EPA’s Shocking Actions to Gain Support for Its Water Rule

Daren Bakst /

There’s now another issue with the controversial water rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Environmental Protection Agency wants you to think there’s a lot of support for the proposed water rule that seeks to give the agency and the Army Corps jurisdiction over almost every water. Reportedly, the agency may cite this “overwhelming” support when it releases its final rule any day now.

In March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “We have received over 1 million comments, and  87.1 percent of those comments we have counted so far—we are only missing 4,000—are supportive of this rule.”

Before proponents (the agency, Army Corps, and perhaps some of their friends and family members) get too excited, the pronouncement of support is misleading.

McCarthy failed to mention the Environmental Protection Agency engaged in controversial activities to help get support for the rule. Some have claimed these activities may even be illegal.

For example, the agency used a Thunderclap campaign to drum up support using social media. “We hope you’ll support our clean water proposal. To help you do that, and get your friends to also voice their support, we’re using a new tool called Thunderclap; it’s like a virtual flash mob.” The message was sent to about 1.8 million people.

The agency also has used social media in other ways to help promote the rule.

According to the New York Times, “Late last year, the EPA sponsored a drive on Facebook and Twitter to promote its proposed clean water rule in conjunction with the Sierra Club.”

The Environmental Protection Agency also developed a video to promote the rule, asking the question” Do you choose clean water?” As if critics of the rule want dirty water. On top of this, McCarthy has dismissed some public concerns about the rule as “ludicrous” and “silly.”

As seen through these examples, the Environmental Protection Agency has been acting more like an advocacy group than a federal agency that is supposed to welcome comments from all sides. It has tried to influence the comments that were received. When the agency uses its massive resources to get support for its rule, it shouldn’t be a surprise when it receives comments that support the rule.

After receiving heat about these questionable actions, the agency defended itself by claiming, “Our goal is to inform and educate. We encourage folks from all perspectives to participate so we can understand more, learn more and finalize a stronger rule.”

An agency isn’t educating when it’s actively trying to gain support for its rule and using numerous social media outlets to advocate. Suggesting support for the proposed rule is the same as supporting clean water isn’t education; it’s rhetoric.

The agency isn’t encouraging folks from all perspectives to participate when the head of the agency calls some public concerns ludicrous and silly. The message to the public is don’t even bother expressing criticism because we will either mock it or ignore it.

Of course, the number of comments isn’t supposed to matter anyway. As the agency itself states, “The comment process is not a vote—one well-supported comment is often more informative to the agency than a thousand form letters.” In fact, most of the comments were form letters (there were more than 1 million mass mail comments).

McCarthy also fails to mention opposition to the rule is massive. Groups representing farmers, ranchers, small businesses, manufacturers, homebuilders, mining companies, counties, cities and state legislators, as well as individuals, state officials and other groups have submitted substantive comments expressing opposition to the rule. In other words, there is widespread opposition rarely seen to a proposed rule.

The rulemaking process is supposed to be open and welcoming for the public. It should not be gamed by an agency.

If we are talking about support for a rule, form letters don’t provide any answers, and the agency knows this. These desperate actions by the agency are understandable (not justified) when their rule is one of the most widely reviled in recent memory.

South Korea–Japan Relationship: Time to Move Forward - The Daily Signal

South Korea–Japan Relationship: Time to Move Forward

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim /

After Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s successful trip to America, South Korean media and its people were up in arms. Seoul criticized Abe for not making unambiguous apologies for Japanese wartime brutalities during his speech to the U.S. Congress and critiqued his use of the term “human trafficking” in reference to Japanese soldier’s abuse of Korean comfort women during World War II.

The heightened tension in the always fraught relationship between South Korea and Japan dates back to 2012, when then–South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited Dokdo Island (referred to as Takeshima by Japan), which is the cause of a territorial dispute between the two countries. After Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013, which was perceived by some as further indication that Abe is a nationalist with a revisionist view of Japan’s military history, the relationship deteriorated further. Since then, South Korea has requested a sincere apology from Japan as a precondition for further progress in the relationship.

Despite their geographical proximity and shared values, Japan and South Korea have had minimal diplomatic relations. Since South Korean President Park Geun-hye took office in February 2013, she has refused to have a bilateral meeting with Abe. A recent poll conducted by the ASAN Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul found that the South Korean people’s opinions of Abe and Japan were barely higher than their opinions of Kim Jong-un and North Korea.

