On the Blog

National School Choice Week Forum: Fund Children, Not Districts

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 2:49 PM

On Saturday, January 30, 2016, The Heartland Institute hosted a National School Choice Week forum. Speakers for the event included Joe Walsh, a former congressman and current radio personality on AM 560 The Answer; Illinois state Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine); Heartland Senior Fellow Bruno Behrend; Sister Mary Paul McCaughey of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who has served as an elementary school teacher, high school teacher, secondary principal, and superintendent; and Michael McHugh, who for 35 years has worked as a homeschool program administrator, lecturer, and textbook author/editor for the Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Over 50 people attended in person and another 200 watched a livestream of the event.

Behrend discussed the current state of school choice and where he thinks the movement is headed in the future. A major point Behrend reiterated is that someone will eventually create an app to disrupt the education cartel in a way that’s similar to how Uber has disrupted the Taxi cartel in cities across the country.

The Chicago Tribune reported on the event, highlighting Behrend’s four-word definition of education choice, “[f]und children, not districts.”

Morrison hosted the event. He also discussed school choice in Illinois and the difficulties reformers in the state have had trying to expand choice. Morrison says much of the problems are related to Republicans in Southern Illinois being too heavily influenced by teachers unions.

Sister Mary Paul McCaughey discussed the number of open seats currently available in Illinois’ Catholic Schools. She said there are 4,200 in Lake County alone and thousands more in Cook County and in surrounding counties. She talked about how school choice is not just about education; it’s about opening our hearts to others and meeting their needs as people. For McCaughey, it all comes down to the child: “We do believe that the money should follow that child to whatever is the best education for that young person.”

McHugh discussed the myriad educational options available in curriculum, online schools, individualizing education, and homeschooling. McHugh also discussed how Christian Liberty Academy has successfully built a network of homeschoolers, developed curriculum, and aided parents in individualizing their child’s education.

Walsh discussed how school choice needs to be a major theme in this year’s presidential race. He also stated Republicans should own the issue and go to the Southside of Chicago and other urban areas to talk about how choice would benefit their children. Walsh said, “If I were king of America, I would allow every parent in this country to decide where their child goes to school: public, private, religious or home.”

The effectiveness of school choice is straightforward. Behrend said it best, “We think that it’s a much more efficient system and more in tune with how people think, work, and benefit rather than one size fits all [education] that does not work as effectively as the money following the child.”

Categories: On the Blog

Soros-Funded Progressive Coalition Misleads Media, Public on an Article V Convention

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 2:27 PM

George Soros

A coalition of progressive special-interest groups funded by George Soros issued a press statement on Wednesday announcing their opposition to an Article V convention. The Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and
Ethics in Washington (CREW), Democracy 21, and People for the American Way announced they were joining forces to prevent the first ever Article V convention in the history of the United States.

The coalition’s statement contained inaccurate and misleading information about an Article V convention. The coalition claimed that an Article V convention is a constitutional convention. This is not the case. Article V is one of two permissible methods under the Constitution of the United States for the creation of amendments. A convention is called by Congress when two-thirds (34) of state legislatures submit applications calling for a constitutional amendment on the same subject.

The coalition argued, “Any existing constitutional right and protection could be up for consideration and revision by a convention. This includes constitutional protections for civil rights, civil liberties, voting rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and privacy, among others.”

Constitutional law scholar Rob Natelson said that a convention is strictly limited to the subject matter stated in the applications submitted by state legislatures and in the official call issued by Congress. It would be impossible for delegates to push for constitutional amendments outside of the scope of the official convention call. Seven states have already passed delegate limitation and selection laws that impose criminal penalties for delegates that violate convention rules.

Dave Guldenschuh, a Heartland Policy Adviser for constitutional reform issues, told Somewhat Reasonable that an additional seven states are considering delegate selection and limitation laws in 2016.

Another charge brought up by the coalition is that the rules for a possible Article V convention remain up in the air.

“Furthermore, there are no rules on what would happen if and when a convention is called: no rules on how delegates are chosen, how voting occurs at the convention, how money can be spent to choose and influence delegates, or how the convention would operate,” said the left-wing coalition.

Multiple organizations in the Article V movement have already addressed the issue of convention rules. Compact for America’s model legislation establishes their own convention rules, while Convention of States has proposed rules of their own written by Natelson. The Assembly of State Legislatures (ASL) made considerable progress on their own rules during a meeting in November in Utah. The ASL is expected to vote on full ratification during this summer’s meeting, which will occur in Albany, New York or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Soros-backed Foundation to Promote an Open Society has provided significant funding to the coalition opposing Article V. The Brennan Center received $7.4 million from 2000 to 2010; Center for Media and Democracy received a total of $200,000 in 2010 and 2011; Common Cause received $175,000 in 2011; CREW received $740,000 since 2010; Democracy 21 received $365,000 in 2010 and 2011; and People for the American Way received  $700,000 in 2012 alone.


Categories: On the Blog

Obama’s EPA to Ohio’s Anti-Frackers: You’re Wrong

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 1:07 PM

Two recent reports on Ohio’s wastewater injection well program discredit chronic allegations by opponents of hydraulic fracturing. These include claims that the creation of such wells leads directly to earthquakes, and that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has neglected to establish proper regulations to keep Ohioans safe.

The first report, released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, responded to a letter signed by 23 anti-fracking groups in Ohio. They demanded a federal audit of ODNR’s well program and asked the agency to override the department’s regulatory authority. They charged ODNR with violating the Safe Drinking Water Act and providing “inadequate public notice and public participation” in the well permitting process.

Contrary to activists’ claims, the EPA concludes that ODNR runs “a good quality program.” It notes that Ohio has “taken concrete steps to address emerging issues, and in particular has adopted regulations to reduce risk from seismic-related activities.”

The report cites ODNR’s “areas of strong performance”: its handling of inspections, its ability to resolve violations, its permitting processes, and its ability to keep pace with changes in the well program. The EPA says ODNR’s communications decisions are “within the bounds of the EPA-approved program.”

The second report, issued by StatesFirst, a partnership of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, buttresses the EPA’s findings in Ohio. It praises ODNR’s management and communications operations.

The StatesFirst report refutes the claim that fracking often causes earthquakes — one of the knee-jerk, frequently parroted arguments of fracking opponents. It concludes that most injection wells “do not pose a hazard for induced seismicity” and that “only a few dozen … wells are believed to have induced felt earthquakes.”

Hydraulic fracturing has been used in at least one million wells since 1947. It has proved to be safe and effective.

Isaac Orr, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute, notes that in “nearly 200 instances of man-made earthquakes studied [since 1929], hydraulic fracturing was found to have been responsible for three earthquakes large enough to be felt on the surface.” A Durham University study cited by Mr. Orr concludes that hydraulic fracturing “is not a significant mechanism for inducing felt earthquakes,” and that it is “extremely unlikely any of us will be able to feel [a fracking-caused] earthquake.”

Earthquakes produced by wastewater injection wells are more common, but they are rare and not very powerful. The EPA concluded last year that most injection wells do not cause earthquakes, and that “very few” earthquakes produced by those that do can be felt by humans.

Another study, published in the journal Science in 2014, found that only four of the roughly 4,500 injection wells in Oklahoma were likely to have induced seismic activity.

Using the term “earthquake” to refer to the minor seismic activity produced by the overwhelming number of injection wells is technically correct, but highly misleading. When most people think of an earthquake, they think of something similar to the quakes that occurred in San Francisco in 1906 and Los Angeles in 1994.

Those tragic events included deaths, collapsed buildings, chewed-up roadways, fires, and pandemonium. The seismic activity produced by injection wells comes nowhere close to such disasters.

The biggest “earthquake” produced in Ohio because of an injection well registered only a magnitude of 3 (M3.0) on the moment magnitude scale (MMS). The U.S. Geological Survey notes that such a tremor creates only “vibrations similar to the passing of a truck.”

The MMS is a logarithmic scale; an M4.0 is 10 times as powerful as an M3.0, and an M5.0 is 100 times as powerful. To cause structural damage, an earthquake must usually be above M5.5.

By comparison, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake registered M7.8 — more than 10,000 times as powerful as an M3.0. These measurements indicate why it is more accurate to describe the rarely experienced seismic activity produced by injection wells as tremors, rather than earthquakes.

Despite what fact-challenged anti-frackers claim, sensible precautions and regulations — such as those undertaken by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources — can mitigate the risks of damage from seismic activity created by wastewater disposal injection wells.

The EPA has confirmed this. Other states with a significant fracking presence should follow ODNR’s lead.

[Originally published in the Toledo Blade]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jessica Sena: Let’s Not “Keep it in the Ground”

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 12:46 PM

Environmental activists, emboldened after their victory over the Keystone XL pipeline are setting their sites on the next political football to tackle. The latest, and not-so-greatest environmental mantra is the “Keep it in the Ground” movement which advocates that 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuels remain in the ground, forever.

Independent Communications Consultant Jessica Sena and research fellow Isaac Orr give the The Heartland Daily Podcast listeners the information they need to debunk advocates of this policy, which is impossible to accomplish from a practical standpoint, and incredibly expensive. “Keeping it in the Ground” will lead to higher prices for low income families in the developed world, and premature death in developing nations.

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

Categories: On the Blog

A Constitutional Convention Can Be Limited in Scope

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 11:36 AM

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently announced that he fully endorses an Article V convention. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has made a similar call.

Article V is one of two methods provided by the Constitution to initiate amendments. This approach is implemented when two-thirds of state legislatures, or 34 states, submit applications to Congress calling for a convention.

While winning praise from conservatives, Rubio’s announcement has set off a firestorm of criticism from the Republican Party establishment.

Noah Rothman issued a lengthy column in Commentary magazine on Dec. 31 accusing Rubio of supporting a convention to appease conservative talk radio hosts who have advocated for an Article V convention, such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

Many conservative pundits have been tough on Rubio because of his role in pushing a controversial immigration reform bill in 2013. Rothman calls Rubio’s endorsement of Article V “a dangerous pander to one of the right’s worst ideas.” Rothman’s column is largely a collection of old arguments against the convention process and is peppered with speculative claims about Rubio’s motives.

