To the extent that it is run by anyone, the Tea Party movement is--like all great social movements--largely run by women.
Many of the movement’s most important political figures, like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, are women. Many of its important writers, bloggers, and commentators--like S.E. Cupp, Dana Loesch, Kathleen McKinley, and Michelle Moore--are women. And you are more likely than not going to see a woman like Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots, Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express, or FreedomWorks’ Tabitha Hale out front leading rallies, organizing activists, and driving the point home that the American people are fed up with the government in Washington. [See who contributes to Bachmann.]
In point of fact, the number of women holding visible, important, leading roles in the Tea Party movement are too numerous to list here or anywhere. But they are all part of an important social movement, one that filmmakers David Bossie and Stephen K. Bannon examine closely in their sure-to-be-controversial documentary Fire From the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman.
Drawing a line from the pioneer women who settled the frontier straight to the modern era, Bossie and Bannon respectfully--one hesitates to use any of the warm words like “lovingly” here--show how they and their contemporaries are changing America, by working to restore that which has been lost and preserve what is still best about America, particularly its grounding in the idea of liberty.
Continue reading...The Tea Party Movement is a Women's Movement
Friday’s action by President Obama to appoint Elizabeth Warren as his assistant in the White House and as an advisor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was extraordinary for several reasons, not the least of which was the 180 degrees reversal from positions by congressional leadership and the President since Wall Street reform became a legislative hot-button issue fifteen months ago.
When the President launched his push for financial re-regulation, he made creation of a new agency, charged with protecting consumers from harmful financial products and services, the cornerstone of his legislative initiative. Paramount to the future success of this new agency, according to President Obama, was its absolute independence from political influence.
Generally, agencies operate under the President’s supervision and major policy direction is determined through a dialogue between each agency and the White House Office of Management and Budget which sets agencies’ budgets. President Obama and Chairmen of the House and Senate Banking Committees insisted that the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be independent from any political interference from the White House or other agencies. They accomplished this through provisions in the law that exempt the new bureau from having to check with the White House before making policy decisions, guaranteed funding through the Federal Reserve, and through the appointment of a Director for a 5-year term (as opposed to most Senate-confirmed appointees who leave office in conjunction with the President who appointed them).
Anyone who listened to the strong pronouncements by the President about why the consumer agency should be independent must have been surprised on Friday when he announced that his pick to staff up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would not be independent at all. Instead, Elizabeth Warren will report to both President Obama and Secretary Geithner.
Looking at President Obama’s decision, it is easy to see that appointing an advisor is easier than submitting a controversial nominee to the Senate for approval. However, the attempt to avoid a political battle may backfire by putting Elizabeth Warren in a role subject to the very political interference the agency was supposed to avoid.
It is unclear how the President’s appointment will work out. However, his about-face on the importance of an independent voice for consumers suggests that President Obama has twisted a familiar old adage into, “do as I do, not as I say.”
Tom Sullivan is an attorney with the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough where he runs the Small Business Coalition for Regulatory Relief.
A recent Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government article has provided even more sordid details of a story we’ve been covering about a liberal agenda revealed. It seems that many far left factions with a little help from the New York Times are going to great lengths to misrepresent taxes paid by American oil companies. These extreme groups have formed a circle of collusion that is evidently more concerned with pushing liberal policies than stating the facts. Their attacks claim that energy companies are dodging taxes through subsidies and loop holes. This deceiving conclusion comes in the form of a Times article that as Big Government points out:
“appears to have been heavily edited by a cadre of left leaning groups, including ACORN President Maude Hurd, Citizens for Tax Justice, Center for American Progress and the Clean Energy Works campaign.”
The Times article falsely asserted that oil companies are heavily subsidized and given massive tax breaks. To prove the story was riddled was inaccuracies IFL even posted counterpoints to each argument in a post “IFL Responds to Clean Energy Works AND The New York Times.” The liberal agenda behind this all first came to light in a leaked Clean Energy Works memo by David Di Martino. At a time when our country is trying to create jobs and recover from an economic recession it seems particularly disheartening that liberal groups are trying to tear down American businesses. Hopefully the public and those in Washington will continue to watch as this story unravels.
The classic superhero, a mysterious person of the night, who anonymously swoops in to save the day without expectation of credit or monetary gain, has time and again captured the American imagination. The BP spill disaster has proved an opportunity for one such citizen to properly assess the situation and help solve the problem without anyone discovering his true identity. Unfortunately, more often than not, when persons are involved in a situation they do not fully understand, they do not act as a problem solver but a problem maker.
Over six weeks ago, Cal-Berkeley Professor Robert Bea received an anonymous call from a mystery plumber late one night who had designed a containment cap he felt could control the gushing well. Bea saw the potential of the cap, which utilized on a larger scale the same techniques plumbers use when repairing leaky pipes, and forwarded it to the US Coast Guard. More than a month later, a similar containment cap was put in place, and has successfully capped the main gusher. In this unique circumstance, someone without any oil expertise was able to assist in problem solving however this is a rare circumstance considering the complexity of offshore drilling.
President Obama has appointed a commission to look into the causes of the oil spill and provide recommendations for the future of drilling off the coasts of the United States. While this momentous task may not have the tabloid appeal of the late night plumber, the conclusions of this commission will shape future offshore drilling endeavors, acting to enhance or hinder safety and risk management. Boring holes into underground reservoirs buried miles underwater requires technical specificity the likes of which NASA has used to travel to the moon. Engineers and experts need difficult degrees and years of experience before being trusted to carefully plan and complete well operations. Unfortunately, the Administration’s commission does not demonstrate a respect for the difficulty of deep sea drilling, relying instead on politicians and environmentalists with no prior drilling experience.