Political discord between Seoul and Tokyo has negatively impacted their economic relationship. This February, the two countries allowed their 14-year-old currency swap agreement to expire. The agreement was once viewed as a symbol of economic cooperation in East Asia.

There are still some silver linings within the relationship. Earlier this month in Seoul, 300 economic leaders from Korea and Japan asked to hold summit talks and revisit the issue of a Korea–Japan Free Trade Agreement. The Korean government recently signaled its willingness to initiate a two-track foreign policy toward Japan, stating that Korea is willing to separate historical issues from government and economic relations. South Korea and Japanese defense chiefs are expected to hold bilateral talks later this month in Singapore for the first time in four years.

The strained relationship between South Korea and Japan is detrimental to U.S. interests. The importance of a trilateral alliance in Northeast Asia cannot be overemphasized—especially when considering security concerns posed by North Korea and China. There hasn’t been any significant progress among the three countries since trilateral summit talks in the Hague in 2014.

The U.S. can act as a bridge connecting the two. Last week in Seoul, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the two countries should “engage in a direct dialogue toward a mutually acceptable resolution that promotes healing and facilitates future-oriented relationship.”

Experts at a May 18 seminar held at the ASAN Institute in Washington, DC, proposed a “Grand Bargain.” Brad Glosserman of the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies asserted that Japan should strive to resolve the bilateral conflict by taking proactive steps: “We call upon Japan to give up its claim over Dokdo and we also call for payments from the Japanese government to comfort women.”

Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that Korea should “essentially accept and forgive” apologies from Japan and put more effort into building a relationship focused on the future rather than on the past.

Deterioration in South Korea–Japan relations is bad for both countries. President Park’s visit to the U.S. next month and Abe’s upcoming statement marking the 70th anniversary of the war’s end in August provide welcome opportunities to restore ties. After three years of seemingly endless morass, it is finally time to move on.

Clinton Confidant Revealed as Source of Benghazi Misinformation - The Daily Signal

Clinton Confidant Revealed as Source of Benghazi Misinformation

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale /

One of the mysteries surrounding the Benghazi scandal appears to have been solved with the release of the private emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The question was who came up with the false narrative of the cause of the attack on the U.S. Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11, 2012. The answer, according to emails obtained by The New York Times, is Sidney Blumenthal, former journalist and longtime confidante of the Clintons.

Both the Department of Defense and the State Department immediately identified terrorism as the cause of the attack on Benghazi. But it was Hillary Clinton, in remarks at the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue on Sept. 13 of that year, who first suggested the activity at the Benghazi consulate began as a demonstration over an anti-Islam YouTube video. And now compelling evidence in the email trail points to Blumenthal as the source of that narrative.

Sidney Blumenthal (Photo: Al Crespo/Sipa Press/Newscom)

Sidney Blumenthal (Photo: Al Crespo/Sipa Press/Newscom)

Blumenthal had been communicating extensively but privately with Clinton on the subject of Libya, where he had various sources of intelligence and was advising a group of potential investors. Blumenthal’s role is revealed in nearly 350 pages of emails, a sizable portion of the 850 reviewed by The New York Times.

On Sept. 12, Blumenthal wrote in a memo to Clinton that the attacks were by “demonstrators” who “were inspired by what many devout Libyans viewed as a sacrilegious Internet video on the prophet Mohammed originating in America.” Clinton forwarded Blumenthal’s account to others at State, and it became the foundation of the Obama administration’s narrative for the next two weeks.

This narrative formed the basis for, among other things, President Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25; a video featuring Obama and Clinton speaking to Muslims and denouncing religious intolerance; and the appearance of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five national talk shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012, during which she denounced the Benghazi attack as the “direct result” of a “heinous and offensive video.

But the real facts of the attack appear to have been communicated to the Obama administration, including Clinton, in timely fashion. On Sept. 13, even Blumenthal had written back to Clinton with a more comprehensive update. In this memo, Blumenthal stated members of Ansar al-Shariah, the Libyan terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda, had planned the attacks for a month and had used a nearby protest as cover.

This version conforms more closely to Defense Department documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request and also released last week. The House Select Committee to Investigate Benghazi wasted no time issuing a subpoena to Blumenthal, who has said he will comply.

