Arguably the most prescient comment in American political history is the perhaps apocryphal response from Benjamin Franklin, one of our Founding Fathers, to the passer-by who asked him in Philadelphia, in 1787, what kind of government the Founders had designed for the United States of America: “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Through two centuries of ratification debate, amendment and judicial interpretation, the Constitution itself has stood up remarkably well. Yet nearly every day in every way in the 226 years since its creation, the strength and resilience of the Constitution have been tested.
Lord Acton famously observed that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Over the past two-and-a-quarter centuries, the powers invested in each branch of government — and the power that officeholders seek and assume to themselves— have wreaked havoc on the rights of the people in whose name the Constitution was adopted.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the troubling growth of the executive branch’s interest in operating in secrecy.
Compare and contrast just two recent cases, both coincidentally involving sex and secrets. In one case, the executive branch has gone to unprecedented lengths to discover who “leaked” certain information of public interest; in the other case, the government refuses to disclose who within the government “leaked” personal and private information to the media.
The first case is that of 55-year-old bomb expert Donald Sachtleben of Carmel, Ind., who — according to the Sept. 24 New York Times and other sources — recently agreed to accept a nearly 12-year federal prison sentence after being accused as the source for a May 7, 2012, Associated Press report on a foiled overseas terrorist bomb plot.
Americans now know that in April 2012 a successful U.S. intelligence operation had disrupted an al-Qaida plot in the Arabian Peninsula to destroy an airliner by using an underwear bomb purportedly designed by Ibrahim al-Asiri. Acting on a leak provided by former FBI agent Sachtleben, the AP broke the news in May 2012 before the White House had a chance to do so, thereby potentially depriving an incumbent president from maximizing its political value in a re-election year.
Some 40 years ago, then-FBI Associate Director Mark Felt (later nicknamed “Deep Throat”) spoon-fed details of an FBI investigation of the White House to two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were able to keep Felt’s identity a secret until after his death some 30 years later.
But in Sachtleben’s case, the FBI interviewed more than 500 officials while the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed calling records associated with 20 telephone lines of the AP or its reporters in an effort to uncover the man (Sachtleben) whom the AP still refuses to confirm as its source.
In what The Times characterizes as a “bizarre coincidence,” the government then “discovered” that other “law enforcement officials” had already conveniently seized Sachtleben’s computer, cellphone and electronic media in connection with a purportedly unrelated child pornography investigation, making their task that much easier.
Caught between the hammer of the national security charges and the anvil of a child pornography prosecution, Sachtleben reportedly agreed to a 140-month plea agreement, the heaviest yet imposed on a civilian “leaker.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the personal privacy/government secrecy coin, the Justice Department currently seeks to dismiss a lawsuit by Jill Kelley, the woman whose report to the FBI of “harassing e-mails” from Paula Broadwell, the biographer of former Army Gen. David Petraeus, ultimately led to the ouster of Petraeus as CIA director and of fellow Gen. John Allen as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Kelley and her husband, a co-plaintiff, seek to find out who in the government leaked Kelley’s name and e-mails to the media in violation of the Privacy Act, a post-Watergate “reform” law, thereby placing Kelley in the role of villainess in the downfall of Gens. Petraeus and Allen.
The government seeks to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the Privacy Act does not apply to the FBI and the Defense Department whenever they opt out and that the Kelleys’ complaint fails to plead that the leaked information was kept in a records system subject to the act’s requirements.
The Framers rightly recognized that rulers, even in a constitutional republic, would quickly abuse their power if not checked. Two of the most important checks imposed were noninterference with freedom of the press and requiring that those who made the laws should also live under them.
It’s a worrisome sign that 40 years after Watergate, the executive branch still argues that the laws that apply to the people do not apply to it and that freedom of the press is no longer so highly prized.
It’s a sobering thought that, according to The Times, the executive branch has brought eight leak-related prosecutions in the past five years compared to only three under our Constitution’s previous 221.[First published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and reprinted by permission of the author.]
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 by taking the power from the United States and giving it to the Middle East. As a result of the embargo, America slid into a serious recession.
It was a different world prior to the embargo. America was the dominant player in the energy market and had surplus supply 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 had 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. 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 energy’s 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.
While the 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.
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—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 U.S. “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 even higher.
While U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil has reversed course since 1973—increasing for thirty years and declining since 2008, we are 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. Solutions tend to fall into two categories: supply side and demand side.
The supply side is being secured by increasing U.S. oil and gas production—but we can do more. President Obama needs to finally approve the Keystone pipeline. Allowing more access to federal lands and accelerating approval for drilling permits are two other supply side solutions.
On the demand side, Robbie Diamond, founder, president and CEO of Secure America’s Energy Future (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.”
At the Oil Embargo +40 conference, organized by SAFE, held in Washington, DC, on October 16, Fred Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx espoused 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.
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.”
We may never see $1 a gallon gasoline again. But, we can be optimistic about America’s potential energy future (if the Obama Administration policies don’t impede its success). Hamm exclaims:
“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.”
Sea level rise is the greatest disaster predicted by Climatism, the belief in catastrophic climate change. Today, leading scientific organizations support the idea that the ocean level is rising due to man-made emissions. Further, they claim to be able to measure ocean level to a high degree of accuracy. But a look at natural ocean variation shows that official sea level measurements are nonsense.The theory of man-made climate change warns that human emissions of greenhouse gases will raise global temperatures and melt Earth’s icecaps, causing rising oceans and flooding coastal cities. Former Vice President Al Gore’s best-selling book, An Inconvenient Truth, showed simulated pictures of flooding in South Florida, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, and other world locations. Dr. James Hansenpredicted an ocean rise of 75 feet during the next 100 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in 2007, “Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year over 1961 to 2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 mm per year.” This translates to a 100-year rise of only 7 inches and 12 inches, far below the dire predictions of the climate alarmists. But three millimeters is about the thickness of two dimes. Can scientists really measure a change in sea level over the course of a year, averaged across the world, which is two dimes thick Today, sea level is measured with satellite radar altimeters. Satellites bounce radar waves off the surface of the ocean to measure the distance. Scientific organizations, such as the Sea Level Research Group at the University of Colorado (CU), use the satellite data to estimate ocean rise. The CU team estimates current ocean rise at 3.2 millimeters per year. The organizations AVISO (Archiving, Validation, and Interpretation of Satellite Oceanographic Data) of France, CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) of Australia, and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) of the United States agree with the University of Colorado that seas are rising three millimeters per year. Given the huge natural variation in global sea level, the three millimeter number is incredible. The fact that four different organizations have arrived at the same number is suspect. As Dr. Willie Soon of Harvard shows, ocean level variation is large and affected by many factors. If temperatures rise, water expands, adding to sea level rise. If icecaps melt, levels rise, but if icecaps grow due to increased snowfall, levels fall. If ocean saltiness changes, the water volume will also change. The land itself moves continuously. Some shorelines are rising and some are subsiding. The land around Hudson Bay in Canada is rising, freed of ice from the last ice age. In contrast, the area around New Orleans is sinking. Long-term movement of Earth’s tectonic plates also changes sea level. Tides are a major source of ocean variation, primarily caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, the sun, and the rotation of the Earth. Ocean water “sloshes” from shore to shore, with tides changing as much as 38 feet per day at the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The global average tide range is about one meter, but this daily change is still 300 times the three-millimeter change that scientists claim to be able to measure over an entire year. Storms and weather are major factors affecting satellite measurements. Wave heights change by meters each day, dwarfing the annual rise in ocean level. Winds also change the height of the sea. The easterly wind of a strong La Niña pushes seas at Singapore to a meter higher than in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites themselves have error bias. Satellite specifications claim a measurementaccuracy of about one or two centimeters. How can scientists then measure an annual change of three millimeters, which is almost ten times smaller than the error in daily measurements? Measuring tools typically must have accuracy ten times better than the quantity to be measured, not ten times worse. Dr. Carl Wunsch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology commented on the satellite data in 2007, “It remains possible that the database is insufficient to compute mean sea level trends with the accuracy necessary to discuss the impact of global warming—as disappointing as this conclusion may be.” Scientists add many “fudge factors” to the raw data. The same measurement taken by each of the three satellites, TOPEX, JASON-1, and JASON-2, differs by 75 millimeters and must be corrected. As a natural adjustment, researchers add 0.3 millimeters to the measured data, because ocean basins appear to be getting larger, able to hold more water, and reducing apparent ocean levels. Tide gauges are also used to “calibrate” the satellite data. But gauge measurements are subject to errors of one or two centimeters, again many times more than the sea level rise to be measured. Clearly, the official three millimeter sea level rise number is a product of scientific “group think.” Not only is this number far below what can be accurately measured, but all leading organizations support this nonsense number. Could it be that our leading scientists must endorse sea-level rise to support the ideology of man-made global warming? Steve Goreham is Executive Director of the Climate Science Coalition of Americaand author of the book The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania.
[First Published by The Washington Times]
Nowhere is the art of bureaucratic precaution and obfuscation practiced with greater enthusiasm and single-minded efficiency than in Europe. And nowhere is this more in evidence than in Europe’s battle against technological progress in farming.
The following true saga captures the insanity, hypocrisy and tyranny of Europe’s war on chemicals and biotechnology. Lewis Carroll would have been proud to have authored it. The tale would be hilarious, if it were not so costly to so many. The situation certainly has gotten “curiouser and curiouser” with every passing year.
Highly nutritious corn (maize) has been produced in sunny Italy since it was first imported from the New World almost five centuries ago. Corn provides a lucrative export to countries with less temperate climates that cannot grow it. When it comes to staple crops, it has been as important a staple to the Italian agricultural economy as potatoes are to Ireland and Idaho. At least it was, until a few years ago.
No one knows for certain when the tiny moth Pyrausta nubilalis (aka the European corn borer)started eating its way through Italy’s cornfields. Compounding matters, the pest’s feces provide fodder for a bevy of microscopic fungi, which release some of the most lethal natural poisons known to man, such as pathogenic fumonisins, which can cause permanent neurological damage in human fetuses.
