Monthly Archives: April 2015

All Pain, No Gain

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commonsenseAs much as we obsess over global warming political charades, we haven’t said much about the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan” to save Planet Earth from the ravages of carbon dioxide.

This mish-mash of contradictory strategies to reduce CO2 from U.S. power plants directs Wisconsin to cut emissions 34 percent by 2030—with almost all of that to be achieved in less than five years, by 2020.

Last Monday’s Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed by Warner Baxter, CEO of St. Louis utility Ameren. It’s mostly the deck-chair rearranging you’d expect from an industry that’s averse to confronting its regulators, but Baxter raises one telling point: If state compliance plans direct utilities to build new, non-coal-fired plants to meet the EPA’s demanding 2020 target, regulatory permitting will need to be completed in 2017—while the state plans won’t even be submitted for EPA approval until 2017 or ’18 and the EPA says it might spend a year reviewing them. If nothing else, the agency’s bland assurance about how easy this will be spreads a feast for connoisseurs of EPA high-handedness.

Did we mention the Public Service Commission estimates costs to Wisconsin consumers as high as $13 billion?

Some or even all of that might conceivably be justified by serious evidence of a planetary threat, and warming has almost certainly occurred since the mid-1800s—though what’s rarely mentioned is that all the recorded warming in those roughly 170 years is about equal to the error margin climate science allows itself in measuring the average daily temperature on Earth.

And your $13 billion? It’s supposed to prevent a tiny fraction of future warming predicted by computer modeling that strays farther from reality every year.

 

The linked article is almost two years old. Time has only reinforced its conclusions.

The Phantom 400

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phantomIt’s a safe assumption that comparatively few Wisconsin taxpayers have any clear idea how many people are employed by the University of Wisconsin. Developments this past week suggest that the list of those who don’t know the number of souls on the UW payroll may include the UW administration itself.

Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank issued a statement about budget cuts last week, including the dire announcement that some 400 positions at UW Madison would be eliminated for the 2015-16 academic year. Only later did it come to light that a majority of those positions are currently vacant—in the strictest sense of the word, not in the sense of disparaging actual employees holding jobs.

In fact, it turned out that the real number of living, breathing people to be laid off couldn’t be specified. At this stage of the game that might well be true. No doubt it should take some time to identify the positions or individuals who can be set aside with the least impact. But then why announce a big, draconian-sounding number now, without defensible facts in hand? Answer: Rewind three sentences to the word “game.”

Any large bureaucracy facing a serious challenge will reflexively circle the wagons and attempt to deflect—or better yet, shift—accountability, an axiom well-demonstrated by the UW’s full-on political assault against Governor Walker’s budget proposal offering the university greater autonomy in exchange for a reduction of taxpayer support.

Being micromanaged by government may sound to normal ears like an annoyance but nowadays, it is often a welcome substitute for exercising one’s own judgment and running one’s own risks—a condition that sadly is unique neither to the UW nor to the public sector.

Photos for Food

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id_templateThe response has been predictably overwrought since Republican state lawmakers suggested last week that perhaps photo identification should be required in order to receive benefits under the programs formerly known as food stamps. Words like “appalling” and “despicable” have been tossed around.

It’s possible to acknowledge a Libertarian argument that efforts to restrict how people use benefits granted by food and nutrition programs exemplify paternalism and that once deemed eligible, recipients should be left to make their own decisions as to what they purchase and consume. That isn’t the issue here, and contending that recipients should make their own decisions might work better if the recipients were spending their own money.

Most important, though, is an old standby of the Left itself: the zero-sum game. If there’s waste and abuse going on by some program beneficiaries, that means less help available for society’s neediest and most vulnerable members.   Liberals play variations of that argument all the time; let’s see them dismiss it now.

Photo ID for food stamps may seem like a no-brainer, but someone had to say it first and sometimes stating the obvious requires courage.  Raising the issue at all counts as progress.

Enviros don’t care if you see their hypocrisy

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warning_flagThe deepening cynicism of the environmental movement was fully on display in two episodes this past week. They stand as warning flags for all those who entertain naïve notions of compromise and accommodation.

No sooner had Gogebic Taconite issued its formal announcement that it was pulling out of its Northern Wisconsin iron mining venture than the Sierra Club launched a transparently non-serious campaign to repeal the mining law reforms that had enabled consideration of the project.

We say non-serious partly because the chance of the current Legislature and administration taking up a repeal is considerably less than zero, but also because the Sierra Club’s position rests on an argument so specious as to discredit the already low standards of political chicanery.

Sierra’s premise is that Wisconsin’s mining law reforms should be repealed because they weaken environmental protection, when in fact Gogebic Taconite abandoned its project—after investing millions—because of the difficulty of meeting the mining law’s environmental protection standards.

