In astrophysics, there is a concept called a “singularity.” Most often discussed in terms of the Big Bang or black holes, a singularity is, among other things, a point in spacetime from which no prior matter or information can escape.
Because pressures and temperatures approached infinity at the moment of the Big Bang, whatever the form of the universe was prior to that can never be seen, measured, or truly known. Likewise, once anything, including light, is drawn into a black hole, it can never escape that singularity’s event horizon; all information about it is lost forever to any future observer. In terms of “what happens there stays there,” Las Vegas doesn’t hold a candle to a black hole. (And if a black hole were holding a candle, you’d never know.)
On Friday, in remarks reminiscent of a supercilious graduate student scolding a class of insufficiently Marxist college freshmen, President Obama spoke as if the recent congressional turmoil and government shutdown was a political singularity.
According to Obama, the shutdown showdown was an event of sufficient pressure and temperature to eliminate all memory of what preceded it during his administration and from which we should move forward in a new way and a new direction — which is to say we should submit to his will and supinely approve his agenda.
Confusing himself with a king or dictator, Obama pronounced: “But to all my friends in Congress, understand that how business is done in this town has to change…” Considering that this president is well-known for having approximately zero friends in Congress, even among Democrats, his message was aimed at the rest of us, the mushy-headed electorate, trying to convince us that the shutdown was existential proof of the futility and unwisdom of opposing Him.
Through his indulgence, we are given the opportunity to “understand” the words from on high: if we forget his past, and the past will of the voters who re-elected a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, we may yet be forgiven for our impudent opposition to his plan to “fundamentally transform” our once-great nation.
Obama continued: “And now that the government has reopened and this threat to our economy is removed, all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists, and the bloggers, and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict, and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do…”
In other words, everything you’ve done or cared about in the past, every source of information you’ve trusted or even just enjoyed, every representative of citizens and organizations who may have legitimate complaints or concerns about the direction of public policy, is now to be ignored because the Community Organizer-in-Chief has inscribed on the newly-blank slate of the will of the people the Truth about “why we’re here” and what “should be our focus.”
Even when it comes to our disastrous level of federal debt, we are urged to forget what we already know. Obama and his propagandists remind us that “our deficits are half of what they were a few years ago.” Yes, the FY 2014 budget deficit, currently estimated at $744 billion, is just over half of 2009’s nose-bloodying $1.41 trillion deficit which, in one year, added 19 percent to all of the federal debt accumulated under all prior presidents combined. (And the next two years were nearly as bad.)
Yet at $744 billion, Obama’s lowest-by-far deficit is more than 60% larger than the largest deficit of the George W. Bush years, and triple Bush’s average deficit.
But who cares about the past when we’ve just had a political singularity prior to which nothing important exists?
When it comes to political negotiation, the event horizon reaches implausibly far from the central reality of this president when Obama implies that it’s something he actually engages in: “Democrats and Republicans are far apart on a lot of issues… We can debate those differences vigorously, passionately, in good faith, through the normal democratic process. And sometimes we’ll be just too far apart to forge an agreement.”
But the country, even the Obama-loving media, remembers that this is the same president who discussed nothing in good faith and absolutely refused to negotiate with Republicans during the recent turmoil. For Barack Obama, “too far apart” means “doesn’t completely agree with me.” And we all know it. But apparently that history, despite being only short weeks in the past, is to be sucked into the black hole of Obama’s shutdown “victory,” never to be considered, mentioned, or criticized again.
It is not just Obama’s dictatorial style, his dismissal of political opponents as puppets being manipulated by Rush Limbaugh and conservative websites, and his massive federal deficits accumulated through repeated senseless Keynesian waste which the president wants — needs — us to forget.
In order to implement his radical agenda for higher taxes and more spending, Obama needs Republicans and the electorate, including the broad center of the country which might not love the GOP but is also waking up to Leviathan, to forget (or at least be too frightened to remember publicly) everything about him.
We must forget his words to Joe the Plumber, his statement that “at a certain point, you’ve made enough money,” and his promise-lie that “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period.”
In order to build trust in his administration, Obama needs us to forget about Fast and Furious (including the recent news about an American hand grenade used to kill three policemen in Mexico), to ignore that his IRS targeted conservative groups, his Justice Department refused to prosecute voter intimidation by the New Black Panthers, his Health and Human Services Department gave Obamacare waivers to unions and political cronies and big corporations (but there is no relief in sight for ordinary Americans), and his NSA continues to collect cell phone and Internet data on millions of law-abiding Americans.
In order to garner public support for his reckless and feckless foreign policy including dangerous appeasement of nuclear weapon-bound Iran, the president needs us to forget that he drew a red line and then claimed he didn’t, that he began his presidency by going to Cairo and apologizing for the United States, that he offered sotto voce “flexibility” to Russia and has treated the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood with more respect than he has offered the Israeli Prime Minister.
We must block from our collective memory that he has brought precisely zero terrorists to justice for the murder of Americans in Benghazi, nor disciplined anybody in his own incompetent State Department — sacrificing justice for the victims and the American people in order to protect the political future of Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state with the lowest ratio of accomplishments to miles flown in the history of diplomacy.
But Barack Obama is no Einstein, mastering the political equivalent of General Relativity. The turmoil (and, to be sure, GOP loss) of the recent government shutdown is not a political singularity, blocking our vision of the past.
It did not abruptly nullify the votes of millions of Americans for members of Congress who proudly associate with the Tea Party movement and proudly call themselves conservatives — and who remember that they, even more than a president who was faced with uninspiring Republican opponents following a decade of destruction of the Republican brand, have a mandate from the voters to stand athwart Obama’s radical agenda, yelling “Stop!”
Don’t worry, Mr. President, we remember precisely who you are. And more importantly, we remember who we are.
[First Published by The American Spectator]
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is proposing to increase the city’s cigarette tax by $.75 a pack, which would raise the combined local and state tax rate to $7.42 a pack- the highest in the nation. The video above, by Fox 32, features the Heartland Institute’s John Nothdurft and his brief, yet powerful, opinion on the proposed tax increase.
A tax increase would only cause more people to hop over state lines in order to get cheaper cigarettes; the city has already seen a dramatic decrease in tax revenue from the last cigarette tax hike, and the theme is likely to continue.
Emanuel argues that a tax increase would strengthen the incentive for smokers to quit, and would also help to pay off a budget shortfall. The extra money will also be used to fund some social programs in the city of Chicago. Does Chicago really need to add this to their list- city with highest prices on cigarettes due to extreme taxation?
Chicago is facing some budgetary difficulties. Next year the city is required, by state law, to make a $600 million contribution to stabilize police and fire pension funds with liabilities that are only covered at 30.5% and 25% right now. Emanuel calls for a Chicago property tax increase as well, but wants to hold off on the pension stabilization until 2023, to give the city more time.
Read the full article here.
With all that is happening currently in Washington, D.C. with the blame game still being very much in the news as to those responsible for the partial sixteen-day shutdown of our federal government, just how do Common Core State Standards fit into the picture?
Simply stated, the intent of Common Core is to nationalize education, along with the minds of American youth, thereby directing this nation’s future. As totalitarian leaders have taught us in the past, whoever molds the minds of the youth can eventually command the population. It matters not if the transition takes a generation of two.
Many already perceive that this nation is currently on the road to Socialism, and perhaps even worse though the advancement of the Obama administration’s agenda. Should Common Core be allowed to take hold under the assumption that a one-size-fits-all educational policy is acceptable that advances a liberal, progressive agenda in schools nationwide — with students being taught what to think and not how to think — the result will insure that the next generation of Americans will be liberal in their thinking and in tune with whatever leftist philosophy they encounter as adults.
So it will be that Obama will have fulfilled his mission to reshape this nation into one where our Constitution is no longer relevant and where freedom and liberty have been replaced by government control of our lives.
Two Curriculum Common Core coffees were recently held in my school district at the West Campus of Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, IL. Of great interest was the Common Core motto appearing on the initial e-mail invitation which announced the two curriculum coffees: Preparing America’s Students For College & Career.
I attended the second curriculum coffee held on Tuesday, October 15th from 7 – 8 pm, organized to familiarize local residents and taxpayers with the Common Core State Standards Initiative as applicable to Illinois and, in turn, students enrolled in Lake Forest School Districts 115 and 67.
Lauren Fagel, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, Technology and Assessment (one of three assistant superintendents in the Lake Forest School System) moderated both curriculum coffees. The topic: How Common Core State Standards will challenge our students to become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers.
In so far as the mention of Common Core still brings a blank stare from many parents of school-age children, similar events are most likely being planned in many school districts throughout Illinois as Common Core standards are being rolled out in various stages of implementation across Illinois. This lack of transparency about Common Core has happened despite the 2010 adoption of Common Core by every state except Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia even before the math and language arts standards were written, enticed by the lure of massive federal grants.
Defenders of Common Core assert that Common Core is state-instigated and controlled. This could not be further from the truth. The federal government provided all the funding for the national tests and also gave major grants to nonprofit groups who wrote Common Core. Bankrolling the entire Common Core project were nonprofit groups and big funders of government expansion such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft also has a significant financial state in the national education markets.
While this nation may be a superpower in some ways, in education it lags behind in a recent comparison of academic performance in 57 countries. Students in the US performed near the middle of the pack. Finland overall came out on top. Other top-performing countries were Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.
To be determined: Will CC raise the performance level of students? Of concern to many is how Common Core education standards manifest a centralization of authority over the historically decentralized K-12 education system. Even more troubling is that Common Core is devoid of any history where success was achieved before states signed on to Common Core in 2010 lured by federal grants.
