We probably all know at least one: the person who comes to a family gathering primed to talk about politics – particularly, to let you know why their view is right, and yours is dead, dead wrong. These are the worst kind of guests. They have no interest in catching up and spending a brief moment in time out of the precious few we get on this earth avoiding politics. Insufferable in their insistence in turning the conversation into Crossfire, they can’t even take a holiday from partisanship and just be happy to ask someone to pass the gravy.
Thanks to the White House and Organizing for Action, there may be a marked increase in such guests this holiday season, thanks to this push to have you come to Thanksgiving dinner – and the other holidays too! – with your administration-approved talking points in hand. Oh frabjous day indeed.
President Obama has done a lot of things I dislike, but ruining Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner is a bit much. And to let him be clear: that’s exactly what he’s doing. Instead of letting families argue about perfectly reasonable things to discuss over holiday dinners – such as when Mike Shanahan should be fired, which Bound 2 parody is the best, and whether Miley Cyrus should be launched into the sun for the good of humanity – the president wants to insist on inserting his priorities into family gatherings across the country. “I understand you worked hard to brine this bird, but let’s refocus on what matters: why you haven’t signed up at healthcare.gov yet. Did you hear it’s getting much better? Don’t talk about the Iron Bowl or Aunt Jenny’s wedding, let’s turn this conversation back to what really matters: avoiding a death spiral and ensuring stability in the insurance market!”
We’ve certainly come very far from an era when people of different political mind were urged to set aside their differences and come together for a meal and football and gather round the hearth in peace. Instead we’re in the era of “argue with your neighbors, get in their face”. Maybe it’s that social media sparring fuels these political grudge matches, or that political allegiances are worn less as choosing between the lessers of evils and more as teams of red and blue. But if you want to talk about death spirals, this is one I wish we’d get out of, and soon. Talking points beget talking points and before you know it the Thanksgiving table has turned into the McLaughlin group, except with the added challenge of your uncle having had six Cranberry Old Fashioneds and a carving knife within handy reach.
What’s more, now that these insufferable partisans in the administration have distributed their talkers, you’re a lot more likely to hear any one of these ten statements at tomorrow’s dinner, to which I am now obligated to offer a prebuttal. And yes, Mr. President, I hate you for making me write this.
1) Healthcare.gov may suck, but state exchanges are performing really well.
No, most of them aren’t. They’re way behind, too. Exchanges such as those in Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, Vermont, Hawaii, and other states which have led the charge in implementation have fallen flat on their faces. Oregon, which had total buy-in at all levels of the state and no political opposition to speak of, has signed up exactly zero people. And while states like California, Connecticut, and Kentucky have had better success, the vast majority of signups in the state exchanges are within Medicaid, not private insurance – in part because the eligibility is easier to determine. But that has negative outcomes as well, as those with private insurance are now required to go on Medicaid – such as this woman in Washington state.
2) The website’s problem is demand and once the front-end problems are fixed, it’ll work great.
No, it’s not – in fact, the website couldn’t even handle 500 visitors without problems according to internal documents from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, released in hearings last week (the all-caps emails are the best ones). The real problem with the website at this point isn’t capacity at all: it’s the extremely delayed back-end – major portions of which apparently haven’t even been built yet – which are supposed to hand off people to the actual insurers they select, and handle the payments for plans (the point at which people are actually “enrolled”). Collecting these premiums and making sure insurers get them has always been the heaviest lift under Obamacare, and the lack of these systems is far more problematic than just the front-end frustrations of delays and glitches. It’s along the lines of having an Expedia-like site that “works” because you can select your flight, but doesn’t actually have the capability for sellers to charge you, or reserve your ticket. Which is, let’s face it, kind of key. There is no public deadline for these remaining critical fixes, and they’ve already missed their first deadline for the front-end.
3) Only a few young and healthy people will pay more – for most people, they will keep their plans or have something better.
No, actually, premiums are going up just about everywhere, and for most people. In 41 states, premiums in the individual market are going up by an average of 41%. Only eight states – generally those with the most heavily regulated markets – will see premium reductions ranging between 3% and 40%. But according to The Manhattan Institute’s analysis, for those who have it bad, it’s really bad: the eight worst states are seeing huge premium hikes, including Nevada (+179%), New Mexico (+142%), Arkansas (+138%), North Carolina (+136%), Vermont (+117%), Georgia (+92%), South Dakota (+77%), and Nebraska (+74%). While the young and healthy get the brunt of these increases, the older folks aren’t exempt, either – and even if their premiums don’t increase that much, it’s likely they’ll see larger deductibles and narrower networks.
4) The pre-Obamacare health insurance market was a “free market” full of “junk” insurance plans, which screwed people over and dropped their insurance when they got sick.
No, this simply isn’t true. The American health insurance system prior to Obamacare was in some senses the worst of both worlds: one torn between single payer and third party payer, where while most of the care offered was superior to the rest of the world, the chief problem was explosive growth in costs… because no one cares what something costs when someone else is paying for it (in this case, your employer or the government). No one in their right mind would describe a reality in which the government holds so much market sway, and in which consumers have near-zero price transparency, as a free market system. And as for screwing over people who got sick: it’s been illegal for insurers in the employer market to drop people who get sick since 1997 (thanks, HIPAA!). This means the problem only applies to the individual market (10% of private health insurance), where people were dropped less than 4/10ths of 1% of the time, typically after an appeals process. You really want to argue we needed to disrupt the entire marketplace to solve a problem which impacted such a small portion of the population? It would’ve been cheaper to just hand them all a check for higher-subsidized coverage… such as those offered through high risk pools, the type states like Maryland and New Hampshire are trying to keep open since their exchanges are broken. Oh, and if you’re in the employer market and feel left out by all this disruption, don’t worry – you’re next.
5) Obamacare is already controlling health care costs and it’ll eventually control premium costs.
No, it isn’t. Health care spending has actually been on the decline for some time, when measured per capita, in large part because of the economic decline. It’s also possible the dramatic growth of high deductible plans with health savings accounts, which have exploded in popularity since they came into being in 2003, (HSA enrollment has quintupled just since 2006), have factored into the slowdown. These plans behave more like real insurance and less like an overpriced payment plan, and so people behave more like consumers. National health spending per capita rose just 3.7 percent in 2008… two years before Obamacare was enacted. And keep in mind, we’re talking about all health care spending here – not the price of insurance premiums, which Obama promised would be down $2,500 for a family of four. But even analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found in 2009, well before the law passed, that premiums would go up because of Obamacare’s regulatory requirements. Obama didn’t promise premiums would go up by less than estimated, but that they would go down. Since Obamacare has passed, they’ve gone up, and they’re probably going to continue doing so for the foreseeable future… in part because of Obamacare’s faulty exchange design.
6) Once you’re able to get onto the website, you’ll have plenty of cheaper/better choices and be able to qualify for a subsidy.
No, you probably won’t. While the subsidies are generous for people on the lowest income end, many people – even low-income people – will be surprised to find how little the subsidy hides the aforementioned growth in premiums or how expensive the new plans are. And the rate shock they perceive for those premiums will likely be deceptive as well, as ProPublica notes here, because of the increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket co-pays associated with the new policies. Polling data thus far shows one of the major reasons people are coming to the website but not selecting a plan is because they’re surprised by the costs. For many people, $190 a month is absolutely affordable – but for those who weren’t buying insurance when it was $160 a month, they’re balking.
7) When people get covered under Obamacare, they’ll start liking the new system because they’ll get the same health care, but cheaper.
No, they probably won’t get what they expect. While I am amazed by how much the administration has bungled the rollout of the law, the real Achilles’ heel from my perspective has always been the second round of hits: the doc shock as people learn about the newly restricted networks under the plans offered via the exchanges. Many states have one insurer with dominant, near-monopoly market share, and in these states not having a critical hospital in the network can be a major problem for the ill. The best hospitals in the country – the Mayo Clinic, Cedars-Sinai, and other such household names – are typically also the most expensive hospitals in an insurer’s network. This means that the quickest way to be able to make a plan that is solvent under Obamacare’s regulatory model is to drop some of these expensive hospitals and systems from your plans. This is going to hit the sickest Americans hardest, as stories like this one show. In Washington State, Seattle’s Children’s Hospital is actually suing the state’s insurance commissioner after being dropped by so many insurers, disrupting the care of sick children. The Cleveland Clinic, which accepts dozens of plans, is included in just one insurer’s network through Obamacare. Get ready for a lot of stories about other children’s hospitals and cancer-focused clinics in January.
8) The Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which only neo-Confederates oppose, is giving millions of people access to affordable health care.
No, it won’t – it will give them a card promising access, which isn’t the same thing. Medicaid really is a well-intentioned ghetto of lousy health care, with terrible outcomes and access problems galore in many states, particularly for kids and for those with serious illnesses. We have hard evidence from the experience in Oregon that Medicaid doesn’t lead to better health outcomes. And for those Medicaid recipients who do need help, they already refer to their cards as a “useless piece of plastic” because they can’t actually find a doctor or dentist to accept them in a timely manner. To combat this, politicians in states like Massachusetts and Virginia have proposed making it mandatory for doctors licensed in the state to accept Medicaid patients, even as doctors accepting such patients continue to experience payment cutbacks, just as they’re seeing in California today. Cramming hundreds of thousands of new enrollees into systems which already can’t handle the people on the program? That seems like a great idea.
9) This whole thing would have worked just fine except for the Republican commitment to kill it.
No, it wouldn’t have. The Democrats in Congress wrote the bill with the federal/state exchange choice in it: they have only themselves to blame for the fact that many state legislators in both parties realized early on that making a state exchange meant owning its performance. Distrusting Obamacare’s feasibility, most states took the path of least resistance, and left it to the feds to do the work. But the administration dawdled and delayed in moving forward on key regulations because they didn’t want them to factor into the 2012 election – that was their decision alone, significantly delaying rules and red tape which was key to the implementation process. It was the Obama administration’s decision alone to put the gun to the head of lawmakers and offer only a full expansion of Medicaid, not a partial one, or no Medicaid dollars at all — meaning that negotiating was basically out of the question except as window dressing, until seven Supreme Court Justices (including two Democratically appointed ones – including one appointed by Obama!) said no dice. And finally, it was their decision alone to plunge forward with the website, when they absolutely could’ve offered delay as an olive branch to Republicans earlier this year and come away seeming both magnanimous and responsible, even as the bureaucrats in the know breathed a sigh of relief. Republicans have certainly stirred up a lot of political opposition to the law in Congress and across the country, but other than killing a few aspects of Obamacare unrelated to the core issue (things like the CLASS Act and the 1099 requirements), they’ve just been Statler and Waldorf providing color commentary at the movies. This was a monopartisan bill, and that decision has consequences… but the fundamentals of the law are failing to match up with the promises the president made to the American people, and none of those fundamentals were altered by Republicans.
10) We’re just trying to help poor people get health care! How can that be wrong? Why do you hate poor people?
Okay, you’ve got me there. Most Republicans hate poor people because they worry that their poor germs will prove contagious, and next thing you know you’re standing in a Walmart at 1 AM sorting through a bin of DVDs looking desperately for cheap Christmas presents and wondering why they ever made so many movies where Matthew McConaughey is leaning on things in a totally natural fashion. (I have it on good info that this is a recurring nightmare in the Romney household.)
The big distinction between the Left and the Right on health care policy is their different aims: the Left pushes getting people “covered” – via insurance, private and governmental. But what the Right pushes generally is greater access to quality, affordable care. This latter approach is generally the more popular one – which is why Obama sounded so much like he was echoing it during the 2008 election, where he focused on cost, not on coverage! The truth is that health insurance – particularly in the form of programs like Medicaid – does not guarantee quality health care any more than car insurance guarantees you a mechanic who fixes what’s actually wrong with your car without overcharging you. They want people getting insured because insurance is more affordable, competing in a marketplace to provide people with what they want – and thus Republicans are focused on cost, while Democrats are focused on coverage. The point is that we can subsidize the poor inefficiently (and create all sorts of access problems) through the existing broken programs, or we can subsidize them more efficiently through funded HSAs or direct delivery of services – treating low-income Americans as consumers, not as wards of the state. The Obamacare Medicaid expansion actually goes against this line of thought: it crams large numbers of healthy able-bodied childless adults into a program originally meant to serve the poorest of the poor and sickest of the sick… which is what a true safety net should do, after all.
