Posts tagged ‘tobacco’

A Proposal For Better Management of the (Soon to Be) California Climate Slush Fund

California is about to implement a new climate tax via a cap and trade system, where revenues from the tax are supposed to be dedicated to carbon reduction projects.  Forget for a moment all my concerns with climate dangers being overhyped, or the practical problems (read cronyism) inherent in a cap-and-trade system vs. a straight carbon tax.  There is one improvement California can and should make to this system.

Anyone who can remember the history of the tobacco settlement will know that the theory of that settlement was that the funds were needed to pay for additional medical expenses driven by smoking.  Well, about zero of these funds actually went to health care or even to smoking reduction programs  (smoking reduction programs turn out to be fiscally irresponsible for states, since they lead to reduced tax revenues from tobacco taxes).  These funds just became a general slush fund for legislators.   Some states (New York among them, if I remember correctly), spent the entire 20 year windfall in one year to close budget gaps.

If California is serious that these new taxes on energy should go to carbon reduction programs, then these programs need to be scored by a neutral body as to their cost per ton of CO2 reduction.  I may think the program misguided, but given that it exists, it might as well be run in a scientific manner, right?  I would really prefer that there be a legislated hurdle rate, e.g. all programs must have a cost per ton reduction of $45 of less -- or whatever.  But even publishing scores in a transparent way would help.

This would, for example, likely highlight what a terrible investment this would be in reducing CO2.

 

The Thought Experiment That First Made Me A Climate Skeptic

Please check out my Forbes post today.  Here is how it begins:

Last night, the accumulated years of being called an evil-Koch-funded-anti-science-tobacco-lawyer-Holocaust-Denier finally caught up with me.  I wrote something like 3000 words of indignation about climate alarmists corrupting the very definition of science by declaring their work “settled”, answering difficult scientific questions with the equivalent of voting, and telling everyone the way to be pro-science is to listen to self-designated authorities and shut up.  I looked at the draft this morning and while I agreed with everything written, I decided not to publish a whiny ode of victimization.  There are plenty of those floating around already.

And then, out of the blue, I received an email from a stranger.  Last year I had helped to sponsor a proposal to legalize gay marriage in Arizona.  I was doing some outreach to folks in the libertarian community who had no problem with gay marriage (after all, they are libertarians) but were concerned that marriage licensing should not be a government activity at all and were therefore lukewarm about our proposition.  I suppose I could have called them bigots, or homophobic, or in the pay of Big Hetero — but instead I gathered and presented data on the number of different laws, such as inheritance, where rights and privileges were tied to marriage.  I argued that the government was already deeply involved with marriage, and fairness therefore demanded that more people have access to these rights and privileges.  Just yesterday I had a reader send me an email that said, simply, “you changed my mind on gay marriage.”  It made my day.  If only climate discussion could work this way.

So I decided the right way to drive change in the climate debate is not to rant about it but instead to continue to model what I consider good behavior — fact-based discussion and a recognition that reasonable people can disagree without that disagreement implying one or the other has evil intentions or is mean-spirited.

This analysis was originally published about 8 years ago, and there is no longer an online version.  So for fun, I thought I would reproduce my original thought experiment on climate models that led me to the climate dark side.

I have been flattered over time that folks like Matt Ridley have picked up on bits and pieces of this analysis.  See it all here.

Did Anyone See the Movie Interstate 60? Because This Story Reminds Me of That Movie

No, it's never going to win an award for art direction or acting, but one of my favorite movies is Interstate 60.  In part because almost no one has heard of it and it is fun to be part of the cult in a cult classic.  But at its heart it is really a pretty good movie on the various meanings of freedom -- or more accurately, on the varous ways in which people can enslave themselves.

The movie is essentially a series of vignettes -- short little stories -- connected by a guy on the road on a quest.  One of those involved Kurt Russell as the sheriff in a small town.  For those who saw the movie (and if you have not, go find it on Netflix), doesn't this remind you a lot of the Kurt Russell town Banton?

At nine o'clock in the morning in a garden shed behind a house in Amsterdam, a handful of alcoholics are getting ready to clean the surrounding streets, beer and cigarette in hand.

For a day's work, the men receive 10 euros (around $13), a half-packet of rolling tobacco and, most importantly, five cans of beer: two to start the day, two at lunch and one for after work.

Appeals to Authority

A reader sends me a story of global warming activist who clearly doesn't know even the most basic facts about global warming.  Since this article is about avoiding appeals to authority, so I hate to ask you to take my word for it, but it is simply impossible to immerse oneself in the science of global warming for any amount of time without being able to immediately rattle off the four major global temperature data bases (or at least one of them!)

I don't typically find it very compelling to knock a particular point of view just because one of its defenders is a moron, unless that defender has been set up as a quasi-official representative of that point of view (e.g. Al Gore).  After all, there are plenty of folks on my side of issues, including those who are voicing opinions skeptical of catastrophic global warming, who are making screwed up arguments.

However, I have found over time this to be an absolutely typical situation in the global warming advocacy world.  Every single time I have publicly debated this issue, I have understood the opposing argument, ie the argument for catastrophic global warming, better than my opponent.   In fact, I finally had to write a first chapter to my usual presentation.  In this preamble, I outline the case and evidence for manmade global warming so the audience could understand it before I then set out to refute it.

The problem is that the global warming alarm movement has come to rely very heavily on appeals to authority and ad hominem attacks in making their case.  What headlines do you see? 97% of scientists agree, the IPCC is 95% sure, etc.  These "studies", which Lord Monkton (with whom I often disagree but who can be very clever) calls "no better than a show of hands", dominate the news.  When have you ever seen a story in the media about the core issue of global warming, which is diagnosing whether positive feedbacks truly multiply small bits of manmade warming to catastrophic levels.  The answer is never.

Global warming advocates thus have failed to learn how to really argue the science of their theory.  In their echo chambers, they have all agreed that saying "the science is settled" over and over and then responding to criticism by saying "skeptics are just like tobacco lawyers and holocaust deniers and are paid off by oil companies" represents a sufficient argument.**  Which means that in an actual debate, they can be surprisingly easy to rip to pieces.  Which may be why most, taking Al Gore's lead, refuse to debate.

