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The Policy and Commentary Blog of The Heartland Institute
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Politicizing a Plague

October 17, 2014, 9:58 AM

If President Obama does not want the Ebola virus to kill Americans, why has his administration done nothing to restrict any flights from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the hot spots in Africa where it appears the virus is spreading?

One of the reason flights from Liberia were not stopped, we have been told, was the historical link of the U.S. with that nation, founded as a place freed slaves could migrate. That is no excuse in the face of the threat of a single Liberian with Ebola getting off a flight in any U.S. airport.

The decision not to stop flights has nothing to do with health and everything to do with politics, Obama’s far left ideology, and his dislike for America that has been on display for anyone paying any attention. It has driven every decision Obama has made since first taking office.

The White House has decided that stopping flights would heighten public concerns, possibly creating an aura of panic. This is a very bad, very lethal decision. It demonstrates the indifference to facts and to common sense for which the White House is now famous.

Every poll demonstrates that Americans want our borders protected and access from West Africa denied.

It is likely that the White House wants to tamp down any sense of heightened public concern until the midterm elections on Nov. 4. Then add to that the criminal lack of truthfulness that has accompanied anything affecting this White House has done from Benghazi to setting free five Taliban generals in exchange for someone likely to be deemed a deserter from the U.S. Army.

When the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Thomas Friedman, became the focus of news media inquiries regarding the virus, it was clear that he did not have any greater knowledge of the problem, other than the scope of its threat, than anyone else. Indeed, within a week of his first press conference, he said that the CDC and U.S. medical community needed to come up with a whole new approach to Ebola.

When Thomas Duncan, the Liberian in whom the virus was not initially detected died, we were treated to scenes of intensive decontamination efforts at the Dallas hospital, but a nurse who treated him became the first U.S. victim and Dr. Friedman was quick to blame a “protocol breach” as the likely reason. Now a second nurse has Ebola.

The likely reason can be found in the fact that thousands of people die every year from viruses and infections they acquire at a hospital.

The first and likely the second nurse wore protective outfits from top to bottom while dealing with Duncan. In Africa, the earliest victims have been the doctors and hospital staff tending those with Ebola. Any U.S. medical personnel returning from Africa should be quarantined after they arrive. The President has dispatched more than 4,000 military personnel to Liberia and their quarantine should be far longer than the 21 days we keep hearing about. We are now hearing it should be up to 40 days.

The notion that airport staff has any capacity at all to spot someone with Ebola is ludicrous, yet we are being treated to the charade of passengers having a device waved over them to detect a fever.

All this is a political approach rather than a medical one. It is political theatre.

One example of this was a statement by Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, who blamed the lack of funding the NIH has received for research, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. He noted that the NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001, but does it strike anyone as odd that in all the time since then nothing has been developed?

In fairness, though, the NIH budget has declined 23% over the past decade. The current budget, however, is $29.31 billion. That is a substantial amount.

Congress represents more politics. Dr. Collins remarked that it did not appear “enthusiastic” about passing an emergency supplemental appropriation. For those in government the only answer to any problem is to throw more money at it.

Worse, a Democratic Party advertisement even claimed that the Ebola threat is due to Republican cuts in funding of healthcare research, but those cuts were bipartisan by virtue of the sequestration limits imposed. Not mentioned was an Obama administration decision to abandon a set of regulations which the CDC considered essential to prevent international travelers from spreading deadly diseases inside the U.S. At this point, the question is why?

So far Ebola has been located in West Africa, but in this world of global air travel, but without rigid restrictions it is only a matter of time before it begins to show up elsewhere including here again.

When that happens you can point a finger at Barack Hussein Obama who thinks it’s more important to have good relations with Liberia than it is to shut down any possibility that an African or anyone else at risk of having Ebola will arrive on our shores.

At that point, however, it will be too late

Categories: On the Blog

An American Decline that Must be Reversed

October 17, 2014, 9:34 AM

The tendency of pundits is to address the decline in American culture and traditional moral values. The concerns addressed include the rather sudden, but widespread embrace of same-sex marriages or calls for the legalization of marijuana so anyone can get high without the fear of arrest.

You can probably name a few things you consider evidence of decline, but there is one you are not likely to notice much. It’s the nation’s infrastructure of highways, airports, waterways and ports. It’s only dramatic declines such as the decay of Detroit, once one of the nation’s most dynamic cities that get attention because it is so blatant. We judge the backwardness of third world nations by their bad roads and lack of infrastructure to support their economies.

We don’t, however, think of the U.S. as a nation in decline, but we are.

A September study released by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) revealed that overall spending on public infrastructure fell 10.5% between 2003 and 2012. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, “Spending on highways and streets by federal, state and local governments, dropped a higher 19% during that same period, according to the study.”

NAM president, Jay Timmons, said, “The United States is stuck in a decade-long decline (in infrastructure spending) that will eventually harm job creation, future productivity and our ability to compete head-to-head with companies all over the globe.”  When a manufacturer cannot transport their product in a timely fashion, it puts them at a disadvantage. Multiply that by the nation’s many manufacturers and you have a very big problem for lack of adequate highways, roads, and bridges

The great power of America’s infrastructure was supported by the maintenance it requires. The 2013 study was commissioned by the Building America’s Future Educational Fund and NAM to survey manufacturers. It found that they “overwhelmingly viewed America’s infrastructure as old, inefficient, and badly in need of modernization.”

Findings included 70% who believed that U.S. infrastructure is in fair or poor shape and needs a great deal or quite a lot of improvement. The same percentage believe that road are getting worse and 65% did not believe that infrastructure, especially in their region, is positioned to respond to the competitive demands of a growing economy over the next 10-15 years.

This may not seem very exciting compared to news of combat in the Middle East or the threat of Ebola, but consider that, in early October, the Financial Times reported that “China has surpassed the US in terms of GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP), becoming the largest in the world by this measure, International Monetary Fund estimates show. In 2014 China reached $17.6 trillion or 16.48 percent of the world’s purchasing-power-adjusted GDP, while the US made slightly less, 16.28 percent or $17.4 trillion, according to IMF data.“

We are now number two in the global economy.

The NAM study’s research, said University of Maryland Professor Jeffrey Werling, “helps confirm what engineers and executives both know, The quality and quantity of current U.S. infrastructure is deficient, and these deficiencies are already hampering economic growth.”

For years, a federal fuel tax has helped underwrite needed highway construction, but it hasn’t been increased since 1993 and annual collections have been declining due to fuel-efficient vehicles and motorists who have been driving less than in the past. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Congress has shown little interest in raising the 18.2 cent-a-gallon tax” and has relied on stop-gap funding.

There was a time when a politician would jump at the chance to have a bridge or a strip of highway named after him. Those days are over. We have a Congress that can barely agree on anything, let alone something as undramatic as funding infrastructure projects. The States and local communities are squeezed for their own funds, burdened with pensions and other costs.

None of this bodes well, but at least we can say we’ve been warned, eh?

 

[Originally posted at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Ebola Screening at Airports is Feel-Good Technology, Not Science

October 17, 2014, 9:26 AM

As reported on Sunday, October 12, Ebola has spread in the U.S. The second American case of the deadly Ebola virus was confirmed in tests on a health care worker who treated the first individual stricken with Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Wednesday, October 8th at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Huston, Texas. This infection took place despite the use protective suits and face masks. Because of the strain the new infection imposes on their resources,the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has placed their emergency room on “referral status.” This means they aren’t accepting any new emergency patients. All are being referred to other hospitals. Such chaos exists after only two Ebola cases.

In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business News, October 9, 2014, CDC Director, Tom Frieden, MD., insisted that a travel ban is not the right answer. “We don’t want to isolate parts of the world, or people who aren’t sick, because that’s going to drive patients with Ebola underground, making it infinitely more difficult to address the outbreak.” Using the analogy of forest fires, Dr. Frieden continued,“When a wildfire breaks out we don’t fence it off. We go in to extinguish it before one of the random sparks sets off another outbreak somewhere else.” Really? The prime method of fighting forest fires is to prevent their spread by creating fire breaks, even setting backfires. Without new fuel, forest fires quickly burn out. Fences work on fires, as would restricting all non-essential travel.

While WHO still soft-pedals the issue, it reports facts which can’t be dismissed.  According to experts in the WHO, Ebola can be spread by coughs and sneezes. It remains viable in air as long as it remains moist. By current definition, only diseases like influenza, which remains viable in air even when dry, are designated “airborn.” The CDC is parsing words on the definition of “direct contact.” Likewise the virus remains viable for several days on moist surfaces, clothing and body fluids. There is no solid evidence whether or not an asymptomatic victim is infectious. Not enough is known at present. The CDC is willing to assume that since we can’t prove victims are infectious before symptoms appear, there’s no need to be concerned.

America’s response, as of Saturday, Saturday, Oct. 11 to the Ebola epidemic in western Africa is to inspect all arrivals, at least by air travel (Screening has already been instituted at Kennedy International Airport for travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea), by a cursory inspection for certain symptoms (e.g., fever) and a supplementary questionnaire. We are told that this will virtually eliminate the possibility of Ebola spreading to the United States, negating the need to limit flights to and from the affected region. However it appears that public health officials, including the CDC, are simply repeating policies emanating from the White House rather than citing good science. It is a long-established principle that you cannot “inspect” quality into a system, that inspection merely alerts you to the presence of a problem. This is the fallacy of inspection.

This principle is rooted in the science of quality control.  Quality control began to take a much more scientific approach took form during World War I due to problems in procurement of vast quantities of materiel from a multitude of suppliers. The concept of statistical quality control arose from those efforts, with significant advances during and after World War II. Walter Deming (aka W. Edwards Demings) was a prime mover in this area, and played a key role in the re-development of manufacturing in Japan following the war. Deming’s work in Japan is responsible for their reputation for high quality after a rocky start.  His success there was met by skepticism in his home country, the United States, where quality control was dominated by tradition – If enough customers complain, we’ll fix it

One of the early facts uncovered by the scientific approach was you cannot achieve quality control by inspection alone. You cannot cull out bad products that so that only good products get shipped. How bad is it? Visual inspection will only detect 25% to 35% of bad products passing through the inspection station. Instrumentation helps a little, but human fatigue and inattention remain significant factors. Where stakes are high, as in the production of food and pharmaceuticals, three or more inspectors look at the same items in order to improve the odds of finding defects. On the other hand, 1% to 2% of good products will be rejected. Re-inspection of rejected items is costly because the percentage of bad product is much higher than in the normal production stream, and require much greater care and effort.

Under the principles developed by Deming and others, inspection is a tool to identify problems, not solve them. Once identified, the root cause of the problem must be identified and solved. If you don’t direct your main effort to solving the problem, you are fooling yourself, and confusing others. No conscientious manufacture would deliberately send products down the line in hopes that inspection would identify and cull the bad ones. That doesn’t mean it never happens.

There are multiple implications of these principles to screening airline passengers. Only passengers directly from affected countries will be screened. The potential for infections are much higher for these countries, hence more likely to be missed. Secondly, people will take indirect routes in order to bypass these inspections. Finally, inspections will be instituted at only five major air ports out of hundreds of potential entry points. The inspection itself will only identify potential victims by the presence of a fever (or other symptoms).

