Mark Ruffalo may be most famous for his fictional portrayal of Dr. Robert Bruce Banner and his alter ego “The Hulk” in Marvel’s Avengers series, but he has recently been grabbing headlines for other reasons. Last month, Ruffalo made the news by submitting testimony in Congress based on his recent role in a largely fictionalized movie — Dark Waters — that is being portrayed as a “true story.”
While the media, Ruffalo, trial attorneys, and some politicians pretend that Dark Waters is a dramatization of a true story, its marketing materials merely claim it is “inspired by true events.” But it gets so many facts wrong, even that claim is hard to stand by.
Whether the movie is entertaining is a matter of personal preference. But whether the movie is an accurate portrayal of fact is not a matter of opinion. A movie is either factual and accurate, or it is not. The Avengers‘ movies are in my estimation entertaining. But they are not factual and shouldn’t be the basis of congressional action. Neither do we need the Hulk testifying in Congress. Dark Waters is not nearly as entertaining as the Avengers movies, but it is about as factual, so we really don’t need Mark Ruffalo testifying either.
The basic plot line of Dark Waters is that an evil, dark corporation knowingly and purposefully pollutes the water in a local community and an activist heroic trial attorney played by Ruffalo comes to the community’s rescue to force the evil corporation to take responsibility. The thrust of the movie is that corporate greed led to horrible excesses. Yet the movie itself appears to be an exercise in greed and excess. A network of well-financed trial attorneys, political activists and Hollywood nitwits have fabricated a story designed to support their political agenda, encourage ever more litigation, and make their greed appear altruistic and heroic. Trial lawyers and Hollywood shouldn’t be lecturing anyone about greed.
The movie portrays the Ohio River communities in West Virginia and Ohio in ways that promote false “hillbilly” stereotypes of locals being simple-minded and uneducated with rotting teeth. The fact is that the region is a manufacturing powerhouse and has a diverse economy with hundreds of thousands of proud, healthy, hardworking people.
Folks are not merely offended by the portrayals of locals as simpleton hillbillies with blackened and rotting teeth. Local legislators, people who would know the facts, have criticized the movie saying, “The film’s portrayal of Parkersburg does not reflect reality.” But it goes deeper than just that the film isn’t based in fact. Local legislators are concerned that Dark Waters will do “real damage to our economy and the hard-working people of the Mountain State.”
The movie falsely suggests that PFAS chemicals lead to deteriorated oral health and cause cancer. PFAS chemicals are used in firefighting foam and consumer products like non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. Science does not establish that this is a cancer-causing agent. Nor has it found that it harms teeth. But asserting these things as if they were established fact, does make the movie more dramatic — just like the Hulk’s fictionalized strength makes the Avengers movies better.
Ruffalo’s trial lawyer character claims that “DuPont is knowingly poisoning 70,000 local residents.” This hysterical claim may make for a dramatic scene in a movie, but local leaders doubt its veracity. But it is useful to tell such lies when you’re trying to promote a political agenda and you’re committed to grotesque oversimplification of complex matters in hopes of creating a fact-free political narrative.
The movie is defended as an effort to educate and motivate Americans to take action and as a way to require accountability. But wouldn’t an accurate, fact-based portrayal be a better way to educate? How does one effectively educate with falsehoods?
Ohio River basin locals have asked “that those who profit off of fear-mongering and stereo typing [i.e. Ruffalo and other Hollywood nitwits and trial lawyers] be held accountable.” But that isn’t the sort of accountability that Ruffalo or trial attorney’s support.
No rational human being would suggest using the Avengers movies as the basis for congressional hearings. That’s why Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor are not invited to testify. But sadly, ignorant Hollywood activists and trial attorneys — who see themselves as more intelligent and altruistic than other Americans — hope to use the mostly fictional Dark Waters movie to advance their fact-free political agenda, and shape and mold a more supportive public.
Hollywood is an entertainment industry. Ruffalo and other Hollywood activists seek to merge their political agendas with entertainment. The outcome is agenda motivated entertainment that creates distorted policy demands based in fantasy and an American public that is less informed and even misinformed because the agenda driven entertainment is such a distorted, largely fictionalized account. This is no way to make public policy.
By Red State•
Will the Trump administration ensure Hollywood remains driven by market principles?
Past harsh, critical comments from both President Trump and William Barr, his attorney general, demonstrate that the White House accepts the entertainment industry for what it is: a leftist, anti-capitalist blob that seeks not only to distort the culture war and remove Republicans from office, but also to rig the competitive market system to artificially increase its power and influence.
However, the question becomes how does the White House address its abuse in a free market way?
It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure. While Hollywood often acts anti-competitively for personal gain – see: Steven Spielberg’s attempt to kill Netflix films’ ability to compete for Oscars – like every other industry, it also suffers from big-government edicts that unfairly harm their businesses. And, for all of the donating to Hillary Clinton they just made a few years ago, the movie and music industries have sounded alarm bells with the administration that the latter is a major concern to them.
Despite all the flack that the current White House gets for being rash and careless, the Trump administration is working tirelessly to ensure it treats its Hollywood detractors fairly and in line with the conservative principles it preaches.
Through a sweeping antitrust consent decree review, the Department of Justice is trying to successfully achieve this balance. Since April of last year, it has been examining the antitrust judgements that have been on DoJ’s books for generations. Its objective is to determine which are still needed to protect consumers against anti-competitive behavior, and which, at this point, act more as pointless red tape than anything else.
