Free Markets, Free People

regulation

Your global warming, er, climate change update

The Gorebots are not in a happy place today and the latest update on our warming changing climate are posted:

The global temperature has fallen .653°C (from +0.554 in March 2010 to -0.099 in March 2011) in just one year. That’s a magnitude nearly equivalent to the agreed upon global warming signal agreed upon by the IPCC. It is quite a sharp drop.

According to the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global surface temperature increased by 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the 20th century

Oh noes.

For those who prefer charts, try this:

uah_march2011

So when they try to limit the EPA’s power to "regulate" Greenhouse gasses today in the Senate via the McConnell/Inhofe amendment, tell your Senator to vote for the amendment.

~McQ

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Why EPA’s attempt at regulatory overreach would end up killing the recovery

I think we all know that the recovery, such that it is, is very fragile.  And, of course, the job picture remains very poor.  Any GDP growth numbers we’ve seen over the past few months have been fueled mostly by government deficit spending.

So a government that was concerned about jobs and economic growth in the private sector should be concerned with getting out of the way and ensuring that growth is allowed to go forward unimpeded.  Instead, we see any number of roadblocks, such as the drilling moratorium, banking regulations and the like being imposed that are having the opposite effect.

Another example of that is the EPA’s attempted usurpation of powers only Congress should wield.  It is a classic example of a bureaucracy now attempting to make the law instead of follow it.

The EPA has chosen to interpret the 1970 Clean Air Act as a mandate for it to regulate Green House Gasses (GHG), not only in automobiles, but in stationary sources as well.  In fact, as the EPA has testified, it would effect up to 6.1 million stationary sources.    The Clean Air Act gave the EPA the ability to regulate air pollutants that effect health, such as soot, but not the ability to regulate GHG which are not considered to be pollutants as defined by the Clean Air Act. 

The obvious solution here, if that is a concern of the administration, is to have Congress address the Clean Air Act with an eye on updating it to deal with the perceived pollution problems today.  But there’s a very good chance that such changes wouldn’t be made given the present makeup of Congress.  In fact, even when Democrats had an overwhelming majority these past two years, they were unable to pass a Cap and Trade bill. 

Given that reality, it seems the Obama administration has chosen to bypass Congress and allow the EPA to arbitrarily assume the power to regulate GHG.

The impact of such regulation would be economically devastating.  And, in an era of uncertainty, it would only add to the uncertainty.  James Pethokoukis noted that, “the only thing certain about the EPA [greenhouse gas] ruling is more regulatory uncertainty leading to less economic growth and fewer jobs.”

For instance:

Consider Nucor Steel.  The company planned a $2 billion investment that would have created 2,000 construction and 500 permanent jobs.  But the project was curtailed-by more than 50%-largely because of the EPA’s regulations.  Lion Oil, a refinery based in El Dorado, Ark., faced a similar fate:  The EPA’s cap-and-trade agenda was, according to the company, a "critical factor" that delayed a "several hundred million" dollar refinery expansion, slated to create 2,000 jobs.

Add that to this sort of economic impact on one industry:

The American Forest and Paper Association estimates that, “about two dozen new regulations being considered by the Administration under the Clean Air Act, if all are promulgated, potentially could impose on the order of $17 billion in new capital costs on papermakers and wood products  manufacturers in the next five to eight years alone.”

EPA’s proposed regulation would hit everyone, especially small businesses:

The burden of EPA’s regulations will fall disproportionately on small businesses, according to a new study released by the Office of Advocacy in Obama’s Small Business Administration. The study, titled “The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms,” small businesses, defined as firms  employing fewer than 20 employees, “bear the largest burden of federal regulations.” Specifically, the report found that “as of 2008, small businesses face an annual regulatory cost of $10,585 per employee, which is 36 percent higher than the regulatory cost facing large firms (defined as firms with 500 or more employees).”

Some of the regulations EPA is attempting to enforce deal with boilers.  “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Major Sources: Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional Boilers and Process Heaters.” This proposal is referred to as the “Boiler MACT.”  Boilers are ubiquitous in the commercial market:

The Boiler MACT (maximum achievable control technology) proposal would impose stringent emission limits and monitoring requirements for eleven subcategories of boilers and process heaters. This proposed rule covers industrial boilers used in, among other industries, manufacturing, processing, mining, refining, as well as commercial boilers used in malls, laundries, apartments, restaurants, and hotels/motels.

So obviously imposing new stringent emission limits on boilers is going to effect a broad and deep swath of the economy, correct?  How deep and how broad? 