Since there are many causes for fever, the percentage of false identifications will be large, causing disruption to air traffic, not to mention the lives of those culled out of the crowd. The incubation period of Ebola is long, from five to twenty-one days (why not twenty or twenty-two?), so most people infected will pass through undetected, and possibly contact many people before the disease surfaces. The resources needed to respond to an active case of Ebola are enormous. A few dozen cases would overwhelm our system, much less hundreds of cases.

Under government procurement procedures, failing inspection leads to increased inspection levels (and higher cost), ultimately to disqualification of the supplier. In the proposed health screening procedures, there is no intervention plan, just a reaction.

In order to limit our exposure to a possible epidemic, non-essential travel to and from the afflicted regions be curtailed. There should be no casual travel or immigration. Contrary to the administration’s talking points, this has no effect on humanitarian aid, any more than our current ban on travel for political reasons. We would simply have to regulate such travel, and quarantine those returning. Such regulation would require a lot of resources for monitoring and a likelihood of treating subsequent infections. The cost and administration of these measures, and the even greater cost of failure, makes sending thousands of troops into harm’s way impractical.

 [Originally posted on Illinois Review

Categories: On the Blog

Government ‘Help’ Worsens Nutrition: Milk etc.

October 16, 2014, 3:53 PM

People don’t form governments to tell them what to eat. Our government was formed to protect people’s inalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. When governments attempt to do more than that, they violate the rights they are supposed to protect—and invariably produce unintended consequence, usually the very opposite from what they intend.

Take the case of chocolate milk. It has become a fad all across the country to ban chocolate milk in school lunches. Even the federal government has gotten in on this. The argument has been that white milk is healthier because the same volume of chocolate milk includes chocolate and sugar, meaning slightly less volume of milk, and eliminating the sugar is said to help combat obesity. So if only white milk were available, the children supposedly would consume more actual milk and be healthier.

But contrary to the good intentions of shortsighted lawmakers, the ban on chocolate milk results in far less milk being consumed. Elementary school children drank 35 percent less milk when flavored milk was banned, according to a recent study by the School Nutrition Association, a group representing school cafeteria workers. Some parents report their children won’t drink white milk because they don’t like the taste. Such children prefer to drink water if they can’t get chocolate milk. An audit at one Chicago school where milk is the only beverage available found that a third of the milk taken at lunch was thrown away.

About 70 percent of milk consumed in schools is flavored, mostly chocolate. For some children the only milk they get is at school lunch; if they won’t drink white milk, they get no milk at all. Clearly it is better for them to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.

The simplistic—and false—claim that children will be healthier if chocolate milk is banned shows an ignorance of the scientific nutritional benefits of what they are prohibiting. More than 20 studies link link support the benefits of high-quality protein and nutrients in chocolate milk for recovery after athletic exercise. Here are some examples:

“Lowfat chocolate milk naturally has many of the nutrients most commercial recovery drinks have to add in the lab—including high-quality protein and key electrolytes like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.”

“Lowfat chocolate milk has 9 essential nutrients, including some not typically found in recovery drinks, that an athlete needs to perform at his or her best every time.”

“Lowfat chocolate milk contains high-quality protein to help repair and rebuild muscles after strenuous exercise. It’s also been shown to help athletes tone up—gain more lean muscle and lose fat—compared to drinking a carb-only drink…[and] help athletes build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures.”

“The researchers suggest that athletes can consider fat free chocolate milk as an economic nutritional alternative to other sports nutrition beverages to support post-endurance exercise skeletal muscle repair.”

“Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that following an exhausting ride, trained cyclists had significantly more power and rode faster, shaving about six minutes, on average, from their ride time when they recovered with lowfat chocolate milk compared to a carbohydrate sports drink and calorie-free beverage.”

Furthermore, the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and National Medical Association argue that the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar and have issued a joint statement to that effect.

The movement to ban chocolate milk got its impetus from the movement to prohibit vending machines from selling soft drinks at schools because they contain sugar. This was part of the “war on obesity.” Since chocolate milk contains sugar, it too became a target in the “war on obesity.”

The war did not stop at the school yard. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated a law banning the sale of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces by restaurants, delis, movie theaters and food carts. That was supposed to show he was fighting obesity. But a week later he showed up at Nathan’s 97th annual July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest, where he announced: “It is a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate the inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For the contestants assembled here, that includes consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible.” This hypocrite would deny beverage consumers the same “inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers” to consume sugary beverages of their choice that he grants for “consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible.” Indeed, he proclaimed the latter “a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate.”

Michael Siegel, M.D., is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Here is his explanation of facts about the hot dog eating contest:

“The winner of the 2011 hot dog eating contest consumed 62 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.

“A single Nathan’s hot dog has 297 calories and 18 grams of fat. The bun contains an additional 120 calories. Thus, a single serving delivers 417 calories and 18 grams of fat. This means that the winner of the hot dog eating contest consumed 25,854 calories and 1,116 grams of fat within 10 minutes.

“Thus, Mayor Bloomberg participated in a ceremony that glamorized and promoted the over-consumption of already calorie- and fat-laden food to literally millions of people, including about half a million New Yorkers. And this is the guy who now wants to limit soda consumption to 16 ounces?”

For Bloomberg’s “blatant hypocrisy,” Dr. Michael Siegel inducted him into the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

In March 2013, one day before Bloomberg’s large soda ban was due to go into effect, Justice Milton Tingling of state Supreme Court in Manhattan called the ban ‘arbitrary and capricious’ and tossed the regulation out.

Bloomberg’s position on the sugary beverages is not only an infringement on individuals’ rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness but shows his ignorance of facts regarding beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages account for only 7 percent of calories of the average American’s diet, according to government data. And that 7 percent includes not only sodas but fruit juice drinks, sport drinks, teas and coffee with sugar.

Added sugars consumed from soda have declined 39 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and yet obesity has been increasing during this period. Since 1998, the average calories per serving from beverages is down 23 percent due to development of more low- and zero-calorie drinks—yet obesity continued to rise.  Sales of regular soft drinks declined 12.5 percent from 1999 to 2010—yet obesity rates continued to rise during that same time. These facts make it foolish to believe Bloomberg’s policy will reduce obesity.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states: “There are multidimensional determinants of obesity….A food solution remains elusive, but a reductionist approach that focuses on one food or one component of the food supply, in the presence of too much, is unlikely to succeed.”

Dr. Gilbert Ross, M.D., practiced medicine for 19 years, was a member of the faculty of Cornell University Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and is currently Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health. He says, “There is no solid evidence that restricting sodas to a certain size will have the slightest impact on obesity.” Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, a renowned epidemiologist who questions conventional wisdom on food, said, “Not only is the latest proposed ban frightening in terms of government overreach, but it will have no impact on obesity.”

An Australian study of children consuming sugar-sweetened beverages 1995 to 2007 found that obesity had increased despite a substantial decline in intake of refined sugar.

Nor will taxing sugary beverages reduce obesity. West Virginia and Arkansas are two states that tax soft drinks, yet both are among the 10 states with highest obesity rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A very recent study at Cornell University of a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages shows the futility of such measures in combating obesity. In From Coke to Coors: A Field Study of a Fat Tax and its Unintended Consequences, the researchers found:

  • Taxes on sweets encouraged substitution. In this case, shoppers substituted beer for soft drinks, and the households that previously had purchased beer bought even more beer after soft drinks were taxed.
  • The total fluid ounces of beverages purchased by shoppers remained steady throughout the entire study. There was a drop in unhealthy drink purchases during the first month, but consumers resumed their soft drink purchases thereafter, with no decrease in purchases at the three-month or six-month marks.

The government’s role in school lunches extends far beyond the chocolate milk issue. In Chicago some schools prohibit children from bringing lunch from home. Citing a situation parallel to that of children who won’t drink white milk, a parent Erica Martinez said, “Some kids don’t like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast. So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.” The WSJ wrote, “The healthy food is so bad that kids are literally starving themselves rather than tucking into vegetarian curries, or else engaging in the black market.” (Is the black market something we want children to learn at school?) The Los Angeles Times reported “At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.”

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman couldn’t say how many schools ban lunches from home. Monique Bond said there is “no formal policy” and the decision is left to the principals. Regarding the Little Village school, she said, “this principal is encouraging healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.” Apparently, in attempting to impact beyond the classroom some schools are shortchanging the educational function of the school. On May 30, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported some “schools have diverted funds from teaching to reconfigure their menus to federal specifications.”

The federal school food regulations were mandated by a 2010 law and went into effect in 2012. According to the WSJ, “The rules impose very specific quotas for the type and amount of food served. Cafeterias, for example, must feature five ‘vegetable subgroups’ across ‘dark green, red/orange, beans/peas(legumes), starchy and ‘other’ vegetables.’ Schools have had to eliminate popular items such as sandwiches. Two slices of bread over five days exceed the weekly grain limit.

“The rules are as poorly devised as they are overly proscriptive, and often the school lunch calorie minimums cannot be satisfied with any combination of the low-calorie Let’s Move-approved foods.

Julia Bauscher, former president of the national School Nutrition Association (SNA) and currently director of nutrition services for Louisville’s public schools, says,

“I currently have one lunch entree that meets the a la carte requirements: grilled chicken breast on a whole-grain bun. But I can’t serve condiments with it. How many kids are going to eat grilled chicken with absolutely nothing on it?”

Mary Anderson, culinary supervisor at the Wayzata High School in Minnesota, says, “The kids weren’t getting enough food, they weren’t full. We really realized that we were not meeting consumer needs.” The Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Officials [at that school] are so unhappy with the new standards they are doing away with the national school lunch program completely next year.”

A 2014 investigation by the Government Accountability Office found some schools were adding “gelatin, ice cream, or condiments such as butter, jelly, ranch dressing or cheese sauce to become compliant,” which increased kids’ consumption of sugar, salt and fat.

The federal government subsidizes the banning of lunches from home by putting money in the pockets of the school district and its food provider. It pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch. If children in Chicago’s public schools don’t qualify for free or reduced-price meals and can’t bring lunch from home, they would have to pay $2.25 for food they may refuse to eat.

Brenda Braulick, president of the Minnesota branch of the School Nutrition Association, says she sees

food waste every day from kids who don’t want a fruit or vegetable but are forced to take one. “What we’re seeing is a lot of whole fruit, whole apples, whole bananas, not even with a bite taken out. To force a kid to take it doesn’t do any good.” The wasted food in Braulick’s district goes to a local hog farm. The USDA pays the district an extra 6 cents for fruits and vegetables that cost 25 to 30 cents.

The Los Angeles Unified School District alone “throws out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more,” estimates David Binkle, the district’s food services director. Nationally the cost of wasted food from schools is estimated at over $1 billion annually.

With so many students refusing to eat the required food, it’s not surprising that many are also rejecting the entire National School Lunch Program. The Government Accountability Office reports that participation last year plunged by 1.2 million students, the first such decline in 30 years. Nationwide, students are buying a million fewer lunches per day than two years ago. At least 534 schools have dropped out of the program, and it’s not just individual schools but entire school districts that are dropping out. The USDA says about 150 school districts have exited the program.