Seemingly as a result of multiple advocacy pushes, the clear focus of this effort quickly became those governing the entertainment industry. Namely, the Paramount consent decrees, which restrain the movie industry, and the ASCAP/BMI decrees, which created guidelines for the Big Music monopolies to follow.
On Nov. 18, the DoJ came to terms with its first major decision, announcing that it will ask the court to phase out the Paramount movie consent decrees. They prohibit the big five movie studios of the 1940s from harming small theaters by making exclusive deals with regional theaters (“circuit dealing”) and mandating that small theaters purchase their films in bundles (“block booking”).
DoJ made the right move. While at the time these decrees were necessary, modern-day innovation has made them obsolete and harmful to market competition.
Today, the Big Five studios from the 1940s are still far from angels, but there are plenty of new distributors that have taken their power away. Just look at Netflix, which plans to release over 50 films this year – more than Paramount, Disney, and Warner Bros. combined. Unlike in the 1940s, there are plenty of other studios with which theaters can do business should MGM, Warner Bros., RKO, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox – the five companies restrained by the decrees – provide terms to small theaters that are not agreeable. In fact, only two of those companies are still even in the Top 5 for market share.
If the DoJ let the decrees continue to restrict these studios while leaving their major competitors that have risen over the last 70 years unchecked, it would distort the marketplace by picking winners and losers. That would work to the detriment of, not the benefit to, consumer choice.
While the DOJ’s decision on Paramount was the right one for the free market, Barr’s department needs to be extra cautious on its next entertainment industry review – the ASCAP/BMI music consent decrees.
ASCAP and BMI – monopolies that control the rights to music licenses for public performance – are pushing for the DoJ to terminate or modify these antitrust guardrails. In an open letter to DOJ, they claimed that doing so would open the free market, which “would create a more productive, efficient and level playing field for everyone involved.” However, a dozen free market groups, including Frontiers of Freedom, have cautioned the DoJ that, contrary to what those monopolies are saying, doing so would run the free marketplace in the music industry to the ground.
The reason the ASCAP and BMI decrees went into place in the first place was to prevent ASCAP and BMI from enacting predatory pricing on small businesses. After all, the two monopolies’ very existence is emblematic of everything that Washington created antitrust law to prevent.
Both ASCAP and BMI are comprised of otherwise competing songwriters and publishers that banded together into these two groups to set prices for a joint product at a joint price. Both institutions were created with the explicit purpose of working together to increase prices. Put simply, there is nothing competitive or free market about them.
For the relaxation or removal of its decrees, ASCAP and BMI would have to prove that price-fixing is no longer a fundamental concern. As alluded to already, that is going to be hard to do when considering that the whole reason for their creation was to price-fix. It is going to be especially be hard to prove when considering how, unlike in the movie industry, their combined market share has barely moved at all since the 1940s – remaining at 90-percent of all performing rights. The fact that ASCAP had to settle a civil contempt charge with the DoJ for violating its decree just three years ago for nearly $2 million shouldn’t help its case either.
By giving everyone – including its political opponents, like the major entertainment industry conglomerates – the benefit of the doubt and the courtesy of a thorough review of present-day regulations, the Trump administration is yet again proving how serious it is about its deregulatory agenda. It is not governing on partisan or electoral grounds, but rather out of a desire to see fairness and accountability restored for everyone – even its enemies.
The White House is off to a good start, but for the sake of the free market and the consumers who depend on the fair playing field it creates, here’s hoping that it finishes strong.
Any extension, expansion or enlargement of the electric vehicle tax credit is a profoundly bad idea and essentially robs the taxpayers to pad the pockets of the wealthy who can afford the best lobbyists money can buy.
When the original legislation giving tax credits and subsidies for electrical vehicles passed more than a decade ago, its sponsors promised that it would be temporary and were only designed to help new technologies gain a foothold in the marketplace. Now more than a dozen years later, some irresponsible legislators are ready to move away from temporary, limited subsidies and are headed towards a permanent and almost unlimited subsidies.
This is both bad policy, and dangerous. Government’s power to tax should not be used to transfer wealth to those who can afford the best lobbyists. Single parents working two jobs to make ends meet should not be forced to take an extra shift so that they can support this sort of wasteful spending. If rich car purchasers want to buy new expensive electric sports cars, they should be free to do so. But the idea that they should be able to reach into the wallet of the single parent struggling to make ends meet is unconscionable!
Virtually 80 cents of every dollar spent on subsidies went to households with more than $100,000 of income. And, of course, all of the taxpayer provided cash benefits wealthy and profitable car companies — like Tesla and its billionaire founder Elon Musk. It is revealing that almost 1/2 of all the subsidies for electric vehicles go to just one state — California.
This is a wealth transfer from the working poor and middle class to the wealthy. And it is a wealth transfer from 49 states to 1 state. Before anyone votes for these wealth transfers, they must provide an explanation. Why is this good for America? Why is this good for taxpayers? I know it is good for Mr. Musk and Tesla. But why is it good for that single parent who is working so hard to provide her children with a better life?
There is no need to extend, expand or continue subsidies for electric vehicles. Sales of electric cars have been on the increase for years. The original rationale was that the temporary aide would help them get established and build economies of scale that would drive prices down. Twelve years is more than enough time.
Some argue that the subsidies are justified because electric cars are “zero emission” vehicles. But that is a lie. Electric cars are plugged into the power grid to recharge and whatever emissions were created while generating the electricity needed to recharge the car are the car’s emissions. Nationally, that won’t be anything close to zero. Moreover, recent studies indicate that full life-cycle emissions from electrical vehicles may exceed those from new internal combustion engines. So it is unlikely that electric vehicles provide the environmental benefits promised.