As Lake Forest High School prides itself on its high academic standards and its high achievement rankings with other school districts within Illinois, I was curious how Lauren Fagel would present Illinois’ state standards initiatives so as not to impinge upon the already high academic standards already established in Lake Forest’s two micro school districts, District 67, K – 8th and District 115, 9th – 12th.
Armed with booklets, The Common Core: A Bad Choice for America, by Joy Pullmann, a Research Fellow at The Heartland Institute, I arrived early to place a booklet on each chair in the meeting room. These excellent resource booklets about Common Core can be ordered through The Heartland Institute for distribution by calling 312-377-4000.
Although her request to me was congenial, Assistant Superintendent Lauren Fagel informed me that she would prefer to have the booklets removed from the chairs and put on the tables where other handout material was available for the taking. To her credit, Ms. Fagel did tell those gathered about the booklets placed on the table by Mrs. Thorner and published by The Heartland Institute.
Handouts on the table, along with Heartland’s published booklet by Joy Pullman, were a Parents’ Guide to Student Success, one each for Kindergarten through 8th grade, and a Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School English) and Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School Math). The Parents’ Guides were produced by the National PTA. For more information, full Common Core standards can be found at www.corestandards.org .
Stated predominately on the front page of each guide, which differed only when referring to the grade level of each hand out:
This guide provides an overview of what your child will learn by the end of kindergarten in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. It focuses on the key skills your child will learn in these subjects, which will build a strong foundation for success in the other subjects he or she studies throughout the school year. This guide is based on the new Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. These K-12 standards are informed by the highest state standards from across the country. If your child is meeting the expectations outlined in these standards, he or she will be well prepared for 1st grade.
The hour time allowance wasn’t nearly long enough to find out much about Common Core other than what Lauren Fagel presented through her slide presentation. I felt very much alone as the only individual in the room who seemed knowledgeable about Common Core and the controversy surrounding its application as states, parents, and teachers are beginning to pull back from Common Core upon discovering what Common Core education standards would mean if fully applied.
In answer to a question before the start of the meeting, Ms. Fagel personally informed me that such a pullback of Common Core standards wouldn’t occur here in Illinois, or in the Lake Forest School System, as Common Core State Standards were sanctioned and adopted by the IEA, thereby making the implementation of Common Core mandatory in Illinois school districts.
First off, Ms. Fagel informed a somewhat pathetic low turnout of 20 or so individuals that a major change was taking place in many schools throughout this country, but not so much here in Lake Forest and in the neighboring Village of Lake Bluff, District 65, because Lake Forest and Lake Bluff already had in place high educational standards for their student population. Fagel continued, “We now have the opportunity to further enrich our students by having Common Core standards operate as guideposts along the way.”
In speaking about Common Core expectations, Ms. Fagel cited what appears on Common Core websites: “To give students the critical knowledge and skills that they will need after high school.” Accordingly, Common Core standards are geared to teach students to 1) Analyze, 2) Comprehend, and 3) Evaluate. Ms. Fagel further described Common Core standards as representing the floor level, but in no way indicative of the ceiling.
A slide presentation outlined Common Core Anchor Standards in Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening from K – 5, followed by the same Common Core Anchor Standards for grades 6 – 12. Math standards were likewise enumerated for each grade level. While Common Core standards delay Algebra until the 9th grade, LFHS will continue to keep Algebra at the 8th grade level.
I regret not having a chance to ask Ms. Fagel what would happen to the existing high standards in the Lake Forest School Districts given that states may not change Common Core standards. They must adopt all of them at once and may only add up to an additional 25 percent to set Common Core requirements.
Although Ms. Fagel insisted that Common Core was not a curriculum as such, the issue of testing must be considered as a means for accessing student achievement. Mentioned by Ms. Fagel was PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and its race to develop assessments so teachers and administrators can evaluate student progress.
According to Ms. Fagel, PARCC has yet to bring its testing material to fruition so it’s ready for use; nevertheless, a national testing system based on the new standards is already being rolled out which will test students regularly from the third grade to ensure that their Common Core-based education is proceeding smoothly. It is almost certain that SAT’s and ACT’s used nationwide in admissions to higher-learning institutions will be aligned with the new Common Core standards.
Somewhat strange to me, as one whose school days are more than 50 years behind me, are Common Core Anchor Standards in Writing as they relate to the range of writing to be covered by students: Students must write arguments to support claims. Less emphasis will also be placed on creative writing.
Regarding Common Core Anchor Standards for Literature (K-5), students will analyze how and why individuals, events and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text with an emphasis placed on reading non-fiction.
A parent did complain how her first grade daughter had been turned off from reading because she did not like to read non-fiction. What will happen when she advances to higher grades? English and Language Arts Common Core standards place emphasis on reading dry technical writing, like government documents and technical manuals, as opposed to literary classics. Under Common Core at least 50% of reading assignments must consist of informational texts.
In that Common Core standards focus on core conceptual understanding and procedures starting in the early grades, learning multiplication tables is most likely considered old-fashioned and obsolete? And what about spelling and cursive writing? Common Core State Standards do not require children to learn how to write in cursive.
Math and English standards were focused on initially as they were the two subjects expected to be he least controversial among the voting and taxpaying public. Common Core standards are not being extended to social studies, science, history and more. Suggested history textbooks are being accused of having a strong liberal bias.
In science, called the Next Generation Science Standards, students will be forced to learn a steady stream of controversial propaganda of everything from the theory of evolution to largely debunked theories advanced by U.N.global-warming alarmists about supposed human impacts on “climate change.”
There are also the National Sexuality Education Standards being written for Common Core. They have as a goal to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance for sexuality education which is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K-12.
It was Lauren Fagel’s goal to make Common Core sound palatable and reasonable, but whether Common Core has what it takes to elevate this nation’s floundering education system can only be determined when a comparison is made of student performance before Common Core standards and after Common Core has been fully implemented for a number of years.
Common Core might very well do some good in those schools whose students rate way below par academically, but will Common Core State Standards be able to work wonders on students who did poorly prior to the adoption of Common Core? I doubt it.
As for high achieving schools such as found in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Common Core might even result in lowering educational standards. A substantial amount of retraining will be necessary for teachers to learn how to successfully teach the Common Core way in schools throughout Illinois. The implementation of the new standards could also cost cash-strapped state governments some $16 billion to implement.
Fair to question is whether this nation’s students are being used as Guiana pigs in a one-size-fits-all educational experiment that many feel is destined to perform badly or even fail? The vast majority of countries where students perform more poorly than they do in America have nationalized education.
Without question, Common Core standards fail to address the specific needs of a state or a child, but even most troublesome is that it is designed to produce a generation of progressive, liberal-minded adults and citizen activists who will see this nation in a way completely alien to what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created a nation that offered such great hope and promise to future generations of Americans.
[Originally posted on the Illinois Review]
Now I’m not suggesting that anyone go out and do this, but if someone really wanted to hurt ObamaCare, he (or she) would hack into healthcare.gov and steal personal information of those who were stupid enough to enter such information into the technological cesspool that is the ObamaCare web site.
He wouldn’t have to post the most sensitive info, like Social Security numbers…just to show something to prove he has the info, and the already minuscule number of people who are trusting their health care to the government will slow to an even slower trickle.
As far as vulnerable web sites go, it’s hard to imagine that this one isn’t one of the easiest to attack. After all, the process of integrating the systems was not done by professionals, but by Obama campaign hacks and career bureaucrats.
Again, I’m not encouraging anyone to do this. But if there were an enterprising opponent of Obamacare who had the ability to do it, it wouldn’t bother me to learn of such a security breach.
Unfortunately, it seems the left has the most aggressive hackers, and the least sense of ethics. Our side is probably some combination of too nice and not skillful enough to be good hackers, even of the worst web site in recent memory.
Of course the real issue is that people who don’t have the best interests of anyone other than themselves, namely identity thieves and other techie criminals, must undoubtedly be thinking of the Obamacare web site as a target-rich environment. Even separate from my distrust of Kathleen Sebelius and every other aspect of this administration, I’d be very wary about giving any personal information to any person or any system related to Obamacare.
[First Published by The American Spectator]
The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system, technology experts told USA TODAY.
The site could be perfect, but if the systems from which it draws data are not up to speed, it doesn’t matter, said John Engates, chief technology officer at Rackspace, a cloud computer service provider.
“It is a core problem in the sense of it’s fundamental to this thing actually working, but it’s not necessarily a problem that the people who wrote HealthCare.gov can get to,” Engates said. “Even if they had a perfect system, it still won’t work.”
Way to keep up, Washington. Ten years ago was one year before Facebook even existed. It was four years before the first iPhone. Ten years ago was the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The biggest song was 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.”
Government is nothing if not perpetually behind the curve.
The ObamaCare website is a quintessential example of government process and technological prowess. (That and the $80 billion a year they so prudently spend on IT.)
The site was was certainly worth the $634 million of our money the Barack Obama Administration spent. On a no-bid contract. Given to a huge Obama campaign donor. Who was previously fired for serial incompetence by the Canadian government.
All for a law We the People have never liked or wanted. Which is in the process of destroying not just private health insurance sector – but the entire private sector.
But this is what government does. To paraphrase Sir Ernest John Pickstone Benn:
Government is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.
Government’s motto should be:
When in doubt – don’t.
