The March for Science

TL;DR: Science Says, Increasing Tech-Literacy, And The Corpse Shah

Science Says, Increasing Tech-Literacy, And The Corpse Shah

The March for Science

Here’s what you need to know…

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that is “an attack on science” and a “gift to polluters.” Well, that is only if you believe the scary rhetoric used by its opponents at the start of what promises to be an intense 30-day public comment period on the controversial rule. Administrator Scott Pruitt and his handling of the EPA have been under intense scrutiny, for reasons both of policyand personality, making it difficult to evaluate proposed rule changes of consequence like this one on their merits alone. Here are the facts you need to know about the EPA’s proposed rule to “strengthen” science, which has been an issue at the forefront of the Trump era:

  • Why Is The Rule Needed? According to the National Association of Scholars, there is a reproducibility crisis across a wide range of modern science and social-scientific disciplines. The findings of many influential journal articles have been unable to be reproduced, whether because of the improper use of statistics, groupthink, arbitrary research techniques, or some other flaw – a topic which should be familiar to regular readers of this newsletter. In work presented in Science in 2015, only 39% of 100 prominent psychology studies could be successfully replicated by independent researchers, suggesting that even top scientific journals suffer from this problem. This crisis poses significant challenges as policymakers propose and implement rules and regulations based on what may simply be supposed scientific findings of much consequence, which is why new standards for using findings to inform policymaking have been proposed for some time.
  • What Does The Proposed Rule Actually Do? The EPA’s rule would “ensure that the regulatory science underlying Agency actions is fully transparent, and that underlying scientific information is publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent validation.” It would do so by requiring the EPA to publish all scientific data used to support studies that inform clean-air and clean-water rules, as well as forbid the use of studies that do not meet this new standard. The EPA would not be the first agency to implement guidelines to enhance the rigor, reproducibility, and transparency of science used as a basis for federal regulations. The National Institutes of Health unveiled new standards to achieve these goals during the Obama Administration.
  • Why Is It Controversial? The proposed rule has been disparaged by critics as “disastrous for public health” because it could result in less science in policymaking due to the burden placed upon the government to spend time and money redacting confidential information like medical records, or disqualifying research that includes sensitive data altogether, before scientific findings are made public. Because of the perceived impact on the environment, opponents of the rule have also attacked the EPA for putting the “profits of regulated industries over the health of the American people.” However, the crux of the matter may be deeper than that: a crisis of trust. Partisans on all sides see scientific evidence from their own perspectives, and selective distrust of science will therefore never disappear, instead fueling debates on controversial regulatory proposals like this one ad infinitum. Even if you agree with the proposed rule, there may be little trust in Administrator Pruitt, whom the USA TodayEditorial Board called an “ethical train wreck,” to correctly implement it, or, conversely, you may worry about a future administrator in a Democratic administration using the rule to obviate contrarian studies that raise questions regarding the need or efficacy of new rules and regulations.
  • What Happens Now? The public has until May 30th to submit their comments, and The Union Of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to the EPA urging the comment period to be extended to a minimum of 60 days with public hearings across the U.S. A group of scientific journals have also released a joint statement critical of the proposed rule, suggesting that the controversial rule will be the subject of significant comment, as well as a target of scrutiny and hyperbole, in this short period of time. Should the rule move forward, it is almost certain to face legal challenges by environmentalists concerned that it raises the bar too high for studies they believe are raising issues for the EPA to address.

On its merits, a proposed rule to ensure the reproducibility of scientific findings that inform approximately $394 billion worth of EPA regulations should be a welcome development, regardless of political persuasion. Unless, that is, scientific findings and standards are only worthy of defense when they confirm and further a political ideology, irrespective of rigor and reproducibility, which is why this reasonable sounding rule has caused such a furor.

News You Can Use

THINGS AREN’T ALWAYS AS THEY SEEM

Two recent, although quite different, stories in the news illustrate the value of an information advantage when it comes to making sense of the relentless information flows in the public arena. In the former, photographer Marcio Cabral told Wildlife Photographer of the Year judges that he had spent three years returning to the Brazilian plains, waiting for the perfect moment to capture his award-winning photo of an anteater digging into a termite mound. On tips from anonymous third-parties, however, an investigation was launched into the photo, ultimately uncovering that it was a fraud – and that the anteater was stuffed!