All of this is particularly ironic since it is the global warming alarmists who try to wrap themselves in the mantle of the defenders of science.  Ironic because the scientific revolution began only when men and women were willing to reject appeals to authority and try to understand things for themselves.

 

** Another very typical tactic:  They will present whole presentations without a single citation.   But make one statement in your rebuttal as a skeptic that is not backed with a named, peer-reviewed study, and they will call you out on it.  I remember in one presentation, I was presenting some material that was based on my own analysis.  "But this is not peer-reviewed" said one participant, implying that it should therefore be ignored.  I retorted that it was basic math, that the data sources were all cited, and they were my peers -- review it.  Use you brains.  Does it make sense?  Is there a flaw?  But they don't want to do that.  Increasingly, oddly, science is about having officially licensed scientists delivery findings to them on a platter.

Meet the Person Who Wants to Run Your Life -- And Obama Wants to Help Her

I am a bit late on this, but like most libertarians I was horrified by this article in the Mail Online about Obama Administration efforts to nudge us all into "good" behavior.  This is the person, Maya Shankar, who wants to substitute her decision-making priorities for your own

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If the notion -- that a 20-something person who has apparently never held a job in the productive economy is  telling you she knows better what is good for you -- is not absurd on its face, here are a few other reasons to distrust this plan.

  • Proponents first, second, and third argument for doing this kind of thing is that it is all based on "science".  But a lot of the so-called science is total crap.  Medical literature is filled with false panics that are eventually retracted.  And most social science findings are frankly garbage.  If you have some behavior you want to nudge, and you give a university a nice grant, I can guarantee you that you can get a study supporting whatever behavior you want to foster or curtail.  Just look at the number of public universities in corn-growing states that manage to find justifications for ethanol subsidies.  Recycling is a great example, mentioned several times in the article.  Research supports the sensibility of recycling aluminum and steel, but says that recycling glass and plastic and paper are either worthless or cost more in resources than they save.  But nudgers never-the-less push for recycling of all this stuff.  Nudging quickly starts looking more like religion than science.
  • The 300 million people in this country have 300 million different sets of priorities and personal circumstances.  It is the worst hubris to think that one can make one decision that is correct for everyone.  Name any supposedly short-sighted behavior -- say, not getting health insurance when one is young -- and I can name numerous circumstances where this is a perfectly valid choice and risk to take.
  • The justification for this effort is social science research about how people manage decisions that involve short-term and long-term consequences

Some behavioral scientists believe they can improve people's self-control by understanding the relationship between short term memory, intelligence and delay discounting.

This has mostly been used to counter compulsive gambling and substance abuse, but Shankar's entry into government science circles may indicate that health insurance objectors and lapsed recyclers could soon fall into a similar category

I am sure there is a grain of truth in this -- all of us likely have examples of where we made a decision to avoid short term pain that we regretted.  But it is hilarious to think that government officials will somehow do better.  As I have written before, the discount rate on pain applied by most legislators is infinite.  They will do any crazy ridiculous thing that has horrible implications five or ten years from now if they can just get through today.  Why else do government bodies run massive sustained deficits and give away unsustainable pension and retirement packages except that they take no consideration of future consequences.  And it is these people Maya wants to put in charge of teaching me about delay discounting?

  • It probably goes without saying, but nudging quickly becomes politicized.  Is nudging 20-something health men to buy health insurance really in their best interests, or does it help keep an important Obama program from failing?

Postscript:  Here is a great example of just how poorly the government manages delay discounting.  In these cases, municipalities are saddling taxpayers with almost certainly bankrupting future debt to avoid paying any short-term costs.

Texas school districts have made use of another controversial financing technique: capital appreciation bonds. Used to finance construction, these bonds defer interest payments, often for decades. The extension saves the borrower from spending on repayment right now, but it burdens a future generation with significantly higher costs. Some capital appreciation bonds wind up costing a municipality ten times what it originally borrowed. From 2007 through 2011 alone, research by the Texas legislature shows, the state’s municipalities and school districts issued 700 of these bonds, raising $2.3 billion—but with a price tag of $23 billion in future interest payments. To build new schools, one fast-growing school district, Leander, has accumulated $773 million in outstanding debt through capital appreciation bonds.

Capital appreciation bonds have also ignited controversy in California, where school districts facing stagnant tax revenues and higher costs have used them to borrow money without any immediate budget impact. One school district in San Diego County, Poway Unified, won voter approval to borrow $100 million by promising that the move wouldn’t raise local taxes. To live up to that promise, Poway used bonds that postponed interest payments for 20 years. But future Poway residents will be paying off the debt—nearly $1 billion, all told—until 2051. After revelations that a handful of other districts were also using capital appreciation bonds, the California legislature outlawed them earlier this year. Other states, including Texas, are considering similar bans.

Or here is another example, of New York (the state that is home to the mayor who tries to nudge his residents on everything from soft drinks to salt)  using trickery to consume 25 years of revenue in one year.

Other New York deals engineered without voter say-so include a $2.7 billion bond offering in 2003, backed by 25 years’ worth of revenues from the state’s gigantic settlement with tobacco companies. To circumvent borrowing limits, the state created an independent corporation to issue the bonds and then used the money from the bond sale to close a budget deficit—instantly consuming most of the tobacco settlement, which now had to be used to pay off the debt.

By the way, I recommend the whole linked article.  It is a pretty broad survey of how state and local governments are building up so much debt, both on and off the books, and how politicians bend every law just to be able to spend a few more dollars today.

A Response to Popular Ad Hominem, err Science, Magazine on Global Warming Skeptics

My new column is up this week, and is a response to the July 2012 issue of Popular Science which includes a long, unbalanced attack on skeptics, without once addressing their scientific arguments.

I thought I knew what “science” was about:  the crafting of hypotheses that could be tested and refined through observation via studies that were challenged and replicated by the broader community until the hypothesis is generally accepted or rejected by the broader community.

But apparently “popular science” works differently, if the July 2012 article by Tom Clynes in the periodical of that name is any guide [I will link the article when it is online].  In an article called “the Battle,” Clynes serves up an amazing skewering of skeptics that the most extreme environmental group might have blushed at publishing.  After reading this article, it seems that “popular science” consists mainly of initiating a sufficient number of ad hominem attacks against those with whom one disagrees such that one is no longer required to even answer their scientific criticisms.

