These 5 Changes at the EPA Should Be No-Brainers

The Environmental Protection Agency and many of its regulations are ripe for reform.
Some of these changes may very well be contentious, but there are some critical changes that should be obvious. Here are five of these changes:
1. The EPA shouldn’t act unethically or break the law to promote its agenda.
The EPA shouldn’t behave like an activist group, and it certainly shouldn’t act unethically or illegally to push its agenda. But this is exactly what it did. The Government Accountability Office issued a ruling concluding that the EPA violated the law when pushing its controversial “Waters of the United States” rule.
As explained by The New York Times, “the Environmental Protection Agency engaged in ‘covert propaganda’ in violation of federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the general public to support President [Barack] Obama’s controversial [water] rule.”
2. The EPA shouldn’t mock the people it regulates.
Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy once dismissed legitimate public concerns about the proposed water rule as “ludicrous” and “silly.” It could hardly be said that this dismissive posture encouraged people from all perspectives to participate in the rulemaking process.
The message to those who had reservations about the proposal was clear: Don’t even bother expressing criticism, because we will either mock it or ignore it.
3. The EPA shouldn’t issue rules with zero (or minimal) direct benefits.
A 2011 NERA Consulting report examined numerous major Clean Air Act rules. From 2009 to 2011, there were six major rules in which the EPA didn’t identify any direct benefits (i.e. it didn’t find any benefits connected to achieving the actual purpose of the rule, such as reducing emissions of a specific pollutant).
Instead, the EPA has been justifying many clean air rules based on the incidental benefits of reducing fine particulate matter (also known as PM 2.5) emissions, something that is already regulated separately.
As explained by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce regarding major rules it examined:
Virtually all the benefits come from reductions of a single pollutant, PM2.5, which is often not even the pollutant that EPA cites as the justification for promulgating a regulation but, rather, a pollutant incidentally reduced by the primary regulatory requirements.
4. The EPA shouldn’t ignore its legal obligations to conduct jobs analyses.
Under the Clean Air Act, Section 321(a), the EPA is required to “conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement of the provision of [the Clean Air Act] … ”
The EPA has failed to perform this mandatory duty, as clearly explained in a 2016 district court opinion.
There are other environmental statutes with similar provisions that the EPA needs to follow as well: Section 507(e) of the Clean Water Act, Section 24 of the Toxic Substances Control Act, 7001(e) of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and Section 110(e) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund).
5. The EPA’s regulatory decisions shouldn’t be foregone conclusions.
The EPA developed a report called the “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” In January, 2015, the EPA announced the release of this final report in a fact sheet.
At the end of the document, it states:
Now final, this scientific report can be used to inform future policy and regulatory decisions, including the proposed Clean Water Rule being developed by EPA’s Office of Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [Emphasis added.]
Here’s the problem: This scientific report was finalized after the proposed rule was published. It’s great that the EPA recognized the report should have informed the proposed rule. The problem is the EPA had no way to go back in time and actually do so.
As a result, the public ended up providing comments on a proposal that didn’t take into account the “scientific basis needed to clarify CWA jurisdiction,” as the EPA explained was a purpose of the report. The public wasn’t given a meaningful voice in the process.
Further, by not waiting for the final report before developing the proposed rule, the EPA made its policy decisions look like foregone conclusions (and maybe they were).
Bottom Line
It shouldn’t be too much to ask for the EPA to follow the law, act ethically, and follow basic standards for developing regulations.

Commentary by The Daily Signal's Daren Bakst. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

What Rand Meant by Altruism

In modern America, February 2 is best known as Groundhog Day. But it also marks the birth of one of the most praised and criticized thinkers of the past century – Ayn Rand.

Rand sold more than 30 million books.
Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as an influence on readers’ lives. She has also been stridently attacked for issues such as her militant atheism. But perhaps least understood has been her full-bore rejection of altruism. On her birthday, it is worth reconsideration.   

Altruism has commonly been held up as the standard for moral behavior. But Rand rejected it, asserting it was “incompatible with freedom, with capitalism, and with individual rights,” and therefore “the basic evil behind today’s ugliest phenomena.”