In spite of this threat, Tiberio Rabboni, chairman of Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy’s most important regional agricultural departments, insisted for the longest time that only traditional, organic methods be used to fight this plague. However, he never explained exactly what these methods were. He couldn’t.
Rabboni has never run a farm, never even worked on one. And yet, even though this challenging situation cried out for a sophisticated, scientific response, he has been intransigent in his rabid support of organic farming to the exclusion of all else.
Eventually, Rabboni conceded that synthetic pesticides should probably be used. But the only pesticides approved for use in Europe had proven ineffective. So he indicated he was willing to ignore and not punish farmers who might resort to using chemicals that science oversight bodies worldwide have deemed safe and are routinely used in North America. The chemicals are nonetheless deemed “dangerous” and thus banned by EU authorities, who are guided by the precautionary principle.
Then in July, just as Rabonni was relenting on which chemicals might be used against the corn borer, Italy became the ninth EU country to slam the door shut on any possibility of allowing its farmers to grow GM (genetically modified) corn, although the corn had previously never been grown officially.
Corn farmers in North America no longer face problems like this. In addition to having a longer list of approved chemicals at their disposal, farmers grow GM varieties of corn that are resistant to this pesky parasite. That means fewer chemicals need to be used per acre to protect against pests. As an added bonus, today’s pest resistant corn varieties are also drought tolerant.
According to Italian academician Antonio Saltini, author of the four-volume work Storico dellescienze agrarie (History of agrarian sciences in Western civilization), GM corn became all the more enticing to Italy’s farmers three years ago when drought struck. What little corn survived the corn borer produced withered kernels that were very low in starch, rendering them unsuitable even for animal consumption.
In turn, and because of the drought, moth populations grew exponentially, breeding even more lethal pathogens that feed upon their feces, and thus more fumonisin. But since GM crops are banned in Europe, there was no way lifelong bureaucrat Rabboni was even going to consider making an exception.
Chemicals – even those prohibited in Europe – could be used in emergencies, but not any of the scientific community’s most recent agricultural advancements. Farmers pleaded with Rabboni and the rest of Europe’s white-collar policy makers to be allowed to use GM corn, to no avail. And with only rare exceptions like Saltini, the academic community remained largely silent.
Rabboni proclaimed instead that crops that had not suffered as badly could perhaps be blended with fumonisin-infected toxic crops to make them minimally acceptable to feed to pigs. But when scientists started testing, they realized the majority of Italy’s corn was too toxic even for animal feed. And so, after months of secret negotiations with other agricultural bureaucrats, Rabbonimade a rather telling decision:
“Clean” corn could be imported from America to mix with Italy’s toxic corn. But most of America’s corn is GM. So now the same GM corn that Italian farmers are not allowed to grow was to be given an exemption and permitted to be blended with Italian corn, in order to bring overall toxicity levels down to a degree acceptable to feed to animals.
This decision caused great consternation for farmers, not just in Italy, but throughout Europe. After all, if GM feed corn could be imported, why not let European farmers just grow it themselves and avoid these problems in the first place? Indeed, farmers in the Czech Republic,Spain, Portugal, Romani and Slovakia do grow transgenic corn under a confusing array of highly-bureaucratic special exemptions. Not so in Italy though, nor in the lion’s share of the rest of Europe.
Therefore, amidst a firestorm of controversy and accusations of hypocrisy, Rabboni made yet one more pronouncement on everyone’s behalf: Italy’s seriously compromised corn harvest would not be cut with healthy GM corn from America, after all. Instead, it would all go to energy production. Controversy resolved, sort of.
The twisted, arbitrary executive decisions left a huge gap in the core of Italy’s agricultural economy. What were farmers supposed to feed their pigs? And what would become of next year’s supply of prosciutto, if pigs were simply shot and buried due to a lack of feed? So Rabboni then made his last and most ironic decision amid this crisis. GM corn could indeed be imported from America after all, not to be blended with Italy’s contaminated corn, but simply to be fed directly to Italy’s pigs.
It was not merely the fact that an Italian bureaucrat decided to import an otherwise banned GM crop from America that was so ironic. In addition to the special exemptions granted on a case-by-case basis to Czech, Spanish, Portuguese and Slovakian farmers, countries throughout Europe, including Italy, have imported GM corn from America in the past under a whole different array of special, case-by-case exemptions granted on a strictly controlled basis by bureaucrats in Brussels.
What made Rabboni’s final decision so hypocritical, and frankly absurd, were the sheer quantities involved and the astronomical expense for an already overextended Italian treasury.
Because drought had also hit the United States, combined with massive subsidies to the American ethanol industry that relies on corn as feedstock, the price of American corn had risen steadily over the prior few years. Thus not only did Italy import 300 percent more American corn than it had at any other time, it paid triple the price to American farmers, sending feed and thus pork prices skyrocketing.
Meanwhile Italian farmers, who are not allowed so much as a single GM seed on their farms, watched the fruits of their labor go for mere cents on the euro, to be burned for electricity. All just so Europe’s time-honored ban on a perfectly safe, proven technology could be upheld on ideological grounds.
To this day, it is not known just how much of Italy’s corn production went to animal feed, how much for energy production, and how much was simply destroyed when the cost of the energy required to transport it to an electrical-generating facility exceeded the value of the electricity it would produce.
The quantity of Italian corn that will be buried in the ground this year is simply not deemed a topic appropriate to discuss in polite circles, especially when policy makers in Europe remain faithful in their conviction that genetic engineering is the devil’s work, no matter what farmers themselves might think.
The aforementioned Italian agrarian academic Saltini aptly summed up the bizarre predicament.“Many politicians in Italy take it as a rule,” he observed, “that convenience determines truth. What is convenient guarantees consensus, votes and power, while something which might be received with skepticism or aversion cannot possibly be true. For any true son of Machiavelli, what is true must be useful.”[From Saltini, Mais “inquinato” dal caldo: una storia italiana (Corn “polluted” by the heat: An Italian story) June 2013.]
Sadly for the people of Italy, the embrace of anti-technological agrarian ideology provides few if any benefits to farmers or consumers. Meanwhile bureaucrats thrive – this huge army ofaparatchiks, most of whom have never worked a day on a farm, but earn a sumptuous living off the backs of those who do. They are an army of white-collar statists who, in the words of American author Robert Zubrin, are really nothing more than antihuman “merchants of despair.”
In broader terms, Samuel Adams put it best when he warned, “If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” Evidently, there is a severe lack of Garibaldi patriots in Italy these days. And a severe lack of corn.
Having a child who struggles in school torments parents – whether it’s because of attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, an inability to comprehend “whole word” approaches in learning to read, or just a need to “learn differently” from peers. The experience is even harder on the child.
Some just struggle along, with limited help from teachers, school administrators and special programs. Others get little or no help, lag further behind, fall through the cracks, or just give up or drop out of school. For a lucky few, there may be a special place like the Oakwood School in Annandale, Virginia.
“These kids aren’t dumb or lazy, or simply don’t want to be in school,” says Oakwood Principal Robert McIntyre. “They’re bright and are really trying their level best. But they are struggling with learning or attention disabilities” – meaning not all the neurotransmitters in their brains work the same way as in most children. The result is often a significant gap between the child’s solid intelligence, and what he or she is actually able to achieve.
In 1970 Bob was a school principal working with “underachieving” students. His wife Mary was an early childhood school director trying to help obviously bright pre-schoolers who couldn’t focus on or master pre-academic skills. They and a colleague were examining “learning disabilities,” a concept that was unfamiliar to most teachers and viewed with skepticism by others. The three educators wanted to employ non-traditional learning styles in a nurturing but stimulating learning environment for bright children.
When they could find no public or private school to take up this challenge, they concluded that this was their spiritual calling and mission. Their clear vision and strong personal faith convinced them that it could be done and stimulated the strategic planning and hard work that culminated in their new educational concept becoming reality in 1971. Oakwood was launched in donated space in a local church, with one child and four staffers who had a combined 75+ years of experience in education. The school grew rapidly and, ten years later, its board of directors purchased Oakwood’s own building.
Fully licensed, accredited and recognized for its pace-setting, research-based work on dyslexia and other learning disabilities, Oakwood serves families from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Some families have driven as far as 50 to 70 miles each way every school day, to give their kids a better chance in a school that was “right for them.”
“With faith and action, potential becomes reality” is Oakwood’s motto, and respect for different personalities, customs, cultures and learning styles is a dominant theme. Its dedicated teachers work closely with each child, to instill true self-esteem, based on success in overcoming obstacles and reaching milestones in reading, math, key-boarding, note taking, time management, athletics, dealing with social and emotional issues that many students carry to Oakwood from their previous schools, and of course understanding the subject matter in their courses. On-going communication and involvement among parents, students and staff play a major role in helping to create an environment that nurtures without condescension, but also demands significant effort.
Oakwood students are bright kids who have learning challenges, especially at early ages and grades, but can be helped to achieve their often enormous maximum potential. Early, even small accomplishments steadily grow into life-transforming changes that enable them to realize incredible possibilities. The approaches used in its grade and middle school classes are often unorthodox, but they prepare the students for high school, college and the vocation of life.
Students learn reading through phonics. They sometimes study human physiology and learning styles by wearing their “brain caps” that show which parts of the brain do what. An “Out of this World” program taught students about outer space through classroom work, Q&A sessions with an astronaut and other experts, and a field trip to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. A government class covered Supreme Court history, the court’s role in the U.S. checks and balances system, and famous court cases, and culminated in a trip to the Supreme Court and a meeting with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Building on these successes, Oakwood has conducted professional development for schools in Central Asia and the Middle East, teaching their educators how to work with alternative learning styles, and help students launch academic, business and other careers.
