EPA Lost in the Ozone, As Usual

Just one day after the Supreme Court granted cert to review the EPA’s ridiculous mercury regulations, the EPA announced that it would lower the ozone standard to .06 parts per million, from the current .075 parts per million. This is the same regulation that President Obama cancelled in 2011 because, as the New York Times described it, “Mr. Obama said the regulation would impose too severe a burden on industry and local governments at a time of economic distress.”

This is another one of those issues that brings out the worst environmental hyperbole. Such as this in the New York Times story yesterday:

William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said, “Ozone is not only killing people, but causing tens of millions of people to get sick every day.”

Tens of millions every day! It’s a wonder there are any Americans left alive anywhere in the country, since ozone is overtaking tens of millions every day. Somehow I missed the rising epidemic of ozone-related illness, which somehow fails to stand out in the steadily improving health of the American people.

If the “tens of millions” hyperbole were an evenly remotely accurate rendering of the health risk from ozone, then why wouldn’t environmentalists demand that the ozone standard be set at zero? One reason is that the proposed standard is close to naturally occurring background ozone levels in some areas of the country (especially the southeast).

And if tens of millions are getting sick every day, then why is the EPA claiming such modest benefits from attaining the new standard? As the Times story continues:

The agency estimates that the new regulation would by 2025 prevent from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks in children, and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. It also estimates that by 2025 the rule would prevent 750 to 4,300 premature deaths, 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

The EPA further claims that while the regulations might cost up to $15 billion a year, it would generate $19 billion to $38 billion in improved health benefits.

I haven’t yet read the EPA’s regulatory impact assessment on which these claims are based, but I suspect they rest on two of the weaknesses of the mercury rules: First, they are still using epidemiology from the early 1990s, which air pollution levels were significantly higher than they are today (and whose raw data the EPA continues to refuse to share with independent researchers for review and replication). Second, the EPA’s regulatory assessment for their mercury rules, which report similar health benefits as the ozone rule, admits that virtually none of the claimed benefit would come from reducing mercury emissions. (The basic reason for this can be seen in the chart at the bottom, which displays the CDC’s periodic screening of toxic substances in humans, which hasn’t found any women of childbearing age above the regulatory “reference dose”—which is set ten times higher than the “harmful level”—since the late 1990s.) The EPA hangs the entire benefit on the “co-benefit” of reducing fine particulate pollution, which shutting down a lot of coal plants with mercury regulations will do. But we already have a regulatory regime for reducing particulates, which has seen significant reductions over the last 15 years (down 27 percent between 1999 and 2010), such that any claims of health benefits on current particulate levels are obsolete.

It is one of the more breathtaking examples of bureaucratic arrogance on the scene today. I haven’t reviewed the legal briefs and appellate decisions leading up to the Supreme Court review of the mercury rules, but usually regulatory agencies enjoy a lot of presumption in appeals, which is one reason they continually put out regulations that fail rigorous analysis. Usually the courts will only nullify a regulation if it is clearly “arbitrary and capricious.” But perhaps the EPA has finally gone to the point where the Supreme Court will draw some new lines.

Mercury Blood Lead Level in Women 16 - 49

Mercury Blood Lead Level in Women 16 – 49

Thoughts from the ammo line

This week Ammo Grrrll returns with thoughts on AMTRAK AND ME. She writes:

Mussolini, it is asserted – undoubtedly falsely – made the trains run on time. Benito would have hanged himself if tasked with running Amtrak.

Several years ago, when we were still wintering in Palm Springs, I decided to make the annual journey south into a four-day “Bucket List” train trip adventure. Pat, a fellow writer and Certified Train Nut, promised it would be a ball. Mr. Ammo Grrrll opted to drive. Mr. Ammo Grrrll is a very smart guy. I swear every word of the following description is true.

For the nominal sum of $1,000, I booked a First Class Sleeper Cabin the size of a double-wide coffin. It had a tiny “sofa” bench that turned into a tiny bed. It had a tiny toilet. It had a tiny shower, accessed by sitting upon the tiny toilet. Kind of a full-body bidet. The only available route was St. Paul to Chicago. Disembarking. Staying overnight in Chicago. And the next morning continuing on from Chicago to Palm Springs. Convenient!

Having watched Murder on the Orient Express and other movies which glamorized train travel, except for the murder part, I envisioned exchanging pleasantries with international sophisticates while dining on Pheasant Under Glass served by slim waiters wearing gloves.

So I have to confess to being a little disappointed when the first wretched meal was lukewarm microwaved chicken and nuclear TaterTots served by portly, unsmiling unionists. We were herded into the limited-space dining car in shifts, given no choice about menu or dining companions, and encouraged to eat quickly so as to accommodate the next shift.

My first dining companions were three massive women traveling together who spent the entire meal reliving their recent colonoscopies in vivid detail and eyeing my uneaten Tots. I was beginning to understand how someone could get murdered on a train.

I have failed to mention that this was over the Thanksgiving weekend. Can you guess who spends family holidays alone on a train? Crazy people, that’s who. Permanently in residence in the bar car was a tattooed woman who volunteered that she was in AA , NA and a support group for Sexual Addicts. The trifecta of bad life decisions coupled with an imperfect understanding of the word “anonymous”. There were seven empty beer bottles in front of her. This was a new, relaxed rule for AA with which I was not familiar.

