Out of the Storm News
From the Chronicle Herald:
Dr. Joel Nitzkin, Chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force for the American Association of Public Health Physicians (AAPHP), also argues that their vapours pose few risks to users and no risk to the public.
In a recent interview, for example, Nitzkin stated that there is “every reason to believe that the hazard posed by e-cigarettes would be much lower than one per cent, probably lower than one tenth of one per cent of the hazard posed by regular cigarettes.”
WASHINGTON (Feb. 24, 2014) – The R Street Institute is deeply disappointed by U.S. House leadership’s introduction of legislation that would completely repeal significant portions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
Coming on the heels of Senate passage of a bill to delay adjustments to the National Flood Insurance Program’s rate maps for four years, the House bill would repeal entirely the section of the flood insurance reform law that calls on FEMA to update its maps. For most NFIP policyholders, both the House and Senate bills will result in higher rates than they would otherwise pay, as increases for remapped properties that were paying insufficient rates would be offset by reductions for other properties in the program.
The House bill also would undermine the current law’s goal of ending taxpayer subsidies for the roughly one-fifth of NFIP policyholders who receive them. It would extend into perpetuity subsidies for roughly 700,000 older primary homes, even if they are resold by the current owner. The measure also rolls back rate increases for properties that have been resold since the law was passed in mid-2012.
“This bill represents a fundamental betrayal of the free-market principles and fiscal responsibility the House leadership claims to embrace,” said R Street Senior Fellow R.J. Lehmann. “Less than two years after passing landmark reforms to fix the NFIP, which remains $25 billion in debt to American taxpayers, lawmakers appear poised to gut just about all of those reforms, all to score cheap political points.”
Lehmann added that the outcry to undo Biggert-Waters has been driven by wildly inaccurate or exaggerated claims about the impact of rate increases. For instance, the phase-out of subsidies for older properties — which see premium increases of 25 percent a year until they reach risk-based rates — currently only affects second homes, business properties and about 9,000 properties that have been completely destroyed more than once. It does not affect primary homes unless the owner resells the property or allows his or her policy to lapse.
In some cases, communities have reported higher flood insurance rates due to confusion over how properties that lie behind decertified levees would be treated. However, FEMA has worked to resolve those isolated cases, most recently extending accreditation to the New Orleans-area levee system.
Most of the dramatic increases reported in the press are alleged to be the result of FEMA’s remapping process. But FEMA has not yet formulated rates for remapped properties, providing only preliminary guidance about ranges of rates that ultimately depend on a given property’s elevation, risk zone, deductible and level of coverage. What’s more, the agency has made clear that it does not anticipate implementing any rate changes from that process until October 2015, at the earliest.
Moreover, according to FEMA data, as of July 31, 2013, 97.9 percent of the 5.6 million policies within the NFIP paid rates that were less than $5,000. Only seven properties in the entire United States had rates that were greater than $20,000.
“Against the backdrop of a long-term budgetary crisis, the Biggert-Waters Act represented a major step in the direction of fiscal responsibility by fixing a program that is tens of billions of dollars in debt. Against the backdrop of rising sea levels, it represented a step in the direction of environmental responsibility to stop subsidizing development in risk-prone flood zones,” Lehmann said. “What Congress is clearly demonstrating now is that neither party is ready to be quite that responsible.”
Last fall, during an earnings conference call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made an announcement that landed him on the front page of every newspaper business section: His company had surpassed HBO to become America’s biggest pay-TV service. Today, about 30 million Netflix accounts exist, serving about a quarter of America. Netflix’s first round of original series won critical plaudits and were the first purely video-on-demand television series to win Emmy awards. The concept of “binge watching” became popular largely because of Netflix. Because it offers a rich library of old and new TV shows for a modest sum per month, the service has even helped grow the number of “cord cutters,” who watch “television” only through the Internet.
All this, of course, is well documented and much discussed. What has gotten far less attention is the fact that Netflix’s rise to become America’s most influential TV service is a rejoinder to scolds on both sides of the political spectrum who have claimed that new media will fuse politics and entertainment. In fact, Netflix’s rise—and its combination of unconcern and cluelessness about the world of politics—shows just the opposite. No matter how many people might call “Network” (1976) prophetic, or think that last year’s bizarre “Anchorman 2″ was an accurate representation of the news business, or decry the rise of “tabloid TV” and “infotainment,” there’s little evidence that politics and entertainment have fused in recent years. Over the past century, in fact, the line between politics and entertainment has become more distinct.
Famous orators of the past—the temperance crusader John Gough, Frederick Douglass, William Jennings Bryan—always knew how to bring a strong dose of the theatrical to their presentations and drew larger audiences than the theatrical performances of their time. Three-hour speeches, unthinkable today, were a lot more exciting than the farm and assembly-line labor common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Before the national release of films began in the 1920s, almost no American outside of the world of politics (broadly construed) could claim national celebrity. As late as the 1980s, the Big Three network news anchors were among the biggest celebrities in the country. Today, if you’re under 55, it’s unlikely you could even name all three of their modern successors.
If Netflix is the future, then, there’s considerable evidence that news and entertainment will become more distinct. Netflix has no news division, and its on-demand format makes it unsuitable for even the modest “public affairs” programming that appears on HBO (Real Time with Bill Maher, et al.). While it recently produced and released a reasonably sympathetic look at Mitt Romney—a return to the documentary production it started and abandoned in the last decade—this isn’t a sign that the company is somehow trying to correct the left-leaning slant of most documentary filmmakers. While there is certainly streaming material besides the Romney documentary that flatters conservatives (Andrew Breitbart’s “Occupy Unmasked”), at least as much will please liberals (Michael Moore’s “The Big One”) and lunatics (“Dark Legacy,” which describes how George H. W. Bush killed John F. Kennedy).
Of course, no video-on-demand service controlled by user choice could ever be effective in delivering news, since it’s based on what’s going on at any given moment and demands a “pushed” format that’s best delivered as a web page or 24-hour news channel. As the cost of getting on the web, or starting a cable channel, has plummeted, such services have proliferated. The news universe that results may well be more fragmented, opinionated and angry, and since people can easily watch and read only things that flatter them, this may be more comforting. But that still doesn’t make it entertainment.
Which is why it’s interesting that Netflix’s first series all have political elements: House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, offers a cynical view of Washington politics; Orange Is the New Black is a “dramedy” about life in a women’s prison, based on a nonfiction book full of public policy arguments; Hemlock Grove, a thriller/supernatural series, deals with the political machinations of small-town life. House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black rank among the smartest, best-written, best-produced shows around. Hemlock Grove is better-than-average TV.