That head-on collision arises from French philosopher Auguste Comte, coiner of the term altruism. The website says he believed “the only moral acts were those intended to promote the happiness of others.” Comte’s Catechisme Positiviste asserts that altruism “gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence,” and, therefore, “cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such a notion rests on individualism.”

In Comte’s view, any act performed for any reason beyond solely that of advancing someone else’s well-being is not morally justified. That implies taking a tax deduction for a charitable act strips it of its morality. The same is true when done because “what goes around comes around.” Something as seemingly innocuous as feeling good about doing good also fails Comte’s joyless standards. Even “love your neighbor as yourself” fails his unlimited duty of altruism. As George H. Smith summarized it, “One should love one’s neighbor
more than oneself.”

Ayn Rand’s attacks on altruism are aimed at Comte’s definition. However, modern usage has eroded his meaning of altruism to little more than a synonym for generosity, so Rand’s rejection of the original meaning is now often taken as a rejection of generosity, which it is not. In Roderick Long’s words,

… her sometimes misleading rhetoric about the “virtue of selfishness”… was not to advocate the pursuit of one’s own interest at the expense of others … she rejected not only the subordination of one’s interest to those of others, (and it is this, rather than mere benevolence, that she labeled “altruism”), but also the subordination of others’ interest to one’s own.
Rand’s categorical rejection of altruism was a rejection of Comte’s requirement of total selflessness, because that was inconsistent with any individuals mattering for their own sake. Rand vehemently opposed such an invalidation of individuals’ significance.
The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value.
Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” was a response to Comte’s demand for complete selflessness. Not only is a requirement for everyone to completely disregard themselves an unattainable ideal, it is self-contradictory. You cannot possibly sacrifice yourself fully for me, while I am also sacrificing myself fully for you. And if no one has any intrinsic value, why would the results, even if possible, be meritorious? With Comte as a starting point, more attention to people’s own well-being – more selfishness, in Rand’s terminology – is the only way to move toward recognizing value in each individual and significance in each life.
Comte’s conception of altruism is also inconsistent with liberty, which was Ayn Rand’s focus. The
duty to put others first at all times and in all circumstances denies self-ownership and the power to choose that derives from it. Everyone else maintains never-ending presumptive claims on every individual, overriding any rights they may have. In contrast, benevolence involves voluntary choices to benefit others of one’s own choosing, in ways and to the extent individuals choose for themselves.

This is why Rand criticized equating altruism with benevolence. The key distinction is between benevolence’s individual discretion, which recognizes our rights over ourselves and our resources, and altruism’s unconditional requirement to always sacrifice for others.  

An omnipresent duty of self-sacrifice also makes people vulnerable to manipulation by those who disguise power over others as “really” a means to attain some noble goal. The desire to sacrifice
for the good of others can be transformed into the requirement to sacrifice to the desires of leaders. As Rand expressed it:

Those who start by saying: “It is selfish to pursue your own wishes, you must sacrifice them to the wishes of others” – end up by saying: “It is selfish to uphold your convictions, you must sacrifice them to the convictions of others.”
The key here is Rand’s emphasis on duty:
When A needs something, in B’s opinion, if C, who can do something about it refuses … C is pilloried as someone who is selfish rather than altruistic for not choosing to support B’s cause. The faulty syllogism remains that “C is failing to do his duty here. C should do his duty. So C should be made to do it.” And … that syllogism as a bludgeon remains an ever-present threat from everyone who wants to do good with someone else’s resources, and finds coercion an acceptable mechanism.
To Rand, Comte’s view of altruism is logically impossible, joyless, and liberty-excluding, and has enabled vast harms to be imposed on vast numbers. It does not deserve deference as a guide to morality. However, Rand offers no criticism of voluntary benevolence. That is why we should still care about her objections to altruism, which we now mistakenly take to mean whatever voluntary individual choices people make to be generous to others.  