Beside her was a rail-thin woman on her way to California to marry a man she had met once on a hiking trail. Having known me for well over 10 minutes, she invited me to the wedding. With them was a young man they had just met who seemed to be hanging around the self-confessed sexual addict in hopeful anticipation of a relapse there as well. God willing he had packed a Hazmat suit or at least Kevlar condoms.

For three endless days I read many books, listened to my iPod, ate the apples and Protein Bars I had brought, thanks be to the Almighty, and tried to get some exercise by walking the length of the train. It’s tough to go very fast down crowded aisles in a lurching train.

When we changed crews in San Antonio, the train was left unguarded in the railyard overnight! There are no locks on the sleeping cubicles which makes for a restful night without a firearm. At least we exchanged our surly Chicagoans for some polite, friendly Hispanic Texans. I was happy to be shuck of the sullen guy who turned my sofa-bench into a bed each night. Clearly, he had been wearing his uniform for months while playing raquetball. Turned out I could hold my breath for longer than I thought.

A fun and surprising fact: freight trains have the right-of-way over passenger trains! Who knew? Repeatedly we had to sit on the tracks for hours at a time to accommodate them. In Palm Springs at last, they dumped us in the middle of nowhere in the desert where I kissed the unmoving ground and called a cab. Any day now I plan to speak to Pat again.

This Thanksgiving was ever so much better with my husband safely back from Israel (Baruch Hashem), and a wonderful meal with beloved friends in my beautiful Arizona. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank the many witty, erudite, and supportive commenters who I look for each week. If you wonder why I never respond, it is because I cannot get my Facebook to work with my primitive, kerosene-powered computer. If my regulars do not plan to check in of a given Friday, please email Scott an excuse from your doctor or mother or this Jewish mother will worry. I am especially grateful to the Power Line boys for my weekly forum.

Why the Gallup Poll Means Deep Trouble for Hillary

Gallup headlines: Obama Approval Drops Among Working-Class Whites. Here, “working class” includes all non-college graduates, some 60-65% of the adult white population. Gallup’s chart shows President Obama’s approval rating among white college graduates and non-college graduates from the beginning of his administration to the end of October. His 27% approval rating among non-college graduates is indeed striking:

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But perhaps more important is Obama’s steep decline within that demographic. Since he took office, Obama’s approval rating has dropped 13 points among college-educated whites, but a remarkable 21 points among the non-college educated. Why the difference?

Our liberal friends, contemptuous of working-class whites as always, will say it is because Obama is black. But that is wrong: we are talking about the decline among those who approved of Obama when he was newly-elected. They didn’t become racists over the last six years. What did happen? They bore the brunt of Obama’s failed economic policies.

The Obama administration has been bad for higher-income Americans, but not disastrous. Quantitative easing has re-inflated the stock market, and middle-aged “knowledge workers” have suffered less than other groups. But for the working class, there is nothing good to be said about Obamanomics: high unemployment, a scarcity of full-time work, skyrocketing prices of food and fuel, more expensive health care, anemic economic growth, and wage decline caused in part by competition with unprecedented numbers of legal and illegal immigrants. What’s to like? Nothing. I think the Obama economy accounts for the steeper decline in his approval among non-college graduates.

Why is this bad news for Hillary Clinton? Because Obama’s economy has been even worse for minority members of the working class than for whites. The only reason why African-Americans and Hispanics express a higher opinion of Obama than whites is that, understandably, they see him as their guy. If they responded to pollsters in a manner consistent with their actual experience of Obamanomics, the president’s overall approval would be in the basement.

When Hillary runs in 2016 as the heir of Obama’s liberal economic and immigration policies, she will not have that built-in advantage with minorities. There is no reason why any substantial number of working-class people, white or minority, would wish for another four years of Obama’s policies. Nor–to put it delicately–is there anything about Hillary’s persona that will endear her to the majority of such voters.

So I think we can expect a backlash against Obama’s economic and immigration policies in 2016 that will take pundits–not to mention Hillary–by surprise.

Yes, the process in Wilson’s case was unusual, but it didn’t favor Wilson

Because the evidence seems to support the grand jury’s “no bill” ruling in the Darren Wilson case, critics and protesters have focused on the grand jury procedure. They argue that it was highly unusual, and they are right.

Normally, prosecutors try to guide a grand jury towards an indictment. Almost invariably, prosecutors succeed. Hence the cliche that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

In this case, though, the prosecutor did not get an indictment. Nor, from all that appears, did he attempt to get one. If anything, he may have steered the grand jury away from indicting Wilson.

It is natural, therefore, that those who want to see Wilson prosecuted are crying foul on procedural grounds. However, on closer examination, it becomes clear that if anything Wilson was a victim, not a beneficiary, of the unusual procedure in his case.

To see why, we must begin by recognizing that, although prosecutors can “indict a ham sandwich,” they rarely do so. Why would they?