Were it not for the chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and the committee’s diligence, Clinton’s private emails and the full facts of the Benghazi scandal might never be known.

Federal Appeals Court Keeps Hold on Obama’s Immigration Actions - The Daily Signal

Federal Appeals Court Keeps Hold on Obama’s Immigration Actions

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel /

A federal appeals court has decided to keep a hold on President Obama’s immigration executive actions, preventing the program from at least temporarily going into effect.

Two of three judges on a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled to uphold an injunction on Obama’s 2014 immigration actions.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen of U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, had put a hold on those actions on Feb. 16, preventing the immigration initiatives from being implemented.

The Obama administration asked the appeals court to throw out the injunction issued by the lower court—wanting the immigration actions to proceed.

Obama’s actions, announced in November, would protect millions of immigrants here illegally from deportation and grant them work permits.

Many of the initiatives were scheduled to take effect this month.

The appeals court found that Texas and 25 other states—which filed a lawsuit against the immigration actions—have sufficient legal grounds to file suit. The court decided the Obama administration had not shown it would be harmed if the injunction remained in place and the programs were further delayed.

This is not the final say on Obama’s immigration actions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit still must issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the executive actions.

“Although this is not a decision on the merits, but only on the government’s request for a stay of the District Court’s injunction while the appeal is pending, this is still a resounding defeat for the administration’s immigration amnesty program,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

“It is a substantial victory for the states and a potential precursor of another looming defeat for the government since the three-judge panel based its decision to deny the stay on the fact that the administration is ‘unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction,’ according to the court.”

Immigrant rights groups panned the court’s decision.

“Immigrant communities have waited long enough,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement.

“Today’s decision allows the lower court’s legally unsound decision blocking immigration relief to stay in place, and our economy and families will suffer the consequences. We call upon the Justice Department to continue its efforts to get this injunction lifted by bringing the matter before the Supreme Court without delay.”

After Secret Service Seized $115,000, North Carolina Man Continues Fight for ‘Justice’ - The Daily Signal

After Secret Service Seized $115,000, North Carolina Man Continues Fight for ‘Justice’

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn /

On the morning of Sept. 25, 2014, Tom Bednar was sitting in the bedroom of the Raleigh, N.C., home he shared with his wife, Marla, and two sons when Marla entered the room crying.

She had just looked at the bank account for their three-decade old business, Marla Enterprises, to find it empty. Now, Capital Bank was requesting close to $18,000 to cover the outstanding checks the couple had written.

After transferring money to straighten out their finances with the bank, the Bednars learned just what had happened with the $115,018.01 they had in their bank account: The United States Secret Service seized the money.

“We got no warning,” Tom Bednar said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “Nothing.”

After months of litigation against the United States government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen West moved to dismiss the case earlier this month, meaning the Bednars will get their money back.

However, the government refused to cover the Bednar’s $25,000 in legal fees, which the couple is entitled to under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. Though the fight to get their $115,000 back is now over, the family is continuing to push to have their expenses covered.

‘Running Afoul’ of the Law

Tom and Marla Bednar opened Marla Enterprises when they were living in Albany, N.Y. The business buys and sells precious metals, gold, coins and antiques, and operates on a mostly cash basis, Bednar told The Daily Signal.

According to a warrant filed by Special Agent Terry Tate of the U.S. Secret Service, who worked in the agency’s Raleigh, N.C., office, the Bednars had committed structuring violations by withdrawing just under $10,000 in cash from their account on 28 different occasions between Jan. 6, 2014 and May 29, 2014.

Secret Service Affidavit for Seizure of Bednar Funds by The Heritage Foundation

In the affidavit, Tate alleged that several other banks had warned Bednar that such withdrawals were in violation of structuring laws and went on to terminate services with the couple. But, Bednar counters that he never received those warnings.

“No one ever warned that it could be suspicious to withdraw under $10,000,” he said.

Bednar contended that he had always been told not to deposit or withdraw more than $10,000 because insurance policies rarely cover more than that amount. Additionally, because many of Marla Enterprises’ customers deal in cash, it was normal for the couple to deposit and withdraw cash frequently.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks must report deposits or withdrawals of more than $10,000 to the Treasury Department. Depositing or withdrawing money under $10,000 to avoid those reporting requirements, though, is known as structuring—a felony.