Parents praise the ways “the Oakwood Experience” has shaped their children’s lives. “Our little guy uses his growing vocabulary to let us get inside his heart and his head, to feel the excitement, the confidence, the hope he’s feeling now, in contrast to his painful memories of just a few months ago,” said one. “My son told me that at his previous school he felt like there was a wall in his brain and nothing could get past it,” another parent said. “Since he’s been at Oakwood, he’s felt like someone blew up the wall and now he can learn and understand things. He feels smart and brims with self confidence and happiness!”
“What an incredible difference you made in Elizabeth’s life,” a grandmother wrote. “In two years of high school, she has maintained a 3.4 GPA, while taking Honors, IB and AP courses and being a three-sport athlete.” Above all, Oakwood enables its graduates to succeed in college, business and life.
Ari D graduated with honors from Indiana U, with degrees in business management, entrepreneurship and business IT; he is now a senior project manager for a Chicago-based marketing company. Arielle K completed her undergraduate program at Virginia Tech with a 3.9 cumulative GPA and is working on a dual master’s in public administration and social work.
Bill Y received his BA in psychology from William and Mary, while interning at the National Institutes of Health, studying emotional responses of cancer and heart attack patients; he expects to begin his PhD in clinical psychology next fall. Joanna B received a degree in sociology and now is a social worker, serving children and families in Florida. John C was an honors student in high school, received his BA, became a senior consultant with Deloitte, and plans to pursue his master’s in business.
Katie P came to Oakwood dealing with dyslexia and unable to read or write; she graduated with honors from college and is now an actress with a passion for reading and learning. Mark N served in the Marine Corps, got a BS in business administration, works for a medical sales company and is the proud father of three children. Matt P received his BS in electrical and computer engineering from Colorado State University and is now working on his master’s at CSU. Rick T served a tour in Afghanistan with the US Army and now is stationed in Texas, where he has adopted three boys whose mother was killed in a car accident and whose father abandoned them and is serving a long sentence in prison.
Shoshana K finished her undergraduate at Emory and graduate program at Columbia with straight A’s and is now a middle school civics teacher. Meghan H went from being self-described “basket case” when she transferred to Oakwood in the fifth grade, to completing an honors program at Oxford University in England and graduating from George Mason University.
The Oakwood School could serve as a model for schools and special learning programs all over the United States and world. The proven methods it employs, skill sets it teaches and confidence it instills have launched hundreds of children on high school, college, professional and family achievements that likely would have been far beyond their reach, had this school not featured in their early development.
Oakwood receives no funding from local school districts or the federal government. Its primary sources are student tuition fees and grants from companies and family foundations. Its greatest need is scholarship money, to enable more children from poor and middle class families to benefit from its programs.
Mighty trees truly grow from little acorns nurtured early in life. Helping Oakwood replicate its programs and methods could make a huge difference in the lives of many students – and in the companies and communities they will serve because of what this very special school enabled them to achieve.
To their credit, they were very civil about it, and it turns out that he was making a much simpler point than I gave him credit for. I thought he was saying that so many large employers already provide coverage that 95% of them wouldn’t be affected. His office informs me that he was talking about all the employers with fewer than 50 workers who were never mandated in the first place, which make up roughly 95% of all employers in the country, give or take.
Okay. But I’m not sure how that helps him rebut the argument that individual consumers are being treated worse than employers. All individual Americans are mandated to carry insurance at all times. Some in Congress would like to delay that requirement for a year, just as President Obama delayed the employer mandate for a year.
The only reason Van Hollen can argue Obama’s delay applies only to 5% of employers is because the other 95% of employers were already exempted from the mandate.
Now, personally I don’t think any employers should be mandated to provide insurance – but I don’t think any workers should be mandated to buy it, either. But I will concede that Mr. Van Hollen was correct when he said that only 5% of employers are newly exempt. The other 95% have been exempt all along.
But those of us who have followed this legislation closely weren’t surprised at all. In fact, a year ago I wrote on John Goodman’s blog – “The Republicans may have lost this election, but a year from now millions of people may be begging to be freed from the scourge of ObamaCare’s exchanges.”
I’m not psychic. My conclusion was based on the dismal experience of everything the federal government had already tried and failed to do to implement the law and on the excellent reporting of Robert Pear at the New York Times. He had written months earlier that, while the state exchanges were doing their work in public, the federal effort was entirely behind closed door. The Feds even refused to divulge what was in a “request for proposals” they had released to advertising agencies to help hype up interest in the exchanges.
Doing your work in secret may shield you from the criticism of political opponents, but it also prevents you from getting constructive suggestions from neutral outsiders. And that has been the primary problem with this whole exercise from the beginning. The idea was poorly conceived, the law was poorly written, and it is being poorly implemented, all because they didn’t want to hear from critics. The effort was so fragile that the slightest hint of trouble would have brought it crashing down. But it is far better to crash a poor concept on paper before it becomes law than to pass it and watch it wreck the lives of real people.
Now, not everything about this law has failed. Some things, like covering adult children on their parents’ policies to age 26, paying 100% for preventive services, and eliminating annual and lifetime caps on benefits, have been implemented smoothly. But these are all things that are within the scope of the normal regulatory process – the regulators tell the insurance companies what to do, and the insurance companies do it. Both regulators and insurers have been doing this for decades.
These may or may not be good ideas, but they are easy to implement. In fact, all these provisions would have required only about five pages of legislation.
The problem comes in the other 2,695 pages of legislation. Why so many pages? Because they were creating entirely new functions for the federal government and all the agencies needed to operate them. And this is where the failures have come. The list is extraordinary –
- The CLASS Act. This feeble attempt to create federal long-term care insurance was thrown overboard by the administration itself after it became apparent it would be impossible to do.
- The 1099 provision. This requirement that businesses issue a 1099 to any vendor from whom they purchased $600 of goods and services in a year was repealed after business owners explained what an impossible burden it would impose.
- Federal high risk pools. This program seemed to be well-funded, but they enrolled very few people at much higher cost than projected. They quickly ran out of money.
- Retiree health subsidies. Large corporations and unions were more than happy to accept free money to do what they were doing anyway (provide health benefits to retirees), but all the money ran out in about a third of the time expected.
- CO-OPs. As an alternative to the “public option,” Congress appropriated billions of dollars to create consumer-run, nonprofit insurance companies in each state and even created a whole new section of the Internal Revenue Code for them. It was never explained why mutual insurance companies were not adequate to the job. A few have been created but Congress put so many restrictions on them that even those few are unlikely to make it past the first year.
- Small employer tax credits. The complexity and confusion of these credits deterred all but a handful of companies from applying.
- Medical Loss Ratios. The MLR requirements have had the very predictable effect of discouraging innovation and cost containment. The requirements actually encourage higher premiums — the higher the premiums, the more money insurance companies have for administration and profits. Plus, they discourage fraud prevention efforts.
- Medicaid expansions. The Supreme Court made these expansions voluntary for the states and only about half have done it. But it was an odd idea from the start. One-third of all the uninsured were already eligible for Medicaid but hadn’t bothered to enroll, and a large portion of the people now enrolling seem to be people who were already covered in the private market.
- Limits on FSA funding. It is cruelly ironic, but the families most disadvantaged by the new $2,500 limit on FSA funding are those with special needs children.
- Limits on the Medical Expense Deduction. Beginning in 2013, a taxpayer is able to deduct only those medical expenses that exceed 10% of income, up from the current 7.5%. Once again it is the sickest families that will be hurt.
- Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). These were intended to introduce an entirely new form of health care delivery to reduce costs and improve quality in the Medicare program, and eventually throughout the health care system. But they have been plagued with problems, including that nearly a third of the original participants have already dropped out. CMS is refusing to release information on how the rest are doing, suggesting it isn’t going well.
- Health IT. The HITECH bill was enacted separately from ObamaCare, and many billions have been spent on it, but reports from the field indicate the top-down efforts result in lower quality and less efficiency as physicians spend more time wrestling with computers than taking care of patients.
Essentially, everything the federal government itself has been responsible for doing has failed. None of this should have been a surprise. Any honest reading of available research would have shown the futility of these efforts. For example the United Kingdom was way ahead of us in trying to upgrade its health information technology. It spent $12 billion on the project before concluding it was an abysmal failure and shut it down completely. An effort very similar to ACOs was tried from 2005-2010 in the form of the Physician Group Practice demonstration project. It, too failed. Medical loss ratio limits have been tried without success in several states.
But, like the old Gene Autry song, the true believers in the Obama administration didn’t want to hear a discouraging word, so they locked themselves away and even refused to let the public know what they were doing.
But the biggest failure of all is still a few months away. This is the essence of the law – that it will reduce the numbers of uninsured. It will not. It is far more likely to raise the numbers of people without insurance coverage. Why? Three reasons –
- The Medicaid expansion will have at best a modest effect on covering new people. As we said above one-third of the uninsured are already eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled. In many cases, they have been on the program before and haven’t bothered re-enrolling. They simply don’t find value in it. They are more likely to see a doctor by going to the hospital ER, and they know if anything big happens they will be instantly signed up. Having a Medicaid card in their wallets just to please some bureaucrat is no enticement.
Now, it is likely that the Medicaid roles will grow, but this will be from people who were already covered by their employers. Medicaid is free while employers expect a premium contribution. It makes sense to switch, but it doesn’t add any uninsured people.
The individual market is gone. This means some 15 million newly uninsured people. Some of them will get coverage on the exchanges, but not many. The exchanges offer benefits that are too rich – things like pediatric dental care that few private insurance plans cover – and all those “enhanced” benefits cost money. Yes, some will be offered some subsidies, but in most cases people will still pay more than they have been used to, and the enrollment process is a nightmare.
Employers will drop coverage in droves. That has been happening slowly for years, but Obamacare will accelerate it dramatically. In 2011 the McKinsey Company did a large survey of the employers and found 30% said they would definitely or probably drop their coverage. This was blithely dismissed by administration supporters, but McKinsey is a rock solid company with no interest in political spin. This means perhaps 50 million people will no longer have coverage on the job. They will find –
- No more automatic enrollment going along with the job. People will have to take the initiative to find out about the Exchange.