In July 2014 the Fort Thomas Independent School District in northern Kentucky dropped out of the federal lunch program after students last year bought 30,000 fewer meals from its school cafeterias. Superintendent Gene Kirchner said dropping out will cost the district $200,000 in lost federal funds, but he said the district would lose even more money if it has to serve food the students refuse to buy. Some districts get much more federal money—so much more that they are hooked. “I get over $30 million in federal money,” says. Donna Martin, school nutrition director of Georgia’s Burke County School District, “I can’t just give that up.”

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 as part of Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, to combat childhood obesity. “We’ve seen the connection between what our kids eat and how well they perform in school,” President Obama said when signing the law. If what he said is true, the law must be degrading student performance in schools.

The situation is scheduled to get worse. The USDA set a series of increasingly strict rules to be introduced over 10 years, starting in 2012. Nutritionists are worried about new standards for grains, fruits and vegetables, and especially sodium. The sodium limit will be a problem by 1917, says Leah Smith, current national president of the school nutrition association.

The SNA and other opponents of the food rules are calling on Congress and the USDA to delay implementation of new standards to give the public time to gradually adjust to them. This is the wrong approach. The current standards are already worse than no standards at all. They have resulted in students getting less milk, rather than more, some getting no milk at all, and none getting the nutritional benefits of chocolate milk. They have resulted in enormous waste of taxpayers’ dollars and parents dollars. They have resulted in enormous wastes of food, and yet countless students get no lunch at school. Kirchner says it’s a particular problem at high schools, “They’re just skipping lunch and stopping by the minimart on the way home instead.” Rebecca Stinson, a principal at an elementary school on Chicago’s South Side, said, “The kids may have money or earn money and [buy junk food] without their parents’ knowledge.” Thus the regulations motivate children to eat more junk food and and undermine the parents’ role in their children’s diet. It is time to end these problems.

The issue is not whether stricter regulations should be mandated sooner or later but whether such regulations should exist at all. “This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Center for Consumer Freedom. “This is a perfect example of how the government’s one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again….Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?”

If we all have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we are entitled to exercise that liberty in the choice of foods and beverages in our pursuit of happiness. This applies as much to chocolate milk as to stuffing oneself with hot dogs. And it is the very purpose of government to protect those rights. When it does so, people work out for themselves the most satisfactory—and economical—arrangements for providing goods and services to each other, without the interference of government. That is what freedom means and how and why it works in the marketplace. And it is why government “solutions” are always inadequate, expensive and with characteristically large amounts of waste. Those consequences are unavoidable when government fails in its purpose of protecting individual rights and substitutes regulations and mandates for social, economic or political goals at the expense of liberty.

The federal government should never have gotten involved in school lunches; it has no constitutional authority for doing so. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a rolling disaster. It has done just the opposite of what its title suggests. It has made nutrition worse for children, leaving more of them unsatisfied and hungry. It should not be “improved” or amended; it should be abolished.

[First published at American Liberty.]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast: Jonathan Williams -Why Americans Choose to Move Out of State

October 16, 2014, 3:11 PM

Jonathan Williams, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force Director, joins Budget and Tax News managing editor Jesse Hathaway to debunk some common myths regarding why Americans choose to pack up and move to other states. While meteorological climate may play a role in some people’s decisions, Williams explains that states’ business and tax climates are a primary driver of the migratory habits of the American family.

Predictably, there are consequences to states’ poor fiscal decisions, as declining population numbers create a feedback loop, in which fewer and fewer taxpayers remain in a high-tax state. Williams explains why government statistics show that this is already happening in some areas of the United States.

Categories: On the Blog

A Supreme Court, Not Supreme Wisdom

October 16, 2014, 12:52 PM

I am not a lawyer, but I have read the Constitution and I cannot find any indication that the Founding Fathers intended the guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” in the 14th Amendment to include same-sex marriage.

The idea would have been regarded as an abomination to the men who created the Constitution. To many who regard the institution of marriage a sacred bond between a man and a woman, the decisions of lower courts that have facilitated same-sex marriage are deeply offensive

When the Supreme Court decided not to decide upon appeals from seven states regarding lower court rulings that their bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, they essentially endorsed same-sex marriage. It is now legal in 25 states, paving the way for a total of 30 states that recognize it, but only by popular vote in three of them; the rest had it imposed through the courts.

The same can be said of the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 that permitted abortion as a legal right. Here again, the 14th Amendment was cited. As one source noted, “The Court summarily announced that the ‘Fourteen Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action” includes “a right to personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy and that “this right of privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

As this is being written, there have been more than 57,245,810 fetuses aborted since 1973 and, this year, there have been 840,045. Thus, decisions that the Supreme Court makes can literally result in life or death.

One of the most dramatic decisions of an earlier Supreme Court was the 1857 Dred Scott case that ruled that African Americans, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens and thus had no standing to sue in federal court, nor that the federal government had any power to regulate slavery in the territories acquired after the creation of the nation. The Civil War would follow in 1861 and last until 1865, resulting in more than 600,000 casualties, but finally ending slavery in America. Even some of the Founding Fathers had predicted that conflict.

When the Supreme Court has wandered into the area of social policy and culture, it has made decisions that were contrary to the majority of the population. The decision about slavery was about property—the slave–but many regarded slavery as an institution that must be ended.

The Supreme Court, of course, is not one long list of bad decisions. It has done much good and one man is credited with setting it on its course as a co-equal brand of the federal government. That man was John Marshall. I doubt that his name and deeds are  even taught in the schools of America.

As a brilliant and very entertaining biography by Harlow Giles Unger, “John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Save the Nation”, reveals, “Marshall’s pronouncements would ensure the integrity and eminence of the Constitution and the federal government and catapult him into the pantheon of American Founding Fathers as the father of the American federal justice system.”

“He would become the longest serving Chief Justice in U.S. history, signing 1,180 decisions and writing 549 of them, or nearly half, himself.” America was fortunate to have a legal scholar, utterly devoted to the Constitution, in its early, formative years. “Case by case he defined, asserted, and when necessary, invented the authority he and the Court needed to render justice, stabilize the federal government, and preserve the Union and the Constitution.”

Chief among Marshall’s achievements was to assert that the Supreme Court had the right and duty to declare federal and state laws to be either constitutional or unconstitutional. With that it became the third equal but separate branch of government.

Marshall had fought in the American Revolution and had had a distinguished career as a lawyer. As Unger says, “Clouds of doom shrouded the nation in 1800. George Washington was dead. For the first time in their twenty-five year struggle to govern themselves, Americans faced a future without the father of their country to lead them. And they lost their way.”

“Absent their commander-in-chief, the men who helped him lead the nation to independence went mad. Chaos engulfed the land as surviving Founding Fathers—Adams, Burr, Hamilton, Jefferson, Monroe, and others—turned on each other as they clawed at Washington’s fallen mantle.” Jefferson as the third President wanted to rule as a virtual tyrant, but Adams’ appointment of Marshall put a brake on those ambitions.

The United States is passing though a period of governance in which the Congress is so locked in partisanship and so divided that it is barely able to function in the national interest. The current President is losing the popularity he enjoyed when first elected and, now into his second term, he is losing the support and confidence of a majority of Americans. Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with a Constitution that places limits on his power as President.

As Unger notes “Nothing in the Constitution gives a President power to issue proclamations or executive orders with the force of law. Only Congress can legislate, yet presidents have issued more than 13,500 proclamations and executive orders since the founding of the Republic, while the Congress has enacted only about 20,000 laws.”

The Constitution remains supreme above the office of President and, in great measure, we can thank the work of Chief Justice John Marshall.

[Originally posted at Facts Not Fiction]

Categories: On the Blog

EPA Carbon-Dioxide Regulations Punish Seniors

October 16, 2014, 11:59 AM

Seniors in particular and those on fixed incomes in general, will be devastated should the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon-dioxide regulations currently under consideration for new and existing power plants ultimately become law. This is the conclusion of several state level analyses that have been conducted by the  60 Plus Association.  60 Plus was founded in 1992 as a non-partisan seniors advocacy group promoting a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues.

Energy, like food and housing, is an indispensable necessity of life. In many states, including Alabama and Florida, the hot climate dictates that air conditioning is essential to the survival of many elderly and infirm citizens. Thus, EPA regulations would disproportionately affect seniors. 60 Plus’s national report revealed that EPA regulations would increase the price of electricity across America at rates above the general inflation rate and as much as 20% in some states.

This at a time when rising energy prices due to current regulations and renewable fuel mandates are forcing many seniors are to decide between spending their fixed incomes on food, heat or air-conditioning, or medicine. 60 Plus finds that the he President’s newly proposed EPA regulations will only make Seniors’ dire situation even worse. Among the key findings from 60 Plus’s analysis of nationwide impact of the EPA’s proposed regulations upon seniors are:

  • The United States has 27 million households aged 65 or more (“65+”), representing nearly one-quarter of the nation’s 116 million households. Low and fixed income seniors are among the most vulnerable to electric rate and other energy price increases.
  • Current and pending EPA regulations will increase the price of electricity in America at rates above the general rate, by as much as 20% percent in some states, of inflation and shut down numerous traditional plants.
  • Future energy price increases, driven in large measure by petroleum supply and demand trends and by current and pending U.S. EPA regulations, are likely to outstrip real household incomes among the 63% of America’s 65+ households with gross annual incomes less than $50,000.

Not all states are equal however. Because of climate conditions, regular heat and humidity, seniors in states like Alabama and Florida will suffer to a greater than average degree from the Obama administration’s CO2 regulations.

Alabama has 447,000 households aged 65 or more (“65+”). Future energy cost increases, driven in large measure current and pending U.S. EPA regulations are likely to outstrip real household incomes among the 70% of Alabama’s 65+ households with gross annual incomes less than $50,000.

  • The average pre‐tax household income of 65+ households in Alabama was $46,141 in 2012, 20% below the average
  • For Alabama’s 447,000 65+ households, electricity represents 74% of their total residential bills.
  • Even before any new EPA regulations, the price of electricity per kilowatt‐hour (kWh) in Alabama has increased by 41% since 2005, more than twice the 19% rate of inflation in the Consumer Price Index, due in part to higher fuel costs and the costs of compliance with EPA regulations.

According to 60 Plus’s analysis, seniors in Florida face similar problems.

  • Florida has 2.1 million households aged 65 or more (“65+”), representing 29% of the state’s 7.2 million households. More than 40% of Florida’s 65+ households had gross annual incomes below $30,000 in 2012, with an average pre‐tax household income of $16,919, or $1,410 per month.
  • Energy cost increases, resulting from current and pending U.S. EPA regulations, are likely to outstrip real household incomes among the 64% of Florida’s 65+ households with gross annual incomes below $50,000.
  • For Florida’s 2.1 million 65+ households, electricity represents 90% of total residential utility bills.
  • The price of electricity per kilowatt‐hour (kWh) in Florida has already increased by 46% since 2000, well above the 37% increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. This increase is due in part to higher fuel costs and the costs of compliance with environmental regulations.