All three, however, show a certain cluelessness about the political issues they address. Hemlock Grove is the most forgivable in its portrayal of politics. At heart, it’s a small-town gothic in the spirit of True Blood‘s early seasons and Twin Peaks, and it takes dramatic license in converting things that would be national news stories (the brutal murder that opens the first episode, for example) into purely local events. Dozens of other shows do this, and it’s easy enough to overlook.
The other two series can’t get the same pass. Piper Kerman’s memoir, which serves as the basis for Orange Is the New Black, is an interesting (if sometimes shrill) screed against mass incarceration based on the Smith-graduate-turned-drug-money-courier’s year in federal prison. While she doesn’t claim that our prisons are full of innocent people, she makes a solid political case that the long-term incarceration of nonviolent, or even less-violent, offenders can’t be good for society. The Netflix version centers on one Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), but depicts the same minimum-security prison as a violent place full of people who deserve to be isolated from society. In other words, for the purposes of good TV, the producers contradict the central political message of the book. Since Piper Kerman herself has promoted the show, she must recognize the contradiction.
If Orange Is the New Black simply contradicts the political message of its source, however, House of Cards, a far more overtly political show, largely ignores real life altogether. On one hand, its production shows that some people with experience in Washington know what they’re doing: Designers perfectly match the visitors’ badges used in the Capitol building and the stickers in taxicab windows, even the look of the Georgetown and Adams Morgan flats occupied by recent college graduates. (All the more impressive, really, since most filming takes place in Baltimore.)
But the political doings at the heart of House of Cards, the second season of which premiered in February, betray an ignorance of political reality. In the first season, several episodes turned on a national teachers’ strike that caused all public schools in America to close because teachers disliked a bill moving through Congress. This is, of course, plainly impossible: Only a third of public-school teachers in America belong to a union, no single union controls all organized teachers, many states ban teacher strikes, and since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act nearly 70 years ago, unions haven’t been allowed to engage in political strikes at all.
Ignorance of the world of politics doesn’t end there. A major plot thread has South Carolina congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) getting himself heavily involved in a Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign. (In the real world, it’s rare that members of Congress involve themselves in local races in their own states.) In other episodes, editors at a big metropolitan daily give front-page placement to a story based on an unattributed tip, written by a reporter who won’t disclose her sources to her own editors, and the House of Representatives holds a floor roll-call vote on a bill involving a single river’s watershed. While all these things could happen in theory—and may have occurred at some point in the past—they almost certainly wouldn’t take place today. The people behind House of Cards presumably know better, but prefer a good drama to any grounding in political reality.
Caveat emptor. Anyone who wants to learn about American politics from what’s marketed as pure entertainment programming is almost certain to emerge clueless. And people aren’t relying on Netflix for their news anyway. If Netflix is the future, entertainment and politics will continue to grow apart.
In a recent Rasmussen poll, more than half of likely voters (51 percent) said they believe EPA regulations should require congressional approval before they are implemented. Given that approval ratings for Congress itself hover near single digits, that voters would embrace congressional oversight is a remarkable finding.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee has sent to the floor a resolution supporting a “Regulatory Freedom Amendment,” which requests that Congress to propose an amendment to the U. S. Constitution reading:
Whenever one-quarter of the members of the United States House of Representatives or the United States Senate transmits to the President their written declaration of opposition to a proposed federal regulation, it shall require a majority vote of the House of Representatives and the Senate to adopt that regulation.
Is it a fool’s errand or simple public relations stunt to ask Congress to approve major federal regulations? Not necessarily. Last year, the U.S. House passed on a bipartisan basis H.R. 367, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2013. The bill had been introduced in every session of Congress since 2009, and this time was authored by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind. The House passed it in the 112th Congress, as well, but the Senate never even held a hearing on it, even though it had 31 Senators co-sponsors.
The act would require Congress and the president to share responsibility for every federal regulation projected to cost taxpayers more than $100 million, a list that numbers more than 100 in the Obama administration alone. In fact, federal agencies have finalized over 3,500 regulations in each of the last three years and added an average of 70,000 pages per year into the Federal Register – adding some $1.75 trillion in annual costs, according to one estimate cited by the Harvard Political Review.
Why take on the political heavy lift of a constitutional amendment, when there is so much support for the REINS Act, which could be easily enacted, particularly if the Senate goes Republican? REINS would be extremely helpful to mitigate the problem of delegating much, if not most, of the important work of lawmaking to unelected bureaucrats in 319 federal executive and independent agencies. In areas like health care and financial services, where the federal government has intervened extensively in recent years, nearly every regulation would qualify on economic grounds under the $100 million threshold.
But what about IRS harassment of non-profits? Public awareness of the politicization of a critical federal agency, whose employees gave 92 percent of their PAC money to Democrats in the last cycle, has damaged Americans’ faith in an institution that wields awesome power over them.
In late November, the IRS issued a “notice of proposed rulemaking” which broadly expands the definition under section 501(c)(4) of “candidate-related political activity.” The American Civil Liberties Union has called out the administration on these proposed regulations, which threaten “to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America.” The ACLU says that the proposed rules “could seriously chill legitimate issue advocacy from nonprofits on the right and left, particularly smaller ones.” In combination with their assessment that the rules are unlikely to stop activities the administration is trying to curtail, the effect would be the creation of “the worst of all worlds” for free speech.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has defended the proposed regulations by claiming that nonprofit groups are “going after people who are trying to improve the country.” Like himself, I suppose. But it is not the economic effect of curtailing participation in events featuring candidates, or voter education that mentions a candidate that would be a problem. The threat is to fundamental rights, and failure to reach the $100 million threshold would preclude congressional scrutiny under the REINS act, if it were law.
For this reason, it is worthwhile to ask that Congress provide us this additional protection. I would like to see Sen. Reid defend this kind of regulation with his vote, if he chooses, and not just his projections on how Americans feel about free speech limitations.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
It seems barely a week goes by without the release of some statistic that sparks an unwieldy volume of conflicting interpretations. Last week, it was the projection by the Congressional Budget Office that hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost jobs to somewhere around 500,000 jobs, while lifting about 900,000 people out of poverty.
The value of these numbers is easy to overestimate. Liberals point out that the lost jobs number amounts to only a 0.3 percent decrease in employment – a rounding error, essentially. But by the same taken, lifting 900,000 people out of poverty – when, according to the 2010 US census, 46.2 million Americans currently live in poverty – comes out to only about a 2% decrease. That’s hardly inspiring stuff.
What these debates really show is a lack of imagination on the behalf of the American left. Most liberals would certainly prefer to debate a much-expanded social safety net over something as small ball as a minimum wage hike. Most tend to think of Obamacare as a messy compromise, far from the nirvana of single payer or a public option. Yet these options are obviously off the table and the minimum wage hike is the best they can think of.
