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‘War on Public Education’ focuses more on preserving public system than education

Out of the Storm News - October 14, 2014, 2:09 PM

In case you missed it, the beleaguered Alabama Education Association does not like public school choice. The AEA has referred to the Alabama Accountability Act, which created a tax credit scholarship program in the state, as part of a “war on public education by the privatizers and those who wish to destroy public education and public educators.”

Most of the American public-education establishment tends to despise charter schools, vouchers, education tax credits and a wide variety of education programs that create more education alternatives with public dollars. They are so upset that they have declared war.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten thinks the emergence of education as a top political issue is largely on account of public reaction to recent “market-based reforms, the top-down reforms, the testing and sanctioning.”

Weingarten has one perspective, but I am willing to bet that more than a few Americans are taking a closer look at education because our nation is falling behind. That is not due to recent reforms, but rather, a result of a historical lack of them.

The problem with the “war on public education” is that the emphasis is more on “public” than it is on “education.” The opposition to education reform is focused on preserving an established public system rather than opening up access to different ways of educating children.

Notice the use of the word “different.” I am a huge fan of school-choice programs, because they give parents options, not because they are, by their nature, superior.

We know that Alabama has some fantastic public schools and some that are failing the children who attend. Private schools run the gamut as well. The main difference is that a private school with a 70 percent graduation rate probably will not be around too long.

We are going to spend tax dollars, and a lot of them, on public education. The bigger question is whether those funds are dedicated to empowering parents to effectively educate their children or funding a baseline public education system.

The answer is between the proverbial trenches. Traditional public education has tremendous merit because it provides a system of education for everyone. It creates an important barrier to an uneducated society and a true safety net for children whose parents refuse to engage in their education. In Alabama, we need to learn and repeat the successes of our best public schools, particularly our high-poverty, high-performing Torchbearer Schools.

At the same time, parents should have public options for their children. If parents believe a charter or private school is a better choice for their child, why should they be prevented from using public resources to pursue that option? Prior to school-choice programs, pursuing such options was limited to those wealthy enough pay for them on top of their tax bill. If the state’s interest in having educated citizens is met, where that education is received should be irrelevant. Why not create more options for the average Alabamian?

In politics, declaring an ideological “war” is particularly fashionable, but it is also destructive if it means that people feel so pinned down in their respective trenches that they never take the time to stick their heads up and realize no one is shooting at them.

Alabama needs a strong traditional public education system, but it also needs publicly-supported education alternatives. We can either be mired in a “war on public education,” or we can be open to all options that could better educate children in Alabama.

Emails show ‘cozy’ ties between EPA, environmental group over power-plant rules, senator says

Environment Suite - In The News - October 14, 2014, 12:51 PM
In this July 1, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in in Colstrip, Mont. (AP) Newly released…

Emails show ‘cozy’ ties between EPA, environmental group over power-plant rules, senator says

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - October 14, 2014, 12:51 PM
In this July 1, 2013, file photo, smoke rises from the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal burning power plant in in Colstrip, Mont. (AP) Newly released…

Cornyn smokes patent trolls out from their bridge

Out of the Storm News - October 14, 2014, 9:00 AM

Most children who’ve heard the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff know that if an ugly, parasitic troll comes out to get you, the best thing to do is to bide your time until your bigger, stronger sibling can knock him off the bridge with a well-placed set of horns.

Unfortunately, there’s one kind of troll that can’t be speared on the horns of more powerful competition, and that’s the patent troll. That sort of troll has a lobbyist, you see, who’ll make sure that bridges come equipped with goat-proof safety railings.

Fortunately, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, seems to be putting in an audition to act not only as the third Billy Goat Gruff, but to rip up the metaphorical bridge under which patent trolls hide. Cornyn recently vowed to resurrect anti-patent troll legislation (which failed to clear the Senate this year, despite bipartisan support) in the next Congress, in the increasingly likely-looking event that Republicans gain control of the Senate this November:

“I don’t think we’re ever going to end [the business of patent litigation], but what we can do is close some of the gaps…loopholes that allow for frivolous patent suits,” Cornyn told VentureBeat in an interview after a patent reform panel at Austin Startup Week. He added that this doesn’t apply to all patent holders, saying: “I firmly believe people have a right to litigate, and should, on patents that add value [when infringement occurs.]“

In an amusing twist, despite Cornyn’s legislation relying on Republican control, it arguably unites conservatives with some of the more liberal members of the Democratic Party. When the bill was still under consideration in the current Senate, Cornyn worked with none other than liberal firebrand Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to draft compromise legislation.

