American Elephants


Today is National Freedom of Information Day by The Elephant's Child

9271_1280x800As the highlight of Sunshine Week, the White House celebrates by removing the federal regulation that subjects the Office of the Administration to FOIA requests. Actually many agencies within the federal government won’t respond to FOIA requests until they are successfully sued. ‘Others play the waiting game, the “we can’t find it” game, and the “fine, but it’ ll cost you” game, and now the Office of the Administration will play the “We don’t have to”game.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.

The administration’s backlog of unanswered requests has grown to more than 200,000, growing by 55 percent just this last year. it also cut by 375 people the number of full time employees paid to look for the records requested. The Freedom of Information Law is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. Much celebrated, but  fitfully complied with. More than ever, it censored materials that it turned over, or fully denied access to them — in 250,581 cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union received a 15 page response to a request for information on the Justice Department’s policy of intercepting text messages on cellphones — every single page was blacked out from top to bottom.

Heavy redactions are a common government trick, and agencies are adept at exploiting any ambiguity in the law to prevent the release of requested records. The Washington Examiner has a list of some of the outrageous avoidance techniques that demonstrate just how far an agency will go. It’s not clear if they are actually trying to hide something or if they are just exercising what they believe to be their prerogatives, as important government agencies.

Remember the protective nature of bureaucracy and their reluctance to release anything that might reflect badly upon them. Transparency and truth-telling are dangerous steps. Who knows just how they might use that information? They might try to eliminate an agency, or cut its funding. Better to hunker down and stall.



Sunshine vs. Secrecy. No Change! Still Secret. by The Elephant's Child

sunshine

This is Sunshine Week, And this is a post (revised) I published at this time last year. Has anything changed?  “Open government is good government.” Celebrating Your Right to Know. Yoo Hoo, Hillary…

The government watchdog group Cause of Action released a Freedom of Information Act report card for 15 federal agencies that receive the bulk of all FOIA requests. Six of the 15 agencies received failing grades. Three agencies—the Departments of Education, Homeland Security and Treasury—earned “F” grades for failing to comply with the law’s annual reporting requirements. Whether their grades included agencies that are part of, for example, the IRS which is part of Treasury is not clear.

The Center for Effective Government also rated 15 government agencies, not quite the same list, but even worse grades.

“Transparency and the Rule of Law
will be the touchstone of this  presidency.”
Barack Obama, January 31, 2009

Nice public statement spin, but Obama has been trying to figure out ways around it ever since, and Congress has been trying to figure out how to make it stick. I have 55 articles in my “transparency” file.

You may be unaware that President Obama rewrote the Freedom of Information Act, without telling the rest of America.

The rewrite came in a memo from then-White House Counsel Greg Craig on April 15, 2009, instructing the executive branch to let White House officials review any documents sought by FOIA requestors that involved “White House equities.” That word is not to be found in the law, but the Obama White House effectively amended the law to justify keeping public documents locked away from the public. Cause of Action, is  a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group that monitors government transparency and accountability.

The exception “applies to all documents and records, whether in oral, paper, or electronic form, that relate to communications to and from the White House, including preparations for such communications.”

Oh, ho, ho. Open government indeed. The FOIA requires federal agencies to respond within 20 days of receiving a request, but the White House equities exception can make it impossible for an agency to meet that deadline.

Cause of Action is still waiting for documents from 16 federal agencies, with the Department of Treasury having the longest pending request of 202 business days.  (Would you care to wager that this has to do with the IRS?) The Department of Energy comes in second at 169 business days. 20 days indeed. Can’t have the  great unwashed viewing politically sensitive documents.

That’s the promised “most transparent administration in history.” As usual, there is the big public announcement which the peasants might hear, followed by the actions that the administration prefers, which people probably won’t hear. Not transparent at all, except where it doesn’t make any difference.

—”Obama Just Officially Decided White House Emails Aren’t Subject to the Freedom of Information Act” Mother Jones 3/17/2015

—”Obama administration stonewalls FOIA request on IRS targeting scandal” Hot Air, 2/10/2015

—’Serious limitations‘: Gov’t watchdogs unite in letter slamming Obama administration transparency,”Fox News, 8/06/2014

“Transparency Groups Seek White House Position on FOIS Reforms” Washington Free Beacon, 10/27/2014

“FOIA request revealed Obama family vacation to Hawaii cost taxpayers over $3.6 million in flight costs alone”
Political Insider, 3/13/2015