Since there is no longer any plausible or rational reason for the subsidies, the real reason is laid bare — car companies want more taxpayer cash and they’ve lobbied Congress hard to get it. Mr. Musk and Tesla and others who receive the benefits of this taxpayer provided subsidy would love to extend and expand it. But that isn’t a good reason to give them more taxpayer cash or to reach into a single parent’s wallet so that some rich guy can get some help to buy that very cool electric car.
Moreover, the public doesn’t support the idea of taxpayers helping people buy expensive and trendy electrical cars. By landslide proportions, 2 in 3 Americans oppose these subsidies, and with good reason.
The truth is most people would love to receive a perpetual gift of cash. There’s an old saying, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.” That’s what we have here. Paul is in favor of Paul getting millions of dollars provided by Peter. This is clearly just based on greed.
Even more important, our constitutional system cannot devolve into a system in which one group gets to vote itself cash from another group. But that’s what we have here. Nothing more. A vote to extend, expand, or enlarge this subsidy is a grotesque violation of the public trust.
Dear Chairman Simons,
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) should open an investigation into Ring—a subsidiary of Amazon—and its data-sharing practices with law enforcement officials. Ring’s conduct raises a number of concerns, including fears that (1) the emerging technology may result in discriminatory law enforcement activity, (2) sensitive consumer data may be jeopardized as a result of misuse by Amazon and (3) consumers may be subjected to heightened physical security risks. Given these concerns, which are outlined in greater detail below, and Amazon’s history of data mishandling, the FTC should more deeply examine the damaging effects of these practices.
While innovative, Ring’s home security doorbell and its use of consumer data are cause for significant concern as this conduct has the potential to result in considerable consumer harm. So-called “smart home” technology, still very much in its infancy, and its misuse have the potential to cause lasting damage to consumers if the necessary precautions are not taken.
Despite the potential benefits of “smart home” technology like the Ring “smart” doorbell, the data collected by Amazon opens consumers to exposure under the promise of additional security. As a result, not only is consumer data made more vulnerable, but their physical safety is put at unprecedented risk.
As the Commission is well aware, as more data is collected by Amazon, potential data breaches become more damaging. A data breach of consumers’ home security system by nefarious actors could have direct consequences on consumer physical safety. For example, should home security video footage fall into the wrong hands, consumers’ daily routines—including when they leave home and when they are alone and most vulnerable—would be easily discernible by criminals intending to cause harm.
According to reports, Ring has already misled consumers about its data handling practices. The Washington Post reports that Ring has partnered with over 400 police departments in the U.S., “granting them potential access to homeowners’ camera footage.” Amazon was able to secure hundreds of partnerships by capitalizing on artificially low prices funded through taxpayer resources. Making matters worse, Ring engages in these partnerships without first informing its users. This deceptive practice raises, at best, tremendous ethical concerns.
Amazon’s record on data security is already cause for concern. Recently, two prominent senators have asked the Commission to investigate Amazon’s role in the Capital One data breach, which affected nearly 100 million customers. Given Amazon’s potential involvement in this historic breach and its reckless handling of consumer data captured through Ring, it would be unwise to allow this activity to continue without at least some examination from the Commission.
In addition to the data security concerns, Ring’s video-sharing arrangement raises questions about the potential for profiling. In an open letter to lawmakers, more than 30 civil rights action groups described the threat to civil liberties posed by Ring’s partnership with law enforcement. In the letter, the organizations explain the dangers of this arrangement:
“With no oversight and accountability, Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies […].”
These sentiments were echoed by another prominent senator in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. In the letter, the lawmaker outlined the privacy and civil liberty concerns noted above. Amazon has not yet responded to this letter—a clear indication that, unless pressured by government officials, the company will only act in accordance with its own interests, rather than address the genuine threats expressed here. Because of this, it would be wise for the FTC to act before the situation spirals out of control.
Inaction in light of these facts would subject consumers to risks that are all too dangerous. As the top “cop on the beat,” the FTC has a public responsibility to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. Given the data security and civil liberty concerns, it would be wise for the FTC to undertake a review of the partnership between Amazon and Ring and law enforcement authorities.
This issue—that of data security and physical safety—is bipartisan in nature. In fact, it transcends politics entirely.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
 Harwell, D. (2019, August 28). Doorbell-camera firm Ring has partnered with 400 police forces, extending surveillance concerns. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/08/28/doorbell-camera-firm-ring-has-partnered-with-police-forces-extending-surveillance-reach/.
 Guariglia, M. (2019, August 30). Five Concerns about Amazon Ring’s Deals with Police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/08/five-concerns-about-amazon-rings-deals-police.
 Fight for the Future (2019, October 7). Open letter calling on elected officials to stop Amazon’s doorbell surveillance partnerships with police. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.fightforthefuture.org/news/2019-10-07-open-letter-calling-on-elected-officials-to-stop/.
The good times are back. The U.S. economy is performing at levels not seen in more than a decade, with unemployment at its lowest level in a lifetime.
Still, it wasn’t all that long ago when crude was selling for more than $100 a barrel and people were talking seriously about the problem of “peak oil.” The growing global demand for energy made from fossil fuels has U.S. policymakers pushing hard for subsidies intended to accelerate the development and commercialization of energy alternatives mace from agricultural products and coming from the wind and the sun.
