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Heartland Daily Podcast – Andrew Moylan: Marketplace (un)Fairness Act

March 26, 2015, 2:03 PM

In this episode of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Managing Editor of Budget & Tax News Jesse Hathaway is joined by Andrew Moylan. Moylan is a senior fellow and executive director at R Street. Hathaway and Moylan talk about the recent reintroduction of the Marketplace Fairness Act.

Moylan explains that the Act isn’t very fair at all, as it treats e-commerce customers differently, based on their physical location. Brick-and-mortar stores, he explains treat all customers the same, charging everyone the same sales tax rate. Also, the Act would effectively “deputize” online businesses as tax collectors for nearly 10,000 taxing jurisdictions, creating massive amounts of paperwork and compliance costs for small business owners.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

The Death Throes of Common Core

March 26, 2015, 10:28 AM

Americans are learning the hard way that the federal government should not be permitted to impose one-size-fits-all standards to education. It was never intended to play a role in education and the absence of any mention in the Constitution is proof enough that education was intended to be supervised by the states where the school districts, schools, and parents are closest to the process.

Common Core is going to play a large role in the 2016 elections and that is likely to impact former Governor Jeb Bush the most. At the heart of the unhappiness with Common Core has been its emphasis on testing.

A March 20th Wall Street Journal article, “Bush Faces Test of Exam Policy”, reported that “A Rasmussen Reports nationwide survey in February found that 52% of respondents thought there was too much emphasis on testing in schools and 69% believed there was too much ‘teaching to the test.’”

The transformation of the nation’s educational system began when the Department of Education was signed into law by Jimmy Carter in 1979 and began operating in 1980. It continued with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the name given to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It requires all public schools receiving Title 1 federal funding to annually administer a state-wide standardized test to all students. NCLB was coauthored by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA) and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH).

President George W. Bush was a leading NCLB advocate and signed it into law on January 8, 2002. Each state was expected to develop its own standards because NCLB did not impose a national one. This year when its reauthorization came up for consideration, it was pulled from the House floor in February. The Heritage Foundation deems it “outdated, ineffective, and prioritizes government standards over the needs of individual students.”

According to Neal McCluskey, Associate Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, “There is no compelling evidence that No Child Left Behind, and federal intervention overall, has produced much good, while it is very clear it has cost substantial money and is unconstitutional.”

In Missouri, circuit court Judge Daniel R. Green, ruled in February that the state’s payment of more than $4 million in membership fees as part of a standardized testing consortium was illegal. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium “is an unlawful interstate compact to which the U.S. Congress has never consented, whose existence and operation violate” Article 1 and 10 of the federal Constitution. It dealt a blow to Common Core.

It’s not just Missouri. In January the Mississippi Board of Education voted to withdraw from the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium which is one of the two tests aligned to Common Core. A full repeal of Common Core standards is under discussion.

By June 2014, two months before its implementation date, 19 states had either withdrawn from the tests or had paused implementation of the standards. Four of the 19, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana had completely exited the national standards. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia never adopted it.

Gov. Bush is beginning to put some distance between himself and Common Core. His spokeswoman, Kristi Campbell, said “There is such a thing as too much testing.” Reportedly “he says the federal government shouldn’t impose particular tests or curricula on states.” Meanwhile, in one state after another, Common Core is being rejected.

On the political front, the Heartland Institute’s monthly newsletter, School Reform News, reported in March that “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a front runner in the contest for the Republican nomination for president, made bold reforms of elementary, secondary, and college education a prominent part of his proposed 2015-17 budget.”

“The budget, presented on February 3, would remove the cap on the state’s school choice program, eliminate state funding for Smarter Balanced tests tied to Common Core State Standards, and cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin over two years in exchange for greater autonomy for the system.”

On Capitol Hill, four Republican senators including Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Roberts of Kansas have introduced a bill that would prevent the federal government from strong-arming states into adopting education standards such as Common Core and, presumably, NCLB. The bill is called learning Opportunities Created at the Local Level Act. As reported in the Daily, it “would limit the federal government’s ability to control state educational standards and curriculums through financial incentives, grants, mandates, and other forms of influence.”

There’s no way to know when Common Core will die or whether No Child Left Behind will suffer a similar fate but the trend nationwide is obvious. Parents, teachers, schools and districts want to determine the best curricula for the children in their systems. They want the federal government out and that is a very good thing.

Categories: On the Blog

Climate Witch Hunt Is Bad For Science, Bad For Witch Hunters

March 26, 2015, 10:16 AM

Desperate times breed desperate measures, and for climate alarmists these are desperate times.

There has been no measurable global warming for 18 years. The majority of polar bear populations are stable or growing; hurricane landfalls have been virtually nonexistent in the United States for a decade; cold temperature and snowfall records are being set daily (more than 2,600 cold temperature records were set or broken between February 19 and February 25 of this year alone); Antarctica is setting sea ice records in the middle of its summer; and in the Arctic, the much ballyhooed sea ice decline of the late 1990 and early 2000s has recovered over the past two years.

By almost every metric, the predictions made by climate change believers have failed or are failing, and reasons for climate alarm are fading from view as a result.

Perhaps this explains climate alarmists’ desperate attempts to smear the reputations of climate researchers who scientifically reject any aspect of the “human-catastrophic-climate-change-connection.”

The latest salvo in this desperate gambit comes from Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ranking member of the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. He sent a letter to seven university presidents demanding information on funding sources and all draft testimony and exchanges relating to the testimony of select researchers who have testified before Congress on climate change issues and did not express an alarmist view.

Grijalva’s original letter asked about the climate research and funding for seven scholars: geographer Robert C. Balling Jr., Arizona State University; atmospheric scientist John Christy, University of Alabama; climatologist Judith Curry, Georgia Institute of Technology; historian Steven Hayward, Pepperdine University; climatologist David Legates, University of Delaware; atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado.

As one of the targets of Grijalva’s probe, Legates points out, “Grijalva was asked why he targeted the seven of us. His response was we were the most well-published, most often-cited, and had the most impact on public policy in the United States. Not that our research was likely fraudulent, not that we had taken big sums of money from foreign governments, or that we simply had been publishing bad research. None of these were the reason. It was simply we are too effective with our research and too persuasive with our arguments. Pure and simple. And since we disagree with him and his views, we must be harassed. Maybe that will stop us.”

Pielke, a researcher who accepts that humans contribute to global warming but does not believe a modest warming signifies disaster, has repeatedly testified under oath before Congress he never received any funding from fossil-fuel companies. Pielke wrote, “I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated ‘witch hunt’ designed to intimidate me and to smear my name.”

Tired of years of abuse, Pielke is bowing out of further climate research.

The American Meteorological Society, the national scientific society for research in atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrologic sciences, added its voice to the growing chorus defending scientific freedom of enquiry and speech with its own letter to Grijalva. The letter, written by AMS Executive Director Dr. Keith L. Seitter, states, “Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers.”

Seitter continued, “Further, requesting copies of the researcher’s communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom.”

Even some climate alarmists believe Grijalva has gone too far. Bob Ward, policy director for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, a frequent critic of climate skeptics, tweeted, “Politicians should not persecute academics with whom they disagree. No ifs or buts.”

Climate alarmist organizations and scientists had better hope public scrutiny does not turn to their funding sources. Climatologist Judith Curry has asked, “Are we not to be concerned by funding from green advocacy groups and scientists serving on the Boards of green advocacy groups?”


Pielke tweeted, “Once you tug on the thread of undisclosed financial interests in climate science, you’ll find it more a norm than exception.”

In fact, according to Imablawg, Rep. Grijalva, the self-appointed climate witch finder general, has taken $78,854 from environmental lobbying groups.

I’d like to propose a solution: Let’s all stick to an honest debate concerning the scientific and economic issues of climate change and stop the mudslinging, yellow journalism, and political harassment.


[Originally published at the Daily Caller]

Categories: On the Blog

Overhaul Public Pensions Now

March 26, 2015, 10:05 AM

Unless local and state governments act now, a tsunami of underfunded public pension plan obligations will soon rush ashore and drown taxpayers with tax hikes and crippling debt.

According to State Budget Solutions, a nonpartisan public policy organization focusing on local and state budget issues, states’ total unfunded public pension liabilities reached $4.7 trillion in 2014, an increase of more than 14 percent since 2013.

That puts each American citizen on the hook for an average of $14,156 in public pension debt, up from about $12,852 per person in 2013. If the problem is allowed to continue to fester unabated, taxpayers will ultimately be forced to make up the difference in the form of higher taxes.

For years, state pension boards have used overly optimistic investment return assumptions to “cook the books” and make the funds they manage appear financially sounder than they really are.

In California, the Public Employees’ Retirement System assumes it will consistently beat the market and receive a fabulous 7.25 percent return on its investments. In reality, CalPERS’ books showed a net loss of 0.5 percent at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Using a more realistic assumption of a 2.734 percent yield on returns, roughly the same yield received from investing in 15-year U.S. Treasury bonds, SBS says CalPERS can realistically expect to pay only about 39 percent of its total pension liabilities.

Vermont’s pension liabilities exceed its ability to pay by more than $7 billion, or about $11,375 per Vermonter. The Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) assumes its investments will earn 6.25 percent per year. In reality, VSERS fell far short of its expectations, realizing just 3.7 percent growth between June 30, 2013 and June 30, 2014.