So why didn’t this left-right alliance shatter its opposition? Why, the only reason most sensible legislation in Washington fails – because interest groups happen to have the phone number of powerful people, in this case Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. As Politico reported, the compromise effort “frayed as universities and other major patent holders argued the measure would have negative consequences for the patent system,” adding that:

Reid…played a decisive, behind-the-scenes role in the legislation’s fate, according to sources on and off the Hill. Reid told [Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick] Leahy he could not put the bill on the floor given the opposition from trial lawyers, pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology giants, the sources said. Reid’s office did not comment for this story.

Those looking for a self-parodying instance of tone deafness in the establishment Democratic Party need look no further than this story. Apparently, the mere mention of tort reform is enough to sink a bill in the minds of politicians like Reid. Let’s not even mention the irony that Reid allowed Big Pharma to kill the bill, despite belonging to a party that allegedly wants to end abuses in the health care system.

And let’s be clear: There is no issue of principle over intellectual property at the heart of this fight. Patent trolling is the sort of practice that gives intellectual property a bad name, and savvy defenders of IP realize this. Both Microsoft (a generally hawkish actor in the IP space) and Google (a generally dovish one) agreed on the need to reform the patent system so that the sort of abuse trolls specialize in would become more difficult, if not impossible. In fact, both companies were signatories on a letter to precisely this effect. For an example of how patent trolling works through abuse of the tort system, this example from the same panel where Cornyn made his remarks illustrates the problem very well:

“We have a free app in the app store and [someone] sued us for millions of dollars because they said their patent covered ‘rotating a cellphone app,’” said Rackspace VP of intellectual property Van Lindberg, who participated in the panel with Sen. Cornyn. “Well, we called them up and said this is completely bogus and we’re going to fight it. And before we could even get the words out of our mouths, they followed up to say ‘… and we’ll go away for $70,000.’”

In other words, patent trolling is more akin to the iconic image of a Mafia hit man who ends his sentence with “pity if anything were to happen to you” than to any sort of earnest defense of IP. And despite its moral turpitude, it’s a lucrative business. Since 2010, patent trolls have made three times as much money in court as real companies (i.e., companies that actually use the patents they own), earning median damages of $8.5 million through the court system, compared with $2.5 million for their real competitors.

Killing this kind of practice should be common sense. Unfortunately, because trial lawyers have a lucrative cash cow in patent trolling, the ruthless logic of donor relations means that it can probably only be stopped by Republicans, despite bipartisan opposition to the practice.

Either way, here’s hoping that John Cornyn gets to run these particular trolls out from under their bridge, before any other innovators try to go “trip, trap, trip, trap” over it and get tripped and trapped by these unrepentant abusers of the patent system.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

A welcome message from R Street’s Governance Project

Out of the Storm News - October 14, 2014, 8:00 AM

The R Street Institute this month launched the Governance Project, an effort to assess and improve the state of America’s system of national self-governance, with particular attention to Congress.

The need for such inquiry should be obvious: our federal republic is showing signs of dyspepsia, if not outright dysfunction. National public policy issues, such as immigration reform, remain in a perpetual state of deadlock. Various government agencies, such as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Defense have been exposed with scandals and management failures. The national economy also continues to sputter while the nation’s debts and deficits remain extraordinarily high.

Why focus on Congress? To be certain, there are a variety of non-congressional factors that might be investigated for their relationship to America’s current governance problems. Single-member voting districts, “too much money in politics,” political polarization and politicians’ bad intentions are just a few of the causes commonly fingered.

We contend that focusing on Congress makes the most sense. The U.S. Constitution assigns Congress the most fundamental powers of governance, such as establishing currency and fixing its value, regulating economic activity among the states and with other nations, declaring war, taxing the public and spending those funds. The Governance Project will take an institutional approach to the problem, focusing on how Congress does what it does.

