2019-05-22 04:01:21

Look at the dollar bills in your wallet. They say they are “legal tender for all debts.”

But are they? What makes them valuable? What makes them worth anything?

Each bill says, “In God We Trust.” But God won’t guarantee their value.

The $20 bill depicts the White House. Congress is on $50s. But neither guarantees the value of our dollars.

I wouldn’t trust them if they did. I don’t trust politicians, generally, but I especially don’t trust them with money. Since President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, the dollar has lost 80 percent of its value.

So what makes money trustworthy?

A new PBS documentary, In Money We Trust?, points out that money is only useful if people agree that it can be trusted.

I made a short version of the documentary.

To earn trust, money should be “reliable, like a clock,” says Forbes magazine publisher Steve Forbes. “It has to be fixed in value: 60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute. Imagine if that floated each day. That would make life chaotic.”

Throughout history, people needed a way to assign a fixed value to money.

“The best mechanism for this would be some kind of commodity that’s permanent, easily transported, easily understood by everyone. And that medium was, of course, gold,” says anthropologist Jack Weatherford in the documentary.

But gold isn’t the only thing to which people have pegged the value of money. They’ve also linked it to things such as silver, crops, and salt. Salt-based trade is where we got the word “salary.”

But gold created “a kind of mobility in people’s lives that they never had before,” says Weatherford.

But gold is heavy—hard to carry around. That limited trade.

So people created banks.

“The Knights Templar developed a system where they said, ‘Well, you can just deposit your money here with us and then, when you need some, withdraw it from your account,'” explains economist Nathan Lewis. “This enabled the peasants to travel Europe without being in danger of being robbed.”

That meant people could engage in more trade.

“You could…sell a bond in London,” says Lewis, “and build a railroad in India.”

The increased trade made the world much richer.

In the United States, the first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, fixed the dollar to gold and silver. The whole world came to trust the dollar as a reliable indicator of value.

But governments like to enrich themselves by debasing currency, making it appear the government has more wealth than it really does—spreading the same wealth over more units of currency.

The evil emperor Nero did it in ancient Rome, says Weatherford. “They would call in all the coins, melt them down, reissue them—of course, with his picture on them,” but with less gold in each coin. Rome’s decline was tied to the decrease in the trustworthiness of its currency.

“When you change the value of money, you’re stealing property,” says Forbes.

That happened in Germany after World War I. The victorious nations demanded that Germany pay for the cost of the war. So, Germany just printed more bills. That created massive inflation. That inflation helped elect Hitler.

Governments rarely resist the temptation to print more currency.

During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt confiscated private supplies of gold.

Without a clear legal peg of each dollar to a specific amount of gold, the government could print more currency. That only added to the financial instability.

After World War II, governments returned to gold-based currency. “Those two decades,” says Lewis, “were the most successful economically of any time.”

The documentary argues that a return to the gold standard is what’s needed to have reliable money.

Today, most economists disagree.

But In Money We Trust? will give you a new appreciation for how important it is that we get this right.

As technologist George Gilder concludes in the documentary, “All this is the struggle for trust.”

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2019-05-21 13:00:04

What makes money trustworthy?

“It has to be fixed in value,” says Steve Forbes in his new documentary, In Money We Trust?

Forbes notes that money has to be reliable, like a clock. We have “sixty minutes in an hour; sixty seconds in a minute. Imagine if that floated each day; that would make life chaotic.”

Stossel presents an abbreviated version of the documentary, which notes that throughout history, people needed a way to assign a fixed value to money. They tried all sorts of things, including backing money with crops, silver, and salt. “Salt” is where our word “SALary” comes from.

Eventually, most people settled on gold, which was used up through the mid-1900s to back currency. The stability it brought to markets helped enable massive economic growth.

But a gold standard didn’t always ensure stability. The Roman Emperor Nero was one of the early creators of inflation.

“They would call in all the coins, melt them down, reissue them—of course, with his picture on them,” according to Jack Weatherford, author of The History of Money. The re-issued coins, critically, also contained less gold than the old ones.