The energy situation and the hard choices will only get worse for seniors if the EPA’s proposed CO2 regulations become law.

Other studies confirm what 60 Plus has found. Higher energy prices always the poor and those on fixed incomes the most since they spend a higher percentage of their incomes on food and fuel.

Seniors vote at a higher percentage rate than most segments of the population. When they vote they should consider how their votes will affect the price they pay for electricity and gasoline.

Categories: On the Blog

Unsettled Science

October 15, 2014, 3:57 PM

Government-funded climate alarmists claim their forecasts of dangerous man-made global warming relies on “settled science.”

Their “settled science” is a mare’s nest of computer models, resting on a few match-sticks of science, surrounded by tall forests of uncertainty.

It is indeed settled science all gases in the atmosphere can affect the exchange of heat between the sun, the Earth and outer space, and this can affect global temperatures. It is also agreedcertain gases like water vapour and carbon dioxide can absorb and redirect radiant energy passing through the atmosphere.

However, though seldom mentioned, the warming potential of each additional unit of carbon dioxide is progressively less, and is trivial at and above current levels. In addition, water vapour has a far greater “greenhouse effect”, because it is fifty times more abundant than CO2, and affects more radiation wavelengths. All of this is settled science!

However, still open to debate is whether the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main controller of global temperatures. Nor is it settled man’s production of carbon dioxide is harmful to life on Earth, or that it will cause catastrophic global warming.

The official climate models are based on a theory the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere drives surface temperature changes. However, none of the dozens of computer models the IPCC relies upon predicted flat-lining temperatures over the last 17 years. This indicates their carbon-centric assumption is wrong. At last count, there were 53 different explanations for these failures. This is hardly “settled science.”

The models ignore important climate controllers such as solar cycles, ocean oscillations, clouds, vegetation cover and volcanoes. These all have significant effects on surface temperature.

The models err in assuming most feedbacks are strongly positive, thus multiplying the initial small effect. This is not settled science. As surface temperatures rise, evaporation from the vast oceans will transfer heat from the surface to the upper atmosphere, where much of the heat is radiated to space and where the shading from the additional clouds tends to offset and stabilise the initial surface heating. Carbon dioxide has naturally exceeded today’s levels in the past but this did not cause runaway global warming. Also, official climate models fail to account for the interconnected variables of the solar system, the restless atmosphere, the changing biosphere and the vast oscillating oceans.

In short, climate science is not settled and there is no consensus.

Categories: On the Blog

FCC’s Wheeler likes the ‘idea’ of muni broadband

October 15, 2014, 1:39 PM

Speaking at the recent National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors annual meeting, Federal Communications Chairman Thomas Wheeler endorsed Lafayette, La.’s municipal fiber optic system—or more specifically, he endorsed the idea of the Lafayette Utilities System’s effort to bring competition to that southern Louisiana city of some 121,000.

Here are his remarks about LUS Fiber (full text of his speech here):

I love the story of Lafayette, La. where the local incumbent fought the city’s fiber network tooth and nail, bringing multiple court challenges and triggering a local referendum on the project. Thankfully, none of the challenges managed to prevent deployment – 62 percent of voters approved of the network in the referendum, and the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously sided with the city – but they did delay deployment almost three years. When the network was finally built, the community experienced the benefits of competition, as the local cable operator decided to upgrade its network. Local choice and competition are about as American as you can get.

Everything Wheeler said was true, but he didn’t finish the story. That might be because of the doubts it would raise

As I reported last year in a case study on the Lafayette muni broadband project:

  • LUS Fiber is some 30 percent short of its revenue projection as set out in its business plan;
  • Is more than $160 million in debt;
  • Struggles to compete with cable, telephone, wireless and satellite service providers in terms of price, performance and service options;
  • Is relying on bigger government contracts to grow revenues.

In addition, LUS Fiber did not bring competition to Lafayette. If anything, it was a late entrant. Cox and the company then-known as BellSouth (now AT&T), were established as phone-cable-Internet providers. DirecTV and Dish Network were additional players in multichannel TV. Since LUS Fiber came on line, the upgraded broadband capabilities of wireless service providers have only added competitive pressure. In this environment, LUS’ 2004 feasibility study prediction that it would achieve 50 percent share of the market seems risible.

Even from a social good perspective, LUS Fiber has failed to deliver. Its biggest promise—the one that justified its $160 million bond issue—was that it would deliver 100 Mb/s fiber connections to all residents, including low-income households that the Lafayette government said incumbents were ignoring. That universal 100 Mb/s offer never appeared. In its first years of operation, LUS Fiber offered a $19.95 Internet-only plan, but found that it could not afford the cost of running fiber to a residence that was going to generate revenue that low. It then offered a 3 Mb/s connection at $19.95 per month for an introductory period, but that required purchase of a more expensive triple-play package. LUS ultimately ended the introductory offer in August 2012.

As of last year, the cheapest Internet-only rate LUS Fiber offered was $34.95 for 15 Mb/s. For whatever reason—most likely, the commercial realities discussed above—LUS Fiber has decided not to offer low-cost high-speed Internet service to poor households.

This is no surprise to those who have followed municipal broadband over the years. Of the hundreds of communities that have spent millions of dollars on such projects, LUS Fiber is one of the four that actually got viable FTTH service up and running (Chattanooga, Tenn.; Bristol, Va. and Provo, Utah being the other three). That’s still no guarantee of success. Bristol needed a $22 million grant from the Obama stimulus. Provo’s muni system was operational for seven years and never came close to payback. The city was more than happy to have Google Fiber take it off its hands for $1.

Wheeler’s shout-out to Lafayette comes as he’s pushing for federal pre-emption of state laws that prohibit municipal broadband projects where commercial service providers are already competing.

Certainly government can provide “competition.” But at the end of the day, it almost inevitably amounts to being a redundant broadband supplier, inferior to private-sector alternatives and entirely dependent on taxpayer resources to cover economic shortfalls. Muni broadband has been a long-term drain on city resources that could be applied more productively elsewhere.

 [Originally Published at RStreet.com]
Categories: On the Blog

Climate Change Insanity

October 15, 2014, 12:39 PM

I went out for a walk today and enjoyed seeing how the autumn leaves are changing color because autumn, simply stated, is one of the four seasons that affects the Earth. It is part of the change that occurs as it has for billions of years.

The notion that humans have anything to do with autumn or the other seasons or that we should be spending billions of dollars to have any effect on the climate of the Earth is utterly insane.

On October 10, The Hill reported that “The U.S. might make a substantial contribution in November to an international fund that helps poor nations fight climate change, according to Peruvian Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez.”  Does anyone actually believe that any amount of money will change the climate? And yet, there is a United Nations Green Climate Fund. The UN is the locus of the climate change, formerly global warming hoax.

“So far, countries have put $2.3 billion into the fund” described as “a crucial negotiating piece for developed nations trying to woo poorer ones to the table for a global climate accord.”  Can you imagine how that money could be put to better use to fight the real problems of poorer nations?

“The fund was officially launched in 2013, after industrialized nations first pitched it in 2009 during the Copenhagen meeting, setting a target of $100 billion by 2020 for developing nations.” The U.S. has yet to have contributed, but the U.S. is $18 trillion in debt and can ill afford to throw millions at this absurd scam.

Unfortunately, the U.S. is being led by a President who has said that climate change is the greatest challenge facing the Earth. Our Secretary of State repeats this absurdity. There is surely an agenda behind this that I have yet to have determined except to think that this President has done everything in his power to destroy the nation’s economy and the claim is part of that agenda.

The climate change lies Obama keeps repeating are more than just obscene, they pose a threat to national security as he directs our military to address climate change. In a sane world, he would be removed from office.

As a recent October 1st Wall Street Journal noted, “President Obama prophesied at the United Nations last week that climate change is the ‘one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other,’ and perhaps this vision of Apocalypse explains why he thinks he can disregard the law to regulate carbon.”

Obama has been using the Environmental Protection Agency as his primary means of foisting the global warming/climate change hoax on the nation via a deluge of regulations to control “greenhouse gas emissions.”  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the bogyman the EPA and environmentalists have been telling us is driving up the Earth temperature. Only the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for eighteen years and, at the same time, the CO2 level in the atmosphere has increased! Without any effect on the temperature!

As the Wall Street Journal opinion noted “The EPA wants to reorganize U.S. electric power generation and drive coal and eventually natural gas out of the energy mix under a rarely used backwater of the Clean Air Act called section 111(d), whose mandates apply state by state.”

Now, however, thanks to an Ohio-based coal company, Murray Energy, along with a dozen states, the EPA is being sued as they seek a writ of mandamus, “a type of injunction the courts only grant when the government has taken an extraordinary action beyond its statutory authority.”

The courts are beginning to reject the EPA’s expansive claims of authority under the Clean Air Act. “The courts seem increasingly alarmed by abuses of executive power.”  That is the only line of defense between this outlaw federal agency and the rest of us. The EPA has succeeded thus far in driving coal-fired energy plants out of business, reducing the amount of electricity they have produced affordably and efficiently for the last century and ours.

If the EPA is permitted to continue the U.S. might as well just turn off the lights because we are being systematically deprived of sufficient energy. That is the Obama agenda for America.

[Originally published at Warning Signs]

Categories: On the Blog

Why Maximizing Innovation Is The Most Important Health Policy Priority

October 15, 2014, 10:28 AM

President Obama sold Obamacare to the Left on the grounds that it would achieve universal health insurance coverage. But even the Washington Establishment CBO says it will still leave 30 million Americans uninsured 10 years after full implementation!

Moreover, the effect of the Obamacare mega-reform so far is ambiguous at best, with millions of Americans already losing the health insurance they had and liked, exactly contrary to what they were promised. When the employer mandate becomes effective, these Obamacare victims may balloon to tens of millions more (which was why Obama unilaterally delayed that mandate, contrary to the express language of the law he signed).

Obama tried to sell Obamacare to business and those more conservative on the grounds that it would reduce health costs, promising working people a reduction in health insurance costs of $2,500 a year. But after all the added regulatory costs and taxes on health insurance and health care, the result has been more nearly the opposite of that. (The incentives of expanded third party health insurance coverage – if Obamacare ever actually achieves that – would also increase health costs).

But more than universal coverage (though I have argued that free market health reforms can be designed to assure universal health care for all when needed), or even reduced health costs (though the incentives of free market health reforms have been proven to reduce health costs in the real world), the most important health policy priority is maximizing the freedom and incentives for health care innovation. That is because the rapidly advancing science of health care and technology is now offering on the horizon dramatic breakthroughs in human health and longevity (which also portend epochal reductions in health costs).

The incentives and policies of Obamacare, however, would do exactly the opposite, ultimately squelching health care innovation.

Personalized Medicine

As Newt Gingrich explains in his latest book, Breakout, one revolutionary, cutting edge theme in modern health care is personalized medicine. That would be based on the complete mapping of the exact genetic make-up of each individual. “In a matter of years,” Gingrich writes, “every patient in America could browse his own complete genome on an iPad.”