Though it is a savvy DC political move to appoint a commissions whose conclusion is predetermined by its membership, in this case it could backfire. Due to the complexity of deep sea drilling and exploration, and the rapid advancement in technology and procedure, often work on an oil rig involves quick reactions, as opposed to rigorous predetermined regulations that would act to bind the hands of the crew. If the oil commission lays out a static set of procedures and technologies for drilling, advancements in safety and risk control would come to a halt. Furthermore, on an oil rig where flexibility is necessary when facing a difficult set of circumstances, regulations could act as an impediment and increase the risk of disaster.
Experienced offshore engineers are aware of the necessity of flexibility mixed with rigorous safety requirements on a rig, but how could an environmental lawyer, a former governor, or a physics engineer know about day to day operations on an offshore rig. Not one person on the president’s oil commission has any experience in the offshore industry.
The majority of offshore drillers follow a rigorous set of industry standards. From the initial reports, it appears that BP habitually ignored best practices in order to cut costs. Punishing an entire industry that has had a near spotless drilling record in the last 40 years for the reckless behavior of one company is overkill. More likely, this disaster that has caused so much pain for our Southern shore is being used for political purposes by those who naively want to eliminate drilling. Unfortunately, the anti-fossil fuel crowd is sorely out of touch with reality. Clean and renewable technologies are nowhere near a point where they could replace oil, natural gas, and coal. Even environmentalists would acknowledge that the transition would take at least 40 years, and even then these vital natural resources would be an important part of the energy mix. If we were to eliminate drilling off our shores, we would see increased reliance on foreign oil, lost jobs, a shrinking economy, and a drop in the standard of living here at home.
As the president’s unqualified commission proceeds with the investigation, let’s hope that it can take on a problem solving role as opposed to one of problem making. We need oil and gas for years to come, and we need to extract it safely. Adding onerous regulations that threaten this safety would be disastrous, yet are a real threat as a result of the inexperienced commission chosen by the White House. While the press certainly appreciates an unlikely hero during a crisis, the future safety and success of the U.S. energy industry demands the expertise of those with real technical expertise and veteran experience.
In a memo recently cited by E&E news, communications firm CEW (which appears at the bottom of this post, and can also be found HERE) outlines the possible method of using the New York Times as a centerpiece of a “tactical campaign” to reframe proposed tax increases on American consumers as “The Big Oil Welfare Tax”. This is a left wing campaign strategy to use the New York Times as a tool to push a liberal agenda that would increase taxes on energy companies and consumers. An actual article in the New York Times seems to be one example of this strategy in action. The article is riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations that are easily spotted by anyone with a basic understanding or background in tax policy. To understand the full level of the recent articles deception we have included counterpoints (below) to all the flawed and false statements. The plain text is the actual NY Times article while the italicized, bolded, and color-coded sections are the counterpoints containing the facts. This type of dishonesty seems to be an ongoing pattern with the far left and provides yet another black eye to the credibility of the Times.
As Oil Industry Fights a Tax, It Reaps Billions From Subsidies
By David Kocieniewski
July 4, 2010
The New York Times
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.
When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig’s owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.
The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.
The United States taxes the worldwide income earned by its residents. Most other countries only subject income earned within their borders to their income taxes. For companies like Transocean, with worldwide operations and major competitors based in countries that do not tax outside their borders, this was likely a matter of survival if Transocean were to be able to compete for non-US projects. For projects undertaken in the United States, companies based outside the US and companies in the US are generally taxed the same, so it was unlikely a strategy motivated by reducing US taxes on work done in the US, including the Gulf of Mexico.
The issue this raises is the uncompetitive state of the US tax law when applied to income earned completely outside the country. Rather than trying to level the playing field and keep US companies in the US, surprisingly the current proposals of the Obama Administration would actually make this even worse--likely prompting the US to lose even more companies, have them bought out by foreign investors (e.g. the loss of Anheuser Busch) or have their foreign operations acquired by foreigners, all of which result in the loss of US jobs.
At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon — a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.
Business income earned in the US is subject to a 35% net income tax. The tax is due on all income in excess of the costs incurred in earning that income. These are the rules that apply to all businesses.
In drilling the well in the Gulf, BP hired the drilling rig and paid a daily rental expense. That expense, just like when a computer company rents office space, a restaurant rents its building, or a construction company rents equipment, is "deductible" in determining BP's net income in the US. (Note that the rent paid by BP was US income to the drilling rig operator and immediately included in its US tax return) The term "write off" as used in this article is the way the New York Times has chosen to describe the normal deduction of costs under our net income tax. Note that BP was only allowed to deduct 70% of these costs as spent, and the remaining 30% are deductible over a period of years. So, as compared with many businesses that can deduct 100% of similar costs as incurred, the oil industry must defer the deductibility of some of these costs. Not exactly a subsidy compared to how other industries are treated.
With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.
BP has committed to pay for the cleanup, and has agreed to put into escrow $20 billion. If more is needed, they have committed to pay that. Further, an oil spill tax already is in place, and proposals to raise this tax to over 600% of the current tax, have not been opposed by industry. The total taxes to be collected over the next decade would be well over $20 billion. In addition to this, the Administration has proposed numerous other increases in the taxation of oil and gas in the United States, and it is understandable that increasing such taxes is not something that the industry would favor.
But an examination of the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process.
