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Billy Gribbin

Feds Toss Money into "Green Car" Pit


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Monday, January 24th, 2011, 4:43 PM PERMALINK


The New York Times announced today on its “Green Blog” that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), in cooperation with the Electric Power Research Institute, is opening a public charging station for electric cars.  The experimental installation, slated for opening this Tuesday, will supply part of its energy from roof-mounted solar panels, drawing the rest from the surrounding grid.  When not charging cars or the station’s backup batteries, the panels will feed electricity back into the grid. 

As of yet there is no method to charge e-car drivers for “fueling,” while each car space costs between $50,000 and $100,000 to construct.  Even so, the TVA plans on constructing 125 stations in Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga regions.  The whole project could then cost anywhere from $6,250,000 to $12,500,000.  There are three main reasons why this entire scheme is ridiculous.

1) The federal government has no business spending millions of taxpayer dollars promoting speculative technology.  Even if the TVA’s operational plans were clearer, it is not the business of the feds to promote new equipment because it’s politically correct. If electric cars ever become viable commodities, it will be because they have been perfected by private enterprise, not because a government owned corporation makes the arbitrary decision that they are somehow better to own than conventional autos.  That the TVA is doing this to no real benefit brings us to the next point…    

2) Projects like this one are motivated by a radical “green” morality and not hard science. Despite the past decade of gloom-and-doom prophesies from Al Gore and his followers, the facts have been made clear: man-made contributions to global climate change are minimal, and failure to reduce them will not lead to worldwide catastrophe.  The TVA is spending boatloads of cash for no other reason than to promote a more expensive, inconvenient product (the electric car) the main selling point of which is that it will “save” the environment, an enormous overstatement to say the least.

3) The project won’t even accomplish its intended effect. It is doubtful whether or not Tennessee residents will spring for pricey and weak electric cars simply because the government has built charging stations in their area.  If some e-cars are bought as a result, their at-home fueling will use electricity which is probably produced by a coal-fired plant, further offsetting the intended environmental benefit.

The TVA should be stopped before it wastes more tax dollars on similar initiatives it shouldn’t pursue.

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Union Membership Sinks, Public Sector Still Supreme


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Thursday, January 20th, 2011, 4:48 PM PERMALINK


Tomorrow the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases its annual report on unionization figures for 2010.  Kudos to James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation for giving us the information early:

  • Union membership fell to 11.9 percent in 2010 from 12.3 percent in 2009.
  • Private sector union membership fell to 6.9 percent from 7.2 percent.
  • Public sector union membership fell to 36.2 percent from 37.4 percent.
  • There were 14,715,056 union members in the US last year, down 612,244 from 15,327,300 the year before.
  • 7,091,936union members worked in the private sector (down 338,864 members).
  • 7,623,120union members worked in the government (down 273,380 members)
  • 51.8 percentof union members work for the government.

This data is consistent with two longstanding trends in the American workforce: overall union membership is shrinking while public sector workers present a growing majority in unionized labor.

As the Alliance for Worker Freedom has previously reported, the rise of public sector unions—SEIU, AFSCME, and NEA are all big players—is partly responsible for the fiscal crises confronting many states today.  While job security, gold-plated retirement packages, and good benefits attract employees, they’ve been bankrupting state and local treasuries across the nation.  At the same time, private sector workers have had fewer and fewer reasons to choose collective bargaining, that is, if they get a choice at all: Big Labor has been viciously holding onto power by fighting against Right-to-Work and Paycheck Protection while pushing for mandatory membership and even less transparency.

Both groups have suffered a gradual drop in approval ratings in the last few years. Hopefully the demise of union power and popularity will mean freedom and prosperity for workers and states alike.

UPDATE: BLS has released its findings. They are available here.

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Obama Fails to Follow Through with Punch at Regulations


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, 3:24 PM PERMALINK


Today the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Barack Obama.  In his article, the President made a case for cutting through the mishmash of federal regulations now entangling our economy.  To this end, he said, he is signing an executive order which calls for the simplification or elimination of the most troublesome of these agency mandates.

While this gesture is a step in the right direction, the President’s words failed to communicate an abiding desire for principled reform.  He has stopped short of committing himself to downsizing the federal government in its most harmful, expensive, and power-hungry sectors.  Before we reach that discussion, however, it’s only fair to point out what he got right:

America’s prosperity originates in a free market.