The American faith in technology is almost never misplaced. The fracking revolution has turned the U.S. into a net energy exporter. The explosion in the use of natural gas and the development of microgrids powered by it in liquid form have made cheap power a reality once again, without the widespread adoption of renewables. Policymakers, though, have yet to come to grips with the reality and are, under pressure from special interests, trying to keep Bush/Obama-era energy policies in place that do more harm than good.
In 2005, the U.S. Congress adopted the Solar Investment Tax Credit with an eye to speeding the commercial adoption of energy from the sun as a way to heat and cool the nation’s homes and businesses. Whether it helped or not is debatable yet there are calls, even now, to ensure its renewal past its intended expiration at the end of the year.
The renewable lobby is politically powerful, especially given the nexus between those invested in and those who make generous contributions to elected officials. Remember Solyndra? And yet, despite its spectacular failure – which left taxpayers on the hook for who really knows how much – the ITC was already reauthorized in 2015 for solar PV, solar water heating, solar space heating and cooling, and solar process heat.
Right now, under current law, the industry is set to benefit from a 30 percent tax credit extended to consumers who purchase systems used in both residential and commercial properties that are under construction before 2020. Beginning in 2022 the credit decreases, dropping to 10 percent and useful only in commercial settings.
That’s what policymakers agreed to in 2015 to mollify the demands of the green groups who still believe, or at least claim they do, that the nation’s base power needs can be met by renewables without utilizing either nuclear or fossil fuels.
Science tells us that is a pipe dream and will remain one until the technology to store the energy generated by solar fields over the medium term (never mind the long) exists. Battery technology has not yet caught up to the increases the solar and wind energy industries have managed to achieve, meaning lots of generated power is left stranded and unused.
Nonetheless, the demand for another increase in the ITC as well as an expansion of what is covered is being pressed on legislators. The last extension was part of the deal that allowed for the U.S. to enter the crude export market which, while bad policy, makes it worth the price paid.
There are no such opportunities for a similar trade on the table now. The greens will never drop their opposition to energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife or the construction of new pipelines to move crude and natural gas produced by fracking to market. And since there’s no opportunity to trade for good policy, the ITC should be allowed to expire, especially since there’s plenty of evidence it’s no longer needed.
Solar, the web site GreenTechMedia reports, “will soon be able to out-compete gas-fired plants around the world on a levelized cost basis.” Large investments from foreign-based solar module manufacturing companies such as Hanwha Q Cells have led to the opening of manufacturing facilities in the United States. And solar energy experienced explosive growth between 2010 and 2016.
According to GTM Research, annual installations grew from just 849 MW in 2010, to more than 15,000 MW in 2016, a record-breaking year when the U.S. solar market nearly doubled its annual record for installations – while tax incentives are factored into the growth, efficiency and affordability have driven the adoption of the technology.
If the ITC worked as intended, as there’s evidence to suggest it did, it’s not needed anymore. And if it didn’t work as those who voted for and voted to extend it planned, it’s also not needed anymore. Either way, it’s time for it to be allowed to expire, if for no other reason than to show members of Congress they can allow special interest tax breaks to disappear and survive when they run for re-election.
Hysteria over 'vaping-related lung illness' puts pressure on politicians, but vaping is safer than smoking
There are those who say vaping is a public health menace, that it’s designed to appeal to young people as a gateway to tobacco with no redeeming social values whatsoever. Others who say it’s a public health miracle that’s made it possible for tens of thousands of people addicted to cigarettes to quit and live healthier lives.
It’s not clear who’s right but the evidence thus far hews toward the idea that vaping, from the standpoint of public health, is largely beneficial. There have been a few deaths among young people but, as we’re now finding out, those can be attributed to carelessness, black market formulas based in oil rather than water, and the effort to get a quick high by employing a THC-like additive. They did not result, as the proponents of regulation and abolition led us at first to believe, because all vaping technologies are medically and scientifically unsound.
Vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking, according to some estimates. Unlike inhaling cigarette smoke, vaping is not carcinogenetic and not, as some have claimed, a proven gateway to teen smoking. Yet it’s under attack as never before.
The hysteria over what’s been called “vaping-related lung illness” has generated enormous pressure on politicians from President Donald Trump on down to do something. That’s understandable but not necessarily right. The attack on the science showing that vaping generally leads to reductions in cigarette smoking and that favored vaping is very much a part of helping people quit is leading to a situation where even more people may die.
For more than a few years, the nascent vaping industry has tried to work with the government to set rules everyone can live with. They’re on board with an under-21 vaping ban, and the biggest player in the marketplace, Juul, has voluntarily agreed to withdraw its few flavored formulas from the U.S. market. No more mint, no more crème, no more cucumber, no more fruit and no more mango — even though studies have shown cigarette smokers find it easier to refrain from smoking if the vaping options available to them are flavored.
By The Hill•
Imagine what it must feel like to have a government agent show up at your door, accuse you of violating some rule you’ve never heard of, and threaten you with massive fines and imprisonment if you don’t do what he says.
Wyoming’s Andy Johnson doesn’t have to imagine; he lived it. His alleged offense: he built a pond on his private property without begging D.C. bureaucrats’ permission first. Thankfully, two executive orders issued by President Trump last week aim to make this experience less common.
The focus of these executive orders is agency “guidance” — informal rules that regulate all of us without going through the normal rulemaking process. Before issuing a regulation, agencies are supposed to propose them publicly, explain their reasons, accept public comments and respond to those comments. Although no substitute for democratic accountability, this process at least ensures that Americans have an opportunity to learn about the rules being imposed on them and weigh in against the worst of them.
