running a factory, school district or hospital – and having to factor skyrocketing costs like that into your budget. Where do you find that extra money? How many workers or teachers do you lay off, or patients do you turn away? Can you stay open?

The CPP will also force utility companies to spend billions building new generators (mostly gas-fired, plus wind turbines), and new transmission lines, gas lines and other infrastructure. But EPA does not factor those costs into its calculations; nor does it consider the many years it will take to design, permit, engineer, finance and build those systems – and battle Big Green lawsuits over them.

How “science-based” are EPA’s regulations, really? Its mercury rule is based on computer-generated risks to hypothetical American women who eat 296 pounds of fish a year that they catch themselves, a claim that its rule will prevent a theoretical reduction in IQ test scores by an undetectable “0.00209 points,” and similar absurdities. Its PM2.5 soot standard is equivalent to having one ounce of super-fine dust spread equally in a volume of air one-half mile long, one-half mile wide and one story tall.

No wonder EPA has paid its “independent” Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee $181 million and the American Lung Association $25 million since 2000 to rubberstamp its secretive, phony “science.”

Rural America will really be walloped by the total weight of EPA’s anti-coal regulations. Nonprofit electricity cooperatives serve 42 million people in 47 states, across three-fourths of the nation’s land area. They own and maintain 42 percent of America’s electric distribution lines and depend heavily on coal. They have already invested countless billions retrofitting coal-fired generators with state-of-the-art emission control systems, and thus emit very few actual pollutants. (CO2 fertilizes plants; it is not a pollutant.)

EPA’s air and water rules will force these coal units to slash their electricity generation or close down long before their productive lives are over – and before replacement units and transmission lines can be built. Electricity rates in these rural areas are already higher than in urban areas, but will go much higher. Experts warn that these premature shutdowns will slash electricity “reserve margins” to almost zero in some areas, make large sections of the power grid unstable, and create high risks of rolling blackouts and cascading power outages, especially in the Texas panhandle, western Kansas and northern Arkansas.

The rules will thus put the cooperatives in violation of the Rural Electrification Act and 16 other laws that require reliable, affordable electricity for these far-flung communities. EPA’s actions are also putting rural hospitals in greater jeopardy, as they try to cope with “Affordable Care Act” rules and other burdens that have already caused numerous closings. As USA Today reported, the shuttered hospitals mean some of the nation’s poorest and sickest patients will be denied accessible, affordable care – and people suffering strokes, heart attacks and accidents will not reach emergency care during their “golden hour,” meaning many of them will die or be severely and permanently disabled.

EPA never bothered to consider any of these factors. Nor has it addressed the habitat, bird, bat and other environmental impacts that tens of thousands more wind turbines will have; the “human health hazards” that wind turbines have been shown to inflict on people living near them; or the high electricity costs, notorious unreliability, and increased power grid instability associated with the wind and solar installations that EPA seems to think can quickly and magically replace the coal-based electricity it is eliminating.

Congress, state legislators and attorneys general, governors and courts need to stop these secretive, duplicitous, dictatorial Executive Branch actions. Here’s one thought. Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr helped organize the panel that called for establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. In a persuasive analysis, he says it’s time now to systematically dismantle the federal EPA and replace it with a “committee of the whole” of the 50 state environmental protection agencies.

The new organization would do a far better job of protecting our air and water quality, livelihoods, living standards, health and welfare. It will listen better to We the People – and less to eco-pressure groups.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Conventional Wisdom

By Kevin D. Williamson
Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Democrats have scratched Birmingham, Ala., off their list of potential convention cities, and that’s probably a good thing: The last time the Democrats put on a big to-do in Birmingham, their supremo was a guy called Bull Connor and there were fire hoses involved. Birmingham has mellowed out a great deal since then, but, still, not a part of Democratic history that they’re going to want to remind people about. Phoenix got cut, too, though the local Greyhound station would make an excellent place to talk about the merits of President Obama’s amnesty diktat. That leaves three finalists to host JackassFest 2016: New York City, Philadelphia, and Columbus, Ohio. One of these things is not like the others . . .