Far from the superficial treatment characteristic of politicians pandering to audiences’ prejudices, Rubio’s support for a convention shows a grasp of constitutional procedures and an awareness of potential obstacles. In October, he warned special interests would try to hijack the convention process. “But just be aware that the same groups that are trying to pass legislation that violates the Constitution are the same groups of people that are going to try to change that Constitution, and we are going to fight them at that convention,” he said.

Rubio never wavered on that commitment, saying two months later, “I think you’d have to limit the convention, and that’s what they’re proposing: a very limited convention on specific, delineated issues like term limits and like a balanced budget amendment.”

Rothman tries to shoot down Rubio’s assertion that the scope of a convention can be controlled, writing, “Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules for such a convention. Congress has tried on over 20 occasions to craft a uniform set of rules governing a convention process, but it has failed every time.”

But Congress isn’t where the Article V action is at this point. The Assembly of State Legislatures, or ASL, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, has been meeting since 2013 to work on a set of rules for a convention and is expected to finalize rules this summer. The board of directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, has approved a model policy on Article V convention rules.

Both ALEC and ASL are acting on the principle that the states, not Congress, are in charge of running an Article V convention. The role of Congress in the runup to a convention is very limited, as defined in the Constitution. Its duties are to count and receive applications, make the call for a convention, and determine the method of ratification.

Rothman also falsely claims the movement for a balanced budget amendment has limited support, writing, “To induce more states to call for a convention, the scope of such a gathering would have to broaden substantially.”

Rothman is evidently unaware that 27 states have already enacted single-subject resolutions for a convention for the purpose of a balanced budget amendment. Another eight state legislatures will be considering balanced budget amendment applications in 2016. A poll conducted by Fox News in 2013 found 85 percent of Americans want a balanced budget amendment.

As those numbers indicate, there is huge public and legislative support for a convention. The Article V movement is serious about its aims and working hard to meet the challenge of calling a convention to offer a balanced budget amendment.

Rothman does Rubio and the entire Article V movement a disservice by mischaracterizing Rubio’s motives and failing to do basic research on the constitutional reform movement.

[Originally published at the San Antonio Express-News]

Categories: On the Blog

FCC Targets Cable Set-Top Boxes — Why Now?

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 11:26 AM

With great fanfare, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler is calling for sweeping changes to the way cable television set-top boxes work. In an essay published Jan. 27 by Re/Code, Wheeler began by citing the high prices consumers pay for set-top box rentals and bemoaning the fact that alternatives are not easily available.

Yet for all the talk and tweets about pricing and consumer lock-in, Wheeler did not propose an inquiry into set-top box profit margins, nor whether the supply chain is unduly controlled by the cable companies. Nor did Wheeler propose an investigation into the complaints consumers have made about cable companies’ hassles around CableCards, which under FCC mandate cable companies must provide to customers who buy their own set-top boxes.

In fact, he dropped the pricing issue halfway through and began discussing access to streaming content:

“To receive streaming Internet video, it is necessary to have a smart TV, or to watch it on a tablet or laptop computer that, similarly, do not have access to the channels and content that pay-TV subscribers pay for. The result is multiple devices and controllers, constrained program choice and higher costs.”

This statement seems intentionally misleading. Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire sell boxes that connect to TVs and allow a huge amount of streaming content. True, the devices are still independent of the set-top cable box, but there’s no evidence that this lack of integration is a competitive barrier.

A new generation of devices, called media home gateways (MHGs), is poised to provide this integration, as well as to manage other media-based cloud services on behalf of consumers. This is where Wheeler’s proposal should be worrisome. He writes:

“The new rules would create a framework for providing device manufacturers, software developers and others the information they need to introduce innovative new technologies, while at the same time maintaining strong security, copyright and consumer protections.”

This sounds much more like a plan to dictate operating systems, user interfaces and other hardware and software standards for equipment that, until now, has been unregulated. Wheeler gives no explanation as to how his proposal will lead to lower prices or development of a direct-to-consumer sales channel.

[M]y proposal will pave the way for a competitive marketplace for alternate navigation devices, and could even end the need for multiple remote controls, allowing you to use one for all of the video sources you use.

What Wheeler really wants is FCC management of the transition from today’s set-top boxes to the media home gateways (MHGs) just beginning to appear on the market—a foray into regulating the equipment used on customer premises unseen since the 1960s.

For good reason, the words “media home gateway” never appear in Wheeler’s Re/Code article. By avoiding mention of MHGs, he can play his “lack of competition” card, as he did in last Thursday’s press briefing on his proposal.

There’s more than a whiff of misdirection here. Set-top boxes are a maturing market. An October 2015 TechNavio report forecasts the shipment volume of the global set-top box market to decline at a compound annual rate of 1.34 percent over the period 2014 to 2019. By revenue, the market is expected to decline at a compound annual rate of 1.36 percent during the forecast period. When consumers “cut the cable cord,” as some 21 million have, it’s set-top boxes that get unplugged.

At the same time, TechNavio forecasts the global MHG market to grow at a compound annual rate of 7.82 percent over the same period. Elsewhere, SNL Kagan’s Multimedia Research Groupforecasts MHG shipments will exceed 24 million in 2017, up from 7.7 million in 2012. The long list of MHG manufacturers includes ActionTec, Arris, Ceva, Huawei, Humax, Samsung and Technicolor.

MHGs are the “alternative navigation devices” Wheeler coyly refers to in his Re/Code essay. These devices will replace the set-top boxes in use today, but because of their ability to handle Internet streaming, they are likely to be available through more than one channel. That’s why the only way to view Wheeler’s call to “unlock the set-top box” is as a pre-emptive move to extend the FCC’s regulation into the delivery of streaming media.

To be sure, if the FCC mandates integration of streaming options into cable-provided MHGs, streaming companies would gain a stronger foothold into consumers’ homes, which would then allow them to share their apps, gather data on users and, perhaps most lucratively, control the interface on which channels are displayed, as noted by The Verge‘s Ashley Carman.

Yet the streaming companies that would appear to benefit most from this proposal have thus far been quiet. This is [erhaps because Wheeler has made no secret that he believes Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku are multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), FCC-speak for “local cable companies.”

Is his “unlock the box” plan precisely the opposite? Is it an effort to fold streaming aggregators into the existing cable TV regulatory platform, with all its myriad rules, regulations, legal obligations and—dare we say it—fees and surcharges? You might roll your eyes, but this is the only analysis in which the proposal, which focuses on “device manufacturers, software developers and others,” makes sense.

But does the FCC have the right to require cable companies to share customer data acquired through the infrastructure and software they built and own? It’s yet another iteration of the old unbundled “network elements” model that is consistently shot down by the courts, yet one the FCC can’t seem to get past.

Arcane details aside, the FCC should not be involved in directing evolution paths, operating software or other product features. It creates too much opportunity for lobbying and rent-seeking. History shows that when the government gets involved at the granular level in promoting a specific direction for technology, costs go up and innovation suffers. Capital is diverted into politically favored choices, where it ends up wasted.

The debacles with the Chevy Volt and Solera are just two recent examples of the dangers inherent when bureaucrats try to pick winners, or give a subset of companies in one industry an assist at the expense of others.

[Originally published at R Street]

Categories: On the Blog

Sanders: What Will His Socialist Plan Do to YOUR Medical Care?

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 10:35 AM

There is one thing that supporters and detractors of Bernie Sanders might agree on: he seems to be honest about his convictions. He is an avowed socialist, instead of pretending to believe in a role for private insurance. Unlike Barack Obama, his answer to the question “Do you get to keep your insurance plan?” is plainly No. There won’t be any more insurance plans. Everyone will be on Medicare.

Other questions are tougher. Do you get to keep your doctor? That depends on what you mean by YOUR doctor. You might be seeing the same person, in the same office. But he won’t be paid by you, and under Medicare “alternative” payment methodologies he won’t be paid for what he does for you. He might in fact be paid for NOT doing things for you, to meet the savings goals of the New Generation Accountable Care Organization (affectionately known as New Gen ACO) in which you will be automatically enrolled.

You shouldn’t judge a politician by his looks, but people often do. Sanders looks like Grandpa—kind and benign. The face of Medicare, however, is Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt. If you were Central Casting, you would probably cast him in a role like the one he has had in real life: a Goldman Sachs banker and CEO for a UnitedHealth Group subsidiary. Such people get their positions through ruthless dedication to the corporate bottom line. What does Sanders think of him?

Medicare is today’s single payer for the elderly and disabled. All the money is funneled through government, though it is first taken from hundreds of millions of taxpayers and disbursed through private contractors called carriers. Would Sanders replace that with a purely governmental entity like the VA, the single payer for veterans? In the VA it is government bureaucrats who delay and deny care instead of corporate bureaucrats.

Veterans can go outside the system if they like, and pay privately. Medicare beneficiaries cannot, unless they see a physician who is opted out or disenrolled or excluded. What does Sanders plan to do about your liberty to use your own property to pay for goods or services to enhance or extend your own life? Doesn’t he, like Hillary Clinton, plan to “take things away from you, for your own good”? And does that include, like in Canada, your right to private care? It sounds as though it does. The additional $28 trillion in federal spending for his plan is supposed to replace insurance premiums and out-of-pocket payment. With the Sanders tax increases, the money available for discretionary spending will be much less, but if you do have any savings, would you be allowed to spend it on medical care? Or would that be unfair to the people waiting in long lines?

And there’s the $28 trillion question for Sanders: where does the money come from? Even if we could squeeze every last dollar out of billionaires and transform all their wealth into medical care for the masses, we don’t have 28,000 billionaires—or 28,000,000 millionaires.

