On the Blog
I was fortunate to have wrestled under Bill Koll for three years at Penn State. I say fortunate not because of the beating I took on the mats with my 1-4 career record – we weren’t as good as we are now under Cael Sanderson, but we always were a top 10 dual meet team and dominated the east, in spite of fierce opposition from the likes of Lehigh and Navy – but because wrestling under Coach Koll and assistant Andy Matter re-enforced the values I learned from my parents. The child of strict Italian parents, my first year or two at Penn State was like a kid being released into a candy shop whose never had a sweet before. I almost flunked out of school, but once I went out for wrestling, my grades shot up as the discipline returned. I quickly understood that if you want something you have to work for it. It also showed me why athletics can be a huge aid in education if done right. A big lesson for me: If you want something and someone is smarter or stronger than you, you have to outwork them to even have a chance.
“Koll began his wrestling career in high school, winning the state title in 1941.
“After World War II, in which he participated in the Battle of the Bulge and D-Day, Koll dominated the 145 pound and 147.5 pound weight divisions. In 1946, 1947, and 1948, he was the NCAA national champion for his division. Koll was also named the NCAA Tournament Outstanding Wrestler in 1947 and 1948. He ended his career with a 72-0 record.
“Koll was one of only of five UNI wrestlers to have competed in Olympic games. In the 1948 games, held in London, England, Koll placed fifth.”
Most Penn State wrestlers have their favorite Bill Koll story. Mine is a little known one. I called him up about a week before Christmas one year to check up on him. He was excited to talk me. “Joe, I just got through making the most expensive doll house ever… It’s a three thousand dollar doll house.” (For his granddaughter).
My response: “Coach, how do you know it’s a three thousand dollar doll house?”
“Because that’s the hospital cost when you chop off some of your fingers.”
He liked to call himself “Sweet Ole Bill,” or if you preferred, S.O.B. for short.
To this very day, in spite of our fierce rivalry with Cornell, I remain friends with his son Rob, who is now their coach. In fact many of the people at Weatherbell.com are Cornell grads. I still want our guys to beat the tar out of any Cornell wrestler that happens to show his face on a mat across from a PSU wrestler.
Coach Koll (my coach Koll) used to have a saying: “If you had a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts,” you would have done this or that. In today’s world, that seems like a cruel admonishment, but he would say it about himself too. Something minor would happen and he would say, “Well if I had a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts, I would have done this.” It was never guts OR smarts – always guts and smarts.
Where is this leading? I think, regarding the climate issue, objective journalists today need to have an old school “lick of guts and an ounce of smarts” when reporting on this. (There are those that are beyond objective.)
First: You should not be reporting on “climate change.” The climate is always in a state of change. There have been glaciers in New York City, and most of what is now our most densely populated areas of the East Coast as well as the fertile lower Mississippi Valley was under water at one time. Right off the bat you should be asking, “Well, why is 4 -8 inches of sea level rise in 100-150 years a big deal compared to what has actually happened?” Alarmists said global warming. They own it. And journalists should make them own up to it. Why in the world are you letting them get away with switching horses mid-stream – climate change is obvious and natural – and not holding their feet to the fire?
Second: You should do the work yourself to see what is going on. The journalists of the ’70s and ’80s understood their job was to question authority, not obey it. I think part of the problem is that some of the great journalism of those days past made stars out of journalist. This granted them access to some of the glitter of stardom, and in a way, became a perk that many are seduced by today. I don’t know if it’s intentional. The current governor of Ohio, John Kasich, once told me to never let being on TV get in the way of what you are really made to do. (I used to love Saturday nights when he asked me to be on his show “Heartland.”) He said it can be seductive. I pooh poohed it for awhile, but then started noticing that if there were stretches no one asked me to be on, I started getting mad. He was right. Being in the media can be seductive.
Third: You are supposed to be liberal in the true sense of the word. That is akin to being able tothink with your head and pursue with your heart, and to do that you need a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts. Use the head first – not the heart! Being sheeplike is not the answer for a journalist. They go where they are told without thinking twice about it. Is this what journalism has become? I am not advocating you being wolves; perhaps more like a fox is better. But on this issue, one that is sapping our nation’s strength like heat out of a drafty house, we need true liberal-minded people to discern what is right and wrong. And that means taking you wherever the path of truth leads, not where it is you might want to go based on some high-minded abstract that can never be defined nor measured!
Let me give you just one example – global sea ice. Global warming was supposed to produce shrinking sea ice, right? How is that working out?
We are currently well above normal globally.
This is largely because of the expansion in the Southern Hemisphere, even more impressive since it’s expanding into an area that is almost all water, and it’s tougher to move the temperature of the oceans than land masses around it, such as the Arctic.
The coming Southern Hemisphere winter could result in record breaking sea ice extent. Last time that happened, the Northern Hemisphere was at record low levels in what AGW hysteria was promoting as “The Arctic Death Spiral.” My side pointed to the warm Atlantic Multi Decadol Oscillation (AMO) as the reason for this, and once it flipped to cold, as it was through the 1980s, sea ice would expand. Please remember that the Pacific has flipped to its colder mode, but only at the very start of this graphic was the Pacific and Atlantic in their cold modes together. So the start of the measurement here was at the height of what was the best set up for the expansion of Arctic sea ice.
Again, as long as the Atlantic was in its cold overall mode, sea ice was more or less above normal.
So I made a forecast back in 2007 that the Arctic would return to normal and above once the Atlantic flipped to its cold mode for good, which is around or after 2020. We can already see evidence now. The Atlantic has cooled some. (Even in warm periods, we see ups and downs go on, just like we see El Ninos – like we will this year – in the colder times of the Pacific, but they are short lived overall and preceded and followed by longer periods of cooling.) Look what the forecasted Arctic sea ice anomaly is for the height of the melting season this year now that the Atlantic is a bit cooler.
It’s nowhere near as low as previous years. It’s the summer min. that is what the sea ice death spiral people have been jumping on, yet this minor turn to colder overall – again, we are not ready to shift completely out of the dedadol warm mode – has it near normal for this melt season andincreasing against the anomaly from the level it’s at now!
So what do you think is going to happen when the AMO turns cold overall again?
I am directing this at the vast majority of journalist out there that may not understand there is so much contrary information to the missive that you are constantly bombarded with on man-made global warming. I am not asking you to charge a beach into a hail of machine gun fire and go cut bob-wire in a maze of hedges. Nor do you need to go win three NCAA titles and be undefeated in college. But I think what my Coach Koll said is needed here – “a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts.” I am not insulting you since I believe that is what is in you, since the very nature of this vocational calling means that is a given. But you have to get a little old school, think with your head and pursue with your heart. The truth in this matter, and all it implies for freedom and the ability for untold amounts of people to have a chance at a better life, depends on it. It’s no different than the great “liberal” lights that is shown before you to give you this chance to do what you do.
Sometimes being a “hero” is simply the situation you are in and the ability to fight for the answer. And that takes a lick of guts and an ounce of smarts.
[Originally published at The Patriot Post]
In whatever direction we turn, we find the heavy hand of government intruding into virtually every aspect of American society. Indeed, it has reached the point that it would a lot easier to list those areas of people’s lives into which government does not impose itself – and, alas, it would be a very short list. But it was not always that way.
Around a hundred years ago, say, in the first decade of the 20th century, all levels of government in the United States only taxed away and spent about 8 percent of national income, leaving 92 percent of what individual’s had produced and earned in their own hands to use and spend as they thought best as free people.
Plus, there was no regular deficit spending because the federal government in Washington, D.C. annually balanced its budget; and it often even ran budget surpluses with which it paid down government debts accumulated during past “national emergencies,” usually a war that had earlier needed rapid funding with borrowed money.
Today, all levels of government – federal, state, and local – tax or borrow and, then, spend around 40 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in the United States. And if one adds the financial cost imposed upon the citizenry in the form of economic and social regulations to which businesses and enterprises must conform, the total burden of government is significantly higher.
Government has also influenced the American people in another way: They have lost their understanding of what a free market society was, could, and should be. The growth in the interventionist and redistributive state over the last 100 years has resulted in several generations who have come to think that political paternalism is as normal and “American” as apple pie.The Change in American Economic Policy
This shift in the role of government in American society was noticed by the free market, Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, while traveling around the United States on a lecture tour back in 1926. After returning to Austria, he delivered a talk on “Changes in American Economic Policy” at a meeting of the Vienna Industrial Club. He explained:
“The United States has become great and rich under the rule of an economic system that has set no restrictions on the free pursuits of the individual, and has thereby provided the opportunity for the country’s productive powers to be developed. America’s unprecedented economic prosperity is not due to of the richness of the American soil; instead, it is due to an economic policy that has reflected how best to exploit the possibilities offered by the land.
“American economic policy has always rejected–and still rejects today–any protection for inferior or less competitive against that which is efficient and more competitive. The success of this policy has been so great that it is hard to believe that Americans would every have reasons to change it.”
But Mises went on to tell his Viennese audience that new voices were being heard in America, voices that claimed that America’s economic system was not managed “rationally” enough and that it wasn’t “democratic” enough because the voters did not have it in their immediate power to influence the direction of industrial development. Governmental controls were being introduced not to nationalize private enterprise but to direct it through various regulatory methods.
The American economy was certainly far less regulated by government than the countries in Europe, Mises pointed out. However, there were strong trends moving the United States along the same more heavily interventionist path Europe had been traveling for a long time. In the America of 1926, Mises observed, “But today both major parties, the Republicans as well as the Democrats, are ready to undertake every very radical steps in the this direction in order to win the votes of the electorate.” He concluded, There can be no doubt that the results American would achieve from such a policy would be no different than what it has ‘achieved’ in Europe.”
In Europe, the trend towards collectivism in the 1930s and 1940s took some extreme forms. Socialism, communism, fascism and Nazism were all tried on the other side of the Atlantic. They represented a total rejection of a free economy and individual liberty. In America, the collectivist trend never went to such an extreme, though Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first New Deal came very close to the fascist model.Defining the Free Market Economy
Socialism, communism, fascism and Nazism are now all but dead. They failed miserably. But they have been replaced by what is merely another more watered down form of collectivism that may be called “interventionism.” Indeed, interventionism is the predominant economic system in the world today. In 1929, Ludwig von Mises published a collection of essays under the title, “Critique of Interventionism.” He argued,
“All writers on economic policy and nearly all statesmen and party leaders are seeking an ideal system which, in their belief, is neither [purely] capitalistic nor socialistic, is based neither on [unrestricted] private property in the means of production nor on public property. They are searching for a system of private property that is hampered, regulated, and directed through government intervention and other social forces, such as labor unions. We call such an economic policy interventionism, the system itself the hampered market order.”
He added, “All its followers and advocates fully agree that it is the correct policy for the coming decades, yea, even the coming generations. And all agree that interventionism constitutes an economic policy that will prevail in the foreseeable future.”
With the demise of communism in the 1990s, public policy around the world, including in the United States, is back to where it was when Mises wrote these words 85 years ago. Comprehensive government ownership of the means of production and a fully centralized planned economy has very few adherents left, even “on the left.” At the same time, in spite of all the casual rhetoric about the triumph of capitalism, we have not seen much evidence of a movement toward a truly free market system.
Here are eight points that define a genuine free market economy, or what Mises referred to as the “unhampered economy”:
- All means of production are privately owned.
- The use of the means of production is under the control of private owners who may be individuals or corporate entities.
- Consumer demands direct how the means of production – land, labor, and capital – will be used.
- Competitive forces of supply and demand determine the price for consumer goods and the various factors of production including labor.
- The success or failure of individual and corporate enterprises is determined by the profits or losses these enterprises earn, based on their greater or lesser ability to satisfy consumer demands in competition with their rivals in the marketplace.
- The market is not confined to domestic transactions and includes freedom of international trade, investment, and movement of people.
- The monetary system is based on a market-determined commodity (e.g., gold or silver), and the banking system is private and competitive, neither controlled nor regulated by government.
- Government is limited in its activities to the enforcement and protection of individual life, liberty, and honestly acquired property.
Unfortunately, many modern politicians and academics who say they endorse free market capitalism are willing to tolerate a great deal of government intervention.
When it comes to identifying the role of government in their conception of the market order, many if not most “conservative” economists still assume that government must be responsible for a social safety net that includes Social Security, some form of government-provided health care, and unemployment compensation; must have discretionary monetary and fiscal powers to support supposed desired levels of employment and output; must regulate industry to assure “competitive” conditions in the market and “fair” labor conditions for workers; and must directly supply certain goods and services that the market allegedly does not provide.
Indeed, many people who claim to be “on the right” believe that government should institute some or all of these “public policies.” It should be appreciated, however, that the very notion of “public policy,” as the term is almost always used, supports government intervention in the market in ways that are simply inconsistent with a genuine free market economy.
Interventionism as public policy is not consistent with the free market since it intentionally prevents or modifies the outcomes of the market. Here are the eight points of the interventionist economy:
- The private ownership of the means of production is either restricted or abridged by government.
- The full use of the means of production by private owners is prohibited, limited, or regulated by government.
- The users of the means of production are prevented from being guided by consumer demand through a network of government regulations, controls, prohibitions and restrictions.
- Government influences or controls the formation of prices for consumer goods and/or the factors of production, through such interventions as price supports, subsidies, or minimum wage laws.