The signs that Congress is struggling to fulfill its duties are plentiful. Once again, a president is poised to engage America in a war without congressional authorization. Key posts in the executive and judicial branch go unfilled because nominees languish in the Senate. Precious congressional time is squandered on political posturing rather than lawmaking. And Congress itself only appears for work at the Capitol a few days per week, and went out of session in mid-September to run for office.

Unsurprisingly, the public holds Congress in historically abysmal regard: only 14 percent of the public currently approve of Congress’s performance.

The good news is that Congress can repair itself. Per the Constitution, the House and Senate each may “determine the rules of its proceedings.” Congress may enact a statute to structure its operations as a whole, which is something it has done in the past.

Accordingly, the Governance Project will examine some of the ways current congressional practices and rules affect its ability to govern. Topics that might be taken up include: are current Senate rules regarding, say, non-germane amendments, in need of change? Do the 1970 Legislative Reorganization Act or 1974 Congressional Budget Act need to be revised? How can current congressional actions to oversee and upgrade the operations of the federal government be improved? Can parties and organizations within Congress improve its governance? And, more fundamentally, what are the roles of Congress and individual legislators in 21st-century America?

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we have a republic…if we can keep it. Congress, the first branch of government, is the center of that system. The nation’s well-being requires a well-functioning national legislature, and the Governance Project aims to help Congress to help itself.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Washington-area appointments and promotions for Oct. 13

Out of the Storm News - October 13, 2014, 12:51 PM

From the Washington Post:

The R Street Institute of the District appointed Kevin Kosar senior fellow and governance project director.

Heartland Daily Podcast: Mike Nasi – EPA Clean Air Regulations

Somewhat Reasonable - October 13, 2014, 12:44 PM

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

Find the best 'net neutrality'

Tech Suite - In The News - October 13, 2014, 10:17 AM
By Kevin O’Connor Twenty years ago, I helped build the infrastructure for online advertising so that anyone, anywhere, can access the world’s information free…

Find the best 'net neutrality'

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - October 13, 2014, 10:17 AM
By Kevin O’Connor Twenty years ago, I helped build the infrastructure for online advertising so that anyone, anywhere, can access the world’s information free…

Gov. Brown forces AB 2616 to walk the plank

Out of the Storm News - October 13, 2014, 10:00 AM

California’s workers’ compensation system is a political flashpoint that attracts the interest of labor, management, attorneys and insurers. Last session, a skirmish about expanding the scope of workers’ compensation ended in the prudent exercise of Gov. Brown’s veto power. Unexpectedly, the skirmish provides an excellent reason to discuss pirates! Not the modern pirates who stand ever-ready to plunder the system, but classic Arrrrr-style sailing pirates.

Men that toiled under the Jolly Roger did so outside of the law. As a result, a conventional civil justice system was unavailable to them. To ensure that those injured on the job were appropriately compensated, and to maintain the esprit de corps necessary to continue their dangerous work, pirates were the first to introduce and enjoy the benefits of something like a workers’ comp system.

As the name suggests, workers’ compensation provides restitution to workers for injuries they sustain in the course of employment. The system operates on the notion that no fault is necessary for an employer to incur the expense of paying for an injury suffered by an employee while on the job.

Pirates apportioned recompense according to the severity of the sacrifice made. An arm was worth more than a finger. According to the same principle, “handedness”, the dominance of one hand over another, was factored into compensation. Losing a left arm was considered less severe than losing a right arm. (Interestingly, left legs were less valuable than right legs).

In the decades since the days of fully rigged sailing ships and that sort of piracy, the need for workers’ comp has not diminished. In the United States, all states but Texas and (as of 2013) Oklahoma require companies with three or more to carry workers’ compensation insurance. A balance between workers’ comp and civil remedies has evolved over time.

Because no-fault workers’ comp ensures that employees injured at work receive compensation, a direct nexus between work and an injury is crucial to maintaining the actuarial integrity of the workers’ comp insurance market.

The rare exceptions in which an injury or disorder experienced away from work is considered work-related are misleadingly named “rebuttable presumptions.” In spite of their name, these presumptions require that an extraordinary evidentiary standard is met to demonstrate that an injury is not work related. In practice, a rebuttable presumption often is irrefutable.