This is an absolute fallacy, but it doesn't deter people from making the assertion. In fact, the Center for American Progress, quoted later in this article, notes that the total amount of "tax subsidies" in the tax code amount to almost $1.1 trillion per year. Of this amount, the "tax subsidies" related to oil and gas are around one third of one percent--or just under $4 billion. And when we use the term "subsidies", we certainly use it "loosely". The main items that make up the so-called oil and gas subsidies fall into three categories:
(1) Deductibility of drilling costs, mostly labor and rentals like the drilling rig mentioned above. No one disputes that these costs are deductible, and the only issue is the timing of the deductibility--hardly what most people would regard as a "subsidy".
(2) The deduction for "domestic production activities", enacted in the 2004 Jobs Bill and designed to give all domestic producers and manufacturers, of all kinds, a deduction to promote jobs in the domestic producing an manufacturing sectors. This applies to coal, iron, all other mineral production, farming, manufacturing, construction, architectural services, computer software, and even the grinding of coffee beans at the local coffee shop and the cutting of keys at the department store. In fact, oil and gas production activities only get two thirds of the level of the deduction that all others get. Somehow this is described as a "subsidy" to oil and gas, when in reality it is a penalty over all others. You will note that later in the article Senator Menendez refers only to the "manufacturing" part of this, but the law itself clearly describes this as the deduction for "domestic production activities", and includes manufacturing in that definition.
(3) Percentage depletion deduction for oil and gas properties. This is a method of calculating the deductible costs in determining net income from oil and gas activities. It applies to all other mining and mineral activities as well. But, for oil and gas, and again only for oil and gas, it is severely limited. First it is limited to independent companies and to royalty owners. Integrated oil and gas companies, such as those generally referred to as Big Oil ( ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Marathon, etc.), do not even qualify for it at all. For those that do qualify, it is further limited to the equivalent of 1000 barrels per day of production. No other mineral production is limited in such a way. So again, to describe this as a "subsidy" to oil and gas, when it is more limited than for any other mineral producing industry, is outright wrong.
According to the Joint Committee on Taxation in its Tax Expenditures Report for 2009-2013, oil and gas "tax expenditures" amount to under $4 billion per year, but subsidies and expenditures for renewables amounted to over three times that amount per year. And amounts committed to renewables and energy efficiency provisions in the six month period at the end of 2008 and early 2009 under stimulus provisions amount to over 25 years worth of the 2008 oil and gas amounts.
According to the most recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, released in 2005, capital investments like oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of 25 percent for businesses in general and lower than virtually any other industry.
This is a very arbitrary calculation that seeks to look at the costs of making an incremental capital investment, and is hardly a description of the tax rate paid by the industry on its profits. Under this same study, homeowners are said to face negative tax rates. Try telling a hardworking homeowner who pays taxes that he really is facing a negative tax rate.
And for many small and midsize oil companies, the tax on capital investments is so low that it is more than eliminated by various credits. These companies’ returns on those investments are often higher after taxes than before.
Again, the same highly artificial calculation.
“The flow of revenues to oil companies is like the gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico: heavy and constant,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who has worked alongside the Obama administration on a bill that would cut $20 billion in oil industry tax breaks over the next decade. “There is no reason for these corporations to shortchange the American taxpayer.”
These companies are hardly "shortchanging" the American taxpayer, and the Senator knows better. The amount of taxes paid by oil and gas companies is staggering, and as noted above, the so-called "subsidies" are far from special subsidies at all. This is simply a way of using language to disguise what is a simple tax increase on the domestic oil and gas industry, one of the few industries that, even through the recession, has contributed large amounts of revenue to the federal, state, and local governments.
Oil industry officials say that the tax breaks, which average about $4 billion a year according to various government reports, are a bargain for taxpayers. By helping producers weather market fluctuations and invest in technology, tax incentives are supporting an industry that the officials say provides 9.2 million jobs.
"Tax breaks" is hardly how oil industry officials would describe these rules. But it is clear that increasing the costs of doing business in the United States by raising the tax rates on the industry will not help maintain or increase job growth--quite the opposite.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry advocacy group, argues that even with subsidies, oil producers paid or incurred $280 billion in American income taxes from 2006 to 2008, and pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than most other American corporations.
As oil continues to spread across the Gulf of Mexico, however, the industry is being forced to defend tax breaks that some say are being abused or are outdated.
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday announced that it was investigating whether Transocean had exploited tax laws by moving overseas to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Efforts to curtail the tax breaks are likely to face fierce opposition in Congress; the oil and natural gas industry has spent $340 million on lobbyists since 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors political spending.
Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, warns that any cut in subsidies will cost jobs.
“These companies evaluate costs, risks and opportunities across the globe,” he said. “So if the U.S. makes changes in the tax code that discourage drilling in gulf waters, they will go elsewhere and take their jobs with them.”
But some government watchdog groups say that only the industry’s political muscle is preserving the tax breaks. An economist for the Treasury Department said in 2009 that a study had found that oil prices and potential profits were so high that eliminating the subsidies would decrease American output by less than half of one percent.
“We’re giving tax breaks to highly profitable companies to do what they would be doing anyway,” said Sima J. Gandhi, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization. “That’s not an incentive; that’s a giveaway.”
Other industries, in fact, based on profit margin per sales dollar, are far more profitable than the oil and gas industry, but the even more advantageous treatment they receive under the tax code is conveniently ignored. Under this analysis, allowing a tax deduction to any profitable company for its costs a "giveaway", but in fact, under an income tax the costs of earning income have to be "deductible". Calling deductions "tax breaks" is just wrong. Calling the oil and gas provisions "tax breaks", or giveaways, when if anything they are more restrictive than for any other industry, is also wrong.