- Government reduces the impact of market supply and demand on the success or failure of various enterprises while increasing the impact of its own influence and control through such artificial means as price and production regulations, limits on freedom of entry into segments of the market, and direct or indirect subsidies.
- Free entry into the domestic market by potential foreign rivals is discouraged or outlawed through import prohibitions, quotas, domestic content requirements, or tariffs, as well as capital controls, and restrictions on freedom of movement.
- The monetary system is regulated by government for the purpose of influencing what is used as money, the value of money, and the rate at which the quantity of money is increased or decreased. And all these are used as tools for trying to affect the levels of employment, output, and growth in the economy.
- Government’s role is not limited to the protection of life, liberty, and property.
It is also important to note that the “public policies” these eight points represent must be implemented through violent means. Only the threat or use of force can make people follow courses of action that are different from the ones that they would have peacefully taken if it were not for government intervention. There is really nothing “public” about these policies, after all; they are coercive policies imposed by government.Free Markets and the “Law of Association”
Contrast these policies with the policies of the free market. What is most striking is the voluntary nature of market arrangements. The means of production are privately owned, and the owners are free to determine how those means of production will be employed. Thus, control over the means of production is depoliticized, that is, outside of the control or influence of the government. Since control is not located in one political place but is dispersed among a wide segment of the society’s population, it is also decentralized.
Individuals, therefore, own and control the means through which they can maintain and improve their own circumstances, and not be dependent upon a single political source for employment or the necessities and luxuries of life. But it is not just the owners of the means of production who have a high degree of autonomy in the free market economy; consumers do, too, since they are the ones who determine what products and services will be in demand.
The basis of society, Ludwig von Mises emphasized, is what he called “the law of association.” Men can more successfully improve their individual condition through cooperation, and the means through which that cooperation can be made most productive is the division of labor. By taking advantage of individual talents and circumstances through specialization, the total quantity and quality of society’s output can be dramatically improved. Individuals do not have to try to satisfy all their own wants through isolated activity.
Once they specialize their activities, they become interdependent; they rely upon each other for the vast majority of goods and services they desire. But it is this very interdependency that gives production its real and true social character. If men are to acquire from others what they desire, they must devote their energies to producing what those others are willing to accept in trade.
The fundamental rule of the market is mutual agreement and voluntary exchange. Each member of society must orient his activities toward serving the wants of at least some of the other members in an unending circle of trade. The Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith observed over two hundred years ago:
“Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is to their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whosoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this that you want is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices that we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their own advantages.”
This is what assures that the uses for which the means of production are applied are guided by consumer demand. Each individual must find a way to satisfy some of the needs of others before he can successfully satisfy his own. As a result, the prices for consumer goods and the factors of production are not decreed by government but are formed in the marketplace through the competitive forces of supply and demand. Success or failure is determined by the profits and losses earned on the basis of the greater or lesser ability to meet consumer demand in competition with rivals in the marketplace.Abandoning Our Constitution
In 1936, the Swiss economist and political scientist William E. Rappard delivered a lecture in Philadelphia on “The Relation of the Individual to the State” in which he emphasized that no one could read the accounts of the constitutional debates of 1787 or the famous “Federalist Papers” without realizing that the Founders were “essentially animated by the desire to free the individual from the state.” He even went on to say, “I do not think that anyone who has seriously studied the origin of the Constitution of the United States will deny that it is an essentially individualistic document, inspired by the suspicion that the state is always, or always tends to be, dictatorial.”
Reflecting upon the trends he observed in the United States in the New Deal era of the 1930s, Professor Rappard concluded: “The individual demanding that the state provide him with every security has thereby jeopardized his possession of that freedom for which his ancestors fought and bled.”
Is Soviet-style communist central planning now in the ash heap of history? Yes. Are masses of people in the West willing to walk in blind, lockstep obedience to fascist demagogues in torchlight parades? No. And hopefully neither form of totalitarianism will ever again cast its dark collectivist shadow over the West. However, nearly 80 years after Professor Rappard’s observations about statist trends in America and around the world, Western democracies are still enveloped in the tight grip of the interventionist state.
Private property increasingly exists only on paper. And with the abridgment of property rights has come the abridgment of all the other individual liberties upon which a free society is based. Our lives are supervised, regulated, controlled, directed and overseen by the state. Look at any part of our economic and social lives and try to find even one corner that is free from some form of direct or indirect government intrusion. It is practically impossible to find such a corner.
This is because our lives are not our own anymore. They are the property of the state. We are the tools and the victims of public policies that are intended to construct brave new worlds concocted by intellectual and political elites who still dream the utopian dream that they know better than us how our lives should be lived.
Today, it is not free market forces but political directives that most often influence what goods and services are produced, where and how they are produced, and for what purposes they may be used. If we pick up any product in any store anywhere in the United States we will discover that hundreds of federal and state regulations have actually determined the methods by which it has been manufactured, its quality and content, its packaging and terms of sale, and the conditions under which it may be “safely” used by the purchaser. If we buy a tract of land or a building, we will be trapped in a spider’s web of land-use, building code and environmental regulatory restrictions on how we may use, improve, or sell it. Every facet of our lives is now subject to the whims of the state.Economics, Morality, and the Law
In an environment in which “public policy” determines individual lives and fortunes and in which social and economic life has become politicized, it is not surprising that many Americans have turned their attention to politics to improve their market position and relative income share. Legalized coercion has become the method by which they get ahead in life.
And make no mistake about it: Every income transfer, every tariff or import quota, every business subsidy, every regulation or prohibition on who may compete or how a product may be produced and marketed, and every restraint on the use and transfer of property is an act of coercion. Political force is interjected into what would otherwise be a system of peaceful and voluntary transactions.
Over time, interventionism blurs the distinction between what is moral and what is not. In ordinary life, most people take for granted that certain forms of conduct are permissible while others are not. These are the Golden Rules we live by. Government’s task in human society is to enforce and protect these rules, which are summarized in two basic principles: Neither force nor fraud shall be practiced in dealings with others; and the rights and property of others must be respected. In the moral order that is the free market economy, these principles are the wellspring of honesty and trust. Without them, America is threatened with ultimate ruin – with a war of all-against-all in the pursuit of plunder.
When individuals began to ask government to do things for them, rather than merely to secure their individual rights and honestly acquired property, they began asking government to violate other’s rights and property for their benefit.
These demands on government have been rationalized by intellectuals and social engineers who have persuaded people that what they wanted but didn’t have was due to the greed, exploitation, and immorality of others. Basic morality and justice has been transcended in the political arena in order to take from the “haves” and give to the “have not’s.” Theft through political means has become the basis of a “higher” morality: “social justice,” which is supposed to remedy the alleged injustices of the free market economy.
But once the market becomes politicized in this manner, morality begins to disintegrate. Increasingly, the only way to survive in society is to resort to the same types of political methods for gain as others are using, or to devise ways to evade the controls and regulations. More and more people, therefore, have been drawn into the arena of political intrigue and manipulation or violation of the law for economic gain. Human relationships and the political process have become increasingly corrupted.
In the 1920s, Ludwig von Mises explained a crucial aspect of this corruption of morality and law:
“By constantly violating criminal laws and moral decrees [people] lose the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad. The merchant, who began by violating foreign exchange controls, import and export restrictions, price ceilings, etc., easily proceeds to defraud his partners. The decay of business morals . . . is the inevitable concomitant of the regulations imposed on trade.”
Mises was, of course, repeating the lesson that the French classical economist Frederic Bastiat had attempted to teach in the 1850s in his famous essay, “The Law.” When the state becomes the violator of liberty and property rather than its guarantor, it debases respect for all law. People in society develop an increasing disrespect and disregard for what the law demands. They view the law as the agent for immorality in the form of legalized plunder for the benefit of some at the expense of others. And this same disrespect and disregard sooner or later starts to creep into the ordinary dealings between individuals. Society verges on the brink of lawlessness.Trends Can Change – With the Will to Make It Happen
Bastiat predicted the moral bankruptcy that has been brought on by the interventionist state. But are we condemned to continue in a state of moral and political corruption?
Many thoughtful observers shake their heads and conclude that the answer is, “Yes.” But it is worth recalling that in 1951 Ludwig von Mises wrote an essay called “Trends Can Change.” He was replying to those who despaired at that time that socialist central planning was increasingly dominating the world. The situation seemed irreversible; political, economic, and social trends all seemed to be heading in the direction of comprehensive collectivism. Said Mises:
“One of the cherished dogmas implied in contemporary fashionable doctrines is the belief that tendencies of social evolution as manifested in the recent past will prevail in the future, too. Any attempt to reverse or even to stop a trend is doomed to failure . . .
“The prestige of this myth is so enormous that it quells any opposition. It spreads defeatism among those who do not share the opinion that everything which comes later is better than what preceded, and are fully aware of the disastrous effects of all-round planning, i.e., totalitarian socialism. They, too, meekly submit to what the pseudo-scholars tell them is inevitable.
“It is this mentality of passively accepting defeat that has made socialism triumph in many European countries and may very soon make it conquer in this country [the United States] too . . .
“Now trends of evolution can change, and hitherto they almost always have changed. But they changed only because they met firm opposition. What [Hilaire] Belloc called the servile state will certainly not be reversed if nobody has the courage to attack its underlying dogmas.”
The trend towards totalitarian socialism was reversed. It was reversed by its own inherent unworkability. It was reversed by the faith of millions of people in the Soviet bloc who would not give up on the dream of freedom and by a courageous few who sacrificed their careers, their property, and even their lives to make that dream a reality. And it was reversed by friends of freedom in the West who helped prevent its triumph in their own homelands and who provided an intellectual defense of liberty and the free market.
Interventionism in America in these early decades of the 21st century is a trend that can also be reversed. Its own inherent unworkability and strangulation of the wealth-creating mechanisms of the market will start the reversal process. But that is not enough. We must rekindle our belief in and desire for freedom. And some of us have to speak out and refute the rationales for interventionism.
We need to share with our fellow citizens a powerful vision of the free society and the unhampered economy. If we succeed, the trend of the 21st century can be a trend toward greater individual freedom, an expanding global free marketplace, and rising standards of living and opportunity for all.
[Originally published at EpicTimes]
Despite its deep effects on the character of our nation, conservatives and the general population often ignore what children are learning except when their own are in school, so I thank everyone reading this debate and my worthy, tenacious opponent, Mike Petrilli, for your time and attention. National Common Core testing and curriculum mandates are destructive, overall, but one good side-effect is creating the opportunity to discuss what children will learn, and why.
Opinion polls continue to show that the general public is ill-informed not just about education policy, but about Common Core particularly. The latest I’m aware of, from Tennessee, finds that 58 percent of adults don’t know what Common Core is. That’s rather astonishing considering that Common Core will ultimately influence almost everything about pre-K through higher education in this country except sundry administrative affairs like bus schedules and lunch menus.
In short, Common Core is a set of central mandates called standards that set what children will be tested on in English and math in grades K-12. Forty-five states have decided to reorient their curriculum and teacher training and evaluations around these mandates, in large part because of demands by the Obama administration. The Obama administration, notwithstandingthree federal laws against federal interference with curriculum and testing, is currently the exclusive funder and evaluator of national tests to enforce Common Core that will roll out this coming school year.
Widespread ignorance of this initiative despite its massive effects is a feature, not a bug, of the process that created it. Proponents like to insist Common Core originated in a “state-led” process, but the truth is that a group of private trade organizationscommissioned a small group of consultants to write Common Core behind closed doors. There is no legal authority in this country for elected leaders to gather together and write policies except in the halls of Congress. But Americans do not like Congress getting too involved in education, a sensible sentiment given that our Constitution reserves that right to the states under the Tenth Amendment, so those who want a centralized education system in this country decided to go through nonprofit organizations, conveniently circumventing open records and open meetings laws that apply to public bodies such as state boards of education and legislatures. To this day, we have no idea what the people who wrote Common Core were paid and by whom, who called what shots and why, the negotiations that took place, and more extremely pertinent information.
Before this group published Common Core’s final version in June 2010, the Obama administration came into office. Congress, in its wisdom, had already granted it a bajillion-dollar slush fund called 2009’s “stimulus package,” and $4.35 million of that became a U.S. Department of Education slush fund that the administration used to push states into adopting its policy priorities during a panicky recession. It created a set of competitive grants that awarded extra points to states that adopted Common Core and its tests, which were then (and still for the tests) sight unseen. Common Core was actually published on June 2, 2010, but the Obama administration’s deadlines to sign onto it to get priority for these funds were January 19, 2010 and June 1, 2010. A draft of Common Core was not even available until March 2010, after approximately a third of states had already promised the federal government they would switch over to it. Thirty-seven business days after Common Core was released, and with little fanfare, a majority of states had jumped into this massive, experimental shift for their education systems. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama rightfully claimed his administration had “convinced almost every state” to adopt Common Core through stimulus grants. To this day, only a handful has even sketched out what this will cost taxpayers financially, and none have demanded hard data on whether it will be effective at improving education (good thing, because none exists, and in factstudies tend to say standards are a waste of time entirely).It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates.
It is not surprising that this pell-mell, elite-driven, closed-doors process created a set of what can only accurately be described as mediocre mandates. Again, the PR line says that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and “rigorous,” but evaluations done both by organizations with financial reasons to favor Common Core, such as Petrilli’s Fordham Institute, and by independent scholarsconclude that not only will Common Core graduate students prepared at best for a two-year community college (no normal person’s definition of “internationally competitive”), several states already had better standards. Despite this, Petrilli continues to insist that because Common Core is a step up for some states, we should refrain from insisting that all children should get the best we know is available and not mind that these best states dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core. I and many parents find that utterly unacceptable.