Governments throughout history have often resorted to inflation when they couldn’t raise enough taxes.

World War I was the first big event that shook up the consensus around gold.

“To print money to pay for the conflict, Europe and the U.S. went off gold,” the documentary’s narrator notes. “And after losing the war, Germany suffered the infamous Weimar hyperinflation.”

In the U.S. during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt even confiscated private holdings of gold in order to devalue the dollar.

“All kinds of constitutional freedoms, and this moral commitment to maintain the value of the money, were swept out,” says Judy Shelton, director of the Sound Money Project at the Atlas Network. Shelton is under consideration to be President Trump’s next Federal Reserve pick.

Today, the Federal Reserve controls the supply of dollars. People use them because they trust that others will value them, and because the government says it stands behind them. But dollars are not backed by gold, or anything else.

That worries people like Steve Forbes. A dollar buys 80 percent less than it did when Nixon took the country off gold in 1971. That’s largely because the Federal Reserve intentionally creates 2 percent inflation every year—they set it at 2 percent rather zero because it provides a buffer against deflation, which they fear will cause recessions.

Forbes’ documentary backs a return to the gold standard.

“The only way to restore trust is for the United States to return to the system that worked for most of its history,” the narrator says.

“Gold has proven to be the preferred monetary standard,” says Brian Domitrovic, a history professor at Sam Houston State University.

Milton Friedman opposed the gold standard. Today, most economists oppose it.

But Stossel says Forbes’ documentary sums up the history nicely and “will give you background to help you decide what you think.”

You can see the full documentary on some PBS stations, or stream it at: InMoneyWeTrust.org.

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2019-05-14 13:15:16

Police often use “sex trafficking” and “prostitution” interchangeably. That’s what happed in the Robert Kraft case, says Reason associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown.
Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, was caught in a “sex trafficking” sting.
Law enforcment “had all of these big announcements at first saying that…these women were being forced there and they weren’t allowed to leave,” Brown explains to John Stossel.
But now prosecutors in the Kraft case concede that there was no trafficking.
That’s usually the case when it comes to “sex trafficking” busts, says Brown: “I’d say 99% of the headlines are not true.”
Brown covered a similar case in Seattle where the cops claimed to have busted a sex trafficking ring. In a press conference, King County Sheriff John Urquhart said: “These women are true victims.”
But the court documents “actually paint a very, very different story,” Brown points out. “No one has been charged with human trafficking in that case.”
Yet politicians and the media often exaggerate the frequency of trafficking. Congresswoman Ann Wagner claims, “Right now almost 300,000 American children are at risk”.

That 300,000 number is repeated constantly in the media. The number is based on a study that has been disavowed by the lead author, Richard Estes. “Many people debunked the study and say, ‘This is just a total bullcrap number,'” Brown says.

She adds, “When we have these exaggerated numbers, it forces people to go into this crazy emergency moral panic mode that ends up not helping the actual problem that we have.”

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2019-05-15 04:01:57

When police charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with soliciting prostitution, the press said the police rescued sex slaves.

“They were women who were from China, who were forced into sex slavery,” said Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.

We’re told this happens all the time.

“Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal business in the United States,” says fashion model Kathy Ireland.

It’s bunk, says Reason Associate Editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown.

In the Robert Kraft case, she points out, “They had all these big announcements at first saying they had busted up an international sex trafficking ring, implying these women weren’t allowed to leave.”

But now prosecutors acknowledge that there was no trafficking. The women were willing sex workers.

The police and the media got it wrong. That’s typical. “Ninety-nine percent of the headlines are not true,” says Brown in my latest video. “Sex trafficking and prostitution are sort of used interchangeably.”

What about the headlines that say police are “rescuing victims”?

“By rescue they (mean) put them in jail and give them a criminal record,” says Brown. “The victims are the sex workers…getting harassed and locked up in cages by the cops.”

Politicians tell us that thousands of children are forced into the sex trade.

“Three-hundred thousand American children are at risk!” said Rep. Ann Wagner on the floor of Congress.

That 300,000 number comes from just one study, and that study’s lead author, Richard Estes, has disavowed it.