Except that as almost always wrong as government is – their sureness-in-self never wavers. Rarely are they more self-confidently wrong than when mucking about in the quicksilver, mercurial technology sector.
Tech innovation and development happen so fast. It leaves government’s attempts to regulate in the dust – unless the regulations are so restrictive as to freeze us all in amber. In which case today’s technology is also tomorrow’s. And next year’s. And next decade’s. (Hello, Network Neutrality.)
The rules that exist are mostly either damaging, utterly unnecessary, woefully behind-the-times, dreadfully misapplied – or combinations thereof. Like illegally forcing 1930s landline telephone regs on to the broadband Internet world in which we now live. (Hello, Network Neutrality.)
The private sector tech world has given us the free-speech, free-market Xanadu that is the World Wide Web – and it has done so (pre-Obama Administration) nearly bereft of government rules. This is no coincidence.
The last time Congress wrote pertinent law was 1996. Way back then, Congress in a fundamentally important way actually got something right – the Internet was so new, they decided to basically leave it alone to see what developed.
It’s amazing what develops when the government leaves things alone.
Which brings us to Wednesday’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing: “The Evolution of Wired Communications Networks.” Government officials should use this meeting to call for less regulations. Outright removal of many. Or – if they are absolutely necessary – finely-tuned updates of existing ones.
Let’s let the tech train keep-a-rolling. It is these days about the only part of the economy that’s actually working.
[First Published by The Daily Caller]
On October 10, USA Today did its readers a grave disservice by running an op-ed full of smears and false statements by two of the fruitier nutcakes of the environmental movement, Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang.
They disparage Dr. Fred Singer and Dr. Robert Carter, two of the three lead authors of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, the latest report from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). They also quote me, as head of The Heartland Institute, the organization that published CCR II. And for that, we thank them.
But the rest of their article is pure propaganda sludge.
They quote Dr. Carter, a paelaeontologist and marine geologist and former head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University (Australia), as saying “Currently the planet is cooling.” “Wrong,” they say. “The last decade (2000-2009) was the hottest on record; 2010 was the hottest year recorded.” Their claim is trivially true based on a heavily revised and controversial database that goes back only to about 1850. More reliable satellite data show no warming trend for nearly 17 years and a cooling trend in the last decade. Proxy data show the planet has been cooling since 2,000 years ago and 8,000 years ago.
Becker and Gerstenzang quote Dr. Fred Singer, saying “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.” “Nope,” they say. “Acting under U.S. Supreme Court direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that CO2 is a pollutant because of the harm it causes.” Gee, who should we believe here, lawyers and bureaucrats or one of the world’s most distinguished astrophysicists? It shouldn’t be a close call.
Some 97% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources and only about 3% from human activities. We exhale carbon dioxide. The Supreme Court and EPA can twist the meaning of “pollutant” to extend it to anything added to the air, including our breath, but that semantic trick has no scientific relevance. Dr. Singer is absolutely right: carbon dioxide is plant food, a net benefit to plant and animal life, and not a pollutant.
Becker and Gerstenzang then quote me: “Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth’s climate.” “Misleading, to say the least,” they write. “97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming.” This is such a cheap parlor trick that one wonders if alarmists realize how foolish it makes them look whenever they use it.
Skeptics don’t say humans are not “causing global warming,” because we acknowledge that agriculture, building roads and airports and water treatment plants, and emissions of various kinds (including carbon dioxide) may indeed affect regional climates and may even be enough to have a discernable impact globally. But is it enough to “disrupt the Earth’s climate”? There is no evidence that it is.
Surveys that supposedly show a consensus in favor of they hypothesis of man-made dangerous global warming invariably ask meaningless questions, such as “is climate change real?” that any skeptic would answer “yes” to. A close look at the latest “study” used by alarmists to back their claim actually found that barely 1% of published scientific articles support the claim of dangerous man-made global warming. (See D. Legates et al., “Climate Consensus and ‘Misinformation,’” Science & Education, DOI 10.1007/s11191-013-9647-9.)
When asked about climate models, the source of most of the alarmists’ claims and predictions, most scientists say they are too crude and unreliable to be useful for policymaking. And think about this: If there were really a “consensus” among scientists about climate change, why are there 78 different climate models that vary widely in their “parameters” (assumptions) and outcomes?
Becker and Gerstenzang make the familiar argument that the media shouldn’t allow global warming skeptics to air their views on their pages or as part of their broadcasts because doing so “equates serious climate science and evaluation of peer-reviewed reports with the declarations of individuals, most lacking academic degrees in climate research, who are often funded by those standing to profit if the United States fails to curb carbon dioxide emissions.”
I count four falsehoods in that one sentence, not counting the authors’ hubris in assuming that they are on the right side of this complex scientific debate. Can you find them?
The reports of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are not “serious climate science.” They are political documents produced to advance the political goals of the governments that created the IPCC, fund it, staff it, select the scientists who get to participate, and revise and rewrite the reports before their public release. Critics all around the world have pointed out how the IPCC’s reports are not reliable, not peer reviewed, and certainly not unbiased.
NIPCC, in contrast, is a group of some 50 skeptical scientists, all of them highly qualified to speak to the issues they address, with no financial stake in the outcome of the global warming debate. Many of them, such as Singer, are emeritus professors, meaning they are no longer competing for grant dollars. No corporate or government funding at all was used to support NIPCC or the publication of its Climate Change Reconsidered series of reports.
In the global warming debate there are two primary sources of reviews of the peer-reviewed science: the IPCC and NIPCC. The first is politicized, unreliable, and largely discredited. NIPCC is the new kid on the block, nonpolitical, and endorsed by many leading climate scientists. NIPCC now best represents the views of independent scientists.
It’s time to stop attacking the messenger and start listening to the message. It is very clear: The human impact on climate is small, future climate change attributable to human activities is likely to be too small to discern from natural variability, and efforts to reduce human carbon dioxide emissions are unnecessary.
[First published at Watts Up With That.]
When will the FCC acknowledge the obvious?
Every day many tens of millions of Americans competitively substitute wireless for wired communications and wired for wireless.
Everyone knows you can watch video or talk to someone over wired or wireless technology.
Everybody using the Internet knows you can access it over wireless or wired technology.
Every part of the mobile Internet revolution of smart-phones, tablets and other devices that enable users to surf, stream, and access Internet apps is about doing wirelessly what previously was done over a wire.
One of the most pervasively modern parts of our society today is how we all can communicate with each other seamlessly regardless of the technology used.
So why is it obvious to everyone but the FCC, that wireless and wired connections are interchangeable, competitive substitutes for American consumers?
The answer is simple and parochial.
Competitive reality threatens the FCC’s alternate reality where successful competition is a problem, because it threatens the FCC’s historical authority, power, and purpose.
If the FCC officially admits that American consumers competitively substitute wired and wireless technology offerings routinely, the FCC would have to concede that marketplace competition has been successful, leaving once-very-powerful FCC regulators with increasingly less to do going forward.
Just as the old adage goes, if you are a hammer all you see is nails; and if you are a regulator all you see is regulations to promulgate.
When will the FCC’s assessment of competition join the modern era?
Consider all the accumulating obvious facts that the FCC has to ignore to maintain its parochial fiction that wired and wireless technologies are not competitive substitutes.
For video, over fifty million American households watch video over cable wires. Over 30 million watch DBS over wireless. Several million watch video over fiber wires. A few million watch over copper wires. A few million watch broadcast TV wirelessly. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans watch video on smart-phones and tablets over wireless every day.
For voice, Americans have long embraced cordless phones connected to coax, copper, or fiber wires. And wireless cellular service or Wifi-enabled voice services over apps (like Skype or Facetime) use fiber wire backbones.
According to the CDC, 38% of Americans have a wireless phone only, 51% have both wireless and wired phones, and only 9% have only a wired landline telephone.
For broadband Internet access, Americans routinely use wireless Wifi services connected to wired connections of coax, copper or fiber. And wireless smart-phones, tablets and laptops serve as Wifi hotspots for other devices too.
Those who quibble that wireless may not be as fast as some wires miss the point.
The issue for consumers is whether wireless is fast enough for their needs. And since most Americans have little need for speeds in excess of what 4G wireless and fixed wireless services can deliver, wireless is fast enough for what most Americans do most of the time, because they put a premium on the convenience of mobility.
Practically, there is little a wire can do that wireless can’t do and vice versa. The rare instance where they may not be competitively substitutable increasingly is the exception not the rule.
In short, if asked, most Americans would laugh at the notion that wired and wireless technologies were separate services that could not be substituted or did not compete with one another every day for their attention and business.
Prospective FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler knows better than most anyone that wired and wireless are technological and competitive substitutes. That’s because he twice led innovative industries proving the mass-market, competitive-substitution case in the real world: first from wireless to wired, and second from wired to wireless.
Mr. Wheeler led the cable industry’s association from 1979 to 1984, when cable wires competitively substituted 25 million wireless broadcast TV households. He pioneered a period of 360% industry growth, from 9 million to 34 million household subscribers, per NCTA.
Amazingly Mr. Wheeler did it again. He led the wireless industry’s association from 1992 to 2003, when wireless phones competitively substituted many tens of millions of landline wired telephones. Again he pioneered a period of 1,645% industry growth, from 9 million to 148 million subscribers, per CTIA.
In sum, proponents of broadband-regulation try to imagine away competitive substitution of wired and wireless technologies and services.
They seek to unilaterally shrink market definitions to deem cable broadband a monopoly and wireless broadband a duopoly of Verizon and AT&T, despite the overwhelming competitive substitution and competition evidence to the contrary.