Meanwhile, the nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson withdrew his name from consideration after coming under considerable fire alleging misconduct on the job, despite his and The White House’s dispute of the allegations, some of which were shown by public records to be highly questionable to begin with. Yet, that unfortunately did not stop Democratic Senator Jon Tester from leaking the allegations against Jackson before having all of the facts.

The public arena is fast-moving, and things are not always as they seem. Whether it is a photo of an anteater or the reputation of a Rear Admiral, having an information advantage that understands vulnerabilities and what you’re up against, is key to preventing unforced errors and achieving your public affairs objectives.

ANCESTRY.CON?

After killing 12 people between 1978 and 1986, as well as committing a number of other heinous acts, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo was taken into custody from his suburban middle-class home outside of Sacramento last week. DeAngelo, who authorities believe is the elusive Golden State Killer, was caught in part due to a string of DNA evidence that was recorded at several crime scenes and linked to DNA evidence contained on a consumer genealogical website like Ancestry.com, 23andme, and MyHeritage.

The consumer genealogical website significantly reduced the size of the search and the possible suspects, although the exact details surrounding how authorities used the sites remains confidential. While it is certainly a welcome development that victims’ families will receive closure and a dangerous individual is no longer loose, the use of consumer genealogical sites by law enforcement, which have already raised ethical and privacy concerns for some time, may again draw attention from regulators to examine privacy and data protections in the burgeoning genetic testing industry.

THE CORPSE SHAH

The Iranian theocracy is facing numerous threats – unemployment, economic mismanagement, pressure over its nuclear program, continued popular protests – but the latest threat may be from the mummified corpse of someone who has been dead since 1944. While renovating a Shiite shrine near the site of the former tomb of Reza Shah Pahlavi in Tehran, construction workers are believed to have uncovered the missing remains of the late king, whose son and monarchy was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The monarchy, which was at the time “widely seen as corrupt, despotic and dissolute,” is now viewed as being responsible for ambitious construction and education projects that led to the modernization of the country in the early 20th century. Regardless of whether this newfound appreciation for the monarchy is due to nostalgia, the bigotry of low expectations, or a combination of both, the Iranian regime has downplayed the story, suggesting they understand the threat to their power from a viral narrative that raises awareness of the modernizations under the monarchy in contrast with the increasingly despotic regime that took power in its place.

INCREASING TECH-LITERACY

Fact-finding is a staple for legislators responsible for policymaking, whether achieved through congressional delegation travel or public hearings. However, if some of the questions asked during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony last month before Congress showed anything, it is that many legislators would benefit from greater technological literacy, as the policies they then craft would be the product of an understanding of not only the common technologies, but also provide a framework for addressing the “foundational questions of accountability, fairness, and abuse of power” that stem from them.

Should policymakers take responsibility for gaining more foundational tech knowledge, the media may also have an integral role to play as well, because measured journalism – rather than “click bait fodder” – that raises the level of knowledge on these issues can help hasten this digitally-enhanced future, although judging from the fallout of the White House Correspondents Dinner, that may be too much to ask.

Anti-Pipeline Agenda Over Policies

TL;DR: Anti-Pipeline Agenda Over Policies, Census Hysteria, And Digital Assistants’ Next Act?

Anti-Pipeline Agenda Over Policies, Census Hysteria, And Digital Assistants’ Next Act?

Anti-Pipeline Agenda Over Policies

Here’s what you need to know…

In a retrospective piece celebrating protesters that gathered at Standing Rock in 2016 and 2017 to fight against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), one veteran of the protests told Buzzfeed, “I’m still fighting. I’m only done when that pipeline is dug out of that ground. I’ve only just begun.” Another declared, “After Standing Rock there will be so much more to fight for. Corporations and dirty politicians might have thought they won the battle, but they will not win the war.” It is not surprising, given these comments, that energy executives gathered in Houston last month for CERAWeek, one of the premiere energy events in the world, had the issue of protests at the top of their minds. But do these potentially disrupting events matter outside of the industry?