Still, in certain limited cases, the California Legislature has seen fit to provide a narrow subset of professions, often publicly employed public safety-related professions, with rebuttable presumptions that define injuries arising as a result of their job (for instance, cancer, pneumonia and Lyme’s disease). By flipping the burden of proof, presumptions add huge expense to the workers’ comp system.

Authored by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, A.B. 2616 sought to create a rebuttable presumption that hospital employees who contract methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) do so while on the job. This was Skinner’s fourth attempt at providing rebuttable presumptions to hospital employees, though this attempt was less broad in its scope than some of the previous efforts.

Seen most charitably, seeking a rebuttable presumption for hospital employees presumes that the workers’ comp system currently fails to adequately compensate workers that contract MRSA. Curiously, no evidence, beyond anecdote, was offered to demonstrate the existence of such a compensation gap.

A less-charitable analysis is that the bill was introduced to provide horizontal uniformity between well-organized health and safety professions. Whatever the authentic motivation, the implication of A.B. 2516 was clear. The bill expanded the universe of professions eligible for rebuttable presumptions, and the reasons for that eligibility.

The Legislature saw fit to pass the bill along more-or-less predictable partisan lines. In Gov. Brown’s veto message, he expressed fears that extending presumptions about specific industrial risks to the private sector would create a bad precedent. He does not believe that rebuttable presumptions belong in the private sector.

Brown’s reasoning deserves some attention. There are competing rationales when it comes to the expansion of presumptions. The first is predicated on the notion that professions should receive special legislative treatment because of the nature of the peril they face and the difficulty associated with demonstrating how that peril leads to injury. Under this rationale, specific hard-to-demonstrate perils militate toward special treatment. Thus, it is simple to understand why Skinner believes that health-care workers are deserving of a rebuttable presumption.

Alternatively, if the rationale for a rebuttable presumption tracks more closely with the special nature of the work itself – publicly employed safety professions – then offering rebuttable presumptions to private sector workers is inappropriate.

The reason that conflict over the applicability of rebuttable presumptions will continue in legislative sessions to come is that the original intent of rebuttable presumptions has been made malleable by time. Unmoored from history, the expansion rationales have been made to stand as arguments on their own.

The policy question has been recast and the result will determine whether the costly and smothering social safety net applies ever more broadly to private industry.

Fundamentally, which system is more desirable? One that grants, more often than not, automatic payment on the basis of risk, or one that recognizes that specific jobs are in need of special consideration? At the risk of mixing metaphors, with their noses under the tent and short of a gubernatorial veto, is there any stopping the pirates?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

FCC Plans Stealth Internet Tax Increase

Tech Suite - In The News - October 13, 2014, 9:57 AM
American politicians of all stripes clearly see and oppose the abuses of the Internet abroad. But our government officials are not aware that the Federal…

FCC Plans Stealth Internet Tax Increase

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - October 13, 2014, 9:57 AM
American politicians of all stripes clearly see and oppose the abuses of the Internet abroad. But our government officials are not aware that the Federal…

Confined Dinesh D’Souza Speaks to Chicago Event via Skype

Somewhat Reasonable - October 13, 2014, 9:21 AM

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

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

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

Probate sentence now in force

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

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

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

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

 D’Souza speaks via Skype

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

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

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

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

Envy drives Obama

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

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

Are Republicans ready to fight?

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

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

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

[First published at Illinois Review.]

Categories: On the Blog

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

Out of the Storm News - October 13, 2014, 9:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

How the Wind Production Tax Credit undermines wind power

Out of the Storm News - October 13, 2014, 8:00 AM

U.S. renewable-energy policy is largely defined by mandates and subsidies that maintain an artificial market for investment and generation. Heavy dependence on government creates significant vulnerability for the sector and risks an eventual collapse of the industry, as we have seen in parts of Europe.

Given the collapse of investment in wind when the credit expired last year, it’s obvious that, at this point, a real and significant market for wind power simply does not exist. As Warren Buffet, who has significant electricity generation holdings, explained so well: “on wind energy, we get a tax credit…That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

If the private sector won’t build wind turbines without the credit, it’s time for America to rethink its approach to wind power and renewable energy in general. To start, Congress should abandon the idea of reviving the federal Wind Production Tax Credit, because it actually undermines efforts to make wind competitive.