And what will Sanders do about the more-than-$40 trillion in promises Medicare has already made without provision for the revenue to pay for them? What does he imagine will happen when he adds on the demands of the entire rest of the population, and removes any brakes on utilization like copays and deductibles?

Incremental socialism is already bringing the system to the point of collapse. Hawaii is proposing a response to the fact that 30 percent of physicians are already refusing to work under Medicare: forcing physicians to accept Medicare patients or lose their license. Will Sanders try to conscript physicians?

What will he do about the worsening shortages of essential drugs? One hospital reportedly told physicians there would be no morphine until the end of March. Will Sanders nationalize the pharmaceutical industry? Would that help, or make things worse?

Insurance is voluntary. Socialism is force. How much force will Sanders use to take what remains of your doctors’ liberty—and yours? He needs to tell us that, as well what he intends to use to pay for it.

[Originally published at AAPS]

Categories: On the Blog

Government Drags Us Back in Time – Because Cronies and Ideology Tell It To

Somewhat Reasonable - February 04, 2016, 8:50 AM

Government by ideological fantasy – at the expense of actual facts – is a terrible idea. So too is government of, by and for the donors. Far too often government regulators and bureaucrats ignore Reality – to tilt at ideological windmills. And WAY too often government becomes one giant stenographer for contributors – writing laws and regulations to accommodate their check-cutters’ every whim and wildest dream.

Thus does equal protection before the law – become special treatment for Friends of Government (FOG, if you will). Donors and dumb ideas are favored – at inordinate expense to the rest of us.

To wit: “green” “energy” (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, ethanol) is neither green nor energy. It’s far worse for the environment than traditional energy sources – that actually produce, you know, affordable energy. Governments here and all around the world have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this phony energy. It’s been a titanic failure – for decades.

Why has government continued to throw this copious coin out the window – to keep us locked into an uber-failed yesterday? Because their ideological fantasies trump Reality. Why else? Because donors get government money at dollars-on-the-pennies they donated. To wit: President Barack Obama and his Democrats threw $80 billion more at the fake “green energy” industry in the 2009 “Stimulus.” 80% of that money – went to Obama donors.

The more government gets involved – the less the private sector can advance. The more rapidly a sector is advancing – the bigger an impediment government is. Likely no sector is advancing more quickly than the Tech sector. Enter government.

The Obama Administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has already done egregious damage there. To appease their ridiculous fantasies – and huge donors. About a year ago the Commission’s three unelected Democrat bureaucrats decided to go all the way back in time to1934 landline telephone law – and unilaterally impose it on the Internet. Behold Internet Reclassification – so as to impose the ridiculous Network Neutrality.

The Obama Administration did it – because donors asked for it. Donors like Google. No one did more to get President Obama elected and reelected – than Google. Just about no company swapped staff with the Obama Administration at such prodigious numbers –than did Google.

And after Google greased the skids for Obama – Obama greased the skids for Google. Google spent nearly the entirety of the 2000s trying and failing to get Net Neutrality passed in Congress. Because it is government forcing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to give uber-bandwidth-hogs like Google – unlimited free bandwidth. We the People didn’t want it – Congress couldn’t pass it. So Obama just issued a fiat – and gave it to them.

But the problem with buying support – is that the “supporters” rarely stay bought. Google is now channeling West Wing President Josiah Bartlet – “What’s next?” And most unfortunately, President Obama’s government stenographers have many, many responses to that request.

Here’s one: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has penned a defense of the next backwards-looking power grab – huge new backdoor mandates via television set-top-boxes. Which they have attempted to obfuscate – as a deregulation of set-top-boxes.

Set-top-boxes are the devices we lease from cable companies – to watch their television packages. Which we are doing to a lesser and lesser degree – as the marketplace has already created myriad ways for us to “cut the cord.” Meaning give up cable television – and the set-top-boxes – altogether.

The future (and increasingly the present) of television – isn’t boxes. It’s apps (and alternate hardware like Apple TV and Amazon Firestick). Netflix, Amazon Prime, Roku, Hulu and a host of other companies deliver you (via their apps) unlimited streaming TV and movie content – using only an Internet connection. No cable TV subscription required. And unlike programmed TV, you can watch whenever you want, wherever you want. So more and more people are cutting their cords.

Meanwhile, the government is yet again stuck in the past. The FCC is dubiously invoking a twenty-year-old law (and seriously, how unbelievably different was how we watched TV twenty-years ago?) – to “open” to competitors the collapsing set-top-box market. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons.

It is just stupid from an evolutionary standpoint. This is like the government issuing mandates to “open” the horse-buggy industry – as Model T Fords are rolling with ever increasing frequency into our driveways and hearts. If you’re “helping” prop up yesterday’s technology – you aren’t helping.

This mandate forces cable companies to spend a LOT of money totally reconfiguring their networks – to accommodate the new boxes. A new configuration for each new box, most likely – because each box will most likely connect uniquely to each network. And cable companies have a LOT of proprietary information and content to protect – so they will have to spend EVEN MORE time and money reconfiguring so as to ensure its protection. For which we will inexorably pay in higher fees – on TV, and the other services cable companies provide (like Internet). All to make room for more devices – of which people want less.

And you will be trading the box lease – for the box purchase. Which requires more coin upfront. And unlike with the lease, when the next upgraded model comes out – you won’t get it for free. You will pay all over again. And given the rapid technological advancement – how often will that purchase have to happen again, and again, and…?

Think how quick is the smart phone tech turnover (which is a MUCH more intensive product). Where you just purchased the “latest” Google Android – only to almost immediately watch Google roll out the next Android. Does Google give you that next version for free? Of course not. Google won’t give you their latest set-top-box either.

Wait – Google wants to get into the going-out-of-business set-top-box business? You bet they do. So the Obama Administration is prepping to issue yet another fiat – to make Google’s wishes come true. Again.

Crony-infested and ideologically-blinded is no way to go through life, Son. It is also absolutely no way to run a government.

[Originally published at Red State]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Marian Tupy: Human Quality of Life Over the Centuries

Somewhat Reasonable - February 03, 2016, 3:58 PM

In this episode of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor Jesse Hathaway talks with Marian Tupy, the editor of HumanProgress.org and a senior policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. HumanProgress, a Cato Institute project, allows people to create, compare, and share statistical indices of how human quality of life has changed over the centuries. 

Despite what some people may say, life on Planet Earth has gotten easier and more enjoyable as history has progressed, and modern technology has changed billions of people’s lives for the better. Tupy says the average person alive today has opportunities available to him or her that emperors and kings would have never even dreamed of enjoying, much less taken for granted. HumanProgress is a tool helping to correcting misconceptions regarding the state of humanity, through the presentation of empirical data collected from third parties, including the World Bank, the OECD, the Eurostat, and the United Nations, focusing on long-term developments. 

The progress of technology and the innovations spurred by free-market competition and capitalism, Tupy says, have created an almost asymptotic increase in human quality of life in every imaginable way, from the eradication of crippling diseases to increased economic wealth, all over the world.

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

Categories: On the Blog

It’s Too Early to Prove Absolute Safety, But Smokers Shouldn’t Wait to Vape

Somewhat Reasonable - February 02, 2016, 4:30 PM

Tobacco opponents say that we’ve had too little experience with e-cigarettes to know whether they are safe.  While it is true that we don’t yet know the health consequences of long-term use, that should not discourage smokers from switching.

We know that smoke contains high levels of thousands of agents, many of which are toxic or carcinogenic.  In contrast, e-cigarette vapor contains water, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, nicotine, flavors and perhaps a few contaminants at minuscule levels.  None of these – with the exception of buttery flavors (here) – are linked to any specific disease.  This difference alone justifies encouraging smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.

In the case of cigarettes, the effects of long-term use were not apparent for 20 years.

As I discuss in my book, For Smokers Only, smoking prevalence increased substantially around World War I (1914-1918).  The first clinical report of an increase in lung cancer and the suggestion of a link to smoking was published in 1939 by Alton Oschner and Michael Debakey in the journal Surgery, Gynecology & Obstetrics (68: 435-451, 1939). “Until recently,” they wrote, “[cancer] of the lung has been considered a relatively infrequent condition.  However, recent studies demonstrate that [lung cancer] is one of the most frequent [cancers] of the body.”  But they acknowledged, “…it is controversial whether the increase in [lung cancer] is apparent or real.”  Oschner and DeBakey described 79 previous cases and presented seven cases that they had seen.

German pathologist Dietrich Eberhard Schairer and colleague Erich Schöniger published perhaps the first epidemiologic case-control study of smoking and lung cancer in their native language in 1943. Now considered a groundbreaking study, it was republished in English by the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2001 (reference here).  They confirmed “the [earlier] report of Müller [1940] that non-smokers rarely get lung cancer whereas heavy smokers get it more frequently than average.”

The smoking-lung cancer link did not appear in mainstream medical literature until 1950, when studies by Ernst Wynder and Evarts Graham (Journal of the American Medical Association,here), and by Richard Doll and Austin Hill in the (British Medical Journal, here) were published.

While the strong link between smoking and lung cancer was not discovered for decades, today’s advanced surveillance techniques may detect a vapor-linked problem sooner.  It should be noted, however, that evaluating the effects of vaping will likely be complicated by the fact that most vapers already have smoking histories.

Smokers shouldn’t wait to vape.

[Originally published at Tobacco Truth]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Shawn Regan: Western Lands and Government Ownership

Somewhat Reasonable - February 02, 2016, 3:47 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Shawn Regan, Director of Publications and research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) joins H. Sterling Burnett to talk about his paper “Managing Conflicts over Western Rangelands.”