I can’t believe President Obama made me write this, or made you have to read it. Come on, people, it’s the holidays – if you really can’t take a few days off from partisan politics, maybe it’s time to admit you have a problem. So please, do us all a favor, and ignore The Man’s push to spend Thanksgiving dinner talking about entitlement programs as our eyes glaze over. These administration folks don’t respect you – they lied to you in their talking points for years, and even now apparently think you’re too dumb to even talk to your family without their help. So if you find that as you ask for the gravy that you’re talking more about your BFFs Chait, Cohn, and Pollack than you do about friends you know in real life, may I respectfully suggest you consider making a New Year’s resolution to get a life outside of politics. Trust me: it’ll give everyone else something to be thankful about.
[Originally published on The Federalist]
NHTSA said no he didn’t.
Tesla has been saying it received the highest safety rating in the U.S., a “new combined record of 5.4 stars.”
NHTSA says there’s no such thing.
Musk said he expects the investigation will clear Tesla after incidents in which metal objects struck the underside where the Model S battery is located.
NHTSA says we’ll see, and a decision whether there should be a recall will likely take months. Maybe a lie detector test needs to be part of the study.
Musk thought he had averted scrutiny after the first fire in Washington state last month, when NHTSA declined to investigate the cause. Then another fire followed a collision in Mexico, and another blaze ignited in Tennessee a couple weeks ago after a Model S struck debris in the road (allegedly).
Musk doesn’t think it’s fair that Tesla has received so much negative media attention when there are hundreds of fires every year in gasoline-powered vehicles.
“Musk described the weeks since the fires as ‘torture,’” the Associated Press reported Friday. “He said the crashes have received an unreasonable amount of media attention given that no one was injured and the passenger compartments remained intact. He understands that a new technology such as electric cars will get more scrutiny, ‘but not to the insane degree that we’re receiving.’”
The reason for the insanity – or, at least the reason there should be insanity – is the fact that Tesla is trying to build its business on the backs of taxpayers and government distortion of free markets, rather than on the merits of its automotive product. Sure, Musk had the company repay its $465 million loan from the Department of Energy’s stimulus stash, but as NLPC has reported Tesla has vacuumed up millions of dollars in California zero-emissions credits it has sold to other vehicle manufacturers. The company also enjoys advantages such as the buyer’s federal tax credit for each vehicle, state tax credits and incentives, subsidies for battery manufacturers, and perks to offer buyers (who aremostly rich Californians) such as the use of high-occupancy highway lanes.
So for a company so dependent on a government that mandates your product and taxpayers who subsidize it, you can expect “insane” scrutiny when you hit some glitches. After all, Americans are coerced “investors.” In addition, President Obama’s new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has held up Tesla as a successful product of DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, and thus plans to revive the program that had received horrible publicity thanks to the failures of Vehicle Production Group and Fisker. The future of DOE’s electric vehicle “investments” has a lot to do with whether Tesla is viable or not.
But for all the brilliance and innovation that Musk has accumulated to his credit – leading tech pioneers such as Paypal and SpaceX – he obviously doesn’t get that with public money comes extra accountability. He enjoyed the attention earlier this year when the accolades came one after another, such as “safest car of all time” and Consumer Reports’ label as(almost) “the best car ever.” Wall Street pumped up the stock price near $200 with its two (alleged) profitable quarters in a row and $20 billion market capitalization. A seemingly lone voice – John Petersen of SeekingAlpha.com – sought to bring some sanity to the overwrought hype about Tesla’s value that even Musk has said was unjustified, and was promptly hammered by critics for his negativity.
A little over a month later came the first fire. It’s been downhill since. The share price fell to $121.38 upon Friday’s closing, and whereas Musk was happy to feed the positivity pump, he is dismayed at the attention now. Even when he tried to put a happy spin on the NHTSA investigation by saying Tesla asked for it, he was quickly refuted by the agency.
“The swift rebuttal of Mr. Musk underscores how Tesla’s relentless promotional campaign is wearing thin on regulators charged with making the nation’s vehicles and roadways safe,” the New York Times reported.
Another reason to doubt Musk is the claim that the two Model S fires in the U.S. were caused by running over debris in the road. In Washington a “large metallic object” allegedly triggered the event, and in Tennessee the culprit was said to be a trailer hitch. The only problem is, while there have been plenty of photos distributed of the charred Model S’s in the media and online, no pictures have been revealed of the alleged “perpetrators” (or “penetrators”): the “debris.”
“If that incident had occurred exactly as Tesla has theorized (near-instantaneous impalement of the battery pack by a 3” diameter sharp metallic object), in my opinion the car would have been instantly disabled (no chance to keep driving for another 2 – 3 minutes to get off the main highway, park, and exit the vehicle without injury) and might even have detonated the battery pack…,” wrote Lattice Energy’s Lewis Larsen, a physicist who has been a frequent critic of companies that depend on the viability of lithium ion batteries, in an email.
“Why hasn’t Tesla held a news conference and Elon Musk conducted a public ‘perp walk’ with the guilty piece of highway debris that they initially claimed had been recovered by a Washington Dept. of Transportation road crew that had been working in the area at the time of the incident?” he added.
In both incidents Tesla released statements that emphasized the battery fires were not “spontaneous,” which speaks to the company’s concern about the reputation for lithium ion technology’s “thermal runaway.” Larsen said if Musk really wanted to debunk that suspicion, then he would have employed his massive resources to hold up the offending debris for the world to see. That didn’t happen.
Unusual behavior and circumstances have surrounded fires that have occurred with electric vehicles and Boeing’s lithium-ion battery-dependent Dreamliner. In the case of two Chevy Volt residential garage fires in Connecticut and North Carolina, General Motors (as well as local officials and insurance companies) deployed teams that took over a year to investigate, only to determine the cause of the fires were “inconclusive.”In fires that involved the Fisker Karma, the company quickly emphasized their battery was not the cause and in the case of a Houston-area fire,suggested the vehicle owner might be to blame.
And with the case of the broadly publicized Boeing 787 fires, which shut down production of the newfangled airliner for months earlier this year, a company official concluded that it “almost doesn’t matter” what caused the fires as it announced a new “fix” for the undetermined problem.
Transparency, honesty and conclusive findings have been mostly absent from lithium ion battery incidents that affect the transportation sector. Taxpayers have been forced to heavily “invest” in this stuff and they deserve the truth.
[Originally published on the National Legal and Policy Center]
The “knockout game” is in the news these days along with much discussion of bullying. Football is a game of violence with rules in which players frequently sustain injuries. Terrorism has been adopted to advance the Islamic goal of global domination. And the administration just announced an agreement with Iran in a vain effort to slow their intention to join the nuclear club of nations with the capacity to kill thousands, if not millions.It is impossible not to conclude that violence is not built into the DNA of mankind.
In his 2007 book, “The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War”, David Livingston Smith, a professor of philosophy at the University of New England, wrote: “The track record of our species shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are extremely dangerous animals, and the balance of evidence suggests that our taste for killing is not some sort of cultural artifact, but was bred into us over millions of years by natural and sexual selections.”
On the plus side, he wrote “But we have also seen that there is something in human nature that recoils from killing and pulls us in the opposite direction.”
It’s worthwhile to take a moment to contemplate violence. A statistical analysis, Smith noted, reveals the constancy of war. “Looking at forty-one modern nation-states between 1800 and 1945, we find that they average 1.4 wars per generation and 18.5 years of war per generation.”
“Almost 200 million human beings, mostly civilians, have died in wars over the last century, and there is no end of slaughter in sight,” wrote Smith. “The threat hangs over all of us, constant and unrelenting.”
The brief notice of the slaughter occurring in Syria when poison gas was used is instructive. A wider war was avoided when Russia stepped in to negotiate the destruction of this weapon and was occasioned only when President Obama contemplated military strikes. At this writing, 100,000 Syrians and combatants have died. It is no longer an on-going news story.
“The Value of Violence” is a new book by Benjamin Ginsberg. “Honesty would be so frequently damaging that virtually all politicians and public officials become practiced liars,” notes Ginsberg, suggesting that “cynicism should be understood as a reasonable, if mainly intuitive, popular response to the realities of politics.”
The deal with Iran, albeit for only six months, was conducted in such secrecy that none of the members of Congress, including its leadership, were aware of it. The killing of a U.S. ambassador in 2012 on the anniversary of 9/11 was immediately surrounded in lies when Americans were told it was initiated by a video no one had seen, rather than one more episode in the war that Islamic fascists have engaged in since the 1980s. The nation is trying to extract itself from Afghanistan after the 2001 act of war we call 9/11 and has left Iraq after a war whose justification is subject to question. Long wars of attrition sap the strength and will of even a superpower.
The reason the deal with Iran is so suspect is the fact that it is the nexus for much of the terrorism in the world, sponsoring organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. It has engaged in every manner of violence from assassination to kidnapping and hostage-taking.
Ginsberg notes that “In recent decades, for example, armed insurgents have employed violence or the threat of violence to overthrow a number of established regimes. The African continent alone has experienced some eighty-five successful military coups during the past sixty years.” It is Africa that mankind evolved, standing upright, and walking to inhabit all the other continents.
Much is made of violence in America. It is the daily content of news. “In the United States alone, nearly one and a half million individuals become the victims of violence every year—pushed, kicked, pummeled, stabbed, and shot—while tens of thousands of others are the perpetrators of these same acts.”
Indeed, America was born in violence as citizens took up arms against the British to establish the nation. Not that long after, it fought a bloody civil war to retain the union. The right to bear arms, as much to hold the government in check as any other, is part of our Constitution. An estimated eighty million Americans own a gun or rifle or both.
One can argue that violence on the individual, national, and international level is the price that humanity pays for its own inherent, even genetic, inclination to use violence for a wide variety of purposes. It has been used by the great religions and by nations alike.
It will not end. Our best efforts can only restrain it within ourselves, but weakness, too, is an ancient invitation to violence. Appeasement is a trap.[Originally published on Warning Signs]
The year 2013 has been a great year for global agriculture. Record world production of rice and healthy production of wheat and corn produced strong harvests across the world. These gains were achieved despite continuing predictions that world agricultural output is headed for a decline.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that world rice harvests for 2012/2013 were a record 469 million metric tons. Corn and wheat harvests were also strong, following record harvests for both grains during the 2011/2012 season. The USDA is now projecting world record harvests for corn, wheat, and rice for 2013/2014.
These numbers cap a 50-year trend of remarkable growth in world grain production. Since 1960, global wheat and rice production has tripled, and corn production is almost five times higher.
For decades, doomsayers predicted that food production would fail to keep up with the needs of humanity. In 1972, Donella Meadows and others of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published The Limits to Growth, which asked the question, “Do these rather dismal statistics mean that the limits of food production on the earth have already been reached?” Paul Ehrlich wrote in The End of Affluence in 1974, “Due to a combination of ignorance, greed and callousness, a situation has been created that could lead to a billion or more people starving to death.”
But Norman Borlaug’s development of disease-resistant, high-yield strains of wheat and rice had already revolutionized twentieth century agriculture. A few years before Meadows and Ehrlich warned about coming famines, Borlaug’s wheat and rice were introduced into Latin America and Asia with astounding results. Mexico’s wheat production soared six-fold by 1970 from levels in the 1940s. India’s wheat production jumped from a huge deficit in 1965 to a surplus only five years later.
Food production continues to grow faster than population. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows a 30 percent gain in the per capita agricultural production index from 1980 to 2010. World citizens have access to more grain, meat, dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. Even fish production is climbing with large gains in aquaculture fish farming.
The increased availability of food reduced the undernourished portion of the world’s population from 18.6 percent in 1990 to 12.5 percent in 2010, according to the FAO. A total of 868 million people are still classified as undernourished.
Today’s leading agriculture alarmists are proponents of the ideology of Climatism, the belief that man-made greenhouse gases are destroying Earth’s climate. Earlier this month, a leaked draft report from Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted that man-made climate change would reduce global agricultural production yields by up to two percent per decade throughout the twenty-first century.
Lester Brown’s Earth Policy Institute has long been a predictor of agricultural collapse. His website states, “…climate change is heightening the likelihood of weather extremes, like heat waves, droughts, and flooding, that can so easily decimate harvests.” Even the USDA warns that man-made climate change threatens US agriculture.
Yet, one must wonder when the climate-damaging effects on agriculture will appear. The IPCC states that 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period in the Northern Hemisphere of the last 1,400 years. Certainly we should have seen some negative agricultural impact by now?
Maybe rising agricultural production is like rising polar bear populations―the decline begins tomorrow.
[Originally published in The Washington Times]
With everyone from the Pope to the president spouting off these days about the alleged evil of purportedly growing wealth disparity in the world, it’s worth a few moments to remind ourselves – and to help educate others – about what wealth actually means. Let’s start with what it is not.