In vowing to “fight back” against environmental activism and sabotage, pipeline CEOs have made clear that the clashes at DAPL, the biggest story of 2016 after the presidential election, were not a one-off occurrence. They were a demarcation into a new age of activism, which has only continued to percolate beneath the surface – and appear at other energy projects across North America. While this key issue does not tend to reach national attention until protests become massive, its implications could impact the economy and our security before then. Here is what you need to know about it:

  1. Energy Activism Past? Not So Fast: Anti-pipeline protesters reaffirmed that Standing Rock was only the beginning. As an activist told Buzzfeed, the “sacred fire in the camp left with all of us and ignited a larger movement of Water Protectors all over the globe. Standing Rock was the beginning of something special and the work is not done.” This “sacred fire” has gained significant momentum, with DAPL veterans leading protests across the continent. Don Gentry, the chairman of the Klamath Tribes in Oregon, published a New York Times op-ed saying the next Standing Rock fight is against the Jordan Cove terminal and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline in the Northwest. He is far from the only activist hoping to create the next DAPL. The increased media coverage of DAPL veterans highlights that energy activism is continuing, despite the lull in coverage over the prior year. If anything, the consequences of the upcoming confrontations may be more severe.
  2. Financial And Legal Actions Threaten Economic Growth: Notably, new climate lawsuits have the potential to result in disastrous financial and legal consequences for the energy industry and the millions of jobs that depend on it. Besides financial reparations, climate change cases could establish a new legal standard that environmentalists will use across the country to block critical infrastructure projects necessary for meeting American and global energy needs. Should courts in different jurisdictions reach different conclusions, it could also potentially set up a U.S. Supreme Court battle that further politicizes and polarizes views of the industry. If courts start being more sympathetic to activists, as some are already doing, energy companies could be stuck in litigation for years. In addition, divestment campaigns targeting major financial institutions backing pipeline projects and fossil fuels investment continue, posing serious political and reputational risk to the financial sector.
  3. Energy Tensions Impacting National Security: A report by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology concluded that Russians exploited American social media to promote a campaign hurting fossil fuel research and the expansion of natural gas development in the U.S., with the ultimate goal of benefitting the Russian energy sector. Prominently, the report also claimed the Russian government may have funneled money to U.S. environmental NGOs, including the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. While the committee provided little evidence of this funding in their public report, Russian-funded propaganda outlets, such as RT and Sputnik, frequently promote leaders from these groups and their messaging has been utilized in Russian influence campaigns. More broadly, as long as Europe depends on Russian natural gas – highlighted by Germany’s approval last week of Russian oil giant Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline a day after expelling four Russian diplomats due to the Skripal poisoning in the United Kingdom, as well as the import of natural gas to the U.S. from a sanctioned Russian company in January – national security challenges are ripe to be exacerbated by environmentalists seeking to advance their green agenda.
  4. Enviros Focus On Pipelines Over People: New England’s extremely cold winter has already pushed its energy grid to the brink, and it will likely happen again, making the need for more pipeline infrastructure for natural gas critical to “relieving this constraint” and preventing a future of “rolling blackouts” at the precise time residents in the region need energy the most. Unfortunately, the Northeast is an epicenter of energy activism, illustrated by the 2015 protest in West Roxbury, Massachusetts where 198 activists were arrested protesting a gas pipeline. Last week, a judge acquitted 13 of those protesters after they argued that their actions to stop climate change were a legal “necessity.” If activists are able to find more sympathetic judges like this one across the country, the climate action defense could become common and encourage more lawless tactics by protesters that damage property and threaten public safety, greatly impacting law-abiding residents of all and no ideology who depend on energy.

Although not featured in today’s national media spotlight, actions taken by environmentalists to advance their anti-pipeline agenda across North America have ramifications on policies well-beyond the energy sector. While energy executives at CERAWeek were discussing the implications of this activism on their businesses, their attention should serve as a warning to policymakers and business leaders who need to take this risk seriously and prepare for it now – before the next crisis hits.