It is a timely exploration of the history and present problems regarding the management of Western public lands that has resulted in highly publicized conflicts between public land ranchers and the federal government. This includes the ongoing seizure of the wildlife reserve in Oregon and 2014’s standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

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


Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Institute Panel Discusses the Urgency of School Choice

Somewhat Reasonable - February 02, 2016, 2:46 PM

National School Choice Week is held every January. This year’s event took place from January 24 – 30, 2016. Throughout the U.S. over 16,000 events were held, with Illinois having 918 events, the most of any state. Here in Illlinois, 300,000 take advantage of personal tax credits, a form of school choice. Illinois allows families to claim credits worth 25% of their educational expenses. Worthwhile checking out is A History of School Choice from 1923 to 2015.

Those who attended the National School Choice Week Event sponsored by The Heartland Institute, 3939 North Wilke Road in Arlington Heights, IL, on Saturday, January 30, 2016, were privileged to hear a rostrum of fine speakers talk about how education choice benefits all students across Chicagoland and across the country, for doesn’t every child deserve access to a quality education? 

Lennie Jarratt, project manager for education transformation at The Heartland Institute, organized the event.  For those who couldn’t attend Heartland’s stellar National School Choice Week event, the occasion was live-streamed.  Here is the link to view the entire event: https://youtu.be/6DJzBywtovU?t=3m16s .   

Illinois State Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) introduced each speaker to an attentive audience. Morrison is convinced, from his own teaching days, that when parents become more involved, the likelihood of children succeeding is much higher. Morrison further believes that the new government under Governor Rauner speaks well for a dramatic shift to take place in Illinois on the issue of school choice. As a champion of fighting for school choice in the House,Morrison sponsored HB0427 in the 99th General Assembly to require the State Board of Education to create the Education Savings Account Program.

Other poignant school choice thoughts expressed by Rep. Morrison:

  • Choice is not just about academics.  A host of other reasons come into play to explain the popularity of school choice.
  • A wide desire for school choice exists across party lines.
  • 1960 marks the year when a Renaissance of home schooling took place.
  •  Currently 1 to 1-1/2 children in this nation are being home schooled. They are doing well.  Colleges want them.

Heartland Senior Fellow Bruno Behrend:  to view – https://youtu.be/6DJzBywtovU?t=10m50s

The first speaker, Bruno Behrend, J.D., a senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute, spoke on the current state of school choice and where it goes from here. Bruno’s involvement with the school choice issue date back to August, 2010, when he co-authored a Heartland Policy Brief with Joe Bast, CEO and president of Heartland, and Policy Advisor Ben Boychuk, titled “The Parent Trigger:  A Model for Transforming Education.”

These four words are golden to Mr. Behrnd:  “Fund Children, Not Districts.”  Despite massive run-ups in educational funding, the results aren’t student-oriented when 85% of a school budget is spent on staff and teacher salaries. Bruno spoke with concern about the shifting ground of education, while concurrently expressing hope for the future of education.  Rated highly by Bruno was the on-line Khan Academy, where children can learn anything for free through 10-minute videos on every subject. To track student achievement, a Dashboard exists so students can note each positive learning experience as it occurs.

Basic to Mr. Behrend’s thinking is that it’s time to begin the process of dismantling the public school structure. This question was entertained by Bruno: “Do we really need to save or reform a 19th century system of education that existed because of an agrarian society that needed a three month break to tend the fields?” 

The current educational system doesn’t need fixing or reforming, but instead we must transcend from a brick and mortar system designed in the19th century which costs way too much. Skipping the 20th century, we must progress toward a system where money follows children to an array of choices. 

It is choice that is under attack. For Mr. Behrend choice constitutes a political debate, not a scientific one.  A common complaint heard from those who oppose school choice: “Don’t take money away from my district!”  But isn’t that the whole idea to fund children and not the district with money following the children?  

Might something else come along, mused Bruno, that would disrupt the whole system now run by the educational cartel in much the same as what Uber did to taxis and price line did to travel agencies?  It could possibly be an app developed for a phone where parents could pick the educational system best suited for their children.  In time the established educational cartel would cease to exist when its participation rate hollowed out with fewer and fewer students participating. We have education literally falling out of the sky to free education from its traditional brick and mortar status. 

Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, spoke with pride of Catholic schools and how they provide quality seats for school choice.  As superintendent of the Archdioceses of Chicago Catholic Schools from 2008 to 2014 (includes Cook and Lake County), Sr. Mary Paul oversaw the largest Catholic school system in the United States, with nearly 85,000 students and more than 7,000 educators in 244 elementary and high schools. 

Sister Mary Paul describes Catholic schools as “private schools that have a public good.”  Accordingly, Catholic schools have an impact on the community in which they are located. If a Catholic school closes in a neighborhood, violence goes up.  Stats given: 

  • Children are twice or three times more likely to graduate from high school if they attend a Catholic elementary school. 
  • The graduation rate from a Catholic high school is 95%, 96% go on to college.
  • The Chicago Archduchesses is trying to raise $350 million to fund school scholarships and provide discounts.
  • 92% of 8th graders attending a Catholic schools obtain scholarships or discounts. Up to 95% of Catholic high school students receive the same.

Sister Mary Paul views it as a right and the responsibility of parents to educate their children.  The Chicago Archdioceses receives nothing in monetary gain from its Catholic schools, believing it is the right thing to do as children represent the face of God. Advanced by Sister Mary Paul is the inherent dignity of each child, along with her conviction that money should follow the child.   

Unfortunately Catholic schools aren’t able to open their classroom to every special education students who might wish to attend, because of the high cost factor involved in teaching these special needs students.  Nevertheless, Sister Mary Paul does want Catholic schools to convey the following:  “You are welcome.  This is your home, and we will teach you the best we know how.”  Algebra is taught in the 7th grade. Further recognized is that unless a child learns to read by the 3rd grade, that child’s future will be negatively impacted. 

Although former Congressman Joe Walsh was listed as Keynote speaker on the notice sent out to advance Heartland’s school choice event, Walsh was not announced in this manner by Representative Morrison, nor was it necessary to do so.  In actuality, Joe Walsh, former Congressman and current radio personality on AM 560 The Answer, needed no special introduction as he took his place behind the podium.  Elected in 2010, Joe Walsh is known for refusing his congressional health benefits and pensions, sleeping in his office, limiting himself to no more than three terms in office, and holding more town hall meetings than any member of Congress. 

It was surprising when Walsh related how he had worked for the Heartland Institute at its first location in Arlington Heights 22 years ago, before Heartland moved to Chicago, and now Heartland is back in Arlington Heights with its recent move.  Walsh reflected, with his usual show of passion and enthusiasm, how Blacks and Latinos support school choice, yet they don’t have it.  While Democrats are firmly planted with the teacher unions, Walsh is displeased over the failure of Republicans to grab the mantle of school choice for their own.

Walsh spoke of a disruption going on in American today.  Education is likewise being disrupted. Americans fully realize there is something very wrong and amiss happening in this nation.  If Walsh were king for a day, first and foremost, he would allow every parent in the nation to decide where their children would attend school.  This one change, reflected Walsh, would foster the most positive change for good in this nation.  Joe Walsh sees school choice all about politics, for the debate has been won.  It is now a political fight to get what is right for students, which involves empowering parents, not the system.

Walsh further mused: It’s so easy to jump on our politicians, and we should blame our politicians, but what about ourselves?   Many people aren’t sufficiently educated to understand that freedom is better than a government who tries to take care of us. Its therefore makes sense for parents to decide where their children will attend school? Teacher unions are afraid of only one thing, as commonly stated by members:  “We cannot let these kids escape.” 

School choice was depicted by Walsh as the civil rights issue of our time.  It is all about where children go to school.  Sixty to eighty percent of Backs and Latino want this freedom, but teacher unions and Black leadership say NO.  Walsh believes that the only way school choice will happen is if Blacks and Latinos demand this freedom. Consider how voucher programs had their start in both Milwaukee and Cleveland. It was through Black advocates fighting for choice.  

It’s an oxymoron that the Democrat Party is owned by the teacher’s union, yet Blacks vote Democrat in large numbers despite desiring better schools for their children. Republicans have been given an opportunity to get out of their think tank to advance school choice in areas that are home to many Black and Hispanic voters.  

Thirty years ago Bill Bennett posed this questioned when serving in the Reagan administration as Education Secretary:  “Why is it that when you make a bad burger you go out of business, but nothing happens if the education system is bad. This same point was made by Bill Bennett to Joe Walsh at a recent meeting. Both agreed that the Republican Party must use language that can be easily understand, if the status quo of the educational cartel is to be dismantled.

Gaining in popularity is homeschooling as a school choice option.  Over the past 35 years, Michael McHugh has worked as a home school program administrator, lecturer, and textbook author/editor for the Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights.  He has written numerous articles about home education for newsletters and scholarly journals across the United States and abroad.  McHugh lives in the Chicago with his wife and seven children and has been actively engaged in home schooling since 1988. 

To Mr. McHugh school choice represents freedom, the ultimate expression of liberty. Mass government control of education is lousy education and does not consider the needs of children or family. 

Home schooling, however, is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a big commitment and takes lots of hard work. You also get out of it what you put into it.  As McHugh described his own home school experience: The home schooling journey was well worth it, although not an easy one to pursue. But there is a substantial pay day, for home schools frees the minds and souls of children from brainwashing and social experimentation.  

McHugh emphasized the importance of personalizing home school curriculum.  Why?  Because each child is created with a unique set of skills and must be prepared for a mission in life for which he/she is best suited.  Material must therefore be selected that best cultivates the individual potential of each child, brought home when Mr. McHugh compared children to arrows.  Initially made by hand, no two arrows were alike.  Parents can personally direct instruction to the individual needs of each child on a daily basis, not possible to do in a classroom situation. For who knows children the best but their parents, who have nurtured them from infancy through maturity?  

The learning style of each child must be considered  Shared by Michael McHugh were the following:

1.  Hands on:  Learning by doing stuff such as tasting, feeling, and touching.

2.  Visual stimulation:  Learning by seeing and observing.

3.  Listening or auditory learning: Learning by having things explained.

4.  Multi-sensory learning: All of the above work equally as well. 

Mr. McHugh suggests initially trying a curriculum that uses different learning experiences and then selecting the one that works best. Also to be considered:  What do you want the curriculum to do for your family?  What are your strengths?  