>>> The IRS Seized $107,000 From This North Carolina Man’s Bank Account

Structuring violations are covered under a subset of civil asset forfeiture laws that regulate cash deposits. Under this section, government agencies have the power to seize money if it’s suspected of being related to a crime.

In many cases where money is seized by the government for structuring violations, it’s the Internal Revenue Service overseeing the seizure. However, other agencies within the government, such as the Secret Service, enforce structuring laws, Robert Johnson, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, told The Daily Signal.

Thomas Bednar (Photo: Marla Bednar)

Thomas Bednar (Photo: Marla Bednar)

In addition to the Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service has pursued structuring cases, he said. But in the Bednar’s case, it’s likely the Secret Service was involved because of the agency’s authority over coins and currency. Marla Enterprises, the Bednar’s business, likely fell under their jurisdiction, Johnson said.

A spokesman for the Secret Service told The Daily Signal the agency couldn’t comment on the case because it’s still an open investigation.

In addition to filing reports with the Department of the Treasury for transactions of more than $10,000, banks are also required to file “suspicious activity reports” for out-of-the-ordinary transactions below that threshold. Customers, though, cannot be informed such reports are filed to the government.

“If I don’t know that I might be running afoul of the law, the only way to know is to be aware of it,” Bednar said.

Both structuring laws and civil asset forfeiture were implemented to curb money laundering and drug trafficking. However, law enforcement agencies have been abusing the tool through what has become known as “policing for profit.”

In many civil asset forfeiture cases, victims are never charged with a crime. Instead, property owners can go to court if they want to get their items back. Experts argue the practice flips the presumption of innocence on its head, as property owners often undergo months of litigation to prove the property isn’t related to a crime—and that’s if they fight back at all.

Marla Bednar (Photo: Marla Bednar)

Marla Bednar (Photo: Marla Bednar)

In other cases, the government offers settlements—oftentimes 50 percent of their money back—to victims. Victims often choose to settle so they can avoid years of litigation and lawyers fees.

The Bednar’s decided to fight the government to get their money back in court after Stephen West, assistant United States attorney, filed a complaint for forfeiture with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

“I’ve been brought up in the old school,” Bednar said. “I’m very religious—very Catholic. I know right from wrong. I know that this is as wrong as things can get in this part of the world.”

West, who oversaw the forfeiture case of another North Carolina man, Lyndon McLellan, offered the Bednar’s 50 percent of their money back in March, but they declined the settlement.

In April, he offered the couple all of their money back except for $10,000, which they declined, too.

“My wife and I have run a business our whole lives,” Bednar said. “It’s hard-earned, legitimate money. Why should I give it up and let it be stolen from us, whether it’s $1 or $100?”

>>> After Having His Motel Seized by the Government, Victim of Civil Asset Forfeiture Reflects on His Fight

Never Charged With a Crime

Months before the Secret Service seized the Bednar’s money, the Raleigh Police Department arrested the couple for operating their business without a permit. The charges were ultimately dropped in November—two months after the law enforcement officials took the $115,000 from Marla Enterprises’ bank account.

In documents filed with the District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, West and U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker admitted that neither Marla nor Tom Bednar were charged with crimes related to the money the Secret Service seized.

Additionally, West and Walker also admitted that in the course of their investigation, they found no proof that the property “included proceeds from illegal activity.”

Requests for Admission from Kirkland and Ellis by The Heritage Foundation

“On the face of the government’s complaint, the only criminal activity that was suspected was structuring,” Danielle Sassoon, a lawyer for Kirkland and Ellis who represented the Bednars, told The Daily Signal. “But the Bednars were never charged with that crime and the government admitted in response to requests for admission that the money seized was not the proceeds of any illegal activity, as far as they knew.”

The ‘Truth of the Court’

Not long after the Secret Service seized the Bednar’s money, the Internal Revenue Service changed its policy surrounding structuring cases—as a number of cases involving Americans who unknowingly committed structuring violations came to light. The agency stated it would only pursue such cases if the money was tied to a crime.

In March, the Department of Justice followed suit.

Though the change occurred after the Bednar’s money was seized, West filed a motion to dismiss their case—returning all $115,018 seized.

Motion to Dismiss in Bednar Forfeiture Case by The Heritage Foundation

West cited the Justice Department’s change regarding the pursuit of structuring cases as reason for dismissing the case, and further stated that “there is no probable cause that the funds structured were generated from unlawful activity.”