For two centuries, America's free market has not only been the source of dazzling ideas and path-breaking products, it has also been the greatest force for prosperity the world has ever known. That vibrant entrepreneurialism is the key to our continued global leadership and the success of our people.”

Our free market is hampered by unnecessary federal regulations.

“Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.”

The federal regulatory system is a confusing mess and it needs to be simplified.

“We're also getting rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money. We're looking at the system as a whole to make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation. And finally, today I am directing federal agencies to do more to account for—and reduce—the burdens regulations may place on small businesses.”

These sentiments are good ones.  They show that the President is not so out of touch with the country as to deny the problems that have arisen from constant regulatory expansion.  Unfortunately, he muddles his message by pulling his punches: these omissions betray a lingering ideological split as to the proper role of American government. Here’s what he got wrong:

The market is not suffering from over-regulation per-se, just the wrong methodology.

“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.”

The truth: Bureaucratic mismanagement and unrealistic requirements are symptomatic of a larger problem: federal appointees thinking they have the right to regulate anything they want, wherever they want, whenever they want.  There are some things Washington should have nothing to do with, even after a cost/benefit analysis.

Recent federal regulations save a lot of money.

“Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter—and in some cases tougher—rules to protect our health, safety and environment. Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.”

The truth: The U.S. lost $1.75 trillion dollars from federal regulations in 2010.

The EPA’s new rulings on autos are exemplary regulatory policy.

“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.”

The truth: The EPA’s move to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles (and other sources) will result in absurd amounts of paperwork and compliance costs. In addition, the EPA’s “fix” constitutes a blatant usurpation of powers delegated to congress alone.  The Agency’s new ozone standards will reduce GDP by 5.4 % and kill 73 million jobs, while its “MACT” rules for commercial and industrial boilers will cost billions in investment dollars.

While it is evident from President Obama’s piece that he wants to smooth out regulatory bumps in the road, his true beliefs inevitably reveal themselves: as long as there aren’t too many problems, the government should quietly control whatever it can get its hands on.  In justifying his position Obama conveniently forgets facts like the ones listed above, and misses the entire thrust of current popular opposition to government expansion.  Even if everything functioned well through government control (which it doesn’t), such control would still be an affront to the Constitution, free enterprise, and the right of an American citizen to use his property as he wishes. 

If the President wants to show he’s serious about pulling the nation out of its economic slump, he should put an indefinite hold on the myriad of problematic rulings his appointees are constantly producing.

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EPA Grants Itself More Powers, Revokes Permit


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Friday, January 14th, 2011, 10:15 AM PERMALINK


Not ones to rest on their laurels, the federal appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency have jumped into 2011 reaffirming their status as the most dangerous regulators in Washington.  In a bewildering reversal on Thursday, the EPA revoked a permit it issued more than three years ago for the Spruce No. 1 Mine, set for operation in Logan County, West Virginia.

Mingo Logan, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, originally obtained a mining permit from the EPA in 2007 in accordance with the Clean Water Act (CWA).  The Section 404 permit was issued after a decade of review and costly analyses, whereby the project was deemed unobjectionable.

Until now, that is.  Yesterday’s unsettling decision by the EPA is suspect for a litany of reasons.  The Waters Advocacy Coalition (WAC), which is comprised of organizations and businesses committed to preserving the CWA, has expressed its concerns in an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.  The Coalition’s foremost objection to the revocation is that it places all Section 404 permit-holders in bureaucratic limbo; if the Spruce No. 1 Mine can be retroactively declared verboten, a large swath of American industry will have to fear the same treatment.  In addition, the WAC letter notes, the EPA has no clear authority to repeal permits once they have been properly vetted:

“Since the CWA was enacted in 1972, EPA has never revoked a previously issued, valid CWA Section 404 permit. The plain language of Section 404(c) does not authorize EPA to take any action once a permit has been issued. EPA’s threatened action has no legal foundation, is not warranted on the facts and will chill investments and job creation across America.”