The article is a sort of hall-of-fame of every ad hominem attack made on skeptics – tobacco lawyers, Holocaust Deniers, the Flat Earth Society, oil company funding, and the Koch Brothers all make an appearance.

Thousands of words about critical issues like Heartland Institute's funding, but less than two dozen dedicated to dismissing skeptic's scientific concerns.  And that is before we get to outright journalistic fraud, as the author attempts, for example, to lay blame for Obama Administration financial audits of climate scientists on, you guessed it, skeptics. Read it all

When Julia Tried To Start A Small Business

I already had this column at Forbes in the works, but I could not resist switching the protagonist from myself to Obama's Julia.  Every tax, license, and story here are real ones I have experienced in my business.  Here is just a small sample:

So twelve registration numbers and 12 monthly/quarterly/yearly reports later, surely Julia has fulfilled all her obligations to the government.  Unfortunately, no, because she has not even begun to address licensing issues.  To begin, the County will require that she get an occupancy permit for her campground, which must be renewed annually.  This seemed surprisingly easy, until someone from the County noticed she had removed an old rotting wooden deck from the back of her store that had been a safety issue and an eyesore.   It turns out she was in violation of County law because she did not get a removal permit first.  She was required to get a permit retroactively, which eventually required payments to seven different County agencies and at one point required, for a reason she never understood, the collection and testing of a soil sample.

Because she will be selling packaged foods in her store (e.g. chips and pop-tarts), she also has to get a health department license and inspection.  She had originally intended to keep some fresh-brewed coffee for customers in the store, but it turned out that required a higher-level health license and eight hours training in food handling.  She might have been willing to pursue it, but the inspector told her that to make coffee, she would need to install a three-basin stainless steel wash-up sink plus a separate mop sink in her store, and she decided that coffee would have to wait.

Once through the general health licensing process, she then needed to obtain licenses for individual products.  She wanted to sell aspirin, so she had to get a state over-the counter drug sale license.  She knew that customers would want cigarettes, so she had to obtain a tobacco sales license.  One day as she was setting up, a state inspector noticed she had a carton of eggs in her cooler, and notified her she needed  a state license to sell eggs  (as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up).  And then there was the problem of beer.

We Changed Our Mind. Please Go Smoke

Most of you likely remember the state settlements with tobacco companies.  The settlements were set up to pay states a percentage of future tobacco company earnings and sales.  But just like a profligate homeowner borrowing against his paper equity in his home after housing prices increased, governments wanted to spend the money NOW, not over 20 years.  So they borrowed against future settlement payments.  Except that now, given lower smoking rates (incentives work) the settlement payments are less than they were forecast, and states must find a way to make up the difference and pay their creditors.

The tobacco settlement has created funky incentives for state governments form the very beginning.  Formerly adversaries, the settlement effectively made large tobacco companies partners with state governments, and states have had substantial incentives to promote the business of large tobacco companies and sit on their rivals

Big tobacco was supposed to come under harsh punishment for decades of deception when it acceded to a tort settlement seven years ago. Philip Morris, R.J.Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson agreed to pay 46 states $206 billion over 25 years. This was their punishment for burying evidence of cigarettes' health risks.

But the much-maligned tobacco giants have subtly and shrewdly turned their penance into a windfall. Using that tort settlement, the big brands have hampered tiny cut-rate rivals and raised prices with near impunity. Since the case was settled, the big four have nearly doubled wholesale cigarette prices from a national average of $1.25 a pack (not counting excise taxes) in 1998 to $2.10 now. And they have a potent partner in this scheme: state governments, which have become addicted to tort-settlement payments, now running at $6 billion a year. A key feature of the Big Tobacco-and-state-government cartel: rules that levy tort-settlement costs on upstart cigarette companies, companies that were not even in existence when the tort was being committed.

I commented here:

The government has found over time that it is able to sell higher taxes to the voters on certain items if they can portray those items as representing some socially unwanted behavior. These are often called "sin" taxes. The justification for the tax in its beginning is as much about behavior control as revenue generation.  Taxes on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and even gasoline and plastic grocery bags have all been justified in part by the logic that higher taxes will reduce consumption.

However, a funny thing happens on the way to the treasury.  Over time, government becomes dependent on the revenue from these taxes.  The government begins to suffer when the taxes have their original effect — ie reducing consumption — because then tax revenues drop.  The government ultimately finds itself in the odd position of resisting consumption drops or restructuring the tax so it no longer incentivizes reduced consumption so that it can protect its tax revenue collections.

Health Care Trojan Horse for Fascism

I have been warning you, its coming.  When government pays the health care bills, they can then use that as an excuse to micro-regulate our every behavior.  Because its no longer an individual choice, it affects public costs.

“Denmark finds every sort of way to increase our taxes,” said Alisa Clausen, a South Jutland resident. “Why should the government decide how much fat we eat? They also want to increase the tobacco price very significantly. In theory this is good — it makes unhealthy items expensive so that we do not consume as much or any and that way the health system doesn’t use a lot of money on patients who become sick from overuse of fat and tobacco.  However, these taxes take on a big brother feeling.  We should not be punished by taxes on items the government decides we should not use.”

As an aside, given that Scandinavians tend to have among the world's highest tolerances for taxes, when they get fed up, it must be getting bad.

Licensing Naivite

OK, so after the monks and coffins, here is the future licensing act ripe for abuse by industry incumbents to protect their position.

New state licenses required for anyone handling a mortgage application could help prevent a repeat of the bad loans that contributed to Phoenix's housing crash....

The law, passed in 2008, creates state oversight for people who take loan applications, gives consumers an avenue for reporting misconduct and establishes a fund to help repay borrowers who lose money because of unethical or illegal acts by their loan officers.

The law faces hurdles, as cash-strapped Arizona struggles to process thousands of new applications.

Still, advocates call it a success. Many of the risky - and sometimes illegal - home loans that helped lead to record foreclosures in Arizona might not have been made if the more than 10,000 unlicensed loan officers working then had been subject to more oversight.

How?  If people were selling illegal home loans before, they were already breaking the law and the state obviously was unable to enforce the law.  How is adding a piece of paper that must be applied for each year going to help?  My company has all kinds of silly licenses - liquor licenses, guiding licenses, health licenses, tobacco sales licenses, over-the-counter drug sales licenses, even egg licenses - and in not a single case does the issuer of these licenses exercise any sort of oversight of our operations.  If they get their extensive paperwork (so workers have an excuse to retain their jobs - after all someone has to process the paperwork) and their check, that is generally the sum of interactions with these organizations.