If they can get away with denying the existence of broadband competitive substitution, they then can try and assert that 1996 congressional competition policy is fatally-flawed, warranting more FCC intervention relying on the FCC’s obsolescing 1934 authority that conveniently presumes monopoly markets.
Hope springs eternal that a data-driven, expert agency, FCC will acknowledge the linchpin of a modern FCC competition policy: the obvious technological and market reality of competitive substitution of wired and wireless providers, products, and services.
[First Published by Daily Caller]
October 17 was the fortieth anniversary of the oil embargo slapped on America by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). That action changed the entire geopolitical map—taking the power from the United States and giving it to the Middle East. As a result of the embargo, the price of gasoline quadrupled, gas stations had multi-hour long lines, and the stock market plummeted—kicking off a serious recession.
My entire driving life has been impacted by OPEC’s actions. On October 17, 1973, I was 15—days away from turning 16. I got my driver’s license on my sixteenth birthday.
It was a different world prior to the embargo. America was the dominant player in the energy market—supplying 63 percent of the world’s oil at the beginning of World War II—and had surplus supply. The surplus neutered OPEC’s previous embargo attempts in 1956 and 1967, as the U.S. was able to fill the demand gap OPEC created.
It wasn’t the embargo itself that changed the dynamic, but the timing of it.
U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 and declined sharply in the subsequent years. When OPEC chose to use oil as a diplomatic weapon in 1973, America was no longer the swing producer with the ability to fill in the gaps. We’d become increasingly dependent on suppliers from the oil-rich Middle East. Scarcity was our reality.
To punish the U.S. for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War, OPEC banned oil exports to the U.S. and, eventually, other countries. OPEC then reduced production by 5 percent per month until the embargo ended in March of 1974.
For the past forty years, OPEC has controlled the geopolitical equation. Every president since Richard Nixon has urged the country to strive for energy independence so that we don’t face another energy crisis like 1973.
Remembering the embargo, Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State during the 1973 oil shock, said at a national summit on energy security: “You could not make plans in the Middle East or involving the Middle East, without keeping in mind the considerations of the oil market.”
While the social, political, and economic impacts of the embargo have been harsh, there’s also a silver lining: North American producers were forced to find new ways to explore for and produce hydrocarbons—and those technologies and techniques developed by individuals and industry have, once again, changed the geopolitical equation.
The 1973 OPEC oil embargo revealed a serious weakness in America’s energy and national security.
According to the Reuters story on the embargo’s anniversary: “The United States is less reliant each month on Middle East energy, thanks to increasing production of both oil and natural gas from technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which allows extraction of oil and gas from shale deposits.”
While the U.S. is less reliant on the Middle East due to the increasing production of our domestic resources—with our crude oil production up by 50 percent since 2008, it isn’t actually due to hydraulic fracturing, as Reuters states. According to Harold Hamm, who is credited with being one of the first wildcatters to take a chance on developing North Dakota’s Bakken field, saying that “fracking is the root of America’s new supplies of oil and gas” is a misconception that has “been erroneously driving public discourse and policy.” Hamm comments on the embargo’s anniversary in Forbes: “It’s also time for America to hear the truth about the real source of our modern-day oil and natural gas renaissance—horizontal drilling.” (The distinction is important as fracking has been used by the environmental lobby to create fear when in fact fracking has been consistently in use for more than 60 years.) Extolling how far America has come since the 1973 embargo, Hamm states: “Never again are we going to be held hostage and extorted.”
Hamm is correct. As the Wall Street Journal says, “greater U.S. oil production gives foreign-policy flexibility.” Likewise, Time Magazine affirms: “OPEC’s influence has been diminished, and oil can no longer be used as a weapon the way it was 40 years ago.”
How does energy security give the US “foreign-policy flexibility?” One example is Iran. Reuters reports: “Last year, Washington and its European allies orchestrated a partial boycott of Iranian oil, to compel Tehran to return to talks about its nuclear program. The sanctions against Iran took roughly 1 million barrels per day off world markets—without the price spikes many predicted.” Additionally, U.S. production has helped dampen price spikes from supply problems in Nigeria, Libya, and Sudan—and made us less vulnerable to Middle East oil shocks. Without the domestic supply, current gasoline prices would be higher, not lower.
While U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil has reversed course since 1973—increasing for thirty years and declining since 2008, we are surprisingly still importing the same percentage of oil that we did 40 years ago: 35 percent.
We have come a long way, but there is still much that can be done to reduce use of Middle Eastern oil and improve our energy and national security—and that was the focus of the Oil Embargo +40 conference held in Washington DC on October 16. The conference brought together iconic policymakers, leading CEOs, and senior military leaders to discuss the often overlooked threat of oil dependence and the solutions that are now within our reach. (Note: the conference website features an excellent “Forty Year Energy Security Timeline.”)
Sam Ori, Executive Vice President of Secure America’s Energy Future (SAFE), the non-partisan group aimed at reducing U.S. dependency and the organizer of the conference, told me that solutions generally fall into two categories: supply side and demand side.
The supply side is being secured by increasing US oil and gas production—but we can do more. Some of the solutions addressed at the conference include calling on President Obama to finally approve the Keystone pipeline, accessing more federal lands, and accelerating approval for drilling permits. SAFE proposes that a portion of revenue generated from new drilling on federal lands should be invested in a research-and-development trust fund to help develop new technologies for using oil more efficiently. Such a trust fund could develop innovations without raising taxes and without government picking winners and losers, such as we’ve seen with Solyndra and the 50+ other green energy projects, which were funded through Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill and have already gone bankrupt or are circling the drain.
On the demand side, the experts recommend diversifying the transportation fleet by integrating natural gas and electricity. Ken Blackwell, a Senior Advisor to SAFE, explains: “electric vehicle technology is uniquely advantageous in the fight against OPEC, because electricity can come from multiple sources including coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Ohio coal should be burned to generate electricity used to power electric vehicles and, as a result, displace oil-based gasoline. We should invest in innovative research to foster oil displacement, not an environmentalist agenda.”
At the conference, Fred Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx addressed the benefits of electric vehicles for short-haul, light-duty vehicles and natural gas for longer haul trucks and Dan Akerson, Chairman and CEO of General Motors announced, a new bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala that will use both conventional gasoline and compressed natural gas.
Robbie Diamond, founder, president and CEO of SAFE, concludes: “The domestic oil boom has already reaped tremendous benefits, but integrating natural gas and electricity into America’s transportation system is a necessary way to diminish both our dangerous reliance on a single commodity and our economic exposure to the global oil market.”
Could America still feel the shockwaves of supply disruptions caused by Middle Eastern instability? Yes, but we are far less vulnerable today than we were in 1973, as the geopolitical equation continues to evolve. A recent report from Citigroup points out that by the end of the decade, the U.S. “could be freed from the shackles involved in sacrificing a values-driven policy focusing on human rights and democratic institutions in order to secure cooperation from resource-rich despotic regimes.”
Will I ever see $1 a gallon gasoline again? No. But, I am optimistic about America’s potential energy future (if the Obama Administration policies don’t impede its success) and I share Hamm’s enthusiasm: “Perhaps most significantly on the 40th anniversary of the OPEC Oil Embargo, U.S. gasoline prices are down despite an escalating crisis in the Middle East, and we are no longer beholden to go to war and sacrifice American lives to protect our oil interests.
[First Published by Townhall]
There’s been lots of attention paid to the Obamacare exchange rollout, and the growing consensus seems to be that it’s been a disaster. Aside from a few Baghdad Bob impersonators in the White House and over at HHS, few people seem to be arguing that the performance of the online exchanges has been successful.
It could be about to get a lot worse.
As President Obama noted yesterday, “The Affordable Care Act is not just a website. It’s much more.” Part of the “much more” of Obamacare is throwing millions of Americans off of their current insurance policies because they don’t comply with the rich benefit requirements imposed by the law.
Yesterday Kaiser Health News had the following story:
Health plans are sending hundreds of thousands of cancellation letters to people who buy their own coverage, frustrating some consumers who want to keep what they have and forcing others to buy more costly policies.
The main reason insurers offer is that the policies fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010.
…the cancellation notices, which began arriving in August, have shocked many consumers in light of President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their plans if they liked them…
An estimated 14 million people purchase their own coverage because they don’t get it through their jobs. Calls to insurers in several states showed that many have sent notices.
Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies… Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people… Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.
…Some receiving cancellations say it looks like their costs will go up, despite studies projecting that about half of all enrollees will get income-based subsidies.
Kris Malean, 56, lives outside Seattle, and has a health policy that costs $390 a month with a $2,500 deductible and a $10,000 in potential out-of-pocket costs for such things as doctor visits, drug costs or hospital care.
As a replacement, Regence BlueShield is offering her a plan for $79 more a month with a deductible twice as large as what she pays now, but which limits her potential out-of-pocket costs to $6,250 a year, including the deductible…
Blue Shield of California sent roughly 119,000 cancellation notices out in mid-September, about 60 percent of its individual business. About two-thirds of those policyholders will see rate increases in their new policies…
Like other insurers, the Blue Shield letters let customers know they have to make a decision by Dec. 31 or they will automatically be enrolled in a recommended plan.
The headline on the article says “thousands” are getting their insurance cancelled by Obamacare, but the three insurers cited here with hard numbers, covering just two states, add up to almost 580,000 people having their policies cancelled. It should be obvious that across all fifty states at least several million Americans, maybe 10 million or more, are having their insurance policies cancelled because of Obamacare.