According to SBS’ calculations, Vermont’s public pension plans can only pay out $1 for every $3 promised to state employees.

The problem of looming public pension liabilities is not limited to California and Vermont. States such as Alaska, Connecticut, and Kentucky are in even worse shape. For example, Connecticut’s public pension funds can only pay out 23 cents for every dollar of entitlements promised to government workers.

Ignoring the approaching public pension tsunami means taxpayers will get swallowed up in an ocean of red ink.

Unlike a real tsunami, this wave of underfunded public pensions can be stopped. By shifting from defined-benefit programs to 401(k)-like defined-contribution plans, and applying common sense, honesty, and transparency when preparing investment plans, state pension boards can make a plausible effort to safeguard government workers’ money and taxpayers against potential economic shocks in the future.


[Originally published at The Press Enterprise]

Categories: On the Blog

Gary MacDougal Discusses Welfare Reform on NPR’s ‘The Jefferson Exchange’

March 26, 2015, 10:01 AM

On March 23, Policy Advisor Gary MacDougal was a guest on NPR’s “The Jefferson Exchange,” broadcasted out of Southern Oregon University. MacDougal was on with host Geoffrey Riley to discuss the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card and Oregon’s ‘F’ grade.

The 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card is an analysis of the welfare polices and outcomes of each of the 50 states. The states are given letter grades based on their programs and performance and ranked against each other. This 2015 edition of the report card is an update of the original published in 2008. MacDougal, the lead author of the report, was chairman of the Governor’s Task Force in Illinois, where he led an effort to help people from dependency to a state of self-sufficiency.

In the interview you can listen to with the player above, MacDougal explains that how the grades were formulated, with an emphasis on whether or not a state’s welfare programs use cash diversion, sanctions, and time limits. He explains how these factors improve the state welfare programs and encourage people to become more self-sufficient.

Among other things, Riley questions why Oregon received an ‘F’ grade while California got a ‘C’ — something that seems counter-intuitive. MacDougal responds by explaining the process in which the states were ranked and graded. One reason why Oregon ranked poorly was because the state lacked a cash diversion option and sanctions. MacDougal said, “Oregon can do better, we’d like to call attention to it and we’d like to help.”

If you would like more information on the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card and to see where your state is ranked, visit our website. Included in the website is an interactive map as well as the full report.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland’s Jay Lehr Talks Fracking Regulations with Neil Cavuto

March 26, 2015, 9:56 AM

On March 20, Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr was on the Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto to discuss new regulations on hydraulic fracturing. Lehr was joined by The Accountability Project’s president Nomiki Konst. As you can see in the clip above, Lehr and Konst have very different views on the safety and reliability of fracking. 

Konst repeats the exaggerated claim that fracking contaminates well water which poses a threat to public health. Dr. Lehr crushes this argument saying, “We fractured a million wells between the beginning and when the shale gas boom began and we really haven’t proven that there’s been a single water supply contaminated.”

This idea that hydraulic fracturing is a major public health concern has been propagated by faulty and debunked studies. In fact, a recent statewide ban of fracking in New York by Gov. Andrew Cuomo used these studies as justification. In the interview, Dr. Lehr states, “We’ve fracked 200,000 well in the shale gas era of today. And again, we haven’t had a problem.”

Watch the clip above as Dr. Lehr dissolves the myths surrounding fracking and gives sensible answers as to why we should take advantage of the inexpensive energy that is being produced as a result of this shale boom.

What more info on hydraulic fracturing?

Heartland Daily Podcast – David Quast: Hydraulic Fracturing Ban in New York

Banning Industrail Sand Mining Would Be a Mistake

Anti-Vaxxers, Anti-Frackers Show Similar Disregard for Science

Andrew Cuomo’s Fracking Psuedo-Science

Categories: On the Blog

A New Approach – To Finally End an Old Farm Bill Problem

March 26, 2015, 8:58 AM

The Farm Bill is a bane of we Conservatives’ existence – and Reality-based policymaking.  It is a relic of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)’s horrendously failed New Deal – a top-down, central-planning nightmare mess.

And over the last eighty-plus years, FDR’s heinous domestic policy has gone global.  A worldwide farm market has arisen.  We no longer just grow for ourselves.  We sell all over – and they sell to us.

And our Farm Bill – which warps our market – has warped the world’s as well.  FDR helped beget an eight-decade-long international regulatory arms race.  Other produce-producing nations saw our lattice-work panoply of tariffs and subsidies – and felt compelled to match them.  And then exceed them.

Round and round we go.  Myriad nations outdo our government interference in the marketplace – so we outdo theirs.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  So what we now have is a global lattice-work panoply of tariffs and subsidies.  A thicket that grows ever thicker – as each next government tries to outdo the last.

We take our swing every half decade – when our heinous Farm Bill comes up for Congressional renewal.  A $1 trillion redux passed last year.

We Conservatives tried then to do what we always try to do – unilaterally kill it.  And we were just as successful then as we always have been – not at all.

So let’s try something new, shall we?

 We’ve spent the better part of a century erecting ever-higher walls of trade impediment.  And watching the world’s nations do the same.  It would seem we need to work together to tear down those walls.

Here’s a start of that deconstruction.

Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., reintroduced a bill Friday that encourages the (Barack Obama) administration to target foreign sugar subsidies. Under the “Zero-for-Zero” plan, U.S. sugar policy would also be rolled back in exchange for the elimination of foreign programs, which Yoho says are distorting world prices and inhibiting a free market.

Congressman Yoho is, of course, absolutely correct.  We’ve been “distorting world prices and inhibiting a free market” for decades – and on oh-so-much-more than merely sugar.

Here’s hoping the Administration makes this move – and on oh-so-much-more than merely sugar.

It’s way past time we end this fossilized facet of FDR’s New Deal.  Both here – and abroad.

Categories: On the Blog

Obamacare Failing, Doctors Will Take Future Blame

March 25, 2015, 4:43 PM

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report on March 9 projecting Obamacare premium prices to outpace both private insurance premiums and government spending between 2016 and 2018.

This report comes just one week before The Washington Post’s Guy Gugliotta reported on Sunday that rural health facilities across the nation are struggling to survive. Since 2010, 48 rural hospitals have closed, according to the National Rural Health Association.

“Experts and practitioners cite declining federal reimbursements for hospitals under the Affordable Care Act as the principal reasons for the recent closures,” reported Gugliotta. “Besides cutting back on Medicare, the law reduced payments to hospitals for the uninsured …”

Needless to say, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is causing all sorts of chaos, but don’t expect the Obama administration to admit defeat anytime soon. While the evidence against the law is stunning and apparent, Democrats would rather see George W. Bush become president again than allow Obamacare to falter.

This doesn’t mean, however, that someone—or some group—isn’t going to be held responsible for the failures caused by the ACA. In Washington, DC, someone is always to blame, and in this case, doctors, not incompetent bureaucrats and greedy politicians, will be next on the blame-anybody-but-Democrats media tour.

It may seem counterintuitive to some since doctors spend their whole lives healing sick people, including many sick and poor people, but the reality is that doctors actually make easy political targets for the Democrat machine.

For starters, Doctors are wealthy, especially highly trained specialists. The average base pay for a family practitioner is $189,000 according to Merritt Hawkins & Associates’ 2012 Review of Physician Recruiting Incentives. But this figure seems paltry in comparison to the average salaries of cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons, and neurosurgeons, all of whom earn more than $500,000 per year on average.

Specialists’ earnings put them securely within the “top 1 percent” category in virtually all states, the very same group of people demonized by the Occupy Wall Street crowd and their DNC supporters.

Second, most doctors are not politically active and are poorly represented in government. In the current Congress, there are only 17 physicians out of the 535 available seats despite the fact that doctors are some of the most educated people in the nation.

Third, many doctors have already started to turn away Medicare and Medicaid patients because the government’s reimbursement rates are too low, making doctors as a group seem unsympathetic to the elderly and the impoverished.

Their wealth, lack of a big public microphone, and seemingly uncaring behavior with Medicaid and Medicare patients make doctors the obvious scapegoat for Obamacare’s struggles. Rather than raising taxes or cutting benefits, both of which are politically difficult to accomplish, Democrats looking to defend the ACA will pin increasing costs and reduced benefits and coverage on greedy, rich, selfish doctors more interested in helping retain their status as members of the 1 percent than saving lives and serving the public.

The political hit pieces and election-season television commercials practically write themselves.

It’s true that doctors earn a lot of money, but notice the key word there is “earn.” Doctors are required to attend four years of college, four years of medical school, and then as many as seven years of residency, where most doctors make roughly $40,000–$50,000 per year. They spend thousands of dollars on required internships, residency interviews, applications, standardized test, and numerous other fees. Many doctors graduate medical school hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and all medical students are required to work for two years without any pay at all.

Many doctors work 60 hours per week or more, and it’s not uncommon for specialists to work as many as 80 hours per week. Doctors miss holidays, birthdays, and make numerous other personal sacrifices in order to help other people. If ever there was a group of people who deserve to make a lot of money, it’s doctors.

This, however, won’t matter in the coming years to politicians in the nation’s capital looking to score cheap political points when the ACA’s flaws become even more apparent than they are today.

[Published on Human Events]

Categories: On the Blog

The Trouble with Google as Truthsayer

March 25, 2015, 4:39 PM

Google, Inc., with its $385 billion share value, has bumped Exxon to become America’s No. 2 ranking company in market capitalization.