Wealth is not the same as money, which as Steve Forbes frequently points out is simply a medium of exchange. Instead of my having to trade legal services for goats, which I then trade for chickens, which I then trade for vegetables, which I then cook and eat, I can instead receive a universally accepted medium of exchange called money, in the amount of the value of the service I have provided. I can then spend it on goat meat or chicken or vegetables or anything else of value equal to the services I have provided. Money is simply a shortcut that eliminates a lot of otherwise complicated transaction costs.
Nor should wealth be confused with income. The spendthrift through whose pockets millions of dollars flow but who spends them recklessly and accumulates nothing has little wealth, and the heir or heiress who lives in a mansion with servants but has no job may have great wealth but little income.
Wealth is also not the same as simply land or gold or other natural resources, which are useless if one does not trade or develop them. An unplanted acre of ground on which no house is built, no well sunk nor drilled, no crops planted, or no cattle or sheep grazed is worth very little. All the grains of sand in the world were not worth much until humans learned to build roads and glass and computer chips from them. Even gold has no value except for the goods and services for which it can be exchanged or the uses to which it can be put: crowns or inlays for teeth, decorative uses such as jewelry, or electrical connections in microelectronics or radio equipment.
Putting aside spiritual wealth and personal health (the value of which are incalculable and cannot be exchanged with others) material wealth is simply the accumulation of added value, nothing more, nothing less. Any time you are adding value by providing goods or services or discovering new uses for existing resources, you are creating wealth.
Unlike matter or energy, therefore, wealth can be both created and destroyed. When people discover new uses for natural resources and build businesses around them, then they have created wealth. When misguided government policies cause the stock market or the housing market to crash or hyperinflation to set in, on the other hand, then they have destroyed or diminished wealth.
Once one properly understands wealth, it makes absolutely no sense for governments, churches, or other institutions to think they can make the world or the country better off by confiscating wealth from some people and giving it to others – especially after taking pieces of it for themselves. They are simply redistributing wealth, at both direct and indirect cost.
Directly, redistribution imposes obvious transaction costs, whether through the administrative costs of transferring funds or the logistical costs of shipping commodities overseas as part of “foreign aid.”
Indirectly, third-party redistribution of wealth diminishes wealth in the long run by discouraging its production in the first place. Who, after all, is inclined to work harder than he has to if he is not allowed to keep the fruits of his labor?
A decent society will always take care of its least fortunate, but mission-oriented civic organizations and individuals generally do a better and more cost-effective job of that than hierarchical organizations spending other people’s money.
So whether it’s the president or the Pope, be wary when anyone starts decrying the “inequality” of wealth in the world.
Chances are, they’re coming after yours.
Some wireless competitors and the DOJ/OSTP are urging the FCC to effectively change their spectrum aggregation rules to treat low-band spectrum-technology <1 GHz competitively different than high-band spectrum-technology >1 GHz.
If the FCC complies, it effectively would subdivide the current spectrum marketplace into two technology markets: <1GHz and >1GHz, for the first time in twenty years of spectrum auction history. It also would set the precedent for the FCC to arbitrarily subdivide the spectrum market further in future auctions based on the FCC’s latest technology-mix prognostications at that time.
Big picture, it would represent a regression back towards the 1980s pre-auction period when the FCC, not competitive market auctions, decided which company got what spectrum, and how certain spectrum was allocated.
Specifically, Sprint, T-Mobile, Dish and other competitors want the FCC effectively to exclude some competitive bidders from fully participating in the associated spectrum auction rules so that Sprint et al can enjoy a “fair opportunity to acquire low band spectrum” (at a lower price) in the FCC’s upcoming incentive auction for TV broadcasters’ 600 MHz spectrum.
Tellingly, these pleaders define a “fair” auction as one that abruptly changes the most fundamental rules of spectrum auctions mid-game to ensure that they are the ones most likely to win what they want in an exceptional FCC-steered auction.
Not only are they proposing the FCC effectively pick some companies’ winners and other companies’ losers before the bidding starts, but they also want the FCC to de facto pick “optimal” wireless technology mixes between low-band vs. high-band for different companies.
From a technology perspective, it is arbitrary to draw a line between low-band <1GHz and high band >1GHz technology. There is nothing intrinsic about 1GHz to justify the boundary it draws except its clean numeric appellation. That’s because because radio spectrum is simply a continuum of the ever-shortening of radio frequency waves as one moves up the radio spectrum chart.
The spectrum bifurcation proposal is obviously an outcome-driven line drawn to contrive a market definition to cherry-pick maximal market concentration, in order to provide cover for regulatory intervention into an otherwise market-competitive auction.
At core the FCC would be picking one wireless technology attribute over another, rather than letting the marketplace decide who values what technology attribute the highest – in this particular instance: signal strength vs. signal speed.
The DOJ’s competitive logic here is that the propagation characteristics of low band spectrum are better for low-density areas and inside buildings.
What the DOJ’s arbitrary analysis misses entirely is the speed characteristics of current high-band spectrum licenses are dramatically faster than the speed characteristics of current low-band spectrum licenses. That is because licenses in the high-band generally have more contiguous megahertz amounts than low-band licenses have.
Physics largely determines that the wireless broadband speed a provider can provide a particular user, is driven by the amount of megahertz in a license, not the propagation characteristics of the spectrum.
Simply as a very general rule of thumb, the megahertz amount of a license, say 6, 10, 20 or, 100MHz, is the amount of broadband speed it can potentially provide to a customer. A low-band 6 MHz TV license intrinsically can deliver roughly 6 megabits of speed, whereas Sprint’s Clearwire, high-band, ~100 MHz license intrinsically can deliver roughly a 100 megabits of bandwidth or broadband speed.
Given the FCC’s public obsession with promoting ever-faster broadband speeds to all Americans, how could the FCC argue that slower-speed signals from smaller low-band licenses are so much more important to consumers than higher-speed signals from larger high-band licenses? Was the FCC right in the National Broadband Plan that high broadband speeds are very important to consumers, or is the DOJ right that consumers going forward want good propagation characteristics of low-band spectrum over broadband speed?
To be fair here it is not either or, consumers want both, and different users want different mixes of the two characteristics at different times at different places with different devices.
Providing ubiquitous, quality, broadband service is very complex and a difficult endeavor, especially given the very different mixes of spectrum that each competitor has.
The big takeaway here is who is better to figure out what precise mix of power and speed characteristics consumers want at what price when – private carriers who are held accountable in the marketplace every day on whether their technology and economic judgments are accurate, or government personnel who have less practical current expertise or data, and little accountability for guessing wrong on technology?
In the modern era, the complexity and speed of spectrum markets demand market-mechanisms to allocate very scarce radio spectrum initially broad-brush in auctions and secondarily in secondary markets to fine tune and optimize holdings as real world needs change.
In short, some wireless competitors and the DOJ/OSTP are pushing the FCC down a slippery slope of arbitrary and preemptive spectrum micro-management where the FCC would not only be managing overall spectrum screens, but also proposed spectrum band sub-screens, and even spectrum-technology-mix sub-screens.
The FCC should beware of the siren song that government somehow can better allocate spectrum competitive inputs than market economics and competition can.
The last time the FCC imagined it could manage competitive inputs better than competitive market forces could, the entire CLEC industry the FCC heavily-subsidized went bankrupt.
Real sustainable wireless competition depends on market economics and market-driven auctions, not government outcome-driven auctions, laden with uneconomic implicit subsidies at taxpayers’ expense.
In the United States policies are being promulgated by those with political power in Washington, D. C. that involve a massive and dangerous growth in the size and scope of government. At the core of the Obama administration’s push for implementing a comprehensive national health care system and related programs is a radical ideological belief in political paternalism and the welfare state.
In the face of the euphoria of those demanding such a huge expansion of “Big Brother” over even more of our lives, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of the premises behind and the realities of welfare statism.
Power and Paternalism
First and foremost, the guiding idea behind political paternalism is that the individual cannot be trusted to be a free and responsible human being. Those who wish to socially engineer our lives consider us too ignorant, too irresponsible, and too narrow in our own personal planning horizons to intelligently and reasonably take care of our own health care, our own retirement, our own family’s education, or our own spending and consumption choices.
These political paternalists who are proposing to enlarge the agenda of the welfare state implicitly consider themselves superior to the rest of us. With arrogance and immeasurable hubris, they presume to know what is good for us, better than we know ourselves. They are nothing less than would-be tyrants and despots determined to make the world over in their own ideological image – and, of course, all for our own good, whether we want it or not.
In addition, they are willing to use force against their fellow human beings to attain their paternalistic ends. That is, they believe that it is morally right for the state to use its coercive powers to take the income and wealth of some to give to others.
If an innocent citizen were to resist having his income and wealth redistributed, the paternalists clearly believe that the state has the right to even kill him (since the police agents of the state have the legitimized authority to use lethal force against those who resist its power) so someone else can have his or her food stamps, or public housing apartment, or for the government pay their visit to the doctor’s office.
If this seems like an “extreme” or an exaggerated statement, see how the government will react if on the day your income taxes are due you inform the tax authority that you are sending in a tax payment to pay your contribution for police, courts and national defense, but you’re withholding any amount that would fund any of its redistributive programs because you consider them unnecessary and immoral. You soon may be facing jail time or physical harm if you resist their confiscatory seizure of your property for unpaid taxes.
Second, a number of economists, such as Nobel Laureate, James Buchanan, have taught us that the actual politics of government intervention and redistribution have little to do with high-minded notions concerning some hypothetical “public good” or “general interest.”
The reality of democratic politics is that politicians want campaign contributions and votes to be elected and reelected, and they offer in exchange other people’s money. Those who supply those campaign contributions and votes want the money of others, which they are not able to honestly earn through the free play of open competition in the market place.
The bias in the democratic process toward political plunder is due to what is called a “concentration of benefits and a diffusion of burdens” that results from various government interventions. Suppose that in a country of 30 million people, the government taxes each citizen $1, and then redistributes that $30 million among a special interest group of 30 individuals. Each taxpayer will have one extra dollar taken away from them by the government for the year, while each of the 30 recipients of this wealth transfer will gain an extra $1 million.
The 30 recipients will collectively have a strong incentive to lobby, influence and even corruptly “buy” the votes of the politicians able to pass this redistributive legislation. Each individual taxpayer, on the other hand, will have little incentive to spend the time and effort to counter-lobby, influence, and petition members of the legislature merely to save $1 off his or her annual tax bill.
Thus, modern democracy has degenerated into a system of political plunder and special privilege at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and competing producers in society.
The Mirage of Social Justice
Third, as another Nobel Prize-winning economist, Friedrich A. Hayek, persuasively argued, even if we assumed that the political paternalists have the most benevolent motives in mind, there is no real meaning to ideas such as “social justice” or politically enforced “fairness.” They are all “mirages,” Hayek warned. The market does not reward some hypothetical notion of “merit” or “goodness.” The market rewards “service,” i.e., did an individual succeed in offering to others some specialized product in the market system of division of labor that was valued by those others who were willing to pay a particular price for it?
There is, in fact, no objective measure of an individual’s “real merit” or “worth” or “need,” and therefore there is no impartial and unbiased way the state can bestow on each member of society some fraction of national income that reflects their “socially just” and deserved amount.
Hence, it is far better to leave such issues to the private-sector charity of individuals and voluntary associations, who in spending their own money will do so based on their own evaluation of who may or may not deserve charitable support guided by their own personal standards of benevolence.
Plus, private charity, precisely because it relies on voluntary contributions, is far more efficient in their tasks than the coercive monopoly welfare state. Why? Because private charities must demonstrate to their voluntary supporters that their dollars have been spent effectively; otherwise, their support diminishes over time in competition with other charities and other uses the donors have for their own money.
Fourth, the welfare state produces over time perverse incentives and behavior among the members of society. Economists call this “moral hazard.” If the costs and consequences of someone’s mistakes and bad judgment are paid for and subsidized by others, then the person making those mistakes or acts of bad judgment has no incentive to learn from his mistakes and act more carefully and wisely in the future. Thus, you create an incentive for such individuals to do the same thoughtless or reckless actions again in the future. Plus, you signal to others in society that they, too, can act in the same irresponsible ways, and have someone else – the taxpayer – pick up the tab for their mistakes in the future, as well.
Because of earlier government bailouts, the “too big to fail” financial institutions on Wall Street believed they could act recklessly with their depositors’ and investors’ money, because they were confident (and have been right for the most part) that government would bail them out, also, if their “creative” investment strategies were to turn into big losses.