Some of the tax breaks date back nearly a century, when they were intended to encourage exploration in an era of rudimentary technology, when costly investments frequently produced only dry holes. Because of one lingering provision from the Tariff Act of 1913, many small and midsize oil companies based in the United States can claim deductions for the lost value of tapped oil fields far beyond the amount the companies actually paid for the oil rights.
This is the percentage depletion deduction described above--which is more limited for the oil and gas industry than any other mineral producing activity.
Other tax breaks were born of international politics. In an attempt to deter Soviet influence in the Middle East in the 1950s, the State Department backed a Saudi Arabian accounting maneuver that reclassified the royalties charged by foreign governments to American oil drillers. Saudi Arabia and others began to treat some of the royalties as taxes, which entitled the companies to subtract those payments from their American tax bills. Despite repeated attempts to forbid this accounting practice, companies continue to deduct the payments. The Treasury Department estimates that it will cost $8.2 billion over the next decade.
This may be the most disingenuous claim of all. Under rules in place for over 25 years, again the most severe and substantial restrictions and limitations apply to the oil and gas industry in determining the US taxation of income earned outside the country. As noted above, the US has a worldwide tax system and taxes the income earned outside its borders. But under that system, it recognizes that it should not impose full taxation on such foreign income because that would amount to full double taxation. Thus, the US permits an offset for the US taxes otherwise due--only on foreign income--for income taxes already paid on that income to foreign countries. The tax rules only allow an offset for income taxes paid and, contrary to the assertion above, the tax rules forbid the claiming of an offset credit for a royalty. Further, and most restrictive of all, the tax rules place the entire burden of proof on the taxpayer to show that no portion of what it claims as an income tax offset is in fact a royalty. The taxpayer must overcome this burden by ultimately proving that up in an American court. The Obama Administration would deny US taxpayers in this situation the right to go to an American court to get a fair and neutral determination. In other words, even where a taxpayer can meet the already highly restrictive rules and overcome the burden of proof, to the satisfaction of an American judge, the Obama Administration would deny that opportunity. Rather than saying that the current rules will "cost $8.2 billion over the next decade", it is more appropriate to say that the Obama Administration wants to simply raise $8.2 billion more from the oil and gas industry, on income earned outside its borders, on which in most cases an income tax burden approaching 50% has already been paid. This is a pure and simple money grab, and it denies access to the judicial system to an American taxpayer who believes the IRS has made a mistake. That is a denial of a fundamental right, done under the "guise" of eliminating a "tax break" to one taxpayer. The real question is why the Obama Administration and Senator Menendez are afraid of allowing a US court to review the actual facts, particularly given their call for transparency, and how denying the right to an independent review is consistent with sound tax policy. If the Administration can deny this right of access to the justice system for one taxpayer, what will prevent it from doing so for others whenever they may be out of current favor?
Finally, and perhaps most ironically, changing these rules as proposed will actually reward the major foreign competitors of US based companies in the key, strategic world energy markets, including companies based in China, Russia, and even in Great Britain or other European countries.
Over the last 10 years, oil companies have also been aggressive in using foreign tax havens. Many rigs, like Deepwater Horizon, are registered in Panama or in the Marshall Islands, where they are subject to lower taxes and less stringent safety and staff regulations. American producers have also aggressively exploited the tax code by opening small offices in low-tax countries. A recent study by Martin A. Sullivan, an economist for the trade publication Tax Analysts, found that the five oil drilling companies that had undergone these “corporate inversions” had saved themselves a total of $4 billion in taxes since 1999.
They have not likely saved this tax on their activities conducted in the United States, but they have avoided being taxed by the US on their non-US income, in order to compete with companies headquartered in other countries. The punitive US tax laws applicable to taxation of non-US income have forced these companies to leave in order to survive. The idea of making such punitive rules even more punitive, in the face of what they force companies to do to survive, hardly seems the right strategy if we are trying to promote investment and jobs in the United States.
Transocean — which has approximately 18,000 employees worldwide, including 1,300 in Houston and about a dozen in Zug, Switzerland — has saved $1.8 billion in taxes since moving overseas in 1999, the study found.
Just considering the proportion of employees of Transocean outside the US, and the fact noted in the following paragraph that almost 90% of its work is outside the United States, simply underscores that in order to compete for that work against companies headquartered in other countries, Transocean determined, for its own survival, that it had to leave. A tax system that creates that imperative is hardly in America's best interests, and additional tax proposals that make current rules even more harmful will be counterproductive in the long run.
Transocean said it had paid more than $300 million in taxes so far for 2009, and that its move reflected its global scope, with only 15 of its 139 rigs located in the United States. “Transocean is truly a global company,” it said in a statement.
Despite the public anger at the gulf spill, it is far from certain that Congress will eliminate the tax breaks. As recently as 2005, when windfall profits for energy companies prompted even President George W. Bush — a former Texas oilman himself — to publicly call for an end to incentives, the energy bill he and Congress enacted still included $2.6 billion in oil subsidies. In 2007, after Democrats took control of Congress, a move to end the tax breaks failed.
This is again one of the pure fallacies. According to a Congressional Research Service report (CRS Report for Congress, December 20, 2006), the Energy Act of 2005 actually increased taxes on the oil and gas industry, including the refining industry, by over $1.3 billion; the comment above takes one piece of the bill that was a benefit, without looking at the other parts of the bill that were tax increases. And one of the few beneficial aspects of the 2005 bill was repealed in 2007 and 2008.