Doctors could then use that information to customize drug therapies and other targeted treatments designed to work for each individual given that individual’s precise genetic make-up. Gingrich elaborates that doctors can use that individualized information of who each individual is biologically “to personalize treatment, monitoring patients who are genetically or constitutionally predisposed to certain problems and delivering custom drug cocktails or targeted treatments as needed.”

As Gingrich implies, the individualized information for each patient will not only tell doctors how to fix any problems for that patient that develop. It will also tell doctors what to look out for, and monitor for the earliest possible warning, for each patient. Modern technological developments are also revolutionizing that monitoring as well.

Gingrich quotes Dr. Eric Topol, long time head of the cardiology department at the legendary Cleveland Clinic, explaining that “tiny sensors on the skin—or even nanosensors in the blood stream—could “remotely and continuously monitor each heart beat, moment-to-moment blood pressure readings, the rate and depth of breathing, body temperature, oxygen concentration in the blood, glucose, brain waves, activity, mood—all the things that make us tick.” Gingrich adds, “These data will be available not just for patients in the hospital hooked up to cumbersome monitoring contraptions, but for everyone at all times, accessible constantly with apps on our smartphones.”

Gingrich explains how doctors will be able to avoid harmful and costly developments armed with this individualized, real time, information, “Nanosensors in the blood, for instance, might alert doctors to an impending heart attack. They could respond with precise doses of blood-thinning medication. Other sensors might monitor for early signs of breast cancer in the bloodstreams of patients who are especially at risk, while low-risk women could avoid frequent screening procedures.”

Notice the comprehensive cost savings from this much better health care of the future. Avoiding preventable heart attacks or early resolution of breast cancer will save fortunes. Moreover, monitoring costs could be avoided for those not at risk, or reduced for those at low risk. But even monitoring costs for those at risk would be sharply reduced by the new technologies. And as Gingrich points out, “These breakthroughs are not decades away; many of the technologies are here now.”

Gingrich calls these cutting edge, modern health care developments “mass personalization.”

Regenerative Medicine

A second revolutionary, cutting edge theme in rapidly developing modern health care is regenerative medicine. As Gingrich explains, that “focuses on healing or replacing patients’ organs or tissues using their own cells rather than using drugs or relying on organ donations.” Gingrich emphasizes that this is so “exciting because it really has the opportunity not just to manage disease, like a drug would, such as for someone with high blood pressure or diabetes, but really to cure it.”

At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, “They are literally growing organs in the laboratory that can become functional in the body,” Gingrich reports. Researchers at the Institute extract cells from a patient’s failing organs, such as a bladder. They put those cells in an incubator that matches the conditions of the human body. The cells reproduce into further cells of the organ from which they were taken.

When sufficient organ cells accumulate, the researchers use a special biomaterial, similar to cloth, to create a scaffold in the shape of the needed replacement organ. With a dropper, they coat the scaffold with the newly regenerating cells, and place it all back in the incubator. The cells continue to reproduce around the scaffold in the shape of the new organ. Ultimately, the now regenerating organ is transplanted into the patient’s body, where it continues to develop. Within a few weeks, the biomaterial bladder dissolves, and only the new, healthy, transplanted organ remains.

Dr. Anthony Atala, Director of the Wake Forest Institute, told Gingrich, “Today, [we] have bladders that have been planted into patients…that have been walking around for twelve years with their engineered organs.” Atala’s researchers now “are working on organs and tissues for more than thirty different areas of the body, including muscles, arteries, blood vessels, heart valves, kidneys, and livers.”

The next avenue for this research is to use 3D printers to build the new organs, which are already generating new bones, muscles and cartilage in the lab. Atala explains the next step, “where we print right on the patient…you actually want to have the patient on the bed with the wound, and you have a scanner…that first scans the wound on the patient, and then it comes back with the print heads actually printing the layers that you require [to create the replacement body parts] on the patients themselves.”

Gingrich adds, “Atala demonstrates a machine that takes a 3-D scan of a patient’s kidney inside his body and digitally slices it up into thin layers. This information is used by a 3-D printer to ‘print’ a prototype kidney by laying down scaffold material along with the patient’s own cells.”

Gingrich explains the full potential: “If your kidneys are failing today, you require dialysis, which takes many hours a day. Tomorrow, your doctor may instead print new ones. Today, nine out of ten patients waiting for a transplant are waiting for a kidney. That’s more than [93,000] people. In 2011, almost [5,000] people died waiting. Moreover, 355,000 Americans are on dialysis [costing] taxpayers $20 billion a year. The annual cost of dialysis is a quarter of a million dollars per year per patient….A lab grown kidney would be a bargain in comparison and of course would provide an enormous improvement in quality of life.”

Note again the enormous health cost savings from manufacturing new kidneys, to replace dialysis, along with enormous improvement in the quality of the health care. Gingrich adds further, “Are you one of the nineteen million Americans who suffer from diabetes? Instead of living with a chronic disease for decades, you could one day get a new pancreas grown by your doctor. Since diabetes costs $245 billion every year, these too might be a bargain. Certainly, they’d be lifesaving for the 1,400 people now waiting for a transplant.”

Gingrich summarizes, “These technologies have the potential to give us much longer, healthier lives in a very different world—a world in which diabetes, heart attacks, and even cancer are either completely avoidable, or merely short term inconveniences….[W]ithin the next 10 years, we could achieve a breakout in health that would have been almost unimaginable even one generation ago.” This is why maximizing innovation is the most important health policy priority, more important than universal health insurance coverage, or reducing health costs.

Central Planning, Regulating, and Taxing Health Care Innovation Into Oblivion

Unfortunately, Obamacare forces the health care system to move in exactly the opposite direction from personalized, individualized, and  custom-made regenerative medicine. Instead, Obamacare centralizes and nationalizes health care through one size fits all medicine centrally planned from Washington.

Obamacare empowers the federal bureaucracy to determine exactly what your health insurance must cover, through regulations defining the employer and individual mandates. Trailblazers of revolutionary, breakthrough, medical innovation as described above have to go to Washington to educate federal bureaucrats, who have no economic incentive for timely action, or adequate medical education, about the latest in cutting edge medicine before the innovators even get the word out to medical professionals.

Moreover, Obamacare empowers the federal bureaucracy to issue national guidelines for doctors and hospitals regarding medical practice, based on what the bureaucrats in Washington supposedly know about the “comparative effectiveness” of the alternatives. Such national guidelines are central planning, one size fits all medicine just the opposite of the personalized, individualized, custom made medicine discussed above. And what is the chance these Washington bureaucrats, with no effective economic incentives, or adequate medical education, will be up to speed about the latest in medical innovation as described above? Or will they be years and years behind the latest developments, like Washington bureaucrats always are?

Indeed, Obamacare further empowers federal bureaucrats to economically penalize doctors and hospitals through sanctions on their payments for services rendered, for not following the national guidelines, however outdated they might be. Obamacare also effectively empowers federal bureaucrats to determine whether and how much trailblazing innovators will be paid for their breakthroughs, such as those described above. That arbitrary, central planning power squelches the incentives for innovators to invest the millions and billions necessary to develop their innovations and bring them to market.

Obamacare also empowers another, new, federal bureaucracy, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), to make further cuts to Medicare with no further Congressional participation, meaning no democratic accountability. Gingrich explains, “Will Medicare cover the nanosensors that Dr. Topol predicts will warn of heart attacks before they happen? Will it pay for the blood glucose-level monitors for diabetics? Will it cover drugs that are customized just for you? The IPAB experts will decide. All we know for sure is that the board’s ultimate aim is to cut costs, not necessarily to improve care.” And that this is more central planning, nationalized medicine, just the opposite of the personalized, individualized medicine discussed above.

Then there is Obamacare’s medical device tax, which Gingrich reports the FDA is interpreting broadly to tax all the cutting edge monitoring breakthrough devices discussed above. “The agency plans to treat health related mobile apps, of which there are already more than a million, as medical devices,” Gingrich writes. “Smartphone-linked sensors will be regulated and taxed by the federal government.” This will just further squelch incentives for development of the above described breakthroughs.

Obamacare only reinforces the FDA blockade on such innovation. Gingrich explains that the FDA plans to subject the above discussed personalized, individualized breakthroughs to the same regulatory tests and barriers as one pill fits all medicine. He writes, “In pharmaceutical trials, every pill is identical. That’s what makes the kind of testing the FDA demands statistically meaningful. But with regenerative medicine, as another doctor reminded me, ‘you’re using the patient’s own cells, so every time you’re creating a product, you’re really creating a different product because it’s unique to that patient.’” So are we going to sit by and watch the FDA require fatally ill people to take death sentence placebos instead of personalized drugs and treatments based on their own individual genetics, or manufactured organ transplants that would save their lives?

Gingrich further asks, “How can any company personalize its drug for you if it had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a two-thousand patient clinical trial for the FDA?” Such a regulatory cost burden would be a death sentence for the incentive to invest in the emerging health care breakthroughs discussed above.

Americans like to think that they have the most advanced health care in the world. But FDA overregulation is already driving health care innovation to other countries abroad years before it shows up in America. The FDA regulatory mandate needs to be legislatively amended so that the agency’s regulation is only focused on whether innovation is safe, not whether it is effective. Regulation regarding effectiveness has been proven to squelch innovation by adding hundreds of millions, or even billions, in regulatory costs for each new development. Whether any medical care is effective is a question for your own chosen doctor, not federal FDA bureaucrats who know nothing about you.

Gingrich summarizes, “The Obamacare law gave federal bureaucrats the authority to write thousands of rules that will determine everything from what treatments insurers will cover and how much doctors are paid to how the government handles your personal health information…. This approach comes with lots of bureaucrats in Washington, more regulations, IRS agents to wade through your medical bills, and boards of experts to tell you which treatments you may and may not have. Under Obamacare, the Department of Health and Human Services, the [FDA], Medicare, Medicaid, and the rest of the health care bureaucracy will take over your doctors office….[Y]ou and your doctor will certainly make fewer choices about your health care, while bureaucrats will make more.” And exactly the opposite of personalized, individualized, custom-made health care, these large bureaucracies will make sweeping decisions for whole populations at a time.

These are all still further reasons why Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced with free market, Patient Power health care reforms, which I have explained in previous columns. Your life may depend on it.

[Originally published at Forbes.com]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast: Mike Nasi – EPA Clean Air Regulations

October 13, 2014, 11:44 AM

Attorney Mike Nasi, Partner, with the Environmental and Legislative Affairs Group, Jackson-Walker LLP.  Nasi recently spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Energy and Climate crossroads summit.

He discussed, in detail, the impact of certain EPA clean air regulations on new and existing power plants, putting it, no so much in terms of dollars and cents, rather in energy capacity lost.  In Texas alone, more than half the coal fired power plant fleet would have to be shut down by 2020 under newly proposed EPA rules.  And, under the proposed standards for new power plants, no new coal-fired power plants will be built.

The EPA has overstepped its authority under the clean air act, and it threatens the reliability and on demand service of American’s electric power system.