That may not be a good thing. A February article in New Scientist announced, Google wants to rank websites based on facts not links, and writer Hal Hodson said, “The internet is stuffed with garbage. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.”

The idea of changing page rank from popularity to “truthfulness” based on a Google-made “knowledge vault” did not go down well.
Fox News reported, “Google’s plan to rank websites raising censorship concerns.” Douglass Kennedy opened with, “They say you’re entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts. It’s a concept not everyone is comfortable with.”

They’re saying we’re only entitled to Google’s facts, which completely shortcircuits how slippery facts are and naively equates facts with truth. Ask any lawyer about truth.

Today’s climate wars consist of arguments between highly qualified scientists about facts that some sincerely believe are true and some sincerely believe are false, each for solid reasons. It should be an honest debate among equals, but it’s degenerated into a power play by alarmists to kill debate for policy’s sake, pushed by politicians and their social base.

Google’s truth plan is not so simple. Facts are statements about existence. Statements about existence can be true or false. Existence itself – your kitchen sink or the climate or whatever – can’t be true or false, it just exists. Say anything you want about existence and it won’t change a thing – it still just exists. Existence doesn’t give a damn what you think about it. Facts are statements about existence, and statements are always arguable.

But get everyone to believe Google Facts, and you can enforce political policy worth trillions to climate profiteers.

You can see where this is going.

Imagine: Big Google the Universal Truthsayer. That’s as scary as “Mr. Dark” in Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, only worse, because it’s the perfect machine to kill all dissent and wither the Internet into a wasteland of groupthink, susceptible to disinformation campaigns from any power center from the CIA to the rich bosses of Google, Inc.

What about those rich bosses? Google’s two co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, created a corporate foundation in 2005, Google Foundation, with 2013 assets of $72,412,693, grants of $7.9 million, and $29.4 million added from corporate profits.

Three of Google’s top-ten recipients are key climate alarmists: World Wildlife Fund ($5 million); Energy Foundation ($2.6 million); and the Natural Resources Defense Council ($2.5 million).

NRDC is particularly influential because it received $3.01 million in Environmental Protection Agency grants since 2009 and has 50 employees on 40 federal advisory committees: NRDC has 33 employees on 21 EPA committees, and more in six other agencies.

The big gun in Google philanthropy is Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, whose Schmidt Family Foundation ($312 million, 2013 assets) is a major armory for anti-skeptic groups. Schmidt has given $67,147,849 in 295 grants to 180 recipients since it was endowed in 2007.     

Top Schmidt money went to Climate Central ($8.15 million), a group of activist climate scientists bolstered by $1,387,372 in EPA grants since 2009.

Schmidt gave $3.25 million to the Energy Foundation, which was almost superflouous, since EF is practically the Mother Ship of green grants, with $1,157,046,016 given in 28,705 grants to 11,866 recipients since 1999.

Among the shadier grants in the Schmidt portfolio are anti-fracking, anti-fossil-fuel grants totaling $1.19 million to Sustainable Markets Foundation, a shell corporation that gives no recorded grants, but funnels money to climate and anti-fracking organizations such as Bill McKibben’s so the donors are not traceable.

Schmidt supported the far-left Tides Foundation empire with $975,000 for an anti-consumer film, “The Story of Stuff;” the Sierra Club ($500,000 for anti-natural gas activism); the Center for Investigative Reporting ($985,000 for an anti-coal film), and so forth. This list goes on for pages.

With all the massive resources of wealth and power alarmists have, we must ask why they give so much to destroy the climate debate and the debaters? What are they afraid of?

It may be what Eric Schmidt said at January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when he was asked for his prediction on the future of the web. “I will answer very simply that the Internet will disappear.”

How? The mature technology will be wearable, give us interactive homes and cars and simply fade into the background to become something that we all have, that most of us don’t really know very much about (or care) only that it can do whatever we want.

That’s the view from the pinnacle of wealth and power. On the ground, the joke is on Google.

Michael Humphrey, Forbes contributor and instructor at Colorado State University sees younger people abandoning the public forum in favor of one-to-one connectivity. He says they don’t trust the Internet.

Why? Millennials say the Internet is cheapening language, it is stunting curiosity (because answers come so easily), we are never bored so we lose creativity, it steals innocence too quickly, it makes us impulsive with our buying and talking, it is creating narcissists, it creates filter bubbles which limits discovery, it hurts local business, it is filled with false evidence, it desensitizes us to tragedy, it makes us lonely.

They want the real world.

Google that.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – John R. Graham: How Would the GOP’s Proposed Budget Affect Medicare and Medicaid

March 25, 2015, 1:23 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Health Care News, Sean Parnell, talks with John R. Graham. Graham is a senior fellow in health care policy at the National Center for Policy Analysis. Graham and Parnell discuss the health care related impacts of the proposed GOP budget.

Graham explains the recently unveiled budget released by Congressional Republicans and what it means for Medicare and Medicaid, including how states might be able to innovate with block grants to integrate other welfare programs with the existing program for the poor. He also explains the two good ideas President Obama’s budget has in it for health care, ending one of the ways states manipulate the Medicaid funding formula to get more federal dollars and restricting Medigap policies.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Anti-Vaxxers, Anti-Frackers Show Similar Disregard for Science

March 25, 2015, 10:57 AM

How would you feel if you or your child became sick with a potentially deadly disease such as the measles, mumps, or whooping cough because the governor of your state banned the vaccines preventing these diseases in deference to a small yet vocal group of anti-vaccination activists who claimed these vaccines cause autism, even though the “science” they cite has been thoroughly discredited?

This scenario should sound absurd, because lawmakers ought never to base laws on bad science. Unfortunately, we don’t live in perfect world, and bad science has ruled the day in New York State, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has deferred to anti-fracking activists and their widely discredited claims.

Instead of putting New York’s economy first, Cuomo enacted a ban on hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking.” As a result, Upstate New York’s economy continues to suffer from a debilitating economic anemia while states that have embraced fracking experience healthy, growing economies.

Despite a lackluster national economy, states that allow hydraulic fracturing have been bright spots among the blight. According to U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson, “mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industries were the most rapidly growing part of our nation’s economy over the last several years.” As a result, 903,641 people now earn a living in the U.S. energy sector, where employment grew by 23.3 percent between 2007 and 2012.

None of this growth has occurred in New York, which has effectively banned fracking since 2008, even though the state sits atop the Marcellus Shale—the largest natural-gas producing formation in the United States that accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s shale gas.

It would make some sense if the ban on hydraulic fracturing in New York was based on sound science that shows the costs of fracking outweigh the benefits, but the report produced by the New York Department of Health (DOH) Cuomo used to justify the fracking ban is fraught with bad science that does not hold up to scientific scrutiny.

One of the problematic studies cited in the DOH report is from the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH), which attempted to establish a connection between birth defects and hydraulic fracturing operations. The study, conducted by Dr. Lisa McKenzie, failed to correct for even the most basic factors, such as genetics or whether the mothers drank alcohol or smoked tobacco.

In addition, the CSPH researchers used proximity to natural gas wells as their metric for risk, failing to distinguish between conventional wells and unconventional wells; there is no way to determine whether the wells in question actually used high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The study was so poorly conducted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) disavowed it. Larry Wolk, the executive director of CDPHE, told pregnant mothers not to take the study seriously, and he warned the public could be easily misled by its findings. Unfortunately, Cuomo, who defended his decision to ban fracking by stating, “I am not a scientist,” may not have seen Wolk’s comments and thus was easily misled by the conclusions of the CSPH study.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to weigh the costs and the benefits of the policies they implement when based on the best available science, because public policy decisions often have profound effects on our lives. For the highest elected official in New York to base his decision to ban fracking on studies that have been thoroughly debunked by public health officials in other states is a disservice to all New Yorkers.

The evidence from states all around the country is in: Hydraulic fracturing is a safe and environmentally responsible way to increase oil and natural gas production. Cuomo’s fracking ban is like banning vaccines based on the misguided notion they cause autism. It’s an unscientific, discredited, and harmful decision.

Categories: On the Blog

How the California Dream Became a Nightmare

March 25, 2015, 9:10 AM

Important attention has been drawn to the shameful condition of middle income housing affordability in California. The state that had earlier earned its own “California Dream” label now limits the dream of homeownership principally to people either fortunate enough to have purchased their homes years ago and to the more affluent. Many middle income residents may have to face the choice of renting permanently or moving away.

However, finally, an important organ of the state has now called attention to the housing affordability problem. The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has published “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences,” which provides a compelling overview of how California’s housing costs have risen to be by far the most unaffordable in the nation. It also sets out the serious consequences.

The LAO says that:

Today, an average California home costs $440,000, about two-and-a-half times the average national home price ($180,000). Also, California’s average monthly rent is about $1,240, 50 percent higher than the rest of the country ($840 per month).

LAO describes the evolution:

Beginning in about 1970, however, the gap between California’s home prices and those in the rest country started to widen. Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher. This trend has continued.

Much of the LAO focus is on California’s coastal counties, where:

….community resistance to housing, environmental policies, lack of fiscal incentives for local governments to approve housing, and limited land constrains new housing construction.