This need not be the case. It’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where, instead of arguing for a minimum wage hike, progressives pushed the idea of a universal basic income. Where a minimum wage hike would impose costs on businesses directly, a universal basic income would do no such thing. Rather, it would enable businesses to offer minimum wage jobs, safe in the knowledge that, if people at the bottom of the income distribution needed help, the government would be there to pick up the slack.
Moreover, if accused of being radicals, supporters could argue the UBI is actually an idea that has been supported by the likes of Milton Friedman, albeit under the name of a “negative income tax.” Some liberals who wanted to distance themselves from Obamacare could even argue that Obamacare’s subsidies should be folded into the UBI, rather than being kept as part of an unpopular law. One doesn’t have to agree with any of these arguments to see how easy they are to make from a liberal perspective.
Yet no one on the left is seriously entertaining this proposal; at least, not publicly. Instead, we get Obamacare and the aforementioned minimum wage hike, which clearly are meant to bring Americans closer to the standard of living that such a proposal would provide. But why shouldn’t they actually make the proposal? Conservatives have proposed imitating the health-care systems of Singapore and Sweden. Surely resurrecting a McGovern-era idea shouldn’t be a bridge too far for the left?
Instead, the idea sits on the backburner among liberals and bleeding heart libertarians. This is a shame because, even to conservatives and libertarians who oppose welfare statism, it is surely preferable to hear liberals arguing for ideas that stand a chance of doing something for the poor and unemployed, rather than merely nibbling at the margins.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Fromm the St. Petersburg Tribune:
Analysts with the R Street Institute think tank, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee, said the House bill would undermine the government flood program in the long run, causing taxpayers to permanently subsidize 700,000 older homes.
Besides being fiscally irresponsible, the change in policy will continue to encourage people to live in hazardous coastal areas, said R Street senior fellow R.J. Lehmann.
“Against the backdrop of rising sea levels, it [Biggert-Waters] represented a step in the direction of environmental responsibility to stop subsidizing development in risk-prone flood zones,” Lehmann said in a written statement.
“What Congress is clearly demonstrating now is that neither party is ready to be quite that responsible,” he said.
This note is in response to the so-called “fact sheet” entitled “Electronic Cigarettes and Secondhand Aerosol” produced by Americans for Nonsmokers Rights (ANR) February 20, 2014  in anticipation of a legislative hearing in the City of Los Angeles scheduled for February 24, 2014.
This note urges state and local legislatures not to ban e-cigarette use in no-smoking areas. Such a ban will do nothing to protect bystanders. It will do nothing to promote cessation of smoking. It would, however, potentially damage the health of the public by conveying a false impression that e-cigarettes are as hazardous as combustible cigarettes, and, by that means, prevent some inveterate smokers from switching to these far-less-hazardous products.
As a public health physician and long-term supporter of ANR, I am appalled at the inaccurate and distorted presentation of the hazards posed by e-cigarettes to bystanders in indoor environments in this diatribe against e-cigarettes. This paper, unworthy of support by any health-related organization, is based on unfounded speculation, laboratory studies bearing no relationship to real-life exposure, and presentation of the vapor inhaled by e-cigarette users as if it were the vapor in indoor air exhaled by e-cigarette users. This paper does not reference the now-extensive literature documenting real-life exposure to e-cigarettes by both users and bystanders. It does not reference the trace quantities of organic chemicals exhaled by persons who are neither smoking nor vaping. It does not present a single review or case report alleging illness in an e-cigarette user or in a bystander due to use or exposure to exhaled e-cigarette vapor.
If ANR was truly concerned about exposure of bystanders to exhaled nicotine in any form, it could have and should have recommended prohibition of pharmaceutical nicotine vaporizers in no-smoking areas many years ago. The fact that it has not raises serious questions as to why ANR is recommending that e-cigarette use be banned in non-smoking areas at this time.
E-Cigarettes – A Public Health Perspective
ANR , and other opponents of e-cigarettes like to frame the e-cigarette debate in terms of the health of the public v. evil and greedy tobacco companies intent on addicting teens to their deadly products. While socially and politically correct in some public health circles, there a very different public health perspective that should be considered.
Despite decades of tobacco control programming, there are still about 46 million smokers and cigarette smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.  Furthermore, the numbers of smokers and smoking-attributable deaths in the United States has been essentially stable since 2004. , 
Given the 15-20 year delay between initiation of smoking and onset of potentially fatal smoking-attributable illness, the vast majority of the 9,600,000 Americans who will die of a smoking-attributable illness in the next 20 years (480,000 deaths per year x 20 years) are currently adult American Smokers currently over 35 years of age. Tobacco harm reduction, with e-cigarettes as a harm reduction modality, currently appears to be the only feasible policy option likely to substantially reduce tobacco related illness and and death over the next 20 years. A THR initiative, as an addition to current tobacco control programming would consist of informing current smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit that they could reduce their risk of tobacco-attributable illness and death by 98% or better by switching to a smokeless tobacco option or e-cigarettes. A more complete and well referenced discussion of this topic can be found on the R Street web site. 
If the goal of ANR is to reduce tobacco-attributable illness and death, it should carefully consider the potential benefits of e-cigarettes and realistically appraise their potential harms, as compared to the pharmaceutical nicotine inhalers that ANR apparently endorses.
Hazards Posed by Environmental Tobacco Smoke
I, and many other public health physicians, have long supported ANR because of the hazard to bystanders presented by environmental tobacco smoke. Tobacco smoke is a witch’s brew of toxic chemical substances from the incomplete combustion of tobacco.
About 85% of environmental tobacco smoke is sidestream smoke that curls off the end of a cigarette when no-one is puffing on it. E-cigarettes have no sidestream smoke.
ETS increases the risk of lung cancer and other cancers; heart and lung disease; the risk of low birth weight; and is suspected of increasing the risk of birth defects. CDC estimates that approximately 49,000 non-smokers die in the United States from exposure. 
Hazards (if any) Posed by E-cigarettes to Bystanders
E-cigarettes have no products of combustion. Nothing curls off the end of an e-cigarette when no-one is puffing on it. The mainstream vapor exhaled by the user includes only the tiniest traces of chemical contaminants.