Now, some of these licenses were hard to get in the first place, but not for any reason of my character or ethics or business model.  They were hard to get because their issuance has been co-opted by incumbent businesses in the state who use the process to limit competition.  Liquor licenses are a great example - in places like Shasta County CA and Lake Havasu City AZ, we had a real problem getting the liquor license over opposition from existing businesses.

This is almost mindless naivete:

"Loan-officer licensing is long overdue in Arizona," said Felecia Rotellini, who for five years served as superintendent of the Department of Financial Institutions, the state agency regulating the mortgage industry. She is running for Arizona attorney general.

"A lot of bad loans wouldn't have been made if we had it before," Rotellini said. "It gives me peace of mind for consumers to know we have licensing now."

The author of the article just throws the following statement out there without any source, as if it was an axiom with which we all would agree

In Arizona, the housing boom and crash were partly fueled by loan officers, how they operated and how they were paid.

In fact, the author's incredible confidence in licensing is undermined in this adjacent statement:

Mortgage brokers, who run firms that connect borrowers with the best loans, have long been regulated by the Department of Financial Institutions.

Brokers employ loan officers, who work directly with borrowers, collecting their Social Security numbers and financial information to determine whether they qualify for a loan. Loan officers usually recommend types of mortgages and lenders.

These officers, sometimes called originators, weren't subject to state scrutiny. They worked under the licenses of their brokers, much the way an apprentice would work for a licensed contractor. Previously, that oversight was considered sufficient.

So the firms these guys worked for were licensed, but the individual employees were not. But if that licensing of firms, which after all is the level where loan practices and compensation policy are set which supposedly are at fault, how does licensing individual employees help? This is a typical political step that a) gets some state organization more money and power, b) generates one sound bite in a news cycle for some politician to tell voters that they care and c) does zero for consumers.

At the end of the day, the real cause of the housing boom was easy credit, and yes loan officers participated in this given that their commission-based incentives caused them to want to make every loan possible.  But this incentive outcome would not have been some kind of insight to the people and system that employed the loan officers.  In fact, everyone from the loan officer to the Congress wanted easy credit, and to blame one link in the chain of delivering this credit to consumers is madness.  Going forward, there is absolutely no evidence that the government is going to reduce its history of promoting easy credit, as evidenced by any number of federal loan modification and lending programs over the last 2 years.  So the likelihood that a government regulatory agency could have somehow headed off the bubble and its bursting is just silly.  The government was a party to it.

In the long run this mechanism will almost certainly be co-opted by current loan issuers as a way to limit competition, much as real estate agents and lawyers and funeral home directors already do.  As a minimum, this is a way for mortgage brokers to outsource some of the cost of running background checks and such on their employment candidates onto taxpayers.  In fact, I wonder who was behind this law in the first place?

Backed by mortgage brokers and real-estate regulators, the law quietly went into affect on July 1

Did Obama Save BP?

The media is portraying the $20 billion BP spill fund as a result of tough talk from the President.  I think it was a lifeline that BP grabbed with great relish (so does the stock market, as their stock price has risen slightly in the day and a half since).

BP faces absolute bankruptcy from the torts resulting form this current spill, along with some criminal charges.  Its best hope is to negotiate a deal, Chicago-style, with the US government.  In exchange for a cash fund that will sound really large in the press but likely will fall short of actual claims, Congress will pass a law limiting its liability to just+ the settlement fund.  The public justification will be that the settlement fund will provide much quicker and more efficient compensation to victims -- which might even be true.

If one wants a model, just look at the tobacco settlement.  While they vilified them, the government in fact made tobacco companies their partners.  Since the settlement, the government has in fact stepped in to protect the large tobacco companies from competition and price erosion, in large part to protect parties to the settlement from loss of market share to parties who are not on the hook to pay out large sums to the government.  By the way, note that the vast majority of the tobacco settlement money did not go to its stated purpose of tobacco education and health care costs, but into the general funds to support politicians' whims.

This is how things work in the corporate state (and, I suppose, in organized crime).  Once you have an entity like BP vulnerable and under your control, the last thing you want is for them to die.  You want to milk them for years, both for cash and political support, the quid pro quo for being kept alive.

Update: OK, it seems I can't be original.  Others are thinking this too

Creating the American Pravda

It is a beautiful day here, so I really don't have the time or desire right now to summarize the absolute mess that is the FTC discussion draft for the "reinvention of journalism," reinvention being a synonym apparently for government takeover.  Almost every proposal is fraught with unintended (or perhaps intended but hidden) consequences, faulty economics, and unprecedented attacks of the first amendment.  If you don't have the time to read it, I will try to summarize it next week, but just open it and scroll the bold headers with the proposals.  Its really outrageous.  Here are just some quick highlights:

  • Substantial narrowing of fair use, with particular focus on how search engines and other online sites (e.g. blogs) use and/or have to pay for access to news sites
  • Expansion of news copyrights on breaking news - ie certain papers will own the copyrights to certain news events if they are the first mover on it
  • Increased government funding of news organizations along multiple vectors, from subsidies to guaranteed loans to income tax checkoffs to lower postal rates to Americorps programs for for journalists.
  • Simultaneously reduce private funding of journalism through taxes, including a tax on advertisers
  • Shift the organizational model of journalism from profit corporations (which rely on satisfying individuals to get their revenue) to non-profit organizations dependent on the government for funding
  • New taxes on and licensing of the Internet.   New taxes on broadcast spectrum to subsidize print media (shifting money from media that are more hostile to the administration to print media and non-profits that are more sympathetic to the administration).

Here is the intro that was missing from the report:  "The New York Times and Newsweek can't figure out a profitable business model in the Internet age.  We propose the government step in with all means at its disposal to limit competition to these print media companies and create new government subsidies for their business.  Once their companies' profitability is absolutely dependent on these government mandates and subsidies, the Federal government will have a powerful source of leverage to protect itself from criticism in these outlets.  Once we have this situation in place, we will have a strong inventive to quash more independent outlets and maximize the market share of media companies beholden to the government.  In a large sense, our recommendations build off the success of the tobacco settlement experiment, where a few large companies agreed to pay the government large percentages of their future profits, and then the government worked diligently to quash new tobacco competitors to maximize the market share of those companies paying it settlement money."