These causes result from conscious political decisions. While California’s coastal counties do not have the vast stretches of flat, appropriately developable land that existed 50 years ago, building is increasingly  prohibited on that which remains (for example, Ventura County, northern Los Angeles county and the southern San Jose metropolitan area).

Demonstrating an understanding of economic basics not generally shared by California policymakers or the urban planning community, LAO squarely places the blame on the public policy limits to new housing construction:

This competition bids up home prices and rents.

In other words, where the supply of a demanded good is limited, prices can be expected to rise, other things being equal. LAO describes the impact of so-called “growth control” policies, which are also called “urban containment” or “smart growth:”

Many Coastal Communities Have Growth Controls. Over two-thirds of cities and counties in California’s coastal metros have adopted policies (known as growth controls) explicitly aimed at limiting housing growth. Many policies directly limit growth—for example, by capping the number of new homes that may be built in a given year or limiting building heights and densities. Other policies indirectly limit growth—for example, by requiring a supermajority of local boards to approve housing projects. Research has found that these policies have been effective at limiting growth and consequently increasing housing costs.

According to LAO, the problem is exacerbated by voter initiatives: “More often than not, voters in California’s coastal communities vote to limit housing development when given the option.” It is hard to imagine a more sinister disincentive to aspiration, under which voters can deny equality of opportunity in housing to others by artificially driving up the price.  Because new housing further from coast is also limited, options for a middle income living standard are also diminished.

These public policies have consequences.

Notable and widespread trade-offs include (1) spending a greater share of their income on housing, (2) postponing or foregoing homeownership, (3) living in more crowded housing, (4) commuting further to work each day, and (5) in some cases, choosing to work and live elsewhere

Each of these consequences is described below.

LAO Consequence #1: Spending a Greater Share of Income on Housing

LAO models the market situation from 1980 to 2010 to estimate the prices that would have prevailed if the regulatory environment had permitted building sufficient to satisfy customer demand at previous lower price levels. In both years, LAO estimates that the median priced house would have cost 80% more than in the rest of the nation (actual data in 1980, modeled data in 2010). This would have kept California house price increases at the national level. I think it would have been better to have modeled from 1970, before the huge house prices before 1980 described by Dartmouth economist William Fischel.

I have applied this LAO model estimate to the median multiple for California’s six major metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Riverside-San Bernardino, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Jose) to identify how much better middle income housing affordability would be without California’s excessive regulation. Using the LAO estimates the median multiple (median house price divided by median household income) in 2014 would have been at least 40% lower than the actual level in each of the metropolitan areas (Figure 1).

Many California households already have been priced out of the market. In the worst case, it is estimated that in the San Francisco metropolitan area, a median income White Non-Hispanic household will have nearly $60,000 annually left over after paying the mortgage on the median priced house. This is less than they would have if house prices had remained reasonable, but it’s enough to live on. The median income Asian household would do almost as well, with about $50,000 left over. The median income Hispanic household would have less than $20,000 left, which is considerably less than is likely to be needed for other essentials. The median income Black household would have less than $3,000 left over (Figure 2). If the price ratios of 1980 were controlling, that amount would rise by $16,000.

LAO also points out that the Golden State has the highest housing cost adjusted poverty rate in the nation. The latest data shows housing-adjusted poverty rate is far higher even than that in states with a reputation for grinding poverty. California’s housing adjusted poverty rate is more than 50% higher than that of Mississippi and approaches double that of West Virginia (Figure 3, LAO Figure 13)

LAO Consequence #2:  Postponing or Forgoing Homeownership

LAO indicates that California ranks 48th in homeownership percentage, behind only New York and Nevada. LAO emphasizes the value of home ownership:

Homeownership helps households build wealth, requiring them to amass assets over time. Among homeowners, saving is automatic: every month, part of the mortgage payment reduces the total amount owed and thus becomes the homeowner’s equity. For renters, savings requires voluntarily foregoing near-term spending. Due to this and other economic factors, renter median net worth totaled $5,400 in 2013, a small fraction of the $195,400 median homeowner’s net worth.

Californians are buying their first houses later. LAO indicates that the average first home buyer in California is three years older than the national average.

LAO Consequence #3:  Living in More Crowded Housing

The nation’s worst overcrowding is an unfortunate result of California’s housing policies.

LAO indicates that California’s overcrowding rate is well above that of the rest of the nation’s rate. Among Hispanics, which were expected to exceed the White-Non-Hispanic population in 2014, to become the state’s largest ethnic group, California overcrowding is more than 2.5 times the Hispanic rate elsewhere. Among households with children, overcrowding in California is four times the national households with children rate. Among renters, overcrowding in California is more than three times the national renter rate (Figure 4, LAO Figure 15).

This has important negative social consequences. According to LAO, research indicates that overcrowding retards well-being and educational achievement:

Individuals who live in crowded housing generally have worse educational and behavioral health outcomes than people that do not live in crowded housing. Among adults, crowding has been shown to increase stress and aggression, lead to social isolation, and weaken relationships between parents and their children. Crowding also has particularly notable effects on children. Researchers have found that children in crowded housing score lower on standardized math and reading exams. A lack of available and distraction-free studying space appears to affect educational achievement. Crowding may also result in sleep interruptions that affect mood and behavior. As a result, children in crowded housing also displayed more behavioral problems at school.

Overcrowding is particularly acute in the higher cost coastal metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose. There, overcrowding among households with children reaches 10%, and among Hispanic households, overcrowding reaches 18%. Among households with children the figure is slightly higher (Figure 5, LAO Figure 16). Overcrowded housing is generally worse, according to LAO, in areas with higher house prices.

In a state with a political establishment that prides itself in watching out for low income citizens and ethnic minorities, the need to reform the responsible policies could not be clearer.

LAO Consequence #4: Commuting Farther to Work

LAO finds that California’s average work trip commuting times are only moderately above the national average. However, LAO suggests that the commute lengthening impact of higher house prices may be reduced by California’s widespread (I call it dispersed) development pattern, its freeway system and the “above-average share of commuters who drive to work. (Driving commutes are generally fast, and therefore metros with higher shares of driving commuters tend to have shorter commute times.)”

Nonetheless, according to LAO:

…our analysis suggests that California’s high housing costs cause workers to live further from where they work, likely because reasonably priced housing options are unavailable in locations nearer to where they work.

LAO Consequence #5:  Choosing to Work and Live Elsewhere

LAO also indicates that California’s high housing prices are likely to have reduced its population (and economic) growth. LAO sites the strong net outmigration of California households to other states. LAO also finds in its national metropolitan area analysis that counties with higher growth rates tend to have better housing affordability than counties with lower growth rates.

There has also been strong net outmigration from the coastal counties to inland counties. This is most evident in the growth of the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area (the Inland Empire) between 2000 and 2010. The Inland Empire captured more than two thirds of the population growth of the Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties). LAO notes the impact of the excess of demand in the coastal counties, again recognizing the nexus between overzealous regulation and the loss of housing affordability:

This competition bids up home prices and rents. Some people who find California’s coast unaffordable turn instead to California’s inland communities, causing prices there to rise as well.

LAO also refers to the difficulty that employers have in retaining and recruiting staff. LAO cited survey data from the Silicon Valley, which has for years been California’s economic “Golden Goose” in recent years:

In a 2014 survey of more than 200 business executives conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, 72 percent of them cited “housing costs for employees” as the most important challenge facing Silicon Valley businesses.

In addition, there has been a strong movement of California companies to other parts of the nation, where more liberal regulations foster a better business climate.

Restoring Housing Affordability

LAO indicates the importance of fundamental reform and calls for putting “all policy options on the table.”

Major changes to local government land use authority, local finance, CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and other major polices would be necessary to address California’s high housing costs.

In addition:

The greatest need for additional housing is in California’s coastal urban areas. We therefore recommend the Legislature focus on what changes are necessary to promote additional housing construction in these areas.

Perhaps the only weakness of the report deals with densification, particularly in coastal counties. For example, LAO suggests that without the housing restrictions the city of San Francisco is population would be 1.7 million, rather than the approximately 800,000 who live there today. In fact that would be unprecedented beyond belief. No core city that had become fully developed and reached 500,000 people by 1950 has achieved growth of this magnitude. The greatest growth was less than 10%, in this category of 60 core cities (which includes the city of San Francisco). Even less likely would be public support for such huge population growth in the second densest major municipality in the nation.

While LAO does not indicate the additional population that its estimates would have placed in the core of Los Angeles, given the scale of the San Francisco increase, this could be a number of up to 3 million. This area, the broadest expanse of over 10,000 population per square mile density in the nation outside New York City is in the middle of the urban area with the nation’s worst traffic congestion, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. It is doubtful that residents would have the “stomach” to expand roadway capacity to keep the traffic moving. Transit could not have made much difference. Even with its now extensive rail network that has opened since the early 1990s, driving alone accounted for 85% of the additional travel to work from 2000 to 2013 in the city of Los Angeles. Yet, the city of Los Angeles has the most extensive transit in the metropolitan area, including service by all rail lines.

In reality, core densification is likely to be modest. Keeping housing affordability from getting worse requires regulatory liberalization throughout California, including coastal and inland areas

The reality is that if California had permitted growth, it would naturally occurred mostly on the periphery. Even with the restrictions on building, the preference for suburban living (largely in detached housing) could not be repressed between 2000 and 2010. Less than 10% of the population growth in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas occurred in the cores.