Unfortunately, agencies often circumvent this process, issuing rules through informal means such as internal memoranda or letters to selected constituents. This means that most of us cannot possibly know the rules that govern our lives, even though we face ruinous punishments should we unknowingly violate one of them.
As Andy Johnson’s experience shows, this results in unfair surprise. Johnson had no reason to expect that building a pond to provide water to his daughter’s horses would turn his life upside down. He got the required state permit and worked with state engineers to maximize the pond’s environmental benefits. The pond, which he built himself, achieved all of them: It restored wetlands in an area sorely lacking them, created habitat for fish and wildlife, and filtered the water that passed through it by allowing sediment and other pollutants to filter to the bottom.
As Johnson was wrapping up this work, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed up. It demanded Johnson rip out the pond or face $37,500 per day in fines. The potential fines would accrue at a rate of about $1 million per month, an incomprehensible sum for Johnson — and most Americans.
He tried to reason with the agency, asking for some explanation of how he could be threatened in this way and what could be done. But the explanation would not be forthcoming. Nor would evidence that Johnson had done nothing wrong make a difference. An expert’s report documenting the pond’s numerous environmental benefits and exemptions from federal regulation fell on deaf ears.
Every month the agency dragged its feet, the fines grew. Two years later, when the potential fines reached $16 million, Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on Johnson’s behalf. This forced the agency to finally put its cards on the table, revealing its evidence and explaining how that evidence showed a violation.
EPA asserted the small stream crossing Johnson’s property was a federal waterway, even though it was hundreds of miles from the nearest navigable river. The agency based this claim on a guidance document that purported to stretch the agency’s authority as far as it thought the Supreme Court might let it get away with.
The EPA also pointed to a guidance document to avoid the inconvenient fact that Congress had explicitly exempted the “construction and maintenance of farm or stock ponds” from federal regulation. This guidance interpreted that limit on the agency’s power as narrowly as possible. (If you haven’t noticed, there’s a theme here. Guidance almost always expands agency power and minimizes anything that might get in the agency’s way.)
EPA’s evidence fared even worse. Although it was supposed to show that Johnson’s pond significantly affects a downstream navigable water, the agency’s record showed that no one had ever checked where the water flowed. In fact, the water flows into an irrigation canal and never reaches any navigable water. If EPA had bothered to check, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.
Going forward, President Trump’s executive order will require agencies to review their guidance, revoke much of it, and publicize the rest so that Americans have a fair chance to know the rules that apply to them. The orders will also require agencies to give property owners an explanation of the agency’s allegations and an opportunity to contest them before threats can issue.
Although these orders are a welcome improvement, much work remains if we’re going to hold agencies truly accountable and restore power to the people we elect to wield it. Under our Constitution, only Congress can write laws, not unelected bureaucrats. It’s about time that we return to the Constitution’s design.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Frontiers of Freedom recently joined 16 other free-market organizations to oppose The Aluminum Pricing Examination (APEX) Act.
The APEX Act would grant the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission expansive authority over the setting of reference prices in the aluminum market, allowing political pressure potentially to distort the market by manipulating price signals.
As part of the effort a coalition letter was released urging Congress to reject the legislation that reads, in part:
By granting the government authority to arbitrarily alter market signals, supporters of the APEX Act—such as certain beer manufacturers with a history of working with politicians to distort the free market—are openly seeking to artificially deflate the price of aluminum. Such an outrageously crony abuse of government is unethical, and history shows that it will only worsen matters by further distorting the market and creating or exacerbating shortages. Domestic producers, faced with extensive government regulations and thinner profit margins, would find it increasingly difficult to survive and further erode domestic supply, a boon for foreign producers.
Republicans and Democrats alike have voiced concerns regarding America’s competitiveness within the aluminum industry. There is wide agreement that the market for American metals must remain a vibrant aspect of the U.S. economy. The APEX Act is dangerous piece of legislation, reflecting both a misunderstanding of industry pricing as well as a misapplication of government authority.
Representatives from the following 17 organizations joined the letter: American Consumer Institute, American Encore, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Citizen Outreach, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, Frontiers of Freedom, Institute for Liberty, Institute for Policy Innovation, Less Government, Market Institute, National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Tax Limitation Committee, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Tea Party Nation, and the 60 Plus Association.
Before the passage of ObamaCare, we were told that it would solve all the problems with high costs and accessibility of healthcare. We were repeatedly told that Americans would save thousands of dollars every year. Of course, none of the promised benefits materialized. Now many of the same people who misled us about ObamaCare are now back trying to sell us on other “solutions.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who laughably told us we had to pass ObamaCare to find out what’s in it — is now peddling a new drug plan claiming it will lower costs. However, Pelosi’s plan would supposedly lower costs by imposing up to a 95 percent excise tax on hundreds of prescription medicines. Imposing confiscatory taxes is no way to lower costs, or to encourage innovation. But it is a huge stride towards socialized healthcare which is her real goal. In the end, this plan leaves consumers and patients at the mercy of government bureaucrats. Imagine when you are sick having an experience like at the Department of Motor Vehicles – long lines, lots of waiting, and poor service.
Pelosi’s plan isn’t even constitutional because it imposes a confiscatory retroactive tax on the total sales of a drug, not the profits, but the gross receipts. To escape this ruinous and confiscatory tax, Pelosi’s plan allows drug companies to agree to, and accept, government set prices. This is so abusive that it makes the mob’s protection money schemes look legitimate.