A recent study by Global Insight estimates that, depending on the policy EPA chooses, the Boiler MACT could put up to 798,250 jobs at risk. The study found that every $1 billion spent on upgrade and compliance costs will put 16,000 jobs at risk and reduce US GDP by as much as $1.2 billion.

Facing that, would you save  your money to upgrade or expand?  Expansion, of course, means more jobs.  Upgrading, however, means less.  And that’s where the EPA would take us.

Then there’s ozone.  The EPA wants to tighten the already stringent standard on ozone.  What the EPA has proposed is to change the standard from 75 ppb to a range of 60-70 ppb.  Here’s a clue as to how preposterous that is – Yellowstone National Park has 67 ppb of ozone as we speak.  So yes, Yellowstone would go from an “attainment” area to a non-attainment area.  That means it gets shut down until it comes into compliance.

That would also be the same for any area.  What does that mean?

Based on 2008 air quality data, a standard of 65 ppb would create 608 new non-attainment areas, while a standard of 70 ppb would create 515 such areas. These areas would be highly concentrated in manufacturing regions and states relying on coal for electricity.

Those counties and cities deemed to be in a non-attainment area would then have to put together a plan as to how to reach attainment (buy offsets from neighboring areas which are in “attainment”) and submit that to EPA.

But here’s the problem.  The new standard would most likely remove from the attainment list many who are now there and move them to the non-attainment list.  Result?  No offsets available to buy:

Consider the case of Ohio. Many areas of the state are still trying to meet the 1997 standard. A further revision now would greatly complicate state efforts to achieve attainment. Bob Hodanbosi, Ohio EPA’s Air Pollution Division Chief, estimates that if the ozone standard is set at 70 ppb, 47 of 49 monitors in Ohio would exceed it; if it were set at 65 ppb, all 49 monitors would exceed it.

In case you’re wondering it takes about 100 ppb of ozone to begin to effect your health.  So there’s really no need to move it from 75ppb.  And, as you can see in the case of Ohio, moving it down 5 points would put most of the state in “non-attainment” and moving it down 10 points would put the entire state in “non-attainment” and require exceedingly costly fixes.

Result?

The costs to Ohio workers and consumers could be severe. For example, in the Cincinnati-Dayton region, assuming an ozone standard of 70 ppb, production would decline by $14.8 billion, killing 91,700 jobs in 2030.  If EPA chooses 65 ppb, the costs in 2030 would nearly double, and 165,000 workers would lose their jobs.

And that’s in one state.

This is the threat posed by the EPA’s attempt at regulating something they have no authority to regulate.  It is being imposed by regulatory fiat.  

There’s a bill in the Senate right now that will prevent the EPA from usurping those powers and imposing those regulations.  It’s the Inhofe-Upton Energy Tax Prevention Act (S. 482).  It is also known as the McConnell amendment.  It is worth supporting.

Not worth supporting are the Rockefeller amendment which only delays the inevitable (and essentially cedes the premise that the EPA can do this) by two years.   No-go.

Neither is the Baucus amendment.  Here’s how Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) describes the smoke and mirrors in that amendment:

The amendment is modeled on the EPA’s "tailoring rule," which temporarily exempts smaller sources-schools, hospitals, farms, restaurants-from the EPA’s cap-and-trade regulations.  That sounds good, but the rule blatantly violates the law, as the EPA changed the emissions thresholds established by Congress.

Hence the Baucus amendment:  It would codify the EPA’s permitting exemptions for stationary sources that emit fewer than 75,000 tons a year of greenhouse gases.  This exemption, which is actually more stringent than the EPA’s, purportedly is designed to help farmers and small businesses.  But as with the Rockefeller bill, it allows the rest of the EPA’s cap-and-trade agenda to move forward.  So businesses and farmers would still face higher costs for diesel and fertilizer, while small businesses would face higher electricity costs. 

The American Farm Bureau is wise to the false charm of the Baucus amendment.  It testified recently that, even with limited permitting exemptions, "Farmers and ranchers would still incur the higher costs of compliance passed down from utilities, refiners, and fertilizer manufacturers that are directly regulated as of January 2, 2011." 

Or said another way, the Baucus amendment also validates the premise that the EPA has the power to regulate GHG and just sneaks it up on us over a longer time period. Both are unacceptable. These amendments are supposed to come up for votes very soon. If you are an activist type and want to weigh in on this with your Senator, I’d recommended you push for passage of the Inhofe-Upton Energy Tax Prevention Act (aka McConnell amendment).

