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  • Official Time and Criminal Misconduct by Federal Employees

    December 2, 2015 11:51 AM

    With under two weeks until Congress must pass an omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, one policy that should be on the chopping block is union official time, a practice that allows federal employees to conduct union business, instead of their public duties, on the taxpayers’ dime. Not only is official time an obvious waste, it also may breed corruption.

    Recent analysis at FedSmith.com found that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal government union, led all American federal unions in criminal misconduct from January 2014 to June 2015, with 13 union officials found guilty and three indicted at the time the article was published.

    While it is unknown why AFGE leads the pack in criminal misconduct, the little known government union special privilege—official time—may explain some of the union’s proclivity for malfeasance.

    Five AFGE union officials found guilty or indicted of criminal activity ranging from embezzling to mail fraud to theft were granted 100 percent union official time, which means they never did any government work while paid by the taxpayer.

    As of November 17, 2015, the number of AFGE union officials found guilty is 14 with the conviction of former AFGE president Stephanie Hicks at the Birmingham’s Veterans Affairs Hospital. As The Gasden Times reports:

    A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced the former president of the federal employees union at the Birmingham’s Veterans Affairs Hospital to six months in prison, plus six months home detention, for embezzling more than $92,000 from the local chapter.

  • Five Facts on COP-21

    December 1, 2015 8:44 AM

    As global leaders converge on Paris for the 2015 Climate Conference (COP-21), the goals of the meeting remain unclear to millions of Americans. To help remedy this situation, CEI has put together a list of the five things you should know about the Paris Climate Conference.

     For a broader overview of what to expect from COP-21 in the coming weeks, check out our "FAQ on COP-21" here.

    View the larger PDF version of “5 Things You Need to Know Before the Paris Climate Conference Begins

  • Will DOL's "Fiduciary Rule" Silence Dave Ramsey?

    November 30, 2015 3:35 PM

    It is indeed sad that 40 percent of millennials favor the government banning speech that some deem offensive, according to a recent Pew poll. Even more distressing is that college students have plenty of company with members of other age groups and professions who want to shut down speech they disagree with.

    Take speech about personal finance. This is an area where there would certainly seem to be room for a diversity of opinion, given the complexity of the topic and differences in individual financial goals and circumstances. That’s why there is no shortage of books and radio and television shows with differing viewpoints about financial planning. If you don’t subscribe to what Suze Orman or others have to say, you can always read or tune in Dave Ramsey and even call into his radio show for advice.

    At least, that is, for now. A growing group of regulators and financial professionals are declaring that financial advice, even if it occurs in a public forum, should be suppressed if they deem the advice “incorrect.” And they see a pending rule from the Department of Labor (DOL) as the perfect vehicle to make Ramsey and others who offer financial tips to the public zip their lips or face government sanctions.

  • RealClear Radio Hour: Rocker Conservationist and Apocalypse Averted

    November 30, 2015 2:05 PM

    As we approach the COP-21 climate conference in Paris this December, RealClear Radio Hour brings our focus back to the only sustainable solutions for environmental concerns: common sense science and prudent environmental stewardship. My two guests this week are living examples of such solutions.

    My first guest is Chuck Leavell, long-time Rolling Stones keyboardist, conservationist, and award winning tree farmer at Charlane Plantation. Chuck sat down with me to share his passion for sustainable forestry and common sense approaches to land use, wildlife management, and balancing the needs for production and aesthetics.

    Listen to Chuck Leavell’s interview on Soundcloud or YouTube.

    Our second guest this week is Patrick Allitt, professor of American history at Emory University. Patrick is the author of A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism. In our conversation, he and I recount the many past predictions of impending catastrophe made by “experts” that have proved unwarranted over the years. We apply the lessons learned to current fears about adapting to climate change.

    Listen to Patrick Allitt’s interview on Soundcloud or YouTube.

  • Pennsylvania Legislature Begins Process of Firing Attorney General Kathleen Kane

    November 30, 2015 12:51 PM

    Last month, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane stubbornly clung to office, refusing to resign even after she was suspended from practicing law for her alleged crimes and ethical violations by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (crimes including official oppression, perjury, and obstruction of justice).

    Even before she was suspended from the bar, we had already rated Kane as the nation’s worst state attorney general.

    Now, the Pennsylvania State Senate has begun the difficult, time-consuming process of removing Kane from office, with a committee voting 5-to-2 to move forward. I discuss that decision, and the events leading up to it, at this link.

    Pennsylvania’s state constitution expressly empowers the senate to remove Kane for her misconduct. Yet Kane claims that any attempt to remove her would be unconstitutional, an argument rejected by legislators of both parties (including some of Kane’s fellow Democrats who think her removal from office is premature as a policy matter).

    Kane’s intransigent stubbornness elevates her own selfish interests ahead of her state’s, contrary to her fundamental ethical duties as an attorney. Kane’s refusal to step down endangers her office’s ability to carry its responsibilities, since as a suspended lawyer, she is no longer allowed to practice law, and practicing law includes supervising other lawyers—something she continues to do, including overseeing criminal prosecutions by others in her office.

  • CEI's Battered Business Bureau: The Week in Regulation

    November 30, 2015 9:38 AM

    Despite a respite for Thanksgiving, the 2015 Federal Register is now on pace to set an all-time record page count. It began publication in 1936. New regulations from the short week cover everything from California raisins to recombinant DNA technology.