The biggest losers of Pelosi’s plan will be the Americans who will suffer and die because the medicines that could have been developed to cure their condition will not exist or will not have been developed. So as Americans age and need cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, etc, those cures won’t exist and it will be Nancy Pelosi’s fault. These policies have long term consequences. If she were serious about improving things, she would unleash the power of the market and competition. Instead, she empowers government at the expense of Americans.
But there is no shortage of bad ideas on Capitol Hill, masquerading as solutions. For example, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have proposed legislation that would change Medicare Part D prescription drug rebates to penalize drugs whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. It is strange that the Grassley/Wyden proposal targets Part D because it is one of the few government health care programs to successfully foster price-based productivity increases.
In most parts of the economy, over time, prices go down and quality goes up, due to increases in productivity. The underlying mechanism driving this is competition. One sign of how successful Part D has been in wielding competition is that in its first decade of existence, it cost over 40% less than what the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would. This is an historical achievement.
At the very least, the Grassley/Wyden proposal will increase the cost of participating in the market, both in terms of compliance costs, and in the changed incentives and their inevitable unintended consequences. For example, a company that requires more revenue to economically survive might raise prices slightly on all its products, instead of steeply on just one. How this all plays out is impossible to predict. What can be said for certain is the market’s “logic” would now be less about providing the most value for customers at the lowest price, and now more about the political ramifications of pricing decisions.
The Grassley/Wyden proposal exemplifies the folly of centrally-designed price controls and thus, should be cast in the dustbin of bad socialist ideas.
For example, Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is a medical doctor and has been advocating for market-based approaches to healthcare reform.
There are some good ideas out there. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are sponsoring an amendment to the horribly misguided Grassley/Wyden bill. They suggest creating new tiers of drugs for generics and biosimilars, rather than lumping them in with brandname drugs. This is an idea that makes a lot of sense and it would benefit consumers. But it should be a stand alone bill. The Grassley/Wyden bill is bad enough that such amendments do not actually cure its horrible defects. But the underlying idea of this amendment, as stand alone legislation, would have a lot of merit. The Administration has the authority to do this now under existing statutory authority — it should do so.
The problem with healthcare and medical reforms in Washington is that there is too much blind faith in the ability of big-government to simply wave a wand and somehow magically lower prices. Rather than the promised benefits, what we actually receive are terribly high unintended consequences. We saw this with the ObamaCare fiasco. Policy makers should place their confidence in the marketplace to incentivize innovation and high quality products at competitive prices.
ATR today released a coalition letter signed by 70 groups and activists in opposition to the Pelosi drug pricing proposal to create a 95 percent tax on pharmaceutical manufacturers.
As noted in the letter, this bill calls for a retroactive tax on sales that is imposed in addition to existing against income taxes:
Under Speaker Pelosi’s plan, pharmaceutical manufacturers would face a retroactive tax of up to 95 percent on the total sales of a drug (not net profits). This means that a manufacturer selling a medicine for $100 will owe $95 in tax for every product sold with no allowance for the costs incurred.
The tax is used to enforce price controls on medicines that will crush innovation and distort the existing supply chain as the signers note:
“The alternative to paying this tax is for the companies to submit to strict government price controls on the medicines they produce. While the Pelosi bill claims this is “negotiation,” the plan is more akin to theft.”
This proposal will create significant harm to American innovation to the detriment of jobs, wages, and patients, as the letter notes:
”[The Pelosi] proposal would crush the pharmaceutical industry, deter innovation, and dramatically reduce the ability of patients to access life-saving medicines.
The full letter is found here and is below:
Dear Members of Congress:
We write in opposition to the prescription drug pricing bill offered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would impose an excise tax of up to a 95 percent on hundreds of prescription medicines.
In addition to this new tax, the bill imposes new government price controls that would decimate innovation and distort supply, leading to the same lack of access to the newest and best drugs for patients in other countries that impose these price controls.
Under Speaker Pelosi’s plan, pharmaceutical manufacturers would face a retroactive tax of up to 95 percent on the total sales of a drug (not net profits). This means that a manufacturer selling a medicine for $100 will owe $95 in tax for every product sold with no allowance for the costs incurred. No deductions would be allowed, and it would be imposed on manufacturers in addition to federal and state income taxes they must pay.
The alternative to paying this tax is for the companies to submit to strict government price controls on the medicines they produce. While the Pelosi bill claims this is “negotiation,” the plan is more akin to theft.
If this tax hike plan were signed into law, it would cripple the ability of manufacturers to operate and develop new medicines.
It is clear that the Pelosi plan does not represent a good faith attempt to lower drug prices. Rather, it is a proposal that would crush the pharmaceutical industry, deter innovation, and dramatically reduce the ability of patients to access life-saving medicines.
We urge you to oppose the Pelosi plan that would impose price controls and a 95 percent medicine tax on the companies that develop and produce these medicines.