Update: South Bend Seven makes an interesting comparison to campus newspapers.

The Corporate State

Life is too short to spend much time on the Democratic Underground, but this article by Ernest Partridge popped up in one of my Google watch lists.  I highlight only because it contains this straw man:

The dogmatism of free market absolutism resides in the belief that the unregulated market never fails to be beneficial to all; the belief, in other words, that there are no malevolent effects of unconstrained market activity, no "back of the invisible hand." From this belief follows the insistence that the free market is self-correcting, and that there is thus no need for regulation � that, in Ronald Reagan�s enduring words, "government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem."

I can't think of any thoughtful defender of capitalism and free markets that ever would have said that the market "never fails" or that it is "beneficial to all" or that there are never bad outcomes or that the market is perfectly self-correcting.

Bad, stupid shit happens all the time in free markets.  For example, BP idiotically dumps a few zillion barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  In a free society, BP will be out billions of dollars in cleanup costs and damage settlements -- it might even bankrupt itself if governments allow that to happen, and thus will never again be able to do something so careless.  Markets can't prevent a first dumb action, like huge leveraged bets on ever-increasing housing prices, but markets can make sure the folks involved don't have the resources to do it again -- that is, except if governments bail them out from their mistakes.

The point is not that markets are perfect -- the point is that they are superior in both function and the retention of personal liberty to the alternative of giving governments coercive power to use force against individuals to change market outcomes.  The point is not that individuals don't do destructive things within the context of free markets.  The point is that they have a lot less power to do harmful things over long periods of time than if one gave that person coercive power in a government job backed by police forces and armies.   There is only a limited amount of damage anyone can do when they depend on the uncoerced cooperation and agreement of their counter-party.   A tobacco company CEO doesn't have a hundredth the power to ruin peoples lives as does one member of Congress. Fifty years of slimy cigarette advertising doesn't have the power of one Congressional mandate.  Go to Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore -- which has been worse for these cities -- the private campaign to sell cigarettes or the government led war on drugs?

Its clear from later in the article that the author is yet another person with a list of pet peeves who wants to use force on the American citizenry to get his way.  The author doesn't like cigarettes, so intervention with tobacco companies is a valid role for government.  OK, well I can't stand reality TV shows, so much so that I would rather be in a room of smokers than a room with "the biggest loser" on TV, but you don't see me wanting to give government power to do something about it.

But what is amazing to me is how much his examples actually make the libertarian point for limitation of government.  Try his first one:

Private Prisons. Good for the corporations: more prisoners, "three strikes" laws, mandatory sentencing. The cost to society: less rehabilitation and early release, increased government expenditures and taxes. It is noteworthy that the United States has the largest prisoner to population ratio in the industrialized world.

You have to really re-read history to come to the conclusion that American incarceration rates are mainly driven by privatization of prisons.   My sense is the causality is the other direction - we have passed crazy drug laws and mandatory sentencing for sometimes petty crimes and have had to turn to private actors with private capital to keep up with the demand to construct new prisons.

Like the author, I hate this incarceration trend, but its really a stretch to blame this on privatization.  And, I am the first to deride the symbiotic relationship between powerful corporations and the government.  I have written on any number of occasions that both political parties in this country seem to be trying to build a European-style corporate state.  So, even if I don't think he has history quite right here, I am willing to concede the point.  Because, in fact, this seems to me an indictment of exactly what he is trying to defend -- the government interventionist state.

The only reason corporations lobby the government is that the government has the unique power to coercively intervene in markets.  Corporations try to engage this power for their own benefit and to step on competitors, both current and future.  The root cause failure here is not the fact that private companies try to engage this power, but that this power exists at all.

Amazingly, he makes the same argument about war:

War, Inc. Good for the corporations (i.e., the military-industrial complex and "private contractors" such as Halliburton and Blackwater): more wars, expenditure of rockets, bombs and ammunition (requiring restocking of inventories). Cost to society: avoidance of diplomatic solutions, increased military budget and battlefield casualties, disobedience to international law (e.g., the Geneva and Nuremberg protocols).

I am staggered to see that someone who is defending giving more power to the government is simultaneously highlighting examples where this power is misused so horribly  (and what could be a more despicable crime by legislators than incarcerating more people or starting wars just to help a favored corporate interests).  I don't think wars are started primarily to help armaments manufacturers, but if they are, then this kind of failure by politicians is FAR worse than any he could point out in unregulated markets, only making my point for me.  Markets are not perfect, but the cure of government use of force is worse than the disease.

Since the author dwells on cigarettes, just look at the so-called tobacco settlement.  Supposedly, this was the great government hammer wielded against cigarette companies to punish them for years of selling a dangerous product.  But in fact, all the settlement did was cement the market position of largest tobacco companies.  The settlement effectively made government a financial partner with tobacco companies, and since it was implemented, the government has wielded its power to protect the companies who were involved in the settlement against competition (particularly from low-price upstarts) so as to protect its own cash flow.  The position of the major tobacco companies has never been as secure and profitable.

I think the author's response would be that if we ban corporate election spending, then all would be well.  This does not pass any kind of smell test.  First, corporate giving has been effectively banned (or at least severely limited) for 20 years, and we see the staggering influence corporations have none-the-less.  We only have to look at Europe, where the troika of politicians, large corporations, and large unions run those states to their own benefit, to the detriment of all others (e.g. smaller businesses, business without political contacts, workers outside of favored fields like autos, young workers, etc.)  This symbiotic relationship occurs without campaign cash being a major element.

If you want to understand how this works, just look at recent legislation like cap-and-trad and health care.  Legislators propose some populist interventions in a market to help themselves get re-elected.  Corporations who might naturally oppose such interventions agree to support legislation in exchange for a number of subsidies and special protections. Trades occur that have little to do with campaign contributions.  Just look at the influence GE wields in getting special deals for itself.

The GM bankruptcy was a classic example.   GM is given a big taxpayer bailout and some cuts in labor costs.  In exchange for labor cost cuts, unions get the government to squash secured creditors of GM in their favor in dividing up ownership and also get some special considerations in pending health care legislation.  Secured creditors allow this to occur because they got TARP funds from the government.   Politicians get active support from GM and the UAW in getting out the vote, positive PR, etc.  The only people who lose are taxpayers, all the other automobile competitors, and workers in every other industry who must pay taxes to support auto workers special deal.