The grassroots furor over Common Core—which has led to 37 states considering withdrawals or amendments—is not from moms and dads who want their kids to skate through school, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan implied a few months back. These parents want more, and better for their kids than “a step in the right direction.” I wager that 90 percent of the debate over Common Core would instantly dissipate if states adopted the top-rated standards from, say, Massachusetts or Indiana and dropped the Obama administration tests. Children right now in third and fourth grade do not have a second chance to learn what they need ten years down the road when we finally figure out that Common Core didn’t give it to them.
There are many other concerns with Common Core, such as the extent to which its tests grant direct federal access to kids’ personal information and will micromanage teachers through new test-driven evaluations. As I said in the beginning, Common Core touches almost everything. But if I must pick the biggest concerns, for me they are the lack of academic quality and the technocratic central planning Common Core demands. It is our American birthright to have a voice in the policies that govern our lives and our futures, and for various governments and entities to be restrained from controlling what rightfully belongs to parents and local communities. Common Core has traded that birthright for a mess of pottage.Opening Statement – Mike Petrilli
It’s not lost on me that I’m one of the most prominent conservatives still publicly supporting the Common Core State Standards (“tenaciously,” according to Joy—a compliment I’ll take!). Nor am I surprised that so many on the right instinctively distrust the effort—for reasons of history both ancient and recent. The left has been foisting ill-conceived ideas on the nation’s schools pretty much forever, ranging from the silly (the self-esteem movement) to the ridiculous (ebonics) to the truly harmful (“rain forest math”). And in terms of recent history, we are living through the impact of the left’s centralizing, micro-managing, nanny state machinations on all manner of policies, ObamaCare especially. Common Core appears to fit this narrative all too well.
Yet, over the course of this dialogue, I’ll argue that the ObamaCare analogy is far from perfect. While there has been a small federal role—one magnified by President Obama’s credit-taking and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s name-calling—this is hardly a federal project. It was started by the states, and its future rests in the hands of the states. Furthermore, in many respects, Common Core is a conservative triumph, as the vast majority of states have moved from vague, low-level, and often leftish academic standards to challenging, straightforward, no-nonsense ones. As Republican speechwriter Michael Gerson argued last year, “Localism is an important conservative principle, but so is excellence.”
But are the standards excellent? Here I look forward to a vigorous debate with Joy, who has been one of the fiercest, yet fairest, critics of the Common Core. In a recent piece for School Reform News, she not only had nice things to say about me (again, I’ll take it!) but also took a strong stand against one of the most dishonest tactics of some Common Core opponents: Equating every bad lesson plan or textbook with the new standards, regardless of how tenuous the link. It’s an easy and effective parlor trick, and I appreciate and respect Joy’s integrity in choosing not to deploy it.
So I look forward to diving into issues of federalism, and the content of the standards, as our dialogue unfolds. But first let me restate why the country is so in need of higher standards and tougher tests in the first place—and why the nation’s governors and state superintendents agreed to work on common standards way back when Barack Obama was just the junior senator from Illinois.
The case for college and career-ready standards:
We all know that there’s a lot of testing in our schools today. And while nobody loves testing (or “central mandates,” in Joy’s parlance), it’s important to know that the advent of standards, testing, and accountability—driven mostly by conservatives—has been associated with big gains in achievement for our lowest performing students. Nationally, or lowest performing students, our lowest-income students, and our minority students are achieving one to two grade levels ahead of where their peers were in the mid-1990s.The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s come with many unintended consequences—the narrowing of the curriculum, an obsession in some schools on test prep, and a lack of focus on students at the middle or at the top. And as a result, while we’ve made huge gains for the kids at the bottom, we’ve made smaller gains for everyone else.
It’s not hard to understand why. Most states set their standards, and especially their tests, at ridiculously low levels. And the No Child Left Behind Act put pressure on schools to get all students over that very low bar. So all of the attention went to the students below that bar—the lowest performing kids. And they made gains. Important, historic gains worth celebrating.
But there were no incentives for schools to focus on kids at the middle, or at the top.
That’s created a really big problem. Think of it from a student’s perspective. They march through the public education system, they pass the state tests every year, they pass their courses (often with honors grades), and they earn a high school diploma. But because the standards have been set too low, passing the tests, and earning a diploma, doesn’t actually mean they are ready for what comes next.
So they get to college, and enroll, and take out student loans. And then are told, “I’m sorry, you’re not actually ready for college. You have to take one, two, maybe three math classes, or one, two, three writing classes, before you can even start earning credits.” Before they can even get to the starting line.
And you can imagine how angry these young people would be. And deserve to be. “I did everything you told me to do. I passed all the exams. I passed all of my courses. I earned a diploma.” And most drop out—before ever getting past remedial education.
Because we set the standards too low—because we didn’t align the expectations of the public education system with the demands of the real world—we sent false signals for years that all was well, when in fact many students were not on track for success. We lied to kids, and to their families, and to the taxpayers.
Or imagine if a high school graduate goes straight into a workforce. They show up for a “middle skill” job, one that demands a decent wage. And again, the employer says, “I’d like to hire you, but you don’t have the math or reading or writing or critical thinking skills we need.”
This was the problem that the nation’s governors and state superintendents were trying to tackle when they came together back in 2007 and 2008 to talk about developing common, rigorous standards for English and math. Could they, working jointly, and with support from the philanthropic sector, come up with common, high standards in these basic subjects, and provide the political cover to one another to set the bar where the real world standard really is? Could together they find the political courage to start telling the truth—that in fact our public education system is only preparing about one-third of our graduates for success in college or career, and that we need to do much better? And could raising the bar help us get the kind of progress for kids at the middle and at the top that we’ve seen for kids at the bottom of the performance spectrum?
The result was the Common Core, which, as I’ll argue, is significantly stronger than what three-quarters of the states had in place before, and on par with the rest. Standards which were adopted by state boards of education after public hearings and votes—the standard operating procedure for, well, standards.
Even Joy will acknowledge that today’s system is a “mess of pottage.” Standards that are too low, tests that are too easy, students who aren’t prepared for what comes next. And while I would applaud any state that wants to adopt other college-and-career ready standards that aren’t the Common Core—she mentions those previously in place in Indiana and Massachusetts—Joy should admit that there’s no clear path forward for states wanting to do just that. Indiana is trying, as we speak, to develop new standards under the direction of its legislature. But its Department of Education managed to draft standards that are worse than the very good Common Core expectations and worse than Indiana’s old standards, even though these two sets of standards are quite similar (and similarly good). Meanwhile Indiana’s teachers have been trained on the Common Core and have started preparing for the Common Core tests. Would you like to explain to them why the Hoosier State is going to throw a wrench into all of their efforts? Because of what, politics?
Joy and I, like most conservatives, agree on many fundamentals about education reform: Expanded parental choice is essential; Teachers must be held accountable for raising achievement; Unions are a huge problem. But when it comes to higher standards we will have to agree to disagree, because I for one view them as an indispensable weapon in the war on ignorance and hopelessness.
Let the debate begin!Response #1: Joy
First, thanks to Mike for his gentlemanly opening words. He’s certainly right about one big thing: public officials have been deceiving taxpayers and kids about the quality of the education they’re dishing up. But I think Common Core is just another version of this deception, dressed up in shinier clothes.
What makes it possible for schools to continue giving kids diplomas that are not worth the fake parchment they’re printed on? When our pediatrician kept not having the vaccines we needed, making us wait for 45 minutes with a naked, squalling baby, and charging us more than our friends’ charged, I switched pediatricians. People with unsatisfactory doctors and plumbers and mechanics tell everybody and find a new service provider.
But public schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure. If a school doesn’t teach a kid how to read, the kid loses out, not the school. That’s because most public schools have a captive market. They get students—and therefore public money—whether they teach those kids anything or not. That worked alright back when there was a cultural consensus over what kids would learn, and schools had more effective local accountability because they were locally controlled, and teachers didn’t have to co-parent because moms and dads stayed married and usually one was home to bring up the kids full time. But once all these things disintegrated and were replaced by more and more centralized, monopoly-creating mandates (such as that teachers must all be trained by one type of institution and those started to de-emphasize the knowledge teachers needed to help kids succeed because teachers colleges didn’t lose students for turning out poor ones), schools degraded.
Mike’s Fordham Institute has memorialized the day America realized this degradation with President Reagan’s A Nation at Risk report. But instead of realizing that central planning was a central problem, business and political leaders decided that more central planning was the answer! That’s when, in the late 80s and early 90s, they began pushing education “standards” and tests. (I put “standards” in scare quotes because they have never really deserved the name, which I’ll talk about in a second.) Standards—or, really, curriculum mandates, which is what I will continue to call them—promised conservatives the ability to impose their ideas of what kids should learn on those unruly, leftist teacher colleges. Unfortunately, those teacher colleges trained the “experts” who wrote the standards, and liberals naturally demanded a seat at the table for teachers unions and other establishment “stakeholders,” creating the very sort of bureaucratic committee which can never issue a quality product because the only thing that pleases everyone is a pile of pablum, at best (which is, by the way, why textbooks so uniformly suck).
Of course, the federal government never saw an education idea it didn’t want its sticky fingers on despite its lack of legal authority to touch education, so we had Congress offering states money for “voluntarily” adopting these curriculum mandates. When that didn’t work, 2001’s No Child Left Behind decided more central planning was order, and made everyone adopt “standards” which they would lose money for not meeting. Not surprisingly, states set standards a syphilitic ant could reach.
Again, rather than realizing federal mandates had created this problem, authoritarians of all political flavors decided federal mandates would solve it. (And Mike can’t pretend Common Core started “state-led” when the people running the thing from the beginning begged for federal funds and mandates before President Obama took office and happily obliged.) Then we had déjà vu all over again, with essentially the same process. And here we are, with school instruction about to be essentially nationalized through federal tests.Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones.
Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. Here’s where the false promise of Common Core becomes apparent. Even if we concede that central mandates are a good way to run education, these central mandates are not good ones. A notable number of experts have either declared or conceded that a curriculum built around Common Core itself will not prepare students for the very things they keep telling us it will, like college. It will get kids ready for a two-year community college, Common Core lead writer Jason Zimba told the Massachusetts Department of Education (which has been confirmed by audio recording despite Zimba’s protestations on Fordham’s blog).
Maybe that’s what business front groups mean when pretending that Common Core is “internationally benchmarked” and will make us “internationally competitive,” but I don’t think so. Considering that our international competitors introduce more advanced math concepts several years earlier than Common Core, for just one example of its overall mediocrity, it sounds like they’re uncritically accepting deceptive talking points. Further, notice that Mike doesn’t respond, really, when I say that parents righteously want the best for their kids, and it’s cheating them to pretend that forcing them to take “good enough” is a big victory we should celebrate.
The standards themselves read like the product of any bureaucratic mind-meld. Try some of it on for size. Reading standard RF.K.3B says “Associate the long and short sounds with the common spellings (graphemes) for the five major vowels.” That sounds really impressive, until someone who knows better analyzes it, as Dr. Terrence Moore has this one. Let me quote him:
Presumably the authors of the standard are telling teachers to teach children the long and short sounds of the vowels. But that is not what it says. Rather, students are supposed to associate (know?) the long and short sounds when they see “the common spellings . . . for the five major vowels.” What?
Now ask yourself: How many ways are there to spell the letter A? I can only think of one, unless you mean to distinguish between capitals and lower case, which is not what is being said. A is always spelled A. Even if we give the original authors of this standard and the Indiana committee the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to claim that learning the vowel sounds was what they meant, we still have the problem of the more generous reading of the standard not being true, either, or at best only half true. Why learn only the short and long sounds? Every vowel except for e has more than a long and a short sound. The letter A, for example, has four sounds: /ă/, /ā/, /ah/, /aw/, as in at, tape, want, talk. Consider the word father. You do not call your father your făther, nor your fāther. Yet this simple truth about the code that is the English alphabet is lost on the very people who are in charge of writing “standards” for our children’s schools.
The answer to the destructive unintended consequences of central planning is not more central planning and mandates on ordinary folks from elitist bureaucrats who will never meet their test subjects. It is to realize that central planning disempowers average folks and advantages the well-connected, and in the process destroys quality. Time to try something else: Set people free to choose a different kind of school when their current one will not educate their child.Response #1: Mike
Now we’re getting somewhere! Joy does this debate a great service by acknowledging what this is really about. Fundamentally it’s not that she disagrees with the specifics of what’s in the Common Core, or how they came to be (though it’s obvious that she’s not a fan of some of the details, or the process). She equates the standards-and-accountability movement writ large with central planning. Joy doesn’t want the public schools accountable to anyone except for parents.
That’s a legitimate, libertarian position, but one at odds with decades of conservative thought, Republican policy, and, in my view, common sense. The problem isn’t her advocacy for parental choice–we are in agreement about that. The question is whether the best policy is “choice alone” or “choice plus accountability for results.” It’s not a close call.Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.
For sure, Joy is right that “schools are largely insulated from the consequences of their failure” because “most public schools have a captive market.” Opening these schools to competition via vouchers, charter schools, or scholarship tax credits should absolutely be a part of the equation.