Rand reminds us of the central defense against the threat of coercion lurking beyond altruistic demands placed on people. It lies in protecting individual self-ownership and the property rights that derive from it. When that is maintained as fundamental, my power to choose what to do with myself and my property – including when my conclusion is, “I could contribute to cause X, but I choose not to” – is accepted as legitimate. Thus we would soundly reject the view that “Apart from such times as [someone] manages to perform some act of self-sacrifice, he possesses no moral significance.”

Without the coercive violation of rights, liberty can be maintained. The vast majority of people would not only be generous, they would have far more to be generous with. Their voluntary arrangements, including their chosen generosity, creates a better world than Comte’s altruism.
Gary M. Galles
Gary M. Galles
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

5 Questions to Ask Your Protectionist Friends

I was recently interviewed on Fox Business Network about Trump’s policies and the economy, and the discussion jumped around from issues such as border-adjustable taxation to energy regulation.
Though the central theme of the discussion was whether Trump had good ideas for American jobs and business competitiveness.

Given my schizophrenic views on Trump, this meant I was both supportive and critical, and I hope certain people in the White House paid attention to my comment about there being no need for the “stick” of protectionism if Trump delivers on the “carrot” of tax cuts and deregulation.

For today, though, I want to elaborate on why protectionism is the wrong approach. I mentioned in the interview that the long-run outlook for manufacturing employment wasn’t very good, but that we shouldn’t blame trade. So I decided to find a chart that illustrated this point, which then gave me the idea of using a Q&A format to share several charts and tables that make very strong points about trade and protectionism.

Did you know…that manufacturing employment is falling because of productivity growth rather than trade?

The bad news (at least for certain workers) is that manufacturing employment has fallen. And it will continue to fall. But as illustrated by this chart from Professor Don Boudreaux, manufacturing output is at record highs. What’s really happening is that productivity improvements enable more to be produced while using fewer workers. And this is happening all over the world.

Did you know…that there’s a strong relationship between trade openness and national prosperity?

One of Professor Boudreaux’s students augmented one of his charts to show the link between pro-trade policies and per-capita economic output.

Did you know…that you can’t hurt importers without also hurting exporters?

Many of the major multinational firms engage in considerable cross-border trade, meaning that they are both major importers and major exporters. Here’s a very illuminating chart from the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

Did you know…that protectionism imposes enormous losses on consumers and therefore is a net job destroyer?

There has been considerable research on the results of various protectionist policies and the results shared by Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute inevitably show substantial economic costs, which means that the jobs that are saved (the “seen“) are more than offset by the jobs that are lost or never created (the “unseen“).

Last but not least, did you know….that economists are nearly unanimous in their recognition that trade barriers undermine prosperity?

There are plenty of jokes (many well deserved!) about economists, including the stereotype that economists can’t agree on anything. But there’s near-unanimity in the profession that protectionism is misguided.

By the way, if you have protectionist friends, ask them if they have good answer for these eight questions. And also direct them to the wise words of Walter Williams.

Republished from Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

The Truth Behind the Solar Jobs Report

As the Obama administration recedes into history, policymakers would be well advised to rethink the feasibility of taxpayer-funded renewable energy schemes.

In just a few weeks, the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group, will release its latest annual report touting growth figures for solar jobs while it also warns against policies that could result in layoffs.

But the hard reality is that even as solar energy became politically fashionable, it remained economically unsound.

Just ask Elon Musk, the South African-born, Los Angeles-based renewable energy business mogul who had his electric car company bail out his solar energy company last year.

Neither company has been able to stand on its own two feet, and neither company has been turning a profit. But because both companies have been heavily subsidized, Musk was able to have U.S. taxpayers foot the bill to have one failing company bail out another.

The good news is there are some on Capitol Hill who are beginning to ask some hard questions about the taxpayer-funded welfare payments pumped into failing industries.

Last year, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee launched probes into tax incentives paid to solar companies.

With the change in administration, it is possible there might be an end to the solar investment tax credit, which has been propping up failing solar enterprises on the taxpayer dime. So, expect the Solar Foundation to double down on its talking points in its upcoming report.

