On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Kyle Maichle: U.S. Term Limits and Wolf-Pac

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 4:20 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Kyle Maichle, project manager for Constitutional Reform at The Heartland Institute joins Host Donald Kendal to talk about the final two organizations seeking an Article V convention – U.S. Term Limits and Wolf-Pac.

U.S. Term Limits is seeking a constitutional amendment to establish term limits on politicians on a state and federal level. Wolf-Pac has a different objective in mind. Wolf-Pac’s goal is to overturn the Citizens United ruling. They want to create a “free and fair elections amendment.”

Click Here for Podcast on Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force

Click Here for Podcast on Convention of States Project

Click Here for Podcast on Compact for America

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

 

Categories: On the Blog

What If Obama Believed in Individual Liberty and Free Markets?

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 3:56 PM

President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address on January 12, 2016, and devoted most of the time to defending his “legacy” of bigger and more intrusive government, with an emphasis on the other aspects of personal and social life he wished could come under the blanket of more political paternalism, if only there was enough time before he leaves office on January 20, 2017.

But suppose that, instead, Obama had had an epiphany shortly before he spoke before the Congress on January 12th. Imagine that he had had a realization that the Progressive and political paternalistic ideas that he has believed in, espoused and implemented during his first seven years in the office of the presidency had been wrong and misguided.

What if he had discovered the ideas, say, of Ayn Rand, Henry Hazlitt, Milton Friedman, and F. A. Hayek, for example? Suppose that he realized that the true principles of a free society were to be found in the ideas and ideals of individual rights and liberty, free markets and competitive enterprise?

What if the president offered, instead, an agenda for freedom rather than one of paternalism? What would the State of the Union address be like if he had such an epiphany for defending individual liberty rather than more unrestricted government license over our lives?

Let us imagine what he might have said, instead of the words he actually spoke:

“My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight to deliver my seventh and last State of the Union address at a time of continuing economic uncertainty and social tensions across our great nation.

“I have spoken to you more than once about the country’s need for ‘hope and change.’ But I now realize that we must look for that hope and change in a far different direction that the one I’ve talked about and argued for in previous years.

The Free Individual and His Creative Mind

“I was wrong a couple of years ago when I said that the man who owns a business did not ‘make it.’ I assumed that improvements in the human condition only result from the actions of the ‘collective,’ as if the ‘collective’ was a living, breathing, thinking being, separate from the individuals who make up the society.

“I now understand and appreciate from reading Ayn Rand that ‘society’ is merely a sometimes convenient, but often confusing, shorthand for the resulting outcomes of the interactions and associative actions and activities of individual human beings. There is no ‘society’ independent from the thinking, valuing and acting individuals in the world.

“And, furthermore, if anything is built its possibility can and only does begin as a creative thought and idea in the mind of a real, distinct individual man or woman. The ‘idea’ must precede the ‘deed,’ and the idea only can come from an individual human mind. There is no collective brain.”

“My fellow Americans, you do not exist to live and work for ‘society.’ You have a right to your own life, to live it as you think right and best for yourself, through peaceful, honest and productive work. The achievements of ‘society’ are the outcome of voluntary and mutually beneficial exchanges and associations among free men.

“Our Founding Fathers understood this when they signed the Declaration of Independence and promulgated the U.S. Constitution. Man and his rights precede government, and government’s role in society is not to control or direct the actions of men, but to secure and protect their individual rights to life, liberty and honestly acquired property.

Freedom and Knowledge

“Starting tomorrow, I am instructing Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to prepare a set of budget proposals, the goal of which will be a balanced budget before the end of the current fiscal year. And not through raising taxes, but through across-the-board cuts in government spending.

“If we are to restore a thriving and fully employed economy in America it will require getting resources out of the wasteful hands of government, and back under the control and guidance of the private and productive citizens whose work, saving, investment and creativity are the only basis and source of our improving standard of living.

“I now understand that economic growth and opportunity only come from freeing the minds of every American so all may benefit from what others may know. I have learned from F. A. Hayek that it has been a great arrogance on my part and practically everyone else in government for a very long time to believe that we can know enough to direct and plan the actions of multitudes of people in an ever-more complex society.