News You Can Use

CENSUS HYSTERIA

Seventeen states, seven cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors are suing the Census Bureau and Commerce Department to remove a new citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The lawsuit, which is the third filed on this issue in just two weeks, has led to hysteria alleging sinister motives, everything from “suppress[ing] the political influence of Latinos and communities of color” to “whitewash[ing] Latinos out of existence.” The Census has not asked all U.S. households a question about citizenship since 1950, although it has continually asked some variation of the question to a subsample of households using the now-defunct “long form” or ongoing annual surveys, and, ironically, the Justice Department asked to reintroduce the citizenship question to help with its enforcement of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which requires majority-minority districts.

Given that the Obama Administration used Section Two “as a cudgel against GOP redistricting plans and voter ID laws,” and that its increased and more informed enforcement would “continue a longtime progressive policy,” the hysteria surrounding the Census seems to be an overreaction based on hostility to this Administration, rather than the policy itself. As with many claims about policy pronouncements in the Trump era, we would all do well to take a deep breath, because the hysteria obfuscates the facts about the important policy question at hand and makes it more difficult to address meaningful problems with proposals.

DIGITAL ASSISTANTS’ NEXT ACT?

Amazon and Google, makers of the Alexa and Google Home digital assistant devices, recently filed patents that outline what the future may look like for devices that monitor what their owners do or say at home. Among the patents under consideration include a “voice sniffer algorithm” that can hear and analyze words in real-time to tailor ads, audio monitoring to detect whether a child is engaged in mischief, and even an application to determine a speaker’s mood.

Both companies insist that their devices only record and process audio “after users trigger them by pushing a button or uttering a phrase,” but with high scrutiny due in part to calls to regulate Facebook and other tech firms amid growing mistrust of tech in a “post-Cambridge Analytica world,” the legal and ethical implications of such technologies raise further questions for policymakers to consider as they build the regulatory framework for proliferating 21st century technologies. It also shows that in this era, public records that used to be fairly inaccessible to the public can now bring significant scrutiny if not presented correctly.

UNDERWATER, NOT UNAPPRECIATED, CABLES 

The increased activity of Russian ships and submarines around underwater communications cables is causing alarm among the U.S. and its allies, who fear “the Kremlin might be taking information warfare to new depths.” There are approximately 400 fiber-optic cables that run 620,000 miles under the sea, which are mostly owned by private companies, and “carry almost all of the communications on the internet – including calls, emails, texts and $10 trillion worth of daily financial transactions.”

It remains to be seen whether Moscow is interested in cutting the cables, tapping into them, posturing, or perhaps there is a completely innocent explanation altogether. However, particularly in the aftermath of cyber offensives on the U.S. energy grid and the political processes in the U.S. and Europe, critical underwater communications infrastructure that is vital to business and national security operations should be included in the policymakers’ public policy discussions to protect critical infrastructure going forward, or otherwise risk being the target tomorrow’s asymmetrical offensive.

BIG OIL TO BIG ELECTRIC?

Royal Dutch Shell and Total, Europe’s biggest private oil producers, are dipping their toes into a whole new market that may foreshadow the future for Big Oil. With growth in renewable energy and electric vehicles, as well as pressure to limit climate change, Shell and Total expect low-carbon electricity to become more prevalent within the coming decades and are buying or creating retail power businesses in preparation.

Maarten Wetselaar, Shell’s head of gas and new energies, said such investment “makes [Shell] future proof in a world where electricity becomes the biggest game in town,” although selling electricity profitably and competing with tech companies that may enter the space mean that success is anything but certain. Regardless, Shell’s and Total’s “long-term bet” on an increasingly electric future suggests one way some Big Oil firms are shifting toward “Big Energy” as the public pressure for cleaner energy increases and the market provides opportunities to adapt.

The Changing Nature Of Energy Activism Means Pipelines Can’t Wait For Crisis To Hit

The Changing Nature Of Energy Activism Means Pipelines Can’t Wait For Crisis To Hit

The Overview: Newsbase’s North American Oil & Gas reports, “Last week marked the first anniversary of the closure of the camps in North Dakota that at one point had held thousands of protesters against the Dakota Access pipeline project. Still, the influence of that event looms large, and stands to shape how future demonstrations against energy projects might be carried out.”