In America, anyone is free to lobby and push for their own personal policy preferences. Federal and state officials who have the power to give preferential treatment to this industry should know there are all kinds of conflicts of interest that should be taken into account.

For starters, the Solar Foundation is closely aligned with the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group that advocates on behalf of those that manufacture and install solar energy equipment.

That’s not all. Take a good look at who staffs the foundation and it becomes pretty clear this is not an objective organization.

Andrea Luecke, the foundation’s president and executive director, previously worked for the city of Milwaukee’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar America Cities program “Milwaukee Shines,” where “she helped Milwaukee implement policies aimed at increasing solar energy capacity.”

Deputy Director Pari Kasotia serves on the board of directors of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association and is active with Citizens Climate Lobby.

Program Director Yolanda Seabrooks spent eight years with SunEdison, one of the largest global renewable energy development companies aimed at providing solar photovoltaic systems to municipal, state, federal, utility, and commercial customers.

There’s more, but you get the picture.

The Solar Foundation staff is mainly made up of former solar company and trade association lobbyists and other advocacy positions and has ties to government solar advocacy programs.

Policymakers should not put their faith into a report designed to be an advocacy piece managed by solar advocates and lobbyists to produce an accurate depiction of the solar industry’s contribution to economic development.

Whenever state officials push back against solar power, the foundation’s operatives are quick to respond with scare stories about potential job losses. These stories are parroted by solar companies as well.

In Nevada, for instance, two solar companies threatened to end their operations in the state when the Public Utility Commission decreased the subsidy for net metering, a state-level policy that shifts the cost of a solar system to those who do not have solar.

The story quickly became national news and painted the picture that solar policies should not be reformed if states wanted to avoid any severe economic fallout. But the number of jobs that created in the solar industry remains a bit nebulous.

Moreover, there is growing body of research that shows the opportunity cost of government subsidies for renewable efforts versus the jobs that could be generated in the private sector is too high from the perspective of sound public policy.

Under the sins of omission, the Solar Foundation’s annual reports sidestep the question of opportunity costs. But they typically make lengthy references to large percentage increases in solar jobs that are as sly as they are misleading.

For example, the 2015 report stated:

The solar energy workforce grew an impressive 13.2 percent over the last year—nearly six times the overall national employment growth rate, and has grown 27 percent since 2010. This compares to only 3.2 percent national employment growth over that same period (August 2010-September 2012).

The relatively low base numbers (compared to the overall economy) for solar jobs means that, percentage-wise, solar job growth will seem impressive compared to the overall economy.

In simpler terms, if the solar industry had one job in 2015 and two jobs in 2016 and the utility industry had 500,000 jobs in 2015 and 560,000 jobs in 2016, the solar job growth percentage would be 100 percent to the utility job growth of 12 percent.

That is not an honest representation of what’s actually going down in the solar industry.

With a little digging, astute readers will find the Solar Foundation reports that government subsidies are primarily responsible for any growth the solar industry has experienced. The reports typically bifurcate state and federal subsidies into separate categories.

But when these figures are blended together, there is no escaping the prominent role government intervention plays in sustaining an industry that is otherwise unsustainable.

When all the government subsidies are added together, our calculations show that the U.S. taxpayer is really responsible for almost 33 percent of any growth that occurs in the solar industry. That’s not real job growth.

The Solar Foundation’s tax records show that it has experienced a steady jump in revenue.

In 2012 it had $296,243 in revenue, and in 2013 it had $886,715 in revenue. That’s a big jump! For 2014, which is the most recent year that tax records are available, it reported $976,991 in revenue.

Clearly, the foundation is not in the poor house.

The mission statement on the 990 tax form says the foundation was set up to “educate the public” about the benefits of solar power. In reality, it is carrying the water for well-connected special interests that have a vested interest in maintain taxpayer subsidies for unworkable renewable boondoggles.

So, when the Solar Foundation releases its next report on job growth, remember the source of the information and all that glitters is not gold.