Categories: On the Blog

Confined Dinesh D’Souza Speaks to Chicago Event via Skype

October 13, 2014, 8:21 AM

It was with regret that Paul Caprio, head of Family Pac, shared the disappointing news that featured speaker, Dinesh D’Souza, was unable to be present Oct. 8 at the much-anticipated Family Pac event, “An Evening with Dinesh D’Souza,” held at Harry Caray’s Chicago Sports Museum. He was serving his sentence for Mickey Mouse campaign finance violations.

Dinesh D’Souza first notified Paul Caprio last Saturday (Oct. 4th), telling Paul that he was unable to keep his commitment.  D’Souza then offered Ambassador John Bolton as his replacement. To this Caprio said no, believing it was important for D’Souza to be able to explain and answer questions as to why this country is exceptional. As Caprio related, “This country in in a time of great turmoil. We don’t have a liberal as president, we have a tyrant.” Furthermore, “Our Founding Fathers gave us a government with the understanding that it could be lost, it, but if this happens it will happen from within.”

Technology came to the rescue. Dinesh D’Souza appeared via Skype in a larger-than-life-image projected on a screen at the front of the banquet room. Two smaller TV sets were in place high up on either side of the big screen for easy viewing by all in attendance. After his remarks, D’Souza was able to answer a series of questions from audience members via Skype.

Probate sentence now in force

D’Souza was unable to personally attend the Family-Pac event because of alleged pressure from the Justice Department and President Obama. D’Souza’s was sentenced to confinement and probation for what amounted to a minor crime for breaking a campaign law.  D’Souza had arranged for straw donors to contribute to New York Republican Wendy Long’s failed U.S. Senate bid, a campaign finance violation.

The sentence had already been imposed as of Friday, October 3rd. Hear D’Souza speak about his felony sentence.  An agreement to delay D’Souza’s probationary sentence until January 1st, 2015 was not honored, so D’Souza’s sentence  was enacted immediately. The sentence includes eight months in a community confinement center, five years of probation, one day of community service a week during that probation (teaching English to new immigrants and illegal immigrants), and the payment of $30,000 for breaking campaign finance law during the 2012 election.

When appearing in Court for his verdict, D’Souza believed a jail sentence would be forthcoming of at least 18 months.  After all, the judge has given D’Souza a stern lecture up front. But mysteriously, the judge changed his mind. Instead of sentencing Dinesh to jail time and instead issued D’Souza a probationary sentence.

The night of the Oct. 8th Family-Pac event marked D’Souza’s 5th night spent with criminals at a community confinement center in San Diego, CA with bunk bed accommodations. D’Souza remains cautious, but he said he was not scared.  D’Souza described the containment center as not exactly a jail, nor is he in captivity, but he is restricted in his movements. Free during the day to write and work on his movies, D’Souza must check in again at night. Leaving the country is prohibited. This routine will continue for D’Souza until the end of May.

 D’Souza speaks via Skype

John McEnroe, Chairman of Family-Pac, in presenting introductory remarks prior to Dinesh D’Souza’s Skype appearance, described D’Souza as one who is willing to challenge liberal orthodoxy by speaking out with face-to-confrontations, such as when D’Souza challenged Bill Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist and President Obama’s long-time friend, about American exceptionalism on Megan Kelly’s Fox News TV show. D’Souza’s two movies were highly recommended to be viewed before the crucial November election: “2016:  Obama’s America” and “America:  Imagine a world without her.” To be noted is John Fund’s excellent review of D’Souza “America,” which was released this summer.

After expressing his regrets for not being able to appear in person, D’Souza directed this question to his captivated audience, “How did it happen?” D’Souza expressed how the America of today is a different America from the one he experienced when he first arrived from India at age 17 until the present time. It used to be that Republicans and Democrats agreed on goals, only disagreeing about the means to reach the goals. Present were common values that were embraced by both sides. Republicans and Democrats loved American and wanted it to succeed, believing that American was a good country, it was a force for good in the world, and it made the world a better place. This continuous, positive thread regarding the nature of America connected presidents, up to and including Democrat Bill Clinton.

Chicago, however, bears direct responsibility for the change that has taken place. We are now living in the Obama era, in Obama’s America.  Obama has taken this nation in a different direction. There are those who believe Obama is an amateur, a bungler, and a nincompoop.  As such efforts have been made to set President Obama straight on what really is and of consequences from past happenings. President Carter was judged as a nincompoop by D’Souza.  In calling The Shah of Iran a dictator, whoops, Carter got Komani!  But President Obama is not an amateur; he is smart and well informed.  When Obama said he wanted to remake America, he wasn’t kidding.

To D’Souza, the dangerous direction of this nation is the result of an incompetent President.  President Obama was elected in 2008 promising to 1) shrink America’s influence in the world; 2) reduce her military power; 3) shrink her economy; 4) reduce her standard of living; and 5) diminish the “American Dream.” Given these promises, Obama has succeeded in reducing this nation’s influence in the world. Whereas in the past nothing much happened without America first having a say so, this is no longer the world we live in. With this new America, Obama is good at redistributing America’s wealth to the rest of the world and also to those in our own nation.

Envy drives Obama

Through evaluating what the Left has to say about conservative Republicans, a window is opened up into the mindset of Obama. This, in turn, reflects why his supporters feel it is legitimate to brand conservative Republicans as greedy; war mongers; racist; sexist; haters of the environment, and not caring about the American people, when there is not a molecule of truth in any these statements.  For what drives the other side in unfairly branding Republicans as uncouth individuals is envy.  Envy also lives within the psych of President Obama.  As described by D’Souza: “Envy is the lowest desire and the most secretive of all human emotions.”  Envy differs from jealousy, as envy produces rage over being deprived of something that others are enjoying, such as, “Why do they have all this and not me?”  An individual filled with envy, not unable to improve himself, will proceed to pull other people down with him.

Obama came into office like a knight galloping on a white horse, but seething with self-hatred that was based on envy.  Society elevates the entrepreneur and those who can create things.  Obama, not being able to make or create new things — not even an i-phone or a website that works! — loathes entrepreneurship and the free market system.  It’s not that Obama isn’t talented, but his excellence shines forth as an organizer of public resentment.  Obama, without fail, tells the American people that the greedy CEO’s have stepped in and taken possession of some of your stuff, promising that with their vote he will confiscate some of their stuff and give it to you.  This has produced a deadly class struggle.

Are Republicans ready to fight?

Regarding Republicans, D’Souza finds them lacking the ability to advance their message in the public arena, having done a terrible job of reaching out and making the case. Granted, Republicans don’t have enough megaphones available to come close to the megaphones available to the Democratic Party. Even so, too many Republicans wrongly view politics as a fight involving gentlemen, when in truth Democrats are natural street fighters who fight aggressively and will do what it takes to win.

As a reminder to Republicans: “Our values and principles are appealing even today. Republicans stand for the principles of 1776, wishing to preserve the spirit of the American Revolution. The other party wants this spirit to just go away.”

Dinesh D’Souza believes the war is winnable.  He describes Americans as passive and sheep-like in allowing Obama to run amok.  Enjoined D’Souza: “We must all do more, give more, and sacrifice more.  It took 200 years to build this nation, but it won’t take 200 years to dismantle it, that is, if we allow it!”

[First published at Illinois Review.]

Categories: On the Blog

Metropolitan Housing: More Space, Large Lots

October 12, 2014, 11:09 AM

Americans continue to favor large houses on large lots. The vast majority of new occupied housing in the major metropolitan areas of the United States was detached between 2000 and 2010 and was located in geographical sectors associated with larger lot sizes. Moreover, houses became bigger, as the median number of rooms increased (both detached and multi-family), and the median new detached house size increased.

These conclusions are based on an analysis of small area data for major metropolitan areas using the City Sector Model. City Sector Model analysis avoids the exaggeration of urban core data that necessarily occurs from reliance on the municipal boundaries of core cities (which are themselves nearly 60 percent suburban or exurban, ranging from as little as three percent to virtually 100 percent). It also avoids the use of the newer “principal cities” designation of larger employment centers within metropolitan areas, nearly all of which are suburbs, but are inappropriately joined with core municipalities in some analyses. The City Sector Model” small area analysis method is described in greater detail in the Note below.

Increase in Detached Housing

America’s preference for detached housing was evident across the spectrum of functional city sectors between 2000 and 2010. Overall, there was a 14% increase in detached housing in the major metropolitan areas. Among the major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), the number of occupied detached houses rose the most (35%) in the later or generally outer suburbs and exurban areas (24%). Detached houses increased 2.8 million in the later suburbs and 2.5 million in the exurban areas. A smaller 50,000 increase was registered in the earlier or generally inner suburban areas. Most surprisingly, there was also a small increase (20,000) in the number of detached houses in the functional urban cores (Figure 1).

Smaller Increase in Multi-Family Housing

The increase in detached housing dwarfed that of new multi-family housing (owned and rented apartments). The increase in detached housing in the major metropolitan areas was six times that of multi-family housing. Overall, there was a four percent increase in multi-family housing in the major metropolitan areas, less than one-third the increase in detached housing.  There were slight decreases in the number of multi-family houses in both the urban cores and the earlier (generally inner) suburbs. At the same time, there has been a healthy increases in the number of multi-family houses in the later suburbs and exurbs, where the growth rates exceeded the increase in major metropolitan population (11%). In the later suburbs, multi-family housing increased 29% and in the exurbs the increase was 14% (Figure 2).

Larger Houses, Larger Lots

Yet overall, houses were getting bigger. The median number of rooms per house rose from 5.3 in 2000 to 5.6 in 2010. Increases in median rooms were registered in each of the city sectors (Figure 3). Nationally, the median size of new detached housing edged up five percent between 2000 and 2010. (By 2013, median new house size had increased another 17 percent to a record 2,384 square feet).

Lots also were getting bigger. Nearly all of the population growth (99 %) was in the later suburbs and exurbs between 2000 and 2010, where population densities are much lower and lots are larger than in the earlier suburbs and the urban core (Figure 4).

The preponderance of  urban planning theory over the past decade has been based on the notion that people would increasingly seek houses on smaller lots. For example, Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah predicted that the demand for housing on conventional-sized lots (which Professor Nelson defines as more than 1/8 acre, which is smaller than the smallest lot size reported by the Census Bureauwould be only 16% in the major metropolitan areas of California by 2010, relying in part on stated preference survey data. In fact the revealed preferences — in other words what people actually did — was four times the predicted demand (64%) in the conventional-lot-dominated later suburbs and exurbs of California’s largest metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2010. This is despite California’s regulatory and legal bias against detached housing on conventional lots (See: California’s War Against the Suburbs). Outside California, later suburban and exurban detached housing represented 77% of new housing demand over the period.

Planning and Preferences

Urban cores and multi-family housing are favored by urban planning policy. Yet, large functional urban cores (high density and high transit market share, as defined in the City Sector Model, Note below) are few and far between, with only seven exceeding 500,000 population, a modest number equaled or exceeded by approximately 100 metropolitan areas. Overall, the functional urban cores of major metropolitan areas lost more than 100,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, while suburban and exurban areas gained more than 16.5 million. Predictably, the housing forms typical of the later suburbs and exurbs made strong gains. The preferences of planning are not those of people and households.