“The National Crimes Against Children Center says, ‘Do not cite this study’!” says Brown. It’s “total bull.”

Widely quoted bull.

On TV, former prosecutor Wendy Murphy shouts, “Three-hundred thousand kids a year are raped, sex trafficked and pimped in this country!”

“If that was the case, cops would be able to find this all the time,” responds Brown. “Cops wouldn’t have to go through these elaborate stings.”

Florida police spent months taking down the spa Robert Kraft visited.

“They had Homeland Security involved,” recounts Brown. “They were following these women around in the grocery stores, watching them buy condoms.”

I’d think cops would have better things to do with their time.

“If this was really a situation where these women were being forced and sexually assaulted multiple times a day, the cops just let it happen for months on end?” asks Brown.

She covered a case in Seattle where the local sheriff, at a news conference, said he’d rescued sex slaves.

But when Brown spoke to the sheriff later, “he ended up saying, ‘Well, you know, maybe they weren’t being forced by whatever, but we’re all trafficked by something and there was money involved.’ Then by the end of the investigation they were like, ‘Well, I mean, they were pressured because they didn’t know a lot of people and they wanted to make money’.”

One former sex worker says the moral panic over prostitution is a “combination of the conservative fetish for going after people for doing ‘sex stuff’ and the liberal instinct to help a group of people that they can’t be bothered to understand.”

That includes the celebrities who perpetuate the myth that sex slavery is rampant.

“You can go online and buy a child for sex. It’s as easy as ordering a pizza,” says Amy Schumer.

“Thousands of children are raped every day!” says comedian Seth Meyers.

Actor Ashton Kutcher even promotes an app that he claims rescues victims. He told Congress, “We have identified over 6,000 trafficking victims this year.”

Really? Where are they? Kutcher’s representatives did not respond to our repeated emails.

“If Ashton Kutcher is finding all those victims, he’s not turning them over to police,” said Brown.

Sex slavery is evil. Authorities should do everything they can to stop it. But there is a big difference between slavery and sex work done by consenting adults.

“When we have these exaggerated numbers,” says Brown, “it forces people into this crazy emergency moral panic mode that ends up not helping the actual problem that we have.”

Periodic crackdowns on prostitution don’t help either.

“They want this imaginary world where you take away a safer option for these women,” says Brown, and then “the oldest profession, as they call it, will magically stop. But that’s not going to happen.”

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2019-05-08 04:01:02

“I’m not going to let them bully me out of reporting,” said Tim Pool after recording an Antifa protest where angry activists cursed at him. There might have been violence, but Antifa’s “de-escalation team” protected him, he says.

That surprised me. “Antifa has a de-escalation team?” I ask Pool in my latest internet video.

“They have people who try and make sure nobody from their side starts it—because cameras are rolling,” he answered.

Pool is part of the new media that now cover stories the mainstream media often miss.

I’ve become part of that new media, too. I still work at Fox, but now most of my video views (117 million plus) come from short videos I post on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Pool considers himself a man of the left. He supported Bernie Sanders and once worked for Vice. But now he often finds himself criticizing his fellow leftists.

“This really strange faction of people on the left are saying ridiculous things,” he says. “They’re helping Donald Trump.”

Trump probably does gain support when people watch street protests turn violent.

“Look at this protest in Portland,” recounts Pool. “A Bernie Sanders supporter showed up with an American flag—to protest fascists. What did Antifa do? Crack him over the head with a club.”

Pool won new followers with his coverage of the Washington, D.C., conflict between a Native American protestor and Covington, Kentucky, high school teens wearing Trump hats, including one who looked like he was smirking.

“All these big news outlets, even The Washington Post, CNN, they immediately made the assumption ‘He must be a racist sneering at this Native American man’,” says Pool. “I didn’t make that assumption…. I just see a guy banging a drum and a kid with a weird look on his face.”

Pool and Reason‘s Robby Soave were the rare journalists who bothered to examine more of the videos.

“The initial narrative that we heard from the activists was that this kid got in this man’s face…. It’s actually the other way around,” Pool said. “No one else watched the video.”