Commentary by The Daily Signal's David Williams. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

I’m Not a Terrible Person, I Just Believe in Freedom

I see the look in my best friend’s eyes when I talk to her about free markets. She looks at me like she doesn’t know me. As if the friend that she has laughed and cried with, that she trusts, has been invaded by an inhuman body-snatcher.

But I only told her that
developing countries have experienced great successes in their private schools (especially compared to public schools which cost three times as much for the same or worse results), that perhaps alternatives to failing public schools aren’t a bad thing, and that we need to guard against giving away our power because one day it might end up in the hands of a monster.

It makes sense to me, but I can tell she thinks that I no longer care about the experiences of minorities in America, the LGBT community, or women’s rights.

Not so! I must not be explaining myself to her accurately. Allow me an attempt to do so now.

E Pluribus Unum

I truly care about the people who live in our society. True, I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman who lives in the southern United States. Also true, I feel a strong connection with the disenfranchised people who are struggling to get by and to be accepted in the land of the free and abroad.

I don’t believe in freedom and capitalism because of some careless idea about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. I know that some people don’t have boots to stand in. And that is a shame. I feel for those people. I know how easily that could have been me, and still could be.

These are my people.

I think about the ways that we are the same. There are kind people in every group, who feel when strangers are hurting, who love animals and the environment, and who care about the lives of everyday Joes and Josephines. My people, the human race, all over the globe, they feel the power of music. They smile at babies, share meals, embrace. They’re innovators and explorers; long ago, they took to the seas, the mountains, and the moon. Scattered all over the planet, they look up at the same stars. They hope and dream.

I want more than prosperity for these people. I want opportunities. I certainly don’t want all of us to be equally screwed.

I acknowledge that I am privileged by experiences over which I have no control and that have nothing to do with the person that I am. For example, if I speak and write with “correct” grammar, no one calls me a credit to my race. If I am nonviolent, career-driven, or pursue an education, I am not labeled as ‘one of the good ones’. If I buy nude pantyhose, the nylon will actually resemble the color of my skin.

Like you, I have no control over the place of my birth or to what family I was born. The world is not just and we all fear the power of others to make us small. To make us disappear.

There are people a plane ride away from me who confront this reality daily. I’ve seen pictures of cities reduced to rubble and of kids who have only lived through war.

A majority of humanity wants the same things, to feel safe in the world, in our homes, on the street. It’s nice to be nice and what stops us? Nothing.

Power and Freedom

I’m not so na├»ve as to deny the impact of historical horrors and people with iron fists, whose amplified voices have moved feet and toppled innocents. As a people, we have flung salt at each other, thrown up walls, and tossed over exploding bombs. But every day we have an opportunity to be better than yesterday.

We give away our power so easily, out of fear and hate and hope. I want opportunity for you, just like I want opportunity for me. I also want your freedom, and mine.

The question of policy will always be: where do we draw the line?

I like to imagine my ideal government as a metal fence post. It has clearly defined geometry, a solid foundation, and within its structure, it stands strong. Society and people's lives twine around the post like vines, occupying the negative space, growing, flowering, reaching for the sun. The fence post doesn’t show favoritism, it doesn’t suppress or give one vine a boost. It is functional and useful and it stops right there.

We are at liberty to add love, multiply our empathy, and forget to divide. But I believe the solution to our concerns is subtraction of power from the grasp of people who will take it.

Freedom as a life philosophy and free-market economics are about civil rights and allowing the people who need it most to build wealth. They are not about stepping on the poor or ignoring women’s and minority rights. There can be a balance between protecting people and allowing society to progress through 
spontaneous order.

According to Vox,
3.3 million women marched down US streets last Saturday. They did not do so by the grace of government. Individuals made choices; they used their agency and their civil rights to assemble, use speech, and protest. What will stop passionate people from fighting against injustice?
Politicians can only play catch-up. Culture, which you and I contribute to at every moment of our lives, defines what our society looks like and how people are treated. We don’t need Government to save Gotham. We have us.