- No more pure community rating of the employee share of premiums. The Exchange will vary premiums every year based on a person’s age.
- No more paycheck deductions of the employee share of premiums. People will have to make some kind of payment arrangement for their share of the premium.
- No more convenient and friendly HR Department people to answer questions. People will have to seek out an “Exchange navigator” to get their questions answered
- More importantly, they will find no more employer contribution to the cost of their coverage.
Very few people have significant medical expenses in the course of a year. The cost of insurance coverage far outweighs the cost of their medical expense – especially if they are paying the entire premium themselves.
Annual Spending as a Percent of the Total, by Decile
Source: Taken from “Medicare for All,” a presentation by Paul Y. Song, MD, PNHP 2011, slide #41; data attributed to Thorpe and Reinhardt.
So there might be 20% – 30% of the total, maybe even 50% who find that insurance is a good deal through the Exchanges, but that leaves 25 million people who are newly uninsured.
Taken together, the numbers of uninsured Americans may double after Obamacare is fully implemented. How’s that for a kick in the head?
Now, you may be wondering about all those pitiful, helpless people you have heard about who have been denied coverage for all these years. Won’t they be lining up around the corner to finally get insurance coverage? Yes, very likely they will be. But keep in mind that the only people subject to such a denial are new applicants for individual coverage. This is a very small segment of the population. People getting employer based coverage are free of any such concern, as are people on Medicare or Medicaid. AHIP (the insurance company trade association) reports that in 2008, there were only 1,763,000 people who applied for individual coverage, and only 223,000 were denied. Many of these people were allowed to enroll in a state high-risk pool, so were not uninsured when this law was passed. That’s a pretty tiny number of people compared to the many millions who are about to become uninsured.
Finally, there is the issue of the mandate itself. Won’t those people who refuse to enroll be severely punished? No. There is no effective enforcement mechanism. Many commentators have remarked on how low the tax penalty is, but even that penalty is easily avoided. The only tool the IRS has for collecting the penalty is seizing a taxpayer’s tax refund. It may not garnish wages, it may not place a lien on property, it may not bring the taxpayer to court. It is easy enough to avoid a refund, by adjusting withholding at the beginning of the year. That has the added effect of giving the taxpayer more money in his paycheck during the course of the year and depriving the federal government of an interest-free loan from the taxpayer.
So the biggest failure of all will take place in the next six to nine months: We will discover the numbers of uninsured has doubled just in time for the 2014 elections.
Big Brother Inc. Google is outraged at Big Brother NSA?
Is there no honor among spies?
Google’s faux outrage at the Washington Post’s Snowden story that the NSA directly tapped into Google’s internal network of data centers to surveil whatever it wanted, is akin to the classic line in Casablanca, where Captain Renault feigned public outrage in telling his casino partner: “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”
The substantial evidence below indicates that Google is not an unsophisticated, unwitting victim of hacking by the NSA, or that it is opposed to spying. Google Inc. clearly does not have the coercive sovereign power that the NSA has. However, the evidence shows that it has a similar spying habits, legal positions, and attitudes; and that it also has had a decade-long record of cooperation with U.S. intelligence services.
Similar spying habits.
Consider the number of times Google has gotten caught doing basically the same thing the NSA allegedly did — secretly tapping into others’ information without permission, which most would call “spying.”
- Google got caught spying and intercepting home WiFi emissions of many tens of millions of people in 33 countries over a period of three years, and paid fines for it inthe U.S. and many othercountries. A U.S. appeals court recently ruled Google WiSpy was engaged in unauthorized wiretapping.
- Google got caught hacking into Apple’s iPhone operating system to bypass consumers’ privacy/security settings to target Google advertising, and paid a record$22m FTC fine for “tapping into” Apple’s internal network without permission.
- A Federal court recently ruled that Google’s scanning of people’s gmails without the parties’ permission is unauthorized wiretapping, or in other words, spying on people.
- Google Glass enables surreptitious video recordings of others’ private conversations with a whisper or a blink of an eye, leading many entities to ban Google Spy-Glass for their obvious spying potential.
Similar legal positions.
Consider the similarity of Google’s and the NSA’s stances that what they are doing is legal – i.e. not specifically illegal. Google’s standard line in court: our services are legal because “a person has no expectation of privacy” if they use Google’s services. That sounds similar to the NSA’s blanket claims that everything they collect is legal and has been authorized by law and a court.
Similar spying attitudes.
Consider these telling quotes from Google’s leadership.
- “If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt on CNBC.
- “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about;” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt per the Atlantic.
- “We want Google to become the third part of your brain;” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin per Business Insider.
- “I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt toldthe WSJ.
- “There’s been spying for years and there’s been surveillance for years and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, it’s the nature of our society” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt last month per RT.
A decade of spy cooperation.
Consider how Google has cooperated with America’s intelligence collecting services over the last decade.
- In 2004, Google’s purchased the CIA/In-Q-Tel-funded Keyhole to enable Google Earth.
- In 2008, Google sold servers to U.S. intelligence services.
- In 2009, Google asked the NSA for help in warding off Chinese hackers who broke into Google and stole their entire password system.
- In 2010, a U.S. spy agency offered Google an exclusive no-bid contract for its mapping service, most likely because of its 2004 acquisition of CIA/In-Q-Tel-fundedKeyhole for Google Earth.
- In 2010, Google Venture co-invested with the CIA’s investment fund In-Q-Tel in Recorded Future.
In sum, we have to ignore a lot of evidence to believe that Google is shocked that the NSA tapped into their well-known “open” system.
Simply, Google has more capabilities, to spy on more people, in more ways, more intimately, than any other private entity ever. This makes Google, Big Brother Inc., and a uniquely valuable, one-stop, spy partner, wittingly or unwittingly, for any sovereign Big Brother wannabe to leverage.
[Originally published on Precursor Blog]
On and off for twenty weeks now, a diminishing troupe has gathered for “Moral Mondays” to protest the outcomes of North Carolina’s first Republican-led legislative session in 150 years. This spring, 2,000 or so people showed up for Moral Mondays protests at the state capitol, and more than 900 have been arrested for disrupting the legislature. On September 23, they numbered about 60.
Their grievances are many. A ThinkProgress blogger recorded protesters’ forecasts of ominous consequences for the poor, the environment, healthcare, education, the economy, students, women, and the disabled. (He seems to have left out puppies and sunshine.) Because of the protests, The Atlantic called North Carolina “the Wisconsin of 2013,” in reference to the circus of protests and recalls that accompanied mild restrictions on government employee unions in 2010. Even National Journal has taken up the cry, highlighting “conservative attacks on public education” within “the GOP’s plan to sabotage Raleigh’s successful growth.”
Are North Carolina Republicans decimating schools and the poor? Let’s take a look at the derided right-wing agenda, just in K-12.Unusual Enrollment Spike
Raleigh, like the rest of North Carolina, is unusual for seeing more youngsters in recent years. In the past decade, school-age children increased 49 percent in Raleigh, the nation’s biggest jump. Most states are instead facing K-12 population declines, thanks to a declining birth rate nationwide. Census Bureau statistics indicate North Carolina has instead had an approximately 30 percent increase in school-age children since 2000. This puts the state in the enviable position of having to hire more teachers in an era when most states are cutting or will soon need to cut school employees because of declining enrollment. Not that you’ll hear that from school leaders. No, it’s moaning and groaning when so much as one dollar leaves their district, and moaning and groaning when their district has to expand.
School administrators in Raleigh blame a lack of money for their decisions to buy shopping centers and modular units to make classroom space. They’re asking voters to approve debt-fueled building projects this October to ease the strain. Taxpayers, then, might appreciate the state’s new voucher program, which lets kids leave public schools for empty spaces in private schools at approximately half the public expense. There’s an efficient use of resources, both tax dollars and school buildings. But public school administrators don’t seem to appreciate the help.
There are distressing anecdotes, like this from a North Carolina teacher who recently quit: “When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured.” An excellent case for demanding that schools pay a living wage, right?Piling On Administrators
The problem with education spending in North Carolina is not that there’s too little money to go around, however. The state spends approximately $9,000 per student, which is well below the national average of $13,000, but well above the lowest-spending state, Utah, at $6,000. Multiply that by the ratio of teachers to students in North Carolina, which is a teacher-pleasing one to just below fourteen, and you get $126,000 per teacher to spend. That’s more than enough for a nice salary and benefits package, especially in the school districts around Raleigh, which spend an extra thousand or two per pupil above the state average.
It’s also about four times more than a North Carolina teacher with up to five years of experience makes. The state teacher salary schedule, which local districts usually supplement and does not include benefits, puts a teacher with five or less years of experience at a $30,800 annual salary. Teacher pay maxes out in the schedule at $53,180 for someone with 36 years of experience or more. The average local salary supplement is approximately $3,500 per teacher.
So where does the rest of the money go? Well, there’s overhead. And boy, do North Carolina schools have overhead. For starters, North Carolina schools employ almost as many school administrators as they do teachers. The ratio of students to administrators is 1 to 15. While student enrollment increased 36 percent between 1992 and 2009, the number of non-teaching school staff increased almost twice as much: 61 percent, according to the Friedman Foundation. If administrative growth had just matched student enrollment over those years, every teacher could have received a $5,650 pay hike every year.
Some of this astonishing bureaucratic growth can be attributed, as in this Harvard University study, to a lack of market pressure on schools. Study coauthor Eric Hanushek says schools typically don’t make tough but necessary financial choices because they don’t lose money or market share for bad financial or educational management, unlike private enterprises.