The Challenge

Should the state of California begin to seriously discuss housing affordability, it will be important to ease restrictions throughout the state, not just in the coastal counties. There are serious barriers to placing the appropriate priority on improving the standard of living and minimizing poverty rates among California’s diverse population. Perhaps the biggest impediment is Senate Bill 375, which is being interpreted by the state and its regional planning agencies to require even more stringent land-use regulation.

In this environment, LAO rightly raises this concern:

If California continues on its current path, the state’s housing costs will remain high and likely will continue to grow faster than the nation’s. This, in turn, will place substantial burdens on Californians—requiring them to spend more on housing, take on more debt, commute further to work, and live in crowded conditions. Growing housing costs also will place a drag on the state’s economy.

It is to be hoped that California’s distorted policy priorities will be righted to restore the California Dream.

[Originally published at New Geography]


Categories: On the Blog

Don’t Dump Dumbo

March 24, 2015, 3:51 PM

For all the families who have yet to take their children to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — hurry. The company announced recently that its storied elephant act will no longer appear in the traveling circus as of 2018.

This decision has been met with disappointment by people like myself who value the wholesome entertainment that the circus provides, and bristle at hysterical attacks by animal rights extremists. Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on the other hand, have cheered the decision and claimed victory in the long fight against elephants in the circus. This, in their view, is a major victory in their broader war against any human ownership of animals.

But those, like me, whose initial reaction was anger at Ringling Bros. and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, for “capitulating” to animal rights activists should consider placing the blame on the activists themselves. By engaging Feld in a perpetual stream of litigation and proposed bans, activists were able to distract the company from its core competency — family entertainment — until those distractions became too onerous.

What’s particularly obnoxious about the litigation brought on by radical animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is that it was summarily dismissed in court. In fact, these plaintiffs ended up paying Feld for bringing such outrageous claims. Just last year, the Humane Society and other animal rights groups paid a $15.75 million settlement to Feld after their lawsuit alleging elephant abuse was found without merit.

Two years earlier, the ASPCA was ordered to pay Feld $9.3 million after making false claims against the company in court. These groups aren’t just having their claims thrown out; they’re so egregious that they are compensating Feld and Ringling Bros. for their misdeeds.

So the claims by these animal rights extremists against Ringling Bros. have been shown in court to be a total fraud, and claims that the “Greatest Show on Earth” is harmful to animals have been debunked repeatedly in court, as well as in the court of public opinion.

But the threats of further litigation didn’t stop. Activists publicly admit that it doesn’t really matter if you’re successful in court — the act of suing is a useful irritant that costs your adversary time, money and focus, and gets them to give in, even if the underlying litigation is without merit. . In fact, here, Feld conceded that the non-stop litigation and costs of opposing regulatory threats in localities around the country were integral to the Feld family’s decision to retire the 13 currently performing Asian elephants from the traveling circus.

The suit against Ringling Bros. is just one of a long and colorful list. I will mention just a few other animal rights zealot’s efforts here. PETA condemned the Pokémon media franchise because the video game “paints a rosy picture of what amounts to thinly veiled animal abuse,” PETA filed suit in federal court in Southern California seeking to declare that SeaWorld’s whales are being held in slavery in violation of the 13th Amendment. The failed litigation sought a court-ordered release of the whales “from bondage.” CNN reported that the suit sought “a permanent order against holding them in slavery, as well as appointment of a legal guardian to carry out the transfer of the whales to a suitable habitat.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund is planning to sue a Napa restaurant for serving foie gras during a now-overturned ban on foie gras.

The irony here is that Ringling Bros. has done far more to preserve Asian elephants’ on planet earth than the flailing animal rights groups. They, instead, are popping corks that children can’t see elephants in the circus anymore, and I’m certain will continue their tried and true pattern of focusing their time, energy and resources ginning up lawsuits or other bogus attacks on human interaction with animals — impacting the ability of companies and governments who come under their scrutiny from focusing on their missions. Sadly, I guess that’s the point.

[Originally published at Pundicity]


Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – RiShawn Biddle: Black Families Homeschooling Increase

March 24, 2015, 3:40 PM

Heartland’s Heather Kays speaks with RiShawn Biddle, who runs Dropout Nation, an education news and policy magazine, about the number of black families choosing to homeschool increasing in recent years. Biddle talks about the increase in black families homeschooling and the various reasons they are deciding to do so.

Biddle says the way black students and especially male students are treated within traditional public schools leads some families to seek other options such as homeschooling.


Categories: On the Blog

The FCC Delivers the Latest Dose of Obama Cronyism

March 24, 2015, 10:11 AM

The huge-er government gets – the greater its ability to deliver cronyism goodies. The bigger the wallet government has – the larger the regulatory hammer it wields – the more Crony Socialism it can dispense.

Remember when President Barack Obama said this?

“We’re going to punish our enemies and reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”

The Obama Administration is excellent at both. The punishing:

IRS Targets Conservative Groups

Obama Administration Targets Fox News Reporter in ‘Chilling’ Echo of AP Probe

Obama Administration Targets Coal with Controversial Emissions Regulations

Obama Closed and Stole Republican Car Dealerships?

And the rewarding:

80% of DOE Green Energy Loans Went to Obama Backers

How Obama’s Justice Department Selectively Blocked A Merger By Republican CEOs

Obama’s Auto Bailout Was Really a Hefty Union Payoff

US Diplomats Cry Foul as Obama Donors Take Over Top Embassy Jobs

Often there are moments of Crony Socialist harmonic convergence. When government can reward friends – while simultaneously punishing enemies.

Take, for instance, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s latest auction of spectrum – the airwaves we use for all things wireless.

Big Money in ‘Small’-Business Preferences

DISH Network’s brazen abuse of the Federal Communications Commission’s incentives for small businesses at a recent spectrum auction — to the tune of $3 billion, at taxpayers’ expense — was enough to make even a Dickensian villain squirm….

Using multiple shell companies to qualify for “designated entity” (DE) discounts, DISH Network effectively shaved off more than $3 billion in payments….

DE status is reserved for small businesses — not market behemoths like DISH Network.

How behemoth is DISH Network? About $34 billion. A little large for DE eligibility.

DE is Huge Government yet again trying to manipulate the marketplace – allegedly for good and noble purposes – and (shocker) failing miserably.

The DE program was created at Congress’s direction more than 20 years ago. It offers qualifying small companies a taxpayer-funded credit equal to 25 percent of the purchase price to help them compete against their larger counterparts when bidding for spectrum.

DISH got a heck of a deal.  I wonder why?

The co-founder of broadcasting giant DISH Network was accused in a federal complaint last week of intimidating company executives into making political donations that largely went to Democratic causes.

Ahh – that’s why.

DISH’s $3B in Auction Discounts ‘Makes a Mockery’ of AWS-3 Auction, FCC Official Says

Don’t get too excited – it was Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai who said that.

When government plays favorites – everyone else loses. When the Leviathan has its giant thumb on the scale – it is anything but fair.

DISH purchased spectrum on the crony cheap – that could have instead gone to any of the many other bidders. Many of whom are vocally opposed to many Administration power grab policies – including itsrecent Net Neutrality Internet takeover. One of whom – Verizon – successfully sued to undo the last Administration attempt at Net Neutrality imposition.

The Administration rewarding its friends – while punishing its enemies. The Crony Socialist twofer.

It’s way past time for Huge Government to stop trying to micro-manipulate the private sector. The ends never justify the means – and the intended ends are never met.

And it will take a Crony Socialist weapon out of the government’s vast arsenal.

Now that’s a twofer for the better.

[Originally published at Red State]


Categories: On the Blog

PARCC and Common Core Undergo Scrutiny in Wealthy Lake County School District

March 23, 2015, 3:49 PM

Thousands of parents across the country and here in Illinois are concerned about Common Core standards, PARCC testing on those standards, and the accumulation and storage of their children’s personal data. Thorner, as a citizen and taxpayer living in a community in northern Illinois, is represented by Lake Forest-Lake Bluff school Districts 65, 67 and 115. All have embraced Common Core standards with enthusiasm.

PARCC testing has already begun in school districts across Illinois, the state having willingly embraced Common Core standards, sight unseen, in 2010. Many parents, having been informed by organizations like Stop Illinois Common Core, are opting their children out of PARCC testing.

Not unlike many school districts in Illinois, PARCC testing is being administered in March on selected classes at Lake Forest District 115, specifically on March 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19, with later testing scheduled for May 12, 13, 14 and 15. Of concern is that for each of those 9 days, LFHS students not taking the test will experience a two hour late start of school, thus depriving students of 18 hours’ instructional time.

As in school districts across Illinois, PARCC testing wasn’t received with open arms in Lake Forest District 115.   An e-mail dated Monday, March 16, from Superintendent Michael Simeck, and sent to parents midday imploring them to send their freshmen to school on Tuesday morning (March17) to participate in the English portion of the PARCC test, was quite telling.  It seems that PARCC testing done in the prior week was “well below” the 95% threshold, meaning there was less than a 95% participation of students taking the PARCC exams.

 Superintendent Simeck stated in his email: “Students’ failure to participate in the PARCC exams will result in the district automatically failing to meet accountability obligations [Not mentioned is that federal funds are contingent upon a 95% participation rate].”In order for our district to be legally compliant, we encourage you to allow your children to take the PARCC exams or have them attend the make- up sessions, if they have missed.”