I’ve argued for years that political parties should hold their conventions in the city that best represents their policies. For Republicans, that would probably be somewhere in the Houston suburbs, or possibly San Diego, one of the few big U.S. cities where Republican mayors are not extinct. Or maybe Indian Wells, Calif., a gated citadel full of older white people fond of golf and low capital-gains taxes. The Libertarian party should hold its convention at the Boot Track Café in Loving County, Texas, the least populated place in the United States; the café is closed at the moment, but I am sure that they would open it up to give the Libertarian party a place where its members — both of them — can be lonely together.

The Democrats, if they had any remaining intellectual honesty, would hold their convention in Detroit. Democratic leadership, Democratic unions and the Democratic policies that empower them, Democrat-dominated school bureaucracies, Democrat-style law enforcement, Democratic levels of taxation and spending, the politics of protest and grievance in the classical Democratic mode — all of these have made Detroit what it is today: an unwholesome slop-pail of woe and degradation that does not seem to belong in North America, a craptastical crater groaning with misery, a city-shaped void in what once was the industrial soul of the nation. If you want to see the end point of Barack Obama’s shining path, visit Detroit.

My guess is that the Democrats do Columbus. The Republicans, for their sins, are going to be in Cleveland, and the 2016 presidential election will probably come down to Ohio and Florida, like the last few have. (Conventional wisdom aside, election scholars do not find parties more likely to win the states in which they host their nominating confabs, and may in fact do slightly worse than usual in them. With politicians, familiarity really does breed contempt.) There is not much to say about Columbus, Ohio. It’s the city that murdered Dimebag Darrell, and it revels in the title “third-largest metropolitan area in Ohio,” the corporate home of Big Lots, Inc. It’s the 40-degree day of U.S. cities, as the philosopher Stringer Bell might have put it.

But there’s a case to be made for New York City, too. Most important is that it would make things much more convenient for National Review. If you’ve never been to a party convention — lucky you — a little background: These things really are run by the parties, down to assigning various media outlets to certain hotels. The last time around, the Democrats assigned National Review a roadside crack-and-crack-whores place — not an exaggeration — on the wrongest side of the otherwise charming city of Charlotte. One reporter remarked that he “wouldn’t take a hooker” there. (“I would,” Roger Stone replied.) Do it in New York City, and those Weekly Standard chumps will be the ones at the Hotel Chlamydia up in Hunt’s Point.

Beyond my own convenience, there’s a policy case for having the Democrats convene in New York City. With the new Sandinista regime of Mayor Bill de Blasio under way, New York finally has its first Democratic mayor since the 1990s — and the city is falling apart. New York is once again the city where you get stabbed waiting on the subway at Grand Central, and the transit system itself is going literally (literally, Mr. Vice President!) off the rails. Shootings are up across the city — and up 31 percent in public housing. De Blasio’s first move as mayor was to ease up on the stop-and-frisk program directed at criminals and implement a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy for charter schools. Naturally, Mayor de Blasio’s next move is to ask for a big tax increase.

Then there’s Philadelphia. I am very fond of Philadelphia — it was very good for me during my years as a newspaper editor there and in the city’s suburbs. But Philly is a pretty good example of how Democrats misgovern cities, too: It is the home of some truly ugly racial politics, deeply dysfunctional schools, a couple of neighborhoods largely abandoned to crime, and shocking nepotism. My favorite example of how Democrats do it in Philly was a $1 million-a-year contract for airport services awarded to a firm owned by Milton Street, whose brother, John Street, was the mayor at the time. Notlim (that’s “Milton” backward) Services won a contract to do maintenance and repairs for baggage carousels in the Philadelphia airport, which apparently is a million-plus-per-annum proposition. Notlim Services had no background or experience maintaining baggage carousels. It also lacked other things that a business awarded a contract like that might be expected to have, e.g. employees. Milton Street’s main professional experience had been running a firm that specialized in the management and deployment of mobile distribution services for perishable goods — i.e., a hotdog vendor.

That sort of thing is hilarious to observe if you’re a comfortable, middle-class guy in the suburbs; if you’re a poor and vulnerable person in the city, Philadelphia-style misgovernance is not funny at all: The city’s murder rate is three times New York’s and even higher at the moment than murder-happy Chicago’s. It graduates barely half its high-school students, and black students drop out at twice the rate of whites. Its median household income is 30 percent less than the national average, and 26 percent of its people live in poverty. Which is to say, it’s more or less like most cities where Democrats have long enjoyed uncontested dominance.

On second thought, maybe the Democrats were too quick to write off Birmingham.