If the exchanges were working, this might only be a serious problem. The people losing their insurance because of Obamacare could presumably buy new policies effective January 1, many of them at higher premiums or with narrower networks. But they’d at least be insured.
But, the exchanges aren’t working. And the deadline for people to sign up for new coverage through the exchange that will start on January 1 is December 15.
Between the front-end problems of the Obamacare web site, where people can’t even get in to the system to look at coverage options and select a new plan, and the back end problems, where insurers aren’t getting accurate information on new enrollees, it’s entirely possible that there will not be a functioning online exchange in time for the millions of Americans losing their existing coverage to buy new coverage by December 15.
Alternatives to the online system don’t seem to be viable options either, at least at this point. Megan McArdle wrote about this yesterday:
It’s true, there are call centers. But the computer systems at the call centers for states running the insurance exchanges are the same as the computer systems that consumers are having such a hard time with. A nice woman at a federal call center told me that (at least for the state of Florida, where my in-laws live) there is an alternate procedure: They can fill out a manual application in PDF format. But she also told me that it takes three weeks for that application to be mailed to your house. After you receive it, you check the application to ensure it’s accurate, and then mail it in. One to two weeks later, you will be notified of your subsidy eligibility. Then you can actually enroll in a plan, though she wasn’t quite clear on how that part would work — do you call back again?
Judging by the timeline described above, I’d guess that if you haven’t started the paper online enrollment process by November 1, there’s a decent chance you’re not going to be enrolled in time for new insurance effective January 1. And even if the front-end problems are resolved and people can actually access the exchange and chose a plan, there’s still the problem of the back-end systems and insurers not getting the accurate information they need to enroll people.
Those currently insured in the individual market will still have the option of just selecting the ‘replacement’ plan recommended by their current insurer, although plans purchased directly from the insurer aren’t eligible for subsidies (and even if they were, many wouldn’t qualify for them).
There’s also the problem of the ‘replacement’ policies typically being much more expensive than the current policy, making them simply unaffordable for many. One outraged supporter of Obamacare wrote the following on the DailyKos web site:
My wife and I just got our updates from Kaiser telling us what our 2014 rates will be. Her monthly has been $168 this year, mine $150. We have a high deductible. We are generally healthy people who don’t go to the doctor often. I barely ever go. The insurance is in case of a major catastrophe.
Well, now, because of Obamacare, my wife’s rate is gong to $302 per month and mine is jumping to $284.
I am canceling insurance for us and I am not paying any ******* penalty. What the hell kind of reform is this?
So it’s entirely possible that millions of Americans who are insured today will be uninsured on January 1, 2014, solely because Obamacare terminated their existing policies and then sent them to buy a replacement policy on exchanges that do not allow them to buy policies, with the only alternatives being either unworkable in the needed timeframe or unaffordable.
If I were one of the millions of Americans reading a cancellation notice for my existing insurance policy and I didn’t want to be without any coverage on January 1, I’d be sure I’ve either got my paper application requested in the next week, or I’m looking at non-traditional options like health sharing ministries or short-term health insurance. Because there’s no way I’d be willing to cross my fingers and hope that the online exchanges will be fully functioning before December 15.
Environmentalists hoped the latest study from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would finally end the increasingly acrimonious debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. It has had the opposite effect.
MIT physicist Richard Lindzen called the IPCC report “hilarious incoherence.” British historian Rupert Darwall labeled it “nonsense” and “the manipulation of science for political ends.” Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology says the IPCC suffers from “paradigm paralysis” and should be “put down.”
The most precise criticism of the IPCC’s report came from the editors of Nature, one of the world’s most distinguished science journals: “Scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected, or what effects humanity might want to prepare for, hedge against or avoid at all costs.”
Despite decades of research funded by taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars, we are no more certain about the impact of man-made greenhouse gases than we were in 1990, or even in 1979 when the National Academy of Sciences estimated the effect of a doubling of carbon dioxide to be “near 3 degrees C with a probable error of plus or minus 1.5 degrees C.”
The lower end of that range, which is where the best research on the likely sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide lands, is well within the bounds of natural variability.
Significantly, the IPCC has backed down from its previous forecasts of increases in droughts and hurricanes. And it admits, but does not explain, why no warming has occurred for the past 15 years.
Due to its charter and sheer bureaucratic momentum, the IPCC is compelled to claim it is more confident than ever in its alarmist predictions, even as real-world evidence falsifies them at every turn. Policymakers and the public have no reason to believe this discredited oracle.
It’s time to start listening to other voices in the debate, such as the 50-some scientists who make up the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).
According to its latest report, “the IPCC has exaggerated the amount of warming likely to occur if the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide were to double, and such warming as occurs is likely to be modest and cause no net harm to the global environment or to human well-being.”
[First published in USA Today.]
You can be forgiven for not noticing that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a summary of its Fifth Assessment Report late last month.
The report landed with a thud, criticized and even mocked by many leading climate scientists. The distinguished science journal Nature editorialized that this should be the last report issued by the UN body.
This is just the latest signal that the age of climate alarmism is over. Given five tries to convince the world that human activity is causing catastrophic warming of the planet, runaway sea-level rise and various weather disasters, the public still doesn’t buy it.
We’re all skeptics now because the science simply does not back up the hypothesis. For starters, there’s been no rise in global temperatures for 15 years.
The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report concedes for the first time that global temperatures have not risen since 1998, despite a 7 percent rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
To put that into perspective, global human CO2 emissions in the last 15 years represent about one-third of all human CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and yet temperatures didn’t budge.
Nearly all of the UN-approved climate computer models were wrong. The IPCC finally admitted as much.
The IPCC also admits that the “hockey stick” it used to feature in past reports wasn’t accurate. Penn State professor Michael Mann has been dining out for years on his infamous “hockey stick,” a dread graph featured by Al Gore in his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”
The graph looked so dramatic — like a hockey stick — only because it ignored the Medieval Warm Period, a time about a thousand years ago when temperatures were warmer than today — when wine grapes grew in England and Greenland was green.
The “hockey stick” is missing from the Fifth Assessment Report, and the IPCC admits the Medieval Warm Period was warmer and more global than it claimed in the past.
A third major admission by the IPCC: No increases in droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and other extreme weather. Every time severe weather hits the United States, you could count on IPCC-related scientists, professional climate alarmists and the media to attribute it all to man-made global warming. No more.
The latest IPCC report admits to having “low confidence” in predictions of more frequent or more extreme droughts and tropical cyclones.
While the IPCC is taking its lumps for being wrong on these and other matters, a new kid on the block of climate science is taking a victory lap: The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change released its own report, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science. Packed with 1,000 pages of peer-reviewed literature — and then peer-reviewed again by NIPCC’s team of some 50 scientists from around the world — Climate Change Reconsidered II comes to the conclusions the United Nations is only now and reluctantly admitting.
The NIPCC report concludes that human impact on climate is very modest, especially when compared to natural cycles. Future warming due to human greenhouse gases is likely to be only 1-2 degrees Celsius, and be a boon for flora and fauna alike.
Higher levels of carbon dioxide will not cause weather to become more extreme, sea-level rise isn’t accelerating and polar ice caps aren’t melting at alarming rates.
Global warming isn’t the crisis many people said it was a few years ago. That’s bad news for the IPCC and the many environmental groups and politicians that hooked their wagon to it. But it’s good news for the rest of us.
[First published at The Washington Examiner.]
In the latest edition of The Cornucopia Institute’s Newsletter, Mark Kastel – a man who thinks he knows exactly how American farmers should run their farms even though he himself has never run one – takes aim at the Heartland Institute, Hudson Institute, Stanford University, and little ol’ me. To take his word for it, we’re all a bunch of “conservative camp” meanies whose corporate “agribusiness funders” pay to gang up on the poor ol’ $33-billion per-annum organic industry.
And yet, would you believe that every time I have offered to debate Mr. Kastel in an open forum he ignores me?
True, he has appeared opposite me on radio, twice, but in both cases it was really more of an ambush. I was not told he was appearing until I heard the host introduce him, and I was not given the opportunity to respond to any of his more egregious accusations, such as his claim that I never worked as an advanced organic inspector under the USDA’s National Organic Program. So yeah, it’s a tiny bit ironic to see him take pot shots from afar.
Kastel claims USDA certified-organic food is well worth its premium price based on the findings of “studies by the USDA, Consumers Union, and countless university researchers, internationally, who have found measurable benefits from eating organic rather than conventional foods.” But he fails to cite any of these studies, not even providing a single hyperlink.
It’s not that he’s lying. There have indeed been many studies (some that were even scientific in their methodology) that demonstrate, in some cases at least, “measurable benefits” to eating organic food. But the results are so marginal that they hardly begin to justify the hike in price, often double or more the price of regular food.
What’s more, there’s currently no field testing in the organic industry to ensure farmers are even following the rules. And with the majority of USDA-certified organic goods sold in America coming from far-off lands like China, Mexico and Argentina – based solely on paperwork – consumers should very well wonder what exactly they’re paying for. They could also ask why they’re still being forced to subsidize an industry that’s worth so much and which relies predominantly on imports, but I digress.
Kastel also claims the organic movement is completely non-partisan. Again, he’s not lying. There are indeed Republicans as well as Democrats in the organic movement. But what he fails to explain is that most of the farmers – at least the ones here in America – are conservative, while all of the activists at the top who do business with the likes of the People’s Republic of China, are socialists, and proudly so; John Mackey the CEO of Whole Foods Market of course being the exception that proves the rule. As Laura Sayre of Yale University’s Program in Agrarian Studies so astutely puts it, “Organic farming is conservative small-time rural farmers making food for white liberal yuppie and hippie types.”