No one? Major news outlets said the student was racist without ever examining the full video?

“Here’s what happens,” Pool explains. “One left-wing journalist says, ‘Look at this racist!’ His buddy sees it and says, ‘Wow, look at this racist.’ And that’s a big ol’ circular game of telephone where no one actually does any fact-checking. Then The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN all publish the same fake story.”

Although Pool made those big-name outlets look like irresponsible amateurs, he doesn’t have a journalism degree. In fact, he didn’t even finish high school. He dropped out of school and just started videotaping what interested him, funding his videos with ads and donations from viewers.

“I want to know why things are happening. Some people don’t trust the media. I don’t know who to believe. Why don’t I just go there and see for myself?”

That’s brought him more than a million internet subscribers.

It’s also made him an advocate for free speech.

“When I was growing up, it was the religious conservatives that had the moral panic about music and swear words. But today the moral panic is coming from the left. Today, the left shows up with torches and burns free speech signs.”

I’m glad there are young journalists like Pool, who still value open debate.

Actually, we have lots of new media options today.

Joe Rogan’s podcast covers viewpoints from all sides. He has won a huge audience.

Dave Rubin reports on YouTube from a classical liberal perspective.

Naomi Brockwell covers how tech is changing the world.

On the right, Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, and Candace Owens irreverently critique my New York City neighbors’ sacred cows.

On the left, Sam Harris has attracted a big podcast following by discussing all kinds of ideas, and Jimmy Dore takes a principled left-wing stand.

I don’t agree with all those new media people. I very much disagree with some of them. But I’m glad they are out there, giving us more choice.

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2019-05-07 14:10:27

Tim Pool is part of what some call the new media—citizen journalists who work for themselves.

Increasingly, John Stossel says, such journalists cover things the mainstream media misses.

That brings them viewers. More than a million people subscribe to Pool’s online channels.

Pool leans left and supported Bernie Sanders. But he reports whatever he sees.

Earlier this year, the media jumped on a video of a grinning Covington High School kid wearing a Trump hat, claiming he was taunting a native American man—but Pool was skeptical.

“All of these big news outlets, even the Washington Post, CNN, they immediately made the assumption ‘he must be a racist,'” Pool told Stossel.

“I didn’t make that assumption … I said, I have no idea what this is. I just see a guy banging a drum and a kid with a weird look on his face. So I looked at some other videos,” Pool said.

On YouTube, Pool found a longer clip of the encounter and used that to show that the Native American elder approached the kids as they waited for a bus—not the other way around, as had been claimed. There was no evidence that the kids were racist.

“No one watched the longer video?” Stossel asks?

“Nope,” Pool says. “Here’s what happens. One left-wing journalist says, look at this racist. His buddy sees it and says, wow, look at this racist. And that’s a big ole circular game of telephone where no one actually does any fact-checking. And then—New York Times, Washington Post, CNN all publish the same fake story.”

Pool, along with Reason’s Robby Soave, told the real story.

Pool wouldn’t have been hired by most legacy media outlets—he doesn’t have a college degree. Or even a high school degree.

“I like it that you’re a high school dropout,” Stossel tells Pool.

“Yeah, me too,” Pool says. Instead of going through the traditional education system, Pool learned to report by actually doing it.

He got his start filming Occupy Wall Street and posting his videos online. He also covered fighting in Ferguson, Missouri, in Ukraine, and in Catalonia.

But his video that got the most views on YouTube is one where he went to Sweden to find out the truth about alleged “no-go zones.”

“Your video said what?” Stossel asks.

“That it was nuanced,” Pool replies. Crime is up after Sweden took a lot of refugees, but still really low by American standards.

“You got lots of views with nuance?” Stossel replies.

“Yeah … Here’s what I think happens. The establishment, the corporate media … They seem to have a narrative on these things,” Pool says. “The average person just wants some kind of honest take on it.”

Pool is part of a new wave of independent journalists and thinkers—leftists, centrists libertarians, and conservatives—who use the new media to get the word out.

Stossel says he’s glad that gives us more options.