Marianne March
Marianne March
Marianne is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she majored in Public Policy, with a minor in Economics.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

‘This Is Barbarism’: Ukrainian Troops on High Alert as War Intensifies

A memorial to war dead in Avdiivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
KYIV, Ukraine—Using artillery, tanks, and rockets, combined Russian-separatist forces attacked Ukrainian forces along the front lines in eastern Ukraine on Sunday and early Monday morning, highlighting, once again, that the February 2015 cease-fire has failed.
“This is barbarism,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Monday in response to the attacks, according to a tweet from his press secretary, Svyatoslav Tsegolko.
Cease-fire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, tallied 2,260 “cease-fire violations” on Sunday.
And early Monday morning, combined Russian-separatist forces launched a predawn artillery attack and follow-on ground assault on the Ukrainian-held front-line town of Avdiivka.
Ukrainian officials claimed the attacks were an attempt by combined Russian forces to derail the cease-fire by effectively baiting Ukraine into retaliatory actions, which could be used as an excuse for further escalations, or for propaganda.
By Monday afternoon, Ukrainian forces announced they had repelled the attack on Avdiivka, but combat was ongoing.
Combined Russian-separatist forces launched an attack on the front-line town of Avdiivka early Monday morning. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
“The enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars,” Ukrainian military spokesman Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters in Kyiv Monday.
Poroshenko, who was on a diplomatic trip to Germany, cut short his visit.
“The president has cut short his visit to Germany because Russian fighters’ attacks on Avdiivka have caused an emergency situation, which may turn into a humanitarian disaster,” Tsegolko, Poroshenko’s press secretary, wrote on Twitter Monday.
Five Ukrainian soldiers died in the attacks Sunday, and nine were wounded, according to the Ukrainian military. Two more soldiers died during fighting in Avdiivka Monday morning, according to Kyiv.
Ukrainian troops have been placed on “high alert” along the 250 miles of front lines in the Donbas, Ukraine’s embattled eastern region on the border with Russia, the Ukrainian military said Monday.
Artillery damage in Avdiivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
Sunday and Monday’s attacks were significant because they marked an uptick in the typical level of fighting, but they were not extraordinary. They are simply the latest chapter in a cyclical pattern of endlessly escalating and diminishing violence, which has come to define the war in Ukraine.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 Ukrainians, and displaced about 1.7 million people, according to estimates by the U.N. and other humanitarian aid groups.
The conflict—Europe’s only ongoing land war—retains the potential to escalate into a major, larger conflagration.
Kate M. Byrnes, acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, said in Vienna on Sunday that the cease-fire in Ukraine remained “elusive.” She called for a withdrawal of all banned weapons from the front lines, and for both sides to commit to the cease-fire’s terms.
“Otherwise, there is little to stop small-scale clashes from escalating, and this conflict from continuing,” Byrnes said.
As part of the February 2015 cease-fire, which is called Minsk II, heavy weapons are banned from the front lines.
The OSCE is the multinational group charged with monitoring the Ukraine cease-fire, but it has no enforcement mandate. OSCE monitors identify cease-fire violations through direct observation, or by hearing the sounds of explosions or small arms fire. However, a single cease-fire violation might, in fact, comprise numerous individual attacks.
In 2016, OSCE monitors registered more than 300,000 cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine.
Culture War
Ukrainian officials take seriously the possibility of a full-scale Russian invasion. Ukraine’s military doctrine identifies Russia as the country’s top military threat, and Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has ordered a top-to-bottom overhaul of the military by 2020.
There are also worries about the war spilling over to other countries throughout the region.
In the Baltic countries, for example, civilian defense units harkening back to the partisan groups of World War II are actively training to defend against a Russian invasion.
The U.S. and NATO have shifted military assets eastward in a move to reassure NATO’s eastern flank, which has been rattled by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, as well as to deter Moscow from military adventurism—covert or overt—against any NATO member.
The war in Ukraine—Europe’s only ongoing land war—is approaching its third anniversary. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