Though the government said it would no longer pursue the case, Sassoon is now fighting to dismiss it “with prejudice,” which will make it easier for the Bednars to recover fees and more difficult for the government to pursue the case again in the future.

“They should reimburse the Bednars for the thousands spent defending against this meritless case that was ultimately dropped,” she said.

For his part, Tom Bednar is happy he’ll get his money back. But Bednar does wish he and his wife had the opportunity to fight for justice.

“I was disappointed when they dismissed the case,” he said, “because I was looking for my day of justice in the truth of the court. They denied me that.”

>>> How California Cities Are Making Millions Seizing Property and Money From Law-Abiding Citizens

How High Are Beer Taxes in Your State? - The Daily Signal

How High Are Beer Taxes in Your State?

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon /

The cost of enjoying a cold beer can vary widely depending on where you live, according to a new study. In fact, some states have a much higher tax rate on beer than others.

The Tax Foundation has ranked the tax rate on beer by the gallon in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Wyoming has the lowest tax rate on beer at $0.02 per gallon, and Tennessee has the highest at $1.29 per gallon.

After Tennessee, the most expensive beer taxes are in Alaska, Alabama, Georgia and Hawaii.

How high are taxes on beer in your state?

Photo: Tax Foundation

Photo: Tax Foundation

According to The Tax Foundation, “state and local governments use a variety of formulas to tax beer:”

The rates can include fixed per-volume taxes; wholesale taxes that are often a percentage of a product’s wholesale price; distributor taxes (sometimes structured as license fees a percentage of revenues); retail taxes, in which retailers owe an extra percentage of revenues; case or bottle fees (which can vary based on size of container); and additional sales taxes (note that this measure does not include general sales tax, only those in excess of the general rate).

According to a report by The Beer Institute:

Beer. That word conjures up many pleasant images … hot days and ball games … a tall, cold one at the end of a hard day’s work … good times … good friends.

What doesn’t come to mind for most beer drinkers—but perhaps should—is TAX. Because in the process of enjoying the simple pleasure of beer, consumers are also making a $5.6 billion hidden excise tax payment to their state and federal governments.

The Beer Institute adds that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined.”

In ‘Tomorrowland,’ We Get a Glimpse of the Left’s Vision for the Future - The Daily Signal

In ‘Tomorrowland,’ We Get a Glimpse of the Left’s Vision for the Future

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon / Tyler O'Neil /

A good science-fiction flick has to include futuristic technology—jet packs, soaring towers, robots who can fix anything, and, for George Clooney, windmills. That’s right—in Disney’s “Tomorrowland,” one of the harbingers of hope, innovation and the future is a medieval contraption that kills endangered birds and generates just enough energy to brew a cup of tea.

In a film about innovation and creativity, one could hope for futuristic technology that wows audiences rather than preaching left-leaning environmental policy. Unfortunately, “Tomorrowland” has entrenched itself in backward, liberal ideas.

Although an entertaining and family-friendly flick, Disney’s new film involves multiple themes that carry political bias. It even has received attacks from such liberal outlets as The Daily Beast, which called the movie “George Clooney’s Global Warming Shaming.” The outlet’s Kevin Fallon sums it up nicely: “It’s Al Gore by way of Captain Planet, Disney-approved.”

In “Tomorrowland,” human beings are giving in to despair and self-destruction, dooming civilization as we know it.

Despondent Frank Walker (George Clooney) begins the film talking about the bleak future caused by unstable governments, overpopulation and environmental collapse. Similarly, a typical school day for Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) involves listening to teachers preach doom and gloom. Talking points included “mutually assured destruction,” dystopia books “1984,”Fahrenheit 451” and “Brave New World,” and: “The polar ice caps aren’t waiting to decide if we’ll accept climate change.”

The very technology which makes it possible for people to create the futuristic city “Tomorrowland” also gives them a glimpse into the future. And what do they see? Armageddon.

In a vision of the world less than two months from the present, Casey and Frank see death and destruction across the globe. From nuclear bombs to melting ice caps, from streets overcome by violence to cities swamped with water, everything everywhere is falling into chaos. “I’m afraid the world is ending. It is certain, and it is unavoidable,” says the villain, Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie).

Business and government do not respond to the world’s problems, explains Nix. “You would go to politicians and captains of industry, and how would you convince them? Data and facts?” So long as they can keep pumping oil and reaping profits, the villain says, these cultural figures will do nothing.