Mr. Menendez said he believed the Gulf spill was devastating enough to spur Congress into action. But one notable omission in his bill shows the vast economic reach of the industry. While the legislation would cut many incentives over the next decade, it would not touch the tax breaks for oil refineries, many of which have operations and employees in his home state, New Jersey.
This sounds suspiciously like the health care bill with the special "cornhusker kickback".
Mr. Menendez’s aides said the senator thought it was legitimate to allow refineries to continue claiming a manufacturing tax credit that he wants to eliminate for drillers because refining is a manufacturing business and because refineries do not benefit from high oil prices. Mr. Menendez did not consult with New Jersey refineries when writing the bill, his aides said.
In the wake of bad approval ratings and tough news about a slow economic recovery, President Obama’s team has started to fight back against accusations that the President is anti-business. President Obama focused on the stimulus to highlight his pro-growth agenda during a recent speech in Nevada. Back in Washington, the President’s advisors responded to press inquiries by citing Obama’s frequent visits with corporate leaders as evidence of the President’s positive relationship with the business community.
One of the most gratifying things I've been involved in over the last year has been the reinvigorated interest in the constitutional underpinnings of the American Republic. Whether it's the Tea Party Movement or our work with ReConstituting America, Let Freedom Ring, and Liberty Central, there is something truly satisfying as this resurgent interest in the principles upon which this nation was founded.
Conversely, it is more-than-irritating when folks grossly misstate these principles--and, in fact, write in such a way as to perpetuate misconceptions. It is, in fact, entirely destructive of those principles. So it was, today, with the Associated Press' Mark Sherman, whose initial piece on the Supreme Court's Decision in McDonald v. Chicago claimed that the High Court had "expanded" gun rights in America. So I decided to drop Mr. Sherman a note:
I read with great interest your reporting on the Supreme Court's decision today in McDonald v. Chicago. But the headline, and your introductory paragraph, make an erroneous statement: the Supreme Court today did NOT expand or extend gun rights. Today, the High Court struck down unconstitutional limitations on those rights - restoring what had been erroneously taken away.
There is a tremendous difference between the two perspectives. The latter recognizes that we, as a people, are endowed with a collection of rights, a state of being that was affirmed and sought to be protected by the founders and the documents that set about the rules under which our system operates.
The former, on the other hand, leaves a reader with the impression that rights can be expanded or narrowed at will, and that in this case, the Justices of the Supreme Court were going beyond the scope of what is constitutionally warranted. That perspective is unfortunately both persistent and ubiquitous among Americans, a misunderstanding of the nature of rights which puts them constantly under the threat of assault. If we believe that rights are held at the whim of government officials, and can be narrowed or expanded at will, then it becomes that much harder to defend them when they are so narrowed.
I'll put it to you this way: assume for a moment that the High Court had spent years chipping away at the ability of journalists to practice their craft--and, in fact, had affirmed state-based rules which sharply limited the proliferation or even existence of news outlets. If, today, McDonald v. Chicago had struck down these rules, would you have announced that the Supreme Court had "extended" or "expanded" 1st Amendment rights?
I doubt that highly.
Facts are important things, Mr. Sherman. This is especially important when talking about the fundamental principles which underlie our Republic. I'd ask that you take greater care when reporting on them in the future.
President, The Institute for Liberty
Gen. David Petraeus is now the darling of the Democrats. Having been picked by President Barack Obama to lead U.S. efforts on the ground in Afghanistan, Petraeus, the architect of the surge in Iraq, is being praised by the Democrats from pillar to post.
It wasn’t always so.
U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is now out of a job, thanks to some unguarded and unflattering comments made about President Barack Obama within earshot of a reporter working on a freelance piece for Rolling Stone. This is as it should be.
The President’s Oil Spill Commission: The Lazarus Effect
Earlier this week, the Obama Administration announced the appointment of Richard Lazarus, to serve as executive director of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Lazarus, a notorious environmental lawyer, is a curious choice considering the technical nature of the task at hand.
Energy experts have raised eyebrows at the pick, suggesting that perhaps someone with a technical background, a career in the energy industry, or better yet, any experience at all with offshore drilling, would have been a more suitable pick.
I wasn’t so surprised at this dubious choice. The Administration is clearly pushing industry experts, best practices, and knowledge aside in the pursuit of a predetermined political outcome - namely, closing access to America's offshore energy resources.
Using this crisis as a pretext for shutting down drilling is grossly irresponsible and detrimental to solving the problem at hand. Now more than ever it's important that our government tap the most informed available experts – the brightest engineers we have to offer – to identify the most promising technologies for coping with this ongoing crisis and to begin developing the guiding principles that will reduce the likelihood of this type of incident from occurring in the future.
While we usually need a trial, a jury, and a guilty verdict before a death sentence is pronounced, here we're through the looking glass: we have no need of trials, juries, or executioners. The verdict is predetermined, regardless of the overwhelming expert opinion that demonstrates that something much different ought to be done. Almost from the start of this crisis, the President's unfocused, bureaucratic and obstructionist response has caused this disaster to get infinitely worse. Whether it's payoffs to his political cronies or slavish devotion to this anti-energy ideology, the outcome is still the same: the American people, especially those on the Gulf Coast, lose and lose big."
To be frank, the journalists who cover U.S. elections are, by and large, not really up to the job. There are a select few, like former U.S. News columnist Michael Barone, the much-missed Tim Russert, and others who, as former practitioners of some aspect of the “dark arts” themselves, understand the subtexts and subtleties of campaigns and their strategies and can explain them in ways that are neither mind-numbing nor unbalanced.