As I have endeavored to explain to Mr. Kastel many times, this is precisely the kind of salient distinction one misses when one avoids entering into debate, or even into polite discussion.
Consumers of organic food, meanwhile, do indeed cut across all party lines, a symptom of the fact that they’re all being duped by slick marketing campaigns — which, ironically enough (as alluded to above) we’re all forced to fund through our taxes. Heck, even Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of my home state of Texas – whom Kastel applauds because he made the gutsy move of standing up in committee one day and boldly declaring that “he and his family eat organic food” (step aside Rosa Parks) – has fallen for the ruse.
Perhaps someone should inform Stockman, along with Kastel and the rest of the gang over at Cornucopia, that the USDA’s National Organic Program is located under the rubric of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, not its Research, Inspection, Nutrition, Safety, Risk Management or Conservation services. Again, this is something that a simple, open debate would do wonders for clearing up.
Most laughable is Kastel’s claim that we at Heartland are all swimming in money thanks to “direct funding from Monsanto, DuPont and other interests in agrichemicals and biotechnology.” And he says this with complete authority because… well… he’s just sure this is the case. It must be! Okay?
Well this was news to me and my wife. So I immediately contacted our accounting department at Heartland to let them know I had not received my Big-Fat Check for this month, nor for any month since I became a stooge (policy advisor) with this august right-leaning think tank. And would you believe it? Those bean counters just laughed at me.
Come on now people! Mark Kastel, a “Senior Farm Policy Analyst” who directs The Cornucopia Institute’s “Organic Integrity Project” (but who rejects testing organic crops because paperwork is good enough) says I’m rolling in the dough. And I want my money by Jove!
Perhaps someone reading this would be so kind as to reach out to Kastel and see if he’d take us up on the offer to debate, in a public forum, with a neutral moderator, and with equal time for both sides. You never know. He might go for it once he finally realizes we’re not opposed to organic farming, just his version of it.
Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and USDA-contract Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at www.isitorganic.ca, and a policy advisor at The Heartland Institute, which is where all fat-cat agribusiness funders should send their Big-Fat Checks immediately.
On Thursday, October 17, the Heartland Institute hosted Donald J. Devine, who was promoting his new book entitled, “America’s Way Back.” Devine, a former Reagan administrative official, is best known for having cut 100,000 non-defense government employees, which saved tax payers 6 billion dollars.
In Devine’s new book, he revitalizes the Founding Father’s vision by highlighting a solution to today’s problems in Washington. His solution exemplifies the imperative for a return to the morally founded Constitution which encompasses the synthesis of freedom and tradition. In order to revitalize the entity of Western Tradition, we must use our freedom which is inherent in the Constitution. Devine asserts one of the most distorted traditions is vested in the present Federal power relations. A return to the 10th Amendment would partially restore power and freedom to the American people by placing emphasis on States’ rights.
During Devine’s presentation, he highlighted the philosophy in Friedrich Hayeck’s work, “Road to Serfdom.” The work states that central planning and increase of power in Federal Government leads to the loss of freedom and the eventual serfdom of the individual. Americans are increasingly losing their freedom during the Obama Administration as he paves the way for the decent to Stateism and serfdom. In order for this to be reversed, America is in desperate need for the increasingly polarized Republican Party to unite on the foundation created by the Founding Fathers to promote the morality of the Constitution. This polarization is crippling the Republican Party’s ability to promote freedom and liberty, the constituents which make us Republicans in the first place. Our increasing decent to Stateism is prevailing. We can not be led by shackles to Hayek’s proposed serfdom, but Devine asserts Americans can reverse this by uniting on the Founding Father’s vision of constitutional tradition and freedom.
Just like the wisdom that one cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear; one cannot make “modern” FCC policy from obsolete communications law.
Apparently that is not stopping Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and Greg Rosston from trying in their new white paper: “Articulating a Modern Approach to FCC Competition Policy.”
Their paper contrives: “three different competition policy approaches: the classic role of regulating terms and conditions of sale, the modern role of using various tools to create largely deregulated, multi-firm, competitive markets, and the laissez-faire approach of believing that unregulated markets, even if monopolized, will produce the best outcome.”
The purposes of the paper’s elaborate contrivances are clear, to advance Mr. Hundt’s FCC-first approach to communications policy by associating it with the popular “modern” brand and by linguistically-positioning it as the middle position between two extremes – all in hopes of influencing the core policy trajectory of prospective FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
The fatal flaw of the paper’s framework is it is clearly contrived, so it withers under scrutiny.
Here are the problems with the paper in a nutshell. First, the paper’s rewrite of FCC history is demonstrably selective, revisionist and incomplete. Second, it effectively proposes to redefine the term “modern” to allow for retention of their favorite obsolescing policies. Third, the paper ignores the transformative effect and reality that competition policy and the Internet have on the FCC’s original regulatory authority – in order to imagine that the FCC remains all powerful over an ever-expanding regulatory domain.
If an idea or policy is worthy of retention, one should argue it on the merits and facts, not on the contrived notion that something is “modern” when it clearly is not.
Revisionist History: First, the authors’ self-described “short history” of “classic,” “modern” and “laissez-faire” FCC competition policies is demonstrably selective, revisionist and incomplete. The authors undermine the credibility of their analysis and conclusions by ignoring most all of the most important FCC decisions of former Chairman Hundt’s tenure and the demonstrably destructive impacts these decisions had on investment, competition and the marketplace.
Why no mention of Mr. Hundt’s first big decision to slash cable rates another 17% on top of the 10% rate reduction ordered by then Acting FCC Chairman Quello in implementing the 1992 Cable Act? In hindsight, are there no competition-policy-lessons learned from how that decision ravaged cable investment for several years — delaying cable-led broadband competition until the turn of the century? And didn’t the decision to drastically lower cable rates an additional 17% by regulatory fiat actually make it harder for nascent DBS competitors to succeed via competitively undercutting cable on price?
Why no mention of the several-year delay in the formation of real facilities-based competition as a result of pursuing a “classic” common-carrier-regulation-vision via FCC TELRIC/UNE-P contrivances, which were ultimately found illegal in court?
In hindsight, are there no lessons learned about FCC competition policy from the marketplace result of these “classic” regulatory decisions? Are there no “competition” lessons learned from the Hundt-FCC’s policy of picking the CLECs as market winners — via unsustainably massive subsidies and regulatory favoritism — that ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the entire CLEC industry?
Or what did the FCC learn about competition from its one-sided reciprocal compensation policies that helped fuel a trillion dollar market bubble and created over twelve unsustainable Internet backbone companies that either went bankrupt or were consolidated to survive?
Why no discussion in the paper of how the so-called “modern” competition- approach actually delayed for several years the world-leading, facilities-based broadband competition that we now enjoy under “laissez-faire” policy? Why no discussion in the paper of the opposite competition results in the marketplace between the policies of the “modern” nineties and the “laissez-faire” aughts? Concerning merger competition policy, why no mention in the paper of the lessons learned from the Hundt-FCC preempting a potential SBC-AT&T merger as “unthinkable” by spontaneously creating a new “competition” policy of “precluded” competition out of whole cloth, when the FCC several years later approved an SBC-AT&T merger with conditions and without anti-competitive consequences?
Concerning Hundt-FCC auction and spectrum cap polices, why no mention in the paper of lessons learned from the FCC making spectrum-conditioning mistakes that kept 20 MHz of prime Nextwave PCS spectrum from getting to market for well over a decade? Or the FCC’s spectrum-conditioning mistakes that have kept public safety from getting the spectrum it needs for over a decade as well?
The point here is that if we are to discuss history in order to learn from it for the purpose of new policy making, it is essential to have an accurate and complete understanding of the results of various competition policy approaches. Selective and revisionist history is a poor foundation for creating workable, legal, and successful competition policy going forward.
Redefines “Modern:” To conclude that Chairman Hundt’s competition policy notions are “modern” requires some definitional gymnastics and eye-closing. The paper self-servingly defines the “modern” competition era as between 1970 and 2000, when “competition” was permitted by the FCC and centrally managed by the FCC – essentially the FCC-centric competition era.
When sustainable real market competition emerged after 2000, when consumers not regulators picked winners and losers, and when market forces, investment and innovation, not government subsidies, determined competitive outcomes, the paper amazingly excludes that recent broadband competition policy success from the “modern” competitive era. The paper again self-servingly defines that successful broadband competition, not as modern, not even as competition, but as “laissez-faire.”
The paper also conveniently ignores that broadband Internet competition, 4G wireless, and the smart-phone/tablet revolution occurred during the non-modern, laissez-faire era. Wouldn’t most people consider broadband, 4G, smart-phones and tablets “modern” competition in every sense of the word?
The paper goes on to further define “modern” as “multi-firm” competition. Given that one of the definitions of “multi” is “more than one,” isn’t all competition by definition “multi-firm?” If “multi-firm” competition is redundant, why define one’s entire framework around it?
This suggests what really is going on is more of a Trojan horse framework, where competition policy disguises as re-regulation policy, where the FCC unilaterally could define “multi,” as not more than one firm, but as 4, 5, 6, or more firms in the “relevant” market. Then the FCC potentially could regulate any information services company for falling short of the FCC’s contrived multi-firm competition framework.