If individuals expect the government to plan for their old age, provide their healthcare needs, oversee the education of their children, guarantee them a job, monitor what they eat, drink, watch and read, as well as cover their losses from bad decisions, then why or how shall those individuals ever learn or be motivated to be more self-responsible in these and related affairs of everyday life? This does not make for a healthy and productive society in the longer run.
Government Deficits and Growing Debt
Fifth, an expanding welfare state generates growing financial demands on the regulatory and redistributive powers of the state. With no “fiscal constitution” imposing a balanced budget or other limits on the expenditures of the government, modern democratic society has plunged further and further into deficit spending and mounting government debt. We are right now witnessing that government debt grow by the trillions of dollars.
Government debt is a lien on citizens’ income in the future, since the principle and interest is supposed to be paid off at some point as the government’s IOUs come due. Thus today’s deficits mean higher taxes or even more government borrowing tomorrow to at least pay the growing interest on that accumulated debt.
But we also need to remember that we pay for that deficit spending not only tomorrow when the borrowed sums and interest payments are supposed to paid. We pay for it in the present, as well. Every dollar borrowed today by the government siphons off a dollar that, otherwise, would have been available for private sector investment and use. The society’s resources are finite at any moment in time. Those scarce resources are used either by individuals in the private sector or by those running the government. They cannot be used by both of these potential users at the same time.
Thus, every dollar borrowed by the government today (and the real resources that dollar’s purchasing power represents in the market place) is a dollar not being used for, say, capital formation, technological innovation, or improvements in private sector job skills so workers may earn higher wages in the future.
Instead, that dollar (and the real resources it represents) is used by government for current consumption: government employee salaries, welfare payments, or the fuel to fly the president’s “Air Force One.”
As a result, we are that much poorer as a society due to those resources being used for current consumption rather than future-oriented capital formation for higher and better standards of living tomorrow.
The New Road to Serfdom
All of these factors, and others that could be listed, show the menace and the immorality of the welfare state. The welfare state has been and will continue to lead us down a dangerous new “road to serfdom” in which our lives are more and more controlled, managed and manipulated by those in political power who claim the right to dictate how we are to live and work.
It encapsulates an evil immorality in which political force continues to claim the authority to deny us our individual rights to life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. The interventionist-welfare state has been creating a new feudalism with political and special interest elites who serve as the “lords” who rule over and ruin the rest of us, the modern serfs who are expected to toil for their benefit under strangling regulations, burdensome taxes, and most likely worsening inflation as the years go by.
All of us who prefer to be free men in a free society with a free market need to do all in our intellectual power to stop and reverse this reactionary counter-revolution against the ideal of human liberty. Otherwise, our civilization may be heading for a terrible collapse that will leave nothing but tyranny and poverty for generations to come.
[First published at Epic Times.]
As reported by Fox News on November 22, President Obama postponed the 2014 sign-up date for Obamacare until two weeks after the mid-term elections: Obamacare enrollment for 2015 to reportedly be delayed until after midterms.
On the same day, November 22, David Martosko, U.S. Political Editor at the Daily Mail, United Kingdom, reported Obama’s arbitrary change of the Obamacare sign-up date in far more strident and honest terms with this headline than were found in U.S. media account with this headline: ‘How nakedly political can you get?’: Obamacare year-two signups delayed until after 2014 election .
Following were these statements made by Martosko:
1. Voters in the insurance exchanges won’t know 11 days after the 2014 election just how much they’ll pay for coverage in 2015.
2. The Treasury department has already delayed implementation of the employer mandate, and its fines, until Election Day has come and gone.
3. Millions of Americans are receiving private-insurance cancellation letters, with many experiencing ticker-shock when they learn their options.
4. One poll released Wednesday [November 20] shows that 48 per cent of taxpayers now want the Obamacare law repealed.
As was conveyed in the UK Mail headline, there was no plausible reason to postpone the 2014 sign-up date for Obamacare other than to keep bad news from reaching voters until after the General Election in November. What could they be?
As set forth in terms that put the cheese on the cracker:
- Insurance mandates for employee benefit plans were previously deferred until 2014. At that time, all insurance plans must include the ten mandates specified in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. These same mandates resulted in the cancellation of about 6 million private insurance policies, and doubled the cost of insurance of policies offered in their place. Most of the added cost comes from two popular mandates – coverage for pre-existing conditions, and the elimination of lifetime benefit limits.
- The huge price increase is concealed in two ways. Nearly half of those affected will receive subsidized health care, and the maximum out-of-pocket expense (deductible) have been doubled or tripled for most policies. Cost of these subsidies are supposed to come from higher premiums for those can afford it, resulting in a charges of up to 4 times the pre-Obamacare costs. In other words, income will be redistributed from those who have to those to do not. It is such a politically toxic term, that the term “redistribution” has been banned from the White House lexicon.
- Many insurance companies wishing to participate in state and federal insurance exchanges were required to cancel all non-conforming policies as a condition of doing business with the government
But the other shoe is yet to drop.
- Pricing for insurance offered through the exchanges is based on young, healthy participants in the insurance pool. The strategy behind the millions of cancellations this fall was to force those people into participation. However, the unemployment among this age group is very high, as much as 25% for college graduates. They simply can’t afford health insurance, and will probably either pay the fines do nothing at all. The “fines” for failing to secure health insurance are imposed on income tax refunds (the Democrats were not willing to impose them directly, or call them a “tax.”) If you aren’t working, or working at minimum wage, you probably don’t owe taxes, hence no refund, hence no Obamafines.
- The early adopters of Obamacare fall mainly in two categories – those who couldn’t get insurance due to pre-existing conditions, and those who couldn’t afford insurance without subsidies. The majority of early adopters were, in fact, seeking Medicaid at no cost to themselves. The Affordable Care Act doubled the maximum allowed income to qualify for Medicaid to $32,000, which is twice the presumed poverty level. Subsidies will be granted to those making up to $62,000, four times the “poverty level,” and nearly twice the median wage ($35,000) for working citizens. Somebody has to pay for those shortfalls and subsidies.
- Finally, the deeply flawed www.healthcare.com software has greatly delayed applications through the exchanges, and unresolved security questions will keep many from even trying. This further skews the risk pool and increases the deficit.
The facts so far presented offer a grim picture. It is little wonder why so many Americans are duped, confused and running scared? With such a scenario present, Steven Hayward who writes for Forbes, made this prediction on Monday, November 11th:
Even if HealthCare.gov is fixed by the end of the month (unlikely), Obamacare is going to be repealed well in advance of next year’s election. And if the website continues to fail, the push for repeal — from endangered Democrats — will occur very rapidly. The website is a sideshow: the real action is the number of people and businesses who are losing their health plans or having to pay a lot more. Fixing the website will only delay the inevitable.
It remains to be seen, as predicted by Haywood, whether endangered Senate Democrat up for re-election will lead the charge for repeal perhaps as soon as this January after getting an earful over the Christmas break Unclear also is whether the delay to sign-up for Obamacare until after the November election will mask the bad news the American people will receive regarding sticker price, etc., that will follow in the election’s aftermath.
If Obamacare should remain in place and limping along, Insurance rates for 2015 will be based on a more realistic risk pool, which is weighted to those who will use a lot of health care. As a result, as many as 160 million people, including those now covered by employee benefit plans, will see those plans greatly increased in cost or cancelled altogether. This will drive up the cost of both private policies and of employer benefit plans.
If these plans exceed $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for a family, they will be deemed a “Cadillac” plan, and subjected to a 40% tax on the difference. Unless the quality of coverage is reduced, for example, by greatly increasing the out-of-pocket deductions, nearly all of these plans will fall victim to this surcharge. The more likely outcome is that the benefit plans will be dropped, and employees sent involuntarily to the government exchanges.
By 2016, Obama will have applied a wrecking ball to the health care industry, our lives and our fortunes. The only way out is for Republicans to gain a majority in both houses of Congress in 2014, and the White House in 2016.
The incompetence, dissembling and lack of transparency at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is already well-established. But the degree to which the mess at HHS jeopardizes our health is only beginning to come to light. And it has nothing to do with Obamacare.
As we approach a busy holiday travel season, as cold weather grips much of the nation and as flu season gets into high gear, HHS is failing to make clear their intentions about when they’ll green-light the manufacture of a vaccine for the particularly deadly H7N9 strain of avian flu from China.
H7N9 spread from chickens to humans in China this spring. It killed approximately a third of the people infected. So HHS was right to quickly partner with pharmaceutical firms to develop, test, and order some 20 million doses of vaccine to stockpile for those on the front lines, such as military and first responders. While the doses could be manufactured in record time, 60 days according to estimates, a supply must be in place (but not administered) before a pandemic starts.
While vaccines have been developed and tested, HHS refuses to give the go-ahead for pharmaceutical companies to begin making the vaccines, even though the money is already allocated. Earlier this month, two preliminary human studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, came out supporting the safety and efficacy of new vaccines developed by Novartis and Novavax. The HHS delay is mind-boggling, especially when one considers the warnings from the nation’s top public health officials.
On April 19, 2013, Secretary Sebelius determined that the H7N9 avian flu represents “a significant potential for a public health emergency that has a significant potential to affect national security or the health and security of United States citizens living abroad.” This threat of an emergency has not abated. The startling declaration is still in effect, according to an HHS spokeswoman.
And in September, Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden ratcheted up the sense of urgency by warning that “the only thing protecting us from a global pandemic right now is the fact that it doesn’t yet spread from person to person…I can’t predict if that’s going to happen tomorrow, in 10 years or never.”
And this week, a Taiwanese paper reported that “the risk of human transmission of the H7N9 strain of avian flu is expected to increase significantly over the next few months,” according to He Jianfeng, head of the National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention in southern China’s Guangdong province.
This is the same province where the government confirmed a three-year-old boy tested positive for H7N9 earlier in November.
The delay, according to HHS, is because it doesn’t have enough data. A spokesman for HHS’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response refused to say specifically what other studies are needed. The spokeswoman said additional studies should be coming out “very, very soon,” but refused to even offer a window of dates when that may happen, nor would she give a deadline as to when HHS would move ahead with the vaccine order. We remain in an indefinite holding pattern as we head towards the heart of flu season.
How long will we wait? This most transparent administration in history won’t tell us. But Dr. Robin Robinson, director of the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority told Reuters this month that results on additional vaccines are not expected for four to six more months.
More data is always better than less data when time is not of the essence. But, especially given the increasingly sobering warnings from Secretary Sebelius, Director Frieden, and Chinese officials, the preference for waiting for more precise data must be balanced against the risk of waiting too long.
Since experts believe it would take 60 days to produce the 20 million doses HHS will eventually request, even if the order were placed today, vaccines wouldn’t be available until the end of January. By then, if the virus spreads from human to human, as the CDC predicts could soon happen, we would be facing a pandemic not seen since 1918, when we also didn’t have a vaccine at the ready. At the risk of sounding like avian little, we don’t have time to wait.
Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division.[Article originally posted on JeffStier.org]
Having already examined the farm subsidy measure of the farm bill in an Illinois Review article published Tuesday, November 26 , it is necessary to bring understanding to the other part of the farm bill, the food stamp measure, which amount to a whopping $750 billion of the trillion dollar farm bill and where waste and fraud are rampant.
Research quickly uncovered six fairly recent noteworthy and eye-opening accounts that tell of a SNAP program (food stamps) badly out-of-control and in desperate need of reform.
- August 13: Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute: Reported how more than 2 million Illinoisans — 16.7% of the state’s population — are on food stamps. These figures represent data taken from the May, 2013, U.S. Department of Agriculture information. Illinois is better at putting residents on food stamps than it is at creating jobs!
- August 15: The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is soliciting people to receive food stamps in the manner of a drug dealer on a grade school playground, such as: “Psst – hey you! I’ve got something for you… it’s free…come on, try it. You’ll like it!” In many locations outreach programs are taking place. The USDA are effectively hunting people down and talking them into accepting benefits that folks never realized they needed or were qualified to receive.
- August 19: Aren’t food stamps supposed to be for food? A study by the Department of Agriculture indicates how more and more food stamp recipients are using this government benefit for items other than food. Food stamps are also being turned into cash, resulting in tax dollars being spent on alcohol, cigarettes, and a host of other non-food items.
- Sept. 10: “Almost one in six, or 47.5 million, Americans now receive food stamps. Over 13 million more people receive the food subsidies today than when Obama took office. . . Despite spending a whopping $80 billion on food stamps last year, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) argues the program needs more funding. . . Documents obtained by Judicial Watch revealed that the USDA works with the Mexican government to promote participation by illegal immigrants.”