They are too few in number. Many of the rest--but by no means all--of the stamped out, blow dried network types who report on poll numbers like they were sports’ scores and who are obsessed, to borrow a word from Sarah Palin, with playing “Gotcha” so obviously radiate contempt for the candidates they are assigned to cover or are so clearly in love with them that they fail to even approach objectivity.
For them, especially, it would useful, even instructive, to read Karl Rove’s memoir of his life in politics. Most books of this type are little more than an “I was there as history unfolded” collections of great moments and significant accomplishments. Rove’s Courage and Consequence is decidedly not that kind of book. Instead it is something more on the order of, well, a training manual for anyone who is interested in running campaigns or, of equal importance, covering them....
Officials in the District of Columbia, which has some of the worst-performing public schools in the nation, are concerned that their program for the distribution of free condoms in those schools is failing. According to the Washington Post, “High school students and college-age adults have been complaining to District officials that the free condoms the city has been offering are not of good enough quality and are too small.”
If that alone was not bad enough, students are also complaining that it is embarrassing to have to ask school nurses and other health professionals for them.
Last night, 60 Minutes aired a broadcast on the plastic chemicals known as phthalates.
A large portion of the broadcast featured an interview with Dr. Shanna Swan, a biostatistician and Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Swan has made a career seeking to demonstrate phthalates may be harmful. But in spite of her efforts, she has never found a direct correlation between phthalate exposure and the reproductive effects she claims. Moreover, none of her research has been reproduced or validated by the scientific community. STATS’ Trevor Butterworth recently published a piece on Forbes.com exposing the problems with Swan’s research and lack of credibility. As demonstrated by the Daubert ruling, Swan’s expert testimony has been dismissed by the courts because her studies were not “generally accepted” in the scientific community.
In the interview, Swan even admitted that her research does not offer conclusive evidence that phthalates are harmful. However, she continues to push out her message of fear to the media. Phthalates have become another victim of scare tactic propaganda, often perpetuated by activists like Swan and various special interest groups. The media picks up on these headlines and eventually you have frightened parents throwing out all plastic toys for no reason. A panic mode sets in, which can result in overreaction by individuals and our government.
Congress pushed the panic button when they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This law was passed in response to the lead scares which surfaced during the Christmas shopping season of 2007. However, in an effort to protect children from harmful products, Congress overreached and passed a sweeping law with regulations on many products which do not pose a threat—including a temporary “precautionary” ban on certain phthalates used in toys.
Rather than protect consumers, these regulations have wasted millions of dollars in inventory for businesses, and ultimately increased the risks consumer products pose to children by requiring the use of less-studied alternative chemicals.
Sensational and baseless claims— like
the ones prorogated by Swan in last night’s 60 Minutes broadcast—can
far-reaching consequences for consumers and businesses.
The facts in this case on phthalates are made clear by the scientific evidence which demonstrates that human exposure to phthalates is safe. To suggest otherwise is simply irresponsible.
By now the White House must realize that its selection of U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court could be going better. Kagan, the former dean of the prestigious Harvard Law School, has spent the past week introducing herself to members of the U.S. Senate, but has yet to see the American people embrace her nomination--which may be an early indication that her hopes for confirmation may be headed to the rocks.
Since its inception the Tea Party movement has been met with considerable criticism from those who are opposed to its goals.
Flowing freely from the pens of some of the nation’s most prominent columnists are charges that it is too narrowly focused, that it lacks depth, that it is unrepresentative of the mainstream, or that it represents the darker side of the American character. One of them, writer and former Crossfire co-host Michael Kinsley has penned an essay in which he complains that Tea Party activists are, in contrast to the altruism of the anti-war demonstrators of the 1960s, “mostly self-interested.”
“They lack poetry: cut my taxes; don’t let the government mess with my Medicare; and so on,” Kinsley wrote on the website of The Atlantic magazine. “There is a nasty, sour, vindictive tone to the Tea Party that certainly existed in the antiwar movement and its offspring, but never dominated the atmosphere created by these groups. “
As usual, he’s missed the bus. Kinsley understates the radicalism of the '60s-era movement and its offspring, which seized buildings on college campuses, blew up others, caused riots in places like Chicago, and attacked police officers, among other less-than-altruistic deeds.
At the same time he overstates the threats posed by the Tea Party movement which is, after all, an almost exclusively peaceful protest. It is, in reality, a popular uprising dedicated to taking power back from a group of elites--most clearly but not exclusively represented by President Barack Obama and those who populate his administration--who seek to upend the cultural values and economic system that has made America a powerful force for good in the world. The Tea Parties are demanding from politicians in both parties a kind of accountability that has been lacking in the national government for some time....continue reading.
Most political forecasters are now looking seriously at the possibility that Republicans will win back control of Congress this year. They are seeing the forest but not the trees. The real battle to determine the nation's political alignment for at least the next decade is happening down ballot and below the radar.
By law, the results of the 2010 census will lead to a reshuffling of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. And this year's elections will in many cases determine who will have the authority to draw each state's new congressional map, which, in turn, will shape the political battlefield until the next census in 2020. Both parties are girding for the fight, but the GOP is poised to emerge with its strongest hand in decades. Here's why:
... Keep Reading ...
So much for the “Kagan Standard.” Our nation’s newest Supreme Court nominee has already reversed herself.
Back in 1995, as written here previously, Kagan wrote of her belief that nominees to the nation’s highest court should have to answer questions about “the votes she would cast, the perspective she would add (or augment), and the direction in which she would move the institution.”