But it’s not the entire equation. Consider this: Education is a private good (we want our own children to have access to great schools) but also a public good (we’re all better off with a well-educated citizenry–that’s why we subsidize education with tax dollars). School choice is essential for satisfying the demands of parents (the private good) but some sort of external accountability is essential for satisfying the demands of taxpayers (the public good).
Now, proponents of school choice will argue that parents will exercise greater quality control over the schools than public bodies will; I generally agree. At a macro-level, choice and competition will lift all boats by making schools more responsive to families. It will also create a system which will be less antagonistic to parents’ values and aspirations for their children–an important feature.
But will school choice alone lead to better student achievement results than choice plus accountability? I see no evidence for that proposition. In fact, the lesson from twenty years of charter schooling is that states that have stressed quality and results get better outcomes than those that have embraced a laissez-faire system. The hard truth is that some parents will settle for crummy schools–but they will gravitate toward stronger schools if those are the ones allowed to open and grow.
Of course, the notion that policymakers are choosing between “universal school choice” and “standards based reform” is a false dichotomy. Not only could these two strategies co-exist, virtually nowhere are we close to the school choice marketplace that Joy envisions. (New Orleans, with nearly 100 percent of its schools in charters, is closest–and it embraces accountability for results!) About five percent of the nation’s students are in charter schools; far less than one percent are attending private schools with public support. For the foreseeable future–when the vast majority of children will attend schools that face little or no competition–we need a strategy for quality control for the system as a whole.
Maybe Joy disagrees. May she is willing to trust upwards of 50 million schoolchildren to the whims of local school boards (themselves often captives of local teacher unions); the dictates of state and federal bureaucrats; and the latest brainstorms of ed school professors. For that’s what “quality control” looks like in the absence of standards, testing, and accountability.
Standards-based reform isn’t an act of “central planning.” Done right–and the Common Core authors did it right–it’s about identifying the standard that already exists in the real world: What students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or get a decent paying job. And then figuring out where students need to be, grade-by-grade, to be on track for that success.
And next time I’ll explain that while the Common Core might not have gotten everything exactly right, it’s dramatically better than what almost every state had in place before. Which is why dumping the Common Core–the path that Joy advocates–won’t return us to some educational shangri-la, but will perpetuate the mediocrity that is the unfortunate hallmark of the American public education system.Response #2: Joy
I’m not sure where Mike is getting this idea that I do not oppose the content of Common Core. I have written and testified extensively about its anti-American, low-grade, empty-skills heap of disconnected edujargon, in publications he reads and hearings he’s attended. So either he’s not listening, projecting an unfitting image of his evil libertarian archnemesis onto me, attempting to avoid a debate on the merits of the curriculum Common Core demands, or deliberately caricaturing my position. I’m actually not a libertarian, and I have never said I want public schools accountable only to parents (although I would not object to that system). I think schools shouldprimarily be accountable to parents. But what does “accountability” mean?Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.”
It’s my view—and, as researchers have pointed out, this is supported by the best evidence—that choice is accountability. Accountability has too often been a weasel word for “central planning,” like “affordable healthcare” is a weasel phrase for “Obamacare.” Real accountability means that people who make decisions bear the consequences of those decisions. In central planning, that never happens. The people who write education standards—whoever these shadow bureaucrats are and about whom with Common Core we cannot even get an account of who did what and why, how they were selected, and what they were paid—do not have to live with the consequences if they fail to write good ones, or if good ones don’t matter because even “good” central dictates can’t pull the puppet strings hard enough from a thousand miles away. Children and society do.
And Mike can attempt to marginalize me and other thinking people all he wants by pretending that Republican education policies over the past fifty years have been the best thing since sliced bread, but we all know that Republicans often join Democrats in feeding the big-government beast, and after three of Mike’s glorious “decades of conservative thought” 58 percent of fourth graders in this country still can barely read. That’s where “accountability” has got us, and we have Mr. Petrilli touting a slight increase in test scores over twenty years as a huge victory, and a reason to trust and even celebrate this testing dictatorship.
But this discussion, like Common Core, is a red herring to avoid talking about its low quality and the lack of proof it will live up to the outrageous sales pitches we now hear from governors, carefully selected teacher-spokespeople, and chambers of commerce. States, lawmakers, teachers, schools parents, and pundits are now spending enormous time and money debating and implementing Common Core, even though the evidence it will do a whit of good for children is sickeningly absent. Three citations. When Seton Hall University professor Christopher Tienken reviewed the purportedly “large and growing body of knowledge” that supposedly grounds Common Core, he said “I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the [private organizations that created Common Core]… Only four of the cited pieces of evidence could be considered empirical studies related directly to the topic of national standards and student achievement.” Or, as Dr. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas explains: “The only evidence in support of Common Core consists of projects funded directly or indirectly by the Gates Foundation in which panels of selected experts are asked to offer their opinion on the quality of Common Core standards. Not surprisingly, panels organized by the backers of Common Core believe that Common Core is good… The few independent evaluations of Common Core that exist suggest that its standards are mediocre and represent little change from what most states already have.” Further, research by the Brookings Institutionhas found that standards have essentially no effect on student achievement.
And what all these people with all this time and money are NOT doing, instead, is working to accelerate proven reforms like school choice and real curriculum improvement. They’re not opening new, better schools and closing bad old ones. They’re not tutoring neighbors who never learned to read very well because traditional schools lose nothing for failing to use proven methods to educate kids. They’re not tearing down the teacher certification monopoly that indoctrinates our nation’s molders of young minds with ineffective progressive pedagogy. They’re not reading as many books to their little children, not reading classic literature themselves or investigating and wondering at our glorious world. And that is the hidden shame of Common Core, this vast exercise in unexamined groupthink: Because governments and bureaucrats chained everyone to this brain treadmill, we must spend a sickening number of hours explaining why we should instead be left in peace and freedom.
If you will excuse me, there are two toddlers in my room looking for attention, so I’m going to now go practice what I’m preaching.Response #2: Mike
This exchange has reminded me why I so enjoy Joy’s writing and how lucky we are that she’s working in the school reform movement. We agree on 90 percent of the issues; but alas, back to the 10 percent where we disagree.
I certainly didn’t mean to mischaracterize Joy’s position, though I’m still confused whether she’s for standards-based reform. She says she is, but she also refers to it as a “testing dictatorship,” says we parents should be “left in peace and freedom,” and links to an NRO piece arguing for school choice alone. So I remain somewhat confused. (I continue to believe that choice plus accountability for results is a powerful combo.)
I’m also still confused about whether she thinks the content of the standards are worth fighting over. As she often does, in the course of this debate she linked to Tom Loveless’s research showing the lack of a relationship between the quality of states’ standards and their performance on the NAEP. If standards don’t matter, why all of the fuss? I too wish we could be focused on “accelerating proven reforms.” That’s what was going on circa 2012 in places like Indiana (ahem, remember Tony Bennett?) before the Common Core opponents declared a Holy War. Educators were working on improving their teaching and updating their curricular materials. Indiana was pushing ahead with vouchers and charter schools. Yet it was Joy and her comrades in arms that picked this fight. They decided that the process leading to the Common Core (which was much different than she describes) and the content of the Common Core were so odious as to justify tearing the school reform movement—and the Republican Party—apart.
So let’s talk about the content of the standards. (Though readers, you can judge them for yourselves.) Those of us at the Fordham Institute do believe that the quality of standards matters, though of course (as we’ve said forever, thank you Tom Loveless) well-crafted standards are necessary but insufficient. Standards alone are just words on paper. It’s not surprising that states with stronger standards in the pre-Common Core era didn’t necessarily perform better on national tests of student achievement. It would be like thinking that developing countries that adopt better constitutions would automatically have better functioning governments or economies. Constitutions, like standards, can lay a strong or weak foundation, but their success will depend on many other factors.
In the world of school reform, the most important complement to good standards is an aligned, challenging assessment. In other words, a really good test. After all, we know that in today’s high-accountability education system, teachers feel pressure to teach to the test. If that’s a test worth teaching to—like an Advanced Placement exam—then this pressure can be healthy, as it encourages excellent teaching in the classroom. But if it’s a low-level, fill in the blank exam, then any benefits of high, well-written standards are washed away, as the test becomes the de facto standard. That’s what happened in virtually every state before the Common Core, with the possible exception of Massachusetts. (The Bay State had good standards and a good test.) It explains why a state like Indiana had good standards for a decade but very little improvement on the NAEP.
But back to the standards. In 2010, we studied the content of the Common Core and compared it to the standards of the fifty states. We found the Common Core to be better than what three-quarters of the states had previously and on par with the rest. Three states had somewhat stronger standards in English (receiving A’s from our reviewers versus the Common Core’s B-plus). The primary reason: They included a list of exemplary texts or authors. (The Common Core made its list an appendix—for obvious and understandable reasons.) I simply disagree with Joy that some states “dumbed down their academic offerings when they accepted Common Core.” Almost every state significantly upgraded their academic standards with the Common Core, and a handful traded one good set of standards for another.What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature.
What makes the Common Core standards so strong? The English standards are solid on phonics and ask schools to bring back rigorous content in history, science, art, music, and literature. That’s why E.D. Hirsch, founder of the Core Knowledge program and author of Cultural Literacy, is soencouraged by them. They expect that students read great works of literature and solid non-fiction sources too, like the nation’s founding documents.
The math standards are incredibly solid on arithmetic, expecting students to know their math facts cold, to memorize their multiplication tables, to use standard algorithms, and not to use calculators until they are older. This was a major reversal from most state math standards, too many of which were infected with the “fuzzy math” that Core opponents rightly decry—but which the Core itself does not embrace.
And what about the contention that the math standards will “only” prepare students for entry-level math in community colleges? First, keep in mind that even James Milgram has admitted that the Common Core math standards are tougher than what “90 percent” of the states had in place before. So if that’s true for the Core, it’s doubly true for what preceded it. Second, remember that the advertised purpose of the Common Core is to prepare students for college and career. College is defined as entry level math in a public four year university, or community college courses whose credits can transfer. So critics are right that the Common Core math is not enough for students who plan to attend selective colleges or major in STEM fields. The standards admit as much! The standards are a floor, not a ceiling. But the standards do a very good job preparing young people for advanced math, by giving them a much steadier foundation than what they are getting today. One reason so many students flunk the Advanced Placement calculus exam is that our schools failed to give them a strong foundation.
Still, if states are worried that schools will misread the Common Core as encouraging them to move away from advanced math, they can add standards in calculus as Florida has. Problem solved.
So where do we go from here? If Joy and others on the right still believe in standards-based reform—still believe in the power of setting high standards and holding schools accountable for helping their students reach them—then we need to do a serious cost-benefit analysis. Should we stick with the path we’re on? With standards that aren’t perfect, but are pretty darn good? Or should we plunge our states into total chaos, as is the best way to describe Indiana today? Where educators don’t know what they are expected to teach; where all indications are that the state’s “new” standards will look almost exactly like the Common Core; where the state is going to spend tons of extra money developing its own test, one that is unlikely to be any better than the low-level test is has now? Remind me again why that is a good idea?
Sometimes such disruption is worth it. Repealing ObamaCare would be messy but healthy, as that is a Rube Goldberg machine that’s fundamentally flawed. That’s not the case with Common Core. Disruption in the cause of ideology isn’t smart, and it isn’t conservative.
[Originally published at The Federalist]
The Australian edition of The Guardian — probably the most hard-left of the lefty daily newspapers in the English-speaking world — published a story Thursday about how Attorney General George Brandis stood up for skeptics of the theory of man-caused, catastrophic global warming.
Brandis is not a skeptic himself. He believes in man-caused, catastrophic global warming, but he also believes in liberty. So he gave a “passionate” speech in which he said it was “deplorable” that skeptics are being excluded from the climate change debate. People who say the “science is settled,” Brandis said, are “ignorant” and “medieval.” He did all but call the climate alarmists in Australia’s government fascists.
Good stuff. And good for him, no matter his motivations — painted, of course, in the worst possible and distorted light by the leftist Guardian.
The comments under the story were heavy on the “science is settled” point. So, against my best judgment, I left the following comment:
The climate is always changing. But is human activity causing runaway global warming? Is man causing a climate crisis? On those questions the science is not settled.
Pretty innocuous, right? It was removed 10 minutes later for not adhering to The Guardian’s community standards. Fascists! … who prove Brandis’ point.
Just before learning my comment was taken down, a gentleman added to the conversation by writing:
You’re embarrassing yourself.
So, in four minutes you’ve already read the reports (or at least the summaries)! Fantastic. So I look forward to you rebuttals to the following points:
* Research published in peer-reviewed science journals indicates the model-derived temperature sensitivity of Earth accepted by the IPCC is too large. And how negative feedbacks in the climate system reduce that sensitivity to values an order of magnitude smaller.
* Strong empirical correlations have been reported from all around the world between solar variability and climate indices including temperature, precipitation, droughts, floods, streamflow, and monsoons.
* The IPCC fails to consider the importance of the demonstrated empirical relationship between solar activity, the ingress of galactic cosmic rays, and the formation of low clouds.
* During the past 25,000 years (late Pleistocene and Holocene) glaciers around the world have fluctuated broadly in concert with changing climate, at times shrinking to positions and volumes smaller than today.
* The relationship between drought and global warming is weak, since severe droughts occurred during both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.
* And how despite the supposedly “unprecedented” warming of the twentieth century, there has been no increase in the intensity or frequency of tropical cyclones globally or in any of the specific ocean basins.