Outrage and Protests, Fuss and Furor Over Nothing Much. by The Elephant's Child

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Seattle is an interesting city, sinking slowly in the West¹. but still reliably, environmentally green. This is the city that insists that grocery store customers use cloth bags for their groceries, or pay for the other kind. That fines citizens $50 for putting any foodstuff in the garbage can instead in the yard waste can. Nearly 98 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, thanks to Columbia River Dams, which the County Council wanted to tear down until they took a field trip and found out how big they were.  Now, a national furor has erupted over Foss Shipyards’ lease of their docks to Royal Dutch Shell for the regular maintenance and repair of their Arctic drilling rigs. (Shown above a 2012 photo of Shell’s Kulik leaving Seattle)

In the first place the green loonies assumed that they were going to start drilling for oil in their beloved Puget Sound. Seattle always has indignant protesters willing to come out and demonstrate. But when it turned out that it was just for the repair of their Arctic Ocean drilling rigs, they switched their environmental angst to the Arctic Ocean. The City Council was up in arms, a court challenge was filed by environmental groups, and protesters have vowed to block the rigs arrival with a flotilla of kayaks in Elliott Bay.

“You have signed a lease that will amount to a crime against the planet,” said Zarna Joshi, 32, a Seattle resident who was first to speak at a raucous three-hour public meeting this week before the port’s commissioners. The meeting was packed mostly with opponents and punctuated by the occasional dissenter, pointing out the hypocrisy of protesters who had arrived to denounce Shell in vehicles running on gasoline.

Officials at the publicly owned Port of Seattle have strongly defended the lease, saying that the two year contract will bring in millions of dollars in revenue and create hundreds of good jobs on 50 acres that Shell would use just west of downtown. In any case, the decision to allow oil exploration in Arctic waters is federal policy, and not anything that the port or the city or the state can alter.

It’s all about climate change, of course, and politics, and the politics of climate change — science is not involved, only emotion and Democratic talking points.

“Hosting the Arctic drilling fleet in the city of Seattle is an activity that, if successful in drilling and extracting oil from the Arctic, will almost certainly mean that all of the industrial land in Seattle will be under water, and is completely inconsistent with the region’s and even the port’s goals,” said Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member.

¹Seattle has long had an elevated roadway along the water front to let drivers bypass much of downtown Seattle if they choose, but it is old. Almost as long has been the fight over a replacement. Freeway, tunnel, street-level replacement. Property owners of lots facing the waterfront have always fought for a tunnel to remove the unsightly Alaskan Way Viaduct, and they eventually won the argument. Digging began, giant tunneling machine “Big Bertha’ went to work, drilled a few feet and ran plumb into a huge old drainage pipe that they didn’t know was there. They apparently cannot proceed, they cannot remove the pipe, and the people in those waterfront properties are finding that their buildings are sinking, slightly, but regularly. No answers.



About that $15 Minimum Wage In Seattle by The Elephant's Child

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If all other factors remain equal, the higher the price of a good, the fewer people will demand it. That’s the Law of demand, a fundamental idea in economics. The idea refers to the minimum wage — the price of a worker, as well as the price of a pound of butter, or a bottle of shampoo.

President Barack Obama claimed that increasing the minimum wage would “grow the economy for everyone” by giving “businesses customers with more spending money.” Economics was clearly not a feature of that mysterious transcript.

There is a lot of confusion about just what a “minimum wage” is. It is the least amount of money that can be offered to a worker for their labor as decided by the government. It is illegal to pay anyone less for their labor. “But you can’t support a family on the minimum wage!” they cry. You are not supposed to. It’s a starting wage for beginners.

It’s for a first job. It’s for learning how to work. When young people have savvy parents that tell them about the basics, and how to dress and how to act when applying for a job, and some kids don’t. But there is so much to learn: arriving before your shift begins. Dressing appropriately with appropriate grooming. Learning how to wait on a customer, how to operate the cash register, how to keep your workplace immaculately clean. How to treat customers so they want to return, keeping the restrooms clean, picking  up, cleaning up, smiling at customers. That’s aside from learning how the establishment works. When they have learned successfully how to become a worker instead of a beginner, they will probably have had a raise (statistically most do within 6 months). And they have skills that they can take to another workplace. A new worker learns those skills from a manager or another worker who must devote their time to teaching. A new worker is a cost, rather than a benefit.

Seattle, a city of the left, has had some experience with the minimum wage. Sea-Tac, the district surrounding the Seattle-Tacoma International airport raised their minimum wage to $15 on January 1. 2014. Its a district of hotels, restaurants and bars and lots and lots of parking lots. The results were predictable. Leftists crowed that hardly any businesses shut down, and most people didn’t lose their jobs. What happened is that brand new workers didn’t get a job.

At the Clarion Hotel off International Boulevard, a sit-down restaurant has been shuttered, though it might soon be replaced by a less-labor-intensive cafe…

Other businesses have adjusted in ways that run the gamut from putting more work in the hands of managers, to instituting a small “living-wage surcharge” for a daily parking space near the airport.

The publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly had a conversation with two hotel employees who have been affected:

“Are you happy with the $15 wage?” I asked the full-time cleaning lady.

“It sounds good, but it’s not good,” the woman said. “I lost my 401k, health insurance, paid holiday, and vacation,” she responded. “No more free food,” she added.

The hotel used to feed her. Now, she has to bring her own food. Also, no overtime, she said. She used to work extra hours and received overtime pay. “I have to pay for parking,” she said.

I then asked the part-time waitress, who was part of the catering staff.

“Yes, I’ve got $15 an hour, but all my tips are now much less,” she said. Before the new wage law was implemented, her hourly wage was $7. But her tips added to more than $15 an hour. Yes, she used to receive free food and parking. Now, she has to bring her own food and pay for parking.

When the law changes, businesses adjust in different ways. They no longer have the staff time to hire brand-new workers. Youth unemployment goes up.

Seattle voted for a $15 minimum wage, which took effect on January 1. Several restaurants have closed, and economists have made much of it, but a local blogger claims to have spoken to the owners of the closing businesses, and says they were closing anyway, and it has nothing to do with the minimum wage. That may or may not be true. We are only 2 months into this government-mandated wage floor, and there will be inevitable effects. Young people will find it harder to find that first job. Hours and benefits will be cut back. More computers, more robots.

The Panera Bread CEO supports raising the minimum wage — as long as it is applied equally to all. CEO Rob Shaich, a Democratic donor recently announced that he will be replacing cashiers with computers.

Companies like Costco and Walmart are supporting hikes in the national minimum wage, knowing that will adversely affect their smaller competitors.

McDonald’s had a 30% drop in quarterly profits last year, on a 5% drop in revenue. Unions have made McDonald’s a target of their campaign for a $15 minimum wage. Internationally they are experimenting with replacing cashiers with computers. But they are also under attack from the food police. Low income families don’t eat out as much in the current economy. The WSJ said: “As many contributors to these pages have warned, forcing businesses to pay people out of proportion to the profits they generate will provide those businesses with a greater incentive to replace employees with machines.”

The Minimum-Wage Stealth Tax on the Poor” Wall Street Journal. When a fast-food business is forced to raise pay, it also raises prices. Guess who gets hit worst by the increase.

“We Can Predict the Effects of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage” Forbes. We can get a good idea of what it is like before that wage comes in. And then we can go back when it’s fully implemented and see what the effects have been.

ADDENDUM: Here’s another take on Seattle Restaurants, from Seattle Magazine: Why Are So Many Seattle Restaurants Closing Lately?” Ouch! The reasons vary, but the restaurant business is never an easy one. Operational cost increases and failure to thrive. I apparently erred. The wage hike does not take effect till April 1.

The Washington Restaurant Association’s Anton says “It’s not a political problem, it’s a math problem.” A a common budget breakdown among sustaining Seattle restaurants so far has been the following: 36 percent of funds are devoted to labor, 30 percent to food costs and 30 percent go to everything else (all other operational costs).  The remaining 4 percent has been the profit margin, and as a result, in a $700,000 restaurant, he estimates that the average restauranteur in Seattle has been making $28,000 a year. If restaurant owners made no changes, the labor cost in quick service restaurants would rise to 42 percent and in full service restaurants to 47 percent. “Every operator I’m talking to is in panic mode trying to figure out what the new world will look like.”



“The Political Assault On Climate Skeptics” by The Elephant's Child

David Horowitz said to always remember that with Progressives, the issue is never the issue. In that light, consider the current Progressive campaign to attack climate science “deniers,” as they call us, on every front. So what’s happening?

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the UN’s intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has resigned from the IPCC, brought about by allegations of sexual harassment. Christopher Booker says “he should have resigned in 2012 when the IPCC report was shown to have been full of wildly unscientific errors emanating from green activists.

Then evidence appeared that NOAA has been tampering with climate data, adjusting it to show the “warming trend” that the Obama administration was claiming as evidence to support the veto of the Keystone Pipeline, the executive action closing the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, the millions going to Obama cronies for solar arrays and wind farms. A federal judge in Texas has held up Obama’s Amnesty, and noticed that White House lawyers neglected to mention that Obama had already given work permits to 100,000 illegals

Republicans are not only interfering in Obama’a Iran negotiations, but challenging them, and pointing out evidence that Obama’s strategy is not exactly what will create peace in the Middle East. Progressives need a distraction to point the media in the right direction. The issue is not the issue.