Nix has a plan to save mankind—broadcasting the fear of imminent destruction through a futuristic antenna that connects directly with people’s minds. If all the people on earth knew the triggers for the apocalypse, surely they would try to stop it.

Instead, “they sprinted toward it,” turning violence into video games and doom into an industry. “You face simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, melting ice caps, and you won’t take the hint,” an exasperated Nix declares. “So yes, we saw the iceberg and we warned the Titanic, but you steered toward it full speed ahead.”

Here, Nix becomes the villain. Instead of trying to save the world, he resigns it to its fate.

Nix does commit another heinous crime, though—that of “deportation.” Rather than admit more and more people into his futuristic city, Nix closes the doors and erects a barrier. Our heroes have to resort to a spaceship designed by Thomas Edison just to break through, and when they do, Nix “deports” them again. A robot emphasizes that political word as it tells Frank “you’re being deported again.”

With Nix finally foiled, Frank and Casey begin the search for innovators to invite to “Tomorrowland.” With a twinkle in his eye, Frank exclaims, “Dreamers, we’re looking for dreamers.” Given George Clooney’s outspoken support for amnesty-based immigration reform, and immigrant advocates’ penchant to refer to themselves as “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act, his choice of words seems more than a coincidence.

The film concludes with hope as a group of reformers get their invitations to enter “Tomorrowland.” The multiracial group of recruits includes an African woman planter, a guitarist, a car designer, a painter, a teacher, and, of course, a windmill operator.

Bachelet’s Labor Reforms Could Reduce Economic Freedom in Chile - The Daily Signal

Bachelet’s Labor Reforms Could Reduce Economic Freedom in Chile

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon / Tyler O'Neil / James M. Roberts /

Chile has the highest level of economic freedom in Latin America and was the 7th most economically free country in the world according to the 2015 edition of the annual Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. But, if the Chilean Congress passes President Michelle Bachelet’s proposed changes to Chile’s labor code, that high ranking could be threatened.

The 2015 Index of Economic Freedom noted that labor regulations in Chile are quite rigid, with broad wage settlements and high unionization. President Bachelet’s proposed new law would give unions even more power.

Business associations and unions have voiced objections to the labor reform legislation, which is being discussed amid a commodity slump and higher copper production costs in Chile, supplier of one-third of the world’s copper.

Their opposition is not surprising. As James Sherk of The Heritage Foundation has reported,

Economic theory holds that unions operate as labor cartels. Unions only raise wages for their members by raising prices and reducing job opportunities for non-union workers. Few economists believe unions increase overall living standards. On the whole economists find the harm to non-union workers outweighs the economic gains to union members. As one academic literature summary concluded: “Most economists believe, as a generalization, that the negative side of unions outweighs the positive side, at least with respect to resource allocation and efficiency.”

Further, unions do not—and cannot—simply redistribute from “the rich.” While unions harm businesses’ profitability, they also hurt low-income and middle-income workers. The higher prices imposed by unions hurt rich, poor, and middle-class consumers alike, but lower-income workers feel the sting of price increases more acutely. Restricting jobs in unionized companies reduces demand in related industries and pushes more workers into the non-union and informal economic sectors. Both effects depress the pay of non-union employees. Most of the income that unions redistribute comes from other workers, not stockowners.

Sherk concludes that unions do not, in fact, provide the economic benefits to society as a whole that would justify forcing workers to pay union dues.

The labor freedom component of the Index of Economic Freedom is a quantitative measure that considers the legal and regulatory framework and relative flexibility of a country’s labor market and laws, including regulations concerning minimum wages, laws that inhibit layoffs, severance requirements, and measurable regulatory restraints on hiring and hours worked. Labor regulations that affect “the hiring and redundancy of workers and the rigidity of working hours” are examined closely.

Chile’s Index labor freedom score is 67 (on a scale of 0 to 100), and it currently ranks only 69th out of 178 countries in the world on the labor freedom indicator. If the Chilean Congress passes the legislation proposed by President Bachelet to make Chile’s labor laws even more rigid, the country’s labor freedom will decline even more.

Here’s the Data to Prove School Choice Is Working - The Daily Signal

Here’s the Data to Prove School Choice Is Working

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon / Tyler O'Neil / James M. Roberts / Patrick Wolf /

Private school choice initiatives have become increasingly common across the United States. Far from being rare and untested, private school choice policies are an integral part of the fabric of American education policy.