The situation throughout Eastern Europe, especially within the former boundaries of the Soviet Union, has become a dangerous cycle of brinkmanship, with NATO and Russia locked in a tit-for-tat ratcheting up of their military presence throughout the region.
Meanwhile, Europe’s only ongoing land war continues to simmer in eastern Ukraine.
And as Ukraine rapidly rebuilds its conventional military forces with an eye toward Moscow, the country is also waging a cultural purge of all things related to its Soviet past and Russia.
Russian TV channels are being banned, it’s illegal to play the Soviet national anthem in Ukraine, and cities with Soviet-era names are being renamed.
On Khreshchatyk, Kyiv’s main boulevard, sidewalk vendors sell rolls of toilet paper adorned with the likeness of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For Ukrainian leaders, there is little wiggle room—from both a strategic military perspective, as well as with public opinion—to tolerate a Russian provocation without it leading to a major escalation of the war.
More of the Same
While a full-on Russian invasion is Ukraine’s nightmare scenario, there is already a low-intensity war ongoing in the Donbas, in which Ukrainian troops are engaged in daily combat against Russian troops and their separatist proxies.
According to the Ukrainian military, combined Russian-separatist forces focused their attacks on Sunday on Ukrainian positions at the southern end of the front lines near the industrial port city of Mariupol.
A Ukrainian soldier at a front-line position near Novomykhailivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
Ukrainian forces in the town of Vodiane, about 8 miles northeast of Mariupol’s city limits, reported 180 122 mm mortars were fired at their positions within a 180-minute period. The attacks also comprised BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms.
Pro-Russian separatists took control of Mariupol in the opening months of the war in 2014. Ukrainian forces, bolstered by volunteer paramilitary units, took back the city of nearly half a million people in a series of battles from May through June 2014.
Combined Russian-separatist forces countered with a series of raids and tank attacks on Ukrainian forces around the city in August and September 2014. But Ukraine repelled the offensive, and Mariupol has remained under Kyiv’s control.
Despite two cease-fires, however, the fighting never stopped.
A building damaged by artillery in Marinka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
Since September 2014, the front lines have remained largely static outside of Mariupol. With the war on their doorstep for almost three years, the city’s residents have grown accustomed to the daily rumble of fighting coming from the front lines less than 10 miles away.
Overall, Ukrainian forces reported 38 separate attacks on their positions in the Mariupol area on Sunday, 14 of which comprised heavy armor. More than 50 separate attacks occurred along the 250-mile length of the front lines.
“The situation in the Donetsk sector near Avdiivka remains tense,” the Ukrainian military said in a statement on Monday. “In the morning, the enemy continued their insidious attacks with the use of tanks and artillery systems … At about 10:30 [a.m.] Kyiv time, the shelling from heavy weapons stopped, but harassing fire from small arms is continuing.”
At the northern end of the front lines near the Russian border outside the separatist stronghold of Luhansk, combined Russian-separatist forces launched a total of six heavy artillery attacks against Ukrainian positions on Sunday.
No End in Sight
The war in eastern Ukraine is approaching its third anniversary, and the conflict shows little sign of easing off.
During the days the fighting is usually relatively calm, or nonexistent, while OSCE cease-fire monitors patrol the war zone in their bright white SUVs. But the cease-fire monitors do not typically work after dark, which is when, like clockwork, the war begins in earnest.
It’s a daily charade, in which daily battles comprising hundreds of shots fired are registered as “cease-fire violations.”
Ukrainian soldiers in a trench in Pisky. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
The war has been mostly static since the Minsk II cease-fire went into effect in February 2015. Consequently, both sides are dug in. For its part, the Ukrainian military has constructed a series of trenches and fortified positions. Major road intersections are defended with armor, and the surrounding fields are heavily mined.
According to various estimates from both Ukrainian military sources and independent intelligence groups, combined Russian-separatist forces in the Donbas comprise about 40,000 pro-Russian separatists and about 5,000 Russian regulars.
Ukrainian military and NATO reports, as well as many independent news reports, have confirmed Russian troops, weapons, ammunition, equipment, and financing are crossing from Russia into Ukraine’s two separatist breakaway territories.
Russia has repeatedly denied supporting the separatists.
The Daily Grind
For those civilians caught living within its grasp, war has become a way of life.
In Mariupol over the weekend, residents duct-taped their windows the same way Floridians do to prepare for a hurricane.
According to the social media posts of some Mariupol residents, the sounds of artillery from the front lines on Sunday were loud enough to rattle windows in the city center.
A week before Christmas in Avdiivka, a woman carried an infant in her arms as she walked along a sidewalk pockmarked by mortar shrapnel. Occasionally, the air rumbled with the burst of a mortar, or crackled with a machine gun burst. Framed in the background was an apartment building shredded to ruins by years of artillery strikes.
In the snowy woods outside of Novomykhailivka in late December, Ukrainian troops from the Aidar Battalion were hunkered down in primitive underground shelters, holding the line against their combined Russian-separatist enemies.
The living conditions were miserable. The bitter cold was inescapable, and despite three years of combat operations, the troops were still undersupplied with fresh food and basic military kit like boots and body armor.
A warning sign on the edge of a minefield in Avdiivka. (Photo: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)
Some of those troops had been serving in combat since the war began in April 2014. Yet, they were resolved to keep fighting until the conflict was over.
The week before Thanksgiving 2016 in the front-line town of Marinka, the nighttime sky was alight with the crisscrossing paths of tracer fire.
The sky buzzed with the sounds of drones orbiting overhead. The sounds of mortars and artillery were a constant drumbeat, rising and falling in pace and intensity like the movements of a symphony.
At an elementary school in Marinka, Red Cross humanitarian workers teach students how to react in an artillery attack.
Inside the school, green and red stickers are attached to the hallway walls at intervals, respectively indicating where it is, and is not, safe to take shelter in an artillery attack. The Red Cross also teaches residents about landmine safety. Children are told not to play in fields.
During the day in Marinka, there is a cacophony of workers hammering nails as they repair artillery-damaged buildings. By night, the pounding of nails is replaced by the hard cracking burst of mortar explosions, and the metal snarl of machine guns.
There is one curious side effect of the war—a surge in the war zone’s fowl population.
Due to the war, hunting has been banned in the Donbas.
“The war continues, but life goes on,” Edward Kulinich, a Ukrainian civilian volunteer who transports supplies to front-line troops, told The Daily Signal.