Require those types of decisions be made by elected officials who are accountable to their constituencies, not appointed officials accountable to no one.

~McQ

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Judge Kessler: Mandate Constitutional Because of “Free Riders”

There is a new opinion from U.S. District (DC) Judge Kessler ruling that the individual mandate imposed by ObamaCare is constitutional. The primary importance of the ruling is that it is squarely at odds with the Judge Vinson opinion from the District of Florida on one key issue: that deciding not to purchase something is an “activity” that can be regulated under the Commerce Clause. I’m still going through it, and will have more to say, but a few things really leaped out at me.

(1) Kessler places a lot of emphasis on the “free riders” who consume medical services but don’t pay for them. According to the judge, these free rider problems are illuminated by the congressional findings found in the Affordable Care Act (at pp. 39-40):

The findings on this subject could not be clearer: the great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured consume medical services they cannot pay for, often resulting in personal bankruptcy. In fact, the ACA’s findings state that “62% of all personal bankruptcies are caused in part by medical expenses.” ACA § 1501(a)(2)(G), as amended by § 10106. Of even greater significance to the national economy is the fact that these uninsured individuals are, in fact, shifting the uncompensated costs of those services–which totaled $43 billion in 2008–onto other health care market participants, as well as federal and state governments and American taxpayers. See ACA §§ 1501(a)(2)(F), (G),as amended by § 10106; Thomas More Law Ctr., 720 F.Supp.2d at 894.

Because of this cost-shifting effect, the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage. According to Congress, the uncompensated costs of caring for the uninsured are passed on by health care providers to private insurers, which in turn pass on the cost to purchasers of health insurance. “This cost shifting increases family premiums by on average over $1,000 a year.” ACA §1501(a)(2)(F), as amended by § 10106. Thus, the aggregate effect on interstate commerce of the decisions of individuals to forgo insurance is very substantial.

There are many problems with these “findings” chief among which is an innumeracy problem. According to the first two quoted sentences, we are supposed to infer that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are made up of those “who remain uninsured” and “consume medical services they cannot pay for.” Indeed, according to Kessler’s understanding of the findings, the foregoing population is the “great majority of Americans who remain uninsured.” The only problem is, even if we assume that the 62% statistic is correct (which is a stretch), the number of personal bankruptcies every year does not even reach 2 million. Indeed, 2009 saw personal bankruptcies soar by 32% … to 1.41 million. Sixty-two percent of that is just 874,200, which is far, far fewer people than the “great majority of the millions of Americans who remain uninsured.”

(2) Another glaring issue is that the “cost-shifting” complained of is entirely the fault of the federal government, not “free riders,” thanks to Congress passing EMTALA in 1986, pursuant to which practically every hospital in the nation was forced to accept any and every patient who requested “emergency services.” In short, Congress created the free riders with this legislation.

Now let’s follow the logic here: (a) hospitals refuse to treat patients who can’t afford their medical services, therefore Congress must force hospitals to treat regardless of ability to pay (i.e. costs shifted to hospitals); (b) Patients who can’t afford the medical services, but who hospitals must treat, raise costs of medical services, which are mostly paid by insurers who raise their rates and pass them on to paying patients (i.e costs shifted to service-providers, then insurers, then paying patients); (c) insurance costs are entirely too high because uninsured patients, who can’t afford insurance or medical services, but whom hospitals must treat anyway, which drives up the costs of services and therefore the costs of insurance, and therefore Congress must force everyone to buy insurance (i.e. costs shifted from paying patients to those who can’t afford services or insurance); (d) because some people can’t afford insurance, they must be subsidized in their mandated purchase of insurance by taxpayers (i.e. costs re-shifted back to paying patients).

Putting it all together, according to Kessler’s opinion, Congress must be able to force individuals to purchase insurance because individuals who can’t afford insurance, but still consume health services (thanks to Congress), are causing the health insurance market to become distorted. (Oh, and by the way, those who can afford insurance are going to have to subsidize those who can’t and are therefore responsible for this whole mess in the first place.) Does that make any sense?

(3) The one other thing that really struck me as worrisome is Kessler’s emphasis on the infamous Wickard v. Filburn case (at p. 40):

In this case, the link [between the activity and the market being regulated] is strikingly similar to that described in Wickard: individuals are actively choosing to remain outside of a market for a particular commodity, and, as a result, Congress’s efforts to stabilize prices for that commodity are thwarted. As Wickard demonstrates, the effects of such market-distorting behavior are sufficiently related to interstate commerce to justify Congress’s efforts to stabilize the price of a commodity through its Commerce Clause power.