The EPA’s action in this matter is as devious as it is unsurprising.  As ATR has previously reported, the EPA constitutes the vanguard of excessive federal regulation that has come to characterize the current administration.  In overseeing this debacle, Lisa Jackson has allowed her agency to waste Arch Coal’s funds, jeopardize the nation’s economy, and continue one of the largest power-grabs the Executive branch has ever seen.

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Steven Malanga Gives the Lowdown on the Taxpayer Shakedown


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011, 5:21 PM PERMALINK


Steven Malanga, author of The New New Left: How American Politics Works Today stopped by ATR headquarters on Wednesday to fill us in on his most recent work.  Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer details the shameful politics and people behind the crushing debt and runaway taxes plaguing many states today.

Mr. Malanga gave a compelling case for classifying an unholy alliance of public welfare advocates and service unions as the basis of our nation’s current tax-and-spend woes.  According to Malanga, those at fault present a self-interested left wing, always benefiting from a growing public sector, a bigger government, and rising government spending. 

This new-new left grew from the collusion of the stewards of the War on Poverty (activists who constructed social service empires for themselves) and public service unions.  Due to the combined efforts of these lobbies, state governments have been spending money they don’t have on increased social aid, then suffering from the demands of unionized labor (like the SEIU) running these programs.  For everyone but the poor, poverty is where the money is. 

For these groups, the road to success runs through public welfare, and Healthcare has proved to be a successful issue for them.  When service labor is union labor, and the management is activist, the two are no longer opposed: both sides want the government to spend more on healthcare.  Now, states such as California and New Jersey, having lost the economic prosperity which previously pushed them to budgetary liberalism, are unable to stave off bankruptcy.  The all-powerful unions insist that their benefits, as well as the rate at which they are accrued, are sacrosanct.  Maintenance of Effort agreements (MOEs), routinely attached to federal funding bills, prevent the recipient state from cutting its own expenditures in the funded area.  Many state legislatures don’t even bother to develop their own alternatives to federal aid, lest they be ultimately weaned off of it.  All of these factors create a sizeable arm of the downward financial spiral much of the nation is currently facing.

It’s good that we have a writer like Steven Malanga to tell it like it is.  It would be better if we had more elected officials who would listen to him.  Hopefully the 112th Congress will make it a priority to cooperate with state legislatures in giving Big Labor a big boot.

Click here to look at Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer.

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Obama Offers Poisoned Olive Branch to Businesses


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010, 4:07 PM PERMALINK


Last Wednesday, President Obama met with 20 leaders of major corporations to discuss cooperation on job growth and economic recovery.  This bridge-building is a departure from the current administration’s typically contentious attitude toward Big Business.

Following on the heels of his recent tax-cut compromise with congressional republicans, Obama’s four-hour meeting with chief executives from Boeing, GE, Cisco, and others ended with the President’s request to report back in a month with new concepts and strategies to help the floundering economy.  This gesture has been dismissed by some as empty, however: “I think they have reached out to a small cadre of corporate CEOs ever since they've been here. They clearly are continuing to do that,” said Bruce Josten, Executive VP for Government Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Skeptics of Obama’s overtures have good reason to be wary.  For the last two years, the White House, both directly and through its departmental appointees, has blamed the private sector for many of the country’s current struggles and put pressure on a vast array of enterprises through punishing regulations.  The Chamber of Commerce itself was the target of election season attacks by the President and the Democratic leadership; as ATR reported at the time, these largely backfired.  In addition, the Deepwater Horizon spill this summer gave the administration ammunition in its continuing “green” war against the fossil fuel industry, banning further offshore oil exploration for years to come.

Indeed, Obama’s newfound solicitousness seems to be based more on his old thinly veiled redistributionist rhetoric than a substantial change in attitude toward American business. In his own words, he wanted his guests to provide “ideas that will help businesses to invest in America and American jobs, at a time when they are holding nearly $2 trillion on their books.”  Increased employment and investment is a grand thing, but the President’s emphasis on company holdings shows the true foundation of his thinking: Wall Street and corporate America are keeping money from the public, money to which they have little or no right.