As if to reinforce Hanushek’s point, Raleigh-area Durham County schools spent $3.5 million in federal Race to the Top (RTT) funds not on teacher salaries, but on iPads. You know, the same tool Los Angeles schools will spend $1 billion on but can’t figure why? Technology may be cool, but its record of improving K-12 education so far is, at best, spotty.Regulations Strip Resources
But some pressure to hire administrators also comes from an explosion in government regulation in the past decade. For one, North Carolina was “lucky” enough to win $400 million from taxpayers in all the other states through RTT’s federal grant competition. This four-year grant amounts to 5 percent of the $7.5 billion North Carolina spends on K-12 education each year. Even so, the grant “created its own superstructure within the Department of Instruction,” says Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst at the Raleigh-based Civitas Institute. RTT follows the federal pattern exploded by 2001’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) of saddling schools with time-consuming mandates in exchange for a relative pittance. Among other things, RTT means every school district must develop new teacher evaluation systems, and the state must implement new plans for saving failing schools, although the recent evidence from such efforts nationwide shows they have essentially no effect. Even so, states have spent time and millions of dollars that could have gone to classrooms instead on contracts for consultants, largely ineffective professional development, and more bureaucrats to file more paperwork. Ohio also got $400 million from RTT, and several districts dropped the program because compliance costs are far above the stack of other people’s money they would get in return.
The same is true for NCLB, another source of administrative bloat that doesn’t benefit kids. This largest federal education law means 7 million hours of paperwork for U.S. schools every year, at an estimated annual cost of $141 million, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Small schools and districts have the same paperwork demands as large schools and districts, noted Loudon County, Virginia, superintendent Edgar Hatrick III in congressional testimony.
Just one regulation from the Office of Civil Rights caused his district to spend time “aggregating and disaggregating more than twelve categories of data, with more than 144 fields for each of our 50 elementary schools and 263 fields of data for each of our 24 secondary schools, for a total of 13,944 data elements. And this was just for one school district out of the 13,924 school districts in America.” This required 532 hours from Loudon County staff at an estimated cost of $25,370, or “82 instructional days away from students.” Even worse, most federal reporting requirements demand re-compiling data that schools already send the state, he said.
Proving they spent RTT funds according to their agreement with the feds will mean similar reporting requirements of all North Carolina schools. Each dollar that goes into paperwork is a dollar that is not reaching students. The teachers joining Moral Mondays protests might better direct their anger to Congress and the U.S. Department of Education.Competing for Money
Along the same lines, K-12 spending necessarily competes for priority among other government spending. North Carolina spends between 32 and 40 percent of its budget on K-12. While the recession has meant tough times and therefore no money for teacher raises in the past several years, this budget year a $500 million cost overrun in Medicare spending wiped out lawmakers’ hopes of restoring teachers’ typical annual raises, Luebke said. As the population ages and more people receive government benefits from other taxpayers, K-12 spending will face even fiercer competition. Don’t forget: Old people vote.
Another structural problem with how North Carolina pays teachers is its antiquated salary schedule. Each teacher is paid like a 1950s factory worker, according to two main categories: Credentials and years on the job. Young teachers can’t earn more through excellent work, and teachers who move mid-career or from out of state often have to start over at the bottom of the pay schedule.
“Under the current schedule we pay great teachers and good teachers and mediocre teachers often times the same salary, and how is that fair?” Luebke said.
Studies have repeatedly shown that North Carolina’s salary schedule preferences older, more credentialed teachers over younger, less credentialed teachers, although being older and more credentialed has almost no relation to teacher quality. This spring, lawmakers took a first swipe towards addressing this by eliminating pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees and phasing out tenure by 2018. Tenure typically prevents schools from replacing low-quality teachers with better ones. Eliminating it gives teachers the same job protections every worker enjoys under state and federal law. And research has long shown that teachers who earn master’s degrees are a cash cow for universities but don’t improve professionally. Ending the salary schedule gives teachers the individual bargaining power other professionals have, and treats them like people, not widgets.
North Carolina’s future looks brighter than many states, largely because of its bumper crop of kids. The more kids, the more future taxpayers to pay off the load of local, state, and federal debt Baby Boomers have handed them. But those Boomers aren’t gone yet, and their demand for government subsidies right as they get old and sick is directly at odds with taxpayers’ ability to send money to classrooms and tax relief for younger, working families. Given that face-off, expect future budget negotiations in North Carolina and around the country to embody rising social tension.
“In the first two years of this recession, ‘9 and’ 10, you have the same things going on where there all are these expected cuts, [but] Democrats were in control of all branches and the howling is nowhere near what it is now,” Luebke said. “They just feel compelled to rally their base on this. I understand what they’re doing, but it’s this selective indignation that gets you.”
[Originally published on The Federalist]
Heartland Friend Ezra Levant of Sun News TV in Canada — who gave the world the best coverage of Heartland’s Seventh International Conference on Climate Change — presented viewers 17 minutes of climate truth a few weeks back.
I’m remiss for not sharing it sooner, but it is worth the wait.
Watch his peerless coverage below.
On Heartland’s Daily podcast, Senior Health and Policy Analyst Ben Domenech was interviewed to speak about the effects on health policy post Obamacare. At this point, there are ten Senators that are endorsing a mandate to further delay the implementation of the disastrous Obamcare exchange because it is still not ready. Obamacare will inherently not work. The question becomes, how does the responses of the solutions divide the political spectrum? Domenech asserts three separate factions forming: The Democrats who believe Obamacare had not been implemented to its fullest extent, Republicans who want to repeal it completely and the middle, who would like to reform Obamacare. The 2014 election will highlight candidates platforms at the forefront. In order for Republicans to win over voters they need an outlined reform, not to demand an overturn.
Although the general consensus believes that the Republicans do not have a unifying platform that refutes Obamacare, Domenech believes is wrong. The Conservative party generally agrees that: the tax bias to businesses who have employer sponsored health insurance to end, reform medical malpractice, additional subsidies for high risk pool (which would still cost less than Obamcare), allow competition of insurers and reform the Food and Drug Administration. The task for Republicans is to popularize their short, sweet, free market reform in order to win over the middle.
Listen to Heartland’s podcast with Ben Domenech here.[Image credit newsbusters.org]
The great Angelo Codevilla recently wrote about a subject keenly on the minds of many Heartlanders — especially Research Fellow Steve Stanek. (If you’re not familiar with Codevilla’s peerless prose, do some Googling.)
In Codevilla’s piece for the Library of Law & Liberty blog, he notes with alarm that too many American police forces — from federal SWAT team of the (yes) U.S. Department of Education, to your local black-and-whites taking down 107-year-old men in a shootout — “operate militarily and are trained to treat ordinary citizens as enemies.”
This is a very troubling development, because it seems that the government at all levels considers citizens who refuse to comply (even peacefully) as enemies of the state — subject at a whim to the full, lethal force of government. As Codevilla writes:
The people from whom the government personnel take their cues routinely describe those who differ from them socially and politically as illegitimate, criminal, even terrorists.
Do you remember that incident from earlier this month when a lady rammed her car into the barricades a block from the White House, injuring a police officer (not seriously), then fled and rammed the barricades several blocks from the “important people” in the Capitol? You don’t?
Miriam Carey had no beef with the government — and God knows we’d never hear the end of it if she ever attended a Tea Party rally or drove past one on her way to Wendy’s. Carey was apparently the most-unfortunate sufferer of post-partum depression in history. The woman died in a hail of bullets, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that her child in the back seat was not also killed as she rammed a second barricades. Was lethal force really necessary. Obviously, in hindsight, no.
Our government buildings in DC are locked down in permanent “war footing,” and we all know why. Terrorists who would load a bomb with massive explosive devices are itching to take out government officials. That’s a legitimate threat and we must always be vigilant. I’m loath to ever Monday-Morning-Quarterback the actions of DC’s finest, but did Miriam Carey — driving a sedan, not a truck — deserve the instant death penalty for running into a barricade designed to stop her? Terrorist masterminds who have executed far worse intentional attacks sit in comfort at Club Gitmo, awaiting trial.
Codevilla puts this scene in a way we all must see:
This month in Washington DC, Federal police riddled with bullets a woman suffering from post-partum depression who, had she been allowed to live, might have been convicted of reckless driving, at most. She had careened too close to the White House and Capitol, but had harmed no one and her car had stopped. In the same month, California sheriffs’ deputies killed a 13 year-old boy who was carrying a plastic toy rifle. It is not illegal to carry a rifle, never mind a toy one. America did not blink.
That last line is the nut: “America did not blink.”
Shouldn’t we at least blink?
The Obama administration is beginning to resemble a damaged car windshield: A small ding from an unexpected flying pebble turns into a spider web of cracks, leaving the windshield difficult to see through and dangerously unstable.
Given the years of failure of both domestic and foreign policy, and the many real scandals born of this administration’s incompetence and corruption, it is a measure of the stubborn refusal of the mainstream media to behave as journalists that the first cracks have been caused by the rollout of the Obama administration’s proudest “achievement,” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act commonly known as Obamacare.
But where most windshields remain serviceable for months after the first chip, the façade of President Obama’s credibility is cracking up with stunning rapidity, even among some ardent “journalist” supporters and erstwhile human shields. Until Obamacare is either functioning well or substantially delayed or repealed (none of which is likely before the next election), the spreading web of cracks will make the administration’s efforts in any other policy area — and its ridiculous attempts to distract Americans from the disaster that is the Affordable Care Act — impossible to see. When the windshield is badly cracked, it is difficult to focus on anything but the cracks themselves.
If I may mix metaphors, reporters and the news organizations they work for are sharks, ever ready to gorge on a wounded potential meal. Unlike sharks, most of those who take up the profession of journalism preferentially smell conservative blood in the water. But at some point both the strength of the odor and the recognition that “if I don’t eat him, another shark will” overcome their inherent bias. And when enough join in, the feeding frenzy can be an awesome sight.
And so it comes to pass that on Tuesday morning, Lisa Myers of NBC News — a crew that has been one of the most eager propagandists for the Obama administration, with Ms. Myers herself calling the press one of Obama’s “most important constituencies” — publishes a devastating article entitled “Obama admin knew millions could not keep their health insurance.”
According to NBC, at least half, and perhaps as many as 80 percent, of Americans who buy their insurance through the individual market will have their policies canceled due to Obamacare. And, the administration knew that this would be the case throughout the past few years while the president was repeatedly assuring Americans that “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan.”