Why It Matters: In speaking with Newsbase for the article, Delve Founder & CEO Jeff Berkowitz discussed the changing nature of opposition to energy infrastructure projects, viewing the Dakota Access pipeline protests beginning in Fall 2016 “as a demarcation into a new age of activism.” Indeed, this new age was a prominent feature at this year’s CERAWeek conference, where pipeline CEOs vowed to fight back against today’s more intense, coordinated, and sophisticated environmental activism.

As Newsbase’s Sam Wright warned, “[P]revention is certainly easier than finding a cure. But for those oper­ators that are further down the line, along with their backers, highly visible demonstra­tions are here to stay, especially in the current political climate.”

How We Got Here:

  • “Prior to [DAPL], protests against infrastructure and drilling activity had largely involved com­munities raising concerns over issues such as land value and local environmental impact … This changed with the Keystone XL project” when activist pressure “entered the political sphere, and the project was rejected by former US President Barack Obama in 2015.”
  • “Buoyed by this success and seeking new causes, the movement shifted its focus to the US$3.78 billion Dakota Access project … ‘All of a sudden, you had 10,000 activists, in camps, 90% of which weren’t from North Dakota, and didn’t have a stake in the local issues but were using it to make a broader point,’ Delve’s founder and CEO, Jeff Berkowitz.”

What Comes Next:

  • “[E]ven though protesters failed to stop Dakota Access from being completed, the momentum behind opposition to new projects remains strong. A “Week of Action” is currently under way at the site of Energy Transfer’s Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana. … Meanwhile, Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project in northern Minnesota … has already seen several arrests” of “protesters that oppose the project chaining themselves to equip­ment and blocking streets. Similar tactics have also been used at the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline in Pennsylvania … And the Trans Mountain expan­sion project in Canada has seen numerous demonstrations …”

Was DAPL An Exception? Maybe Not:

  • “In the US, the ongoing wave of protests is per­haps also being spurred by the change in gov­ernment. Under Obama, the federal government was relatively sympathetic to environmental issues and activists … With Trump’s ambitions to build infrastruc­ture and promote ‘energy dominance’ – as well as his more combative nature – some of the tradi­tional avenues for opponents to have their voices heard on energy projects have been shut down.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, many protesters think that this gives them little option other than to take to the streets. This was acknowledged recently by Lancas­ter Against Pipelines’ co-founder, Mark Clatter­buck, whose group opposes the Atlantic Sunrise development,” who claimed they “had ‘tried every means available to us, and what we’ve come to realise is that the local communities actually don’t have the ability to legally stop a project like this’.”
  • “[T]his has prompted a willingness to try new methods. Many groups now routinely publish lists of financial institutions that back the energy projects they oppose. For example, the website of the No Bayou Bridge Solidarity Campaign has listed Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo offices on its ‘targets map’ …”

What Can Firms Do To Protect Themselves?

  • “In turn, said Berkowitz, this means that operators are coming under greater pressure to have firm plans in place to deal with activism from the very beginning. ‘Firms are going to have to add this element of due diligence, and if they don’t want to, the banks and the project financiers are going to force them to … We are hearing this a lot from the project finance side, where people are saying that political and reputational risk has to be a key part of the due diligence process.’”
  • This due diligence process, Berkowitz explained, “means understanding who is likely to get engaged, who are the local officials, the landowners and so on … If you do your community outreach … the less sympathetic these stakeholders are to activists because they already know you… You have to do it right, though. It can’t just be a town hall meeting where you show up and answer some questions. It has to be real and meaningful engagement with the community.”
Strategic Minerals

TL;DR: The Fight Over Strategic Minerals, Writers Fit To Vet, And 23 & Me & You?

The Fight Over Strategic Minerals, Writers Fit To Vet, And 23 & Me & You?