McHugh recommends reaching out to tutors, such as retired teachers and fellow church members.  Administrating a standard achievement test is helpful to determine how your child is measuring up.  Most helpful is attending home school conventions to see and compare what is available in home schooling curriculum. This site was shared as an excellent one to help design your own home school curriculum.  Because there is a maze of excellent curriculum, the problem now lies in sorting through those offered to find the right one.   

 Michael McHugh believes that a curriculum promoting values is as important as what it presents education-wise, for “only a virtuous people can remain a free people.” 

A very lively and engaged Q&A with all the panelists:  to view:  https://youtu.be/6DJzBywtovU?t=1h15m43s

The session had a sprinkling of “friendly” clashing of thoughts, as the four speakers answered questions directed to them by attendees who wrote their questions on cards available on each table.  Noted below are some interesting responses by the panelists.

Although there are many fine teachers and they do try, Bruno Behrend believes there is no silver bullet to solve every problem; however, it is important that money follows the child. 

Sister Margaret called for the need to have SGO (Choice Scholarships) here in Illinois, where the state provides funding to qualifying students that can be used to offset tuition costs at participating schools. Students qualify based on student eligibility criteria and household income.  Sister Margaret was in disagreement with Bruno Behrend on the value of traditional brick and mortar school in the 21st century.

To advance the cause of school choice, Joe Walsh suggested that a political coalition be formed with minority parents and Republican legislators to confront the existing political battle against school choice.

In winning the hearts and minds of so-called soccer moms, Bruno spoke of the need to persuade soccer moms that choice is not a threat.  Instead, choice is good for society.  Don’t suburban public school parents already have a choice with Catholic or private schools?

Suggestions to advance school choice included:

  • Become a precinct committeeman.
  • If possible, run for office.
  • Visit your district office, letting your legislator know about the need for additional school choice here in IL.  Visiting your local legislator’s office might be more productive than visiting Springfield when conducting one-on-one discussions about sponsoring school choice legislation.

Ask lawmakers who don’t want vouchers where they send their own children to school.  Also inquire if they benefited from a school other than a public school as a child. 

JIm Lakely, Communications Director at Heartland, opened the program with remarks about the Heartland Institute, relating its purpose and presenting a brief summary of Heartland’s outreach to legislators throughout the U.S.

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

Individual Rights Must Be Preserved Without Interference From The Government

Somewhat Reasonable - February 02, 2016, 2:33 PM

What is the role of government in society? This has been and remains the most fundamental question in all political discussions and debates. Its answer determines the nature of the social order and how people are expected and allowed to interact with one another – on the basis of either force or freedom.

The alternatives are really rather simple. Government may be narrowly limited to perform the essential task of protecting each individual’s right to his life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. Or it may be used to try to modify, influence, or dictate the conduct of the citizenry.

In the first case, the government is assigned the duty of impartial umpire, enforcing the societal rules against assault, murder, robbery, and fraud. All human relationships are to be based on mutual consent and voluntary association and exchange.

In the second case, government is an active player in people’s affairs, using its legitimized power of coercion to determine how the members of the society may live, work, and associate with each other. The government tries to assure certain outcomes or forms of behavior considered desirable by those who wield political authority.

More Government Means Increased Government Force

We need to remember what government ultimately is all about. The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises concisely explained this:

“Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, of gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.”

Under a political regime of liberty, each individual gives purpose and moral compass to his own life. He is treated as independent and self-governing; as long as he does not violate the rights of others he is sovereign over his own affairs. He may choose and act wisely or absurdly, but it is his life to live as he pleases.

If any of us – family members, friends, or just concerned fellow human beings – believe someone has chosen a path to perdition, we may try to persuade him to mend his ways. But we are expected to respect his freedom; we may not threaten or use force to make him change course.

Nor are we allowed to use political power to manipulate his options so that he does what we want him to do. Using taxation and regulation to induce conduct more to our liking is no less a political imposition than the sterner and more explicit police power.

The totalitarian systems of the twentieth century used the direct means of command and prohibition to get people to do what a Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, or Mao wanted done. In the interventionist-welfare state such brute means are normally shunned for the more indirect and subtle method of influencing people’s behavior through manipulation of incentives.

Government Control Through Choice Manipulation

Suppose an individual stands at a crossroads and is told he may choose which way to go. But in front of one of the roads is a government tollbooth that charges him a fee if he chooses that route; while in front of the other is a machine that dispenses a cash subsidy from the state, if the individual decides to follow that road. The choice is his, but the tradeoffs he faces have been manipulated to influence his decision.

In the 1950s the French coined a term for this type of political control: indicative planning. Through the use of fiscal and regulatory powers the government could get people to do what the politicians, bureaucrats, and various special-interest groups wanted, all the while maintaining the illusion that people were freely deciding where to invest or work or carry on their business.

We see this at work in America with government tax credits up to 30 percent of the purchase and installation costs to induce people to invest in solar panels on the roofs of their homes or office buildings; or the use of a similar tax credit of up to $7,500 if an individual purchases the Tesla electric automobile.

On the other hand, there is the use of taxes to induce less consumption or use of a product. A leading example of this is taxes on cigarettes. To the manufacturers’ retail prices are added “sin taxes” for indulging in a “vice” that others in society consider disgusting and/or an unnecessary health risk.

While in Missouri it is as low as merely 17 cents per pack, in New York City, the state and municipal taxes add an additional $5.85 per pack to the manufacturers’ retail price. Chicago has the highest of these sin taxes in the United States, with $6.16 in taxes added to the price of a pack of cigarettes.

The new code name for this type of political paternalism is “nudging.” Those in power and those among the behavioral “experts” who claim to know how individuals should better live their lives than when left on their own, do not assert the right to directly command people to live “right” and “rational” for themselves or society.

No, instead, they merely wish to influence and modify the incentives in society to get people to live and act in that better way, when if they were as enlightened as the government-advising experts those people would realize was the way they should and would live and act without the manipulation of the trade-offs people face in the marketplace.

The Danger from “Soft” Tyranny

We might call this a “soft” tyranny under which the commanding hand remains hidden behind an outward veneer seeming to respect the right of people to live and choose as they like and desire, but all the time manipulating the taxing and regulatory surroundings to see that the citizenry really ends up doing what the regulators and planners want them to do, or at least more it.

This form of “democratic despotism” over the conduct of the citizenry was, of course, explained, feared and warned about 180 years ago in Alexis de Tocqueville’s deservedly famous Democracy in America, written in the 1830s after an extended visit by the Frenchman to the United States:

“After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

“I have always believed that this sort of servitude, regulated, mild and peaceful, of which I have just done the portrait, could be combined better than we imagine with some of the external forms of liberty, and that it would not be impossible for it to be established in the very shadow of the sovereignty of the people.”

There is a duel hubris in the thinking and attitude of such paternalistic “experts.” First, they presume to possess superior knowledge and insights greater than and superior to that of the ordinary citizen about how best people should live their lives. Second, they unreflectively presume that they, even though mere mortals as like the rest of us, do not suffer from similar behavior, psychological and social shortcomings, and therefore are intellectual demi-gods sitting atop a self-positioned political Mount Olympus far above the common man.

The Hubris of the Paternalist

Some psychological and behavioral scientists frequently claim that they are able to demonstrate the failings and conceptual and logical errors that the ordinary man commits, and on the basis of which they can assert a judgment concerning the “rationality” or “irrationality” of human beings and their choices and decision-making.

For instance, the person who consumes large quantities of “junk food” when they get anxious or depressed; or the cigarette smoker who can’t quit because he needs the “nicotine fix” during or after a rough day at the office; or the individual who doesn’t weigh on the basis of objective, rational statistical calculation whether it is really worth spending money on a lottery ticket; or a person who fails to logically plan for his own future retirement needs when they are in the 20s or 30s. And on-and-on.

The fact is that these and similar human “failings” have plagued mankind for all of its time on this earth. Read the accounts of the ancient Greeks written 2,500 years ago by those living among the people of that time, or the words of advice on good and ethical living given by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, to his disciples and the political leaders of his time, also around 2,500 years ago.

It soon becomes clear that human nature, when compared and judged against some notion of a machine-like rational calculating device, appears to be stumbling, bumbling, and unfit for successful existence on this planet.

Human Improvement Without the Political Paternalists

Yet, here we are, the human race having survived in spite of its frailties, imperfections and less than perfect rationally logical thinking processes. Of course, we have become more intelligent, informed, and rational. We no longer pray to rain gods for precipitation or (well, at least, rarely!) throw human beings into volcanoes to appease the angered gods; we stopped burning people as witches or heretics (at least in the Western world for the most part); and we’ve learned to harness the forces of nature to serve man’s purposes (and often without too much of a screw up).

With only a limited degree of nagging and bullying, the number of people smoking in the U.S. has decreased from over 42 percent of the population in 1965 to barely more than 14 percent fifty years later in 2015. “Sin taxes” have certainly raised the cost of smoking, but it is also likely the case that a large majority of those who have given up the habit, did so because they decided to live a healthier life, through information and non-coercive peer-pressure by family members and friends – a method far more consistent with liberty than armies of busy-buddies playing political paternalists.

Obesity has increased from around 45 percent of the U.S. population in the 1960s to nearly 65 percent in the early part of the twenty-first century. But in one sense this is an indication of how wealthy we are and how inexpensive in general foods of all kinds have become compared to the past. In 1900 Americans spent around 43 percent of their family budget on food; in the first decade of the twenty-first century that had fallen to around 13 percent, or a 70 percent decline in the cost of putting food on the family dining table.

But at the same time, over the decades a significant number of people have gotten off the couch and gotten to the gym or on the park trails to run or bike regularly. More people try to eat and drink right. Since 1980, per capita alcohol consumption in the U.S. has decreased by about 15 percent.