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.


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2019-05-01 04:01:15

Socialists like Bernie Sanders tell us that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

That’s a lie.

Yes, rich people got absurdly rich. Last year, says Oxfam, “the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased (by) $2.5 billion a day.”

I say, so what?

The poor did not get poorer. Bernie’s wrong about that. The poor are much better off.

“As we’ve increased the number of billionaires around the world, extreme poverty has shrunk,” says former investment banker Carol Roth in my video about inequality.

She is right. Over the past 30 years, more than a billion people climbed out of extreme poverty. Thanks to capitalism, more than a billion people no longer struggle to survive on a few pennies a day.

Bernie is correct when he says that the wealth gap between rich and poor grew. In America over the last 40 years, the richest people got 200 percent richer, while poor Americans got just 32 percent richer. But again, so what?

Gaining 32 percent is a very good thing (all these numbers are adjusted for inflation).

Everyone’s better off, despite the improvement not being even. It never is.

Now the myth:

The media claim in America there’s “a lack of income mobility”—that people born poor are likely to stay poor.

Some do. It’s true that people with rich parents have a big advantage. But it’s a myth that Americans are locked into their economic class.

Economists at Harvard and Berkeley crunched the numbers and found most people born to the richest fifth of Americans fell out of that bracket within 20 years.

Likewise, most born to the poorest fifth climb to a higher quintile. Some make it all the way to the top.

In fact, says Roth, “3 out of 4 Americans will hit that top 20 percent at some point in their lifetime.”

You see America’s income mobility on the Forbes richest list. Most of the billionaires are self-made. They didn’t inherit money. They created their wealth.

Still, the very rich are ridiculously rich. The Forbes billionaires have more money than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population.

“Unfair!” say the progressives. “It doesn’t matter if nearly everyone got richer, income inequality itself is a huge problem.”

It’s “threatening to tear us apart!” says New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

It might, if people come to believe that inequality itself is evil. But one question: Why is that true?

Progressives like to point out that in Scandinavian countries, people say they are happier than Americans. Scandinavians have more equal incomes than Americans.

But that proves nothing. Incomes are more equal in Afghanistan, too. Incomes are more equal when everyone is poor.

Forget money for a moment and think about how impossible it would be to make everyone equal.

I’ll never sing as well as Adele or play basketball like LeBron. The best athletes, singers, dancers, etc., are just physically different. I’ll never be as self-confident as Donald Trump or as verbally smooth as AOC.

“There’s inequality in everything. There’s inequality in free time, inequality in parents. I don’t have any parents or grandparents,” says Roth. “I have two kidneys. There are people out there who need one, don’t have one that functions. Should the government take my kidney because somebody else needs it?”

I suggest to her that some people having so much more than others is just inherently unfair.

“Life is unfair!” she replied. “Unfair is good. Unfair is a feature. It’s not a bug!”

Certainly, it’s wrong if government makes rules that create inequality.

Racist laws forbidding some ethnic groups to do business where they please, or restricting where they live, are evil.

So are government subsidies to rich people and well-connected corporations.

But allowing people to be different from one another, to employ their unique talents and succeed or fail by them, to rise as high as the market will bear—that’s an important part of freedom.

We won’t all end up in the same place, but most of us will be more prosperous than if government decided our limits.

And we will be freer.

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2019-04-30 14:10:59

Politicians and reporters often rail about “the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.”

But as John Stossel explains, it’s not true.

In fact, the incomes of poor and middle-income Americans are up 32 percent since the government began keeping track several decades ago.

Yes, that increase is adjusted for inflation.

Another misleading claim, says Stossel, is the idea that the U.S. “no longer has economic mobility.”

But a paper in The Quarterly Journal of Economics found that most people born to the richest fifth of Americans fall out of that bracket within 20 years (Table 2). Likewise, most born to the poorest fifth climb to a higher quintile. Some climb all the way to the top.

Another claim is that inequality itself is a huge problem.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warns: “There’s inequality in this country right now that is threatening to tear us apart.”