- Sept. 17: Households on Food Stamps (SNAP) during the month of June outnumbered all households in the Northeast U.S. — a record 23,116,928 American households. This June figure represented 52% more households on Food Stamps than there were in the average month of the first year President Obama took office.
- Sept. 26: Even as the economy improves, food stamp enrollment continues to hit record highs. In the second-quarter of this year, despite household wealth increasing $1.3 trillion within the same time period, enrollment in the program jumped up by 211,708 people.
Many officials in government, and those who manage feeding program, are paying close attention to the final out come of the farm bill, which could see cuts in the program in addition to the cuts that have already occurred naturally on Nov. 1, when benefits, increased under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (commonly known as the “stimulus package”), and originally meant as a temporary boost, were reduced with the expiration of the 2009 law. A massive 47 million people are enrolled in the $80 billion program.
Food for thought by Dawen Bakst and Rachel Shefield of The Heritage Foundation, which merits serious consideration by House and Senate legislation:
Congress continues to treat agriculture as if it were 1933 instead of 2013. . . Yet every five years when the farm bill is up for renewal, many legislators, including those who claim to be pro-free market and limited government, push a farm bill that is a model of central planning. Agriculture policy continues to emphasize price supports, supply restrictions, import quotas government-subsidized international marketing programs for major corporation, and much more. Quite simply, almost any subsidy that can be dreamed of exists in one form or another in the current farm bill.
Further, food stamps should be reformed to promote self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults. Adults who are able should be required to work, prepare for work, or at least look for work in exchange for receiving food stamp assistance. This principle of reciprocal obligation does not currently exist in the program. Additionally, loopholes that have led to an increase in the food stamp rolls should be closed.
The administration of Ohio Gov. John Kasich rightly believes that able-bodied adults should work for food stamps. Starting on January 1, food stamps will be limited for more than 130,000 adults in all but a few economically depressed area. To qualify for benefits all able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend a least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, etc., unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment.
With Pat Quinn as governor, there isn’t a ghost of a chance that Illinois would ever echo the reform restrictions imposed by Kasich in Indians on food stamp recipients, of which there are 2 million here in Illinois!
Politically speaking, the political ruse of combining food stamps and agriculture policy into one bill has been successful in passing prior farm bills. Combining the two unrelated entities allowed urban legislators (supporter of food stamps) and rural legislators (supporters of farm programs) to form coalitions to pass farm bills lacking proper scrutiny of their merits.
According to The Heritage Foundation, substantive reform will only occur if the agriculture policy and food stamps are separated into different bills now and in the future, so each bill can be addressed independently. It is not acceptable to raise another bumper crop of agriculture subsidies and to offer food stamps recklessly and often without means testing.
After all, have legislators forgotten that it is taxpayer’s money that is being wasted and spent like there is no tomorrow.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) initially announced on November 17 that bipartisan progress was being made on the farm bill. Lucas further desired that a framework be set up when legislators met again on November 21 for the purpose of passing a House farm bill conference agreement before Congress adjourned for the year on December 13. The current 2008 farm bill expired on October 1st. The bill is up for renewal every five years. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman.
Hopes, however, were dashed that a framework agreement be reached after leaders of the House-Senate farm bill conference committee, having met twice on November 21, hit a wall over food stamps cuts and other things.
About the farm bill, it consists of two separate and diverse measures – farm subsidies and food stamps. Together they represent $1 trillion dollars in government spending, with a whopping $750 billion of the trillion going for the food stamp program now know as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
The U.S. House did rebel earlier in the year when it managed to pass a version of the farm bill which separated food stamps from the agriculture program. It was the first time in nearly 40 years that the House had voted on and passed separate and substantive reform bills governing farm and food stamps. At the first meeting of the Farm Bill Conference Committee on October 30, U.S. Congressman Marlin Stutzman lead a group of 27 House members with its message to keep farm policy and food stamp policy separate.
According to Ed Feulner, past president of the Heritage Foundation, in a November 18th commentary:Separation isn’t the only issue. The entire purpose of separating food stamps from agriculture program is to achieve real reform. While there’s a lively debate going on regarding food stamp reform, that’s not the case when it comes to other troubling provisions of the farm bill. As had been the case since FDR was president, agriculture policy is a government-run behemoth that would make a Soviet central planner blush. Agriculture Program Examined: Mr. Feulner goes on to say: The most expensive single farm program subsidizes about 62 percent of the premiums that farmers pay for crop insurance. Yet instead of finding ways to reduce the load on taxpayers, the House and Senate versions would expand this program. . . moreover, The bulk of agriculture subsidies go not to the small, struggling farmers that most Americans envision, but to huge ‘agri-businesses’ with annual incomes well in excess of $1 million.
It is not surprising that disagreement exists between the House and Senate version of the farm policy measure on how to deliver the safety net to producers. After all, insurance is the most expensive subsidy in the farm program.Disagreement centered on whether to give producers (as does the House bill) the choice between a revenue-based coverage program (RLC) or a price-based coverage (PLC); the Senate bill offers both types of coverage. It is thought that going to an all-inclusive system would mean less money within each type of coverage. http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/agriculture/190469-rep-lucas-ca... Another fly-in-the-ointment for the farm policy measure is the language added by House Agriculture Committee to its version of the farm bill earlier this year. Authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the language says that a state cannot impose certain production standards on agricultural products sold on interstate commerce. There is concern that King’s language has the potential to threaten the entire farm bill; the language is not in the Senate bill. The origin of the amendment stems from a longtime fight between agriculture and the Humane Society which has been pushing states to pass animal welfare laws. http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/Farm-bill-takes-aim-at-state-animal-welfare-laws-4992673.php Troubling, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), is that between 2008 and 2013 the U.S. Department of Agriculture disbursed more than $36 million to some 6,300 dead farmers or to the bereaved relatives or business partners of the intended recipients. http://blog.heritage.org/2013/08/09/usda-dead-wrong-on-farm-subsidie... While there is much to question about the the agriculture measure of the farm bill, it is the $750 billion food stamp program (SNAP) that remains the thorniest issue in the farm talks. A $33 billion difference in food stamp cuts exist between the House and Senate farm bills. It is now essential to examine the SNAP program (food stamps) which is often abused by food stamp recipients and mismanaged by government. The facts speak for themselves and point unconditionally to the need for reform in the way food stamps are handed out by government, many time without any sort of means testing. I’m sure all have experienced a person in line cavalierly using food stamps in a grocery store when it’s evident their purchases do not qualify as necessity items.
The debate on climate change is over. Anthropogenic (human) activity is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing the global temperature to rise. Anyone who disagrees is a denier and an impediment to climate science.
A new book, Climate Change Reconsidered-II Volume One: The Physical Sciences (CCR-II), by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), published by The Heartland Institute, is sure to heat up the climate science debate, even if global temperatures are not responding in kind.
There are two important reasons to take issue with the no-debate position described above.
First, the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demonstrates global warming has not occurred since 1997, despite an 8 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels since that time. Furthermore, that 8 percent increase represents 34 percent of all of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. At this juncture, drawing causation between CO2 emissions and temperature would seem an over-simplification of global climate systems.
Second, and more importantly, when it comes to science, the debate is never over.
Despite what many people seem to think, science does not occur on a linear trajectory, and knowledge is not manufactured by people crunching numbers in clean white lab coats in ivory towers where they find definitive answers.
Science and the discovery of knowledge is an interactive messy process. In order for this process to work, a fundamental rule must be followed, as stated eloquently by Jonathan Rauch in his book Kindly Inquisitors:
“[Y]our knowledge is always tentative and subject to correction. At the bottom of this kind of skepticism is a simple proposition: we must all take seriously the idea that any and all of us might, at any time, be wrong.” [italics in original]
By accepting that we are not immune from error, we implicitly accept that no person, no matter who they are or how strongly they believe, is above possible correction. If anyone can be in error, no one can legitimately claim to have any unique or personal powers to decide who is right and who is wrong. Therefore, a statement may be claimed as established knowledge only if it can be debunked, in principle, and only insofar as it withstands attempts to debunk it (Rauch 1993 pp. 46–48).
This leads to two conclusions:
- No one (or organization) gets the final say on scientific matters.
- No one (or organization) has personal authority to decide a scientific question is “settled.”
These principles have important implications for the climate change debate because the rules of liberal science not only allow but require that those who claim anthropogenic origins for recent rises in global temperature allow their theory to be checked.
Therefore, the NIPCC’s critical review (checking) of IPCC reports is not an attempt to sabotage the advancement of knowledge but a necessary requirement for science, and any attempt to paint it as unscientific is itself unscientific.
Over the past 16 years, the models used by the IPCC to predict rising global temperatures driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been contradicted by the observed evidence. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen without a corresponding rise in temperature and Antarctic ice mass sits near balance.
Clearly, if the predictions made based on IPCC models are not supported by real-world observations, the models need improvement. Whether excess heat is being absorbed by the deep oceans, or increases in global temperatures near the end of the twentieth century were driven primarily by natural forces, it’s obvious there are additional factors affecting the global climate that must be taken into account.
This is certainly not to say that attempting to model and predict what will happen in the future is not a worthwhile pursuit. It does say, however, the IPCC models aren’t there yet. CCR-II explains why.
The debate on climate science is not over, and it never will be. Instead of stooping to name-calling and belittling of those who hold differing views, real scientists check each other’s work to produce the best science possible. CCR-II is a valuable resource for this pursuit.
Isaac Orr is a speaker, researcher, and freelance writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate geology research before taking a position in the Wisconsin State Senate. He is the author of a Heartland Institute Policy Study on hydraulic fracturing.
The release of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science makes it clear that there is no scientific consensus on the causes or consequences of climate change. Some 50 scientists from 15 countries, citing nearly 4,000 peer-reviewed studies, concluded that the human impact on climate is smaller than the United Nations’ IPCC claims and that natural climate variability is the predominant cause of observed changes in weather and climate.
The next step is to take a more direct aim at the belief, which unfortunately is widespread even in the scientific community, that a scientific consensus nevertheless exists. With that in mind, earlier this week The Heartland Institute widely distributed a brief announcement of a new report from the American Meteorological Society (AMS) interpreting a 2012 survey of AMS members. Our email notice appears below. Note that it quotes from the report and provides a link to the document on the AMS Web site.
Perhaps predictably, Keith L. Seitter, executive director of AMS, has posted a comment objecting to our message. (He did not bother contacting anyone at The Heartland Institute.) Here are some brief responses to his objections:
We chose to send this notice using an email address that was descriptive of the message – “AMS Survey [mailto:2013AMSsurvey@gmail.com]” – rather than an address with a Heartland domain to maximize the open rate, a common practice in email marketing. There was no attempt to deceive recipients about who sent the message: “This message was sent to [recipient] from Heartland Institute” and our address appear at the bottom of the message.
We illustrated the message with the same AMS logo that appears on the cover of the AMS report. That, too, is common practice: Heartland’s logo and those of other groups are used countless times without permission in emails, on blogs and web sites, and in print publications from other organizations. If the AMS stands by its report, it’s difficult to understand why they would object to having their logo appear on an announcement of their own research.
So why the objection? Seitter says “The text of the e-mail reports results from the study far differently than I would, leaving an impression that is at odds with how I would characterize those results.” Indeed it does. This is all about “spin” and not, as Seitter says later in his comment, “transparency and scientific integrity.”
The AMS survey found only 52 percent of the members who responded to the survey believe the warming of the past 150 years was man-made. Oddly, that finding, which appears in Table 1 of the report (on the very last page of the pre-publication version), is not mentioned in the report’s commentary, an oversight we corrected with our announcement. The survey also found that members who self-describe as being liberals are far more likely than other members to believe this, which also isn’t plainly stated in the report.
It’s also odd that the report doesn’t reveal what percentage of members believe man-made global warming is harmful, even though that question appeared in the survey and is at the core of the debate between “alarmists” and “skeptics.” From an earlier publication of the survey’s results, though, it appears that 76 percent of those who believe in man-made global warming also believe it is “very harmful” or “somewhat harmful,” so we can estimate that 39.5 percent of all AMS members say they believe man-made global warming is dangerous. That is somewhat less than a “consensus.”
The AMS report doesn’t reveal whether all or just nearly all of the AMS members who believe man-made global warming is dangerous self-identify as being liberals, but since it identifies political ideology as the strongest or second strongest factor in determining a scientist’s position on this matter, one has to suspect this is the case.