A number of studies have been very recently published dealing with the concentration of organic chemicals in exhaled e-cigarette vapor. Basically, these studies show that when the e-cigarette user exhales into a glass tube or similar container, trace quantities of a variety of organic chemicals can be detected, but, when in an 8 cubic meter test chamber or similar room, for a half hour or more, e-cigarette use does not measurably increase the trace quantities of these chemical substances above background levels, while cigarettes cause dramatic rapid increases.6-8 Perhaps the most interesting finding in these studies is that persons not using any form of tobacco routinely exhale trace amounts of acetone, ethane, pentane and isoprene and other endogenous volatile organic compounds. , , , 
Review of Allegations in the ANR February 2014 E-Cigarette Paper 
“E-cigarette aerosol is made up of a high concentration of ultrafine particles, and the particle concentration is higher than in conventional tobacco cigarette smoke.” This allegation is based on a recently published paper by Fuoco et al consisting of a laboratory analysis of machine-generated mainstream (not exhaled) e-cigarette vapor, with multiple mathematical corrections, bearing no relationship to the vapor that might be exhaled by a real live human e-cigarette user.
“Exposure to fine and ultrafine particles may exacerbate respiratory ailments like asthma, and constrict arteries which could trigger a heart attack.” This is based on a literature review by Grana, et al, speculating on illness and symptoms that might be caused by similar particulate matter far higher in concentration than could ever be expected from inhaled or exhaled e-cigarette vapor.
Regarding “10 chemicals in e-cigarette aerosol” – the data in the Goniewicz paper show the concentrations in indoor air as so small that they are not measurable above baseline. The Goniewicz paper concluded that levels of toxicants were similar to the reference pharmaceutical nicotine inhaler. The Williams paper deals only with vapor as inhaled by the user, with no reference to metals in exhaled vapor.
Regarding propylene glycol – while inhaled e-cigarette vapor can cause throat irritation in e-cigarette users, the tiny amounts of propylene glycol in exhaled vapor is unlikely to be noticed by bystanders. The references quoted to justify this statement reflect industrial concentrations of propylene glycol and consistent long term exposure. The reference quoted relative to degradation of propylene glycol producing small amounts of a carcinogen deals with “heat degradation studies of solar heat transfer fluids.”
The reference to metals in e-cigarette aerosol, as noted above, related only to the vapor inhaled by the user, not exhaled e-cigarette vapor.
The reference to nitrosamines and dietyhylene glycol in e-cigarette vapor are from the same 2009 analysis, reflecting the vapor inhaled by the user, not exhaled vapor, making no comparison to the FDA approved nicotine inhalers, and, in one of 20 samples, detecting a trace of diethylene glycol so small, that the e-cigarette user would have to use the e-cigarette equivalent of 1,500 cigarettes in a single day to reach the minimal toxic dose.
Regarding nicotine exposure – yes, e-cigarettes are designed to deliver nicotine, and traces of nicotine are exhaled. There is no reference to any bystander ever being harmed by such nicotine exposure from cigarettes or e-cigarettes. It is also important to note that nicotine is routinely consumed in trace amounts in tomatoes, eggplants and other vegetables, with no known adverse consequences.
Allegations of respiratory distress and other ill effects are theoretical speculations based on exposures far in excess of those to be expected from e-cigarette use.
In conclusion, there is no public health justification for banning e-cigarette use in no-smoking areas. Such bans will be harmful to the health of the public to the extent that they suggest that e-cigarettes may be as hazardous as combustible cigarettes, and, by that means, inhibit inveterate smokers from switching to these far lower risk nicotine delivery products.
Dr. Joel Nitzkin is public health physician. He has been a local health director, a state health director and President of two national public health organizations.
He has been involved with tobacco control since the late 1970’s. From early 2007 through mid-2010, he served as Co-chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force of the American Association of Public Health Physicians. During that period, when the Tobacco Control Act was making its way through Congress, he, and his AAPHP colleagues decided to do our own independent literature review to determine the best way for the USA to reduce tobacco-attributable addiction, illness and death. It was that literature review that drew our attention to tobacco harm reduction as the most promising of public health interventions, and to e-cigarettes as possibly the most promising of tobacco harm reduction modalities.
The views expressed herein are entirely his own, they do not reflect position statements formally adopted by AAPHP, R Street or any other organization he is affiliated with. Neither Nitzkin nor AAPHP have ever received any financial support from any tobacco, e-cigarette or pharmaceutical enterprise. Dissemination of this statement is supported by the R Street Institute, a Washington-DC based libertarian think tank that respects the role of government in regulating industry to protect health and the environment, but strongly opposes undue governmental interference with market forces. R Street designated tobacco harm reduction as one of their priority issues after FDA attempted to remove e-cigarettes from the market by declaring them to be an unapproved drug-device combination subject to the provisions of the drug law.
Additional bibliographic references dealing with these and other issues are available on request from Dr. Nitzkin at email@example.com
1. Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, 2014, Feb, Electronic (e-) Cigarettes and Secondhand Aerosol < http://no-smoke.org/pdf/ecigarette-secondhand-aerosol.pdf> (Accessed 21 February 2014).
2. Office of the Surgeon General U. The health consequences of smoking – 50 years of progress, 2014.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013, 1/August, Tobacco-Related Mortality, in CDC Fact Sheet-Tobacco Related Mortality Smoking and Tobacco Use <>.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008, 14 November, Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses — United States, 2000-2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report;57(45) <> (Accessed 26 September 2010).
5. Nitzkin JL, 2013, November, R Street Policy Study No. 11: The Promise of e-Cigarettes for Tobacco Harm Reduction (Accessed 21 February 2014).
6. Schripp T, Markewitz D, Uhde E, Salthammer T. Does e-cigarette consumption cause passive vaping? Indoor Air 2013;23:25-31.
7. Czogala J, Goniewicz M, Fidelus B, Zielinska-Danch W, Travers M, Sobczak A. Secondhand exposure to vapors from electronic cigarettes. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2013.
8. Romagna G, Zabarini L, Barbiero L, Bocchietto E, Todeschi S, Caravati E et al. Characterization of chemicals released to the environment by electronic cigarettes use (ClearStream-AIR project): Is passive vaping a reality? 14th Annual Meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. Helsinki, Finland, 1/Sep, 2012.
9. Larstad M, Toren K, Blake B, Olin AC. Determination of ethane, pentane and isoprene in exhaled air — effects of breath-holding, flow rate and purified air. Acta Physiol (Oxf) 2007 Jan;189(1):87-9.
10. Smith D, Spanel P, Enderby B, Lenney W, Turner C, Davies J, 2010, Isoprene Levels in the Exhaled Breath of 200 Healthy Pupils Within the Age Range 7-18 Years Studied Using SIFT-MS. Journal of Breath Research;4(1) (Accessed 8Dec2013).
11. King J, Koc H, Unterkofler K, Mochalski P, Kupferthaler AT G, Teschl S et al. Physiological modeling of isoprene dynamics in exhaled breath. J Theor Biol 2010 21/Dec;267(4):626-37.