Democrats have launched a major campaign to discredit academics, politicians and climate scientists who are skeptical of man-made global warming. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, has demanded that seven universities reveal the funding sources of affiliated scientists who are skeptical of man-made global warming. The information demanded is voluminous in quantity, (they want the e-mails too), and beyond annoying. Steven Hayward reveals the ignorance of the House Committee’s demands. As Hayward said, “Is the good congressman really telling us that he is incapable of assessing factual claims and judgments about the wisdom of policy on the merits alone?”Be interesting if we demanded the funding sources for Democrats who purvey discredited falsehoods about climate change.

Companies with a direct financial interest in climate and air-quality standards are funding environmental research that influences state and federal regulation and shapes public understanding of climate scientists,” Grijalva wrote to the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pepperdine University, Arizona State University, the University of Alabama, University of Colorado and University of Delaware.

Scientists targeted are some of the most respected in the field, but they are skeptical, with good reason. MIT’s Dr. Richard Lindzen, Georgia Tech’s Dr. Judith Curry, Colorado’s Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., and the University of Alabama’s John Christy and Roy Spencer. Word has gone out from Organizing for Action, Obama’s campaign organization, to join in on targeting climate change deniers.

Christy and Spencer operate the Remote Sensing Systems satellite dataset, which since the weather stations have been shown to be undependable due to locations next to AC hot air vents, concrete walls reflecting heat, and trash burners, are the only reliable temperature data on a worldwide basis. That shows no significant warming trend for more than 18 years.

Dr. Pielke has presented research that shows that global warming is not making weather more extreme. “It is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the U.S. or globally.

Particularly attacked was Dr. Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. after a New York Times article claiming that Dr.Soon had received $1.25 million in  undisclosed money from fossil fuel companies. Corporate funding! As opposed to money from billionaire Tom Steyer or the secretive Democracy Alliance, for example?

Three Democratic senators (Barbara Boxer, Edward Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse) have asked more than 100 energy companies and trade groups to provide details on their research spending.

Their objective? To find out whether the organizations “are funding scientific studies designed to confuse the public and avoid taking action to cut carbon pollution, and whether the funded scientists fail to disclose the sources of their funding in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.”

The witch hunt is particularly revealing, for none of the perpetrators actually know anything about climate science whatsoever. What they know is “the 97 percent,” the “majority of climate scientists,” cutting “carbon pollution.” As is common with progressives, they know talking points, without understanding that talking points are not science. They are just repeating political charges that have no basis in fact.

Here is MIT’s Dr. Richard Lindzen appearing on Fox News:

These guys think saying climate changes, saying it gets warmer or colder by a few tenths of a degree should be taken as evidence that the end of the world is coming. And it completely ignores the fact that until this hysteria, climate scientists used to refer to the warm periods in our history as optima.

Here is a reprint of Dr. Richard Lindzen’s article in the Wall Street Journal about “The political Assault on Climate Skeptics,” which is an excellent summary of the sheer stupidity of the useless Congressional attempt to discredit the top climate scientists.



Punching Back Twice As Hard! by The Elephant's Child

urlPresident Obama, since the Republican ”wave election” has been irritable. Republicans clearly had no right to take over the Senate and increase their power in the House. He has things he wants to do, and he has no intention of allowing a bunch of uncooperative dummies in Congress to interfere with his executive right to finish fundamentally transforming the United States of America to his own particular tastes.

Naturally as President of the United States, he feels called upon to comment on anything within his purview, which is everything. In this case, he noticed that one of his states has signed a right-to-work bill into law, without his permission. He issued a written statement condemning the law:

“I’m deeply disappointed,” he said, “that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen, workers in the new economy.”

Obama then claimed that Walker’s action was part of an “inexcusable assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government.”

The bill that Governor Scott Walker signed was the result of twenty hours of debate in the Wisconsin legislature, a vote by the state’s duly elected representatives 62-35 to pass the bill. Democracy at work.

Governor Scott Walker promptly responded to Mr. Obama’s bad manners, and his need to recall basic civics.

On the heels of vetoing Keystone pipeline legislation, which would have paved the way to create thousands of quality, middle-class jobs, the president should be looking to states, like Wisconsin, as an example for how to grow our economy,” Walker told National Review Online.

Despite a stagnant national economy and a lack of leadership in Washington, since we took office, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is down to 5%, and more than 100,000 jobs and 30,000 businesses have been created.

Pow! Want to compare economies and just who is helping workers?

Walker said that the legislation, “along with our investments in worker training and our work to lower the tax burden, will lead to more freedom and prosperity for all of Wisconsin.”

 



“A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words” by The Elephant's Child

RAMclr-031015-little-league-IBD-COLOR-FINAL147.gif.cmsEspecially in the hands of Michael Ramirez, political cartoonist extraordinaire, at Investors. Follow his work, he always has something important to say.




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