Note: The City Sector Model allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban and exurban areas, by the use of smaller areas, rather than municipal boundaries. The more than 30,000 zip code tabulation areas (ZCTA) of major metropolitan areas and the rest of the nation are categorized by functional characteristics, including urban form, density and travel behavior. There are four functional classifications, the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to the urban cores that preceded the great automobile oriented suburbanization that followed World War II. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates.

Urban cores are defined as areas (ZCTAs) that have high population densities (7,500 or more per square mile or 2,900 per square kilometer or more) and high transit, walking and cycling work trip market shares (20 percent or more). Urban cores also include non-exurban sectors with median house construction dates of 1945 or before.

Photo: Northern Suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul (by author)

[Originally published at New Geography]

 

Categories: On the Blog

Taiwan High Speed Rail Near Bankruptcy

October 12, 2014, 10:20 AM

Efforts are underway by the Taiwan government for a government led restructuring to avoid bankruptcy (Plan to stop Taiwan’s high-speed rail going bust set for review). Since opening in 2007, this privately financed and operated system has been plagued with ridership well below projections. The Taiwan experience is consistent with the research showing that ridership on high-speed rail lines has been frequently over-projected.

Minister of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) Yeh Kuang-shih offered this sobering assessment:

“This is not the best time to address the financial problems, but it is the last window of opportunity. The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp will definitely go bankrupt if the problems are not addressed by the end of the year. The only other solution would be a government takeover. If the company files for bankruptcy and the government is forced to take over operation of the system, the banks will probably collect on their loans, but neither large nor small investors will get anything back.”

Kuomintang Party legislator Lin Kuo-cheng said that the “debt” and “accumulated losses” mean that the Taiwan high speed rail line is “broke.”

 

[Originally published at New Geography]

Categories: On the Blog

Obama Condemns Tax Inversions, but Pillages America with His Regulatory Agenda

October 11, 2014, 9:31 PM

It’s no mystery why American companies have stockpiled over $2 trillion of overseas earnings in foreign bank accounts. If they bring it to the United States, the IRS would grab 35% of it. That’s the US corporate tax rate – the highest in the developed world, double the average in EU nations.

Medtronic found a creative way to repatriate its cash, allowing it to bring money to the USA subject to just a 12.5% tax. The company acquired Covidien, another, smaller medical device firm in Ireland and will establish its formal headquarters in Dublin, thereby slashing its tax rate by two-thirds, and leaving it with far more cash for plants and equipment, innovation, hiring and keeping workers, and tapping new markets.

Pharmaceutical, biotechnology, healthcare and other companies have concluded or are pursuing similar “tax inversion” strategies. The actions have outraged the White House, “progressive” activists and many Democrats in Congress – except when President Obama’s BFF Warren Buffett engineered Burger King’s acquisition of Canada’s Tim Horton café and bakery chain.

The President says the practice is “unpatriotic” and “immoral,” calls the companies “corporate deserters,” and says businesses must start acting like “good corporate citizens.” Congressional Democrats have issued similar denunciations and want inversions prohibited or punished. They’re barking up the wrong tree.

The proper solution is comprehensive tax reform. However, Republicans want to address both corporate and individual tax issues, Democrats insist that only corporate taxes on the table, and Mr. Obama is typically not inclined to do the hard work of forging bipartisan compromises. Instead, he wants his IRS and Treasury Department to review “a broad range of authorities for possible administrative actions” and ways to “meaningfully reduce the tax benefits after inversions take place,” as one Treasury official put it.

Companies, workers and investors are bracing for the coming executive fiats. The diktats epitomize a huge problem that neither Congress nor the courts have been willing to address, but which continues to drag our nation’s economy and employment into the abyss: an out-of-control federal bureaucracy that is determined to control virtually every aspect of our business and personal lives – at great cost, for few benefits, and with little or no accountability for mistakes or even deliberate harm.

Of course we need taxes, laws and regulations, to set norms and guidelines, safeguard society, punish miscreants and pay for essential government programs. No one contests that. The question is, How much?

What we need right now is regulatory patriotism – and Executive Branch morality, citizenship, and fealty to our Constitution and laws. The federal behemoth today is destructive, and unpatriotic.

  • The confiscatory 35% corporate tax rate is embedded in a Tax Code that’s 74,000 pages long, counting important cases and interpretations. It totals some 33 million words (compared to 788,280 in the King James Bible) and is loaded with crony corporatist provisions and complex, indecipherable language.
  • A 906-page, 418,779-word (un)Affordable Care Act that has already metastasized into more than 10,000 pages of complex, often contradictory regulations, with more interpretations and clarifications to come.
  • The 2,300-page Dodd-Frank law has already spawned over 14,000 pages of banking and financial rules.
  • Over 175,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations are coupled with more than 1.4 million pages of tiny-type Federal Register proposed and final rules published just since 1993, at the rate of over 71,000 pages per year. Doctors, patients, insurers, businesses large and small – much less average citizens – cannot possibly read, comprehend or follow this onslaught.
  • At least 4,450 federal crimes are embedded in those laws and regulations (with some 500 new crimes added per decade) – often for minor infractions like failing to complete or file precisely correct paperwork for selling orchids or importing wood for guitars. Neither inability to understand complex edicts, lack of knowledge that they could possibly exist, nor absence of intent to violate them is a defense, and the “crime” can bring military swat teams through doors, and land “violators” in prison for months or years.
  • Production Tax Credits and other sweetheart “green” energy subsidies and grants total some $40 billion a year – for ethanol producers and folks like Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Mr. Tom Kiernan, who is both CEO of the American Wind Energy Association and treasurer of the League of Conservation Voters, which gives millions to mostly Democratic candidates to perpetuate the arrangements.
  • American businesses and families must pay $1.9 trillion per year to comply with these mountains of regulations. That’s one-eighth of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product; it’s almost all the corporate money now held overseas: $5,937 a year for every American citizen – and far more than the $1.6 trillion in direct economic losses that re-insurer Munich Re blames on weather-related disasters between 1980 and 2011.
  • $353 billion of these regulatory costs are inflicted by the Environmental Protection Agency alone, say Competitive Enterprise Institute experts who prepared the $1.9 trillion regulatory costs analysis for 2013.

Even worse, these criminal complexities and costs are being imposed by increasingly ideological, left-of-center, anti-business “public servants” who target conservatives and are intent on advancing President Obama’s agenda of “fundamentally transforming” the United States. They are determined to redistribute wealth, pit economic and ethnic groups against each other, close down coal-fired power plants, ensure that electricity prices “necessarily skyrocketing,” and stop drilling, mining, ranching, fracking and pipelines.

Poll after poll finds Americans focused on jobs and the economy, and on ISIL, terrorism and Ebola. Not so our federal government. Secretary of State John Kerry says climate change is “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” posing “greater long-term consequences” than terrorism or Ebola. For EPA the biggest issues are global warming, “environmental justice” and “sustainable development.”

How is the US economy responding to these policies? Median household income is down $2,000 since Obama took office, while costs of living continue to rise. Despite the subsidies, electricity prices have soared 14-33% in states with the most wind power. Some 45 million Americans now live below the poverty line – a 50% increase over the 30 million in poverty on inauguration day 2009.

While the official unemployment rate is now under 6% for the first time in six years, University of Maryland economist Peter Morici puts the real jobless rate at closer to 20% – which includes the millions who have given up looking for work, those who want to work full-time but must settle for part-time, and students enrolled in graduate school because their employment prospects are so bleak.

The labor force participation rate now stands at 62.7 percent, the lowest level in 36 years, with over 92 million adults not working. Over the past six years, one million more Americans have dropped out of the labor force than have found a job.

Indeed, a hallmark of the Obama recovery is its unique ability to convert three full-time jobs with benefits into four part-time positions with no benefits – and then say unemployment is declining.

It’s hardly surprising that dozens of senators and congressmen who voted with Mr. Obama 90-99% of the time now want to be seen as “moderate independents” – and do not want to be seen with the President.

But as President Obama told Northwestern University students October 2, “Make no mistake, [my] policies are on the ballot, every single one of them.”

He’s absolutely right. So are his economic and employment records. Time will tell how many people remember that when they vote November 4.

Categories: On the Blog

Time for Travel Caution in Dealing with Ebola Outbreak

October 11, 2014, 11:00 AM

Breaking news as this article was being written is that Howard University hospital in Washington, D.C. has admitted a patient — a recent traveler to Nigeria — who has symptoms that could be associated with Ebola. Receiving little coverage was a report on Thursday, October 3, that an American freelance television cameraman working for NBC News in Liberia has contracted Ebola, the fifth U.S. citizen known to be infected with the deadly virus.

To date, there has been one confirmed case of Ebola in Texas, Thomas Duncan, a visitor that arrived by commercial air from Liberia on September 20. He died October. 8 at Texas Presbyterian Hospital. He was infected with Ebola before he left for the U.S., when he helped carry a convulsing pregnant woman who later died of the virus along with four more of his neighbors. How Duncan was permitted to board the plane on September 19 to travel to the U.S. has now come to light. According to Liberian authorities, Duncan allegedly lied on his airport departure screening questionnaire about whether he had had contact with a person infected with the virus. Liberian authorities plan to prosecute Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan when he returns home.

Four days after Duncan’s arrival in the U.S. he sought treatment at Texas Presbyterian Hospital for non-specific symptoms and was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics. During the interim, before returning to Texas Presbyterian Hospital with full-blown Ebola two days later, Duncan had contact with several family members, including five school children, who attend four different schools in Dallas. These children are now being monitored.  The four individuals having direct contact with Thomas Duncan were quarantined on Thursday, Oct. 2 in the Dallas apartment where Duncan stayed. His sheet and other items used were sealed and taken away in plastic bags. More recently the same four individuals were moved to a place in a gated community.

We can’t know for sure, but dozens, possibly hundreds of individuals, including medical personnel, were exposed to Thomas Duncan after he developed symptoms. The CDC, which can’t seem to keep track of viable smallpox samples, assures us all is under control. They are tracking possible contacts, but have no plans to quarantine these contacts as a precaution.

Obama is as defensive about African affairs as he is about Islam, especially when the two overlap and reinforce. The administration draws a parallel to the SARS epidemic, which “never really was as bad as predicted.” Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Asians who contracted it. What about the thousands of canceled flights? Face masks mandatory in public throughout much of China? It could be worse, because China filters bad news, and deals firmly with leaks. The administration’s response to a potential Ebola epidemic is rife with political correctness.

The Obama administration in 2010 quietly dumped Bush-era plans to enact quarantine regulations supported by the Centers for Disease Control that were designed to prevent travelers from spreading infectious diseases. The regulations were proposed by the Bush administration in 2005 during the height of avian and swine flu fears. The rules would have required airlines to report to federal authorities any ill passengers. They mandated that airlines collect information on international passengers – including email addresses, traveling companions and return flight details – to make it easier to trace passengers in any investigation of a disease outbreak.