12. King J, Kupferthaler A, Frauscher B, Hackner H, Unterkofler K, Teschl G et al., 2012, Measurement of Endogenous Acetone and Isoprene in Exhaled Breath During Sleep. Physiol Meas;33(3) (Accessed 8Dec2013).
From the Jackson Clarion Ledger:
“We would oppose such a scheme strongly,” said Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, which describes itself as a libertarian think tank. “What that does is effectively gut a bill (Biggert/Waters) that over 400 members of the House of Representatives voted for 18 months ago.”
From the News & Observer:
Andrew Moylan with R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank, said his organization would support a plan that slowed down rate increases for remapped properties, added a phase-in on increases when homes are sold and “targeted assistance to policyholders of modest means who face steep increases.”
But he said it would oppose a repeal of higher rates of remapped properties or homes that are sold, as well as what he called “unjustifiable relief” for vacation homes and places that are repeatedly flooded.
“That would gut a bill over 400 members of the House voted for 18 months ago,” he said.
R Street’s Lori Sanders took part in an hour-long panel with progressive commentator Nate Sweet and Project 21/MoveOnUp.org’s Hughey Newsome on RT’s Thom Hartmann Show. Topics covered include whether “red states” should agree to expand Medicaid; Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about the Clintons; President Obama’s executive orders; and whether Wall Street is exercising undue influence on the Trans Pacific Partnership talks.
Watch the full show below.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Over at CNN’s OutFront with Erin Burnett, R Street’s Reihan Salam joined Mark Potok, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to discuss a recent incident in which Oregon teens tortured a classmate and cut a swastika into his forehead with a box cutter. When combined with Georgia officials recent approval of a Confederate Flag license plate, and the vandalism of a statue of civil rights leader James Meredith at Ole Miss, the discussion focused on whether these incidents mark a rise in racial hostilities in America.
Salam exercised caution before reading too much into a handful of troubling incidents, noting that “when you look at hard statistics, like interracial marriages and friendships, when you look at the level of racial segregation, you’ve seen enormous progress over time and we should celebrate it.”
Watch the full clip below:This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
In late January, the New England Journal of Medicine published a ringing endorsement of tobacco harm reduction. The authors of “Smoke, The Chief Killer – Strategies for Targeting Combustible Tobacco Use,” are Michael Fiore and Timothy Baker from the University of Wisconsin, and Steven Schroeder from the University of California-San Francisco. In the past, they strongly opposed the adoption of safer cigarette substitutes.
Fiore and colleagues acknowledge that it’s the smoke that kills:
[R]esearch now quite clearly highlights the specific harms of combustible tobacco use (cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoking): given that up to 98 percent of tobacco-related deaths are attributable to combustible products, the net harms of these products, including harms from secondhand smoke, dwarf those of other forms of tobacco use (e.g., smokeless tobacco).
The authors are not referring to research that has just been published “now.” Rather, the anti-tobacco establishment is just “now” acknowledging the fact that the risks of burning tobacco “dwarf” those of smoke-free forms.
Fiore, et al, acknowledge the failure of all conventional cessation options: “current smoking-cessation treatments fail for the majority of smokers who use them.”
More importantly, they move on to a surprising endorsement of smoke-free tobacco:
One opportunity afforded by today’s changing landscape lies in the diverse alternative nicotine delivery vehicles available to smokers. Evidence shows that all the noncombustible delivery vehicles are substantially less dangerous than combustible tobacco products, though that’s not to say that they are all totally safe. Noncombustible forms include multiple nicotine-replacement therapies (NRTs) as well as smokeless tobacco (e.g., snus) and the electronic cigarette.
To be fair, Fiore and colleagues also devote a lot of attention to conventional approaches. However, the change in attitude toward tobacco harm reduction is seen in their advice to clinicians:
1. Advise patients that any tobacco product has risks, but that combustible tobacco is “by far the most harmful.”
2. Counsel them to quit any tobacco product using the conventional methods.
3. Try to get them to smoke fewer cigarettes.
4. Advise patients who ask about e-cigarettes that “these devices are probably much safer than combustible tobacco products.”
Finally, after expressing some e-cigarette gateway concerns, Fiore finishes with a strong message:
Furthermore, we need to communicate intelligently about harm reduction: not all nicotine-containing products are equal, and the public health focus should be on eliminating combustible tobacco products, even if some people who give up combustibles will continue using FDA-approved medications, e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products indefinitely…New approaches must be adopted if we are to dramatically reduce the harms of tobacco use in the United States over the next decade. To achieve this goal requires that we recognize the unequaled dangers resulting from combustible tobacco use.
The commentary is accompanied by an audio interview with Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and one of the most aggressive opponents of tobacco harm reduction. While promoting cherished topics like increased state funding for tobacco control and an FDA-imposed menthol ban, Myers offers positive comments on tobacco harm reduction that are truly transformative. Here are some excerpts:
We all continue to look for ways to get people to quit smoking cigarettes, the most dangerous product. And e-cigarettes on the surface appear to hold potential to be another tool to do so. One of the reasons that you see so many people interested in e-cigarettes is that, while current FDA-approved smoking cessation aids are shown to be effective and increase the likelihood of someone being able to quit, the success rates aren’t what anyone wants them to be.
But there will still be some patients, for certain, who, even after being provided that advice [on FDA-approved methods], they either don’t want to quit or they have been unable to quit…in those cases a physician should make an individual judgment whether or not smokeless tobacco or an e-cigarette might assist that individual. In other words, we should keep trying, until that person actually quits.
What I would most like to see is the FDA take all the steps it can to maximize the extent to which it discourages the use of cigarettes, the most deadly products, and to encourage the use of FDA-approved cessation devices and other nicotine that is delivered safely without causing the kind of deaths and disease we’ve seen.
With this change in disposition among long-term obstructionists, tobacco harm reduction is gaining real momentum.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Yesterday, the Washington Post published a damning chart examining the War on Poverty. The chart showed the poverty rate’s fluctuations over the last 50 years, once taxes and transfers are taken into account. Though there are ups and downs, America’s safety net has managed to reduce poverty from 26 percent to 16 percent today. But interestingly, the chart also examines what the poverty rate would be without these programs, and the number is an astonishingly high 28.7 percent, or 2.7 percentage points higher than when the War on Poverty was announced.
Though the recession factors into this, the chart reveals that at no point since 1960 has the percentage of Americans in poverty (before transfers) fallen below 20 percent. The safety net appears effective in keeping Americans afloat, but as the Post eloquently points out, “it’s hard to say we’ve won the War on Poverty when nearly 1 in 3 Americans lacks, without the government’s help, the sustenance necessary to meet the basic needs of life.”