By the way, don't tell me that this is not what you want, that if only we have the right people (e.g. yourself) in power this will never happen.  Wrong.  It always happens.  Every dang time.  The incentives are overwhelming.  Given politicians the power to do that one good intervention you want, and you have also given them the power to do a thousand that you don't want.

Postscript: By the way, please do not ever take a "progressive" seriously when they say they care about the poor.  Take this for example:

Outsourcing of jobs. Good for the corporation: increased profits and return on investment of stockholders. Cost to society: poverty, loss of educational opportunities, redistribution of wealth "upward," shrinkage of customer base, economic depression.

Another way of stating outsourcing is say that it is "transferring a job from a rich American to a poor person in a developing nation."  As a country becomes richer and more educated, low-skilled jobs are not going to continue to get done by college grads.  PhD's, in general, are not going to stitch underwear.  Low skilled jobs in a wealthy society do get outsourced, and these new low-skilled jobs in developing nations become the seed or the catalyst for future wealth-creation and development.

This is one ironic problem that progressives in this country have -- even the poorest Americans would be middle class in many of the countries of the world.  If progressives really want to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, everyone in the US would pay and no one would receive a dime, it would all flow to other countries.

Three Quarters of A Million Americans Arrested For Marijuana Possession in 2008

In the US last year, 754,224 people were arrested for possession (not dealing or production) of marijuana.  By the logic of US drug laws, all of these folks are better off with an arrest record and possible incarceration that they are from the nominal negative effects of smoking marijuana (FBI report here, via Radley Balko).  These numbers are just insane.  And while the report only gives race numbers for total drug arrests rather than for just marijuana offenses, a hugely disproportionate number are black (over 1/3 of arrests).

And speaking of equal protection, the arrest numbers for gambling are eye-opening (table 43).  75% of all people arrested for gambling last year in the US were black, including 90% of the arrests of those under 18 for this offense.  It seems it is A-OK for whites to play poker at home for money (I'm guilty) or to bet in Super Bowl pools (guilty again) or to clad themselves in polyester and head to the casino boat, but blacks who choose to compete with the state gambling/lottery monopoly will get arrested.  As an aside, I have always laughed at the government piously suing tobacco companies for targeting minorities with their advertising and then using the same techniques themselves to target minorities for their lottery sales.

Saturday Links

I almost never publish links posts.  But I was really stuck when I read Radley Balko's Saturday Morning Links post because every one was awesome.  Balko is not only one of the best bloggers out there, but a great journalist as well in a field of us pundits who put on pretensions of being pajama-clad investigators.  So here are all of his morning links:

Why there are 60 minutes in an hour

Bloomberg takes the next step down the road toward anti-tobacco hysteria.

Zimbabwean newspaper prints billboards on paper made from the country's worthless currency.

Legless frogs epidemic probably not caused by pollution, but by dragonfly nymphs with a jones for frogs' legs.

Obama administration will support indefinite detention of terror suspects without a trial; drops the news late in the evening on a summer Friday.

TSA detains man for comic book script. Kicker: Scropt was about a guy who gets wrongfully harassed by the government for writing fiction about terror attacks that came true.

Drug War: Fail

Bravo for Nicholas Kristof's editorial in the Times:

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that's because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.

Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)

I've seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.

The current regime not only has failed, but is absolutely absurd in its assumptions.  The argument that something like marijuana should be illegal is always "to protect the kids."  But the solution is nuts.   I will put it very personally.  It replaces a mildly bad thing (my teenager is smoking rope) with a disasterous, ruin-one's-life thing (my teenager was arrested for possession and may go to jail).  Its just crazy to say it is better to send kids to jail than have them do drugs.  Drugs I can deal with and correct in my household, or at least I can try -- jail and an arrest record I can't fix.

Drug warriors worry about "the message" we send to kids with legalization, but no one is talking about legalizing drugs for kids, any more than we do with tobacco or alcohol.  Use of those are adult decisions and we require one to be an adult to make them.

To be honest, looking at the teens I see, I can't see much difference in teen's perception of smoking tobacco vs. other drugs, despite the fact that the former is legal for adults, and so by drug warrior logic we have sent the message that it is more OK somehow.  In fact, in use statistics, it is hard to see any difference, with teens using legal-for-adults drugs like tobacco at about the same rate as they use other illegal-for-everyone drugs.

A Couple of Quick Thoughts on Tobacco Regulation

1.  I have observed before that many Nanny-state initiatives are driven by politician's own personal experience and weaknesses.  Mike Huckabee started a kids obesity program because he had trouble with his weight, and now Barack Obama regulates tobacco because he has had trouble quitting smoking:

Obama, who has spoken of his own struggle to quit smoking, praised the bill, saying it "will make history by giving the scientists and medical experts at the FDA the power to take sensible steps."

Couldn't politicians just focus on their own behavior without projecting their personal weaknesses on me?  Let's just be glad that we avoided whatever regulatory regime that would have occurred had these guys had a male enhancement issue.

2.  I know zero about smoking and cigarettes.  However, it is my understanding that while the nicotine is the addictive part, it is other components of combustion that cause the health risk.  If this is the case, then doesn't regulated reduction in nicotine content of cigarettes actually pose a health risk?  Won't folks suck on more cigarettes with reduced nicotine, trying to get back to their preferred nicotine dose, and thereby consume more rather than less cancer causing substances?

3.  There is nothing that regulators hate more than free market alternatives to themselves for solving problems.  It is clear they are going to mandate reduced tar and other components in cigarettes, but they want those mandates to come from them, not emerge on their own from the market.  Thus:

[the new FDA rules will] prohibit use of words such as "mild" or "light" that give the impression that the brand is safer

Yep -- wouldn't want private folks getting credit for exactly what the regulators intend to mandate.