(I dealt with the left’s desperate retorts to NBC on these pages yesterday.)
Also on Tuesday, on CBS This Morning, Jan Crawford reported that insurance companies are cancelling more than two million insurance policies in the several states from which they were able to get data. (Another analyst says that “Because the Obama administration’s regulations on grandfathering existing plans were so stringent as many as 16 million are not grandfathered and must comply with Obamacare at their next renewal.”)
With language that the administration only expects from Fox News, the CBS report was aggressively critical: “The White House is on the defensive, trying to explain how when the president said ‘If you like your doctor or your health care plan,’ he really didn’t mean it.”
Crawford’s report wasn’t a one-off: Just the day before, she announced that “For many, their introduction to the affordable care act has been negative. A broken website and now cancellation notices from insurance companies, followed by sticker shock over higher prices for the new plans. It’s directly at odds with repeated assurances from the president.”
It doesn’t help Obama’s credibility that just as he drew a red line regarding Syria and then claimed he didn’t, his propagandist-in-chief is now saying that “what the president said and what everybody said all along” was that there are existing plans which will not be permitted under Obamacare. Jay Carney had the gall to call such policies, which millions of Americans have researched and voluntarily purchased, “substandard.” Perhaps the administration should also ban “substandard” cars like Hyundai and Buick, and require everyone to buy Mercedes-Benz and Maserati.
The Chicago Sun-Times (the other Obama home-town paper to pile on the Obamacare disaster) reports a former Democratic congressional staffer’s buyer’s remorse: “I spent two years defending Obamacare. I had constituents scream at me, spit at me and call me names that I can’t put in print. The congressman was not re-elected in 2010 mainly because of the anti-Obamacare anger. When the congressman was not re-elected, I also (along with the rest of our staff) lost my job. I was upset that because of the health care issue, I didn’t have a job anymore but still defended Obamacare because it would make health care available to everyone at, what I assumed, would be an affordable price. I have now learned that I was wrong. Very wrong.”
As if Tuesday wasn’t already bad enough for Team Obama, CNN reported that “The Obama administration was given stark warnings just one month before launch that the federal healthcare site was not ready to go live, according to a confidential report obtained by CNN.” And later the same day, CNN also described how the Obama administration is trying to silence potential criticism from health insurance companies, noting that the companies warned the White House that Obamacare would necessarily cause the cancellation of many Americans’ insurance policies.
Even Politico, which has drifted steadily into stultifying run-of-the-mill liberal bias during its brief existence, is now beginning articles with anti-Obamacare snark: “Trying to sign up for Obamacare the old-fashioned way — paper, pen or telephone? Good luck with that.” Of course, those routes to use the federal exchange are only necessary because the “supposedly state-of-the-art $600 million HealthCare.gov portal [is still] malfunctioning.”
The sharks in the press pool smell the Obama administration’s blood in the water. Despite their inclination to defend a president and a law they so deeply support, no half-decent political reporter will want to be the only journalistic remora in the room who drifted by while everyone else gorged themselves on the historically spectacular collapse of a historically flawed and partisan piece of legislation — a description equally apt for the president whom the law is named for. And so White House Press Secretary Jay Carney watches the fins draw ever nearer.
But it’s not just reporters. Some of the most aggressively liberal media pundits are also now worried that without criticizing the too-obvious incompetence and failure of the administration, their “slobbering love affair” with the president may come back to hurt what little integrity they have left.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the man who famously felt a “thrill going up my leg” when Barack Obama got elected, admitted on Tuesday that the “average person [feels] double-crossed by the president” and that the Obamacare fiasco — which is to say the impact of the law itself and not just the issues surrounding the website — “will be a real problem for the president in terms of his credibility.” One wonders whether Matthews then called himself a racist since his most consistent theme has been that any critic of Obama might as well be a Klansman.
On the very same Tuesday as the NBC and CBS reports, the reliably liberal Richard “tea party brats” Cohen of the Washington Post published an op-ed entitled “A question of competence” in which he calls the administration’s response to the failed Obamacare rollout “pathetic.” Cohen suggests that another president (presumably almost any other) would have reacted much differently, taking the problems with more seriousness than this White House seems to. He worries that Obama “has lately so mishandled both domestic and foreign policy that he is in mortal peril of altering his image.” Better late than never, Richard.
And even Richard Cohen now agrees with so many rational Americans that the failure of Obamacare (along with the president’s disastrous performance regarding Syria) “help validate the once-frivolous Republican charges of incompetence. A competent president would beware.” It must have pained Cohen to write this almost as much as it pains his Post readers to read it.
It’s becoming a feeding frenzy.
If I may return to my original metaphor, it will take some time — but less time than the left expects — for the cracks in the Obama administration’s windshield to spread into the president’s approval ratings and, shortly afterwards, to boost Republican prospects in the 2014 elections. The Rasmussen Reports daily tracking poll of Obama’s job approval shows 23 percent “strongly approve” (versus 40 percent strongly disapprove) and 47 percent overall approval (versus 51 percent overall disapproval), representing substantial declines over the past two weeks and hovering near his lowest levels of the year. Gallup’s daily job approval survey has shown the president’s disapproval level exceeding his approval level consistently for the past month.
The increasing negativity about Obama and Obamacare is not yet influencing polls regarding the 2014 elections, in part because House Republicans came off looking so ineffective during the government shutdown. This will change soon, as the GOP works to make the election a referendum on those who supported an increasingly damaging and unpopular law.
The important change is not that Republicans will campaign against Obamacare, but that they suddenly have allies, albeit hesitant, unwilling, or unwitting, among “mainstream” media reporters and pundits. The Obamacare website fiasco may have caused the first ding in the windshield, but with even liberals — who used to serve as the president’s own chip repair kit — pounding on it now, the sound of the administration’s last bit of credibility crashing into thousands of sharp pieces cannot be far off.
[First Published by American Spectator]
One year ago [Tuesday], Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, killing more than 100 people and causing more than $50 billion in damage. Global warming activists and their media allies will spin the anniversary as a wake-up call to impose costly economic restrictions in the name of combating global warming. In reality, we should thank global warming for making hurricanes less frequent and less severe. Indeed, Hurricane Sandy may well have been much more deadly in the absence of global warming.
As an initial matter, we must keep in mind that hurricanes are nothing new. Hurricanes slammed the U.S. coast long before people drove SUVs and enjoyed the many benefits of affordable, coal-powered electricity. Nevertheless, global warming activists attempt to connect every hurricane, tornado, drought and flood to global warming, as if these are all new climatological events ushered in by our modern economy. We can easily determine whether global warming is having a substantial impact on such extreme weather events by examining historical records. If hurricanes and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe in recent decades, this is significant evidence that global warming may be making extreme weather worse.
Any way you measure it, however, global warming is having no impact or a beneficial impact on hurricanes. Objective National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show hurricanes are becoming less frequent as our climate warms. Atmospheric scientist and tropical cyclone climatologist Ryan Maue presents the data for all to see on his Policlimate website. The data show quite clearly that for as long as satellites have tracked global hurricane and tropical storm activity (since 1970), hurricane and tropical storm activity has been in steady decline.
Importantly, the declining trend in hurricanes is especially strong regarding major hurricanes. Major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) struck the United States 50 percent more often during the first half of the 20th century than in the decades since. (see Past Tracks of U.S. Landfalling Major Hurricanes) As our planet warms, the strongest hurricanes are the hurricanes in most striking decline. Indeed, the United States is currently experiencing its longest period in recorded history (since records began in 1850) without a major hurricane strike. It has been 8 years since a major hurricane struck the United States, blowing away the old record of 6 years, 2 months.
The trend is also striking regarding Northeast U.S. hurricanes. Major hurricanes routinely struck the U.S. Northeast during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. (see Past Tracks of U.S. Landfalling Major Hurricanes) From 1960 through 2010, however, just one major hurricane struck the U.S. Northeast. Hurricane Sandy brought merely 80 mph, Category 1 winds at its New Jersey landfall, which pales in comparison to prior hurricanes, such as Hurricane Carol which struck Long Island as a Category 3 hurricane in 1954. When people say, “We never used to have hurricane events like this here in the Northeast,” it is only because those people either weren’t alive or don’t remember the much stronger and more frequent Northeast hurricanes before our recent global warming.
Beyond the general hurricane trends, it is quite possible global warming had a very direct, beneficial impact on Hurricane Sandy. Scientists have documented that global warming has increased upper-atmospheric wind shear, which rips apart hurricanes before they can grow to major hurricanes. Without the global warming-induced increase in wind shear, Hurricane Sandy may well have grown to a more powerful hurricane with stronger winds and more substantial storm surge.
For global warming activists, uninformed media pundits and the weak of mind, Hurricane Sandy may well provide a convenient opportunity to sell a fictitious global warming hurricane crisis. For the rest of us, we should thank global warming for its beneficial impacts on hurricanes that save countless lives with each passing year.
[Originally published on Forbes]
Tesla’s once-Teflon Elon Musk, the adored Paypal/SpaceX/electric-car innovator who’s been showered with unmitigated media praise and highly inflated stock values, has another lithium ion battery fire to explain.
This one happened after a Model S crash in Mexico. The last one happened less than a month ago in Kent, Wash. Since then Tesla’s share price has fallen from $193.90 on Sept. 30 to $160.58 this afternoon. The irrational exuberance that made the electric automaker the darling of Wall Street has now become merely excitable, although still unjustifiably so. Even Musk himself told Bloomberg last week, “The stock price that we have is more than we have any right to deserve.”
While the fanboy fave exhibited a measure of humility about Tesla’s stock market prestige, the two fires have not moved the needle in that respect. The official stance the company took in both cases was, in essence, “we are glad the drivers did not die. Our safety features had a lot to do with that.”
It’s become obvious that nothing riles the nerves of top executives in the electric vehicle industry as much as lithium ion battery fires do. When Fisker Automotive faced similar incidents in Texas and California last year, the corporate spin emphasized how many miles its electric Karmas had traveled without such incidents, that fires happen in gas-powered cars too, and that nobody was hurt. Your garage may have burned down, but hey, at least you don’t have any hospital bills!