Stossel says that it might tear us apart—but only if people come to believe that all inequality is evil.

But it isn’t, he says. It’s just part of life. Some people are better singers than others. The best athletes are just physically different.

Society doesn’t try to equalize those things—or many others—for good reason.

Former investment banker Carol Roth tell Stossel, “I have two kidneys. There are people out there who need one, don’t have one that functions. Should the government be able to take my kidney because somebody else needs it?”

“There’s inequality in everything,” she adds. “There’s inequality in free time. There’s inequality in parents. I don’t have any parents or grandparents. Life is unfair…unfair is a feature. It’s not a bug.”

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2019-04-24 04:00:46

The Green New Deal’s goal is to move America to zero carbon emissions in 10 years.

“That’s a goal you could only imagine possible if you have no idea how energy is produced,” James Meigs, former editor of Popular Mechanics magazine, says in my latest video.

“Renewable is so inconsistent,” he adds. “You can’t just put in wind turbines and solar panels. You have to build all this infrastructure to connect them with energy consumers.”

Because wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, “renewable” energy requires many more transmission lines, and bigger batteries.

Unfortunately, says Meigs: “You have to mine materials for batteries. Those mines are environmentally hazardous. Disposing of batteries is hazardous.”

“Batteries are a lousy way to store energy,” adds physicist Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Also, the ingredients of green energy, like battery packs, are far from green.

“You have to consume 100 barrels of oil in China to make that battery pack,” he explains. “Dig up 1,000 pounds of stuff to process it. Digging is done with oil, by big machines, so we’re consuming energy to ‘save’ energy—not a good path to go.”

Still, wind turbines and solar batteries are 10 times more efficient than when they were first introduced! That’s not good enough, writes Mills, to make “the new energy economy” anything more than “magical thinking.”

“They hit physics limits. In comic books, Tony Stark has a magic power source, but physics makes it impossible to make solar 10 times better again.”

The dream of “green” causes us to misdirect resources. Even after billions in government subsidies, solar still makes up less than 1 percent of America’s energy—wind just 2 percent. And even that energy isn’t really “clean.”

“We use billions of tons of hydrocarbons to make the windmills that are already in the world, and we’ve only just begun to make them at the level people claim they would like them to be built,” says Mills. “Pursue a path of wind, solar and batteries, we increase how much we dig up and move by a thousand-fold.”

“You gotta clear-cut the forest. These machines kill a lot of birds,” says Meigs. “I agree that we should bring down our carbon emissions…but we should also make sure we’re spending money on stuff that really works.”

There is one energy source, though, that efficiently produces lots of power with no carbon emissions: nuclear.

But people fear it. They point to the Chernobyl plant accident in Ukraine, and Fukushima in Japan.

“The Chernobyl plant design was idiotically bad,” says Meigs. They don’t make nuclear plants like that anymore.

What about Fukushima?

“Fukushima helps prove how safe nuclear power really is. No one was killed.”

I pointed out that people were killed during the evacuation.

Fear of radiation killed people,” responded Meigs. They evacuated older people who didn’t need to go.

People fear what they don’t understand and what they can’t see.

“A dam breaks, and hundreds of thousands of people die. Nuclear plants, their safety, ironically, is actually evident in their accidents!” says Mills.

“More people have fallen off of roofs installing solar panels than have been killed in the entire history of nuclear power in the U.S.,” adds Meigs.

Yet after Fukushima, Germany shut down its nuclear plants. That led to higher electricity prices and increased carbon emissions because Germany burned coal to make up for the loss of nuclear power.

Likewise, “in Bernie Sanders’ home state of Vermont, they shut down their nuclear plant. Guess what happened? Carbon emissions went up,” recounts Meigs. “This supposedly green state, ultra-liberal Vermont, went backwards.”

If a Green New Deal is ever implemented, says Mills, it would rob the poor by raising energy costs, while “giving money to wealthy people in the form of subsidies to buy $100,000 cars, to put expensive solar arrays on their roofs or to be investors in wind farms.”

“It’s upside-down Robin Hood,” he adds. “That’s a bad deal.”