Prosecutors push through indictments when they believe a party has committed a crime and that they have a decent shot of proving so in court. If they believe a party is innocent of criminal wrongdoing and/or that they will lose at trial, prosecutors typically don’t initiate criminal proceedings before a grand jury. Why would they?

In Wilson’s case, the prosecutor obviously believed that Wilson should not be prosecuted. Normally, then, he would not have initiated criminal proceedings at all or, at most, he would have held a perfunctory hearing that resulted in no indictment.

Instead, the prosecutor held an elaborate grand jury proceeding. Meanwhile, Wilson remained uncertain about his fate for months.

Viewed in this light, we see that the true irregularity here was not a grand jury proceeding that produced no indictment. The true irregularity was a drawn out grand jury process involving a potential defendant the prosecutor thought was innocent.

Why did the prosecutor proceed in this unusual fashion? Because the case was racially super-charged. As such, letting Wilson off without the imprimateur of the grand jury would have been politically unacceptable.

The loser was Wilson who, under regular procedure, would not have gone through this process. The winner, or so the prosecutor could argue, is the public. It has the benefit of a full record from which to draw its own conclusions about the case.

The Brown family and its supporters neither win nor lost. The end result — no trial — is the same as it would have been if the prosecutor had not taken the case to the grand jury.

In sum, there is no sound basis for complaining that Wilson benefited from the unusual procedure followed by the prosecutor. If there’s a valid complaint by the Brown family and its supporters, it would have to be on the merits — i.e., that based on the evidence the prosecutor should have decided to prosecute Wilson and pushed through an indictment.

I haven’t reviewed all of the evidence. From what I gather, though, the forensic evidence tended strongly to support Wilson’s innocence, while the eyewitness testimony was conflicting at best (from the standpoint of a potential prosecution).

If so, there is no real basis for criticizing the prosecutor for not wanting to prosecute.

America’s first socialist republic

We provided the platform launching Professor Paul Rahe into the blogosphere. He is one of the country’s most distinguished scholars, but he has also proved to be a natural blogger as well. He now posts at Ricochet. In view of his study of Republics Ancient and Modern, Professor Rahe is the academy’s foremost authority on the history of republics. Although his more recent work on “soft despotism” (cited below) was not far from his Thanksgiving reflections when he wrote this column for us in 2009, neither was his older work on republics:

On Thanksgiving, it is customary that Americans recall to mind the experience of the Pilgrim Fathers This year, it is especially appropriate that we do so–as we pause, in the midst of an economic maelstrom, to count our remaining blessings and to reflect on the consequences of our election of a President and a Congress intent on “spread[ing] the wealth around.”

We have much to learn from the history of the Plymouth Plantation. For, in their first year in the New World, the Pilgrims conducted an experiment in social engineering akin to what is now contemplated; and, after an abortive attempt at cultivating the land in common, their leaders reflected on the results in a manner that Americans today should find instructive.

William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony, reports that, at that time, he and his advisers considered “how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.” And “after much debate of things,” he then adds, they chose to abandon communal property, deciding that “they should set corn every man for his own particular” and assign “to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end.”

The results, he tells us, were gratifying in the extreme, “for it made all hands very industrious” and “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Even “the women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

Moreover, he observes, “the experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years . . . amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times . . . that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing.” In practice, America’s first socialist experiment “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”

In practice, “the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

Naturally enough, quarrels ensued. “If it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men,” Bradford notes, “yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And [it] would have been worse if they had been men of another condition” less given to the fear of God. “Let none object,” he concludes, that “this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

The moral is perfectly clear. Self-interest cannot be expunged. Where there is private property and its possession and acquisition are protected and treated with respect, self-interest and jealousy can be deployed against laziness and the desire for that which is not one’s own, and there tends to be plenty as a consequence.

But where one takes from those who join talent with industry to provide for those lacking either or both, where the fruits of one man’s labor are appropriated to benefit another who is less productive, self-interest reinforces laziness, jealousy engenders covetousness, and these combine in a bitter stew to produce both conflict and dearth.

Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of the companion studies Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.

Lincoln’s Thanksgiving

Lincoln’s famous Thanksgiving Proclamation of October 3, 1863, was drafted by William Seward and signed by Lincoln. The Union’s victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg lay in the background; the Gettysburg Address was to come the following month.

The proclamation pronounced the last Thursday of November “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” In it Seward seems to have reached to capture Lincoln’s thought; the proclamation strikes several Lincolnian themes. A copy of the proclamation signed by Lincoln is accessible online here; Andrew Malcolm sets the proclamation in context here.

Lincoln proclaims: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gracious gifts of the most high God] should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.” Yet the proclamation closes with a move beyond gratitude toward repentance and charity: “And I recommend to [all Americans] that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

White Thanksgiving [Updated]

Here in Minnesota, we don’t have any worries about a white Christmas. It’s been white for quite a while. Cold, too: early this morning, my car thermometer read zero degrees. It’s beautiful if you are looking at it from indoors:

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As always, weather aside, we have much to be thankful for this year. No doubt you do too. So, to all of our readers who are celebrating the usual holiday and not Genocide Day–life is too short to deal with that again–we say:

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UPDATE: Now, this is funny! Click to enlarge:

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