The truth, of course, is that both companies and investors will only throw their money around to the public’s benefit when it is economically safer to do so.  That this hasn’t happened yet shouldn’t be an indication of Gekko-esque greed, as the Obama administration and their Democrat allies would have us believe, but rather an indication that business leaders have seen through Obama’s half-hearted overtures and perceived his ingrained enmity against private American businesses.  The President will only attain the trust of the commerce community at large if he makes clear that the federal government won’t be regulating and taxing as if it’s going out of fashion: Obama must end any political attacks against the Chamber or similar organizations, call for a permanent extension of the Bush tax hikes, and rein in the EPA, USDA, DOL, and other federal agencies which are harming our economy through excessive regulations on American companies.             
 

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ATR and AWF Lead Coalition Against NMB Rules


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010, 3:29 PM PERMALINK


The National Mediation Board—an agency tasked with regulating labor relations and disputes in the transportation sector—is overturning decades of regulatory precedent to facilitate unionization at the behest of Big Labor.  The NMB’s new rule would require only a majority of votes cast for unionization to declare certification, rather than a majority of all workers, voting or not.  This will give organized labor an immense advantage in forcing thousands of transportation workers to accept collective bargaining and start paying union dues.

Headed by Americans for Tax Reform and the Alliance for Worker Freedom, a coalition of organizations has written to Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), urging them to oppose the move in Congress.  The coalition writes:

“Recently, thousands of Delta Air Lines employees voted against unionization.  Yet, the same two National Mediation Board members who worked with the unions to change the voting rules will soon be considering requests by the unions to overturn these democratically conducted elections and re-run them in a way that would favor the unions even more.  The unions seek no less than to impose unionization on workers by administrative fiat and ordering elections until the unions win.  We hope you will take a very serious investigative look into this matter and stop this blatant and undemocratic union payback.  While this instance involves Delta – the ramifications of these actions extend far beyond Delta. 

Since Delta Air Lines and Northwest merged two years ago, there have been seven workgroups in which the workers in the newly merged company have voted to reject unionization.  In two other groups, the unions voluntarily decertified without an election after it became apparent they couldn’t get majority support.  Thus, among nine groups, involving 56,000 employees, none has chosen to have union representation.  These elections are the largest at a private-sector company since 1941, when more than 70,000 plant workers at Ford Motor Co. joined a union.

These elections include four elections reported just since the beginning of November including

  • 53% of Delta Flight Attendants who voted against the Association of Flight Attendants
  • 54% of Delta Ramp employees who voted against the Machinists union
  • 73% of employees in a Delta TechOps group who voted against the Machinists union
  • 70% of Delta customer service and reservations agents who voted against the Machinists union

The flight attendant union election garnered a 94% participation rate and the union lost.  Unfortunately for the Delta workers who voted not to become unionized, the unions refuse to respect the will of the majority and are vowing to challenge these elections with frivolous appeals to the very same National Mediation Board members who worked hand in glove with the unions all along.  Bizarrely, what was one of the complaints of the unions?  That efforts to encourage voter participation were too successful and the union would have won if there had been a lower turnout!”

Click here for the full letter.

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Electric Cars: Powering Down the Nation


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Monday, December 20th, 2010, 10:29 AM PERMALINK


The Marshall Policy Institute has released a new study weighing the costs and benefits of the U.S. government’s subsidization of the electric car.  Their damning analysis exposes the initiative as one which harms American producers, consumers, and taxpayers, all the while failing to substantially address the environmental issues at which it is aimed.

In 2010, one fourth of GM and Ford’s hybrids were purchased by the federal government.  Nissan got a $1.4 billion dollar loan from the feds to develop their electric car, the Leaf.  Several thousands of dollars in tax credits per car have to be shelled out to make these models saleable.  These and other measures, the Marshall paper notes, are spurred largely by the altruistic wish to save the environment, regardless of whether the cars have any real effect: 

“According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), cars and other light duty vehicles accounted for 17% of U.S. emissions in 2007, which translates into about 4% of global emissions. Since electric vehicles will account for only a small percentage of the U.S. fleet anytime soon, under 5% until after 2020 or beyond, their impact on global emissions will be swamped by developing country emissions.”