The most prominent (and controversial) liberal anti-poverty measure under debate today is a minimum wage increase, which offers a mixed bag. According to the CBO’s recent analysis, the poverty rate would only be cut by 2 percent, representing 900,000 individuals, while a full 29 percent of the increase would accrue to families making more than $72,000. Additionally, 500,0000 jobs would be lost as a result of the wage increase. Clearly this solution isn’t good enough.
Even minimum wage proponents argue that more needs to be done, but few ideas are gaining traction. Other liberal mainstays, such as increased unionization, aren’t progressing well either, and as Evan Soltas points out today in Bloomberg, “U.S. policy must aim to replace unions, not revive them.”
Liberals claim the Republican agenda is still lacking, as well. Writing in the New Republic, Danny Vinik picks apart the Republican anti-poverty agenda, claiming few new ideas are percolating inside the party. Josh Barro has leveled similar claims in the past. It would seem both parties find themselves unequal to today’s challenge.
Fortunately, in the right-leaning thought community, fresh ideas are percolating. From criminal justice reform to education policy to solutions to long-term unemployment, conservative and libertarian thinkers are beginning to fill this hole in the policy agenda. However, after many years of avoiding the issue, more needs to be done.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, America’s Future Foundation is hosting a roundtable policy discussion to examine the right’s attempts to craft solutions for those below or near the poverty line. Would the right’s ideas do a better job of actually ending poverty, rather than simply keeping it at bay? What is standing in the way of even better solutions? How would the Republican Party need to change for these ideas to turn into real legislation?
Moderated by R Street’s own Lori Sanders, the panel features Brad Wassink of the American Enterprise Institute, Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute, Brandon Smith of the Federalist Society and Elise Amyx of the Institute for Faith, Works, and Economics. Panelists will shed light on the nascent anti-poverty movement on the right and offer their suggestions for waging a successful, long-term battle against poverty.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
In the past few weeks, two fascinating pieces of research concerning technology and the Internet have come to light. A study from Brock University in Canada suggests prolonged daily exposure to violent video games may dull players’ sense of empathy. Meanwhile, a paper from the University of Manitoba finds straying into Internet comment threads exposes us to many with no sense of empathy at all.
The first study asked a sample of roughly 100 seventh and eighth graders about their gaming habits, including whether they played violent or nonviolent video games and how much time they spent doing so. The students were also surveyed about their “moral maturity.” The results found no negative effects from playing nonviolent video games, while playing violent video games for more than three hours daily, with no social interaction to break it up, correlated with reduced empathy.
Correlation, of course, is not causation. It may be the case that students who lack empathy naturally gravitate toward violent video games. That argument was forwarded by at least one anonymous author following the shootings in Newtown, Conn. But even if there is a causal link between playing violent games for lengthy periods and a short-term loss of empathy, the results of the second study would help put that finding into context.
In the Manitoba study, subjects were asked about their online commenting habits. Options ranged from not commenting at all, to debating issues, chatting and most importantly, trolling. Respondents were given a battery of tests to measure their tendency toward sadism, Machiavellianism, sociopathy and narcissism. Unsurprisingly, those who identified as “trolls” (users who intentionally cause distress for their own amusement) scored very high on all these measures. In fact, the study concluded trolling is a way for sadists to anonymously get kicks in a society that (understandably) fears their preferred form of enjoyment.
I mention these results not just because they’re interesting, but because they underscore an important point that sometimes gets forgotten.
Suppose, say, Second Lady Jill Biden began a crusade against interactive Web forums. She could point out that sadists and psychopaths tend to proliferate in such forums, which only feed their sickness. In other words, Web forums are making America more mentally ill. The argument could expand to suggest regulation of political commentary sites, to crack down on those who issue death threats, rape threats or otherwise causing discomfort and fear to vulnerable users.
In fact, maybe it’d be best if those sites were required to place trigger warnings on their content, keyed how much trolling might or might not be present in the comments or in the articles themselves. After all, Twitter users who issue threats and/or troll in the United Kingdom are often tried and jailed for their abuse, and Canada brings human rights suits against columnists. Why should the United States be so different?
Illustrated this way, we can see the fallacy: blaming the existence of trolls on political and/or artistic debates clearly assigns responsibility in the wrong place. So formulated, the argument is an obvious offense to free speech. For the federal government to curb deliberately offensive speech in the name of public health rightly would be an attack on constitutional governance and the free exchange of ideas. Yet these arguments are at the core of moralistic crusades against everything from explicit lyrics (whose opponents have included at least one vice president’s wife) to violent video games, despite a lack of evidence of harm that anywhere near as clear cut as the trolling study presents.
Surely, a true paternalist would argue, if both are dangerous, both should be regulated and/or censored. Yet comment threads are not, because we easily recognize that free speech is not subject to cost/benefit analysis. Video games are art, which means they are forms of speech to which this same standard should apply with equal weight.
Even if the Brock University study does demonstrate the effect that it purports to demonstrate, and even if all the faulty studies showing a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior were true, those facts remain unconditionally irrelevant to the rights of companies to make them and of consumers to play them.
No court of law is vested with the right to weigh and measure art or speech on the basis of their social effects, and find them wanting. Otherwise, we might find ourselves living in a world of deafening, terrible silence, only occasionally lightened by the lament, “First they came for the trolls.”This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Sometimes a trust fund isn’t a trust fund and sometimes an appropriation isn’t an appropriation.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana has done some important work over the years trying to clean up the policymaking process of the state and improve state governance in issues ranging from public sector pensions to appropriate use of trust funds.
Last week, PAR released a commentary on the 2015 executive budget, generally praising it but calling out a proposal that sets the stage for potential budgetary sleight of hand by the Legislature.
Of particular concern is the governor’s proposal to place $51 million of non-recurring revenue in the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, which could potentially later be transferred by the Legislature into general revenues. While Louisiana’s constitution prohibits appropriating money from the fund for anything other than coastal restoration and protection, transferring money out seems to be kosher.
Here’s PAR’s explanation:
The $51 million that will be put in the Coastal Fund could later be moved out through the “funds bill.” The executive budget does not specify this transfer, which would take place during the Legislature’s budget-making process during the upcoming session. The funds bill is a routine piece of legislation that provides for the transfer of deposits and monies among state funds (an example would be Act 420 of the 2013 session). Under past practice, one-time money that moves through the funds bill can end up paying for the ongoing operating expenses of the state. The time has come to stop using the Coastal Fund this way.