Despite the calls for heavy travel restrictions between the U.S. and those west African countries hardest hit by the outbreak, with one advocate even warning against the possibility of “Ebola tourism” by patients seeking better care here, the administration is rejecting calls for a visa ban for West Africans. Visas are held by 13,500 people in three Ebola countries in Africa, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, to visit the U.S.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday, Oct. 1, that the manufacture, financing and distribution of a large-scale Ebola vaccine is not possible until the middle of next year at the earliest. The WHO is expediting Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials on two highly promising experimental Ebola vaccines, hoping to obtain approval next February.

Can we believe Ebola victims are only contagious once symptoms start? If so, Ebola must be unique among viral diseases. Besides, symptoms are not turned on and off like a switch, and the hospital in Texas missed even the most obvious ones. Is it only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids? Perhaps, but bodily fluids are spread by coughs and sneezes too. We don’t catch colds from exhaled carbon dioxide (not even the Climate Change Cult believes that, so far). Furthermore, bodily fluids linger on clothing and other things. How long is the virus viable under those conditions? Duncan was carried into the ambulance, where he continued to vomit. Have those EMTs been quarantined? How many patients and hospital workers did they contact after being contaminated? It’s simple math. If one person infects two others, the spread is by definition, exponential — and the chart resembles a hockey stick.

Well worth reading is this article, Ebola: The Truth About How Viruses Work by Suzanne Hamner (pen name).  To be considered is the final sentence in Hamner’s article:

Officials, right now, appear to be over-confident which can be dangerous because no one at this juncture can say they know “all there is to know” about Ebola.

This underscores the utter madness of sending 4,000 American soldiers to West Africa to help deal with this disease. There will be no “accidental” contact in their case, it is virtually assured. And what of their friends and loved ones when they return? Will they all be quarantined too? Are we absolutely certain that the disease is spread only by direct contact, and not airborne or through other vectors? Are we sure the virus is not contagious when it has run its course, even though it is still present in body tissues for months or years afterward.

Congress must be urged to stop this troop movement before it occurs. Render all the humanitarian aid as practical, but at arm’s length. Flights to and from West Africa and the US must be stopped or severely limited, as well as flights that might transfer through other countries.

History tells us what can happen in we proceed in ignorance. The Plague (Yersinia pestis) ravaged Europe in several waves from the 6th to the 18th century, spread by returning Crusaders.  Nearly one third of Europe’s population was lost.  The Plague is still endemic in certain areas, including the American Southwest, despite antibiotics.

In truth, Ebola is probably not as virulent as other pandemic diseases and can be treated and controlled by exercising due diligence. However, this diligence is unlikely to occur as long as the White House is in denial. Obama’s fantasy administration isn’t just a game anymore. In the events of this week, we see that the resources used to deal with a handful of Ebola cases in the United States are already strained. Ad hoc efforts at quarantine for relatives of Thomas Duncan in Texas were ignored until enforced with an armed guard. Voluntary compliance is likely to be poor, and cases may go unreported if doing so results on confinement for a month.

The United States is the only Western nation permitting virtually unrestricted air travel from West Africa. This is not a reason to cry “panic,” but a call to exercise firm and effective measures to prevent the spread of a devastating disease and its economic consequences, while exercising compassion for those in suffering.

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

Common Core Proponents Blame Their Victims

October 11, 2014, 9:59 AM

It has become fashionable to blame the effects of nationalizing education on anything but the national curriculum mandates and the tests that accomplish it.

Teachers unions have seized on Common Core to undermine testing mandates and teacher evaluation schemes, bemoans Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek. Bad model lessons are undercutting Common Core’s potential, exclaims Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Common Core teacher retraining sessions teem with learning theories that research has proven ineffective, complains E. D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. And textbook publishers have twisted Common Core into a resurgence of “fuzzy math,” asserts College Board’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In other words, our nation’s 50 million schoolkids enter a storm of curricular chaos this fall, but, like them, Common Core is just a hapless victim. Has Common Core really been hijacked, or has it been a rogue vessel all along?

To answer that question in education terms, consider the current furor among New York educators over whether Common Core supports phonics-based literacy or a content-lite approach known as “balanced literacy.” The two are essentially pedagogical polar opposites, yet both sides claim Common Core justifies their approach.

A look at the standards themselves, as its proponents often demand, suggests this controversy is at least partly Common Core’s fault. Its curriculum mandates are wordy, obtuse, and inaccurate. Try this representative directive, for kindergarten: “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” After wading through the blubbery language, an astute reader will ask, “How many ways can there be to spell the five vowels? And are there any minor vowels?” There is precisely one spelling for each of the five, and only five, vowels. So what could this mandate mean?

It’s unclear, and so is the rest of Common Core, as in-depth analysis along these lines from Hillsdale College’s Terrence Moore shows in his book The Story Killers. So no wonder New York teachers, and teachers everywhere, must muddle about, prey to contradictory education theories, in the name of Common Core. The lack of curricular clarity in Common Core has spawned mass confusion. Follow the money: The Common Core beneficiaries are consultants and test developers.

Aside from such complaints, Common Core proponents suggest the curriculum makes for good political arrangements. If it undercuts mediocrity by demonstrating the flabbiness of American children’s mental muscles, or makes U.S. education more efficient and orderly, perhaps all this pain might produce some gain. Or, in the words of Common Core’s biggest financial backer, Bill Gates, “It’s ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different.”

That’s the real essence of Common Core: a political movement, a neat and tidy scheme to streamline U.S. education through a set of rapid, enormous policy changes rather than undergo the tedious process of convincing people and their elected representatives they should assent to a new way of organizing education. To speed things along, the people who created Common Core requested back in 2008 that the federal government play “an enabling role” and “offer a range of tiered incentives” to get states to sign onto national curriculum mandates and tests.

Once President Barack Obama came into office, he obliged, and then some. Thanks to federal grants offered during the recent recession, 40 state departments of education offered to accept this complete overhaul of their schools’ curricula and tests more than five months before the actual curriculum requirements were published in June 2010 and two months before even a draft was made publicly available. Taxpayers still await the final version of these new national tests.

Given the speed, secrecy, and arm-twisting of this initiative, the resulting chaos is no surprise. Potential pitfalls and a broad base of support never emerged during public debate, because there was no public debate. What is surprising is that people still insist on blaming Common Core’s victims rather than its perpetrators.

Joy Pullmann is a 2013–14 Robert Novak journalism fellow and education research fellow for The Heartland Institute.

Categories: On the Blog

What We Lose In A World Without Saturday Morning Cartoons

October 11, 2014, 8:19 AM

Last weekend was the first without Saturday morning cartoons, and you have government to thank for it.

What killed Saturday morning cartoons? Cable, streaming, and the FCC. In the 1990s, the FCC began more strictly enforcing its rule requiring broadcast networks to provide a minimum of three hours of “educational” programming every week. Networks afraid of messing with their prime-time slots found it easiest to cram this required programming in the weekend morning slot. The actual educational content of this live-action programming is sometimes debatable, but it meets the letter of the law.

This is the sort of shift which, for Boomers, Xers, and Millennials, marks a moment of fond recollection of the Honey Nut Cheerio days that were. In our house, we had a 2-3 hour maximum (based on chore completion), and some combination of superheroes and meta-commentary on superheroes – the Lone Ranger, Batman, Superman, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Tick, Freakazoid, Animaniacs and Looney Tunes – filled it. Others had The Johnny Quest, The SuperFriends, The Laff-a-Lympics, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Transformers, G.I. Joe and more.

For many of us, Saturday morning cartoons were also a shared bonding experience with our parents. A Transom reader wrote me to make the point that “My dad usually watched with us and I continued the tradition, watching (Muppet Babies!) with my kids when they were small.  I remember thinking, ‘how cool that Dad wants to watch this show’, and I’m sure my kids appreciated that unique time spent with me.” It also served as a moment in the week where kids could just be kids, as opposed to being shuffled from class to practices to games, prepping that high-achiever resume for future Ivy League applications.

There is an interesting paradox here, though. While we may view the animation of the 1980s and 1990s through the lens of nostalgia, the reality is that much of the material produced in this era was subpar and unimpressive. For the most part, what came out of Kroft, Rankin-Bass, and Hanna-Barbera was just filler, with terrible plotting, acting, and artistry. Today’s animated content is leaps and bounds ahead of what was being done then. The idea of a show like Adventure Time was completely out of the question. And in those days, what was on TV was your only option. So it’s that episode of Spider-Man which has the lousy villain you’ve seen a dozen times? Tough. There’s no ability to switch to something you’d rather see. Most Saturday morning shows weren’t Heart of Ice.

Today, the camaraderie of the Saturday morning routine has been exploded by the marketplace. The quality of animation is higher; the availability of options is essentially unlimited. Children today have the ability to pull up a fun, dark, or interesting cartoon anywhere at anytime, streaming through the air a fix of three decades of takes on Batman or any other superhero, a lifetime of homicidal cats and mice, giant robots out the ears. No longer limited to a single slot in the week, they are able to access this entertainment for themselves on-demand whenever they please.

But we should recognize there’s something lost here, as well, as it is in so much of the on-demand economy. The Saturday morning cartoons and breakfast cereal meant that children experienced things as they came, together, and could talk about those shared experiences after. It was inherently a community activity, a definitional moment in childhood, with ties of shared reaction to surprising moments and turns of plot, not individualized to the user’s priorities. What replaces it is more responsive to our desires, with more instant gratification, but also more atomized. The loss of that shared experience is a minor thing in the scheme of Burkean collapse – but it is something, and I suspect something more meaningful than we might understand. And we won’t get it back.

[First published at The Federalist.]

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist and a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. Sign up for a free trial of his daily newsletter, The Transom.

Categories: On the Blog

What Would Milton Friedman Say About Renewable Electricity Mandates?

October 10, 2014, 12:34 PM

Photo Credit: Academy of Achievement

In a May 23, 1977 column for Newsweek, titled “A Department of Energy?” the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman wrote:

Do not be misled into supposing that the energy problem is a purely technical problem that engineers can solve. No government engineer is in as good a position as you are to decide whether you would rather use expensive energy for heating your home, driving your car, or helping to produce one or another product for you to buy. No government engineer is in as good a position as the owner of a factory to choose the most economical fuel for his purposes or the cheapest way to conserve energy. No government engineer can replace the market in calculating the indirect effects of energy use or conservation. And no government engineer will enforce the ever more numerous edicts that will come down from on high. That will be done by policemen.

Such a line is even more relevant today than it was back then. Not just because we do now, in fact, have a Department of Energy, but because of the 29 state laws across the country that more specifically do exactly what Prof. Friedman said would inflict great harm on the economy. Namely, force people to consume expensive energy – whether or not they value or can afford it – simply because the government believes it has the technical authority to determine what form of energy is the best for us to use.

These laws, called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), or renewable electricity mandates, are laws that require utilities to sell or produce a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. Find out if your state has an RPS law here.

The Heartland Institute has written about RPS policy and traveled the country testifying in favor of its repeal for years. Last June, Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the first Governor to sign legislation that reduced the RPS. Hopefully that will dramatically improve the odds for similar bills in other states to become law in 2015.

Photo: Academy of Achievement

Categories: On the Blog