The Women’s Republican Club of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff , president, Jennifer Neubauer, deserves much credit and praise for hosting a debate on the merits and demerits of Common Core, PARCC testing, and “womb to tomb” personal data collection on students. The event took place on Saturday, March 14 at 9 a.m. at Gorton Community Center’s Stuart Room, Lake Forest. All members of the public were invited to attend the event for free.

Participants at the March 14 Saturday event

  • Bruno Behrend, J.D., a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute and a Lake Forest High School graduate. The Heartland Institute is a vocal opponent of Common Core and its mandated PARCC testing.
  • Jessica Handy, currently the Government Affairs Director with “Stand For Children”, and a vocal proponent of Common Core and PARCC.  She is a former teacher and former Illinois Senate Democratic staffer, serving in a variety of capacities before becoming the Policy and Budget Analyst for the Education and Pensions committees.
  • Rep. Sheri Jesiel (R-61st), a member of the Elementary and Secondary Education School Committee in the Illinois House, make brief remarks between the solo comments of Ms. Handy and Mr. Behrend.  Representative Jesiel, whose office is in Gurnee, described Common Core as a very polarizing and a highly debated topic.  She sits on the House committee that oversees PARCC testing.

Jessica Handy and Bruno Behrend were each given 20 minutes to address their individual assessments of Common Core.  Ms. Handy, as pro Common Core advocate, is the Chicago organizer of “Stand for Children.” Her extended bio can be read hereMs. Handy described her organization’s mission accordingly:  to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, a college education.” Because Handy believes that every kid has a right to a high quality education, Common Core strikes Jessica Handy as the way forward.

Pro Common Core, Jessica Handy, Stand for Children

As shared by Jessica Handy, the facts are stark.  Roughly a quarter of American children fail to finish high school.  That number translates to nearly one million young people leaving classrooms for the streets every year.  This is a guarantee for a life that will breed low earnings, poor health, and risk of incarceration.

In relating background information, Handy spoke about the forerunner of Common Core, “No Child Left Behind”, a George W. Bush education program that required all children by 2014 to meet NCLB standards.  As states scrambled to set their own standards for children to achieve success, the American Federation of Teachers and Fordham Institute looked at the state standards.  Some states had good standards, while others didn’t.  Illinois received a D.

Such a haphazard approach could not continue, given that 50% of students entering college needed to take remedial education courses.  Students were racking up lots of students loans and no college credits.

Enter Common Core which laid out the following:  1) what was expected of children at each grade level and 2) what children needed to know at each grade level to pass on to the next grade. Common Core was latched on to by Stand for Children in 2010, as a plan that could provide the standards for success in every state.  The organization Stand for Children is now active in 11 states.  Illinois was the 7th state to join forces with Stand for Child in 2010.

Favorable attributes of Common Core as expressed by Ms. Handy:

  • Common Core moves away from rote memorization.
  • Every math problem is a word problem.  It’s not enough to know that 9 + 6 = 15.  The child must understand why this is so, which dictates that the child is able to interpret what the numbers mean, and then be able to interpret the answer in real words.
  • In English, informational texts must be read along with standard literature, because, as adults, children will be required to read and understand informational texts.
  • First year testing assessments of PARCC will not count.  When the test is taken it is best done on a computer. No longer will a child just fill in the bubble.  Critical thinking is required where a written response might be required.
  • Common Core testing will indicate where a child needs help.
  • Common Core will eventually replace the COMPASS test for junior college and will count for college admissions at some colleges.
  • We must move into the 21th century in the way children are assessed.

Con Common Core, Bruno Behrend, Senior Fellow, The Heartland Institute

Bruno Behrend, although a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute, does his presentations for free.  In that Bruno graduated from Lake Forest High was a definite plus.  In the audience was a classmate of Behren’s when a student at Lake Forest High School.

In listening to Mr. Behrend speak about why he’s not supportive of Common Core, at times Bruno appeared almost apologetic in having to point out how his views differed from those of Jessica Handy.  It often appeared that Bruno was being overly polite in his interactions, out of fear of being considered too aggressive.  But what happens when one of the main faults of Common Core it that its agenda is left-leaning and that the purpose the PARCC testing is to assure that teacher are teaching Common Core curriculum?

In a post event interchange with Mr. Behrend, I became aware that he was well versed on the perceived left-leaning agenda of Common Core. Following are Bruno’s reasons for not fixating on the nature of the Common Core agenda:  1) Confrontation is no way to win an argument; 2) the political bent of Common Core might be upsetting to some in attendance; and 3) the format of the event didn’t lend itself to aggressive debating.  Then too, Jessica Tandy was likewise extremely polite and respectful.  Together Bruno and Jessica created an aura of comaraderie, even though their Common Core positions were on opposite ends of the scale.  But they did share a common goal.  Both Bruno and Jessica wanted all children to receive a good education.

For Bruno Behrend education is a social and an economic problem, not unlike that expressed by his counterpart, Jessica Handy.  But for Mr. Behrend Common Core is the wrong approach to education.  It is not the answer for solving the gap between how American children rank education-wise in comparison to children of other nations.  Such a dismal showing of American children is especially troubling because as a nation we dump so much money into education (Lake Forest High School spends $22,500 per student.), yet during the past 20 or so years test scores have remained flat.  Mr. Behrend did admit that Illinois’s standards were crummy, and that if Common Core standards were good he would have no problem supporting Common Core.

Behrend’s main “beef” with Common core is the centralization of education by the federal government.  As Bruno surmised, “Will we discover after 5 – 10 years that Common Core is not producing the desired educational outcome, that Common Core was an education experiment that was conducted at the expense of our children?”  Behrend mentioned two curriculum experts (one each in English and Math) who helped write the Common Core standards.  Upon disagreeing that the Common Core standards formulated were the best standards in the world, the two experts quit the validation committee and were accordingly forbidden to write a minority report.

Bruno believes that a unified set of standards sounds like a good idea, but with this nation’s diverse population, and 52 million children to educate, decentralization of education works better.  By definition Common Core will narrow the curriculum being taught and what children are learning. Apart from the federally directed Common Core state curriculum, only 15% of what is taught locally in each school district can deviate from these standards.

Bruno Behrend questioned whether Common Core really represents 21century education, as the ways in which children are learning and can learn continue to expand at a rapid pace.  Behrend spoke highly of the Khan Academy and how it is changing the rules of education. Khan Academy is an educational website that aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” Students, or anyone interested enough to surf by, can watch some 2,400 videos in which the site’s founder, Salman Khan, chattily discusses principles of math, science, and economics (with a smattering of social science topics thrown in).  Khan Academy is on a mission to unlock the world’s potential. Most people think their intelligence is fixed. The science says it’s not. It starts with knowing you can learn anything.   Check out this excellent youtube video about Kahn Academy.

Following is question of particular interest addressed to Bruno Behrend from a Lake Forest, District 115 parent:  “How will Common Core affect the Lake Forest School System (District 67 and 115)?  What impact will it have?  To which Bruno replied:  “Lake Forest will be the last place to get bad, and the first place to get better, because of the caliber of its students.”


[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – James Taylor: Florida Solar Ballot Initiative Hoodwink

March 23, 2015, 3:33 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Environment & Climate News, H. Sterling Burnett sits down with James M. Taylor. Taylor is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, focusing on energy and environment issues. Taylor and Burnett discuss an Florida Ballot initiative on solar companies.

Taylor dismantles the argument that the Florida initiative aimed at allowing solar companies to put roof top panels on homes and businesses is a free-market push. Solar wants to keep all its subsidies and be a co-monopolist with utilities. The bill would grant a special exemption to the electricity supply for solar, while keeping wind, geo-thermal, and other renewables sidelined. And taxpayers would foot the bill for a minimum of 30 percent of all solar power installed.  Taylor argues that conservatives, libertarians and free-marketeers in general should not be fooled by this push financed by Tom Steyer.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

A World Without the Welfare State

March 23, 2015, 2:43 PM

We live in an era in which few can even conceive of a world without the welfare state. Who would care for the old? How would people provide for their medical needs? What would happen to the disadvantaged and needy that fell upon hard times? In fact, there were free market solutions and non-government answers to these questions long before the modern Big Government Welfare State.

In fact, before the arrival of modern welfare state, voluntary, private-sector institutions had evolved to serve as the market providers for many of those “social services” now viewed as the near-exclusive prerogative of the government. Unfortunately, after nearly a century of increasing political and cultural collectivism, the historical memory of the pre-welfare state era has all but been lost.

Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries is an historical case study in how many of these problems were handled without political intervention in the private affairs of society.

The Friendly Societies and Mutual Insurance Protections

The focal point for many of these private-sector answers was the “friendly societies.” When they first arose in the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, the friendly societies were mutual-aid associations for insurance for the cost of funerals of workers or their family members.

But as the 19th century progressed, the friendly societies expanded their activities to encompass four primary services: 1) accident insurance that provided weekly allowances for the families of workers who were injured in their places of employment; 2) medical insurance that covered the cost of medical care and prescribed medicines for workers and their families; 3) life insurance and assistance to maintain family members in case of the death of the primary breadwinner or his spouse; and 4) funeral insurance to cover burial costs for the worker or members of his family. Later on, many of the societies also developed savings and lending facilities for members, fire insurance and loans for home purchases.