This is the reasoning underpinning Kessler’s holding (at p. 38) that “[b]oth the decision to purchase health insurance and its flip side–the decision not to purchase health insurance–therefore relate to the consumption of a commodity: a health insurance policy.” In this view, any decision made about an arguably economic subject, even the decision not to participate in a market concerning that economic subject, is subject to regulation by Congress.

Accordingly, should Congress decide to regulate the market for U.S automobiles, your decision to not purchase a vehicle can be regulated and even penalized by federal law. In fact, if Kessler’s view of the Constitution is correct, then Congress could require that you purchase a GM or Chrysler vehicle in order to stabilize the price of that commodity. Or perhaps, because of free rider problems, you can be penalized for choosing not to have children who would grow up, enter the labor force and pay the Social Security and Medicare taxes necessary to support you in your older years. If Kessler is correct, then the only limit on Congressional power is the inability to conjure up a market to be regulated, since any decision (participate/not participate) will have a substantial effect on that market when considered in the aggregate.

I would submit that this cannot be the correct view. The Commerce Clause power has already been distended far beyond what was intended when it written. If the Supreme Court adopts this decision, or something similar, the Congress would effectively have carte blanche to regulate whatever it desires.

In any event, those three things stood out to me. I’ll try to have some more on the opinion itself by tonight.

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Reality check: About that “regulatory review”– don’t believe it

With much fanfare, President Obama announced an executive order which directs a regulatory review that ostensibly will remove conflicting, unnecessary and onerous regulations, streamline the reporting process by moving much of it online and further, get rid of regulations that aren’t needed and are impeding business from hiring.

That’s the official line, or should I say, ‘spin’.  However, as Conn Carroll points out over at the Heritage Foundation, some context should be given this airy promise.  And when put in perspective, it again points to an administration on the one hand saying one thing and on the other doing exactly the opposite.

In fiscal year 2010, the first full fiscal year under the Obama Administration, the federal government issued 43 major new regulations. According to the Administration’s own estimates, the total cost of these rules was $28 billion. Only two of the new rules reduced measured regulatory costs, and then by only $1.5 billion. On net, the Obama Administration inflicted $26.5 billion in new regulatory costs on the economy last year, an all-time record. This was on top of the $1.75 trillion in existing regulatory costs already inflicted on the U.S. economy by the federal government.

[…]

The 2,319-page financial regulation bill requires 243 new formal rule-makings by 11 different federal agencies. The 2,700-page Obamacare bill contains more than 1,000 instances where Congress instructed Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to regulate the health care industry. And, in the ultimate example of power-hungry federal regulators providing “solutions” where no problem currently exists, for the first time in the history of the Internet, the federal government will begin to regulate service providers with “net neutrality” regulations.

Message?  Take this Obama promise with a grain of salt.  It’s more posturing than reality.  Don’t believe me?  Well the devil’s in the details isn’t it?

Analysis of the EO Obama signed says nothing real will be happening, and if it does, it won’t be soon.  And then there are the exemptions:

First of all, the President’s executive order doesn’t actually require federal agencies to identify harmful regulations during the next 120 days. It merely requires that they submit a “preliminary plan” for reviewing regulations sometime in the future. This is not an order to reduce a single regulation. It is an order to plan to plan to maybe someday reduce regulations! Second, the order exempts “independent” agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Finally, even if an existing rule is found that stifles job creation, it will take years to actually repeal it. Kauffman Foundation Vice President Robert Litan tells The New York Times: “It’s more of a talking point than a policy. Even if you find a rule you don’t like, and they probably will, then they’re going to have to go through rule-making and then it’s going to take a year or two or longer.”

Triangulation has begun in earnest.  The move to the center is on.  This, like many of the administration’s programs, sounds great, but in reality it is all smoke and mirrors.  There is no real plan to identify and kill harmful regulations, there is no plan to reduce them and some of the worst offenders of onerous and intrusive regulation are exempt. 

All in a day’s work for the political propaganda machine that is the White House.  We’re now in “whatever It takes to win in 2012” whether or not it is real or even desirable, it will be promised in some form or another (just words) to make the current occupant of said White House seem more centrist and appealing.

Fool me once, shame on you …

~McQ

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Just words? Obama on a “21st Century regulatory” regime

President Obama has an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal (a carefully chosen venue to project a “pro-business” lean, I’m sure) in which he touts an Executive Order he is signing which orders a review of all federal regulation ostensibly to bring them inline with today’s realities and help root out those which stifle job creation.