Life expectance has dramatically improved over the last 75 years in the United States. In 1940 the average expected life span of all Americans was about 63 years; by 2010, this had increased to almost 79 years, for around a 25 percent increase in how long you can, on average, look forward to living. (For whites, in general, there has been a 23.5 percent increase in life expectancy between 1940 and the present. For blacks, in general, the increase in life expectancy during this period has been a dramatic 41.5 percent!)

Now, certainly, a good part of this improvement in the human condition has been due to advances in medicine, and improved education and information accessibility. But, nonetheless, the changes for the better are also due to people making their own choices and decisions about how to live their own lives based on what they consider to be a good and happy existence in a general economic and social environment of improved opportunities and choices.

In other words, Americans have not needed paternalist “experts” to control and manipulate their lives and twist the choice sets that such political elites think is necessary and “good” for the masses of the population.

Whose Life: Yours or the Government’s?

And this gets, I would suggest, to the heart of the matter. Whose life is it anyway? Even if individuals make decisions and act in ways that others may consider misguided and harmful to themselves, the first principle of any free society should and must be that the individual is sovereign over his own life.

Otherwise, he is a pawn to the paternalistic presumptions of those who arrogantly claim a right to control his existence in both small and great ways. Which gets to the second assumption behind the thinking and desires of the political “nudgers,” that they have the knowledge, wisdom and ability to know better the right choices that people should make for a rational, productive, and meaningful life.

Are not some of these “experts” the same people who were shown in the release of confidential emails a few years ago that they were determined to suppress and professionally bury any scientific evidence that ran counter to their absolute certainty that global warming was man-made and a threat to all living things on Earth?

Are not some of them the same people who have been found occasionally to falsify statistical and related data in their professional articles upon which they attempt to build their academic careers for purposes of position and financial reward?

Are not some of them the same people who before their appointment to positions as an economic advisor or bureaucratic overseer in government may have said that economic theory and historical evidence demonstrates that minimum wage laws tend to cause unemployment by pricing the unskilled or the low skilled out the labor market, but once in those positions of political authority suddenly say that such government regulations have little or none of such negative effects on such workers in general, if that fits in with the ideological and political agenda of those whom they serve in government?

In other words, are they not people just like some of the ones they criticize and “scientifically” sneer at for their claimed “irrationalities” and presumed emotional short-sightedness, for which they say there is only one answer: their guiding hand to dictate or “nudge” the “common man” into the elite’s conception of the “good,” the “right” and the “rational”?

Paternalism on the “Left” and the “Right”

At the same time, too many people believe that the only problem with all this is that the “wrong” individuals have been given such power and authority. Too often both American “progressives” on the political left and political conservatives on the right want government to intervention, regulate and “nudge” people into directions different than the ones they might have peacefully followed if left alone; their only difference being into which direction they want people to be nudged and who they would like to see elected or appointed to do the regulatory restricting, manipulating and controlling.

For too long, too many conservatives have forgotten or chosen to ignore in their quest for political control that once the state is given the responsibility to see that we do the “right thing,” they have no certainty that those empowered to implement the necessary policies will share their values and beliefs. They may be setting up or reinforcing or extending the political institutional mechanisms for the government to undermine the very ideals, values and beliefs you hold most dear when others they don’t like get into power.

It is only in the arena of freedom that individuals can find their own way, guided by their own beliefs, values and purposes without the fear of some others attempting to bend them to a vision, ideal or a meaning for life different to their own.

But to secure the opportunity to live your life and practice the values you consider important, there must be a “first principle.” That first principle must be the right of the individual to his own life, liberty and honestly acquired property without violence or political manipulative interference by the government powers-that-be.

This requires, at the same time, a rejection of the prevailing alternative first principle of modern society: the collectivist premise that the individual is subordinate and subject to the national, ethnic, religious, or social groups or tribes into which accident of birth or circumstances have placed him.

This should be the burning issue and alternatives debated and discussed in an election year: individualism versus collectivism. Instead, the campaign trail is filled with those who are more focused on trying to persuade the electorate on how they, respectively, have the “plan” to set everything right and assure every one of a better life and a happy future.

All of them are implicitly paternalistic “nudgers” and manipulators, merely arguing over how they each would better design society and control various aspects of people’s lives.

[Originally published at Epic Times]

Categories: On the Blog

Tax Cuts to Cut Carbon, an Idea Whose Time has Yet to Come

Somewhat Reasonable - February 02, 2016, 10:21 AM

Some on the political right are floating a new “supply-side” idea for reducing carbon dioxide emissions without creating more market distortions: clean tax cuts. Proponents of the cuts want to reduce or end all taxes on investments in technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In theory, tax cuts on so-called “clean” technologies should dramatically increase investments in these industries, because investors would not have to pay taxes on the profits. Because taxes would still be paid by companies using fossil fuels to produce electricity or churn out popular products not as energy-efficient as alternative models in their class, stock prices would fall and investment in them would wane. Proponents have described it as “an all carrot, no-stick” approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

There are multiple problems with this approach, the most glaring of which is, as an old mentor of mine used to say, “There’s never a good time to do the wrong thing.” One can pursue more or less efficient means to cut carbon dioxide emissions: coerced emission reductions through command-and-control regulations, a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, and now clean tax cuts. The latter may reduce carbon dioxide by larger amounts, more quickly, or with less negative effects on the economy than the other options, but why bother? The only reason to discourage the use of fossil fuels is to prevent dangerous climate change. Yet, the best evidence—as opposed to dubious computer model predictions—suggests humans aren’t causing the climate to change in ways even remotely threatening to human health or environmental integrity.

Almost every testable projection made by computer models concerning the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet has been proven wrong. Hurricanes aren’t getting worse; sea level rise has slowed; Antarctica and the Arctic are adding ice; scientists can show no species to have been lost due to climate change; droughts continue to wax and wane as they always have; and crop production continues to set records. Even actual measured temperatures are much lower than computer model predictions, indicating global temperature is most likely less sensitive to greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere than computer models suggest.

If humans aren’t causing apocalyptic global warming, there’s no good reason why governments should manipulate energy markets, even with a supposedly efficient clean tax cut.

Discouraging fossil fuels is an especially bad idea because expanding the use of fossil fuels is almost certainly the quickest, surest way to decrease poverty and increase economic progress in the United States and abroad. Further, higher carbon dioxide levels are demonstrably beneficial for plants, increasing agricultural yields, improving plants’ water use efficiency, and greening Earth by shrinking deserts and expanding forest cover.

More than one billion people don’t have access to regular supplies of electricity today, with millions dying from preventable cardiopulmonary diseases each year from indoor air pollution caused by their use of wood, charcoal, dung, and other flammable materials used to light and heat their homes. Millions more die prematurely from a lack of access to safe drinking water, modern transportation, and hospitals with working electric lights, medical equipment, and refrigeration. In the West, we take these necessities for granted, but they were all brought about on a large scale by the use of fossil fuels. The use of coal, gasoline, natural gas, and oil makes modern life possible. Where fossil fuels are in regular use, people are wealthy, and where their use is absent, poverty, disease, and hunger are rife.

In addition to the inanity and immorality of efforts to restrict the use of fossil fuels, clean tax cuts face practical political hurdles. Proponents say they do not wish to bankrupt the fossil-fuel industry; they instead hope the clean tax cut will wean the nation off of fossil fuels gradually, providing a soft landing for coal, gas, and oil companies and their workers. Accordingly, the proposal suggests phasing out other subsidies and mandates. The intent is to encourage people to use cleaner energy while minimizing market distortions.

I agree that energy subsidies and mandates should be ended, but the clean tax plan contains a significant Achilles’ heel: Wind and solar power aren’t profitable without significant subsidies and mandates. Depending on the location and source of generation, the electricity they produce is up to five times more expensive than electricity generated using fossil fuels, and that’s with the subsidies and mandates. Take the latter away, and they are big money losers. If you take away the subsidies and mandates, investors won’t have to worry about paying taxes, because they will be writing off huge losses. As a result, although green tech companies may embrace a clean tax cut plan, they will do so only alongside the special treatment they already receive, not as a replacement for the politically created economic advantages they have already won.

Clean tax cuts are a solution in search of a problem, and they would only impose an additional distortion on energy markets. The truly clean approach is to get rid of all subsidies and manipulations to the tax code, a move that would allow the energy mix to reflect economic realities.

[Originally published at the American Spectator]

Categories: On the Blog

Electric Cars: Another Failed Obama Campaign Promise, and That’s a Good Thing

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2016, 4:39 PM

While campaigning in 2008, President Obama called for 1 million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (EV) on the road by 2015.

Once in office, he backed that up with a March 2009, executive order that offered “$2.4 Billion in Funding to Support Next Generation Electric Vehicles” to “help meet the President’s goal of putting one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.” He continued the electric-car drumbeat in his 2011 State of the Union Address: “We can break our dependence on oil…and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”

A February 2011 Scientific American analysis titled: “Raising the Volt-Age: Is Obama’s Goal of 1 Million Electric Vehicles on U.S. Highways by 2015 Realistic?” states: “the Obama administration realizes that attaining such a goal will be impossible without help from the federal government.” It delineates the billions of dollars in federal spending aimed at reaching what it acknowledges “may still be just a pipe dream.”

In 2013, the Department of Energy “eased off” the objective. According to Reuters, on January 2013, the DOE said: “Whether we meet that goal in 2015 or 2016, that’s less important than that we’re on the right path to get many millions of these vehicles on the road.” Then, a year ago, with only 11 months left to fulfill Obama’s pledge, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged reality: “We’re going to be a few years after the president’s aspirational goal of the end of 2015, but I think that we are within a few years of reaching that goal.”

2015 is now in the record books and, after billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in EV subsidies for consumers and industry, Reuters reports: “only about 400,000 electric cars have been sold. Last year, sales fell 6 percent over the previous year to about 115,000, despite the industry offering about 30 plug-in models, often at deep discounts.”

