Hot Topics

Dec 14, 2016 | 0 comments

Article 1: “Trump Seeking Quickest Way to Quit Paris Climate Agreement, Says Report”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/13/trump-looking-at-quickest-way-to-quit-paris-climate-agreement-says-report

According to the article, Donald Trump is looking at quick ways of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement in defiance of widening international backing for the plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Reuters has reported.

Since the US president-elect was chosen, governments ranging from China to small island states have reaffirmed support for the 2015 Paris agreement at 200-nation climate talks running until 18 November in Marrakesh, Morocco.

But, according to Reuters, a source in the Trump transition team said the victorious Republican, who has called global warming a hoax, was considering ways to bypass a theoretical four-year procedure for leaving the accord.

“It was reckless for the Paris agreement to enter into force before the election,” said the source, who works on Trump’s transition team for international energy and climate policy, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Paris agreement went into force on 4 November, four days before last Tuesday’s election.

Alternatives were to send a letter withdrawing from a 1992 convention that is the parent treaty of the Paris agreement, voiding US involvement in both in a year’s time, or to issue a presidential order simply deleting the US signature from the Paris accord, the source told Reuters.

Many nations have expressed hopes the United States will stay. Morocco, the host for the talks, said the agreement that seeks to phase out greenhouse gases in the second half of the century was strong enough to survive a pullout.

“If one party decides to withdraw that it doesn’t call the agreement into question,” foreign minister Salaheddine Mezouar told a news conference.

Despite the threat of a US withdrawal, US secretary of state John Kerry said on Sunday that he would continue his efforts to implement the Paris agreement until Barack Obama leaves office on 20 January.

Speaking in New Zealand following a trip to Antarctica, Kerry appeared to take a swipe at Trump when he listed some of the ways in which global warming could already be seen. He said that there were more fires, floods and damaging storms around the world, and sea levels were rising.

“The evidence is mounting in ways that people in public life should not dare to avoid accepting as a mandate for action,” Kerry said.

“Now the world’s scientific community has concluded that climate change is happening beyond any doubt. And the evidence is there for everybody to see,” Kerry said.

The Paris agreement was reached by almost 200 nations in December, and has been formally ratified by 109 representing 76% of greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States with 18%.

The accord seeks to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels to limit rising temperatures that have been linked to increasing economic damage from desertification, extinctions of animals and plants, heat waves, floods and rising sea levels.

United Nations climate chief Patricia Espinosa declined to comment on the Trump source’s remarks to Reuters.

“The Paris agreement carries an enormous amount of weight and credibility,” she told a news conference. She said the UN hoped for a strong and constructive relationship with Trump.

The Trump source blamed US president Barack Obama for joining up by an executive order, without getting approval from the Senate. “There wouldn’t be this diplomatic fallout on the broader international agenda if Obama hadn’t rushed the adoption,” he said.

Discussion Questions

1. Is global warming a “hoax?” What is the basis for your answer to this question?

Although student responses may vary, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community believes that global warming is real, and that humans are a substantial contributing factor to global warming. This is a good question to address the practice of critical thinking. Emphasize to your students that their opinions, if not based on factual support, are merely opinions.

2. Does the president have the legal authority to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement? Explain your response.

This is a controversial question; in fact, it is debatable whether President Barack Obama had the legal authority to commit the United States to the Paris agreement. For an article addressing that issue, please see the following internet site:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/sep/3/obama-xi-ratify-climate-change-agreement/

3. Are you surprised that China agreed to participate in the Paris agreement? Explain your response.

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. As a growing nation committed to manufacturing (manufacturing is a substantial contributing factor to greenhouse gas emissions that the scientific community believes contributes to global warming), it would seem that China has a great deal to lose in terms of the commitment. Perhaps the Chinese government has realized that addressing global warming requires the commitment of those countries largely responsible for carbon emissions, including China and the United States.

Article 2: “Trump Taps Climate-Change Skeptic to Oversee EPA Transition”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/11/meet-the-man-trump-is-relying-on-to-unravel-obamas-environmental-legacy/

According to the article, president-elect Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the regulations it has put out under President Obama are “a disgrace.” He has vowed to roll back Obama’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and to scrap a litany of other “unnecessary” rules, especially those imposed on the oil, gas and coal sectors.

The man planning how a Trump administration can obliterate Obama’s environmental legacy is Myron Ebell, a Washington fixture who has long been a cheerful warrior against what he sees as an alarmist, overzealous environmental movement that has used global warming as a pretext for expanding government. Ebell has argued for opening up more federal lands for logging, oil and gas exploration and coal mining, and for turning over more permitting authority to the states. And he has urged the Senate to vote to reject an international climate accord signed last year in Paris.