On the surface, nothing at all objectionable in the premise.  Obama claims the purpose of the effort is to ensure that what regulation is kept represents “common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.”

Fine and dandy.  I’d love to see that applied to the letter.  I just have no real confidence that this is anything other than show (a visible move toward the center) or that bureaucracies will pay it any attention.  Of course that’s something we’ll have to see and monitor.

But … again, backing government out of much of the present regulatory regime (“unduly interfering” in Obama’s words) would indeed be a help.

More on the stated premise:

But creating a 21st-century regulatory system is about more than which rules to add and which rules to subtract. As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs. This means writing rules with more input from experts, businesses and ordinary citizens. It means using disclosure as a tool to inform consumers of their choices, rather than restricting those choices. And it means making sure the government does more of its work online, just like companies are doing.

Again, wonderful words (“more affordable, less intrusive” and more choice instead of “restricting those choices”) in an op/ed, but I have to say despite Obama’s claim this has been the aim of his administration the last two years, I’d dispute that.  Look at the route the EPA is taking right now in terms of trying to impose a regulatory regime on greenhouse gases.  Or how the Interior Department has unilaterally blocked oil and gas exploration. 

Certainly simplifying the regulatory regime, removing conflicting and overlapping rules, eliminating redundant reporting requirements and moving much of what can be done on-line to that venue would help.  But while that may make things more understandable and less onerous to do, it doesn’t really mean that intrusive regulation is going to go away or even be lessened. 

We’re back to how you define such regulation and what level of intrusiveness you believe is too much.  There’s no doubt that the Obama administration believes in a level of intrusion far greater than do most on the right.  An example of the difference can be found in the article itself:

One important example of this overall approach is the fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. When I took office, the country faced years of litigation and confusion because of conflicting rules set by Congress, federal regulators and states.

The EPA and the Department of Transportation worked with auto makers, labor unions, states like California, and environmental advocates this past spring to turn a tangle of rules into one aggressive new standard. It was a victory for car companies that wanted regulatory certainty; for consumers who will pay less at the pump; for our security, as we save 1.8 billion barrels of oil; and for the environment as we reduce pollution.

Of course on the other side of that are those saying “since when is it a function of government to decide what gas mileage a car must get?”  The entire premise that it is a function of government is built on belief in a “justified” level of intrusion far beyond that which any Constitutional scholar would or could objectively support (that’s assuming he is a scholar and an honest one).  In fact the example perfectly states the obvious difference between big government advocates and small government advocates.  BGA’s think it is government’s job to dictate such things – that it is a function of government to do so.  SGAs believe it is the market’s job to dictate such things and that government shouldn’t be involved in these sorts of things.

So in essence, while the Obama op/ed has all the proper buzz words to attempt to sell it as a pro-business, small government move, it is in fact simply a restatement of an old premise that essentially says “government belongs in the areas it is now, we just need to clean it up a little”.

This really isn’t about backing off, it’s about cleaning up.  It isn’t about letting the market work, it’s about hopefully making government work better.  And while Obama claims to want to inform us about our choices rather than restricting them, I’ll still be unable to buy a car that doesn’t meet government standards on gas mileage even if I want one.

Now that may not seem like something most of us would want – few if any of us want bad gas mileage and the cost it brings – but it does illustrate the point that government regulation really isn’t about providing choice at all, it is and always will be about limiting them.  And all the smooth talking in the world doesn’t change that.   It’s the nature of the beast.

So when you hear wonderful things like this…

Our economy is not a zero-sum game. Regulations do have costs; often, as a country, we have to make tough decisions about whether those costs are necessary. But what is clear is that we can strike the right balance. We can make our economy stronger and more competitive, while meeting our fundamental responsibilities to one another.

…just remember the reality of regulation and understand that all the great sounding words you hear coming from the administration about regulatory overhaul are most likely based on a completely different premise than the right has.   And as all of us have learned from the 2 years in which this administration has been in power, never, ever, ever just go by what they say they’re going to do.  Always judge them on what they actually do, because rarely do they ever do what they say in speeches or op/eds like this.

~McQ

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GOP plans on reining in the EPA

Between screaming birthers, edited Constitutions and not-yet members of the House voting, the House of Representatives under GOP rule got off with some fits and starts.

However, there was something of note besides the mostly symbolic attempt to repeal ObamaCare  (something that the CBO says would “cost” us about 230 billion  – well at least until they further revise it down to nothing after it fails), something of actual importance seems to be emerging:

Dozens of Republicans used the opening day of the new Congress on Wednesday to introduce legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.