Specifically the paper advises: “The FCC needs to put in place a framework for all of its decisions so that companies will understand how such arrangements will be evaluated; without clear guidance, like that provided by the DOJ/FTC merger guidelines, firms will not know how the FCC will judge their actions.”
The very big problem with this approach is that such a “framework” would be a de facto law, and that is Congress’ role under the Constitution. Nowhere in the 1996 Telecom Act creating communications competition or any other law does Congress give the FCC such sweeping regulatory authority over information services firms.
The other big problem here is that the paper is effectively recommending transmogrifying after-the-fact antitrust law enforcement overseen by the DOJ/FTC , into preemptive FCC policy with no authority to do so from Congress.
We have seen this overreach before: e.g. the Hundt-FCC’s overturned UNE-P competition policy; the Martin-FCC’s overturned net neutrality enforcement action; and the Genachowski-FCC’s likely-to-be-overturned common carrier-like regulation of broadband.
The current FCC should be mindful that each of these attempts to unilaterally re-define competition “policy” were struck down because the FCC did not have direct authority to do set national competition policy in that way.
FCC-Firsters: The third major contrivance of the Hundt-Rosston white paper is it imagines a near all-powerful FCC – a de facto “FCC-first” construct.
Consider the authors own words here. “Somewhere between a tenth and a sixth of the American economy is in [the FCC’s] purview.” (p. 7) “Other than the all-important consideration of judicial review, not too many checks on its [the FCC’s] authority exists.” (p. 4) “… the FCC is its own boss. Congress would find it quite difficult to impeach a commissioner, and Congress to pass a low overturning an agency decision. The agency as a Fourth Branch of government, is as to the markets in its purview the most important of all the branches.”
The big problem here is that the paper’s assumption of largely unchecked FCC power largely ignores the transformative effect and reality that new laws, Congressional policies, FCC precedents, and technological innovations have had in hollowing out the FCC’s original and obsolescing 1934 sweeping regulatory authority.
That law’s policy and reality predicates are obsolescing or obsolete. Telephone service is not a “natural” monopoly; competition is not only possible, it’s vibrant and widespread. Technology then was analog and not digital, and continuous not discontinuous in nature. We now enjoy universal voice service, and broadband is comparably universally available.
Moreover, the FCC’s underlying statutory authority did not envision many transformative technological innovations: TV, transistors, digital computers, cellular service, PCs, the Internet, the World Wide Web, wire line broadband, wireless broadband, web applications, smart-phones/tablets, etc. Is it “modern” to predate all that?
The authors’ uber-expansive view of the FCC’s power going forward largely ignores that consumers don’t need the FCC anywhere like they needed the FCC eighty years ago. Competition and innovation naturally have obsolesced much of the FCC’s 1934 purpose and role.
This is not to say that there are transitional or vestigial roles and consumer protection functions for the Federal Government to play in the truly modern communications era, but it’s not the role envisioned eighty years ago, when the economic and technological predicates were almost the opposite of today.
The authors’ encouragement of an FCC-first approach to competition policy may advance a classic interventionist role for the FCC like Chairman Hundt pursued during his tenure, but it is badly outdated for the technological, economic, competitive, and legal predicate that prospective FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler inherits and must operate within.
The authors’ characterization of their approach to FCC competition policy as modern is contrived and not accurate.
First the paper tries to rewrite FCC history to exclude much of the most important competitive facts and results from the policies that they advance. Second the authors attempt to redefine the term “modern” to the point of being unrecognizable. Third the authors appear to goad the FCC to effectively ignore the law and the courts and implement whatever FCC competition policy that three commissioners support.
Let me finally address the authors’ substantive recommendations. The authors’ recommend the FCC “have a consolidation policy.” That’s wholly unnecessary and redundant. America already has a consolidation policy; it’s called antitrust law.
What the authors are asking for is for the FCC competition policy to effectively flip the legal burden of proof from the government proving a merger/acquisition is anti-competitive to a company having to prove a merger is pro-competitive before the FCC – i.e. companies are guilty of anti-competitive intentions until proven innocent.
The authors also recommend an FCC competition policy of “standing up for competition usually turns out to be the same as standing up for entrepreneurship, innovation, the little guy who wants to get big…”
Defining competition as picking “entrepreneurship, innovation and the little guy” as the winners, may sound appealing to some, but its exposes the authors’ real concept of competition policy — to tilt the rules to and subsidize some government-favored players, especially new entrants – with no concept of competition as: competing for customers; ensuring supply meets demand; providing the most value and benefits to customers; investing to have a superior offering; etc.
This recommendation of theirs epitomizes my strong opposition to the authors’ proposed FCC competition policy, which would ensconce the FCC as central manager of the communications marketplace with a pre-determined view of what companies should gain or lose share over time via government decisions, without regard to what consumers want or do, and without regard to economics, return on investment or solvency/profit.
When then FCC Chairman Hundt implemented this kind new entrant-favored FCC competition policy in the mid 1990s, it proved to be the single most financially destructive regulatory experiment in managed competition in U.S. history.
The Hundt FCC’s competition policy made it clear to the marketplace that the FCC would be “standing up for entrepreneurship, innovation, the little guy.” That FCC ensured new entrants CLECs could expect virtually every price, term and condition advantage and subsidy that CLECs and new Fiber back bone companies could dream up.
This predictably led to economically unsustainable competition, where dozens of CLECs and over a dozen new fiber backbone companies were funded when market economics could sustain only a few. American investors and pensioners lost big — over a trillion dollars when the tech bubble burst. The bankruptcy of the entire CLEC industry cost hundreds of billions of dollars in losses. And the burst of the tech bubble meant FCC-encouraged fiber backbone companies and equipment providers lost over a trillion dollars in market value in weeks.
The cause of this huge and destructive carnage was FCC competition policy uneconomics and hubris where the FCC imagined that their visible hand of making most all of the relevant economic decisions for the sector could outperform the market’s invisible hand.
In stark contrast, the so-called laissez faire FCC approach, or light touch regulatory approach has attracted over a trillion dollarseconomic private capital investment, produced world-leading facilities-based broadband competition, and generated stellar competitive outcomes: falling real prices, increasing customer value, innovation, investment, differentiated choices, and more.
In sum, a modern FCC will adapt to the real progress of America’s competitive markets and world-leading technological innovation. A modern FCC will not look backward nostalgically or try to relive the past by dragging obsolescing, FCC-empowering, economic regulations into the present day so the FCC can quixotically try and control America’s Internet tomorrows.
To paraphrase our cinematic American philosopher Forrest Gump: modern is as modern does.[Picture originally posted on hipforums.com]
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Domenech was a guest on Wednesday night’s “All In with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC. Juding from my Twitter feed, many Hayes fans (who call themseles #inners) are not happy that Ben is a frequent guest. But Hayes picks him because he’s good.
Ben points out that the Tea Party faction, both in Congress and among he people, “never really trusted the Republican establishment or the leadership in the House to actually fight the fight” against Obamacare or stand strong against raising the debt limit. “The reason you got to this point,” Ben continued, “is that you had, essentially, on one side a plan being advocated by Ted Cruz and people of his persuasion, and then you had leadership sort of saying, ‘Well, don’t do that,’ without offering them an alternative.”
Chris Hayes says that the Tea Party faction and right-wing activists are “lying” to the American people and the Republican leadership in Washington. But Ben points out, rightly, that the bigger lie was that Obamacare was ready for prime time. The government shutdown is over. Obamacare will continue to be a disaster for the left.
Oh, what a relief! Now we know that the government will be funded through January 15 and that we can wait until February 7 to fight the debt ceiling battle all over again. Three months to the next potential shutdown and four until the Democrats and Republicans go to the mattresses again like a scene from The Godfather.Only idiots would run a government with a $17 trillion debt this way.
Politico.com reported that “President Barack Obama welcomed the end of the government shutdown and the raising of the debt limit Thursday with a call for the end of crisis-to-crisis governing and a new era of bipartisan cooperation.”
Does anyone still believe anything Obama says?
The deal struck between Sens. Reid (D-NV) and McConnell (R-KY) allowed the latter to secure $2 billion for a project in Kentucky and no doubt there is plenty of pork in the bill to keep everyone happy, except for those senators who weren’t able to get a piece of the bribe money.
“There is no distinctly criminal class,” said Mark Twain, “except Congress.”
What have we learned from the last three weeks? We learned that President Obama has no intention to negotiate with the Republicans and regards the Democrats in Congress as little more than rubber stamps for whatever he wants. And they seem to agree. While the Democrats showed considerable solidarity, the Republicans were tearing themselves to tatters.
We learned that President Obama, with an eye on the November 2014 midterm elections, is already in full battle mode as he and his huge propaganda machine—the media and the former campaign committee-turned-social-media-megaphone—ramp up the message that the Tea Party is composed of rightwing fanatics and the Republicans are not much better.
Given the great “success” of Obamacare, can you imagine spending the last two years of Obama’s time in office if he is able to so demonize the Republicans that they lose control of the House and cannot gain control or at least a larger margin of members in the Senate?
I jest, of course. Obamacare is the greatest gift ever handed to the Republicans.
As millions of Americans discover that their health insurance premiums have increased 100% to 300%, they will be howling for its repeal by November 2014. The younger, healthier members of society will elect to pay the fine for not signing up. Some people will discover they cannot be admitted to the hospital of their choice or that their personal physician has retired or closed their practice. Others will find their fulltime jobs reduced to part-time, if they haven’t already.