Under the state constitution, money in the Coastal Fund can be appropriated only for expenditures related to coastal restoration and protection. In the view of budget drafters in recent years, the funds bill transfers money but does not appropriate it. Purportedly under this rationale, the transfer does not violate the constitutional protections surrounding the Coastal Fund….
To be clear, no action has been taken yet to convert deposits in the Coastal Fund to other purposes in FY2015. And the options to do so may be limited because the Revenue Estimating Conference restricted certain Overcollections Fund spending next year to one-time purposes. Whatever the mechanics of the spending limits and the potential conversion of funds might be, the main point is that the state should reject its past practice and set a more appropriate course for handling the Coastal Fund.
Through BP oil-spill settlements, increased offshore revenue sharing and other sources, Louisiana is poised to receive and spend billions of dollars for coastal protection and restoration in the next few years. Some of this is new federal money and much of it is BP money regulated through the courts and federal agencies. The state’s handling of the Coastal Fund is being watched closely by Congress, federal regulators, stakeholder organizations, national policy think tanks and the media.
Louisiana has established a good reputation compared to other Gulf Coast states because it has developed a strong consensus behind a scientifically designed coastal master plan. The Jindal administration’s coastal management plan and practices are viewed positively by many observers inside and outside the state. Now the state will be increasingly judged on the level of responsibility, transparency and accountability used in the fiscal administration of its Coastal Fund and project spending, especially as massive sums flow.
The Advocate newspaper has more here.
It’s an important caveat that nothing untoward has been done yet. But even the suggestion that the Legislature might tolerate this kind of budget gimmick is a problem for Louisiana. Using the Coastal Fund as a vehicle for accounting shenanigans is especially problematic, since the state’s coastal planning process is one area of state government that is working very well. And given Louisiana’s ongoing pension underfunding, it’s not like the state doesn’t have a perfect home for windfall revenues.
As I argued last month, it’s not always immediately clear whether revenues are one-time or recurring, and there are areas of grey between the two.
But there’s no reason to believe that money can enter a state fund as one kind of revenue and days or weeks later exit the fund as the other.
A spectre is haunting Florida: The spectre of running out of taxpayer money to subsidize Hollywood productions in the state!
Tampa’s Bay News 9 reports:
Hollywood producers have been scouting the streets of Ybor City for an upcoming Ben Affleck film called “Live By Night.” Filmmakers for a second major motion picture called “The Infiltrator” are clamoring to shoot in Tampa, too.
But the Bay area may lose out on the opportunity.
“There are no more tax credits,” said Dale Gordon, head of Tampa/Hillsborough’s Film and Digital Media Commission. “So these projects are not able to commit to coming to our market until they have some sense of security over whether our tax credit program is going to be refunded.”
It would, of course, be a shame if noted Africa policy expert Ben Affleck did not receive subsidies from the people of Florida for his latest film venture. Though as the story also notes, if Florida is unwilling to pony up to subsidize Mr. Affleck’s production costs, there are many other states and municipalities who are willing to do so.
Proponents of the tax credit, of course, argue that film tax credits are great for the economy. To support this conclusion, they cite research best described as spurious, arguing for instance, “One study showed for every $1 a movie receives in state tax incentives, $5 gets pumped back into the local economy.” That’s quite a multiplier, far beyond what’s typically claimed by even the most vocal fans of targeted tax credits, which is a good indication it’s complete and utter bollocks.
The last graf of the article is particularly amusing:
Florida’s incentive program is one of the most fiscally responsible in the nation. It only gives credits after the films spend locally. The money also only goes toward the film’s Florida-based work force, and Florida-based expenditures.
There is, of course, nothing fiscally responsible about targeted tax credits; they’re at best a form of industrial policy and at worst a pure transfer to the already wealthy.
After I tweeted that graf, Townhall.com’s Kevin Glass tweeted back at me:
@danrothschild “Florida’s heroin addicts are some of the most responsible heroin addicts in the nation!”
— Kevin W. Glass (@KevinWGlass) February 20, 2014
That pretty much sums it up.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Dear Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Democratic Leader Pelosi, and Democratic Whip Hoyer:
We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to encourage the House to consider the bipartisan Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (H.R. 1380) during the week of Feb, 24, when other measures touching upon executive branch oversight and transparency also will be considered, or at the earliest opportunity thereafter.
ACMRA, originally introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley, was favorably reported by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in May 2013, has the support of the Committee on House Administration, and has been lauded again and again by transparency organizations. The measure is the embodiment of common sense.
Under the legislation, any report required by law to be submitted to Congress that is releasable under the Freedom of Information Act must be posted on a website managed by the Government Printing Office. The reports would become publicly available within 30 days of their transmission to Congress. Unlike now, where reports are often impossible to find, ACMRA creates one central repository for all reports that would be easily searchable by subject matter, submitting agency, the law requiring the report, and additional key terms.
Congressionally mandated reports contain a wealth of information on federal activities. A comprehensive accounting for all mandated reports to Congress, including whether they have been received in a timely fashion, will further efforts to make government more transparent and accountable.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further. Please contact Daniel Schuman, policy director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, at 202-408-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Data Transparency Coalition
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
National Coalition for History
National Security Counselors
Project on Government Oversight
Society of Professional Journalists
Taxpayers for Common Sense
cc: Darrell Issa, Chair, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Candice Miller, Chair, Committee on House Administration
Robert Brady, Ranking Member, Committee on House Administration
In 1670, King Charles II of England granted a group of 17 men—now called the Hudson Bay Co.—a royal charter, which gave them control over 40 percent of modern Canada. Under the charter’s terms, any British monarch who visited the part of the North American continent ceded to the company was to receive two elk heads and two beaver skins as payment of rent.
Probably because 17th, 18th and 19th century transportation networks made it nearly impossible for monarchs to visit their far-flung possessions, Charles and his direct heirs never collected the tribute. In the 20th century, in dutiful compliance with the charter, however, the Hudson Bay Co. department store chain has given elk heads and beaver skins to British monarchs who have visited Canada. As snopes.com reports, the most recent “tribute” appeared in the form of live animals which Queen Elizabeth II then donated to a zoo.
Needless to say, however, the modern Canadian and British governments aren’t in the habit of requiring payment in animal pelts from department store chains. The reason, of course, is that the economy, tradition and custom have all changed radically. And these changing standards provide a pretty good way of looking at some debates about a concern far more current than animal pelts: broadband Internet.
In particular, Google today announced a plan to expand its Google Fiber network into nine metro areas. Joining existing networks in Provo, Utah, Kansas City, Mo. and Austin, Texas will be new entrants in the Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Jose, Calif. markets.