48 Republicans and one Democrat (Boren- OK) are co-sponsoring the effort (that one Democrat makes it a “bi-partisan” effort under the definition of the term last Congressional session /sarc).    Read the next part carefully:

The bill would amend the Clean Air Act to declare that greenhouse gases are not subject to the law, according to a brief description in the Congressional Record.

What that’s not saying is “greenhouse gases are not subject to the law” – it is saying greenhouse gases are not something that the Clean Air act has the jurisdiction to legislate.  What Congress is trying to say to the EPA is “you stay out of the greenhouse gas business until we pass a law authorizing you to be in it”.

This is actually good news for the taxpayer.  If passed it will prevent EPA from unilaterally imposing emissions standards and defacto taxes on emitters via fines and fees.  The EPA’s primary targets would have been large emitters like power companies.  And any “fees” charged would have gone directly to power customers.  Effect?  It would have hit those who can afford it least the hardest.

Of course, the other good news is the incoming GOP majority is less enthralled with the pseudo-science of climate change and thus less likely to impose economic penalties than was the former Congress.  So we should see some backing away from the former trend of trying to tie energy and climate change together.  Or as the Hill notes:

While GOP leadership’s specific legislative approach to attacking EPA remains to be seen, the quick introduction signals that blocking climate rules is plainly on the agenda for the new GOP majority.

That gets a hearty “good” from me.

This also signals – or at least I hope it does – some intent on the part of the House to do some regulatory oversight.  You know, actually make the bureaucrats justify their regulations and their existence.  If you want an area that is fat for reduction, many of the bureaucracies are a wonderful place to start.

~McQ

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Is access to the internet a “civil right”?

Well, of course anything can be declared a “civil right”.  All it takes is using the force of government via law or bureaucratic fiat (FCC imposes new rules on internet) to make something into that.  But any basic understanding of the word “right” does not include something which depends on the labor, money, services or assets of a 2nd party for its fulfillment.  Health care is not a “right”, civil or otherwise, because in order to fulfill it, one must coerce a 2nd party provider to give the services necessary whether they want to or not.

So is the internet a “civil right”?  Depends on who you ask – for the entitlement crowd, the answer is “yes”:

"Broadband is becoming a basic necessity," civil-rights activist Benjamin Hooks added. And earlier this month, fellow FCC panelist Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Congressional Black Caucus leader and No. 3 House Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina, declared that free (read: taxpayer-subsidized) access to the Internet is not only a civil right for every "nappy-headed child" in America, but is essential to their self-esteem. Every minority child, she said, "deserves to be not only connected, but to be proud of who he or she is."

Heck, the same argument could be made for any number of things – a cell phone, for instance.  Any number of people I’m sure would argue that a cell phone and unlimited access to a cellular phone network has become a “basic necessity”.   Of course we’re sliding down that slippery slope at an amazing rate of speed.

And if internet access is a “basic need”, a “civil right”, what about the tools necessary to access it?  An account with an internet provider and a computer?  Software?  Michelle Malkin remarks:

Face it: A high-speed connection is no more an essential civil right than 3G cell phone service or a Netflix account. Increasing competition and restoring academic excellence in abysmal public schools is far more of an imperative to minority children than handing them iPads. Once again, Democrats are using children as human shields to provide useful cover for not so noble political goals.

And, of course that “not so noble political goal” is more government control which, of course, translates into more power accrued and more control of every aspect of your life.  Malkin again:

For progressives who cloak their ambitions in the mantle of "fairness," it’s all about control. It’s always about control.

Precisely – and they’ll use any trick in the book to enlarge it.  And cloaking it in the guise of a “civil right” simply points out, again, how blatantly transparent  they’ve gotten in their quest.  This isn’t about “rights” – this is about power and intrusion.

~McQ

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Why you have to react to every story about government overreach

No, this isn’t a story about the “War on Christmas”, it’s a story that uses Christmas and its symbols as an example of government overreach.

A bank in Oklahoma was forced by federal bank regulators to remove Christian verses and symbols because the Federal bank examiners thought they were “inappropriate”.

Really?

This is the “separation of the church and state” and “non-discrimination” gone wild.  Last time I checked, most banks were private enterprises which were regulated by the federal government.  Furthermore the supposed doctrine of “separation of church and state” doesn’t apply to private enterprises.  It is a prohibition aimed at the  federal government.  And yes, I know it’s not found in the Constitution per se, but the phrase “freedom of religion” is enough for me to agree that the state should not be promoting a single religion.