If the AMS wants to act with transparency and scientific integrity, it should honestly report all of the results of this survey and not hide those that reveal the absence of consensus. Until they rise to that level, we have little choice but to do our best to correct their errors.
Please check my math and let me know if I got this wrong.
If you are an AMS member, I hope you will ask Seitter why the 52 percent finding wasn’t deemed worthy of comment, and why the percentage of all respondents who believe man-made global warming is dangerous is not reported anywhere in this report. And maybe why the views of 39.5 percent of AMS members dominate its public statements on this controversial issue.
On at least a couple of previous Thanksgivings, I have quoted from William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims taking leave of the port of Delftshaven in 1620, crossing the Atlantic, and settling in Plymouth Colony. Bradford’s written account of the Pilgrims’ journey ends this way:
“Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew. If they looked behind them, there was a mighty ocean they had passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them from all the civil parts of the world.”
This may be the end of Bradford’s account, and no doubt it paints a bleak picture of what he foresaw for the Pilgrims in the new land – in the “desolate wilderness.” But I find it a good beginning for thinking about America on Thanksgiving, about the road we have traveled in the almost four centuries hence. And, most importantly, in thinking about the idea of America.
Certainly, as always, we continue to face challenges, and serious ones, as we strive to create the “more perfect Union” of which our Founders spoke in our Constitution’s Preamble. But, with all our challenges, America remains a bountiful country, with much opportunity for advancement for those who wish to work hard and share in the bounty.
I understand there are deep divisions in the country concerning important matters of domestic and foreign policy. But, frankly, despite what you may be told by today’s instant pundits, any real student of history knows that this is nothing new. There is a reason why in the earliest days of our Republic, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (yes, that is what they called themselves!) emerged to do battle with Adams’ Federalists. There were important philosophical differences between the two parties concerning the proper purposes of government and the legitimate extent of government power. And it has been ever thus, and that is as it should be in a democratic republic.
On Thanksgiving and throughout the year, I am unabashed in proclaiming my belief in American exceptionalism. I am unabashed because I have deep faith that the idea of America as expressed in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence is exceptional. The Declaration proclaims, “all Men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is ordained to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Understanding how far America has come since William Bradford looked upon the “desolate wilderness” in 1620, it is difficult not to be optimistic about our country’s “exceptional” future, and I am.
As I said above, I am not naïve about the serious challenges confronting the country today as in the past. And I full well understand that citizens have very different approaches to resolving the important issues of the day.
At the Free State Foundation, consistent with our understanding of the meaning of the Declaration and the Constitution, and the ideas they seek to embody, we advocate free market, limited government, and rule of law principles, with an emphasis on protecting individual freedom, free speech, and property rights as a sure means of promoting the nation’s social and economic well-being. In other words, as a means of preserving liberty while increasing America’s bounty for all.
We are grateful for many things on this Thanksgiving Day, but we are especially grateful for the freedom we still enjoy in America to vigorously advocate these principles and to espouse our perspectives and policy prescriptions. And, we are grateful that, if you differ, you still enjoy the same freedom.
So, looking backward over four centuries since the Pilgrims’ landing, but mostly looking ahead to the future, here’s wishing you a safe, happy Thanksgiving. As always, we’re most grateful for your support of the Free State Foundation and our work, and for your friendship.[Article originally posted on The Free State Foundation]
This time of the year, whether in good economic times or bad, is when Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together. It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.
The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.Plymouth Colony Planned as Collectivist Utopia
In the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s “Republic,” in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.
What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked the land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.
The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.Collective Work Equaled Individual Resentment
As Governor Bradford explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized):
“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could husbands brook it.”
Because of the disincentives and resentments that spread among the population, crops were sparse and the rationed equal shares from the collective harvest were not enough to ward off starvation and death. Two years of communism in practice had left alive only a fraction of the original number of the Plymouth colonists.Private Property as Incentive to Industry
Realizing that another season like those that had just passed would mean the extinction of the entire community, the elders of the colony decided to try something radically different: the introduction of private property rights and the right of the individual families to keep the fruits of their own labor.
As Governor Bradford put it:
“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end . . . This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”The Plymouth Colony experienced a great bounty of food. Private ownership meant that there was now a close link between work and reward. Industry became the order of the day as the men and women in each family went to the fields on their separate private farms. When the harvest time came, not only did many families produce enough for their own needs, but also they had surpluses that they could freely exchange with their neighbors for mutual benefit and improvement.
In Governor Bradford’s words:
“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”Rejecting Collectivism for Individualism
Hard experience had taught the Plymouth colonists the fallacy and error in the ideas that since the time of the ancient Greeks had promised paradise through collectivism rather than individualism. As Governor Bradford expressed it:
“The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst the Godly and sober men, may well convince of the vanity and conceit of Plato’s and other ancients; — that the taking away of property, and bringing into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”
Was this realization that communism was incompatible with human nature and the prosperity of humanity to be despaired or be a cause for guilt? Not in Governor Bradford’s eyes. It was simply a matter of accepting that altruism and collectivism were inconsistent with the nature of man, and that human institutions should reflect the reality of man’s nature if he is to prosper. Said Governor Bradford:
“Let none object this is man’s corruption, and nothing to the curse itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”
The desire to “spread the wealth” and for government to plan and regulate people’s lives is as old as the utopian fantasy in Plato’s “Republic.” The Pilgrim Fathers tried and soon realized its bankruptcy and failure as a way for men to live together in society.
They, instead, accepted man as he is: hardworking, productive, and innovative when allowed the liberty to follow his own interests in improving his own circumstances and that of his family. And even more, out of his industry result the quantities of useful goods that enable men to trade to their mutual benefit.Giving Thanks for the Triumph of Freedom
In the wilderness of the New World, the Plymouth Pilgrims had progressed from the false dream of communism to the sound realism of capitalism. At a time of economic uncertainty and growing political paternalism, it is worthwhile recalling this beginning of the American experiment and experience with freedom.This is the lesson of the First Thanksgiving. This year, when we, Americans sit around our dining table with family and friends, we should also remember that what we are really celebrating is the birth of free men and free enterprise in that New World of America.
The true meaning of Thanksgiving, in other words, is the triumph of Capitalism over the failure of Collectivism in all its forms.
[Originally published on Epic Times]
Over the past several years, the federal government has launched several programs to encourage the development of new and advanced telecommunications services in all areas of the country. The two most prominent efforts are the Connect America Fund (CAF), a spinoff of the Universal Service Fund (USF), and the Rural Utilities Service Connect America Fund (RUS), a loan program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Farm Bill.
Both the RUS loan program and CAF were launched in an attempt to further expand deployment of broadband Internet services to areas of the country the government believes are underserved. Both programs use taxpayer dollars chasing a goal that has already been achieved: The vast majority of Americans (around 95 percent) already have access to some form of broadband coverage.
Thomas Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), argued in a CAGW article that the very premise of the programs is based on a misconception of the broadband market.
“Support for programs like the RUS comes from the mistaken belief that private utilities cannot or will not deliver their products to certain areas. Like most allegations of market failure, the government’s solution is a thinly-veiled excuse for unnecessary spending that harms private entrepreneurs and supports political allies while wasting taxpayer money.”
Failure to Focus
The RUS loan program was established by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill. It is designed to provide loans to bring Internet broadband service to rural communities either unserved or underserved by private Internet providers. The RUS generally defines rural communities as municipalities with populations of less than 20,000. Despite this standard, which was tightened in the 2008 Farm Bill, one of the most significant problems with the RUS, according to its critics, is its ambiguity over what areas qualify as rural and underserved.
Two separate reports from the USDA in 2009 and 2012 found the RUS did not maintain its focus on rural communities. The 2009 report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General found the RUS had funded broadband services in 148 communities within 30 miles of a city with 200,000 people, including several communities near the Chicago and Las Vegas metropolitan areas.
Andrew Moylan of the R Street Institute argued in a Big Government article that the RUS stands in the way of broadband development and does not justify its cost.
“Well-intentioned or not, there’s no rational justification for RUS to lend money for rural broadband development to companies that serve wealthy suburbs. We simply cannot afford such excesses if we are to stand any chance of creating a sustainable fiscal future.”
This problem remains unresolved; a 2012 report from the USDA also found the RUS does not target the areas it is supposed to target: “We found that RUS had not maintained its focus on rural communities most in need of Federal assistance. This is largely because its definition of ‘rural area,’ although within the statutory guidelines, was too broad to distinguish between suburban and rural communities. As a result, RUS issued over $103.4 million in loans to 64 communities near large cities.”
Waste and Fraud
In a Town Hall essay, Kelly Cobb of the Cato Institute argued programs like the RUS and CAF are plagued by waste and abuse that is difficult to track.
“These costly and duplicative programs are plagued with the same waste and abuse – only this time no one is sure exactly how much. The loan program also picks winners and losers in the market; taxpayer-funded companies have a competitive advantage over others with only private capital. By 2009, over three quarters of the loans went to communities that already had broadband service – and nearly 60 percent of the taxpayer money went to places with two or more providers.”
There have been efforts to reform the RUS. The 2008 Farm Bill attempted to narrow the definition of rural communities and met with some success, but it did not eliminate the waste. During the debate over the 2013 Farm Bill, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) pushed a package of reforms in an amendment that was accepted by the Senate but never implemented. The amendment made several major improvements to the RUS program: Ittightened RUS requirements so that 25% of the households in a proposed service area be unserved by existing providers while adding new measures to ensure transparency and accountability.
Just a Slush Fund
In a joint statement, a coalition of free-market, consumer, and tax watchdog groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, R Street, Americans for Prosperity, and Americans for Tax Reform voiced their opposition to the RUS loan program:
”The Rural Utilities Service is a classic example of waste and market distortion. In addition to the cost, in many areas, the practice of guaranteeing loans serves to undercut existing private-sector investment.”
Broadband slush funds, paid for by taxpayers everywhere, are a drain on consumers and totally unnecessary. The vast majority of Americans (around 95 percent) already have some form of broadband coverage, and the market is doing a great job of bringing new broadband services to where they are in demand. The RUS and programs like it are yet another subsidy wasted on a problem that does not exist.
The whole idea of green energy—renewable resources—grew out of an energy reality that was much different from today’s. It was in the 1970s, following the OPEC Oil Embargo that solar panels began popping up on rooftops and “gasohol” subsidies were enacted. It was believed that green energy would move the U.S. off of foreign oil and prevent oil from being used as a weapon against us.
Today, that entire paradigm has been upended and OPEC’s power has been virtually neutered by increasing domestic oil production and decreasing gasoline consumption.
Jay Lehr, Heartland Institute science director, likens continuing “as though our new energy riches did not exist” to “ignoring our telecommunication revolution by supporting operator-assisted telephones with party lines.”
Instead of growing our gas, we need to be growing food that can feed a hungry world and balance out the U.S. trade deficit.
In a November 17 editorial, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) perfectly sums up the current renewable resource status: “After 35 years of exaggerations about the benefits of renewable fuels, the industry has lost credibility.” Similarly, on the same day, the Washington Post (WP) went a step further, stating that ethanol “has been exposed as an environmental and economic mistake.”
It seems that ethanol is an idea whose time has come—and gone.
Mandated for blending into America’s gasoline supply in 2007 through the Energy Security and Independence Act, ethanol now has an unlikely coalition of opponents—including car and small-engine manufacturers, oil companies and refiners, and food producers and environmental groups.
A national movement is growing and calling for the end of the ethanol mandates that, according to the WSJ, have “drained the Treasury of almost $40 billion” since the first gasohol subsides were enacted in 1978. Realize the word “Treasury,” used here, really means “taxpayer.”
“At the end of 2011, the ethanol industry lost a $6 billion per year tax-credit subsidy,” the WP points out. But the mandate for the American consumer to use ethanol remains through what Senator David Vitter (R-LA) calls: “a fundamentally flawed program that limps along year after year.”
Imagine the surprise, given that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asserts: “Biofuels are a key part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, helping to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon pollution and create jobs,” when, on November 15, the EPA gave a nod toward market and technological realities and, for the first time, proposed a reduction in the renewable volume obligations—below 2012 and 2013 levels.
On a call with reporters, a senior administration official explained: “While under the law volumes of renewable fuel are set to increase each year this unanticipated reduction in fuel consumption brings us to a point where the realities of the fuel market must be addressed to properly implement the program.”
The WP describes the problem: “Mixing more and more ethanol into a fixed or shrinking pool of fuel would bump up against the capacity of existing engines to burn it, as well as the capacity of the existing distribution network to pump it.” It states: “The downward revision of roughly 3 billion gallons is the first such reduction since Congress enacted the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2007.”