Yet a majority of Americans—including Republicans surveyed—say they support some version of it.

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Earlier this week, a federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld an injunction issued by a federal district court in Texas against the federal government, thereby preventing it from implementing President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Critics had argued—and two federal courts have now agreed—that the orders effectively circumvented federal law and were essentially unconstitutional. Though the injunction on its face restrains officials in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it is really a restraint on the president himself.

Here is the back story: President Obama has long wished to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws to make it easier for people who are here illegally to remain here and to make it easier for them eventually to acquire the attributes of citizenship. He may have a big-hearted moral motivation, or he may have a partisan political motivation. I don’t know which it is, but his motivation has driven him to use extra-constitutional means to achieve his ends.

During his first term in office, he attempted to have federal laws changed—quite properly at first—by offering proposals to Congress, which it rejected. That rejection left in place a complex regulatory scheme that is partially administered by DHS and partially by the Department of Justice. It left about 11.3 million people unlawfully present in the United States.

The conscious decision of Congress not to change the law in the face of such a large number of undocumented people here left those people, adults and children, exposed to deportation. It also left them entitled to financial benefits paid for by the states in which they reside.

Deportation is a lengthy and expensive process. The courts have ruled that all people subject to deportation are entitled to a hearing, with counsel paid for by the government. If they lose, they are entitled to an appeal, with counsel paid for by the government. The government has teams of prosecutors, defense counsel, and judges who address only deportations. The highest number of people the government has successfully deported in a year is about 250,000, which was done in 2013. If you add removals without trial (many are voluntary) and rejections at the border, the number swells to 438,000 a year.

While awaiting deportation, those people here unlawfully and not confined are entitled to the social safety net that states offer everyone else, as well as the direct benefits states make available to citizens, such as public schooling, access to hospital emergency rooms, and housing and personal living assistance.

Frustrated that Congress thwarted his will, President Obama—resorting to his now infamous and probably regretted one-liner that he can govern by using a pen and a phone—issued a series of executive orders in 2012 to various federal agencies, directing them to cease deportation of undocumented people if they complied with certain standards that the president wished of them. The standards, compliance with which would bar deportation, were essentially the same as those that the president had sought and Congress had rejected.

Can the president write his own laws or procedures?

In the litigation that came to a head early this week, 26 states, led by Texas, sued the federal government. In that lawsuit, the states argued that they would be made to endure unbearable financial burdens if the undocumented folks stayed where they are and if the states continued to make the same social safety net available to them as they make available to their lawful residents. Thus, the states argued, the president forced the states to spend money they hadn’t budgeted or collected to support a legal scheme that Congress had not only never authorized but expressly rejected.

Can the president write his own laws and procedures?

The states also argued in their lawsuit that if the DHS and DOJ complied with the president’s executive orders, those federal departments would be exceeding their authority under the statutes because the president was exceeding his authority. This is a president who has argued dozens of times in public that he is not a king and that he lacks the ability to recast the laws as he wishes they had been written.

Can the president write his own laws and procedures?

In a word: No. The president can issue executive orders to officials in the executive branch of government directing those officials to enforce the laws as the president wishes them to be enforced— within the letter and spirit of those laws. But those executive orders cannot write new laws or revise old laws or ignore existing laws that the Congress clearly expects to be enforced. That is just what a federal district court judge ruled earlier this year and just what a federal appellate court ruled in affirming the district court earlier this week.

All people who embrace the rule of law—whether they are for open borders or for an impenetrable border wall—should embrace these rulings because they keep the president within the confines of the Constitution, which he has sworn to uphold.

Under our constitutional system of supposedly limited government, all legislative power is vested in Congress. The president enforces the laws; he doesn’t write them. His oath of office commits him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and it further commits him to enforce the federal laws “faithfully”—meaning whether he personally agrees with them or not.

The clash between the president and the courts is as old as our republic itself. Courts are traditionally loath to interfere with the business of Congress or the president. Yet when the behavior of another branch of government defies core constitutional norms, it is the duty of the courts in a case properly before them to say what the Constitution means and to order compliance with it.


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