Next, insulting the intelligence of anyone who’s noticed that their actions to block the Keystone Pipeline produce nothing except greater danger of fires and explosions in rail accidents spilling crude oil, a North Dakota environmental group demanded that oil be made safer to transport!

Why not demand the invention of fire that doesn’t burn? The rejection of safer transportation methods exposes the whole environmentalist posture as a lie.  In all cases, the real purpose is to make industrial activity too expensive to pursue, and they know it. The question is whether they think they’re successfully deceiving you.  And given that there is little or no apparent risk that they will be seriously challenged by the media, why wouldn’t they think so?

Prevailing Wage

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moneypuzzleIt hasn’t gotten as much media attention as you might expect, but another initiative to loosen the stranglehold Big Labor held on Wisconsin government for the past four or more decades is underway, and it’s about time.

The prevailing wage law is an example of naked aggression by unions against any non-union contractor who might otherwise compete successfully for public works projects. In practical terms, “Prevailing Wage” means the union wage customarily paid for a particular job in a particular locality. A law mandating that local governments pay that rate effectively steers them toward the local union contractor rather than someone from another location who might offer to perform the same work at a lighter toll for taxpayers.

It’s similar to the federal Davis-Bacon Act, contrived by New York construction unions early in the 20th century to fend off competition from Alabama contractors hoping for employment in public works projects.

But now Republican lawmakers and the Walker administration are looking at modification, if not repeal, of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law.

A report recently produced by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) identifies substantial benefits to state and local taxpayers from prevailing wage reform.

The WTA report concludes that this state’s method of calculating prevailing wage cost taxpayers nearly an extra $300 million in 2014.

Prevailing wage is an unwholesome relic of an era in which Big Labor—which oh-so-sanctimoniously pretends to be a defender of the oppressed—used federal law as a vehicle of racist oppression.

Wisconsin lawmakers have an opportunity in the next few months to clean up this expensive and fundamentally ugly mess.

The Court: It Never Ends

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keepleftAnn Walsh Bradley will be back for another ten years on the state Supreme Court, but being the most senior after Shirley Abrahamson won’t make her chief justice. A chance to strengthen a constitutionalists majority falls by the wayside, but fundamental reform wins. We’ll take that.

Now watch out: Media behavior just before the election was hauntingly similar to Democratic Party campaign tactics, planting unwarranted suspicion of improper conduct just before voters head to the polls. Watch for more of that.

On Saturday before Election Day, the Wisconsin State Journal published an Associated Press story about a seven year-old arrest warrant for candidate Daley’s daughter. Those of us born less recently than yesterday may regard this as an attempt to portray the 40-year old daughter’s problem with substance abuse—which may or may not still exist—as disqualifying the father from the bench.

Then the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, bringing you yesterday’s news tomorrow, turned up the Sunday before Election Day with a story about events a month and a half earlier, reporting Justice David Prosser’s withdrawal from a pending case in which he may or may not have compromised court rules by seeking information independently.

It’s hardly doubtful that this wretched excuse for a newspaper would seize any opportunity to damage Prosser, but in this instance anyone over the age of four can see through the timing: Did the Journal Sentinel’s crack reporter just find out about the withdrawal—which by the way seems appropriate—or did he save it up in hopes of affecting the election? No prizes for the correct answer.

The take-home message: The Left will never stop trying to smear the reputations of people who impede its use of the courts as a political weapon.

Internet Invasion

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internetRemember using the rotary phone? How about listening to the other-worldly humming, beeping and cracking of dial-up Internet?   What about a bag phone?
Unless you are Gen X or earlier, you probably have no recollection of any of those things.  And, while we can sometimes wax nostalgically for the good-old-days when our teenagers actually looked at us instead of at a smart phone, it is amazing to think how far the Internet has already come and where broadband will take us in the future.

For decades, the know-it-alls in Washington DC have had the good sense to let the free market handle the explosive growth in the Internet economy. The laissez-faire approach has not just been a success; it’s brought on a revolutionary advancement in technology that is still happening today.

We all have access to broadband that is faster and less expensive than it was even a year ago.  And, we have multiple choices from mobile to wireless to wired.

That all changed last month when President Obama cajoled his party’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission to vote to regulate the Internet using rules developed in 1934 for the rotary phone.

Only in the mind of a Washington bureaucrat can the concept of applying a depression-era regulatory scheme to the fast-evolving broadband ecosystem make any sense at all.

The end result of this government invasion on the Internet is predictable. Companies will stop taking risks, investment will dry up and the dizzying pace of advancement we’ve grown accustomed to will come to a screeching halt.