By 1910, the year before Britain’s first National Insurance Act was brought into law, approximately three-quarters of the work force of the British economy was covered by the private, voluntary insurance associations of the friendly societies. The memberships in their associations covered the entire income spectrum, from the middle- and higher-income skilled worker to the low-wage, unskilled members of the work force.

The friendly societies also offered instruction in self-responsibility, often rotated their officer positions to teach leadership among the members, and supplied advice on better managing of members’ family financial and related affairs.

In the years before the First World War, the free society had developed and was extending the very social institutions needed to handle all those concerns that in our own time are considered the responsibility of the state. What the modern welfare state did was to preempt and undermine the free market’s solutions to many of what we call today “social services.”

State regulation of the friendly societies, subsidized “free” medical and insurance services, and new taxes to cover the government’s cost for providing these national insurance schemes all resulted in a crowding-out of the voluntary alternatives of the private sector.

Private Charity and Voluntary Assistance to the Poor

 For the 300 years between 1600 and 1900, British society generally took it as axiomatic that charitable work was the responsibility of individual and private corporate effort. Even the notorious English Poor Laws that generated so many negative side effects were considered to be a narrow and limited supplement to the primary activities of the private sector.

British private philanthropy reached its zenith in the 19th century, and this was not an accident. During this epoch of classical liberalism, the state was not regarded as either the proper or most efficient vehicle for the amelioration of poverty.

Especially for the Christian classical liberal, his faith required him to take on the personal responsibility for the saving of souls for God.

Most of the Christians in 19th-century Britain also believed that to help a man in his rebirth in Christ, it was essential to help him improve his earthly life, as well. Soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, training of the unskilled for gainful employment, care for the abandoned or poverty-stricken young, and the nurturing of a sense of self-respect and self-responsibility for an independent and self-supporting life were all seen as complements to the primary task of winning sinners over for salvation.

By the 1890s, most middle-class British families devoted 10 percent of their income for charitable works — an outlay from average family income second only to expenditures on food. Total voluntary giving in Britain was greater than the entire budgets of several European governments, and more than half a million women worked as full-time volunteers for various charitable organizations.

Individual Initiative and Leadership in Voluntary Giving

Individuals of position, wealth, or vision felt it their Christian duty to take up the saving of souls and the caring for these people’s material circumstances as steppingstones to the “remaking” of Christ’s children. For example, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftsbury, who was considered a prominent evangelical Christian, and as one historian of the period put it, “a sort of conscience of the nation, a man of such outstanding virtue that the association of his name with any enterprise gave it instant respectability and mass appeal.”

Thomas Barnardo, associated with the Church of Ireland, founded his own charitable organizations that came to care for, house, and educate tens of thousands of children in the poorest circumstances throughout England. William Booth created the Salvation Army, saving souls as well as teaching those who came to Christ through his organization the importance of self-responsibility and paying their own way through work and honesty in all avenues of life. William Cadbury (of Cadbury chocolates) and William Lever (of Lever Brothers’ soap) created, with their own money, model workplaces and communities for their workers.

An advantage of this world of private charity is that it enabled innovation and experimentation to discover the means most likely to bring people to God and improve their earthly conditions. At the same time, the competition among charities for voluntary contributions rewarded those organizations that demonstrated the effectiveness of the methods they used and weeded out the less successful ones.

The Rise of Socialism and the Demise of the Private Sector

At the turn of the century, however, a sea change began to occur in the philosophy and ideology of many charities and their corporate sponsors. In a period experiencing the rise of socialist ideas, the view developed that government needed to assist or supplant the efforts of private individuals and organizations. And among a growing number of Christian groups concern for earthly improvement of the poor began to take first place over the previously primary task of saving souls.

As the government began to create the welfare state, many of the private charities found it increasingly impossible to compete with the “free” services supplied by the state. And, at the same time, many people now paying higher taxes to finance government welfare programs came to believe they had paid their “fair share” through taxation, so private giving was either not needed or no longer affordable.

Also, as the 20th century has progressed, many private charitable organizations have themselves become dependent upon government funding for large fractions of their activities. This has resulted in increasing government regulation and supervision of their programs. Furthermore, since “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” Christian charities have had to diminish or remove the evangelical element in their activities under government rules against religious proselytizing by those receiving government funds.

From Private Action to Government Control

Another aspect of this politicization and co-opting of these private sector solutions to “social problems” is that it really has involved a massive growth in governmental power and decision-making.

The rhetoric is often of transferring income and wealth from “the rich” to the poor or more disadvantaged. But as a number of critics have pointed out, it has really and mostly involved a transfer of power and control from the hands of the citizenry to that of those in political authority.

This theme was especially emphasized by the French social critic, Bertrand de Jouvenel, in a book on The Ethics of Redistribution(1951). Income is not merely a means for physical maintenance of oneself and one’s family plus a few dollars for leisure activities. What we do with our income is an expression of ourselves, a statement about what we value, how we see ourselves, and what we wish and hope to be.

How We Spend Our Wealth Reflects and Teaches Values

The way we use our income enables us to teach future generations about those things that are considered worthwhile in life. Income acquired above some notion of a “minimum” is also the way individuals have had the means to perform many activities “for free” that are considered the foundation of the social order, from community and church work, to support for the arts and humanities.

Deny an individual the honest income the has earned, even when it is above some hypothetically “reasonable maximum,” and you deny him the ability to formulate, and give expression to, his own purpose as a human being. And you deny him the capacity to make his voluntary contribution to the civilization and society in which he lives, as he sees best

De Jouvenel argued that such contributions have been, and remain essential for a good society. This is demonstrated, he shows, by the common belief of most of those who advocate redistribution: since most people will no longer have the “independent means” to perform such social services and activities, the state must now perform them.

Elitist Contempt for the Common Man

And there is a strong elitist element among redistribution advocates. They do not trust “the poor” to have the intelligence or wisdom to spend their income in “socially desirable ways.” The poor prefer to spend their money on beer rather than Beethoven. So, the state takes over that responsibility for them. And it is in this that de Jouvenel sees the real significance of redistributive policies. What is redistributed is not wealth from the rich to the poor, but power from the people to the state.

Individuals no longer plan their own lives, and use their own money, to fulfill those plans. Individuals no longer care for their own children, teach them how to live as human beings or guide them as to what to value and pursue in life. In terms of time, income and talent, individuals are now reluctant to contribute themselves to the society in which they live.

No, these are now in the hands of the state because, through taxation, the state has denied individuals the capacity to do them. The state plans our lives, cares for our children, and decides what should be supported in society as socially desirable and to what extent.

And as the state grows stronger, the individual grows weaker. We become weaker, not only in relation to the state, but also as human beings because we no longer exercise those qualities and habits of mind that only self-responsibility teaches and makes possible.

In spite of the pervasiveness of the Welfare State in our modern society and the tax burden that is imposed to fund it, it is worth remembering that Americans’ generosity and benevolence still stands as a beacon for the world. In 2013, Americans donated nearly $420 billion to charitable causes, and this was a nearly 13 percent increase over the 2012 level of voluntary philanthropy in the United States.

But a culture of self-responsibility and benevolence can be and is undermined by a paternalistic state, in which the government not only takes away the income and wealth through which individuals can express and reflect their values and beliefs, but weakens the very idea that such decisions and judgments should be in private rather than political hands.

The Welfare State makes us all poorer in character and independence. Confiscation of freedom through abridgements of individuals’ rights to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property, also brings with it a less humane and civil society.

With liberty comes not only the individual’s right to make his own choices concerning how best to live his life. The experience of the Great Britain and the United States before the modern Welfare State makes it clear that free man are also civilized human beings who demonstrate appropriate and reasonable interest and concern with others in society deemed deserving of charitable benevolence.

[Originally published at Epic Times]


Categories: On the Blog

Radical Environmentalism’s Death Campaigns

March 23, 2015, 2:14 PM

The terms racism, white supremacy, crimes against humanity are bandied about so often that they have become almost meaningless. But they are absolutely appropriate in an arena where they are too rarely applied: radical environmentalism’s campaigns that perpetuate poverty, disease and death, by denying Earth’s most impoverished and powerless people access to modern life-saving technologies.

Imagine activist groups preventing you from having your child vaccinated against polio or hepatitis, or from starting her on chemotherapy for leukemia – because they are “concerned” about “possible side-effects” and the “ethics” of permitting such “risky” procedures. Absurd! you say. Outrageous!

Of course it is. But that is what radical environmentalists are doing to Third World countries. By denying people access to abundant, reliable, affordable electricity, modern fertilizers and biotech seeds, and especially DDT to prevent malaria and other insect-borne diseases, they are killing millions every year.

Many of my articles have documented this. Now a new film written, self-financed and produced by Dr. D. Rutledge Taylor, MD graphically presents powerful new evidence of how the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, other predominantly white environmentalist pressure groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conspired to hide and discredit scientific evidence, and wage a campaign of disinformation and outright lies, to ban the most effective weapon yet devised to prevent malaria and other vicious diseases.

3 Billion and Counting: The death toll is mounting shows how DDT was invented on the eve of World War II and became a secret weapon that kept Allied soldiers on the battlefield, instead of in hospitals or graves. After the war, it was sprayed on millions of Europeans to prevent typhus. It then eradicated malaria in Europe, the United States and other developed nations. No one ever got sick from DDT.