In the case of General Motors and fires in its Chevy Volt, both corporate and governmental authorities that have advocated electric vehicle adoption exhibited skittish behavior after such incidents. As NLPC colleague Mark Modica reported two years ago, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration waited six months to notify the public of a Chevy Volt that burst into flames three weeks after it was crash-tested. And in separate residential garage fires in Connecticut and North Carolina that involved Volts, GM deployed its own rapid respondersto investigate. Then…no conclusive findings from the investigations were reported afterward. Were the Volts the cause, or not?
In Barkhamsted, Conn., authorities ultimately cleared the homeowner’s Volt as the cause of the fire. Storm Connors, who also owned a Suzuki Samarai that he converted to electric as well, said a number of items could have been the culprit (electrical wiring, candles, discarded ashes, and oily rags were also in the garage).
“The Volt was ruled out as the cause both in the post-fire investigation and by the first responding firemen who observed the fire more intense on the left side of the garage — the Volt being on the right,” Mr. Connors told NLPC in an email.
“The investigators also did a thorough evaluation of the charging system for the Suzuki electric conversion and found no evidence of an electrical problem. No cause was officially determined. I do have my suspicions as to the cause, but I don’t think exposing my guesses would serve any purpose. For the record, I did purchase a replacement Volt which I keep in the rebuilt garage.”
The cause of the Nov. 2011 North Carolina garage fire was also a mystery, although Iredell Co. fire marshal Garland Cloer early-on said the Volt was unlikely the cause, based on his experience – not scientific observation. Nevertheless the incident was the subject of numerous studies that involved dozens of investigators from GM and various agencies and insurers. Over the past 20 months NLPC has periodically checked with Mr. Cloer about the findings, and finally last month he said via email the NC fire’s cause was also inconclusive:
“After a year of numerous joint investigations by electrical, mechanical engineers and fire investigators; we could not produce conclusive results as to the cause of the fire. Erie Insurance spent thousands of dollars on evidence storage and examination including x-raying approximately one hundred and fifty (150) forty-five (45) gallon plastic totes of fire debris from the garage floor. Any unexplained items and all electrical components in the totes were examined by hand for unusual activity.
“We modeled a potential scenario involving a charging system from a large hobby helicopter. The homeowner had connected a charging system with lithium-polymer batteries to the primary battery of a Nissan Armada, which was parked beside the Volt. The charging system connections were too short to reach the garage floor, so the homeowner pulled a fifty-five (55) plastic gallon trash can in front of the Nissan and placed the charger on the container. During the day of the fire, the homeowner removed and replaced an old set of box springs and mattress from a bonus room above the garage and placed the old sleep set in the garage in front of the Volt. The old set was to be disposed of the next day.
“A timeline of the events and data received from various sources including the Volt charging system and the Volt’s VICM ‘black box’ indicated that from the time the helicopter charging system was connected to the Nissan and the fire was visible and noticed by the neighbors there was sufficient enough time for the fire to start. Our unconfirmed theory was the that the helicopter charging system batteries failed and began to burn, igniting the plastic trash can and in turn the radiant heat from the trash can ignited the mattress and box spring which then ignited the surrounding combustibles in the garage.
“The helicopter charging system was in the Area of Origin of the fire, along with the Volt charging system and a central vacuum system (the plastic waste container mentioned above which was the dust storage for that vacuum system) and other components. This scenario was electronically modeled by one the private fire investigators and each time the model indicated that there was enough heat generation to cause complete destruction of the garage and its contents.
“The helicopter and charging system were purchased on line and assembled by the homeowner. After a long search, we were unable recreate the event because we could not locate a similar helicopter or charging system since the original devices were manufactured in China.
“This case has been closed by investigators and is ruled as ‘Undetermined.’”
For an outside opinion, NLPC turned again to Lewis Larsen of Chicago-based Lattice Energy, LLC, an expert who has examined and researched “thermal runaways” in advanced batteries used in many different functions, but especially in electric vehicles and in Boeing’s new (and troubled) Dreamliner jumbo jets. While he agreed the Volt might deserve to be absolved of blame in the North Carolina fire, he said lithium-based batteries do not:
“My personal opinion is that a battery runaway fire was absolutely the most likely proximate cause of the fire that destroyed the garage and contents,” Larsen told NLPC.
“As to whether it was the Chevy Volt battery pack or the lithium-polymer battery pack of the made-in-China model helicopter that was being charged, I would agree with Mr. Cloer that a thermal runaway of the helicopter battery pack that was being charged while resting on top of a 55 gallon plastic garbage can best fits the facts of the case. Of course, this does not prove that it WASN’T the Volt that did the deed, but it’s very likely that the Volt was innocent in this particular case….
“Low-end (as was probably used in the ‘large model helicopter’) inexpensive lithium-based batteries from China have had really bad safety records with respect to the frequency of thermal runaways,” he added.
The bottom line is that lithium-ion batteries, cheap or expensive, are susceptible to thermal runaways (i.e., “fires”) and are still deep in the trial stage when it comes to transportation functions such as automotive and aviation travel. Taxpayers, via the Obama administration’s “green” stimulus and other government tax breaks and subsidies, have been put on the hook to the tune of billions of dollars for the privilege of such experimentation.
Advocates like Elon Musk point to the Tesla incidents and say “a big chunk of metal” (Washington) or “big collision” (Mexico) caused the fires, and that gas-powered vehicles might have caught fire too. The difference with electric cars is that the lithium-ion batteries are enormous, and when they undergo stress, the heat from their fires burns extremely hot, and traditional suppressants do not work on them.
Back when he was flying high, Musk felt so good about himself that he intruded into Boeing’s business by offering help with the disastrous Dreamliner shutdown earlier this year. Calling Boeing’s lithium ion battery packs “inherently unsafe,” he boasted that neither Tesla or SpaceX ever had fires, despite “fly(ing) high-capacity lithium-ion battery packs in our rockets and spacecraft, which are subject to much higher loads than commercial aircraft and have to function all the way from sea level air pressure to vacuum.”
Two Model S fires in less than a month have knocked Musk down to earth, while Tesla’s stock has been brought back into this planet’s atmosphere. Despite the Volt findings and the Tesla causes, all is not right in the electric transportation sector and taxpayers ought not to be forced into financing the speculation.
[Originally published on the National Legal and Policy Center]
A new tax proposal on the ballot in Colorado designed to increase P-12 education funding could have wide ranging effects on both individual taxpayers and businesses in that state. The tax reform package, known as Amendment 66 is an income tax increase comprising of two tiers with higher income earners paying a higher rate. For the first tier, comprising of taxpayers with state-taxable income of $75,000 or less, the state income tax rate would increase from the current flat rate of 4.63 percent to 5 percent. Taxpayers with state-taxable income more than $75,000 would be charged at a higher rate, 5.9 percent.
In addition, the Amendment 66 tax reforms would require that 43 percent of the state’s budget be spent on education and not on other projects or programs. According to the Summit Daily News, Colorado’s state and school districts currently spend about $5.5 billion per year on school operating costs. The supporters of the plan contend the Amendment should raise about $950 million for Colorado schools while costing the average household around $133 per year.
ColoradoCommitstoKids.com, an organization supporting Amendment 66, argues that the additional revenue raised by the increased tax will dramatically improve school performance and allow for new teachers to be hired and new programs to be offered. Coupled with earlier reforms from Senate Bill 213, the increased tax would allow for more funds to be move toward disadvantaged districts, while funding full-day kindergarten. These plans will not be fully funded if the Amendment does not pass. The Colorado Legislative Council questions these numbers, contending that the plans will really cost $1.12 billion with lawmakers needing to fill the funding gap next year.
Critics of the Amendment argue that the tax increase, portrayed by proponents as a tax on the wealthy, actually has a wider effect on all taxpayers. According to Americans for Tax Reform, Amendment 66 represents a 27 percent increase in the top income tax rate. They argue that the tax will not only raise tax on all workers, but the increase will also be imposed on thousands of Colorado small businesses.
While conventional wisdom would lead most to believe that the corporate income tax is the primary means of taxation for small business, in many instances these businesses actually pay through the personal income tax. Liz Malm, an economist at the Tax Foundation explains:
“A majority of firms within Colorado are what we call “pass-throughs” because their business income tax is ‘passed through’ to individual owner, rather than paid by the actual business entity itself. According to a 2011 Ernst and Young study, 95 percent of firms in Colorado are pass-throughs. Amendment 66 would raise taxes on all of them.”
Examining IRS date, ATR found that 417,698 small businesses in Colorado filed under the individual income tax system in 2011 and that when S-Corps & partnerships that pay the individual income tax are included, upwards of approximately 550,000 Colorado small businesses bear the tax increase. The Tax Foundation also points to a 2011 report from Ernst & Young LLC that found that 57 percent of private sector employment in Colorado was created by pass-through entities.
The tax reforms proposed in Amendment 66 would have wide ranging effects that could slow job creation and hinder economic development. The increased tax would hit small businesses at a time when additional taxes would hit the hardest. Small businesses remain the engines of any economy and it is not wise to place a new tax burden on them. This proposal is highly unpopular with Colorado small businesses, a September 2013 poll from the National Federation of Independent Business found that 96 percent of Colorado’s small business sector was opposed to Amendment 66.
Instead of increasing taxes to fund education, Colorado should consider tax reform that lowers tax rates for both businesses and individuals that stimulates the economy and creates additional tax revenue for schools. Increasing funding for education does not always create positive results. Fundamental reforms that encourage competition while empower parents and children are also needed. School vouchers and education tax credits allow funding to follow the child and give parents additional choice over their child’s education, all while reducing costs over the current system.