That statement may seem odd to many. We have heard renewable advocates and their political allies argue countless times that America should simply continue mandates and subsidies, including the PTC, until renewables become truly competitive. But this does nothing to address the fundamental reason why investors like Mr. Buffet don’t actually want to invest their own money in wind power. Renewable-energy systems today cannot provide reliable electricity to homes 24 hours a day, or even to factories for eight hours a day.

Grid operators simply cannot count on the wind blowing or the sun shining when electricity demand is high. Because of their intermittency, renewables require other generation – coal, natural gas or nuclear – to back them up. If a utility has to maintain backup generation that can produce power when the wind isn’t blowing, why would that utility need wind turbines that only work part time at all? Perhaps the better question is, why should taxpayers pay for both when only the backup is needed? Would the average consumer buy a car or a washing machine that only worked part of the time?

That is not to argue that wind does not have a future in America’s electricity mix. There are strong public policy reasons why government should work to put wind power on track to become a generation source that the private sector chooses, without the mandates and subsidies. This transition depends largely on a breakthrough in energy storage technology that could provide baseload attributes to renewables, including wind (i.e., producing electricity 24/7). Such a program would cost billions of dollars in research and development, a cost that is too great for government alone. Private-sector investment is also needed, including the billions of dollars at Mr. Buffet’s disposal.

Current policies like the wind PTC actually deter private-sector investment, thereby undermining the goals that these good-intentioned policies seek to achieve. The PTC rewards wind farm operators a $23 credit per MWh for producing electricity regardless of market demand. This incentive is especially problematic, because the wind blows mostly at night when people are asleep and factories are idle – when demand for power is at its lowest.

Without the PTC, the majority of wind farm operators would turn off their turbines at night to avoid paying congestion charges to the grid. Losing that revenue would create an incentive for operators to invest in storage technology that could store the electricity and allow it to be sold during the day. As long as the congestion charge is less than any tax credit benefit, wind farms will continue to dump their power on the grid, pay the charge and pocket the government-created profit.

The success of the wind PTC in promoting investment has enabled the build-out of more than 60 GW capacity of wind power, plus another 12 GW in the pipeline. With more than 70 GWs of wind capacity, the United States should now have a critical mass of private-sector investment that can be leveraged to support research and development in storage technology. But if the wind PTC is renewed, we can count on wind farm operators to act rationally: why should they invest in a technology that would enable their power to be sold when the market wants it, when they already receive a tax credit that allows them to sell at a loss and still make money?

Advocates for wind should be pushing for an increase in government research and development funds to accelerate the development and commercialization of energy storage technology – a breakthrough that would reduce the vulnerability of renewables to shifts in government policy. They should also seek rational policies that maximize the flow of private sector dollars into storage. However, wind promoters, in particular, don’t want to acknowledge publicly that they need storage technology, because doing so would be an admission that wind technology is not competitive or reliable on its own.

That’s unfortunate. The United States would benefit substantially from competitive wind power and energy storage. Giving more money to the Warren Buffets of the world to build wind turbines that only work part of the time does little to advance U.S. energy security or air-quality goals. It only creates countless future graveyards of towering, rusting wind turbines scattered across the United States that will eventually cost billions of dollars to dismantle and throw in a waste dump.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Metropolitan Housing: More Space, Large Lots

Somewhat Reasonable - October 12, 2014, 12:09 PM

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

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

Increase in Detached Housing

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

Smaller Increase in Multi-Family Housing

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

Larger Houses, Larger Lots

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

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

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

Planning and Preferences

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

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

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

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

[Originally published at New Geography]


Categories: On the Blog

Taiwan High Speed Rail Near Bankruptcy

Somewhat Reasonable - October 12, 2014, 11:20 AM

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

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

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

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


[Originally published at New Geography]

Categories: On the Blog

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

Somewhat Reasonable - October 11, 2014, 10:31 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: On the Blog

Time for Travel Caution in Dealing with Ebola Outbreak

Somewhat Reasonable - October 11, 2014, 12:00 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

Common Core Proponents Blame Their Victims

Blog - Education - October 11, 2014, 10:59 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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