4.  I have often observed that regulation tends to favor incumbent companies.   Regulations tend to raise barriers to new entrants, and it imposes costs that are more easily born by larger players in the market.  Further, incumbents often have the political muscle to influence regulation in their favor  (and in fact potential future new market entrants don't even exist today, so they certainly have no lobbying voice).  And, we see this same effect here:

Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting the legislation and saying it approved "tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products" by the FDA. Rival companies have voiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products could lock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

No surprise there.  Despite all the fighting words about the evils of big Tobacco around the Tobacco settlement a decade or so ago, the result was big gains for the major tobacco companies.

Big tobacco was supposed to come under harsh punishment for decades of deception when it acceded to a tort settlement seven years ago. Philip Morris, R.J.Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson agreed to pay 46 states $206 billion over 25 years. This was their punishment for burying evidence of cigarettes' health risks.

But the much-maligned tobacco giants have subtly and shrewdly turned their penance into a windfall. Using that tort settlement, the big brands have hampered tiny cut-rate rivals and raised prices with near impunity. Since the case was settled, the big four have nearly doubled wholesale cigarette prices from a national average of $1.25 a pack (not counting excise taxes) in 1998 to $2.10 now. And they have a potent partner in this scheme: state governments, which have become addicted to tort-settlement payments, now running at $6 billion a year. A key feature of the Big Tobacco-and-state-government cartel: rules that levy tort-settlement costs on upstart cigarette companies, companies that were not even in existence when the tort was being committed.

Regulation as Incumbent Protection

This is a great example of a point I often make about regulation aiding incumbents and large companies against smaller companies and upstarts.  From the DC Examiner, via Radley Balko

Philip Morris, openly and without qualification, backs Kennedy's and Waxman's bills to heighten regulation of tobacco.

Philip Morris stands to benefit from this regulation in many ways. First, all regulation adds to overhead, and thus falls more heavily on smaller firms. Second, restrictions on advertising help Philip Morris' Marlboro, a brand everyone already knows, by keeping lesser-known brands in the shadows. (Existing restrictions on advertising have already helped Philip Morris in this regard, with an added benefit spelled out in Altria's annual report: "Marketing and selling expenses were lower, reflecting regulatory restrictions on advertising and promotion activities. "¦ ")

Finally, if the bill passes and the FDA gets added control over the industry, Philip Morris, more than any of its competitors, will have access to those bureaucrats and agency heads making the decisions. For all these reasons, RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies oppose the bills Kennedy and Waxman are pushing.

You Mean It Was Just A Money Grab? I'm So Disillusioned

Via the Liberty Papers:

U.S. states have not lived up to their commitment to devote a major portion of their huge legal settlement with the tobacco industry a decade ago on anti-smoking efforts, health advocacy groups said on Tuesday.

In the 10 years since the landmark deal, the states have received $79.2 billion of the settlement and another $124.3 billion from tobacco taxes, but have spent only about 3 percent of it "” $6.5 billion "” on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, the groups said in a report.

Gee, I really thought the settlement was about health care and tobacco education, and now I find out it was just a crass money grab?  Who could have ever predicted that?

Those who have read my novel will recognize the sarcasm.

But its for the Kids

What is adult prohibition of marijuana achieving, if teenage use rates of marijuana are nearly as high as those for cigarettes, where we don't have adult prohibition.  Prohibitionists argue that adult marijuana must be banned because its legal availability to adults would make it easier for teens to obtain, but a direct comparison of marijuana and tobacco smoking demonstrates little utility from this approach:

The cigarette use figure represents a sharp drop from
the 2005 survey, when it was 23 percent. Marijuana use, at 20.2 percent
in 2005, showed a much smaller decline....

Another report
released this week, the Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Synar Report on tobacco
sales to youth, showed the 10th straight annual decline in the rate of
illegal tobacco sales to minors. In 1997, 40.1 percent of retailers
violated laws against tobacco sales to minors. In 2007 the rate had
dropped to just 10.5 percent, the lowest ever.

"Efforts to curb
cigarette sales to teens have been wildly successful, and it's past
time we applied those lessons to marijuana," said Aaron Houston,
director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in
Washington, D.C. "Tobacco retailers can be fined or put out of business
if they sell to kids, but prohibition guarantees that we have zero
control over marijuana dealers. Foolish policies have guaranteed that
the marijuana industry is completely unregulated."

Jacob Sullum provides additional analysis in the rest of the post.

Drug Prohibition Doing Nothing To Affect Teen Use

One of the arguments for banning adult legal access to drugs like marijuana (and even allergy medications) is that it helps to prevent abuse of these drugs by underage kids.  This would be nice to test in a true control group setting, but we really don't have the opportunity under current laws to do so.  But we can work by proxy.  We can compare drugs that are illicit for everyone, like marijuana, to drugs that are legal for adults but not for minors, like tobacco. 

If drug warriors are correct, teenage tobacco use should be much higher than use of other illicit drugs.  This is particularly true because the proxy is an imperfect one, since the tobacco is a far less intimidating drug to try than, say, heroin.  However, it turns out not to be the case.  The new figures our out from our friendly US Government drug warriors, and it turns out that tobacco use is barely higher among teens than illicit drug use.

For example, the study shows that past month tobacco use among kids 12-17 was 12.9% in 2006, while past month illicit drug use in the same group was 9.8% (tables G.16 and G.7).  That's lower, but certainly not decisively so.  Both of these use numbers have fallen since 2002 at about the same rate.

Even more interesting are the figures for the number of kids 12-17 who had initiated use of certain substances in the past year (table G.26).  In that year, 2.45 million had initiated cigarette use, but 2.79 million had initiated illicit drug use.  Further, when asked if certain substances carried "great risk" in trying to purchase them, 68.7% of underage cigarette smokers said yes (table G.25).   This response was 10 or more points higher than that of teenage occasional users marijuana, cocaine, or even heroin.  In short, teenagers are saying it is more difficult and/or riskier to support cigarette use than it is to support a weekly marijuana, cocaine, or heroin habit -- exactly the opposite of the drug warriors' argument for prohibition  (but consistent with the libertarian argument that bringing these drug sales above ground will make underage purchase more visible and easier to combat).

HT: Hit and Run for the link

The Next State AG Boondoggle

Chris Horner reports that the next mass-state-AG-tort, modeled after their fairly succesful efforts against tobacco companies, will be against oil companies over global warming:

A little birdie recently chirped about some
usual-suspect state attorneys general preparing a litigation strategy
document for/with environmental pressure groups, providing a roadmap
for cooperatively replicating the tobacco litigation of a decade ago in
the "global warming" context, substituting that projected catastrophe
for cancer and "big energy" for tobacco companies.