Proponents of subsidizing electrics and hybrids cite lessening dependence on foreign oil and the creation of “green” jobs to support their position.  In reality, the facts are quite different.  The reduction of oil imports from increased usage of the cars is miniscule, especially when compared to a simple increase in domestic oil production and exploration, which the Obama administration has made a point of suppressing.  Additionally, the ill-defined “green” jobs created by production of these cars are far offset by the net waste of investment dollars that could have created far more of them elsewhere in the economy.  This is a no-win situation:

“If the rationale for promoting electric vehicles cannot withstand close scrutiny, it stands to reason that there is even less justification for the large subsidies that the government is providing to promote them. It also raises questions about the real motivation for electric vehicles being such a high government priority. It is not coincidental that the Obama Administration has demonstrated a strong “off-oil” bias.”

Although the Marshall Institute’s study doesn’t touch on the question, it is important to note that the feds have no business promoting one product over another in the first place.  Even if it were constitutionally proper, it makes little sense to experimentally sabotage the American auto market at a time when our economy is still struggling to get back on its feet.  Who wants the same people who gave us a $13.8 trillion deficit meddling with our cars?

In the end, the success of a product will always be determined by one thing: whether it works.  Many politicians, however, will always use another metric: whether it makes them look good.  If we take the electric car off of welfare and let private enterprises do their work, there can be no question that a future Henry Ford will make it a resounding success.  Not with subsidies, not with tax-dollars, and not with politics.  You know, the way American innovation used to be.

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Sherrod Brown's Double Standard


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010, 5:24 PM PERMALINK


Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has announced his intention to alter the process by which Senate committee chairmen are elected.  Maintaining that “it’s not even a vote” due to senators’ fear of publicly objecting to a candidate, Sen. Brown is pushing his fellow Democrats to use a secret ballot in the process.  This would revolutionize upcoming chairmanship battles, as senior committee members would have to actively lobby their peers—whose votes would remain anonymous—for the position.

While secret ballots are a pillar of the democratic electoral process, it is interesting to note that Sen. Brown doesn’t think that everyone should have the same privacy.  Taking a wildly incongruous stance toward the American worker, Brown has been quite vocal in his support for the dreadfully mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would force public ballots upon laborers voting for or against unionization.  This is the devious initiative known as Card Check.  Apart from overriding state laws and handing even more power to radicals in the current administration, Card Check would open a door for large-scale voter intimidation, a tactic often used by union bosses to supplement their dwindling membership.

It seems as if, in Brown’s mind, the freedom to vote as one wishes should be held only by people like himself: we are all equals, but some are more equal than others.  Of course, there’s an unsurprising explanation for his position: in the last election cycle, Brown received almost $700,000 in political donations from labor unions and their PACs.  This is par for the course.  As we’ve covered in the past, Big Labor pays the way for politicians who will serve their interests, not those of the workers themselves.  The only difference here is that these politicians aren’t usually as transparent in their pandering as Sen. Brown.

Want to learn more about Card Check? Click here for a scary little game by the Alliance for Worker Freedom.

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At Age 40, the EPA Finds Itself a Tool for the Left's Tax and Regulatory Policies


Posted by Billy Gribbin on Friday, December 3rd, 2010, 1:09 PM PERMALINK


On Thursday, the increasingly divisive Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated its 40th anniversary. Unable to pass unpopular and economically destructive regulatory measures through Congress, Democrats have turned to the EPA to enact their controversial agenda.

Over the last decade, the agency has been the origin of increasingly heavy regulations on American infrastructure and technology.  The EPA’s reinterpretation of long accepted rulemakings has given it unprecedented control over the American economy. From America’s manufacturers to its energy producers, the EPA has inserted itself in nearly every industry:

  • Manufacturing Industry:The EPA is in the process of writing ozone requirements which would reduce GDP by 5.4 percent and kill 7.3 million jobs by 2020 according to estimates by the Manufacturers Alliance
  • Energy Producers: The EPA has proposed a “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” rule for industrial boilers. Many coal-fired power plants will be unable to comply with these onerous regulations costing as many as 800,000 jobs and between $10 and $20
  • Car Manufacturers:The EPA is considering a rule which would require cars to achieve 62 mpg cars by 2025

“The EPA is over the hill in age and relevance,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “The agency makes oppressive regulations at the expense of the taxpayers, consumers, and the American economy.  The unelected bureaucrats at the EPA now exist to enforce radical agendas that have been repeatedly rejected by both houses of congress.”

Click here for ATR's press release.

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