Strategic Minerals

Here’s what you need to know…

While you were watching the Olympics or glued to the latest 24-hour news cycle, Toyota Motor Corporation announced that it is preparing to rollout an electric engine that includes as much as 50 percent less rare earth minerals due to its concern about a future shortage of supply. This seemingly innocuous announcement, however, is a rather public display highlighting the emerging fight over strategic minerals that will have major innovation, industrial, national security, and policy implications in the future. Here is our analysis to help you navigate this issue as it gains prominence:

  1. What Are Strategic Minerals? Strategic minerals is a broad term to group various rare earth elements and metals together like platinum, uranium, phosphorus, and others.  These minerals are critical for nearly every aspect of modern life including electronics, smartphones, electric vehicles, agricultural products, defense technology, and more.
  2. Why Are Strategic Minerals In High Demand? The consumption of these minerals outpaces the amount of supply, which is why Toyota’s announcement was important. Control of mineral deposits is heavily concentrated in a limited number of countries and companies, making unpredictable price and availability fluctuations common. For example, Chinese companies control 90 to 95 percent of the rare earths market, 64 percent of the world’s coltan supply is located in the chaos-filled Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Africa and Russia control nearly all of the world’s platinum reserves – meaning that economic and political tensions caused by the inequality of these resources will escalate as the supplies become more scarce.
  3. Strategic Minerals And U.S. National Security: Given their prominence in military technology and the manufacturing economy, access to strategic minerals is a national security consideration. Semiconductors, microchips, and programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and B-21 deep strike bomber depend on these minerals, and attention is being paid to the need to implement a policy to lessen the stranglehold of a country like China, which has leveraged its advantage in rare earths and used it to exert political pressure on other countries in the past.
  4. The Looming Mineral Shortage: Technologies like electric vehicles and smartphones require the extraction of strategic minerals to produce, but as more ambitious production goals are set, as a recent analysis by Recurrent Investment Advisors found, it is increasingly unlikely that the supply can meet the demand, particularly in countries where supply chains are underdeveloped or nonexistent. Further, the existing production levels must increase by an exorbitant amount, and this inability to extract the minerals will lead to exponentially higher prices due to scarcity.
  5. The Challenges To U.S. Domestic Mineral Development: The development of strategic mineral deposits, of which there are thought to be large repositories in the Western U.S., is viewed as “destructive” by elements of the environmentalist movement because of the pollution that may result from mining operations. In addition, the environmentalist movement opposes the Administration’s decision to open federal lands in the Western U.S. to mining, preferring to “protect” the lands rather than “open them up to mineral development.”
  6. What Does The Policy Environment Look Like Going Forward? With an executive order issued in December on a “Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” that explores increased domestic exploration and streamlined permitting for mining, and investment in efforts to extract rare earths from coal mining waste, the policy environment is ripe for harnessing America’s domestic strategic minerals – in a similar way domestic energy has been before it.

The never-ending quest for innovation is incumbent on the ability to develop new technologies, which in turn, are absolutely dependent on strategic minerals. Bringing new technologies to market means bringing down the costs of acquiring them to make them accessible to more people. Yet more of these technologies are demanding more of these minerals, leading towards higher costs and dwindling supplies. Everything from cars to wind turbines depend on them, suggesting that the key to more efficient and effective technologies is inextricably linked with getting strategic minerals out of the ground unless and until someone can discover an alternative to them.

News You Can Use

ALL THE WRITERS FIT TO VET

If you blinked, you may have missed The New York Times newest tech opinion writer. Quinn Norton, the former head of opinion writing on technology for Wired magazine, was hired and fired by the Times within seven short hours. After the hire was announced, a “newly curious” public unearthed a collection of old tweets from her Twitter account that used slurs and “revealed a friendship with [an] infamous neo-Nazi.”

Criticism mounted on Twitter, and the political and reputational damage resulting from the hire led to the editorial page editor releasing a statement calling the disparaging tweets “new information to [the Times]. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways,” which goes to show that whether in politics or business or media, vetting matters.

ENDING “STOLEN CAR” MAJORITIES

Veteran Capitol Hill advisor Michael Boland has a solution to fix what he deems a “broken process” in government where the political party in power “drives its majority like a stolen car,” misusing it “to dictate a policy outcome.” Rather than bring one policy prescription to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote, Boland instead suggests returning to a time when multiple alternative prescriptions were brought to the floor to be debated and voted on, with the proposal garnering the most votes prevailing.