President, Americans For Tax Reform
James L. Martin
Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis
President, 60 Plus Association
Chair, Alabama Center Right Coalition
President, AMAC Action
President, American Business Defense Council
President, American Commitment
Executive Director, American Conservative Union
President/CEO, The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research
Lisa B. Nelson
CEO, American Legislative Exchange Council
Vice President of Policy, ALEC Action
President, Americans for a Balanced Budget
President, Americans for a Strong Economy
President, Campaign for Liberty
President, Center for a Free Economy
Andrew F. Quinlan
President, Center for Freedom & Prosperity
President, Center for Individual Freedom
Executive Director, Center for Innovation and Free Enterprise
Peter J. Pitts
President, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest
Senior Fellow, Center for Worker Freedom
President, Citizen Outreach
President, Club for Growth
President, The Committee for Justice
Vice President, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Executive Director, Conservatives for Property Rights
President, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy
Fred Cyrus Roeder
Managing Director, Consumer Choice Center
President, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste
Executive Director, Digital Liberty
Co-Chair, Florida Center Right Coalition
President, Frontiers of Freedom
President, Galen Institute
Director of Healthcare Policy, Goldwater Institute
The Honorable Frank Lasee
President, The Heartland Institute
Vice President, Heritage Action for America
Rodolfo E. Milani
Trustee, Hispanic American Center for Economic Research
Founder, Miami Freedom Forum
Mario H. Lopez
President, Hispanic Leadership Fund
President, Independent Women’s Forum
Heather R. Higgins
CEO, Independent Women’s Voice
Resident Scholar, Institute for Policy Innovation
President, Iowans for Tax Relief
Vice President of Policy, The James Madison Institute
The Honorable Paul R LePage
Governor of Maine 2011-2019
President, Less Government
Director, Lone Star Policy Institute
Chair, Maine Center Right Coalition
CEO, The Maine Heritage Policy Center
President, Maine State Chapter – Parents Involved in Education
President, Market Institute
Jameson Taylor, Ph.D.
Vice President for Policy, Mississippi Center for Public Policy
The Honorable Tim Jones
Leader, Missouri Center-Right Coalition
CEO, Montana Policy Institute
President, National Taxpayers Union
The Honorable Bill O’Brien
The Honorable Stephen Stepanek
Co-chairs, New Hampshire Center Right Coalition
The Honorable Beth A. O’Connor
Maine House of Representatives
The Honorable Niraj J. Antani
Ohio State Representative
Executive Director, Ohioans for Tax Reform
Honorable Jeff Kropf
Executive Director, Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation
CEO, Pelican Institute for Public Policy
Executive Director, Property Rights Alliance
President, Rio Grande Foundation
James L. Setterlund
Executive Director, Shareholder Advocacy Forum
President and CEO, Small Business Entrepreneurship Council
David Miller & Brian Shrive
Chairs, Southwest Ohio Center-right Coalition
Executive Director, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
President, Tea Party Nation
Director, Right on Healthcare – Texas Public Policy Foundation
President, Trade Alliance to Promote Prosperity
Executive Director, Wyoming Liberty Group
Atop the list of what America’s senior adults want are the preservation of their independence and a secure retirement. Admirably they don’t want to end up being a burden anyone, not their spouse, not their children, and not the rest of us. The way the system is rigged, however, almost guarantees they will
Medicare-for-All, which most of the Democrats running for president have endorsed, will only lead to increased dependency. It’s a typical one-size-fits-all proposal that sounds good from the stump and may look good on paper. The numbers though, just don’t work.
The way forward is to expand choice and to allow seniors to take advantage of competition in the health care marketplace to bring prices down. Some already have supplemental insurance that helps fill the financial gap between what they need and what Medicare will pay for but it’s not enough. Some people need more than one walker in order to stay in their homes.
This is where creativity is needed. The green-eye shade types who approve Medicare expenditures spend lots of time thinking about what things cost. Considering how many taxpayer dollars are involved in later-in-life health care, that’s not such a bad thing but it doesn’t always take into consideration what people need.
That forces seniors to make hard choices that can threaten their independence. They need to have more options as they would under a proposal by Dr. Ami Bera, D-Calif., and Jason Smith, R-Mo., that would let them use pre-tax dollars stored up in health savings accounts to fill the gaps between items covered under Medicare and what they are expected to pay for out of pocket.
“Having a Health Savings Account is a powerful resource that reimburses everything from doctor and dentist visits to prescription drugs, first aid supplies, and eyeglasses. Health Savings Accounts also incentivize saving for health-care expenses by providing critical tax benefits, just as we do for saving for retirement or college,” says Kevin McKechnie, the executive director of the American Bankers Association’s Health Savings Accounts Council.
Money put away in an HSA can stay there for decades. Under current law, there’s no “Use it or lose it” provision. That means younger workers can start saving for retirement health care upon entering the workforce and, through the magic of compound interest, build up a nest egg that’s there for them anytime they need it.
That means, if they’re lucky enough to remain relatively healthy and can be disciplined financially, it can be there for them in their retirement years which, it has suddenly become clear to me, come around a lot faster than it seems they will when you’re just starting out.
The tax benefits associated with HSA’s, McKechnie wrote in a recent op-ed, “have become even more important as deductibles and other health-care costs continue to skyrocket.” Struggling families, especially those that include senior adults facing the challenges associated with aging, are finding it harder and harder to plan for they can’t see coming. Expanding the range of services that can be paid for out of health savings accounts give them an additional hedge against the unexpected.
A recent Luntz Global poll found 46 percent support for the Bera-Smith plan and the idea of using HSA funds to fill the Medigap. Expanding the list of approved items upon which HSA dollars can be spent without tax penalties is low hanging fruit as far as health care reform goes. That’s probably why the idea has bipartisan support.
The challenges presented by an aging America in which people living longer and healthier must deal with diseases that can lead more quickly to economic ruin should give us all pause. New thinking is needed, not just where treatments are concerned but in how we make it possible for people to pay for it. We could as a country decide to turn the whole business over to the government but that inevitable means care will be rationed, fewer options will be available, and decisions regarding life and death matters will almost inevitably be taken out of our hands by the bureaucracy.