You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself by not having anything to say about those points, right?
Again, that reply was posted as I was being deleted. (I looked for it on the site immediately after hitting “post” and saw that I was erased.) So, I tried putting up another post — which may be taken down, as well. Who knows:
My last comment was deleted. I thought it was innocuous enough to meet the Guardian’s “community standards.” For the record …
I insulted no one. My comment contained no personal attacks, and it was not an act of “persistent trolling” (Guideline #1). I did not smear anyone or misrepresent the Guardian or its journalists (Guideline #2). It was not “offensive” or “threatening” (Guideline #3), or part of a “flame war (Guideline #4). Nor was it racist, sexist, homophobic or any other form of “hate-speech” (Guideline #5). My comment was not libelous (Guideline #6), nor was it spam (Guideline #7), though I did include a link. It was relevant to the discussion (Guideline #8), it was reasonable (Guideline #9), and objectively constructive to the conversation (Guideline #10).
So, in the spirit of the Guardian’s stated mission to make its website “a welcoming space for intelligent discussion,” I will try again. My original comment, just about verbatim:
The climate is always changing. But is human activity causing runaway global warming? Is man causing a climate crisis? On those questions the science is not settled.
I then put in a link to ClimateChangeReconsidered.org. I don’t hyperlink it here … for fear of violating some sort of “community guideline,” but you can copy and paste the URL yourself.
Argument victory strategy of the left: When you’re losing the agrument, construct a straw man. When your straw man is burned up, yell and scream. When your throat gives out, ban all who disagree.
With Tax Day 2014 behind us, it might be tempting to turn away from thoughts of the taxman and to let the pain abate a while. For decades Americans have done just that; they have accepted taxation, albeit begrudgingly, as a necessary part of life in society and have taken the hurt with a certain stoicism. Sometimes voices have been raised against the sapping power of taxation, yet taxes have continued to rise along with government spending. The time of stoic acceptance may be coming to an end.
A series of recent Reason-Rupe polls, however, has revealed that discontent with the Byzantine tax code, and the feckless government apparatus it supports, has reached record levels. According to the polls, a general disbelief in the government’s ability to make efficient use of taxpayers’ money that has been built up to the point where respondents now believe that half of every dollar paid in taxes is wasted!
Similarly, a concurrent poll found that a mere 17% of Americans believe that government spending of tax money was better for society than would have been giving the same amount of money to charity or investing it in private business. Furthermore, more than one-third of respondents said government spending was actually less beneficial than charity or investment. That is far from a ringing endorsement of the current tax regime.
The mixture of these two beliefs, in government waste and in superior alternatives, can make for a powerful cocktail for reformist sentiment. While it might once have been possible to dismiss organizations seeking to overhaul the tax code, like Americans for Tax Reform, as a radical fringe element in the conservative movement, that is no longer possible when a majority of citizens are now convinced of the system’s iniquities.
Right now we are confronting a real, and perhaps unique, opportunity to fundamentally transform the way our government collects and spends citizens’ money. The wave of discontent is gathering and the winds of change are blowing it into a swell. The fact of this transformative mood is revealed in a further Reason-Rupe poll, which shows an astonishing 62% of Americans now in favor of replacing the current graduated income tax with a flat-rate tax.
Reformist moments are often few and far between in politics, and this one will not last long. Democratic politicians in particular are adroit at turning public discontent with government failure into anger at the wealthy. Gallup polls show a growing sentiment among respondents that the current distribution of wealth is unfair and that heavy taxes on the very rich would help serve to redress the balance. While this sentiment may at first seem contradictory to the desire for a flatter tax system, upon close inspection it is not. Indeed, much of the anger is the product of misdirected blame.
Many middle class and aspiring-to-middle class Americans see an apparent imbalance of power in the tax system. While some wealthy citizens can exploit loopholes in the labyrinthine tax code, ordinary people are not so lucky. This has led to a dangerous resentment.
What can be done to ameliorate these desires for greater equity in taxation? Clearly a majority are beginning to see the value of a flat tax in terms of the basic concept of equitable taxation. A properly administered, flatter tax can also go a long way to correcting the resentments that are boiling up in the Gallup poll and spurred on by left wing class warriors. A flatter tax would need to eliminate the loopholes that have become rhetorically devastating to supporters of free markets. The general discontent with the way our tax system works must be harnessed not only to reduce taxes, but also to eliminate the cracks and holes through which people can slip.
While paying the set rate of tax may be unpleasant to someone of means, it is the necessary requisite for a flatter tax system to be implemented and to succeed.
You have to be extremely stupid to send a couple of hundred armed government agents to confiscate some bullheaded rancher’s cattle without contemplating how the rest of the nation will interpret your actions.
What was obvious to voters who rejected Barack Obama’s run for the presidency the first and second time was the fact that he lacked any record of competency to be President. The rest voted for him because they wanted to say they helped elect the first black President of the United States and because they believed what this pathological liar said then and since.
The assertion that Obama’s and Eric Holder’s actions and policies are opposed because they are black is absurd. It is an insult to everyone who voted for Obama and to the rest of us.
I love the notion that Cliven Bundy lives in Bunkerville. It reminded me of Bunker Hill and you know how badly that eventually turned out for the British in 1775. What ensued was a guerrilla war led by George Washington that defeated the most powerful nation of its time. There is no way a militia with small arms can defeat the kind of arms the U.S. government can bring to bear on such a battle, but one has to admire the courage of those people who showed up to confront them. That’s quintessentially American!
Bundy should have paid his grazing rights fees. Other ranchers do. What he has done, however, is bring greater awareness the amount of land that the federal government owns in Nevada and elsewhere, particularly west of the Mississippi, and expose a regime that wants to intimidate Americans with force.
According to Wikipedia, “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior that administers America’s public lands, totaling approximately 247.3 million acres, or one-eighth of the landmass of the country. The BLM also manages 700 million acres (2,800,000 km) of subsurface mineral estate underlying federal, state, and private lands. Most public lands are located in western states, especially Alaska. With approximately 10,000 permanent employees and close to 2,000 seasonal employees, this works out to over 21,000 acres (85 km) per employee. The agency’s budget was $960,000,000 for 2010 ($3.79 per surface acre, $9.38 per hectare)”
I can understand the need for national forests and reserves, but I have concerns that those reserves are used as an excuse to deny access to massive energy sources that lie beneath their surface. If the U.S. didn’t own most of Nevada, Bundy would not need to pay grazing fees. Most certainly, his ancestors didn’t. The other excuse, that the government is trying to protect an endangered tortoise, is just part of the environmental movement’s efforts to keep energy sources from being available to all of us. Endangered species is pure fiction.
What worries me and many of my blogger colleagues is the prospect of a renewed effort by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding what is essentially a fairly minor dispute between it and Bundy. Showing some common sense, the BLM backed off its initial effort.
I don’t think the BLM response to Bundy was exclusive to the agency. That decision needed to be sent up the line as far as the White House. Indeed, it was likely initiated by the White House.
Even more scary is the fact that only Fox News channel had reporters on the scene. No other major television news outlet set journalists to record the event. How much in league with the White House does the media have to be to ignore two hundred armed government agents descending on a ranch in Nevada?
I suspect that a lot of Americans and most certainly those who live in the rural areas of the nation are going to remember the Bundy face-off with the BLM come the November midterm elections. While most voters are crowded into the cities on the East and West Coasts, there are a lot of others in “flyover country.’
When you add in all the folks who lost their healthcare insurance and others who have discovered they can’t even buy a policy until next January, that’s going to be a voting bloc that could decimate Democratic Party candidates.
All tyrannies over-reach at some point and we are seeing that occur in the White House. The nation is fortunate to have the House controlled by Republicans and now needs a Senate as well in order to dispense some much needed justice on behalf of Americans.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the White House responds to the May 16 “Operation American Spring” being organized to bring a million or more to Washington, D.C. to participate in an event that will demonstrate the breadth of the unhappiness that has spread since Obama’s first election and is gaining momentum since his second.
The White House response will tell us all a lot about its current state of mind. Whatever it has in mind is likely to leak. The best thing about Washington, D.C. is its inability to keep a secret. The worst thing is the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.
[Originally published at Warning Signs]
I started covering some of the shenanigans from the solar industry last summer when I wrote about the “Green Tea Party” in Georgia. I had no idea what a can of worms I’d opened. In September, I wrote about the net-metering battle taking place in Arizona—and pointed out the national implications of what was playing out there. The following month, I addressed, what I believe, is an organized effort by the industry, to co-opt the language of the free-market/conservative/limited-government thinking population in an effort to convenience them that government-mandated and -subsidized solar energy was a good thing. Last month I warned consumers of solar scams in a column I wrote titled “Clouds on the solar horizon.”
I have spent months on an investigation into the cronyism, abuse, mismanagement, and violations involved in Abengoa Solar, the Spanish company that received $2.8 billion in taxpayer funding—most of it through the 2009 Stimulus Bill. My exposé was published earlier this week in the Daily Caller.
Within the past few weeks, I’ve been getting harassing phone calls from a solar supporter—so much so, that I’ve had to block his numbers.
I’ve even earned a mention in a Cleantechnica.com post on “How To Write A Hit Piece On The Solar Industry In 6 Steps.”
Apparently there is a perception that I am anti-solar, when in reality I wish I could afford solar panels on my roof because I could use some “free” electricity—but what I am, is strongly free-market. I despise government picking winners and losers. And, my green energy investigations have proven that solar is at the center of the corruption.
Now, I find out that a solar advocate and employee of SunRun—one of the solar leasing companies that Christine Lakatos and I have covered as a part of our “Green-energy crony-corruption scandal”—has been trying to influence Wall Street analysts in an attempt to “damage investor confidence” in Arizona Public Service (APS). APS is the company at the forefront of changing current netmetering policies to avoid having to increase rates on the majority of consumers.
In an email to Rajeev Lalwani, an energy sector analyst with Morgan Stanley, SunRun Inc., public policy manager Kim Sanders attempts to influence Lalwani saying: “I wanted to share a bit more info that indicates this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Do these people have no shame? Or, are they behaving like desperate cornered rats, because they fear the taxpayer-funded gravy train is about to hit the stop block?
In an April 10 letter to SunRun Chief Executive Edward Fenster, Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) Chairman Bob Stump points out that Sanders’ efforts have “the potential to affect adversely millions of ratepayers in APS territory.” Stump points out that these ratepayers are the very people that the ACC is “charged to protect.”
Stump explains that this is because, negatively influencing the “judgement of Wall Street analysts” could “damage investor confidence in APS, undermine its capacity to borrow at reasonable rates, and damage the company’s shareholders, many of whom are Arizonans on fixed incomes and retirees.”
He likens the behavior of the “solar advocacy community” to “bulls in china shops” and concludes the letter stating that “such behavior” inflicts harm to “solar in Arizona.” Stump states: “Attempts to ‘disrupt the utility monopoly model,’ as one solar activist put it, should not entail damaging Arizona ratepayers.”
This shameful behavior addressed in stumps’ letter, and engaged in as revealed in my previous reporting, on the part of the “solar advocacy community” wouldn’t be needed if the industry could stand on its own in a true free market.
Both consumers and regulators need to be cautious when inviting in the wolf in sheep’s clothing that is the commercial solar industry.
For the past several years, the policies that favor certain minority groups at the level of college admissions and public employment, commonly called affirmative action, have been on the back foot. Laws and constitutional amendments in various states, most notably in the liberal stronghold California in 1996, have restricted or banned outright the practice of discrimination on the basis of race, whether favoring the majority ethnic group or a minority. These movements ought to be welcomed by supporters of liberty. Our nation is founded on the principle of equality before the law. It seems inherently unjust to favor one group over another because of the color of their skin or ethnic history. It is doubly unjust that the organization engaging in such practices be the government to which we all pay taxes and from which we are meant to expect equal treatment and consideration.
Despite the strength of the principled opposition, last month Democratic legislators in California embarked on a rearguard effort to restore affirmative action through a partial reversal of the 1996 ban. The proposed law would allow for the restoration of affirmative action to university admissions.
The issue of affirmative action has become deeply knotted up in the American public consciousness. Whenever it is brought up as a policy to be implemented or repealed, passionate champions on both sides come out of the woodwork. Yet more often than not, the debates that arise from these proposals generate far more heat than light. In fact, it is often the case that each side ends up talking past the other, leaving the general public confused as to what each side actually stands for. This has already begun to happen in California.
At the root of the confusion is the fact that affirmative action is not a debate in itself. Rather it is a rickety amalgam of two distinct debates, namely those of racial discrimination and of social inequality. It is only by unpicking these two threads that we can actually understand the debate.
Challenging the Politics of Race
African-Americans, and much more recently Hispanic-Americans, have been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action. The effects of affirmative action on the level of the playing field between college applicants of different ethnic groups have been widely studied and documented. One of the most influential research programs was conducted by Thomas Espenshade of Princeton University. His research determined the impact of race on admissions by assessing the performance of applicants via SAT scores (on the 1600-point scale). By taking white applicants as a baseline, he was able to determine that African-American applicants are treated as having a bonus score of 230 additional points, and Hispanic-Americans gain a bonus of 185 points. It turned out from the study that the big losers of the affirmative action game were Asian-Americans, who received the equivalent of negative-50 points from the baseline.
The problem Espenshade’s analysis reveals is that young Americans are being measured by different standards simply on the basis of their race. Isn’t that exactly what the Civil Rights movement was about putting a stop to?