According to the company, they are working with leaders in each of the affected cities, examining issues like topography and existing infrastructure, as well as assessing what unique local issues (including regulation) could present challenges. While there aren’t any specifics yet about agreements in the new markets, there’s sure to be some mislaid outcry about Google getting “sweetheart” deals because of the very fact that is working with governments. Here’s one such critical take on its existing Kansas City project. But most of the things that Google says it wants, like a streamlined regulatory approval process, aren’t unfair even if incumbent competitors didn’t get them when they built their networks.
While the difference between the regulatory environment of the 1970s and 1980s—when most cable networks were deployed—and today isn’t as vast as the difference between 17th century England and today, it’s still quite distinct. Nearly all the cable companies that now dominate the broadband business paid for and received monopoly franchises and that, at the time, struck many as the best way to provide cable service. Google is largely competing with many of these one-time monopolies. Its technology, business model and the economic environment that it operates in are also a good deal different. A different regulatory model appears perfectly appropriate.
What matters isn’t how competitors were treated in the past but, rather, how they will be treated in the future. If another company, willing and able to do the same things as Google, gets different treatment, that’s unfair and unwise. But that companies had to jump through enormous bureaucratic hoops in the past isn’t, by itself, a good reason to require companies to be loaded down with the same red tape in the future.
Trying to correct regulatory asymmetries retrospectively is impossible and would be as nonsensical as requiring Target (which just entered the Canadian market) to render the same payment in beaver skins and elk heads as the Bay.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
In 1951, William F. Buckley Jr. published the first of his many books, “God and Man at Yale.” An instant commercial success, and an instant source of controversy, the book and its thesis –that alumni of prestigious institutions like Yale should ensure the continuity of their alma maters’ missions by demanding schools toss out socialist and/or atheist teachings – inspired reviews that went so far as to compare Buckley to a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
While many today might still balk at some of Buckley’s suggestions, there can be little doubt that he was addressing a problem that remains unsolved. The seemingly complete immunity of colleges and universities from market signals that might influence their business practices, as well as the near total lack of transparency about their behavior, is just as bewildering today as it was then. Buckley was surely correct that most mid-century Americans would not willingly have sent their children to schools that openly sneered at capitalism and religion to quite the extent Yale did, were those elements advertised openly.
Similarly, many of today’s parents might balk at the excessive tuition rates if they understood why those rates are so high. But unlike the Yale of Buckley’s day –which at least, in his words, prepared its students for lives as in-house economists in government bureaus – today’s colleges and universities arguably do not do even that, and most do not have the illustrious name that helped Yale survive Buckley’s expose.
A recent Pew survey found that between 1986 and 2013, a period when U.S. productivity rose 72.5 percent, median annual wages for college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 only increased by 1.6 percent. Meanwhile, unemployment for college graduates hovers around 3.7 percent, the highest that number has been since 1992.
Faced with this dismal record, you’d think colleges would be dropping tuition rates, firing nonessential staff, increasing the quality of the teaching they offer and trying to funnel more graduates into useful professions. Instead, one sees precisely the opposite behavior. Adjunct faculty and teaching assistants are replacing full professors, tuition is rising, and between the years 1987 and 2012, colleges have added an average of 87 administrative staffers every working day. Something has clearly gone wrong.
Of course, when these problems get raised, one usually hears either unconvincing disavowals or counter-claims that the critics, themselves, are enemies of liberal education. Even some conservatives are prone to make the latter claim, even as the most skilled instructors see their jobs cut to support administrative staff and unsustainable salaries for tenured teachers long past their prime. The third-party payment problem in colleges and universities does not immunize scholars from the vicissitudes of a fickle market. It simply ensures that new scholars get thrown into an even more fickle one.
A deeper problem, given the massive number of students attending colleges and universities today, is that the demand for a useful education far outstrips even the most optimistic estimate of what suppliers could offer.
Imagine that subsidies and/or access to federal student loan dollars were confined to those schools with the highest average starting salaries for graduates. Setting aside the difficulty of tracking such statistics, even perfect implementation of this system would result in massive scarcity. Not everyone can get a Harvard (or even a University of California) education. This is not just because elite schools impose artificial scarcity to keep their acceptance rates low. There is simply not enough space at America’s elite colleges to house and educate every child in America who would want to attend. But even if the top 201 national universities and liberal arts colleges ranked by U.S. News and World Report suddenly embarked on a campaign to build massive, sprawling dorm complexes, and there were enough seats for everyone, the problem of useless educations would still persist.
It’s certainly true that, in most universities, STEM classrooms are nowhere near as full as they could be, with the likes of CalTech and MIT being presumptive exceptions. But there are, nonetheless, finite capacities on the ability of universities to expand these departments. It tends to be more expensive to expand facilities for STEM education, because STEM facilities require technology for experimentation and high-level research. It is also the case that – especially in engineering – attracting PhDs to teach requires winning a fierce bidding war with both government and private sector research departments. This tends to be less of a problem in the humanities.
Even if those problems can be overcome, finding students who are actually capable of not merely declaring a STEM majors, but successfully completing the course of study, is a thornier problem than simply pushing out government subsidies. There is no way to fake your way through STEM classes, and the stereotype of the biology major who switches to English after a few too many disappointing tests exists for a reason. All the subsidies in the world cannot stop an intellectually outclassed student from failing out.
It is these hard supply problems both at both the student and faculty levels that help foment creation of essentially valueless fields of study like the various “studies” departments or the much-maligned “underwater basket weaving.”
It simply isn’t realistic, absent some combination of huge and costly investments STEM faculty and facilities, along with grade inflation and the easing of course requirements, to graduate all of the students accepted to a STEM course of study. And that’s just the status quo; imagine how poorly schools would accommodate hundreds of thousands of more students.
In conceiving of a college degree as a necessity and/or a perk of citizenship, we have created a system that might be called “graduate inflation.” The supply of college graduates has increased drastically, but individual graduates’ value has fallen as millions of them graduate without a degree from a respectable institution, or without marketable skills, or without either.
College is rapidly in danger of becoming the new high school, except that high schools don’t usually require the assumption of a life’s worth of debt. Perhaps the best idea would be to shift the onus of caring for millions of students onto the system that was supposed to do it – i.e. our secondary education system, which desperately needs a spur to reform – rather than onto the colleges and universities whose degrees were never meant to be for everyone.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
“I think the evidence speaks for itself,” Andrew Moylan, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based R Street Institute, a free-market think tank, told Vermont Watchdog. “Funneling millions of dollars in funds into a failing business in violation of the city charter, repeatedly failing to meet its targets in terms of build out and potentially imposing large costs on taxpayers when these systems are pitched as something that aren’t going to be a burden on taxpayers.”