Report by The Daily Signal's Nolan Peterson.  Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Maximizing Your Assets in Retirement

(Family Features) No matter how diligent you may have been about saving for retirement, unexpected life changes and economic realities can negatively impact your retirement budget. Sustained low interest rates have suppressed yields on income from bonds and rising health care expenses have affected retirees of all ages.

Many retirees are surprised to learn that one of the most valuable assets in their portfolios may be a life insurance policy that they no longer need.

It’s not uncommon for people to outlive their need for life insurance, and if you no longer need the policy or can no longer afford the premiums, you could consider selling the policy through a life settlement. This is a financial transaction in which a policy owner works with a company, such as Coventry Direct, to determine if they qualify to sell their life insurance policy. The policy seller receives an immediate cash payment while the buyer assumes all future premium payments. Most life insurance policy types qualify, even convertible term life policies.

Consider this story about a financial advisor who recently retired from a long, successful career. He decided the money he was spending on the rising premiums for his $799,975 life insurance policy could be used to help fund his retirement. After some research, he called Coventry Direct and was happy to learn he had an option other than just letting the policy lapse. He sold his policy through a life settlement for $25,000, which was more than four times the value he would have received if he surrendered the policy back to the insurance company.

If you don’t own a life insurance policy or still need your coverage, you may want to evaluate the real estate you own. Think about downsizing to a smaller home or selling other property you no longer need. Many retirees discover that they have significant equity tied up in real estate – equity that could be used to help fund expenses.

Another useful exercise is reviewing your investments. If your retirement income is failing to produce the amount needed to maintain your lifestyle, you may need to rebalance your portfolio in order to meet your changing needs.

If you find your retirement income is insufficient, there are options available to maximize your assets. For many retirees, an existing life insurance policy may be a hidden asset that can be utilized to generate cash. To learn more about life settlements, visit or call 888-858-9344.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


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