The self-described public-policy wonk has for years made his home at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that once received considerable funding from ExxonMobil. More recently, the organization has been funded in part by Donors Trust. The Virginia-based organization, which is not required by law to disclose its contributors, is staffed largely by people who have worked for Koch Industries or nonprofit groups supported by the conservative Koch brothers.

Ebell, who is not a scientist, has long questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is fueling unprecedented global warming. He also has staunchly opposed what he calls energy rationing, instead arguing that the United States should unleash the full power of coal, oil and gas to fuel economic growth and job creation.

All that makes him an ideal ambassador for Trump, who has repeatedly called the notion of man-made climate change a “hoax.”

Ebell declined to comment this week on his work or the type of people likely to be appointed to run the EPA, instead referring inquiries to the Trump transition headquarters. But it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out the likely list of priorities.

The “energy independence” section of Trump’s transition website — there is no “environment” section — reads like an oil-and-gas-industry wish list.

“Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters,” the site states. “We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration. We will end the war on coal, and rescind the coal mining lease moratorium, the excessive Interior Department stream rule, and conduct a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations issued by the Obama Administration.”

The site does say that Trump is “firmly committed to conserving our wonderful natural resources and beautiful natural habitats.” But it has no specifics on what that might mean, other than “America’s environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas.”

Presumably that means people such as Ebell. He has gleefully opposed environmentalists and railed against the policies of the Obama administration and others that take aim at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — and by extension weaning the United States off its dependence of fossil fuels.

A 2007 Vanity Fair profile described Ebell as a “sound-bite artist” and an “oil-industry mouthpiece.”

“Almost no scientist doubts that global warming is here, that man-made greenhouse gases are to blame, or that if we don’t cut back on those gases fairly soon we’ll be in a heap of trouble,” the article said. “But as the ‘other hand’ in all those news stories, Ebell and his quotable cohorts sustain the impression that a scientific debate is still raging. The more studies that confirm global warming, the more ink Ebell gets.”

Last year, when Pope Francis in an encyclical wrote about the “urgent challenge to protect our common home” and said “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor,” Ebell was quick to pounce.

“The Vatican seems to have forgotten to consider the effects that energy-rationing policies to reduce emissions will also have on poor people in poor countries,” he said on CEI’s website. “Putting the world on an energy-starvation diet will consign billions of people to perpetual energy poverty.”

Discussion Questions

1. Comment on the qualification(s) of Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team. Would an environmental scientist be more qualified to assume the role? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. Arguably, since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relies a great deal on science in making decisions regarding air, water and land pollution, a professional with scientific credentials could best lead the EPA transition team and ultimately serve as head of the agency.

2. According to the article, the Trump transition web site states that “America’s environmental agenda will be guided by true specialists in conservation, not those with radical political agendas.” Define “radical political agenda.”

In terms of “radical political agenda,” the “beauty” is most definitely “in the eye of the beholder!” There is no exacting definition of what constitutes a “radical political agenda.”

3. Is the scientific debate regarding global warming still “raging,” as Myron Ebell claims? Explain your response.

It is well-settled in the scientific community that global warming is real, and that humans are a substantial contributing factor to global warming. If 97 percent of the scientific community agrees and 3 percent either disagree or abstain from giving an opinion, does that really constitute a “raging” debate?

Article 3: “Trump Advisers Back Deregulation, Privatized Social Security”

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/11/12/trump-advisers-back-deregulation-privatized-social-security.html

According to the article, during his triumphant presidential campaign, Donald Trump renounced Republican orthodoxy on a Social Security overhaul.

“We’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life,” Trump declared, calling the payment of promised benefits “honoring a deal.”

But the man heading the Trump transition team’s Social Security effort? Michael Korbey, a former lobbyist who has spent much of his career advocating for cutting and privatizing the program.

“It’s a failed system, broken and bankrupt,” Korbey said as a lobbyist in the mid-1990s. Korbey acknowledged that some of the changes his group backed would hurt retirees, but “our constituents aren’t just senior citizens,” he told a newspaper in 1996. A decade later, as a senior adviser to the Social Security Administration, Korbey was an advocate for the George W. Bush administration’s failed attempt to privatize Social Security.

Korbey is just one example of apparent discord between Trump’s populist economic platform and the people who have been put in charge of planning to carry it out. While there are some true Washington outsiders on the team — such as Dan DiMicco, a former steel industry executive who is Trump’s transition head for the office of U.S. Trade Representative — many of the players are familiar from the Republican economic establishment. The mix indicates a strong leaning toward rolling back much of the Obama administration’s post-financial collapse changes, and a general posture toward deregulation.