The EPA’s decision is lauded by AAA President and CEO Bob Darbelnet: “The EPA has finally put consumers first.” He said the targets in the 2007 law “are unreachable without putting motorists and their vehicles at risk.”
The November 15 announcement has even received rare bipartisian support. In a joint statement, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-CA) praised EPA’s decision to cut into the biofuels mandate next year. “As our white papers and hearings made clear, the status quo is no longer workable,” Upton said. “Many of the issues raised by EPA, stakeholders, and consumer advocates are now reflected in the agency’s proposed rule.” Both suggested the committee would continue to examine possible legislative changes to the overall mandate.
The ethanol lobby is not so enthusiastic. “Despite a lack of demand,” states the WSJ, it “wants government to force a blend of E15 or higher on millions of consumers and force car makers to adapt their fleets to a fuel that offers less octane per mile traveled and no environmental benefit.”
Brooke Coleman, Advanced Ethanol Council executive director, expressed the industry’s disappointment: “While only a proposed rule at this point, this is the first time the Obama administration has shown any sign of wavering when it comes to implementing the RFS.”
Coleman added: “What we’re seeing is the oil industry taking one last run at trying to convince administrators of the RFS to relieve the legal obligation on them to blend more biofuel based on clever arguments meant to disguise the fact that oil companies just don’t want to blend more biofuel. The RFS is designed to bust the oil monopoly. It’s not going to be easy,” To which, Taylor Smith, Heartland Institute policy analyst, quipped: “The renewable fuel industry has reacted to EPA’s announcement as if something big has been taken away from them, when technically nothing has been taken away from them, just less will be given to them in the future. The oil industry’s heavy lobbying may be blamed for EPA’s announcement, but ethanol’s failure to lower CO2 emissions or reduce oil use or oil imports since the law was passed has just as much if not more to do with it.”
Ethanol is setback.
While the ethanol mandate hasn’t been eliminated, the administration has wavered and has given a nod toward “market and technological reality.” Likewise, those of us opposed to government mandates and subsidies were handed a small victory in Arizona when, on November 14, the commissioners tipped their hand by setting a new direction for solar energy policy. In a 3-2 vote, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) took a step and added a monthly fee onto the utility bills of new solar customers to make them pay for using the power grid.
While the ACC decision didn’t make national headlines, as the EPA decision did, it has huge national implications.
The issue is net-metering—a policy that allows customers with solar panels to receive full retail credit for power they deliver to the grid. Supporters of the current policy—including President Obama—believe that ending it “would kill their business.” Opponents believe it “unfairly shifts costs from solar homes to non-solar homes.”
The ACC vote kept the net-metering program, but added a small fee that solar supporters call “troubling.” Officials for SolarCity and SunRun—companies that install solar arrays—have reportedly said: “The new fees mean fewer customers will be able realize any savings.”
“What amounts to a $5 charge is a big hit to the solar industry,” said Bryan Miller, SunRunvice president for public policy and power markets. “In our experience, you need to show customers some savings.”
Considering that Arizona Public Service Co. (APS) wanted to cut the rate paid to customers with solar and wanted a much larger fee added, the ACC decision might not seem like a victory. In fact, the solar supporters called it a victory for their side, claiming “policymakers in Arizona stood up for its citizens, by rejecting an attempt from the state’s largest utility to squash rooftop solar.” But that’s not the full story.
The new fee passed 3-2—which might sound like a narrow margin. However, the two “no” votes, voted “no” because each believed the fee should be higher—meaning that all five commissioners wanted a fee added (four of the five had previously indicated that they were ready to add fees as high as $50 a month). Additionally, the fee is only in place until the next rate case that will be filed in June of 2015. Plus, a clause was added that allows the commission to adjust the charge annually. After December 31, solar customers will be presented with a document making it clear that the fees they pay the utility may increase.
James Montgomery, RenewableEnergyWorld.com associate editor, reported that the Alliance for Solar Choice representative, Hugh Hallman, acknowledged that there is a cost-shift that the solar sector needs to address. In the ACC case, it was the solar industry that proposed the fee—even thought it had “bitterly” fought any new fees. The Arizona Republic coverage of the vote states: “The solar industry offered the $5 compromise as it faced the reality that the commissioners appeared poised to enact even higher fees closer to what APS requested.” And adds: “The meeting appeared to be going against the solar industry.”
Commissioner Brenda Burns, who was one of the “no” votes because she wanted higher fees, called out the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association over a statement made in a letter claiming that solar customers used their own money to install solar at no cost to their neighbors. She noted: “Solar customers got up-front incentives to pay for their solar panels until they expired in October. Those incentives came from other customers and ran into the thousands of dollars for many solar users. APS ratepayers paid more than $170 million in cash incentives,” she said. “It is a fact, and we shouldn’t ignore the fact.”
The ACC’s process pointed out the customers’ savings that $170 million in cash incentives got them could be “largely or entirely wiped out” with a $5 fee. It solidified that there is cost-shifting taking place—which the industry has denied. And, it set up larger fees and potential credit adjustments in the near future.
Rhone Resch, Solar Industries Association president/CEO, called the ACC decision “precedent setting action.” There are a number of other state commissions currently reviewing net-metering policies.
Renewable energy has suffered a setback in both the EPA ethanol decision and the ACC solar decision. Will wind be next?
On November 14, fifty-two Congressmen signed a letter, organized by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), calling for the end of the wind production tax credit (PTC). In the letter addressed to Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, they point out that the PTC, which was scheduled to end on December 31, 2012, was extended “during the closing hours of the last Congress,” as a part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). Not only was it extended, but it was enhanced by modifying the eligibility criteria. Originally, wind turbines needed to be “placed in service” by the end of the expiration of the PTC to qualify for the tax credit. Under the ATRA, they need only to be “under construction” to qualify.
The letter points out: “If a wind project developer merely places a 5% deposit on a project initiated in 2013, it will have at least until 2015 and possibly 2016 to place the project in service and obtain the PTC. That means that a wind project that ‘begins construction’ in 2013 could receive subsidies until 2026.”
Like ethanol and solar, “the growth in wind is driven not by market demand, but by a combination of state renewable portfolio standards and a tax credit that is now more valuable than the price of the electricity the plants actually generate.”
Earlier this month, more than 100 organizations—including the two for which I serve as executive director—sent a letter to Congress calling for them to allow the PTC to expire as scheduled. This letter states “after 20 years of preferential tax treatment,” wind energy “remains woefully dependent on this federal support” and calls for “energy solutions that make it on their own in the marketplace—not ones that need to be propped up by the government indefinitely.”
Both of these actions come at a time when wind energy is suffering some embarrassing setbacks of its own.
On November 20, the sixth GE 1.6 megawatt wind-turbine blade in 17 months broke off. Three “incidents” have taken place in Illinois (most recently on November 20), two in Michigan (November 12), and one in New York (November 17). The blades weigh about 20,000 pounds and are about 160 feet long. These six cases are called “rare” and “isolated” but there are hundreds of the same GE turbines in the same industrial wind parks where the blades broke off. One can’t help but wonder which turbine will “crash to the ground” tomorrow?
Reports indicate that so far, “no one was injured.” However, locals have reported shrapnel from the blade break has been found more than 1500 feet away.Setbacks for turbine installations are 511 feet from roads and only 700 feet from property lines, so the possibility of somebody getting killed is a real probability.
Note: The North American Wind Power story on the Michigan failures, states: “GE’s 1.6-100 is one of North America’s most sought-after turbines.” Woe to the person who has a different manufacturer’s turbine nearby if these are the “most sought after.”
While, to date, no one has been killed by a wind-turbine blade, plenty of birds—including federally protected birds, such as bald eagles—have been killed. On November 22, the first-ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects was settled. Duke Energy agreed to pay fines, restitution, and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years.
The EPA finally saw some sense when it announced the reduction in the amount of ethanol that refiners are required to blend into gasoline in 2014. The ACC signaled a change in ratepayer compensation for solar energy. Will Congress show similar wisdom and allow the wind tax credit to expire at the end of 2013?
These mandates and tax credits are remnants of an outdated energy policy that is akin to “ignoring our telecommunication revolution by supporting operator-assisted telephones with party lines.” America’s energy paradigm has changed and our energy policies need to keep up and be revised to fit our new reality.
[Originally published on TownHall.com]
The Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear that climate alarmism is now and has always been a matter of faith, and not science.
The just-released report includes remarkable revelations. Contrary to previous IPCC reports, this report shows that planet Earth’s mean temperature is not directly tied to the concentration of one relatively weak greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide — floating around in the atmosphere. It shows that other forces influence the planet’s climate, which for the most part are well beyond our control.
Volcanoes can pump particulate matter into the air, a phenomenon that lowers global temperatures by dissipating sunlight. The planet’s oceans — in particular, the massive Pacific — serve as enormous heat sinks, effectively modulating any natural temperature variations. And perhaps most importantly, the ultimate source of our day-to-day temperature fluctuations, the Sun itself, undergoes its own fluctuations that influence our lives far more than the burning of carbonaceous compounds in order to generate heat and power.
All of these facts, truths that “skeptics” such as the Heartland Institute (and yours truly) have been trumpeting for years, are acknowledged in the latest IPCC report.
However, that same report tells us to believe none of these other influences matters nearly as much as the small amount of carbon dioxide that mankind adds to the atmosphere. Doomsday is still on the way, according to the IPCC. Its arrival has merely been delayed a bit by an unexpectedly frivolous Mother Nature. We must not waver in our confidence that ruination is just around the corner.
We are supposed to forget how confident the prophets of doom were thirty years ago when they first began asserting that unless we kicked the fossil fuel habit, disaster was sure to arrive early in the 21st century. Well, here we are. The global climate is not markedly different from what it was when they started their predictions of doom. The “hockey stick graph” indicating a drastic temperature increase has given way to a broomstick, with temperatures lying flat for the past 15 years.
In just about any realm of human study, being this dramatically wrong would cause the authors of the errors to be dismissed as unreliable, and perhaps as quacks. But in the world of environmental fearmongering, a spectacularly false prediction is no obstacle. There is no “wrong” in climate activism, there is only the message, which must be pushed continuously without regard for contrary evidence or honest scientific skepticism. Unsettling facts must not get in the way of “settled science.”
If you disagree, you are labeled a flat-Earther. The IPCC says the science is settled, what more evidence does one need?
If you have the temerity to question prominent alarmist Michael Mann’s refusal to test his climate claims against real world measurements, you’ll be told that proofs are for mathematics, and that only a blockhead would not accept Mann’s word on the matter.
Climate science is both solid and liquid at the same time, although uniquely neither, a paradox reminiscent of the Trinity in Christian doctrine. And although I’m a fan of the Trinity, perhaps doctrines such as this should be reserved for religion. Though since environmental and climate activism has always been a matter of faith rather than science, perhaps such essentially religious formulations were inevitable.
The First Church of Climate Change needs a reformation. According to its leaders, we peasants are no more qualified to understand the subtle nuances of climate science than the serfs of medieval Europe were qualified to understand the mysterious motions of the heavens. And so we are told to put our faith in the modern-day version of the papal astronomer and to never, ever question the word of the educated elite. To do so would be heresy, a sin that has the most heinous of consequences.
Rich Trzupek (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a chemist and a policy advisor to the Chicago-based Heartland Institute on environmental issues. He has been an environmental consultant specializing in air quality issues for more than 30 years.[Article originally posted on pjmedia.com]
Mr. Ammori, one of Google’s and Free Culture’s most able defenders, comes to the public defense of Google in his recent USA Today Op-ed “Blame the NSA not Facebook & Google.”
He publicly castigates privacy advocates for doing their jobs, stating: “blaming tech companies for the NSA’s overreach isn’t just ignorant, but dangerous.”
As most understand, ad hominem attacks are the refuge of those who know the facts are not on their side.
Nevertheless Mr. Ammori does us all a favor for elevating the important public question of whether or not Google, in particular, deserves any blame for its significant role in the NSA spy scandals.
First, let’s address whether it is “ignorant” to blame Google for complicity in NSA spying. Consider the following facts.
- Google is unique in having a public mission to collect all of the world’s private information.
- Consider the staggering number of ways that Google has developed to monitor more people more intimately than any entity ever – including today’s NSA. See this one-page graphic: Why Google is Big Brother Inc.
- Consider how similar Google is to the NSA in spying habits, legal positions, and attitudes in this analysis.
- Look at how closely Google has cooperated with the NSA over the last decade in this list.