The point of
such exercise would not be to litigate the matter to conclusion "” ever
more challenging what with forced corrections of the temperature
record, recent exposure of the woeful reliability of our own world's
most reliable surface measuring network, and of course no global
warming in a decade (or, we now know, since 1900 for that matter) "” but
to extract massive settlements from the energy industry to further fund
the trial lawyers, greens and the greens' pet projects. Just imagine
the anti-energy campaign that this model would yield! And at no cost,
really, except to anyone who uses energy and/or invests in these sleepy
"granny stocks". Oh, and the economy.

He goes on to include a copy of the memo making the rounds of the AG offices.   This will certainly be a circus, and generally an expensive time-waster that will just serve to line the pockets of tort lawyers and the politically connected.  If things turn out like the tobacco settlement, the oil companies may jump on board early, since the tobacco settlement has turned into a state-enforced oligopoly for the major tobacco companies.  On the bright side, this might be an opportunity to subpoena the details of a bunch of climate work that is currently kept secret.

The Pepsi Challenge

Many of us remember the old Pepsi challenge commercials, where blind taste tests vs. Coke showed people preferring Pepsi.  One of the interesting results of these commercials was that Pepsi gained market share, but Coke did not lose it -- much of the Pepsi market share gain came from other brands.  In essence, the commercials established in consumer's minds that the cola choice was Coke or Pepsi, and so it did as much for Coke as it did Pepsi.

So now take this experience to anti-smoking commercials.  It turns out that they may backfire:

The more anti-smoking ads middle schoolers see, the more likely they are to smoke, according to a study in the August issue of Communication Research.
Hye-Jin Paek, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia's
College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Albert Gunther, a
professor of life sciences communication at the University of
Wisconsin at Madison, analyzed data from surveys that asked middle
school students about their exposure to anti-smoking messages and their
intention to smoke:

They found that, overall, the
more the students were exposed to anti-smoking messages, the more
inclined they were to smoke. The exception"”where exposure to
anti-smoking ads correlated with a reduced intention to smoke"”occurred
among students who said their friends were influenced by anti-smoking
messages.

In the context of other advertising research, such as the old Coke/Pepsi campaign, this is not surprising.  It is even less surprising for this type of ad, where a certain amount of anti-authoritarian response can be expected.  In fact, I have seen a number of ads that use this anti-authoritarian streak and distrust of the government as a feature.  Ads that say "The government doesn't want you to know about X" or "What the oil companies don't want you to know."

I wonder when the first member of the plaintiff's bar will initiate a lawsuit against the tobacco companies for promoting teenage smoking by running... anti-smoking ads.

The Drug War -- It's for the Children?

I have written a number of times about the high cost of the war on drugs, and the craziness of locking up drug users for years in prison "for their own good." 

Usually, the argument for the drug war devolves to "its for the children."  The argument is that by keeping various narcotics and other drugs illegal to all, children, who by definition can't make adult decisions well, will find it harder to obtain and use these drugs.  Also, drug warriors argue that full prohibition prevents kids getting the message that drug use is OK, presumably because they might interpret "legality" as "approved for use."

We could prove or disprove this hypothesis that full drug prohibition reduces that drug's use among kids with a simple experiment:  Make some drugs legal for adults, but illegal for children, and make other drugs illegal for everyone, and see what happens. 

But wait!  We already have such an experiment in place.  Drugs like cocaine and marijuana are illegal for everyone, and a drug like tobacco cigarettes are legal for adults but illegal for kids.  If the drug warrior's hypothesis is correct that total bans on drugs reduce childhood use, then we should see tobacco use among children much higher than use by those same kids of drugs that are illegal for all.  Well, here are the stats, from Monitoring the Future (hat tip: Hit and Run), whose funding comes from the war-on-drugs folks.  I will use the 2006 data on drug use in the last 30-days, but any of the table shows the same basic results:

% Using Illegal
Drugs

% Using Tobacco

8th grade

8.1

8.7

10th grade

16.8

14.5

12th grade

21.5

21.6

Can you see the point?  Tobacco use is the same or even lower than the use of illegal drugs in this survey.  Legalizing a habit-forming drug for adults does not seem to increase use of that drug among kids vs. full prohibition.  So what is the war on drugs buying us, anyway?

Squashing Dissent

The word "censorship" is used all-too-often in this country.  I take a much more narrow definition of censorship.  In my mind, only the government can be guilty of true censorship, which I define as using the coercive power of government to prevent certain forms of speech.  By even this narrow definition, the recent threats against Exxon by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe come awfully close to censorship:

We reprint the full text of the letter here,
so readers can see for themselves. But its essential point is that the
two Senators believe global warming is a fact, and therefore all debate
about the issue must stop and ExxonMobil should "end its dangerous
support of the [global warming] 'deniers.' " Not only that, the company
"should repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public
its funding history." And in extra penance for being "one of the
world's largest carbon emitters," Exxon should spend that money on
"global remediation efforts."

The
Senators aren't dumb enough to risk an ethics inquiry by threatening
specific consequences if Mr. Tillerson declines this offer he can't
refuse. But in case the CEO doesn't understand his company's jeopardy,
they add that "ExxonMobil and its partners in denial have manufactured
controversy, sown doubt, and impeded progress with strategies all-too
reminiscent of those used by the tobacco industry for so many years." (Our emphasis.) The Senators also graciously copied the Exxon board on their missive.

This
is amazing stuff. On the one hand, the Senators say that everyone
agrees on the facts and consequences of climate change. But at the same
time they are so afraid of debate that they want Exxon to stop
financing a doughty band of dissenters who can barely get their name in
the paper. We respect the folks at the Competitive Enterprise
Institute, but we didn't know until reading the Rockefeller-Snowe
letter that they ran U.S. climate policy and led the mainstream media
around by the nose, too.

While I tend to believe that the warming camp is correct that manmade CO2 is creating or will create some global warming, there are a lot of very very good reasons to be skeptical of the magnitude of their warming estimates and their hysterical calls for massive government intervention in the world economy.  I call this the skeptical middle ground on climate.  (Update: more reasons to be skeptical of current "consensus" models here).  A skeptics guide to An Inconvenient Truth is here.