The team will not necessarily carry over into the Trump administration — though members of past transition teams often have. Instead, they are in charge of putting together hiring recommendations, working with outgoing appointees and laying the groundwork for administration’s opening months.

Bill Walton, one of the two people overseeing the economic transition effort, is the former chief executive for Allied Capital, a financial firm that was sold after nearly failing during the financial crisis. He is both a trustee for the Heritage Foundation and a senior fellow at another conservative organization, the Discovery Institute.

David Malpass, who is overseeing both the Treasury Department staffing and part of the broader economic issues portfolio, was Bear Stearns’ chief economist in the years leading up to its collapse. In August 2007, as U.S. economic growth ground to a halt and the debt markets shuddered, he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Don’t Panic About the Credit Market.”

“Housing and debt markets are not that big a part of the U.S. economy, or of job creation,” the piece declared, predicting continued economic growth and dismissing concerns that recent growth had been dependent on the housing bubble.

Eight months later, Bear Stearns collapsed, unable to withstand the toxic combination of overheated home prices and shoddily assembled debt that Malpass dismissed. But Malpass landed on his feet, founding a consulting firm called Encima Partners.

Since then, he’s faulted both the Federal Reserve’s monetary response to the financial crisis and regulations intended to prevent future such calamities.

In a 2010 National Review article titled “Chris Dodd’s Big, Misguided Bill,” Malpass argued against the value of creating the consumer financial protection bureau, writing that the Obama administration should “streamline and concentrate” existing consumer protection regulators, a step that he said “would result in a reduction of government jobs.”

In Paul Atkins, Trump has found a leading proponent of the theory that government should get out of the financial industry’s way.

Appointed to the Securities and Exchange commission in July 2002 at the height of the era’s corporate accounting scandals, he was considered the most conservative member of the SEC during his tenure. Atkins objected to stiff penalties imposed on companies for allegedly fraudulent conduct, contending that they don’t effectively deter crime. And in 2005, he defended the practice of backdating stock options — a practice in which executives paid themselves for fictitious outperformance in their companies’ stocks. Numerous executives went to jail for those activities — but Atkins caused a stir by saying he found nothing objectionable about it.
In the years that led up to the financial crisis, Atkins warned of dangers posed by “enacting regulations that supplant the market’s judgment.” Among the initiatives he successfully backed at the SEC was a loosening of leverage restrictions on investment banks, a step that allowed firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman brothers to borrow more money and invest it in mortgage-backed securities.

Atkins resigned in August of 2008, and now runs a financial services industry consulting firm. But he has maintained his vigorously pro-market stance.

“We all know that overregulation can “kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said in a 2012 speech opposing the regulation of money market funds.

Discussion Questions

1. As the article indicates, the person heading the Trump transition team’s Social Security effort is Michael Korbey, a former lobbyist who has spent much of his career advocating for cutting and privatizing the program. What is meant by Social Security privatization?

Social Security privatization would shift some (eventually, perhaps all) of the responsibility of retirement to the individual. Initially, the government would allow an individual to divert a percentage of her Social Security tax contributions to a private account and make investment decisions in the stock market. If the stock market “melts down,” or if the individual makes poor investment choices, the individual would absorb the loss.

2. According to the article, Michael Korbey has claimed that Social Security is “a failed system, broken and bankrupt.” Comment on the accuracy of this statement.

By any objective measure, the Social Security system has not failed, it is not broken, and it is not bankrupt. The system has honored every obligation owed to retirees since it was first created in the 1930s.

The program will first face a shortfall in 2034, and even if the Social Security trust fund becomes depleted (a huge “if” that presupposes Congress does not take steps to ensure its solvency), annual revenues from the Social Security payroll tax and taxation of Social Security benefits will be enough to fund 74% of scheduled benefits through 2090 (See the article featured in Teaching Tip 1 of this newsletter, “The Truth about Social Security’s Solvency and You.” In your author’s opinion, the projected shortfall in the system could easily be addressed by raising the cap on income eligible for Social Security taxation (According to the Social Security website, https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/prog_highlights/RatesLimits2016.html, the current cap on income subject to Social Security taxation is $118,500, meaning that a person with an annual income of $118,500 pays the same Social Security tax as a person with an annual income of $20 million!

3. If Social Security is privatized, what (if anything) should the government do if an elderly person has made unfortunate investment choices or the stock market crashes, resulting in insufficient proceeds in the retiree’s account?

This is an opinion question, so student responses may vary. According to the Social Security website (https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/basicfact-alt.pdf), among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 48% of married couples and 71% of unmarried persons receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security. Further, among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 21% of married couples and about 43% of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. In your author’s opinion, the scenario framed in this Discussion Question would be potentially disastrous for the retiree.