In addition to living up to the Constitution’s division of power to insulate government “from the passions of the moment,” Boland believes that such a fix will lead to better policy results and make people less angry about today’s two-party system. While this step may help restore integrity to the internal process by which government works, it may also help strengthen the republic in another significant way: by making the public less susceptible to being influenced by social media bots that feed off public anger.

23 & ME & YOU? 

With the personal genetics business booming, can genetics-based science be applied to dating to find your soulmate? With services in existence that collect DNA to match users with “genetically compatible mates” for only $15.99, it would appear the answer is yes. But a Smithsonian magazine article shows that the science behind this is not yet proven.

Personalized-genetics dating services operate on the assumption that certain genes create pheromones, or chemical signals, that make people more or less attractive to a potential mate. However, scientists who have studied pheromones have defined them differently or concluded that they have yet to be found at all, meaning that DNA dating may not get one closer to love than algorithms in Tinder or Bumble, which in turn may prompt more attention from regulators towards the burgeoning genetic testing industry.

IRS #RESISTANCE TO TAX REFORM

Due to a little-known memorandum signed by the Treasury Department in 1983, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is largely exempt from submitting its rules to The White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for oversight like every other executive agency, an issue that has gained new urgency now that the IRS is in charge of implementing the tax reform law. Without oversight, IRS bureaucrats can impose their own policy judgments and cause impediments to executing the law, which the IRS has already done in declaring that most taxpayers were not able to deduct prepaid 2018 property taxes on their 2017 returns before the new law took effect.

In an ironic twist, the President’s own Treasury Department is stonewalling the implementation of a law he championed – over the guidance of an executive order he signed at the beginning of his term to reduce tax regulatory burdens – suggesting that the easy part may have been getting tax reform passed through Congress in the first place, rather than its implementation by the bureaucracy.

STOP, DON’T RUN, FROM PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

With little-known candidates like Maryland Congressman John Delany and New York businessman Andrew Yang already running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020, columnist Jonathan Bernstein asks why obscure candidates and those with low practical chances to win the nomination instead run for more realistic offices they could actually win and make a policy impact.

Despite the aberration of first-time candidate Donald Trump winning the presidency, Bernstein considers running for the highest office in the land to be “significant wastes of talent” for politicians who have not previously held statewide elected office, faulting both a “political culture and a political media which sees far too many things through presidential election politics.” Such advice could lead to Democrats fielding strong candidates who compete in winnable races down-ballot, an approach that could reverse losses at the state level and make the party more competitive nationally – if only they would heed it.

TL;DR: Enviro’s New Playbook, No Show Boat, And #Lobbyists #Resist

Enviro’s New Playbook, No Show Boat, And #Lobbyists #Resist

FERC Protests

Here’s what you need to know…

As we wrap up 2017, it is time to reflect on the year that was. Over the past year, it has become clear that 2017 became the year of #Resistance as we enter a new Age of Activism that is rocking not just Washington, but many industries, including the energy industry.

As Delve CEO Jeff Berkowitz noted in a Morning Consult column earlier this week, environmental groups are no longer letting the staid bureaucratic process of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) play out slowly. The Sierra Club’s efforts last month to halt construction of the Nexus pipeline by suing FERC before it completed its normal approval process presents a major shift in the way environmental groups engage in the energy infrastructure space. This is just one example of the new, more aggressive playbook being used by energy activists in the Trump era:

  • Turning Up The Heat On FERC: Lacking an administration sympathetic to their cause like the previous one, environmental groups have chosen to do an end-run around the agency that regulates pipeline and other energy infrastructure projects. In filing the lawsuit to stop the project before the Commission’s rehearing process is completed, Sierra Club is showing that no regulatory process that has been an accepted sequence for years is safe from activists. The result is a government oversight process that becomes even more politicized as both sides become increasingly confrontational.
  • Increasing The Risk Of Confrontation: Environmental groups and their supporters are more impatient for victories and more aggressive in their tactics, posing political, financial, and reputational risks for energy companies and project financiers. The push for quicker legal action or street protests also pressures pipeline companies to get shovels in the ground on their projects sooner, increasing the likelihood for real confrontations like those witnessed during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. There is a reason why PBS NewsHour named the anti-DAPL protests the biggest story of 2016 after the presidential election: What we saw at Dakota Access is a harbinger of what is to come.
  • Welcome To The Age Of Activism: This is part of the broader trend highlighted in Delve’s white paper on the new Age of Activism. The speed, scale, and professionalization of today’s activist movements present challenges for unsuspecting and unprepared companies – meaning it is more important than ever to have a competitive information advantage to anticipate and protect against these risks.