Regardless of the slow sales, Reuters says: “the industry continues to roll out new models in response to government mandates and its own desire to create brands known for environmental innovation.” And there is the crux of the EV effort: “environmental innovation”—there is a sense that EVs are the right thing for the environment. Green car advocates say: “EVs are a crucial part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

While sales have been disappointing, the industry is ramping up EV production—in response to “an influx of state and federal cash and related mandates”—and cramming EVs into the market “at way below what it costs to make them.” Throwing good money after bad, a year ago, Moniz declared that the DOE “will award $56 million in new grants for research projects that aim to reduce and improve the efficiency of plug-in electric cars.”

All of this, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and appear environmentally innovative and technologically forward is missing the mark.

In December 2014, a study was released that claimed that electric cars actually produced “3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas.” Study co-author Julian Marshall, and engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, says: “It is kind of hard to beat gasoline. …A lot of technologies that we think of as being clean are not better than gasoline.” In reality, these zero-emissions vehicles are generally fueled by coal.

According to Popular Mechanics, researchers “set out to study the effects on human health of various alternative ways to power a car.” Surprisingly, “Internal combustion vehicles running on corn ethanol and electric vehicles powered by electricity from coal were the real sinners.”

While EV advocates want to claim, as one did, that EVs are powered by wind and solar energy, the facts don’t support the fantasy.

In November, the Washington Post (WP) ran a major story: “Electric cars and the coal that runs them.” It points out: “Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.”

“Thanks to generous tax incentives, the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.”  How are they meeting the “surging demand for power?” With three new coal-fueled power plants.

The WP concludes: “But for all its efforts locally and nationally, the Netherlands will blow past its 2020 emissions targets, the result of the new coal-fired power plants.” More new coal-fired plants—powered by cheap American coal—are projected due to the increased demand from EVs.

The results are similar in China where EV sales have quadrupled. WP states: “Chinese leaders have embraced electric cars as a way of cleaning up cities that have some of the worst air quality in the world. But the Chinese electricity market is heavily dependent on coal; the pollution is simply being taken from the centers of cities and moved to their outskirts.” Last week Reuters addressed a series of studies by Tsinghua University. The results? “Electric cars charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol engine cars.”

It turns out, Obama’s 1 million EVs by 2015 was a “pipe dream” after all. Even the federal government didn’t buy the projected quantities. His ideals are not consistent with either consumer interest or technology.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy—which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jared Meyer: Peer-to-Peer Economy Saves Time, Money, and Lives

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2016, 3:56 PM

In this episode of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor Jesse Hathaway talks with Manhattan Institute research fellow Jared Meyer about a recent study commissioned by New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio on the impact of Uber and other peer-to-peer transportation network companies on the city’s ever-present traffic congestion. 

A few months ago, Meyer predicted the impact study would be used to justify banning Uber, but Meyer says the impact of Uber on traffic flow in the Big Apple is so insignificant that not even a sworn enemy of Uber could spin it. Meyer explains how Uber and free-market policies actually help consumers, especially demographic groups DeBlasio’s administration says it wants to empower and protect. 

Meyer says consumers have more power than lawmakers, and when consumers flex their muscle, lawmakers and entrenched special interests are forced to listen. 

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

Categories: On the Blog

Renewable Energy’s Growth Threatens the Power Supply

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2016, 1:19 PM

Editor’s note: This column was co-authored by Donn Dears (dddusmma@gmail.com), a retired senior executive at General Electric. This article is based on his new book, Nothing to Fear, the Story of Fossil Fuels and Climate Change.

Based on the best available scientific evidence, it is highly unlikely continued fossil fuel use will result in catastrophic changes to Earth’s climate or will cause harm to humans or the environment. Despite the available evidence, governments in the United States and other industrialized nations seem intent on pushing the development and use of politically favored renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar power, through the use of subsidies and mandates.

It is critical to understand the push to replace fossil fuels with energy generated by wind turbines and solar panels threatens the reliability of the nation’s power grid and the continued existence of the utilities that built, service, and provide the vast majority of the power to the electric grid.

If the utilities fail, the control and maintenance of the electric power supply could fall to the federal government, which proven to be incapable of efficiently maintaining much of the public infrastructure people rely upon.

Wind and solar power are unreliable. When the wind doesn’t blow, or when it blows at a speed that’s too low or too high, wind turbines don’t deliver power to the grid. Even when the wind is blowing at high speeds, it is not constant, which means the electricity turbines produce is variable and requires power from other sources to be added to or subtracted from the supply to maintain a consistent flow of power through the electric grid’s wires and transformers. Rapid spikes or troughs in the supply can damage critical equipment.

Relying on solar power for electricity presents similar difficulties. At night, solar panels produce no power, and even during the day the power they provide varies when clouds pass or hover, panels get dirty, and during storms.

Typically, the source of supplemental power used in these cases is fossil fuels, and the turbines powered by fossil fuels must be operating continuously as spinning reserves at significantly lower than peak efficiency in order to be available to compensate for wind and solar shortfalls that often occur throughout a day.

This creates expensive economic inefficiencies. When utilities build large, reliable power plants, they have to operate their plants at peak efficiency, as close to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year as possible, in order to make any profit. Every kilowatt of renewable energy the government forces electric providers to add into their systems sidelines a kilowatt of electricity from traditional sources at various times throughout the year, and these periods can’t be planned for in advance.

To understand how significant this problem is, consider the following comparison to a restaurant with 200 tables. To stay in business, the restaurateur must keep the tables filled at as close to peak capacity as possible. Imagine after the restaurant has been built, the government mandates half of the tables in the restaurant must be reserved for people who bring their own food, and when they bring more food than they can eat, the restaurant has to buy their excess food at retail prices. To stay in business, the restaurateur would have to jack up prices considerably, likely pricing out all but the wealthiest diners. More likely, the restaurant would go under.

This is the situation in Germany, which was touted as a global energy leader when it started forcing wind and solar energy onto its power grid. Germany now has the highest energy prices in Europe. Manufacturing is now leaving as a result. The nation’s two largest utilities, which have lost billions of dollars, are now trying to sell their electric generating plants, but no one wants to buy them. If the plants are eventually sold, it will probably be at a huge loss. The German government will likely have to take them over and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the continued operation of the plants just to keep the grid going. With prices rising and businesses leaving, Germany finally scaled back its green energy subsidies in 2015.

We should learn from Germany’s mistakes. Let’s not destroy America’s electricity grid in a vain attempt to control the weather 100 years from now. Ending subsidies for all fuel sources and letting them compete in a free marketplace on a level playing field would produce the most energy at the cheapest prices. Consumers, especially the poorest among us, and businesses would benefit, and life on Earth would continue to thrive as it has done throughout many millennia of climate change.

[Originally published at Townhall]

Categories: On the Blog

The Mystery of Prescription Drug Prices

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2016, 1:15 PM

How can it be that the same exact prescription drug can have such markedly different prices?

Recently, my patients with commercial insurance were paying $15 out of pocket per vial for analogue rapid-acting insulin. A Medicare patient was paying $40 per vial for the same insulin until she entered the “donut hole,” at which point her price went to $102 per vial.

To investigate further, I went to my local pharmacy and found the price to be $270.49 for one vial of the same insulin when purchased without insurance. Are pens cheaper? Checking online, I found that a patient here in Phoenix without insurance could purchase five pens of this same insulin for anywhere from $437.77 at a Kroger Pharmacy to $511.00 online at HealthWarehouse.com. Why the great variation in prices?

Free market economics

We live in a world of scarcity and high demand for resources. Therefore, we must make choices. Prices help us do so. A price is a ratio of subjective valuations: I prefer this over that and am therefore willing to pay more for this than that.

Prices are how we communicate our preferences in the marketplace. In a free market, exchange is voluntary and mutually beneficial. Determining the true price of something is a discovery process in which competition among sellers and buyers establishes the price of a good or service and its relation to other goods and services. The true price occurs at the intersection of the supply and demand curves. It is at this point that all willing buyers will have a willing seller and all willing sellers will have a willing buyer.

Prices, thus, relay critical information about consumer preferences and by so doing help producers determine the cheapest and most efficient way to assemble resources and create goods consumers want. It is a dynamic process, with price changes occurring in response to changing market conditions. The prices generated are not only public, but are often advertised for the world to see. Competitors see one another’s prices and try to beat them, which benefits the consumer.

Health care regulation, pricing

Health care is a highly regulated sector of the U.S. economy, especially for pharmaceuticals. State and federal governments purchase 60% of the prescription drugs sold in the country. Instead of using a market approach for the sale and distribution of prescription drugs, the government has developed a political one. This directly affects the price of drugs.

For example, via the political process, the government has divided the entire health care market into multiple segments, with each segment having unique rules and regulations to contend with. These include Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, the Veterans Administration and the 340 B Program. Other segments include managed care and standard commercial payers.

The manner in which prices are set in each of these segments is often complex and opaque. For example, by law, Medicaid guarantees a rebate from the manufacturer of at least 23.1%, but that is only a ceiling. The price is pushed down further by discounts and charge-backs. Similarly, the VA is entitled to at least a 24% rebate, but often the price is even less than this. The actual prices in these two programs are further affected by extremely complex formulas generated by law and data derived from the commercial side. Thus, the drug prices from all of the different segments are linked to each other, and a change in one price affects the others.

All of this intervention restricts what manufacturers are able to do on the commercial side because those actions could reduce their revenue on the government side. The extent of the forced discounts, rebates and charge-backs can be very large and result in a substantial decrease in revenues. For example, Credit Suisse estimates Eli Lilly and Company in 2014 gave rebates for Humalog (insulin lispro recombinant) averaging 56% of its list price, according toThe Wall Street Journal.