That said, it has absolutely no say over what a private enterprise might promote or favor.

Which brings us to “non-discrimination”, which one assumes is the real basis for the ruling by the feds here.  The reason for the federal bank examiners decision is a regulation penned by bureaucrats with apparently no understanding of private markets and no concern whatsoever about the impact of their regulation on the real world.  And they essentially decided to interpret those regulations any darn way they feel like interpreting them:

Specifically, the feds believed, the symbols violated the discouragement clause of Regulation B of the bank regulations. According to the clause, "…the use of words, symbols, models and other forms of communication … express, imply or suggest a discriminatory preference or policy of exclusion."

The feds interpret that to mean, for example, a Jew or Muslim or atheist may be offended and believe they may be discriminated against at this bank. It is an appearance of discrimination.

BS.  Here’s a dirty little secret about private enterprises such as banks – if people feel “discriminated” against, they can go elsewhere.  Yup, they actually have a choice.   Don’t like bible verses and Christian crosses, bank at a bank that doesn’t have them.  There is no requirement for a Muslim or atheist to bank there.  None.  Don’t like the Perkins County Bank for that reason?  Go across the street to the Stroud National Bank for heaven sake.

When did the possibility that someone might be offended become the top problem we face, such that the federal government feels the need to move preemptively to ensure that doesn’t happen.

What’s next, the removal of all pork products from grocery stores because they may offend Muslims?  The removal of crosses from church steeples because atheists traveling by may take offense?  This is lunacy.

But, to the point of the title – this little story was picked up and blasted around the blogosphere.  Guess what?

The small-town bank in Oklahoma will be able to restore its Christian signs and symbols after all, thanks in part to public outcry against the Federal Reserve.

That’s right – the bureaucrats backed down.  Why?

The story garnered national attention overnight from bloggers and Twitter users who posted links to KOCO.com’s story.

This is the power of the blogosphere – something that is a force to be reckoned with when riled up and one that people seem to take rather lightly at times.  It’s also an example of why even the smallest stories of government overreach should be addressed.   In fact, it puts and exclamation point on the saying “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance!”

~McQ

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I sometimes wonder about our future

Sometimes it’s something which seems minor or trivial that sets this ‘wondering’ of mine in motion.  I’ll read an article or short blurb which just makes me shake my head.  For instance, from North Carolina:

Students in Johnston County schools looking to relieve chapped lips better have all their paperwork in order.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that the district has begun requiring a note from parents before it will allow students to bring Chapstick and other lip balms to school.

Schools spokeswoman Terri Sessoms says the policy was set by the county health department. Sessoms says parents were worried that children would share lip balm and spread germs.

It sometimes is a wonder to me that we’ve managed to make it this far in our civilization without the “benevolent hand of government” to guide even the tiniest things in our lives.  Here we have a “county health department” deciding unilaterally to set policy without discussion or input from anyone.  I assume, given the way this is written, that the schools are required by law to do what the county health department says to do. 

But certainly they understand, given the policy covers the entire school district, that lipstick is just as likely to be shared (perhaps more likely) among girls?  Any conspicuous outbreaks of illness or disease experienced to base this policy upon?  Or is this just an normal, everyday, precautionary intrusion upon individual liberty?

And if the kids get a note from their parents, doesn’t that mean that the fears the policy is meant to address are now obviously circumvented by allowing the balm into the school and allowing it to be potentially shared?  So why have the policy?

Yeah, I know, it seem not to be a big thing in the overall scheme of problems we face.  And yes, you have to pick your battles and the hills you’re willing to die upon.  But that doesn’t make the minor governmental bureaucratic intrusions any more palatable than the more major ones.

It is the little intrusions, piled one upon the other, that make government more and more a part of our lives.  We spend more and more time complying with government demands and mandates every day – in areas where frankly, government has no business.  And we, for the most part, meekly accept them.

In reality, this seemingly minor intrusion isn’t terribly different than the recent unilateral decisions made by the TSA to begin full body scanning and enhanced pat-downs.  No discussion, a unilateral decision, and your job is to comply.  The assumption made is the government has the right to make such decisions because their intensions are good and the public’s concerns are of, well, little concern. 

And apparently, so is their liberty.

 

~McQ

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TSA and America’s attitudes

W have dueling polls concerning the level of anger/distress/rejection of the new TSA procedures being introduced in airports recently.  Zogby International and Gallup have come up with different results of polls they’ve recently taken about how the flying public feels about the “don’t touch my junk” controversy.

