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New England editorial roundup


The Providence (R.I.) Journal, March 12, 2105

With the Earth's very ecosystem threatened by the massive burning of fossil fuels, the passion of politicians to shut down debate about aspects of climate change is understandable. But that does not make it right. A vigorous debate about exactly what is happening to the Earth and what we should do about it is absolutely essential if we are to move forward.

Intimidating scientists is the wrong approach.

Late last month, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the ranking member on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, opened an investigation into the work of seven prominent academics, mostly climate scientists, including MIT emeritus professor of meteorology Richard Lindzen and the University of Colorado's Roger Pielke.

What each of Grijalva's targets had in common was that they differ with many scientists and politicians on elements of climate change theory.

Representative Grijalva wrote letters to the seven universities with whom each targeted scientist is affiliated, demanding that they hand over documents pertaining to each researcher's work, including details on grants and funding. He also asked that the universities turn over "drafts of testimony ... delivered before any government body" as well as "communications regarding testimony preparation."

The next day, three senators, including Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, demanded that more than 100 energy and trade groups disclose their roles in funding science research. These moves were apparently a result of a New York Times report that Wei-hock Soon, a scientist associated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had received some funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Many found the politicians' actions chilling. Politicians have power and influence, and federal dollars are essential to universities. How likely are scientists to publish controversial research if they fear that, in doing so, they may jeopardize their careers or get hauled before a congressional committee?

Soon called the inquiry "a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings, and to make an example out of me as a warning to any other researcher" who may question any element of orthodoxy. The American Meteorological Society wrote: "(R)equesting copies of the researcher's communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom."

After defenders of scientific freedom spoke out, the Arizona congressman admitted that he had "overreached" and will no longer seek the scientists' communications. But he still wants information on their funding.

That seems an overreach, too. While conflicts of interest may occur in any human endeavor, and scientists and universities should make it a habit to disclose the source of their funding to the public, politicians in a liberal democracy must be cautious about chilling science and public debate. After all, the whole point of science is the unbridled search for truth. Under scientific freedom, unfounded theories may be debunked, and scientists who distort data may be discredited.

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester (Mass.), March 12, 2015

Last year, the Obama administration directed the Treasury Department to draft new rules to make it more difficult for U.S. companies to pull off tax-inversion deals, under which they would acquire a foreign company, and then "redomicile" the new, merged company overseas.

By doing so, corporations were able to take advantage of lower overseas tax rates, thus saving money for their shareholders. But those gains came at a cost to the nation's coffers, as less tax revenue would come in.

At the time, many observers warned that Uncle Sam was treating the symptoms, and that what was really needed to curb inversions was reform of the U.S. business tax code, including lower corporate tax rates.

What Uncle Sam apparently did not foresee was what every corporate lawyer began working on the moment the new rules were passed — new ways to evade the tax man.

It turns out that instead of making inversion deals with U.S. companies, foreign competitors are taking a more direct route: They are simply acquiring U.S. companies, transferring assets, and applying the lower tax rates that prevail overseas to their earnings in the U.S.

Foreign takeovers doubled in 2014 compared to the year before and are still going strong, meaning less tax revenue for Washington.

The news isn't all bad. Foreign investment, after all, means that those outside the U.S. still want to be stakeholders here. And plenty of U.S. companies continue to buy overseas firms.

But if Washington wants to compete in the sense of ensuring a steady flow of tax revenue, it will have to do what the Treasury already recognizes as necessary: Reform the U.S. corporate tax code.

Of course, that will take an act of Congress. No easy feat these days.

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