Now that she herself has been nominated it is being pointed out that she no longer believes what she wrote. As reported by the Daily Caller, an Internet-based publication, a senior White House aide is reminding people that Kagan has changed her mind.
In U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama has found the ultimate stealth nominee. Typically, the judicial confirmation process for those selected for the U.S. Supreme Court consists of an examination of a nominee’s prior legal decisions, speeches, articles written for prominent legal journals, and other examples, presumably, of their thinking about the law and the U.S. Constitution.
Kagan, the former dean of the Harvard Law School, is a policy wonk and an academic with very little practical legal experience. As a result, the record available for examination is very thin.
Given the depths to which the public’s feelings about Congress has sunk, it was only a matter of time before a Democrat running for Congress determined it would be a good idea to separate himself from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. West Virginia State Sen. Mike Oliverio, who hopes to unseat veteran Rep. Alan Mollohan in the May 11 Democratic primary, said this week that he hoped “there will be a better candidate than Nancy Pelosi” running for the speakership when the House votes to organize itself next January.
There are a number of interesting things about Resurgent Republic’s one-year anniversary poll, conducted at the end of April among 1,000 registered voters nationwide, but none more so than the clear evidence it provides that independent voters are deserting the Democrats in droves.
By a margin of better than 2 to 1, self-identified independents agreed that an increase in the number of Republicans in Congress is necessary in order to bring about “a check and balance on runaway Washington government.” Independents also agreed that the country is on “the wrong track” by a 65 to 25 percent margin.
Most surveys, including this one from Resurgent Republic, show the GOP electorate approaches the upcoming election with much greater intensity than the Democrats. Sixty-four percent of Republicans now say they are “absolutely certain to vote” in November.
The Democrats appear to be so afraid of free speech, applied equally in the political arena that they have taken to—let’s be charitable—misstating the facts about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Citizens’ United case. Case in point is the assertion, which President Barack Obama himself made in his most recent State of the Union address, that the court’s ruling in Citizens’ United would “open the floodgates for special interests--including foreign corporations--to spend without limit in our elections.”
The idea that foreign interests might subvert the nation’s independence by interfering in the U.S. electoral process is a concern almost as old as the nation itself. It’s one reason the Founding Fathers included in Article II of the U.S. Constitution the provision that “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President.”
As applied to the Citizens United decision, the idea that foreign dollars are suddenly going to pour into U.S. campaigns is big lie No. 1. Nevertheless, as my bloleague Linda Killian wrote here Saturday, the Democrats have made a prohibition against it the centerpiece of their legislative proposal to overturn the court’s decision. Such a move is unnecessary and demagogic.
No one can ever accuse the government of being consistent. In fact, as two recent developments in different states suggest, it seems these days that the focus is far much more on the ends rather than on the means.
In one case, New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky--who wants to be attorney general--wants to force every resident of the state to become an organ donor. In another, the Oklahoma Legislature has enacted, over Gov. Brad Henry’s veto, a new law that requires women seeking abortions to first undergo an ultra-sound.
Democrats are, as might be expected, up in arms over the Oklahoma measure, arguing that it violates a woman’s right to privacy. They are, however, strangely silent over what Brodsky--who is also a Democrat--wants to do, as though somehow the harvesting of a person’s organs, without their explicit pre-mortem consent and possibly over the objection of family members, is not.
Washington is continuing to play ping-pong with the immigration issue. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who needs at least the lion’s share of the votes to be cast by Nevada’s Hispanic community if he hopes to be re-elected this November, is trying to push a bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t commit to doing anything about immigration unless and until the Senate acts first. And President Barack Obama stands there, wagging a disapproving finger at anyone who tries to address the problem.
The president and Congress’s Democratic leaders have ignored the issue up to now. Suddenly, they have a renewed interest in it--because a new Arizona law gives them the chance to demagogue on it.
The law says “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state ... where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.”
They think, because this law--as I wrote yesterday--gives local law enforcement officials the power to detain suspected illegal immigrants they can drive a wedge between Hispanic voters and the GOP by conjuring up the idea it is some kind of near-fascism. But, as my friend Rich Lowry explains at National Review Online, there’s a lot of hyperbole going on.
Outside certain broad parameters, the Tea Party Movement remains something of a mystery, at least to the media.
It has its positive aspects--for example the incredible level of self-education it is producing about the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, other founding documents and the political process itself. It also, admittedly, has less flattering components, like those who seem to find their way in front of the television cameras who are relentlessly negative, focused on ephemera or are just plain angry.
Either way it is clear it is a force to be reckoned with, at least for this political cycle. It is also clear that the established order, the dominant liberal, Democratic establishment currently in power is afraid of it, but not so much because they do not understand it as because they do.
It's one thing when an individual idiot shouts bad words or issues threats against political figures. It's something else entirely when those threats, even by implication, come from an organization that should know better. And it's far more serious, especially when there is no dispute about what occurred. The CBS affiliate in New York City reports the Bergen County, N.J. Education Association recently sent out a memo that included a hint it would like to see Republican Gov. Chris Christie--who is trying to get the union to agree to wage and benefit concessions that may keep the state from bankruptcy--dead. From the memo:
"Dear Lord this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor."
To her credit, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, Barbara Keshishian, denounced the memo in strong terms, saying "Language such as that has no place in civil discourse," and apologized to Christie for both the message's content and for "the lack of respect it demonstrated."
It may just be that U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood forgets to engage his brain before he puts his mouth in gear. Either that or he is deliberately trying to make it harder for Toyota to maintain its share of the American automobile market.