The key component of affirmative action that separates it from other kinds of government action on behalf of the economically disadvantaged is that it is inherently identity-based. A person living in poverty is not by nature a poor person. When their economic position is improved through employment and the building of their human capital, “poor” is discarded as a label.
This is not the case in matters of race. When social spending or advantages are aimed at a racial group, the label does not change. If anything, it has been permanently and indelibly imprinted on that group. The result is a defining of a whole race of people as in need of help, or in need of a “boost” compared to the majority population. Such policies and such beliefs are absolutely toxic to the working of a free, fair, and equal society. It shifts the discourse from citizenship as a whole to quasi-tribal groups to which one is bound by blood, not belief. Such a civil society is unworkable and anathema to the founding principles of the American republic.
Indeed, California is a perfect case study of the dangerous thinking that can arise when political and economic spoils are allocated on the basis of race. The Democratic Party establishment of California was shocked when the bill introducing the proposed reintroduction of affirmative action was opposed, and defeated, thanks to Asian-American Democratic legislators jumping ship and voting against. The reason for the opposition was not a matter of principle. Rather, it was pressure from lobby groups, and a large swathe of the Asian-American community, who saw the reintroduction of affirmative action as harmful to their community’s children’s prospects in college applications.
Surely there can be nothing more dangerous in a democratic society than the creation of intractable political battle-lines across which it is actually impossible to cross thanks to their being the product of race-centric politics. Affirmative action is essentially a spoils system that pits majority groups against minorities and minorities against each other. Such disastrous policies certainly don’t sound like a good way to fight either poverty or institutionalized discrimination.
Fighting Inequality of Opportunity
The problem with affirmative action as a mechanism for fighting entrenched disadvantage is that it fundamentally does not address the real issue at play. According to affirmative action’s way of thinking, the substandard education and economic background that some members of certain races or ethnicities come from translates into a need to provide special privileges and allowances to all members of those races or ethnicities at the point of college admissions. The problem with such thinking is two-fold.
In the first instance, it fails to acknowledge that members of a given ethnic group often have very different economic and life experiences. The fact is, entirely unsurprisingly to most people, there are countless successful African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans who are able to send their children to excellent schools where they succeed with aplomb. Affirmative action allocates special privileges to these people, even though the poverty and discrimination that supposedly inheres at the racial level has not in any way manifested. In reality, there is no such thing as an ethnicity-wide solution to a problem.
The second factor is that the problem of performance up to the point of college admission is in no way addressed. All affirmative action does is give the illusion of improved performance when in reality it is simply lowering the bar of performance. The way to actually address the issue of performance is to attack it root-and-branch in primary and secondary schools. What can be done? Weakening the ability of teachers unions to vacuum up money without any expectation of performance and expanding school choice through the promotion of charter schools and school vouchers would be a start.
The problems affirmative action tries to address are not actually cured by the policy. Rather, it masks the initial problem and then generates a cornucopia of new ones. Real answers lie in improving school performance so that when kids compete for places in college, they can do so on a genuinely even footing.
Medicaid expansion is an expensive endeavor that studies show does not provide better or more-affordable health care. Many of the expansion plans that Pennsylvania legislators are considering would use federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid program to more people, creating new costs that the federal government may not always be willing or able to cover, leaving state taxpayers on the hook for the new liabilities.
Pennsylvania has yet to approve an expansion of Medicaid. But in September 2013, Gov. Tom Corbett released a proposal that would accept federal funds and extend Medicaid to about 500,000 individuals, who would be moved into the ObamaCare federal health insurance exchange.
Like several other programs being considered in other states, Corbett’s proposal, known as “Healthy PA,” emulates Arkansas’ premium assistance model. Under the Arkansas model, the state provides funds for those newly eligible for Medicaid to purchase private insurance through the ObamaCare insurance exchange. Medicaid recipients choosing the private option would face many of the same requirements as traditional Medicaid beneficiaries, including co-pays and a premium-sharing requirement. Participants would be required to pay a portion of their premiums, up to $35 per month.
According to the Commonwealth Foundation, Healthy PA would make several changes to the state’s current Medicaid program, including a reduction in the cap on certain medical services, which would cut the funds managed care organizations use to pay doctors; a reduction in the number of benefit packages in traditional Medicaid from 14 to two; a premium-sharing requirement based on a sliding scale of $1 to $25 per month; and new co-pays for doctor visits..
Healthy PA has several shortcomings. First, despite the private-market feel of the program, it still represents an expansion of Medicaid, where multiple aspects of the insurance plan are dictated by the federal government and the beneficial aspects of real market competition are lost. Second, once expansion occurs, it will be extremely difficult to roll back.
Medicaid expansion is expensive. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, expansion in Pennsylvania would add $43 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a plan like Healthy PA could cost state taxpayers an additional $3,000 per enrollee.
One alternative states should consider is the pilot program currently underway in Florida, known as the “Medicaid Cure.” The program is a premium support model that provides existing Medicaid recipients with a range of premiums and plans from which to choose, dramatically improving health care competition and consumer choice. The results have been promising; the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration found a 64 percent improvement in health outcomes over managed care and an 83 percent satisfaction rate.
Without significant reforms, Medicaid will remain fiscally unsustainable. Instead of expanding a flawed model that is overly costly, delivers subpar health care and shifts more power to the federal government, state lawmakers should focus instead on reform options like those piloted in Florida, which reduce costs and offer better care.
[Originally published at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]
Seldom does a new product come along that exposes a company like Google Glass does.
For the few that have not heard of Google Glass yet, it is a hands-free, wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display above one’s eye to provide information to the user and enable video recording of whatever a user sees. What’s recorded is stored in Google’s data centers and that data will be integrated with most Google products and services.
For one day, April 15, Google is offering any American the opportunity to buy Glass for $1,500.
Why such animosity? A recent poll by Toluna of 1,000 Americans found 72% had privacy concerns about Glass. Their second biggest fear was safety and distractibility. And a third of those polled feared being mugged while wearing Glass.
Another reason is visceral. Glass is an in-your-face device that people know can spy and eavesdrop on their private activities and conversations without their knowledge or consent.
So how does Google Glass expose Google?
Glass brings attention to problems Google would rather conceal.
First, as the Toluna poll exposed, Americans understand Google Glass inherently creates privacy concerns.
Already over a dozen bars and restaurants in San Francisco have banned Google Glass as an unwanted invasion of their customers’ privacy. In at least two instances, people were upset enough to physically attack Glass wearers in public. With more Glass “Explorers” outside of the Silicon Valley area, expect more Glass privacy-related incidents in more places.
Google has settled with 38 states for violating tens of millions of Americans privacy. Google also received a record privacy fine from the FTC for breaking a previous FTC-Google privacy settlement by hacking into Safari’s browser to bypass iPhone users’ privacy settings.
Second, the more Glass users attempt to secretly record more private conversations without meaningful notice or consent, the more people will eventually learn of Google’s widespread wiretapping.
Google recently appealed to the Supreme Court a decision that ruled Google Street View’s secret interception of tens of millions of American homeowners’ unencrypted WiFi signals was illegal wiretapping.
And a different Federal Court ruled that Google’s routine interception of more than 100 million American Gmail users’ emails for the purposes of creating advertising profiles also constitutes illegal wiretapping.
Third, more Glass users will mean an increased chance of a Glass distracted driver being involved in an accident that causes harm or death.
In stark contrast to wireless companies proactively running an “it can wait” national advertising against the dangers of using phones while driving, Google is proactively lobbying multiple states to not ban driving with Google Glass when it knows full well Glass is obviously distracting for drivers.
Sadly, the first Glass distracted-driver accident will bring more attention to Google’s history of reckless disregard for the safety of others.
In Google’s initial Glass dos and don’ts for “Explorers,” Google does not appear to be taking reasonable care in preventing foreseeable potential harm to others. There is no admonition about the obviously distracting nature of using Google Glass when driving and the potential risk of harm to the user or others.
Finally, Glass reminds people that Google has become the spy tool of choice, the one-stop-shop for spying and the spymasters dream.
There is good reason that Glass is only being offered to Americans and not foreigners despite more than half of Google’s business coming from the rest of the world.
Given Snowden’s NSA revelations and Google’s strong legal and operational alignment with the NSA and Google’s recent Glass work for the U.S. military, many foreigners and other governments naturally can perceive Glass as SpyGlass or NSA headgear.
In sum, Glass has already proven to be a highly-controversial, in-your-face product that many people not only dislike, but also fear.
On April 15 Google will throw Google Glass at America by selling it to any American who wants to buy it that day.
Time will tell if Glass proves the old adage that those who live in glass houses should not throw stuff at others.
[Originally published at Daily Caller]
When I hear concerns about soil erosion, I always think about my grandma. She was an amazing woman. She grew up in Huron in the heart of the Great Depression, which just happened to coincide with the Dust Bowl. Growing up, my sister and I listened to her stories of dealing with the dust storms, stuffing rags in the window sills and the cracks around the doors in an attempt to keep the dust out of the house. Despite her best efforts, a fine film of dust would still cover the interior of the house.
The dust from the Dust Bowl claimed crops, cattle, and the lives of two children in Huron. To this day, when contractors cut into houses that survived the Dust Bowl, they find sand in between the interior and exterior walls. The Dust Bowl eroded more than the soil; it eroded a way of life.
Erosion is a problem that persists to this day, and it’s responsible for dust storms, mudslides and sinkholes. Fortunately, plants in forests, grasslands, and everywhere else set roots in the soil and help the soil stay put, and plants around the globe are getting a boost from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Although many people, spurred by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, think “going green” means using less carbon dioxide, plants prefer just the opposite.
We all know plants need carbon dioxide to breathe, but many don’t know plants turn that carbon dioxide into carbon in the form of the roots, stems, trunks, branches, leaves, and fruit with which we are more familiar. And according to a new study by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the greener the planet gets.
The report, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts, published by The Heartland Institute (where I am a research fellow), cites thousands of peer-reviewed studies rising atmospheric CO2 levels are helping almost all plants grow bigger, become more efficient in using water, and better withstand the stress of high air temperature.
In a way, this CO2 enrichment of the atmosphere is to plants like an oxygen mask is to a winded football player — helping to prepare him for the next play.
More CO2 in the atmosphere also means plants start to grow in places they couldn’t before, reducing the amount of erosion and, consequently, dust in the air in places around the globe, while increasing the potential for agriculture and wildlife habitat as the range of certain plant species expands.
Increased levels of CO2 also have been found to increase the fine-root density in some plants by up to 184 percent, and a 55 percent increase in above ground biomass despite water and nutrition limitations — meaning plants become better at anchoring the soil in place and allowing water to permeate the surface, which is especially important during droughts.
This would have been great news for my grandma and everyone else who survived the Dust Bowl. Improved farming techniques have played an important part in reducing the amount of erosion around the world, and these efforts certainly will be helped by having more CO2 in the atmosphere. Instead of being a detriment to plant growth, more CO2 acts as a fertilizer, making plants grow bigger, faster, more resilient, and more abundant, greening the world we live in.
[Originally published in the Argus Leader]
There is an increasing recognition – at least outside the academy, planning organization and urban core developer groups – that the spatial expansion of cities or suburbanization represents the evolving urban form of not only the United States and virtually all of the high income world but also across the developing world, whether middle income or third world.
In recent years, Mexico has made substantial economic progress. Per capita income (purchasing power parity) in Mexico exceeds that of all the “BRIC” nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) except resource-rich Russia.
In Mexico, as almost everywhere, cities continue to expand to provide more living space for an emerging suburban middle-class. This is obvious in the new townhouse (attached house) and detached house developments that ring the urban areas (photograph above). Some of the best evidence of this can be observed on and beyond the southern edge of the nation’s second-largest urban area, Guadalajara (for example on Google Earth).
The Valley of Mexico
Nearly 3 years ago, one of the first Evolving Urban Form articles highlighted the Valley of Mexico metropolitan area, which is Mexico City in its functional (economic) manifestation. That article noted that the core municipality of Mexico City in 1950 had 2.23 million residents out of the urban area’s fewer than 3 million and comprised only 54 square miles (139 square kilometers). By 1970, the city’s population had risen to 2.85 million. However, as has happened in Paris, Copenhagen, Milan, Osaka, Glasgow, Detroit, and many others, the urban core population plummeted. By 2000, the former city had a population of only 1.69 million, a 40 percent loss from 1970. There was a modest population increase between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, but its population seems unlikely to ever be restored to near their previous peak, which mirrors the experience of Paris and Copenhagen.
Instead all population growth in the Valley of Mexico metropolitan area has been outside the 1950 area of Mexico City and in the post-World War II suburbs. While comparable metropolitan area data is not available, the Mexico City urban area added more than 10 million residents between 1970 and 2010. The same period, the suburban areas added more than 11 million residents (Figure 1). The Valley of Mexico metropolitan area is located not only in the Distrito Federal, but also in the states of Mexico and Hidalgo.
The Other Major Metropolitan Areas
While the scale of urbanization in the Valley of Mexico dwarfs that of the rest of the nation, similar dispersion is evident in the nation’s other 11 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population (Figures 2 and 3).
Guadalajara, capital of state of Jalisco, is Mexico’s second largest metropolitan area. Between 2000 and 2010, the metropolitan area grew nearly 20 per cent, from 3.7 million residents to 4.4 million. The core city (locality) of Guadalajara lost 150,000 residents, registering a population of just under 1.5 million in 2010. Suburbs accounted for approximately all the metropolitan area’s population growth.