- See how Google is the spy tool of choice, the one-stop-shop for spying and the spymasters dream in this analysis.
- Given all the Snowden NSA revelations involving Google, it is reasonable that many in the rest-of-world could look upon Google Glass’ capability — to enable anyone to surreptitiously video record and immediately send it back to Google servers — as Google’s Spy-Glass or Team NSA headgear. See here.
So considering the overwhelming evidence against Mr. Ammori’s view, it is far from “ignorant” to put some blame on Google for creating a unique global database of extremely intimate private information on over a billion people that every intelligence service around the world naturally would covet.
Second, let’s address whether it is “dangerous” to blame Google for complicity in NSA spying. Consider the following.
- What Google fears here is that holding Google accountable for its part in pervasively invading the privacy of Americans and innocent people around the world would endanger Google’s two-pronged political strategy. First, it seeks to divert attention from Google’s world-leading privacy violations (see here). And second, it seeks to undermine calls for commercial privacy reforms and legislation by advancing the self-serving and absurd notion that only government’s can violate people’s privacy – not companies, organizations, or individuals. Simply, Mr. Ammori is complaining that privacy advocates understand that protecting Americans’ privacy depends on better privacy accountability legislation for the Government and for companies, organizations and individuals.
- Another real danger here would be to ignore that Google’s online advertising model is not financially-aligned with users’ interests, but advertisers’ interests. To best learn people’s private hot buttons in order to best influence their commercial behavior via advertising, Google has invented more ways to spy on people’s very intimate behaviors, and to aggregate immense private dossiers on individuals, than any entity ever.
- While Google’s online advertising is a very legitimate business model, it truly would be dangerous to ignore that the same information that Google uses to influence users’ commercial behavior easily could be used by governments to influence citizens’ political, economic and social behaviors.
- In addition, it would also be dangerous to ignore that the current dominant Internet advertising model advances a property-and-privacy-destructive, Internet commons/free culture philosophy that all Internet content, software and bandwidth should not require any permission or payment to use.
- Finally, another real danger here would be to allow Google to evade accountability to the rule of law, and to the high ethics and privacy standards that Google publicly represents itself as having, when Google has accumulated such a uniquely long and bad corporate rap sheet – see here.
Thank you Mr. Ammori, your op-ed has brought welcome additional attention to the many overwhelming facts surrounding Google’s complicity in the NSA spying scandals. The evidence proves some blame is very well placed on Google.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s recent comments disparaging “white suburban moms” for protesting new national tests and curriculum mandates are not the isolated remarks of an out-of-touch elitist. His attitude is typical among bureaucrats from both parties regarding Common Core, but politicians who ignore this sleeper topic endanger themselves in 2014 and 2016.
Common Core lists what several committees convened within two DC-based nonprofits decided K-12 children need to learn in math and English. Although federal influence over testing and curriculum is illegal, the Obama administration has funded two other nonprofits it oversees to make national tests that will measure whether children have learned what these committees wanted. These currently unfinished tests will replace state tests in more than 40 states in 2014-15. In most states, test results influence teacher pay, personnel hiring and firing, school funding, state control over school districts, curriculum, whether students pass their grade or graduate, college acceptance, and more. Basically, Common Core touches everything in U.S. education except bus routes.
At least a dozen states have held hearings reconsidering the initiative in just 2013. Such hearings routinely need overflow rooms to contain abnormally large audiences of moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers who attend during work and school hours. New York and Ohio are right in the middle of such hearings, following Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, and Indiana in just the past two months. Opponents’ concerns include lack of public input, costs, further centralization in education, lost teacher autonomy, crony capitalism, academic quality, and experimental testing. (To learn more, here’s a good place to start, and another.)
Common Core opponents include, as entire institutions or representatives from them, the American Principles Project, Americans for Prosperity, the Badass Teachers Association, the Brookings Institution, the Cato Institute, Class Size Matters, Eagle Forum, FreedomWorks, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heartland Institute (where I work), the Heritage Foundation, Hillsdale College, the Hoover Institution, Notre Dame University, the National Association of Scholars, the Pioneer Institute, Stanford University, United Opt-Out, and leaders from Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to a coalition of Catholic university scholars and teachers union darling Diane Ravitch. These organizations’ flavors range from constitutionalist to libertarian to liberal. The people making the noise are regular moms, dads, and grandparents, but they’re backed up by organizations with intellectual chops.
Even so, knowledge of Common Core is relatively low among the general public, so many politicians have seen this as an opening to disregard or ignore it. That’s a dangerous move.We’re Not Listening
As a sampling of the disregard politicians have bestowed on thousands of ordinary people agitating against Common Core as it rolls out into schools in advance of the tests, consider the following.
Before one of these hearings in October, Ohio House Education Chairman Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster) told reporters Common Core critics “don’t make sense.” He also called opposition a “conspiracy theory.” In Wisconsin the same month, state Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) told a packed audience their hearings were “crazy” and “a show,” and asked, “What are we doing here?” When Michigan’s legislature reinstated Common Core funding after several hearings, State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw County) said, “[W]e’ve marginalized, quite frankly, the anti-crowd into a very minute number.” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) has called opponents a “distract[ing]” “fringe movement.”
Thousands of New York parents and teachers have attended public forums to protest Common Core this fall. At the first of 16 state-sponsored townhalls on the topic, state education Commissioner John King was booed after talking over parents repeatedlyand giving the large, angry audience 20 minutes to ask questions after a two-hour presentation. After the meeting, King declared the forum was “co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.” So he canceled the rest. After calls for his resignation, King announced new, invite-only forums.
Then, there’s Florida. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has said those who object rely on “conspiracy theories.” At a recent conference by Bush’s education nonprofit, education blog RedefinED reported, “political strategist Mike Murphy said polling shows most of the public still isn’t familiar with Common Core. The heaviest opposition, he said, comes from Republican primary voters, who, when they’re first asked about the standards, are opposed 2-to-1. ‘They think it’s a secret plot controlled by red Chinese robots in the basement of the White House,’ he said.”
Florida’s state board of education received 19,000 public comments on Common Core in October. Officials still have not formally reviewed those, and lawmakers including Gov. Rick Scott (R) told constituents the comments were part of lawmakers reconsidering Common Core after dropping its national tests. The day before the comment period closed, however, Florida Deputy K-12 Chancellor Mary Jane Tappen said on a webinar, “We are moving forward with the new more rigorous [Common Core] standards. So, if anyone is hesitating or worried about next year, the timeline has not changed.”
In November, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz said of Common Core: “You can’t dip [the mandates] in milk and hold them over a candle and see the United Nations flag or Barack Obama’s face. They’re not some federal conspiracy.” (The Republican hails from Niceville. Really.) When opponents met with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) to discuss their substantive concerns, he asked them, “Is Common Core going to teach gay sex or communism?” according to three people who attended the meeting.
Beyond the name-calling and avoidance of what is obviously a strong public concern, given nationwide forums attracting tens of thousands of people to talk about arcane education policies, a number of public bodies have taken non-action actions in vain attempts to stamp out the brushfire under their feet. Arizona renamed Common Core. That’s it. State Superintendent John Huppenthal explained: “The Common Core brand has become devalued by curriculum issues not associated with the Arizona standards.” In other words, Common Core critics aren’t really complaining about Common Core, but they aren’t savvy enough to know that.
Governors in Maine and Iowa issued essentially do-nothing executive ordersblustering about how states can still control their education policies despite being under contract with the federal government to implement Common Core, at risk of federal education funds and sanctions. Florida’s board of education approved a motion allowing school districts to ignore already optional appendices to Common Core. Alabama’s board of education voted to withdraw a non-binding letter of support for the initiative the state superintendent signed in 2009.Electoral Implications
Most grassroots Common Core opponents are women, in line with Duncan’s slam, although their races and home locations would be absurd to quantify. For one, Michelle Malkin, describing herself as a “brown-skinned suburban mom,” called Duncan a “race-baiting” “bigot.” Essentially all of the politicians demeaning the Common Core moms are also white men. So far, though, no one has labeled this a “war on women” or a stereotypical attempt by the patriarchal establishment to silence, demean, and trivialize women’s concerns. But it fits that description.
Suburban women, of any color, are a coveted voting demographic, so it’s weird Duncan or any politicians would slap them around. Recent election results indicate Common Core can be a make-or-break issue. In Indiana in 2012, for example, the only Republican to lose a statewide election (besides U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who had other problems) was state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a political superstar whose fortunes fell because he alienated suburban women, partly because of his support for Common Core. In Colorado this year, suburban voters in both Douglas and Jefferson counties, in nationally-noticed and highly contested elections, elected slates of school board members who question or downright reject Common Core.
Even so, Murphy, the political strategist quoted above, is right: Most people don’t know about Common Core, according to the most recent polls (which aren’t that recent). A May Gallup/Phi Kappa Delta poll found that 62 percent of Americans, and 55 percent of those with children in school, have never heard of Common Core. That doesn’t mean it is not an electoral issue. In fact, it’s rapidly becoming a litmus test among Tea Party groups and already prompting nascent primary challenges in states including Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. As one Indiana activist told me, “If lawmakers don’t get Common Core, there’s a lot more they don’t get.”
The polls don’t actually offer politicians much comfort, although many of them undoubtedly trust that public ignorance is a good omen for their support. That seems to be the line from the White House, where a spokesman attempting to cover for Duncan told “Politico” that “supporters of the new standards should focus on the substantial number of parents who routinely tell pollsters they don’t know enough about the Common Core to have a firm opinion.” Many polls, however, that purport to show public support for the project use leading questions that undoubtedly influence the outcome, as Cato’s Neal McCluskey has pointed out on a Tennessee poll and national poll, and some show significant public distrust of the idea.
A November poll of New Yorkers found 49 percent are not confident Common Core will increase learning, while 45 say the opposite. As Shane Vander Hart notes, the crosstabs on that poll do reveal higher confidence in the mandates among African Americans, but 33 percent have little or no confidence, as do 44 percent of Latinos. An unrepresentative November survey of nearly 300 Iowa teachers showed that most object to Common Core and think it a waste of time. National polls of teachers generally show support for the idea but critiques of how it actually plays out in classrooms.Taking Voters Seriously
A number of Republican governors likely to try for the 2016 presidential nomination have seen this issue as important enough to modify their positions or attempt a dodge: This includes Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Indiana’s Mike Pence, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. In fact, the only GOP presidential likely who strongly supports Common Core is Jeb Bush. Walker and Pence both took months of grassroots pressure to take stances, given Common Core’s strong support among the business lobby, but Walker eventually said “Wisconsin can do better” and Pence keeps repeating, “Indiana needs Indiana standards.” Indiana’s House speaker, who previously blocked anti-Common Core legislation, just publicly agreed with Pence. Jindal is in a tougher spot given Louisiana’s decrepit education system, so he has largely taken a pass on the issue, referring it to the state school board and superintendent for review. A staffer for a prominent GOP governor told me, “This has turned into a pitchforks versus elites conversation that is dangerous politically. There are a lot of states, specifically red states, that are very, very scared right now. Our legislators are getting beaten up by constituents.”
Democrat constituents concerned about this issue are getting far less play than the Republican grassroots. For one, the Obama administration heartily supports Common Core, financially, through crucial regulations, and rhetorically. And national teachers unions have signed on, making some local and state affiliates furious. Baltimore teachers, for one, just filed a union grievance because Common Core is making teachers work far longer hours.
“I’ve called everybody in the progressive caucus in the Congress,” said Chicago Laboratory Schools history teacher Paul Horton, a Common Core opponent who works at the school that graduated Duncan and President Obama’s daughters used to attend. “People just don’t know what the issues are. They’ve got a guy in education, they do what he says. And number one is party loyalty: The president’s in power…we might have an opportunity to move up in the ranks. If we’re disloyal, we’re not going to get the [campaign] funds.”
Politicians comfortable with central planning ignore that the wheels are likely to come off just as soon as Common Core tests try to roll out in 2014-2015, making it a looming political disaster. The massive enterprise is just as shaky as the Obamacare website, and that’s not an exaggeration. For one, the tests must be taken online, and surveys show some three-quarters of the nation’s schools don’t have the technical capabilitiesfor that.
But the biggest thing Washington politicos may be overlooking about Common Core is the simple fact that wedge issues matter. Most of the populace does not show up to vote for most elections. People who have strong reasons to vote do, and turnout often determines elections. Getting passionate people to vote is half the point of a campaign. The Common Core moms have a reason to vote, and boy, do they have a lot of friends.
[Originally published on The Federalist]