Gallup says that the overwhelming number of frequent flyers really don’t have a problem with the new procedures.  Since millions of flyers move through the system in a week and at the  last count I saw, only about 170,000 had been subjected to the advanced pat down, I have to wonder if that high number is a result of the fact that while they’ve heard about the pat downs, they’ve never experienced one.   And certainly, I assume a good number of them simply have no problem with the possible health care aspects of the back scatter x-ray or with some nameless bureaucrat ogling their “junk”.

TSA2

Anyway, per Gallup, frequent travelers are “largely” ok with full body scanners but not as enthused with the possibility of an advanced pat down.

They put the number at 71% who claim that the loss of personal privacy (through full body scan or pat down) is “worth it”  to prevent acts of terrorism.  27% say it is not worth it.  What’s the old saying?  A liberal is someone who has never been mugged before?  I get the impression that “in theory” they may find it to be “worth it” but I really have to wonder if they’d hold to that if they had to undergo the procedures.

As you get into the poll you find this:

The majority (57%) say they are not bothered by the prospect of undergoing a full-body scan at airport security checkpoints. The same percentage, however, say they are bothered, if not angry, about the prospect of undergoing a full-body pat-down. Still, fewer than one in three frequent air travelers are "angry" about undergoing either procedure.TSA3

Again, note the wording – they’re not bothered “by the prospect” of undergoing a full-body scan.  And it isn’t some “vast majority” like the 71% implies.  It’s 57% of which I’d guess most haven’t undergone either procedure (I believe the scanners are only in 70 or so airports at this time).

Zogby, on the other hand, come up with much different result than did Gallup:

Of the 2,032 likely voters polled between November 19 and November 22, 61 percent said they oppose the use of body scanners and pat downs.

Now that does wander into “vast majority” territory.  It also completely contradicts a CBS News poll that said only 15% were opposed to the full-body scanners.  Of course the poll was conducted November 7-10, before the “don’t touch my junk” controversy had really exploded in the media.TSA4

  The Zogby poll also mentions something that has gotten very little media attention.  The administration came out early saying that all their scientists say the x-ray scanners pose no health threat to the flying public.  But that’s not necessarily true.  I know, I know – you’re shocked, aren’t you?  But it is a matter of statistics that in fact someone will get skin cancer according to Dr. Michael Love of Johns Hopkins:

"They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these x-rays," Dr. Michael Love, who runs an x-ray lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.

When you consider how absurdly far the government sometimes goes in order to minimize risk in other health areas, it seems a bit contradictory to me to see it now claiming safety for something that obviously will statistically cause cancer in those who undergo the procedure.

TSA1

Now as mentioned it may not be a major risk, but it is certainly something people must consider when submitting.  And how about their kids? 

If they opt out because of those concerns, they get the grope treatment instead.  Not exactly what you’d expect in the “land of the free and the home of the brave” in terms of choices which preserve individual liberty and privacy.

Zogby reports, contrary to Gallup’s findings:

The poll also found that men were slightly more opposed than women, with 63 percent of men and 60 percent of women opposing the TSA’s new checkpoint procedures.

In addition, 52 percent of respondents think the new security procedures will not prevent terrorist activity, 48 percent consider it a violation of privacy rights and 32 percent consider it to be sexual harassment.

Zogby looks at the politics of the issue – and guess who manages to find themselves on the wrong side of an individual rights issue?

Republicans and Independents are more opposed to the new body scans and pat downs than Democrats, with 69 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Independents opposing them, compared to only 50 percent of Democrats.

And finally, the business aspect of all of this.  Gallup somehow finds an increase in the number of frequent travelers (flew 2 or more times this year)  who choose to fly vs. those who would seek an alternate means of travel.  They note that in January of this year, 27% would seek alternate means of travel besides air travel while in this recent survey, only 19% would seek an alternative to avoid the “hassles” associated with flying.

Zogby found a much different result among those they polled:

"It is clear the majority of Americans are not happy with TSA and the enhanced security measures recently enacted," said pollster John Zogby. "The airlines should not be happy with 42 percent of frequent flyers seeking a different mode of transportation due to these enhancements."

Below I commented on the climate government creates in which businesses have to operate.  This is an interesting example of the point.  Although not exactly what I was alluding too below, it is indeed an example of government action effecting the financial health of a market sector.  And the moves are unilateral and obviously without consideration of the downside for that sector.  Not to mention all the liberty related problems any American should find with these procedures as well.

~McQ

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