    On to the data:

    • Last week, 60 new final regulations were published in the Federal Register, after 67 the previous week.
    • That’s the equivalent of a new regulation every two hours and 48 minutes.
    • So far in 2015, 3,085 final regulations have been published in the Federal Register. At that pace, there will be a total of 3,383 new regulations this year, fewer than the usual total of 3,500-plus.
    • Last week, 2,227 new pages were added to the Federal Register, after 1,556 pages the previous week.
    • Currently at 74,670 pages, the 2015 Federal Register is on pace for 81,875 pages. This would break the all-time record set in 2010, with 81,405 pages.
    • Rules are called “economically significant” if they have costs of $100 million or more in a given year. 31 such rules have been published so far this year, one in the past week.
    • The total estimated compliance cost of 2015’s economically significant regulations ranges from $3.63 billion to $4.88 billion for the current year.
    • 272 final rules meeting the broader definition of “significant” have been published so far this year.
    • So far in 2015, 508 new rules affect small businesses; 76 of them are classified as significant. 
  • Douglass North, 1920-2015

    November 27, 2015 11:22 AM

    Many great economists live long lives. James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon Tullock all lived into their nineties. Ronald Coase died a centenarian. Sadly, Douglass North has joined that august club at age 95. Keynes’ prediction about the long run once again proves correct.

    North’s ideas and influence will live even longer than he did; consider that his successful rebuttal to Keynes. North won the 1993 economics Nobel for his work as an economic historian, and for showing the importance of institutions in economic development. He also played a large role in inspiring the New Institutional Economics (NIE) movement, which has its own scholarly society.

    What are institutions? North and the many economists he influenced use the word in a particular way. For example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an institution (it’s even in our name), but not in the Douglass North sense. For North, institutions are more like the rules of the game. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out is a baseball institution—again, in a very different sense than how the Yankees or Cubs are baseball institutions. How would a pitcher’s behavior change if the rule was four strikes per out, or two? How would a hitter behave differently if foul balls were automatic outs? That’s what Doug North’s research approach was about, except on a much larger historical scale.

  • Much to Be Thankful For

    November 25, 2015 12:00 PM

    Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and all of us have much to be thankful for. Over at Inside Sources, I have a Julian Simon-inspired take on the holiday:

    This Thursday is an opportunity to give thanks for a wonderful fact: In all of human history, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now. This might seem an odd thing to say at the moment. War, terrorism, poverty, political repression and hunger still plague many countries. The most recent wounds, inflicted in Paris, Syria, and elsewhere, are still fresh.

    But life is improving in unprecedented ways.

    Over the last century or so, the typical American’s income has grown sixfold. Life expectancy increased 30 years during the 20th century, from 47 years in 1900 to 77 in 2000. Infant mortality went down by more than 90 percent over that period, from roughly one in 10 to less than one in 100. Just think of all the broken hearts avoided. Nutrition and health care improved so rapidly that the typical American in 1950 was three inches taller than in 1900. Today’s Americans are taller still.

    Read the whole thing here.

  • Thanksgiving: Massachusetts Discovers Property Rights

    November 25, 2015 11:18 AM

    Thanksgiving is a day layered in tradition and myth. The standard story makes much of the creative efforts of our ancestors, the assistance provided by the friendly Indians (aka Native Americans) and the richness of the land and seas. That view is romantic, but obscures the fact that over half the original settlers died in the first year, bloody wars between the settlers and the Indians soon dominated the frontier, and that for the first three years, the “bountiful” earth provided little food to the starving colonials.

    The Pilgrims were a highly religious group seeking to live as an extended family in a communal order. Initially they placed all farm lands into a “commons” which all would farm and harvest from collectively. That system goes back to tribal societies with strong cultural rules. Protestant culture, it turned out, did not suffice to discipline the work effort of their individualistic members.

  • Washington's Thanksgiving Turkeys: Here's Your Chance to Fill Up on the White House's 218 Economically Significant Rules

    November 24, 2015 3:44 PM

    The president will pardon a couple turkeys again this year for Thanksgiving.

    The birds will take a carbon-intensive cross country flight from San Francisco International Airport to meet the POTUS.

    For us, there is no reprieve coming from Washington’s big-government ways.

    In fact, you could stuff a lot of Thanksgiving turkeys with the red tape and paperwork pouring out of Washington.

    There are thousands of rules and regulations every year, in every administration.

    The Fall 2015 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (mostly regulatory), released just before the Holiday break,  reports on 3,297 rules and regulations at the “active,” “completed” and “long-term” stages of the regulatory pipeline, many of them holdovers from earlier volumes.

    Over 3,500 rules get issued each year. A portion of these rules, though, are “economically significant” ones with impacts (usually costs rather than liberalizations) of at least $100 million every year.

    This fall there are 218 of these big rules in the Fall Unified Agenda: 149 active, 36 recently completed, and 33 long-term.

    Items that get featured or prioritized in the Agenda vary, creating confusion and making it hard to comparisons across the years difficult. For example, the Obama administration recently told agencies not to talk so much anymore about their "Long-term" rules, when those are actually very important to know about. Also, agencies are not bound to limit their activities to what they present in the Agenda (but should be).

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