There are going to be a lot of very unhappy voters by the time the midterms roll around and that, ladies and gents, is why the Republicans “caved” this time and will likely do so again because I have a feeling that their strategy will be to fight a lot of small, but losing battles around the various deadlines required to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling. Each time they do the latter, they will remind everyone that Obama keeps demanding more money.
As for Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, he was greeted with a round of applause by the Republican caucus when he announced the deal to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. It wasn’t that they hadn’t lost, but that they understood he had fought their battle with dignity and as far as he could, given the lack of unity among GOP House members.
The memory of World War Two and Vietnam veterans, as well as others from more recent conflicts being denied access to their memorials on the National Mall or of the first closure of the Lincoln Memorial ever is going to linger. Barricades have now been renamed “Barrycades.”
The President has managed to offend veterans, the elderly (who vote in larger numbers), the unions who hate Obamacare, Catholics, and a younger generation already saddled with debt from college who are being told they must dig deeper to pay for health insurance they don’t want and probably don’t need.
Obamacare is profoundly unconstitutional. Forget about the Supreme Court’s idiotic decision to call a penalty a “tax” and ignore the other elements of the Constitution that forbid the government from requiring people to pay for health insurance or pay a fine if they do not. The Court has made similar bad decisions in the past and, as some current scholars believe, has become so politicized that it has been eviscerating the clear intent of the Constitution for decades.
Only significant Republican victories in the midterm elections will end the misery being inflicted on Americans. That is likely to occur in spite of the GOP’s poor messaging and the hostility of the nation’s mainstream media.
Taxpayers and voters are in for months of gridlock on Capitol Hill. Get used to it.[Picture originally posted on investors.com/cartoons]
As usual, the much-ballyhooed national government ”shutdown” that kept vacationers out of the national parks and attempted to keep Normandy Veterans from entering the very memorial that they themselves made possible ended last night with a whimper, not a bang, and another ineffectual kicking of the taxpayer’s can down a bumpy fiscal road.
A nation that has not adopted a proper budget in years – and that refuses to live within one anyway – still has no meaningful control over ongoing expenses, accumulated debt, or a plan for dealing with either.
Instead, in a deal only Washington insiders could regard as progress, Republicans in both Houses of Congress caved in and, together with Congressional Democrats, passed a bill, H.R. 2775, to “reopen” the “partially-closed government” at currently unsustainable spending levels for yet another three months – until January 15, 2014 – and to suspend the national debt limit until February 7. In the meantime, House and Senate “leaders” promise to appoint representatives to a conference committee to address “broader budget issues” – such as whether to replace the current across-the-board spending cuts known as “sequestration” with other purported “savings.”
This is bankruptcy on the installment plan, both moral and fiscal. The United States government is the political equivalent of an alcoholic who insists that he will sober up next month if the bartender will only increase his credit limit yet again and keep buying him drinks on the house until a week from next Tuesday. In the meanwhile the bartender’s children are in danger of missing meals and the bar’s own creditors are threatening foreclosure because the mortgage loan is nearly in default.
“Furloughed” federal workers will as usual be paid for the time that they weren’t at work, meaning an additional two weeks or so of (albeit stressful and unplanned) vacation on the tab of the same taxpayers who, if vacationing at their own expense the past two weeks, were shut out of the national parks and presidential libraries, also through no fault of their own. Congressional staff will still get huge Obamacare subsidies that the rest of the citizenry does not and the “individual mandate” of Obamacare remains in place even though the administration has delayed, waived, or gutted every other significant portion of the law for purely partisan political purposes.
What Republicans up for re-election in 2014 have to show for all this are a memorable reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” by Canadian-born Texas Senator Ted Cruz – who ultimately refused to block the legislation that he initially pretended to filibuster – and a popularity rating lower than the keel of the Titanic on April 16 of 1912. Meanwhile President Obama quickly signed the bill and, of course, proclaimed victory. Although also taking a temporary hit in popularity but not subject to re-election, he wisely remained largely above the fray and accordingly felt free to lecture the nation this morning that the only things standing between the people and the nirvana of cradle-to-grave government are citizenship and voting rights for people who have entered the nation illegally, “closing corporate tax loopholes that don’t create jobs” and – in our post-industrial information technology-based economy – a new farm bill.
On the whole, the country is worse off than back where we started, having been subjected to further abuse by a non-responsive and irresponsible government and a few steps further down Friedrich von Hayek’s fabled road to serfdom.
As Tennessee Ernie Ford once plaintively lamented, “You load sixteen tons, and whaddya get? Another day older and deeper in debt.”[Image originally posted on macromike.com]
Thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, you don’t have to actually live in San Diego to watch a 30-minute special that aired in that city last Sunday that gives a thorough debunking of the climate scare.
Below, you will see what the lucky residents of San Diego enjoyed via the great KUSI-TV and the Founding Father of The Weather Channel, John Coleman … just without the other benefits of living in one of the most pleasant cities on the planet. You’ll just have to count all your other blessings.
Coleman interviewed two of the lead authors of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, Fred Singer and Bob Carter. Both are part of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) — the organization of some 50 scientists that have applied (gasp!) the scientific method to the political science of the UN’s IPCC … and have found the “science” in their latest climate report wanting. But the IPCC is more interested in political science than climate science, so it’s easy pickings for NIPCC.
The 1,015-page Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science has been making waves across the non-warming globe, and the undertow is infinitely annoying to the eco-left. But as Shakespeare wrote: The truth will out.
View climate truth below:
Consider for a moment what will come next for Obamacare, in the context of Ezra Klein’s five thoughts on the disastrous launch of the program – a bellwether of sorts for how the administration failed to live up to the expectations it sold to the law’s supporters and opinion leaders. There are a few different directions it can go from here, but the worst case scenario hasn’t really entered people’s consciences yet, in part because the insurers are staying quiet at the moment. The reality now is that the system is at least a month from actually working, and likelier two or (gasp) three, given the enormous range of problems. And that could make for a real disaster.
As it stands today, at most nine of the state exchanges are working… but while some systems are being announced as “fixed” on the state level, fixed in this case means the ability to look at plans, not to actually enroll. And the fundamental breakdown for the federal exchange hangs on a decision designed to insulate people from the true cost of plans – an approach which is now backfiring given the load it places on the website. The whole storyline is marked by a disturbing failure of basic technocracy: according to the New York Times, as late as the last week of September, HHS officials were still debating aspects of the site, including that requirement making customers register before shopping for insurance.
Democrats are scrambling for excuses: there wasn’t enough money or time. The decision to delay controversial regulations til after the 2012 election slowed the process. The Republican governors ruined efforts by opting not to implement exchanges. The suggestion that cronyism played a role in the contractor process is already being advanced. But cronyism or no, the decision of those at CMS/HHS to take the lead in organizing the program – despite an enormous absence of institutional experience – may be the real source of the problem. Megan McArdle outlines the reality:
I’m a longtime critic of federal contracting rules, which prevent some corruption at ruinous expense in money, quality and speed. But federal contracting rules are not what made the administration delay writing the rules and specifications necessary to build the system until 2013. Nor to delay the deadline for states to declare whether they’d be building an exchange, in the desperate hope that a few more governors might decide – in February 2013! – to build a state system after all. Any state that decided to start such a project at that late date would have had little hope of building anything that worked, but presumably angry voters would be calling the governor instead of HHS. Federal contracting codes, so far as I am aware, do not emit intoxicating gases that might have caused senior HHS officials to decide that it was a good idea to take on the role of lead contractor – a decision equivalent to someone who has never even hung a picture deciding that they should become their own general contractor and build a house. Nor can those rules explain their lunatic response when they were told that the system was not working – “failure was not an option.”
But whether these excuses work with the public or not, the worst case scenario for Obamacare is now entering the realm of possibility: what if it just doesn’t work, and continues not to work, a month from now? The deadlines for achieving coverage are approaching fast. The political reality is that it’s impossible to legally require people to sign up for something when the system just won’t let them. If a month from now we are still seeing a fail rate of significance within these systems, where people trying to enroll are turned away as often (or more often!) than they get through, the pressure from non-partisan actors is going to explode for a delay of major aspects of the law. It will be a murmur at first, but if it continues to grow, there will have to be a Congressional response.
One factor to consider here is that the consultants involved for the federal and state exchanges have a good deal of overlap. It would be one thing if it were just a few states having issues – they could prioritize the major states over the minor ones – but the fact that the problems are worst for the federal exchange means none of the states are going to get significant attention until that’s taken care of. This could mean smaller states get attention last, leaving their citizens incapable of purchasing the coverage they’re legally required to get. The potential for legal challenges coming out of this is massive if the mandate/penalty is not delayed. But to solve the practical problem requires steps beyond just the individual mandate delay or extending open enrollment for the entire year – we’re talking about actually taking the exchanges offline (insurers would presumably honor the handful of plans already sold through them) in order to fix them. That process could take months of work and millions more in taxpayer dollars… and set us up to do this whole thing again in October of 2014.
So what’s the worst case scenario? Honestly, it’s this: if this is as big of a failure as it looks like at the moment, and the problems are not fixed within the next two months, the Obamacare project could end up backfiring in a way that could have dramatic effects on politics and policy going forward. It will contribute to distrust in government’s basic capability. It will fail to live up to its promise, and wreck the insurance markets for no good purpose. It will represent the administration betraying its strongest supporters. And it may ultimately leave President Obama wishing John Roberts had ruled the other way – turning him into a martyr for the cause as opposed to putting the burden of proof on actually implementing his signature policy.[Originally posted on the Federalist]