Monterey, capital of the state of Nuevo Leon, is currently the third largest metropolitan area in Mexico and is growing slightly more rapidly than Guadalajara. Between 2000 and 2010, Monterey added 22 per cent to its population, which increased from 3.4 million residents to 4.1 million. The central locality grew modestly, but 97 per cent of the metropolitan area growth was in the suburbs.
The Valley of Mexico metropolitan area is encircled by smaller, but major metropolitan areas that are among the fastest-growing in the nation.
Queretaro, the capital of the state of Queretaro, is located 130 miles (220 kilometers) north of Mexico City by freeway. Queretaro is the fastest-growing major metropolitan area in Mexico, having added 34 per cent to its population over the last census period, to reach 1.1 million. More than two thirds of the growth was in the suburbs.
Toluca, capital of the state of Mexico (Note), is located across a mountain range only 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Mexico City. Toluca grew 33 percent to 1.9 million residents in 2010. Nearly 90 per cent of Toluca’s population growth was in the suburbs between 2000 and 2010.
Pueblo, capital of the state of Puebla, is located across mountain range 130 miles (80 kilometers) to the east of Mexico City. Puebla is located in a valley surrounded by some of the most spectacular volcanoes in the world, including Popocateptl and Iztaccihuatl (both more than 17,000 feet, or 5,100 meters), toward Mexico City, La Malinche (14,600 feet or 4,500 meters), only 17 miles from the city center and Orizaba (18,500 feet or 5,600 meters). The three tallest of these reach elevations higher than any in North America outside of the Yukon and Alaska. Puebla was the slowest growing of the Central Mexico metropolitan areas, adding 23 percent to its population, and reaching 2.9 million residents in 2010. Three quarters of Puebla’s growth was in the suburbs. The Puebla metropolitan area extends into the state of Tlaxcala.
Border Metropolitan Areas
In comparison, the large metropolitan areas on the United States border expanded outwards but not as rapidly. Tijuana, which is adjacent to the San Diego metropolitan area now has 1.75 million residents. More than 60 percent of its growth over the preceding 10 years was suburban. Juarez (located in the state of Chihuahua), is across the border from the El Paso metropolitan area and reached a population of 1.5 million, with slightly more than one half of its growth being in the suburbs. Neither San Diego-Tijuana area nor Juarez -El Paso qualify as metropolitan areas because they are not labor markets – there are significant limitations on the movement of labor (employees).
Other Interior Metropolitan Areas
Three other major metropolitan areas are located in the interior. In Torreon (states of Coahuila and Durango), more than 60 percent of the population growth was in the suburbs. A smaller 51 percent of the growth in San Luis Potosi (state of San Luis Potosi) was in the suburbs. The significant exception was Leon (state of Guanajuato), where only 36 percent of the growth was outside the core urban core.
Overall, 5.1 million of the 6.0 residents added to Mexico’s major metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2010 were outside the urban cores (Figure 4). Most of the growth was in the three largest metropolitan areas (Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey), which added 3.2 million residents. The urban cores of these three metropolitan areas together declined approximately 100,000, while the suburbs attracted more than all of the metropolitan area growth. Mexico seems well positioned for continued economic growth and a populace that seeks better standards of living, more often than not in dispersed settings.
[Originally published at New Geography]
From the various reports of briefings about the FCC’s planned rules for the 600 MHz incentive auction, two things appear clear. First, the FCC doesn’t trust market forces. And second, the FCC doesn’t want the highest bidders to win the spectrum.
Apparently, the FCC is trying to produce something for everyone in this now circus-like auction process – a proverbial, dazzling three-ring-circus of political compromises that catch and keep different people’s attention.
At core, the FCC reportedly is adding a third ring to the already-complex, unprecedented, two-ring circus of the incentive auction. The first ring is the incentive reverse auction of broadcasters bidding for what they must earn in order to sell their spectrum, and the second ring is what wireless companies will then pay to own the broadcasters’ spectrum.
The FCC wants to add a third ring to this growing auction spectacle. Reportedly the FCC is going to effectively create yet a third auction process that would commence when certain, not-yet-known auction revenue targets are met in the auction. Below those FCC-determined-revenue-targets anyone can bid. Above those targets, the largest potential bidders’ opportunities to bid further would be dramatically restricted.
This will create big auction dichotomy; some spectrum could garner a very high competitive market price and the rest could go to anyone willing to pay at least the FCC’s reserve price.
The made-up-revenue-number, to be determined by the FCC, sometime in the future, has now become the tent-pole assumption of this now elaborate, and increasingly complex three-ring circus. This FCC expected revenue number will signal how much the FCC wants the auction to collect, regardless of what the market could bear.
This auction rulemaking sounds like it is shaping up to be a complex amalgamation of multiple inherently-conflicted, political compromises to get three votes. It does not sound like an auction award of spectrum to the highest bidder.
The big risk here is that auction politics is not auction economics, and public auction prices are all about economics.
In other words, the FCC imagines political and economic outcomes are the same when they are very different.
Rule-makings may be judged by politics, but auctions are judged by real-life bids based on market economics.
Bottom-line, this auction process is on track to be the most confusing FCC auction ever. Confusion breeds uncertainty.
And uncertainty lower bids.
[Originally published at Precursor Blog]
It’s Tax Day in America. Which brings to mind one of the late, great Ronald Reagan’s many great lines:
“Republicans believe every day is the Fourth of July, but the Democrats believe every day is April 15.”
And of course Reagan was right. Taxes damage individuals, families and economies every single day of the year – not just on Collection Day.
Taxes are about the government taking your coin.
Pro-government folks view taxes like Jello – there’s always room for more.
Taxes are also the government wanting less of the taxed activity. Even the most virulent pro-taxers admit it – sometimes.
So if you want less income – tax it.
If you want less investment:
If you want less employers offering health insurance:
Think the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was about a whole lot more government control than just the massive health care power grab?
So if you want more global free trade – you absolutely should tax it less.
A hefty 38.5 per cent Japanese tariff that currently applies on frozen beef will be halved to 19.5 per cent over 18 years, with deep cuts in the first year.
Less taxes on something means more of that something? You bet.
The chairman of the Australian beef industry’s free trade taskforce, Lachie Hart, says the deal will be worth $5.5 billion to the industry over 20 years.
And they’re thinking much, much bigger.
There are also significant advantages for other agricultural products, with fruit and vegetables, seafood, sugar and wine among the winners.
Japanese exporters will see Australian tariffs lowered on electronics, whitegoods and cars….
Australian consumers will see prices lowered as a result.
Japanese consumers too. The less taxes the providers have to pay, the less their customers will have to pay.
Under the deal, Japanese-made cars will be, on average, $1,500 cheaper.
Less taxes is good – no taxes is better.
The duty-free quota for cheese – Australia’s single largest dairy export to Japan – will be boosted from 27,000 tonnes per year to 47,000 tonnes annually.
Unfortunately, not all global trade is trending quite so freely. In fact, sometimes the tariffs are so thick and impacted, they make your teeth hurt.
This isn’t unilateral – imposed in a vacuum. This is one of the globe’s bigger games of tit-for-tat. We manipulate our sugar market – in ways well beyond just taxes. So other producers do too.
(W)e have Brazil dumping money into the sugar industry in a million different directions. India uber-subsidizing production. China gaming the system – stockpiling product, then shifting to direct payments. And Thailand providing multi-billion dollar price supports….
And these are just some of the myriad ways these nations – and many others – are directly and indirectly manipulating the global market. None of this has anything to do with a free exchange of goods.
These huge barriers to the global free trade of sugar – and many, many other goods – make trade scarcer, and consumer prices much higher.
We should all instead emulate the freer trading ways of the likes of Australia and Japan.
If we want more cheap stuff – governments must tax it less. If we want an abundance of cheap stuff – don’t tax it at all.
Looking to get filing help from our federal fleecers is at best a crapshoot.
We self-employed have to every quarter guess what we owe and send it in.
Salaried people get skinned every paycheck – “withholding” that hides governments’ multiple, monstrous bites. And tricks people into getting excited about an annual “refund” – which is really just a return of the interest-free loan they involuntarily made to the Leviathan.
But if any of us under pay – our mistake isn’t interest-free. Nor is it penalty-free. For governments, it’s forgiveness for me – not for thee.
Taxes – already obscenely multitudinous and high – have grown exorbitantly upward and outward in the last five years.
Is the Leviathan slaked? Of course not.
More of just the same ticket for a five-plus year foundering, floundering economy.
The government’s cash drain is historic.
U.S. states took in 6.1 percent more revenue in fiscal 2013 than they did the year before for a record $846.2 billion, according to the Census Bureau.
It was the third consecutive increase, the agency said in a statement today. Revenue rose 4.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, and 7.3 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Yet we’ve added during this time $7+ TRILLION to the federal debt. So it’s clearly a spending problem – not a revenue one.
And that’s just the federal government. Many of the many states are also digging ever-deeper into our wallets.
The absolute last thing we should do is open another vein for these governments to drain. Yet looming before us is the October 31, 2014 end of the Internet tax moratorium.
Since 1998, the Internet Tax Moratorium has protected everyone from the average Internet surfer to small and large businesses from multiple and discriminatory taxes on Internet usage.
This moratorium was extended in 2001 and 2004, both times with bipartisan votes in the House and Senate.
And in 2007.
Which brings us to now. Thankfully, the desire to preempt this new rash of taxes is again bipartisan.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and others introduced HR 3086, the “Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act”.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and 16 other Senators introduced S 1431, the “Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act”.…
And even better – both sides are looking to make the tax ban permanent. Which means we won’t ever again have to play the brinksmanship games for which governments are notorious.
It’s an election year. We the People aren’t too keen on DC’s denizens.
I guess they had to poll on cockroaches and head lice to have something proximate.
Here’s a potential Kumbayah moment. A way for Congress to help themselves politically – and also avoid another concussive blow to a feeble economy.
Let’s get it together and get it done – now, well before November 1.
[Originally published at Daily Caller]
In its recent ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck down yet another provision of federal campaign finance law as a violation of the First Amendment‘s free speech guarantee.
This time it was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s limitation on the aggregate amount of contributions — presently $123,200 — that a donor may contribute to all candidates or party committees in one election cycle.
Of course, McCutcheon follows the now-famous Citizens United ruling, in which the Court held that the BCRA provision restricting corporations and unions from making expenditures advocating the election or defeat of a candidate violates the free speech rights of those entities.
Like Citizens United, McCutcheon was another 5-4 decision. While the case was narrowly decided, the gulf between the understanding of the majority and the dissenters of the First Amendment’s meaning is wide.
Indeed, two different conceptions of the role of individual rights in our constitutional regime emerge.
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer asserts that “the First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.”
The emphasis on “matters” is Breyer’s. But I think what matters most in his statement is the reference to “collective speech,” a term with somewhat Orwellian overtones.
Contrast Breyer’s language with this from Chief Justice John Roberts‘ majority opinion:
“The First Amendment safeguards an individual’s right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association.”
Roberts declares the First Amendment is intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, “putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely in the hands of each of us.”
The contrast between Breyer’s emphasis on “collective speech” and Roberts’ focus on an “individual’s right” is rather stark.
And to my mind, Breyer’s formulation is disturbing. The Bill of Rights — of which the First Amendment is foremost — were added to the Constitution to protect fundamental individual liberties from abrogation by popular majorities, not to secure some notion of collective rights.
A window into Breyer’s thinking concerning “collective speech” may be gleaned from his citation toJean-Jacques Rousseau, whom the justice rightly calls “an influential 18th century continental philosopher.”
Rousseau was indeed an influential philosopher but, thankfully, not one whose thinking greatly influenced our Founders.
Rousseau is best known for his theory of the “general will,” elaborated in his major work, The Social Contract.
In a nutshell, Rousseau’s philosophy requires the individual to submerge his own ideas to what he calls the “general will,” which Rousseau explains this way:
“When, therefore, the opinion opposed to my own prevails, that simply shows I was mistaken, and what I considered to be the general will was not so. Had my private opinion prevailed, I should have done something other than I wished; and in that case I should not have been free.”
It is easy to see that Rousseau’s philosophy nurtures collectivist thinking — including notions of the primacy of “collective speech” — rather than an appreciation for the role of individual rights in a democratic society.
The pronounced collectivist bent of this philosophical line, with its notions of state supremacy over the individual, differs significantly from the line running from Locke to David Hume, to James Madison and on to John Stuart Mill.
Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Breyer, by relying on Rousseau for support, is a devotee of Hegel or Marx.
I am only suggesting that his conception of the First Amendment, focusing as it does on the promotion of collective speech values, necessarily disfavors protecting an individual’s right to free speech and the other individual liberties that the Bill of Rights are intended to secure.
[Originally published at Washington Examiner]
Having spent decades trying to convince everyone that carbon dioxide (CO2) was a “greenhouse gas” that was going to cause the Earth to heat up, the same environmental charlatans are now embarking on a campaign to do the same with methane. In the U.S. the first move was announced by the White House in late March.
The carbon dioxide hoax fell apart in the wake of a cooling cycle affecting the Earth that began around 1997 and continues to this day. Warming and cooling cycles are natural events and both are tied to the activity or lack of it of the Sun. Humans have nothing to do with the climate other to enjoy or endure it.