Read the entire op-ed here.

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NO SHOW BOAT

Why did Viking River Cruises terminate its plan to offer vacations along the Mississippi River? The European-based company decided that the economics of operating in the U.S. no longer made sense due to an obscure federal law signed by then-President Grover Cleveland in 1886, the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA). This law, which requires that ships carrying passengers between U.S. ports be American-built and owned and operated by Americans, was conceived as a protectionist measure to shelter domestic shipbuilding.

More than 130 years later, however, the new tourism jobs and dollars promised by this venture and greeted with excitement by towns and cities along the Mississippi River, are being denied by the PVSA. The result is an interesting irony: today’s “America First” President may well do better to eliminate an “America First” law enacted by a prior one if he wants to create jobs and spur economic growth here at home.

FACTS INSTEAD OF FAKES

Forged documents alleging sexual misconduct and phony policy stances by lawmakers have ushered in a new climate of uncertainty as public allegations, buttressed by fake documents, are used as a political weapon. The name and signature of a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was forged to allege sexual misconduct by the Senator, and a Republican candidate running against Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) tweeted a fake document that alleged the Congresswoman wanted to resettle “up to 41k” refugees in her California Congressional District. Here at Delve, we know that effective opposition research creates the foundation for any successful, fact-based public messaging campaign, and in our experience, political hits that work start with the facts instead of the fakes.

“UNAFFORDABLE” OR “UNCOMPETITIVE”?

Thirty-seven percent of uninsured Americans say the reason they are without health insurance is because they can’t afford it, yet one economist asserts that “unaffordable” health insurance is a myth – or at least is caused by government intervention that blocks the free market. Citing technological advances in affordable, mass-produced luxuries like personal computers, cell phones, and cars, John Tamny makes the case that “market-driven, entrepreneurial endeavor has a brilliant track record of turning scarcity into abundance.”

Given that functioning markets have allowed Americans at all income levels to afford more items than ever before, Tamny advises the same to drive down costs when it comes to health insurance policy: “Instead of replacing Obamacare with [Republicans’] own central plan, think about simply doing nothing other than ensuring there are no national governmental barriers limiting entrepreneurial entrance into the health insurance space.”

#LOBBYISTS #RESIST

When the final tax reform package was taking shape on Capitol Hill, the influence industry was using a variety of tactics to ensure their client’s interests and concerns were addressed in the final conference package. In a nod to the public nature of today’s policy debates, a lobbyist for the travel industry sought to kill an amendment supported by Delta Air Lines by sending emails to Republican tax writers with links the lobbyist claimed showed the airline’s consultants criticizing Trump, entitling one email, “Delta Lobbyists: RESIST.”

The implication was that Republicans shouldn’t reward the interests of those #resisting the President, but the people who were supposedly the airline’s consultants were actually those of an airline interest group. Now that traditional shoe-leather lobbying – and the smoke-filled rooms of the past – are no longer enough to achieve one’s public affairs objectives, companies need to make sure they have their research done right before deploying it against their opponents on Capitol Hill.

DYING TO STOP REGULATIONS

A recent Wall Street Journal investigation uncovered something the research bullpen at Delve has known for some time: millions of comments submitted to executive agencies on pending regulatory issues are fake, or even dead. Although it’s a felony to “knowingly make false, fictitious or fraudulent statements to a U.S. agency,” it’s not considered fraud if mass emailing comments have the authorization of the individuals named.

This law has not stopped campaigns and activists who promote or oppose a regulation from using the name and address of individuals without their knowing, or even submitting comments from the deceased. Officials on both sides of the political spectrum are planning to look into this practice to find ways to improve the integrity of the public comment process, however in the meantime, it is more important than ever to have a deeper understanding of what, who, and why is behind the oppositional forces on an issue.