Right now, thanks to the way the media has hyped the story, it would be hard to blame a consumer who questioned the overall safety of Toyota's passenger car fleet. LaHood has not helped matters, missing wherever he can the opportunity to calm the fears of the American public.
Back in February, he raised more than a few eyebrows when he suggested the proper response for anyone concerned about the safety of Toyotas was to "stop driving" them, a comment he was later to retract as an embarrassing misstatement. Now LaHood, who has just announced the Japanese automaker faces a record $16.4 million fine, is accusing the company of being "safety deaf" and says he would not be surprised if further reviews of internal company documents find additional problems with the vehicle fleet.
A few months ago, I wrote on the dangers of great news headlines making for bad government policy, especially when it comes to technical scientific matters. Well, it appears the hype is back.
Today, Time Online compiled a list of “Household Dangers,” that inferred a class of chemicals, known as phthalates, could be linked to a variety of health effects and developmental problems in children. While the article is correct in its description of phthalates as, “a class of chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride plastics, found in products ranging from shower curtains to cosmetics to intravenous-fluid bags,” that’s pretty much all Time was right about.
While the author was correct that phthalates is a class of chemicals he didn’t explain what this means. This class of chemicals covers a broad product range with different toxicology profiles. While some animal testing has shown that high levels of exposure to some phthalates may cause some concern in rodents, other common phthalates have received a clean bill of health by many top government agencies. In fact, the phthalates used most widely in consumer products have undergone decades of review by independent scientists and numerous government agencies have proven over and over again that these phthalates pose no measurable risk to humans. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Toxicology Program, the Center for Disease Control, and a variety of other independent institutions around the world, have all extensively reviewed the phthalates used in toys for example, and determined them to be safe.
The difference between these sound scientific studies and Time’s article is sensational packaging. Time combines catchy phrases like “perilous plastics” with compelling graphics and the highly controversial work of Dr. Shanna Swan to paint everyday objects as dangerous poisons lurking all around your house. The result is that individuals and our government panic – without stepping back to fully evaluate the validity of these claims, and the implications of a knee jerk overreaction.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), a law passed by Congress in 2008 to address the safety of consumer products as exhibit A. This well intentioned legislation place a temporary “precautionary” ban on commonly used phthalates that had already been reviewed and approved by the government commission responsible for oversight of consumer products. Rather than protect consumers, this ban wasted millions of dollars in inventory for businesses, and ultimately increased the risks consumer products posed to children by requiring the use of largely unstudied alternative chemicals, that lack the proven safety record of the phthalates most commonly used in toys. In fact, none of the alternatives that have replaced the temporarily banned phthalates have been risk assessed by a U.S. government agency.
As I’ve said before, “in dealing with complicated scientific analyses, emotion and bias must be removed from the equation; science is, after all, about demonstrable facts.” Time has done a serious disservice to its readers by carefully selecting the “facts” that produce the best headlines. The reality is that the half truths, sensational theories, and fear-inducing headlines in that copy of Time on your table are the real peril lurking in your home.
Here is a link to the phthalates portion of the Time piece on chemicals:
It is nearly axiomatic that a Republican who backs a tax increase is headed for a rough ride. Everyone remembers how President George Herbert Walker Bush, who won the White House in 1988 by making a strong anti-tax pledge to the American electorate, lost the confidence of the voters—and his bid for re-election—when he went back on his word. Nevertheless, the temptation to raise taxes, especially when political advisers come up with a way to spin them as "necessary," is sometimes too much to resist. Even in the current political environment.
The Obama recession left a lot of economic holes the stimulus package could not fill. This put more than a few governors of both parties in the position of finding ways to at least make them smaller—either by cutting spending or by drumming up new revenues. Some, like New Jersey's new Republican Gov. Chris Christie, chose to take a hard line on spending and to confront the public employee unions whose contracts have driven the state close to bankruptcy. Others, like Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, chose to make a "deal with the devil," sacrificing principle in the name of political and economic expediency.
In what some are calling "a late-night, behind-closed-doors deal," Herbert recently put his signature on legislation that increased the state's tobacco tax, provoking the ire of the Tea Party movement and putting the governor's re-election bid in jeopardy.
Now that the healthcare bill has passed, President Barack Obama is engaged in the arduous task of selling it to the American people.
It's a tough job. In the latest Rasmussen poll, 54 percent of likely voters favor outright repeal of the new law as opposed to 42 percent who say they support it. According to pollster Scott Rasmussen, the numbers are "virtually unchanged from last week and the week before" and include 43 percent who strongly favor repeal versus 32 percent who strongly oppose it.
Against this background, Obama is trying to present the new law as a moderate compromise. And he's being watched like a hawk while he does it.
Today, the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, issued a broadside complaining that, in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, Obama had distorted its position on healthcare reform in an effort to show the plan had wider support than it actually enjoys....continue reading.
Rather than a victory lap on healthcare, the White House is signaling that President Barack Obama will immediately plunge back into they fray. A surprise trip a la George W. Bush to Afghanistan to visit the troops and an arms reduction agreement having burnished his national security credentials, he is now ready, his closest advisers say, to turn his attention to the rest of his domestic policy agenda.
"An emboldened President Barack Obama will take a stronger hand with Congress in coming weeks, planning to push lawmakers to pass new regulations for Wall Street by September, the second anniversary of the meltdown," veteran Washington reporter Mike Allen wrote Sunday in Politico.
"The spring offensive, if successful, would allow Obama to claim concrete progress on all of his domestic priorities, despite a 'lost year' between the passage of a stimulus package in February 2009 and the signing of health reform last week," Allen wrote--and he's right.