The Heartland Institute’s Author Series hosted Mark Rhoads on October 30 to promote the release of his much acclaimed book, Land of Lincoln: Thy Wondrous Story. This book is the first in 40 years to give a detailed historical account of Illinois’ history. Mark Rhodes served as a former Illinois Senator and was also a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. He served as the President of the Illinois State Society in Washington, D.C. and as President of the National Conference of State Societies.
Land of Lincoln explores the vibrant Illinois history on two tracks, the first, exploring the history of the Illinois State Society in Washington, D.C., and second, what was going on back home in Illinois’ politics and culture. He explains that the book highlights the three cities of: Chicago, Springfield and Washington, D.C. Rhoads reminds us that the Windy City is known for more than its infamous hot air blowing politicians. Illinois was the host to the monumental Colombian Exposition, better known as the World’s Fair, which occurred just 22 years after the Great Chicago Fire.
As we approach the bi-centennial of Illinois in 2018, Rhoads stresses the imperative of state history to be taught in the education system. Currently, Texas is the only state that requires state history to be taught. The important of learning history, Rhoads says, is to learn from the past and not have history negatively repeat itself. Just as in 2008 when then Governor Rod Blagojevech was convicted of attempting to sell Senator Obama’s Senate seat, the same event had happened 100 years before. In 1909, Senator William Lorimer had paid to secure his re-election seat, and, after being convicted, bribed two juries to acquit him. This historic event led to the changing of the Constitution which stated that Senators are to only be elected by direct popular vote.
Land of Lincoln: Thy Wondrous Story reminds us that there’s no time like the present for students and Illinois citizens to immerse themselves in the rich history of our state.[Editor's note: The public is welcome to attend Heartland's Author Series events located at One East Wacker, in Chicago's Loop. Tickets and event information can be found on our website here.]
According to “Crazifornia: How California is Destroying Itself and Why It Matters to America”, about 150,000 Californians have been fleeing the state each year of late. “In fact,” wrote Laer Pearce, “Los Angeles alone has lost more households than New York, Miami, and, incredibly, the economically decimated city of Detroit…combined.”
The tide of traffic leaving the state is likely to increase. According to a news release from Earthjustice, one of the innumerable environmental organizations bent on destroying every form of energy that has fueled the growth of the American economy, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has “finalized a groundbreaking decision to build innovative high-tech energy storage systems that will lead California toward a future of clean, renewable energy and away from dependence on fossil fuels.”
You remember fossil fuels, oil, natural gas, and coal. The “clean, renewable” energies are wind and solar because, of course, the sun shines all the time and the wind blows all the time. Or not.
By definition, energy “storage systems” can use mechanical, chemical, or thermal processes to store energy; these processes range from battery technologies to energy storage within compressed air or molten salt. If that sounds bizarre, it is.
According to Will Rostov, an Earthjustice attorney, “Clean, renewable energy sources will shape our future, whether the dirty antiquated fossil fuels industry likes it or not, so it’s excellent to see California getting there first. It took years by environmental advocates and state regulators to reach this point.”
Actually, Europe has been there for some time now. In England’s Yorkshire Dales, they’re tearing down four wind turbines that have been around for twenty years and “have not worked in years.” Indeed, across Europe there is a lot of buyer’s remorse for having embraced wind and solar. As Marc Morano, the editor ofClimateDepot.com, noted in an October 17 article, “Wind and solar mandates are breaking Europe’s electric utilities.”
“Last week the CEOs of Europe’s ten largest utilities finally cried uncle and called for a halt to wind and solar subsidies. Short of that, they want subsidies of their own. They want to be paid, in essence, not to produce power.” Thanks to mandates to use electricity from wind and solar Europe’s energy costs increased 17% for consumers and 21% for industry in the last four years.
California, in addition to requiring comparable use of wind and solar power while pushing to close coal-fired plants and keep some nuclear plants shuttered, will require its utilities to purchase 1.3 megawatts of “energy storage” power by 2020.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that “The first-in-a-nation mandate is expected to spur innovation in emerging storage technologies, from batteries to flywheels. Once large quantities of energy can be stored, the electric grid can make better use of solar, wind and other technologies that generate sporadically rather than in a steady flow, and can better manage disruptions from unpredictable events such as storms and wildfires.”
This is another very expensive Green pipedream that, like other California initiatives, would prove impossible to achieve and will be abandoned or ignored.
Since neither wind nor solar produce electricity in a steady, predictable fashion that enables utilities to ensure a flow of electricity to consumers, “energy storage” is the new, idiotic, alternative way of providing electricity that has been in effect since Edison first invented the turbines to produce it.
There is, simply put, no reason to require “energy storage” if “dirty, antiquated fossil fuels” were used. Wind and solar provide just over 3% of the electricity used in the U.S.
According to the Western Region Deputy Director of the Sierra Club, Evan Gillespie, “Fossil fuels like natural gas are a dead end for the people of California, the power companies, and the entire planet.” If you listened to Strela Cervas, Coordinator at the California Environmental Justice Alliance, fossil fuel use is a conspiracy against “low income communities and communities of color overburdened by pollution, in particular from power plants. California does not need any new gas-fired power plants.”
Those low income communities might not agree, along with all the rest of the Californians, in the wake of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. While California strives to save the state from a warming that has not been occurring for more than 15 years, the new mandate that 33% of the state’s energy come from wind and solar is estimated to cost $114 billion, all of which will come out of the pockets of energy consumers.
According to Pearce, “Legislators, regulators, lawyers and environmentalists have driven up the cost of doing business in the Golden State until it has become 30% greater than in the neighboring states.” The result of 40 years of anti-business (and anti-energy) policy has caused a decline in the state’s standard of living. “California’s median household income plummeted by 9%–nearly twice the national average between 2006 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
This is the kind of environmental insanity that has been at work at the federal level since Obama was elected in 2008. Billions have been lost in loans to wind and solar companies that went bankrupt within months and years. Think Solyndra. Now apply that same insanity to the whole of the nation as the administration continues its “war on coal” and actually laments the growing access to natural gas and oil due to hydraulic fracking technology.
The U.S. will produce more oil than Saudi Arabia this year. It has several centuries’ worth of affordable coal, scads of natural gas, and could expand its nuclear power generation if it wanted.
California is leading the way as it drives out its citizens and businesses, leaving behind only those too poor to leave; those dependent on a range of welfare programs that “redistribute” money from “the rich” and the middle class. They are turning the entire state into Detroit.
It is a war on the provision of electricity; the lifeblood of the nation’s capacity to function.
Solar systems are being installed at hundreds of schools across the United States. Educators use solar panels to teach students about the “miracle” of energy sourced from the sun. But a closer look at these projects shows poor economics and a big bill for citizens.
Earlier this month, the National Resources Defense Fund (NRDC) launched its “Solar Schools” campaign, an effort to raise $54,000 to help “three to five to-be-determined schools move forward with solar rooftop projects.” The NRDC wants to “help every school in the country go solar.” The campaign uses a cute video featuring kids talking about how we’re “polluting the Earth with gas and coal” and how we can save the planet with solar.
Wisconsin is a leader in the solar school effort. More than 50 Wisconsin high schools have installed solar panels since 1996 as part of the SolarWise® program sponsored by Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), a state utility. The program solicits donations and provides funds to schools to install photovoltaic solar systems. The WPS website praises the program, stating, “The best way to leave a healthy planet for future generations is by teaching young people to become good stewards of the environment.”
But one has to question the utility of solar panels in Wisconsin, a state beset by low sunlight levels and ample winter snowfall. Last summer, solar panels were installed at Mishicot High School, the 50th school in the SolarWise® program, at a cost of $30,000. The panels save the school about $300 per year in electric bills. With a 100-year payback, this system would never be installed by anyone seeking an economic return on investment. Are they teaching economics at Mishicot High?
In Illinois, Lake Zurich Middle School South installed a five-panel one-kilowatt photovoltaic system in August. The Lake Zurich Courier provided the headline, “Lake Zurich, Vernon Hills schools save with solar power.” The panels will save the school a little over $100 per year in electricity charges at a system cost of almost $9,000, a project payback of more than 70 years.
While the school may be saving, Illinois citizens are paying. Ninety percent of project funding came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, which was established by a $225 million grant from Commonwealth Edison in 1999, provided from the electricity bills of Illinois citizens.
In Southwest Florida, 90 schools are installing 5- to 10-kilowatt solar arrays to “reduce energy costs and provide a learning opportunity” as part of Florida Power and Light’s “Solar for Schools” initiative. Panels cost from $50,000 to $80,000 and save electricity worth about $600 to $1,000 per year, depending upon the size of the system. With a 70- to 80-year payback, these projects will never pay off, because solar cells need to be replaced after 25 years of operation. Will they teach that to the kids? The program is funded from an energy conservation fee on customer electricity bills.
Solar energy is dilute. When the sun is directly overhead on a clear day, about 1,000 watts of sunshine reaches each square meter of Earth’s surface at the equator after absorption and scattering by the atmosphere. For the southern US, this is reduced to about 800 watts per square meter, since the angle of the sunlight is not quite perpendicular. Solar cells convert about 15 percent of the energy to electricity, meaning that only a single 100-watt bulb can be powered from every card-table-sized surface area of a solar panel, and only at noon on a clear day.
Los Angeles Community College (LACC) adopted solar energy in a big way. One of seven LACC solar systems is the Northwest Parking Lot Solar Farm, installed in 2008. The farm was purchased at a price of $10 million to produce about one megawatt of rated power, a price more than five times the cost of a commercial wind turbine farm on a per-megawatt basis. LACC spent a whopping $33 million to reduce electricity bills by only $600,000 per year. The total cost, including government subsidies, was $44 million to California taxpayers.
Solar energy has excellent uses, such as powering call boxes along highways, or swimming pool heating. But it’s trivial in our overall energy picture. Despite 20 years, billions in state and federal subsidies, and warm, happy solar school programs, solar provided only 1.1 percent of US electricity and only 0.2 percent of US energy in 2012.
Suppose our schools get back to the study of physics and economics and drop the “solar will save the planet” ideology?
[Originally published at the Washington Times]