No one wants to live like that, and no one wants a loved one to die like that. The Bera-Smith Health Savings for Seniors Act will cover the gaps and help bring the cost of health care under control. At least 82 percent of those who answered the Luntz Global survey think it will. It’s time to give it a chance.
Today, Frontiers of Freedom, along with 12 other organizations dedicated to promoting free markets, limited government, and constitutional principles, sent a letter of caution to President Trump about Notice No. 176, a new, massive regulation proposed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Among other concerns, the letter warned that Notice No. 176 will add two and a half times the number of regulations governing the distilled spirits industry, seemingly violating both Executive Order 1771 and Executive Order 12866.
The coalition letter reads, in part:
“TTB contends that it released Notice No. 176 to ‘eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements and provide consumers broader purchasing options.’ Although cloaking it as a deregulatory effort, No. 176 would add two and a half times the number of regulations governing the distilled spirits industry. This comes in stark violation to Executive Order 13771 that you signed on February 3, 2017, which directs all agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new one proposed. Given that Notice No. 176 has also been said to create hundreds of millions in new business costs, it also seemingly violates Executive Order 12866, which states that the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs must review any new significant regulatory action before it is formally proposed.”
The full letter is available here.
Average retirement account would lose $20,000 to tax
A financial transaction tax, though popular with 2020 Democrats, would raise little revenue and substantially shrink the U.S. economy, a recently released report concludes.
A transaction tax takes a percentage from financial trades, such as the sale or purchase of stocks, bonds, or derivatives. The United States levies an extremely small charge on each transaction to fund the Securities and Exchange Commission. A number of Democrats would like to bring a full-fledged financial transaction tax (FTT) back for the first time since 1965.
The idea’s most vocal proponent is presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) who has introduced a plan to charge a 0.5 percent fee on financial transactions. Sanders has made the tax “on Wall Street” a central revenue source to pay for his exorbitant spending proposals.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) introduced her own FTT proposal in 2015, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) wants one to pay for expanding Medicare, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also said that he is “interested in” implementing an FTT. Congressional Democrats have supported the idea outside of the campaign trail. Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) has his own0.1 percent proposed FTT — the bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.).
These Democrats and others cite several justifications for an FTT. The tax is aimed at “Wall Street,” a preferred target of populist liberals—at least in principle, that means it also falls more heavily on those who hold a lot of wealth in investments. Additionally, such a tax would impose major restrictions on so-called high-frequency trading, which involves computer-run trades at fractions of a penny—profits that could be wiped out by the tax.
“This Wall Street speculation fee, also known as a financial transaction tax, will raise substantial revenue from wealthy investors that can be used to make public colleges and universities tuition free and substantially reduce student debt,” a brief from Sanders’s office reads. “It will also reduce speculation and high-frequency trading that is destabilizing financial markets. During the financial crisis, Wall Street received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world. Now it is Wall Street’s turn to rebuild the disappearing middle class.”
The scope of the tax, however, would extend beyond the confines of Manhattan, according to a report from the Center for Capital Market Competitiveness, an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce. The report argues that FTTs shrink the economy and hurt every-day Americans, not just Wall Street fat cats.
“Main Street will pay for the tax, not Wall Street,” the report argues. “The real burden [of an FTT] will be on ordinary investors, such as retirees, pension holders, and those saving for college.”
Much like a sales tax, the costs of a financial transaction tax would be passed on to consumers, who would pay more for each trade. Taxing transactions does not just drive up costs for the ultra-wealthy, but the 6 in 10 American households that own some kind of investment. Increased costs would have substantial effects on American savings. Under the Sanders plan, for example, the report estimates that a typical retirement investor will end up losing about $20,000 on average from his IRA.
These direct effects are arguably less significant than the overall effect that an FTT would have on the financial side of the economy. As multiple Democrats have acknowledged, the goal of an FTT would be to crack down on complicated financial instruments, such as high-frequency trades, to reduce what they perceive as dangerous market instability.
These instruments mostly serve vital functions greasing the wheels of the economy, according to the center’s report. An FTT would erase the razor-thin margins on which market makers operate, and severely constrain other forms of arbitrage. They would also reduce the use of vital risk-management tools, like many derivatives and futures contracts.
An FTT, the report argues, would thus serve to substantially slow the economy. Trade volume would fall; consumer good prices would rise; municipal bonds would generate less revenue for infrastructure; the cost of credit would increase, making mortgages more expensive—in turn exacerbating the homelessness crisis, depressing young home-ownership, and reducing family formation.
Obviously, each of these effects may not be massive—the U.S. economy grew substantially even during the 50-year period when we had an FTT. But, the new report argues, the experience of other nations indicates that the costs to the economy would substantially outweigh any benefit.
For example, they cite an economic analysis of a proposed 0.1 percent transaction tax in the EU—the authors found that “such a tax would lower GDP by 1.76 percent while raising revenue of only 0.08% percent of GDP.” Sweden’s 1 percent FTT caused a 5.3 percent drop in the Swedish market—meaning a 0.5 percent FTT, as Sanders proposes, would analogously cut nearly $800 billion from U.S. market capitalization. The evidence runs the other way, too: In the year following the repeal of the U.S. transaction tax, New York Stock Exchange trade volume increased by 33 percent.
All of this is why many countries—including Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Japan, Austria, and France—have eliminated such transaction taxes.
“Bad ideas have a habit of coming around again. The U.S., like many other nations, experimented with an FTT and wisely got rid of it. Yet each generation seems to be tempted by the false promise of a painless revenue stream,” the report said. “It would be wise to pay attention to the wisdom of experience and again avoid this false temptation. After all, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”