[Originally published at Endocrine Today]

Categories: On the Blog

School Choice Means Not Asking Politicians For Permission To Educate Your Child

Somewhat Reasonable - February 01, 2016, 1:10 PM

Parents, students, educators, and pro-liberty activists across the nation will be celebrating National School Choice Week, which began on Sunday and will wrap up on January 30. It’s a time to celebrate the education choices some students now enjoy and to open up similar opportunities for all students. All children deserve access to a quality education. Politicians must stop making parents ask for permission to educate their children properly, because parents know better than anyone else which educational strategies and environments will work best. It is up to all taxpayers to demand school choice and give parents the power to guide their children’s education.

School choice empowers parents by giving them some power over school funding, taking it out of the hands of the education bureaucracy. The current system of ZIP-code-based education empowers the education bureaucracy and results in a de facto apartheid-style education system that divides the haves and the have-nots. Students deserve better, and taxpayers should not be forced to pay for such an unjust education regime.

School choice takes many forms. The most familiar are vouchers and scholarship programs that pay for a student’s tuition to attend a school of their choosing, usually with significant limits on who can participate. Education savings accounts are individual accounts funded by the state, with parents directing all state-approved spending, typically via a debit card. The funds can be used for tuition at virtually any school, books, special classes, and even transportation to and from school. Some states allow personal income tax credits for education expenses.

School choice has been studied for decades. A gold standard study of school choice programs in Washington, DC in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management revealed choice students graduated at a rate of 91 percent, whereas the control group, who did not have access to a school choice program, graduated at only a 70 percent rate. Other significant results of school choice are increases in black students enrolling in college and increases in college persistence.

Rich suburban districts are not immune to poor education. According to the Global Report Card, nearly one-third of the 50 richest school districts in the nation failed to reach the 50th percentile in math. Almost 50 percent of these same districts ranked lower than international counterparts in math despite “world-class” spending on education.

A parent’s ability to direct $5,000 to $9,000 to the school of their choice is much more valuable, powerful, and immediate than just having a vote once every four years on who gets to run the local public school district. Money following a child to school of choice will produce faster and better educational outcomes for every child. This money directly provides parents with the power and incentives needed to create and fund their own neighborhood schools, specialty schools, or whatever fits the education needs of their children.

Parents in Chicago are repeatedly forced to protest, beg, and ask for money to keep neighborhood schools open. This begging usually goes unheeded. In 2013, for example, parents begged the Chicago Public School board not to close schools, but the district closed 50 schools anyway. Protests are still occurring today in neighborhoods in Chicago over these very same issues. Some activists have even resorted to hunger strikes, as happened during the past fall in response to the closing of Dyett High School. School choice can end the need for repeated protests by freeing families from a system that slots their children into schools based solely on their ZIP code.

In addition to the explicit fraud and corruption exposed in a recently released annual report of the Inspector General for Chicago Public Schools, the district spends more than $15,000 per child on instruction and overhead. This money is not being used effectively. Twenty-five percent of Chicago’s students enrolled in traditional public schools are proficient in English and math, and only 69.4 percent of Chicago students graduate. Further, of those who do graduate, only 28 percent are ready for college.

These results are abysmal, and parents are understandably outraged. Giving these parents control of the purse strings is the key to forcing schools to focus on the students and to remove fraud and waste.

Every child deserves access to a quality education, especially if taxpayers are being forced to pay for it. We will never achieve quality education for all through a one-size-fits-all system in which the great majority of decisions are made by largely unaccountable bureaucrats. School Choice Week honors the parents and taxpayers who are calling on lawmakers to let parents, not ZIP codes, decide how to educate their children.

[Originally published at the Daily Caller]

Categories: On the Blog

Trumping Hydrocarbon Fuels and Consumers

Somewhat Reasonable - January 30, 2016, 8:29 PM

Donald Trump is wearing a blue tie. Make of that what you will.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump loves to tout his poll numbers. But if he’s doing so well, why does he pander to Iowa’s ethanol interests?

The gambit might garner a few caucus votes among corn growers and ethanol producers. It certainly brings plaudits from renewable energy lobbyists and their political enablers. But it could (and should) cost him votes in many other quarters – beyond the Corn Ethanol Belt and even in Iowa.

The fact is, the 14.5-billion-gallon-per-year ethanol mandate prolongs policies that are bad for consumers and the environment. And yet many presidential candidates and other politicians support it.

The ethanol mandate forces refiners to blend ethanol into gasoline. It’s the epitome of feel-good government programs run amok. Congress enacted the steadily expanding ethanol blending requirement to stave off the “imminent” depletion of crude oil worldwide, decrease US imports of oil whose price was “only going to increase,” reduce gasoline costs for motorists, and prevent manmade climate change.

We now know all these concerns were misplaced. In fact, the ethanol mandate fails every economic and environmental test.

The “fracking revolution” (horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing) has unleashed a gusher of US oil and gas production. Domestic oil production in 2014 reached its highest level in 114 years, and the United States is now the world’s biggest hydrocarbon producer. Global crude and American gasoline prices have plummeted. Fracking technology can be applied to shale deposits anywhere in the world, and even to conventional oil fields, ensuring that the world has at least another century of oil and natural gas supplies – and ample time to develop new energy technologies that we cannot even conceive of today.

Since ethanol gets a third less mileage than pure gasoline, adding ethanol to fuel actually increases fuel costs per tank, especially when crude oil fetches less than $30 per barrel and regular gasoline is under $2 per gallon in most states. For motorists driving 15,000 miles a year, $1.85-per-gallon gas means $1,200 in savings, compared to April 2012 prices. Ending the ethanol mandate would save them even more.

As to climate change, numerous studies demonstrate that there is no credible evidence that manmade carbon dioxide is causing dangerous global warming. Moreover, rising CO2 emissions from China, India and other rapidly developing nations overwhelm any imaginable US reductions.

The ethanol mandate has devolved into a black hole that sucks hard-earned cash from consumers’ wallets, while padding the pockets of special interests and their political patrons. Poor, minority, middle class and blue-collar families are especially hard hit.

Devoting 40% of America’s corn crop to ethanol production has significantly increased corn prices and thus the price of all foods that utilize the grain: beef, milk, pork, chicken, eggs, farm-raised fish, and countless products that include corn syrup. The corn converted into biofuel each year could feed more than 400,000,000 malnourished people in impoverished and war-torn countries.

Ethanol is corrosive and mixes easily with water, resulting in serious damage to gaskets and engines. Consumers have spent billions “degunking” and repairing cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles, chain saws and other small engine equipment, to prevent (or in the aftermath of) fuel leaks, engine failures and even fires. Vehicle, outdoor equipment and marine engine manufacturers warn against using gasoline blends containing more than 10% ethanol.

The mandate raised fuel costs nationwide by an estimated $83 billion between 2007 and 2014. In New England it is expected to cost the economy $20 billion, reduce labor income by $7.3 billion, and eliminate more than 7,000 jobs annually between 2005 and 2024. It has cost Californians $13.1 billion in higher fuel costs since 2005, and could inflict $28.8 billion in additional costs there by 2025.

Corn ethanol’s ecological impacts have convinced the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other organizations to oppose further extensions of the mandate. More than 35,000,000 acres (an area larger than Iowa) are now devoted to growing corn for ethanol, and the EWG says the mandate encourages farmers to convert extensive wetlands and grasslands into cornfields.

Growing corn, turning it into ethanol and trucking it to refineries (since it attracts water, it cannot be carried by pipeline) also requires vast amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides, diesel fuel and natural gas. Only a tiny fraction of that acreage, water and fuel is required to produce far more energy via fracking.

Contrary to Environmental Protection Agency claims that ethanol helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions, those lands released an additional 27,000,000 tons of CO2 in 2014, the EWG calculates. In fact, the group says, corn ethanol results in more carbon dioxide emissions than estimated for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The United States also imports sugarcane ethanol from Brazil. The American Energy Alliance says the EPA does not account for the associated greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, EPA calls sugarcane ethanol an “advanced” fuel, even though it has been around since the 1920s.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) set expectations for biofuel development based on aspirations, not reality. It assumed switch-grass and wood waste could be converted into advanced cellulosic fuels, but the process has proven very costly and difficult. In an effort to hide this inconvenient truth, EPA now defines even some kinds of liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas and electricity as derived from cellulosic fuels, in an effort to meet the mandate – even though none of these fuels can be blended into gasoline.

It’s encouraging that EPA’s Inspector General wants the agency’s pro-ethanol rhetoric investigated.

Many consumers are rejecting ethanol-blended fuels, and sales of straight gasoline have climbed from just over 3% of total US gasoline demand in 2012 to nearly 7% in 2014.

Simply put, the ethanol mandate is a disaster. When the government writes fuel recipes and meddles in the free market system, everyone loses except ethanol special interests. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is right: ethanol mandates and energy subsidies should all be terminated. Let biofuel, wind and solar power compete on their own merits, instead of being force-fed to consumers and taxpayers.

However, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has made support for ethanol a litmus test for the February 1 presidential caucuses. He wants Senator Cruz defeated for opposing the ethanol mandate. The governor’s stance also reflects the fact his son heads up the pro-ethanol America’s Energy Future lobbying group, and ethanol interests have contributed sizable amounts to the six-term Republican governor’s reelection campaigns.

There’s even a pro-ethanol van following Mr. Cruz around Iowa, to change recent polling results that found half of Iowa voters do not care much or at all about preserving the federal corn ethanol mandate.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump still thinks the mandate should be increased from this year’s 14.5 billion gallons to the full 15 billion gallons allowed under the antiquated RFS law. Jeb Bush and Chris Christy also support ethanol coercion. While this position might be politically expedient in Iowa, its affect on voters beyond the Hawkeye State is likely negative.

Mr. Trump and other candidates often say they will surround themselves with experts who know their stuff on important issues. Their pro-ethanol stance makes you wonder which wunderkinds are advising them right now. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, by contrast, share Senator Cruz’s disdain for energy mandates and subsidies.

The issue is a small but important indication of what’s at stake in the 2016 presidential election.

Categories: On the Blog
Syndicate content