Why methane? It has a lot to do with the development of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking”, and the way it unlocks natural gas, aka methane, all of which portends an America that is energy independent, along with its huge reserves of coal and oil. If, of course, the government permits this to occur.
As we know, the Obama administration does not want that. It would mean more jobs, greater prosperity, and the ability to pay down the national debt, not to mention drive down the cost of electricity, gasoline, and everything else that depends on energy.
Despite the cooling cycle that is likely to last for many more years, Steve Hamburg, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, was quoted by the Washington Post saying that “ounce for ounce, methane is 84 times as potent as a greenhouse gas over 20 years” compared to carbon dioxide. “More than a third of the warming that we’ll see as a result of today’s emissions over the next couple of decades comes from, essentially, methane. We need to remain focused on carbon dioxide emissions, but doing so is not enough.”
Excuse me, but the Environmental Defense Fund and countless other Green advocacy groups have been focused on carbon dioxide for decades and the Earth is cooling, not warming. What part of this does Hamburg not understand?
James M. Taylor, the managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly published by The Heartland Institute, reported in January that “Natural gas fracking is not causing a spike in the U.S. methane emissions”, citing Environmental Protection Agency data. “Methane emissions specific to natural gas are in a long-term decline, down ten percent since 1990 and down seven percent since 2007 when the fracking boom began.”
The Washington Post, however, asserted that emission levels “are set to rise by 2030 as shale oil and shale gas production expands in the United States.” Do you remember all those predictions about the increase of carbon dioxide emissions and how, in ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred years, the Earth would heat up?
This is not about methane, it is about finding a way to shut down fracking and the extraction of natural gas and oil in the same way the Obama administration’s “war on coal” has caused the loss of over 150 coal-fired plants that until it began, were providing electricity. Reducing sources of electricity drives up its cost to everyone. As more natural gas came on line by 2013 it had become the second greatest source of U.S. electricity, but overall the amount of electricity produced was less than in 2007 before the war on coal began.
A natural component of the Earth, it has a number of sources, but one that has also caught the eye of government regulators involves cow flatulence and belching.
The White House has proposed cutting methane emissions from the dairy industry by 25% by 2020. The Environmental Protection Agency has been tracking cow farts since 2012 and now the dairy industry has to worry along with the oil and gas industry. In addition to the EPA, the Bureau of Land Management will be announcing “new standards this fall to reduce venting and flaring from oil and gas production on public lands.”
It’s often best just to let the Greens speak for themselves, revealing their never-ending efforts to attack the energy industry that keeps our lights on, heats and cools our homes, and fuels our cars and trucks. “President Obama’s plan to reduce climate-disrupting methane pollution is an important step in reining in an out of control industry exempt from too many public health protections,” said Deborah Nardone, the director of the Sierra Club’s Keeping Dirty Fuels in the Ground campaign.
“However,” said Ms. Nardone, “even with the most rigorous methane controls in place, we will still fall short of what is needed to fight climate disruption if we do not reduce our reliance on these dirty fossil fuels.”
What the heck is a climate disruption? A blizzard, a hurricane, a flood, tornadoes? None of these phenomena have anything to do with using fossil fuels. This is the kind of utter drivel we have all been hearing for decades.
It has nothing to do with the climate and everything to do with denying access and use of the greatest reserves of coal, oil and natural gas that exist in the greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America.[Originally published at Warning Signs]
So my wife and I are out running errands, and we stop at a big grocery store. As we go through checkout, I see probably the biggest argument against raising the minimum wage I can think of: no cashier.
I look up and down the checkout lanes. Most are self-checkout and bag-your-own. It gets me thinking. When I was a kid, self-serve gasoline was unheard of. You pulled up at a gas pump, rolled over a hose that would “ding-ding” for an attendant, and out would come someone to pump the gas for you, clean your car’s windows, and offer to check your car’s oil level. Today, gas station attendants are almost extinct. It’s almost all self-serve gas now. Also gone are our local movie theater ushers, and our bowling alley pin setters. I’m not old enough to remember elevator operators, but I’ve seen them in old movies. They’re gone too.
Employers are always looking for ways to cut costs. Elevator operators, pin-setters, movie theater ushers, and gas station attendants have all been priced out of existence. Based on what I saw at the grocery store, checkout lane cashiers are being priced out too.
Force employers to pay people so much that they produce less than it costs to hire them, and before long, in comes automation and out go jobs.
The costs of hiring someone go well beyond wages. There’s also unemployment insurance (required), workers compensation insurance (required), Social Security/Medicare tax (required), liability insurance to cover actions of employees (a virtual necessity), and other benefits an employer might offer such as paid sick days (usually optional).
The February unemployment figures recently came out. The national average rate is up a bit to 6.7 percent. But for young people, who have the least education and work experience and therefore are the least-productive workers, the official rate is a Depression-level 11.4 percent—and it’s 15.8 percent if we include the nearly two million persons ages 18 to 29 who are not counted as unemployed because they’re so frustrated they’ve given up looking for work.
It’s even worse for young people who are minorities. Among young blacks the official unemployment rate is 19.3 percent (23.8 percent if we include those who’ve given up looking). Among young Hispanics it’s 12.5 percent (16.6 percent if we include those who’ve given up looking.)
President Obama is agitating for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage, up from the $7.25 an hour federal minimum. Doing this would make it even more expensive to hire people with poor educations, few skills, and little or no work experience. There’d be a bigger gap between what these people produce for an employer and what they would receive in wages and benefits. They won’t get jobs; it’s as simple as that.
The recent Congressional Budget Office report says a higher minimum wage would likely put hundreds of thousands of entry-level people out of work. Those in minimum-wage jobs who manage to stay employed would receive higher pay, but as the example of the cashier-less checkout lanes shows, their employers would surely start looking for ways to eliminate their jobs.
Two more points:
First, throughout the minimum-wage debate we speak as if persons with minimum-wage jobs will always have these low-paying jobs. In fact, however, these are usually first jobs, second jobs, or jobs to tide people over until they can find higher-paying work. In other words, they’re temporary or transient. There is not a permanent group of minimum-wage workers.
Second, what’s magic about $10.10 an hour? If an employer offers $10 an hour, should the government force people to remain unemployed over one thin dime? The White House is crawling with unpaid interns—unpaid. They work for no pay … but not for nothing. The unpaid interns have decided it’s worth receiving no pay to have the experience, the connections they expect to make, the resumé they’ll be able to flaunt. There are many jobs where experience, connections, and impressive resumes might be worth low pay or even no pay.
It’s our lives. We should be able to work for whomever we want for whatever pay and benefits we agree to take.
The story of rancher Cliven Bundy has captured an abundance of media attention and attracted supporters from across the West, who relate to the struggle against the federal management of lands. Bundy’s sister, Susan, was asked: “Who’s behind the uproar?” She blamed the Sierra Club, then Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and then President Obama. She concluded her comments with: “It’s all about control”—a sentiment that is frequently expressed regarding actions taken in response to some endangered-species claim.
An Associated Press report describes Bundy’s battle this way: “The current showdown pits rancher Cliven Bundy’s claims of ancestral rights to graze his cows on open range against federal claims that the cattle are trespassing on arid and fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise.”
Bundy’s story has been percolating for decades—leaving people to question why now. The pundits are, perhaps, missing the real motive. To discover it, you have to dig deep under the surface of the story, below the surface of the earth. I posit: it is all about oil and gas.
On April 10, the Natural News Network posted this: “BLM fracking racket exposed! Armed siege and cattle theft from Bundy ranch really about fracking leases.” It states: “a Natural News investigation has found that BLM is actually in the business of raking in millions of dollars by leasing Nevada lands to energy companies that engage in fracking operations.”
This set off alarms in my head; it didn’t add up. I know that oil-and-gas development and ranching can happily coexist. Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, told me: “The ranching and oil-and-gas communities are the backbone of America. They are the folks who allow the rest of the nation to pursue their hearts’ desire secure in the knowledge that they will have food and energy available in abundant supply. These natural resource users have worked arm-in-arm for nearly a century on the same land. They are constantly developing and employing technologies for ever better outcomes.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wouldn’t be enduring the humiliating press it has received, as a result of kicking Bundy off of land his family has ranched for generations and taking away his prior usage rights, just to open up the land for oil-and-gas—the two can both be there.
The Natural News “investigation” includes a map from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology that shows “significant exploratory drilling being conducted in precisely the same area where the Bundy family has been running cattle since the 1870s.” It continues: “What’s also clear is that oil has been found in nearby areas.”
Nevada is not a top-of-mind state when one thinks about oil and gas. Alan Coyner, administrator for the Nevada Division of Minerals, describes his state: “We are not a major oil-producing state. We’re not the Saudi Arabia of the U.S. like we are for gold and geothermal production.” The Las Vegas Review Journal reports: “When it comes to oil, Nevada is largely undiscovered country…. fewer than 1,000 wells have been drilled in the state, and only about 70 are now in production, churning out modest amounts of low-grade petroleum generally used for tar or asphalt. Since an all-time high of 4 million barrels in 1990, oil production in Nevada has plummeted to fewer than 400,000 barrels a year. More oil is pumped from the ground in one day in North Dakota—where the fracking boom has added more than 2,000 new wells in recent years—than Nevada produced in 2012.”
But, Nevada could soon join the ranks of the states that are experiencing an economic boom and job creation due to oil-and-gas development. And, that has got to have the environmental groups, which are hell-bent on stopping it, in panic mode. Until now, their efforts in Nevada have been focused on blocking big solar development.
A year ago, the BLM held an oil-and-gas lease sale in Reno. At the sale, 29 federal land leases, totaling about 56 square miles, were auctioned off, bringing in $1.27 million. One of the winning bidders is Houston-based Noble Energy, which plans to drill as many as 20 exploratory wells and could start drilling by the end of the year. Commenting on its acreage, Susan Cunningham, Noble senior vice president, said: “We’re thrilled with the possibilities of this under-explored petroleum system.”
The parcels made available in April 2013 will be developed using hydraulic fracturing, about which Coyner quipped: “If the Silver State’s first big shale play pays off, it could touch off a fracking rush in Nevada.” Despite the fact that fracking has been done safely and successfully for more than 65 years in America, the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Nevada-based senior scientist, Ron Mrowka, told the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Fracking is not a good thing. We don’t feel there is a safe way to do it.”
The BLM made the leases available after someone, or some company, nominated the parcels, and the process to get them ready for auction can easily take a year or longer. One year before the April 2013, sale, CBD filed a “60-day notice of intent to sue” the BLM for its failure to protect the desert tortoise in the Gold Butte area—where Bundy cattle have grazed for more than a century.
Because agencies like the BLM are often staffed by environmental sympathizers, it is possible that CBD was alerted to the pending potential oil-and-gas boom when the April 2013 parcels were nominated—triggering the notice of intent to sue in an attempt to lock up as much land as possible before the “fracking rush” could begin.
A March 25, 2014 CBD press release—which reportedly served as the impetus for the current showdown—states: “Tortoises suffer while BLM allows trespass cattle to eat for free in Nevada desert.” It points out that the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan purchased and then retired grazing leases to protect the endangered tortoise.
Once Bundy’s cattle are kicked off the land to protect the tortoise, the precedent will be set to use the tortoise to block any oil-and-gas development in the area—after all environmentalists hate cattle only slightly less than they hate oil and gas. Admittedly, the April 13 leases are not in the same area as Bundy’s cattle, however, Gold Butte does have some oil-and-gas exploration that CBD’s actions could nip in the bud. Intellihub reports: “The BLM claims that they are seizing land to preserve it, for environmental protection. However, it is obvious that environmental protection is not their goal if they are selling large areas of land to fracking companies. Although the land that was sold last year is 300 and some miles away from the Bundy ranch, the aggressive tactics that have been used by federal agents in this situation are raising the suspicion that this is another BLM land grab that is destined for a private auction.”
The Natural News Network also sees that the tortoise is being used as a scapegoat: “Anyone who thinks this siege is about reptiles is kidding themselves.” It adds: “‘Endangered tortoises’ is merely the government cover story for confiscating land to turn it over to fracking companies for millions of dollars in energy leases.” The Network sees that it isn’t really about the critters; after all, hundreds of desert tortoises are being euthanized in Nevada.
Though the Intellihub and Natural News Network point to the “current showdown” as being about allowing oil-and-gas development, I believe that removing the cattle is really a Trojan horse. The tortoise protection will be used to block any more leasing.
On April 5, 2014, CBD sent out a triumphant press release announcing that the “long-awaited” roundup of cattle had begun.
What I am presenting is only a theory; I am just connecting some dots. But over-and-over, an endangered or threated species or habitat is used to block all kinds of economic development. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the lesser prairie chicken and the huge effort ($26 million) a variety of industries cooperatively engaged in to keep its habitat from being listed as threatened. The effort failed and the chicken’s habitat was listed. In my column on the topic, I predicted that these listings were likely to trigger another sage brush rebellion that will challenge federal land ownership. The Bundy showdown has brought the controversy front and center.
For now, southern Nevada’s last rancher has won the week-long standoff that has been likened to Tiananmen Square. Reports state that “the BLM said it did so because it feared for the safety of employees and members of the public,” not because it has changed its position.
While this chapter may be closing, it may have opened the next chapter in the sage brush rebellion. The Bundy standoff has pointed out the overreach of federal agencies and the use of threatened or endangered species to block economic activity.