In the United States today, 56 different school choice policies exist in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, and the number of choice policies has approximately doubled every four years from 2000 to 2012.

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program remains the nation’s only federally sponsored private school choice initiative. It provides scholarships worth up to $8,000 in grades K-8 and $12,000 in high school to low-income children in D.C. to attend any of more than 50 participating private schools.

When the Opportunity Scholarship Program was launched in 2004, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences selected me to lead the initial government evaluation of this pilot program in parental school choice. Demand for scholarships exceeded supply, so most applicants faced a lottery to determine if they would receive an Opportunity Scholarship, permitting us to use a “gold standard” experimental research design to determine what impact the program had on participants.

Students in our pioneering study graduated from high school at a rate 21 percentage points higher than they otherwise would have as a result of using an Opportunity Scholarship. In scientific terms, we are more than 99 percent confident that access to school choice through the Opportunity Scholarship Program was the reason students in the program graduated at these much higher rates.

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

“Graduating from high school is an economic imperative.” Those are not my words, but those of President Obama, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

Each additional high school graduate saves the nation an average of $260,000 thanks to increased taxes on higher lifetime earnings and lower law-enforcement and welfare costs.

Thus, the 449 additional high school graduates obtained through operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program during its pilot produced a return on investment of $2.62 for every dollar spent.

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

Kelsey Harris/Visualsey

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship is not the only private school choice program to demonstrate a clear and dramatic impact on boosting educational attainment.

My research team similarly found the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program significantly increased the rates of high school graduation, college enrollment and persistence in college for the low-income students participating in our nation’s oldest urban private school choice program.

Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution determined that a privately funded K-12 scholarship program in New York City significantly increased the rate at which black and immigrant students enrolled in college. Increasingly and consistently, researchers are finding that private school choice programs like the Opportunity Scholarship Program enable students to go farther in school.

Private school choice policies are an integral part of the fabric of American education policy.

Evidence that students achieved higher test scores because of the Opportunity Scholarship Program was only consistently conclusive in reading and for three subgroups of students: females, students with relatively higher performance at baseline and students transferring from better-performing public schools. Our study uncovered no program impacts on student math scores. Parents were more satisfied with their child’s school as a result of the Opportunity Scholarship Program and rated the schools safer.

When a previous Congress closed the Opportunity Scholarship Program to new students and reduced its funding, parents in the program put actions behind their words of praise for the program.

Parents rose up in peaceful protest, participating in rallies, writing letters to Congress and testifying at congressional hearings, to save the program. Ultimately, they triumphed, as the Opportunity Scholarship Program was reauthorized and expanded in 2011 with passage of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, or SOAR, Act. That entire amazing story is captured in a book I recently co-authored with Dr. Thomas Stewart called “The School Choice Journey: School Vouchers and the Empowerment of Urban Families.”  

The research record from the carefully studied pilot period of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is filled with good news.

Students graduated from high school at much higher rates because they used a scholarship. The program appears to have had a positive effect on student reading test scores, though we can only have a high level of confidence about that impact for certain subgroups of students. Parents have been empowered and report their children are in better and safer schools.

Importantly, D.C. parents view the program as one worth fighting for. Policymakers should give all of these facts careful consideration when they plan the future of District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.

A Conversation With David Axelrod: What Happened to Bipartisanship Under Obama? - The Daily Signal

A Conversation With David Axelrod: What Happened to Bipartisanship Under Obama?

Daren Bakst / Eunjoong Kim / Helle Dale / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon / Tyler O'Neil / James M. Roberts / Patrick Wolf / Genevieve Wood /

CHICAGO—While serving as a fellow for the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics this month, I had an opportunity to sit down with former White House senior adviser David Axelrod to discuss the current state of American politics.

I begin by asking him what he believes is the biggest misconception conservatives have about both President Obama—and him. We also talk about the shrinking number of battleground states and the negative impact of an electorate sharply divided in to red and blue.

What happened to the era of bipartisanship President Obama said early on he wanted to create in Washington? And who is most to blame for the fact it never materialized? Axelrod answers those questions as we talked in his Chicago office.

>>> Coming Wednesday: How Axelrod Views the 2016 Campaign