And, here’s a little hidden gem. The FCC’s actions could open our broadband service up to all those wonderful taxes and fees that come with traditional phone bills.

Lawyers are already on the case of trying to overturn the rule. But, destruction of the Internet as we know it might be a bridge too far for  even Democrats in Congress who ought to be more emboldened to cut bait on the lame duck in the White House. Let’s hope Congress can get its act together and return us to the bipartisan consensus that helped usher in the Internet age.

O-Zone Defense

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ozone_mapLast week we mentioned a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation that deserves more scrutiny: the revision of national air quality standards for ground-level ozone.

That is, smog.

No commercial or industrial facility emits smog, but many emit substances that combine under the right weather conditions to form smog.  These emissions are regulated and almost all the U.S. landmass in the 48 contiguous states is compliant with EPA standards.

But the agency now proposes further tightening the standards—already required by the Clean Air Act to be sufficiently restrictive to protect public health. The proposed tightening is a recipe for absurd results.

The EPA has previously claimed avoidance of “absurd results” to persuade courts it has the authority to unilaterally rewrite law, but not now. So what absurd result may we anticipate?

How about Yosemite National Park being ruled noncompliant with EPA air quality regulations?

How about the same happening to Santa Fe, New Mexico, or the Sawtooth Wilderness Area in Idaho, or the entire state of Utah, or Wisconsin’s Forest and Marinette Counties?

Wisconsin currently has just two areas, Sheboygan County and a fragment of Kenosha County, which are marginally noncompliant with federal ozone standards. No new emission source can be built in a noncompliant area unless it can match up with an equivalent emission reduction. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce says the EPA’s plan would make much of the state’s eastern half an “economic no-go-zone.”

The ozone regulation is expected to be the most expensive in EPA history, which is to say the most expensive in human history. If you think the U.S. economy would be just fine, frozen in place exactly as it is, this is the regulation for you.

Normalizing the Crackpots

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cracked potInfrequently mentioned among the Obama presidency’s baleful consequences is the arguably defining fact that compared with six years ago, it is today far more difficult to confidently dismiss exotic political opinion as crackpot thinking,

Were it among contemporary American society’s notable gifts, a long memory might be useful. But even an encyclopedic knowledge of past crack pottery will offer little help.

Nobody, for instance, will remember a president apparently working furiously to facilitate acquisition of nuclear weapons by a nation whose head of state participates in chanting “Death to America.”

We’ve heard it alleged that agents of the Soviet Union occupied positions of influence in more than one administration. Those accusations included partial truth and partial crack pottery.  We recall the probably crackpot accusation that a president knowingly allowed a sneak attack against the United States to acquire an excuse for entering World War II. But have we ever before heard people ask—without triggering an embarrassed silence—whether the president of the United States favored the nation’s enemies?

Be grateful for Occam’s Razor: So long as less convoluted explanations remain available, it is sensible to assume Obama is not a deep-cover agent of the Iranian mullahs. He is far more plausible as an example of the windbag who never quite left school, parroting the tiresome claptrap from the armchair revolutionaries of the faculty lounge.

The risk of implementing the Left’s policy preferences has faded as they meet increasing resistance from an alerted populace.  More lasting damage may result from their success in severing the connection between public discourse and reality.

Courting Confusion

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bluegavelWailing that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is “dysfunctional” is a favorite tactic whenever Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s Liberal allies are trying to defeat a Conservative justice, so it’s revealing this week to see how desperate they are to preserve the status quo.

As we’ve mentioned, there’s a referendum on next Tuesday’s spring election ballot.  A “yes” vote would amend the Wisconsin Constitution so that the chief justice would be subject to election every two years by a vote of all seven sitting justices.  This would replace the current system, in which the chief justice is whichever one has been on the court longest. There is currently no other qualification, period.

But this week Marquette Law School Professor and former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske—who might at one time have been mistaken for a level-headed jurist—is on the air speaking for a left-wing smear group called the Greater Wisconsin Committee, now hiding behind the name “Make Your Vote Count.”  Geske is voicing a radio ad that can’t possibly be understood as anything other than a cynical attempt to deceive voters about the referendum.

Geske says partisan political bosses don’t want you to be able to choose the chief justice, as if she thought you could; and that you can protect your vote—a vote you don’t have and never had when it comes to choosing the chief justice—by voting no on the referendum question.

Shirley Abrahamson was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Patrick Lucey, who left office 38 years ago.  The stupendous dishonesty of the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s advertisement is a gauge of how desperate Liberals are to keep the Court—the same one they call “dysfunctional” when it suits them—just the way it is.