Available on demand and through, You Tube, Google Play, iTunes and elsewhere, the film chronicles how Rachel Carson’s wildly inaccurate book Silent Spring helped persuade the Audubon Society to launch the Environmental Defense Fund for the sole purpose of demanding a DDT ban.

Why would Audubon do such a thing? Its own research and Department of the Interior studies showed that bird and animal populations were exploding during the two decades when DDT was used most widely. Countless other studies documented that the life-saving chemical was safe for humans and most wildlife, including bald eagles. People actually tried to kill themselves with DDT – and repeatedly failed.

An EPA scientific panel conducted six months of hearings, compiled 9,312 pages of studies and testimony, and concluded that DDT was safe and effective, was not carcinogenic, and should not be banned. Nevertheless, without attending a single hour of hearings or reading a single page of the panel’s report, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus banned U.S. production and use of DDT in 1972 – at a time when over 80% of the chemical was being exported for disease control.

Then why the attacks? As EDF scientist Charles Wurster said 1969, “If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they have never had before.” When asked later how he justified human deaths from pesticides that replaced DDT, versus the “mere loss of some birds,” he said “organophosphates act locally and only kill farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.”

Ruckelshaus said he had a political problem, and fixed it. He never considered the plight of malaria victims, and anti-DDT activists still ignore their agony and deaths. Audubon, EDF, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Pesticide Action Network, Natural Resource Defense Council and other radical groups that oppose DDT just don’t give a damn – even as they have become filthy, callously rich by opposing the life-saving chemical and other technologies.

Sierra Club executive director David Brower, Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich and other arch-environmentalists believed the biggest problem facing Planet Earth was “uncontrolled growth” in human populations. Ehrlich argued that the “instant death control” provided by DDT exports was “responsible for the drastic lowering of death rates” in underdeveloped countries. Those countries were not practicing a “birth rate solution” – and thus needed to have “death rate solutions” imposed on them, via campaigns against energy, Golden Rice and other biotech crops, and especially DDT.

Almost 3.5 billion people worldwide are at risk of getting this horrific disease, 207 million are actually infected every year, and over 800,000 die year after year from malaria. The vast majority are children and pregnant women, and some 90% of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that region, a child still dies every minute from malaria, and most African children have been brain-damaged to some degree by malaria. Worldwide, nearly 80% of all infectious diseases are spread by insects.

Malaria is certainly a disease of poverty. But poverty is a disease of malaria. It leaves victims too sick to work or care for their families, for weeks on end. Medicines and hospital stays drain families’ meager savings. The disease costs tens of millions of lost work hours, billions in lost wages, and tens of billions for medicines and care in antiquated hospitals. It leaves entire nations impoverished.

However, spraying small amounts of DDT on the walls and eaves of cinderblock and mud-and-thatch homes, once or twice a year puts a long-lasting mosquito net over entire households. It keeps 80-90% of mosquitoes from even entering the homes; irritates any that do enter, so they leave without biting; and kills any that land. No other chemical, at any price, can do all this.

In response to these facts, anti-DDT pressure groups rail about risks that are trivial, illusory or fabricated. DDT is associated with low birth-weights, slow reflexes and weakened immune systems in babies, and could cause premature birth and lactation failure in nursing mothers, they claim.

Not one peer-reviewed scientific study supports any of this fear-mongering. Every one of these alleged problems is definitely associated with malaria and other endemic Third World diseases. And compared to the death and devastation that DDT could prevent, the alleged DDT risks are irrelevant.

However, constant deception and harassment by these groups have caused many health agencies and aid organizations to not use or fund DDT, and often other pesticides. Instead, they focus on bed nets, education, “capacity building,” and treatment with drugs that are too often unavailable, counterfeit, or ineffective because the malaria parasites have become resistant to them.

Still, the efforts have been somewhat successful. Millions of women and young children now sleep under insecticide-treated nets. Millions now get diagnosed more quickly and receive better care and medicines, often at clinics where two doctors examine up to 400 patients a day. In 2010, the World Health Organization and Roll Back Malaria boasted of an 18% reduction in child mortality, compared with 2000.

But that is not nearly good enough. We would never tolerate 18% as “good enough,” if American or European children’s lives (or Greenpeace and EDF kids’ lives) were at stake and a 90% reduction were possible – as it would be, if health workers were also eradicating mosquitoes and spraying DDT.

Instead, they protect Africans and Asians from minimal or illusory risks, by condemning them to agonizing deaths from readily preventable diseases. “They are using us in anti-DDT experiments,” says Ugandan human rights activist Fiona Kobusingye. “They are playing with our lives.”

They are also playing with American lives. Spraying clothes with DDT once a year would keep infected ticks away and prevent Lyme disease that leaves tens of thousands battling chronic, debilitating pain and illness for years, Dr. Taylor explains. But the same anti-pesticide radicals are dead-set against that.

Dr. Taylor ends his film by drinking 3 grams of DDT … in 2008 – with no ill effects, then or today.

Watch 3 Billion and Counting. Then contact these Big Green pressure groups and their staffs and board members, and the foundations, politicians and bureaucrats who support them. Tell them it’s time to end their eco-manslaughter.

Categories: On the Blog

Oil and Gas Exports—One Policy Change, many Benefits

March 23, 2015, 1:00 PM

“Businesses that sell to foreign markets put more people to work in high-quality jobs, offering more Americans the chance to earn a decent wage,” claimed the Obama administration’s Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in a March 18 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opinion piece.

She makes a strong case for U.S. exports: “jobs in export-intensive industries pay up to 18% more than jobs not related to exports.” Her premise is: “The U.S. economy ended 2014 on the uptick, and exports added to the momentum.” Noticeably absent is any mention of the potential for “high-quality jobs” and economic “uptick” that would come from the export of America’s abundant oil-and-natural gas resources—something her office should champion.

Pritzker states: “an increasing number of businesses are realizing that their customer base is no longer around the corner, but around the world. …to succeed in the 21st century, they must find a way to reach consumers in ever-expanding markets.”

Due to the modern technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the U.S. is producing more oil and natural gas than in decades. But the oil-and-gas industry is prevented from exporting to “foreign markets.”

In trade negotiations, the U.S., according to the New York Times (NYT), “typically argues that countries with excess supplies should export them.” We have excess supplies of both crude oil and natural gas that has driven down prices. We “should export them”—but we aren’t.

“Why can’t we export crude oil and natural gas?” you might ask. The NYT explains: “In 2011, the country pivoted from being the world’s largest importer of petroleum products to becoming one of the leading exporters”—though Pritzker never mentioned that.

The “energy world changed.” But, as NYT points out, exports could soak up the excess production, “but there are still political hurdles.”

For crude oil, the problem is energy policy enacted before the “energy world changed.” Signed into law in 1975, after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the goal of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, according to the International Business Times, was “to stifle the impact of future oil embargos by foreign oil producing countries.” The result was a ban on most U.S. oil exports—though some exceptions can be made and the Commerce Department has recently given export licenses to two companies for particular types of oil.

Exporting natural gas is not prohibited, but it is not encouraged. In order to export natural gas, it must be converted into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)—which is done at multibillion-dollar facilities with long lead times for permitting and construction. The Financial Times says about two dozen U.S. LNG export facilities have been proposed with four “already under construction, which have contracts to back up their financing.”

Fortunately, there are fixes in the works that, as energy historian Daniel Yergin said, symbolize “a new era in U.S. energy and U.S. energy relations with the rest of the world.”

In January, Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act to expedite Department of Energy decisions on LNG export applications. Breaking Energy states: “The bipartisan bill could garner enough votes to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.”

A month later, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced a bill to end the crude oil export ban: HR 702. On March 25, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will meet to debate and vote on the bill.

In October, David Goldwyn, the State Department’s coordinator for international energy affairs in the first Obama administration, said: “The politics are hard.” He added: “When the economics become overwhelming the politics will shift.” The NYT stated: The telltale sign of a glut will be a collapse in the West Texas Intermediate [WTI] price, the principal American oil benchmark, which is currently [October 2014] about $3 below the world Brent price.” It continues, “If the spread cracks open, the economic arguments for free export of domestic crude will probably win the day.”

That day may have come. On March 13, the WSJ editorial board announced: “WTI now trades 20% below the world market price.” Holman Jenkins, who writes the Business World column for the WSJ, says: “Oil producers are already being denied a premium of $12 a barrel by not being allowed to export this oil.”

“U.S. pump prices are mainly tied to the price of Brent crude, which is freely traded on the world market and is higher than it might otherwise be because of the ban on U.S. exports,” explains the WSJ. “If U.S. producers were allowed to compete globally, prices of Brent and WTI would converge over time, and U.S. gasoline prices would come down, all things being equal.”

If Congress could muster up the political will to lift the arcane oil export ban, the U.S. could emerge as a major world exporter, which according to the NYT, would result in the “return to a status that helped make the country a great power in the first half of the 20th century.”

Pritzker brags that the Commerce Department has “worked with the private sector to help businesses reach customers overseas … and to overcome barriers to entry.”

For U.S. oil-and-gas producers the biggest barrier to reaching customers overseas is our own energy policy. With one simple policy change, lawmakers could save and create American jobs and investment, lower gasoline prices, help balance our trade deficit, aid our allies, and increase U.S. influence in the world.

Categories: On the Blog