“All the knowledge of how, where and when to do things that make ‘society’ work and creatively improve cannot be known by any one person or group of people in Washington, D.C. The ‘knowledge of the world’ is dispersed and decentralized among all the minds of all the people in society. We must appreciate that the free market is not only a market place of goods, but of ideas that result in the producing of those goods.

“Government regulations, restrictions, prohibitions, subsidies and plans get in the way of the competitive process that is a great vehicle of ‘discovery’ to find out who, in fact, can creatively imagine and bring to market the new and better products, in greater quantities and lower prices that benefit all in society – especially the poor and less well-off who, year after year, gain from more and less expensive goods available and within their modest economic reach.

“It has been a great ‘pretense of knowledge’ on my part to presume that I, as president of the United States, can know who might ‘win’ the market ‘race’ of competitive improvement and excellence before allowing the process of market competition to serve as the motive and incentive for people to discover within themselves what they are capable of doing and producing.

Unintended Consequences and the Minimum Wage

“I know that many who have supported me over the years will be wondering how I could turn my back on all those who have looked to me as the great hope for ‘social justice’ and ‘fairness’ in society. Do I no longer care about the poor, the underprivileged, and the needy?

“I now understand after reading Henry Hazlitt that much that seems to be helpful government policy in the short-run can have longer run negative consequences for many of the very people we sincerely wish to help. We must look beyond what is immediately ‘seen’ to what is ‘unseen’: the impact of these policies when we look past today to see the effects they will have tomorrow.

“For that reason, rather than calling for an increase in the government-mandated minimum wage, I will be proposing to the Congress the abolition of the federal minimum wage law. I will also be highly recommending that the various state governments should abolish their minimum wage statutes, as well.

“None of us pays more for anything than we think it is worth, in terms of its value to us and what we can afford to spend. And if something goes up in price, we often think twice before we continue to buy as much of it as we have in the past. We ask ourselves, ‘Is it really worth that higher price, and is it worth buying less of other things to keep buying as much of it as we’ve bought before, because the extra expense to purchase the same amount will have to come out of buying less of something else, since our limited financial means only go so far?’

“The only source of an employer’s financial means to pay his workers their wages is the revenues he receives from the customers who buy his product. If the government mandates that he must pay his workers a minimum wage above the market wage, he will have to decide if the value of what some of those workers contribute to make those products that help him earn that consumer revenue is now less than what the government says he must pay them. If he finds that some of them are not worth the minimum wage he will let them go, and other new jobs that he might have offered will not be financially worth opening up.

“Thus, many of the very people – the poor and low-skilled – who can most benefit from an entry level job that offers them on-the-job training, experience and a chance to have their feet on the first rung of the ladder to a better life, will be denied that opportunity because the government minimum wage law prices them out of the market.

“I sincerely care too much about those people to leave them possibly permanently behind due to such a misguided and counterproductive policy as our minimum wage law.”

Free Markets and Real Opportunity

“We must appreciate, as reading Milton Friedman has taught me, that the free competitive market is the ‘great leveler’ that frees people from the artificial barriers to entry and opportunity that only government controls and regulations can place in the way of the poor and less well off from rising out of poverty and low standards of living.

“A free society of free people will always be a society of unequal outcomes. Each of us is a unique and distinct individual from the rest of humanity. That is the reason we should respect each individual’s right to his own life and liberty, since he or she is ‘one of a kind,’ never to be seen again on the face of this planet. We should respect and value them, and not presume to tell them how they should live their only sojourn on this earth. Their life is too precious, if indeed we value ‘the person,’ as we say we do, to make them a slave to how we think they should live.

“But because we all possess degrees of uniqueness in our inborn differences, our inclinations and desires, and our drive and determinations to set and try to achieve goals in our life, the resulting outcomes will be different in various ways from that of others.

“It is also the case that how we find ways and decide to earn a living is valued differently by our fellow men. Thus, how much we may earn in the market place is to a great extent a result of by how much our fellow human beings value the services we can offer them in exchange for what we wish to buy from them in the arena of free, competitive trade.”

Freedom and Benevolence

“Does that mean that those who are less well off than ourselves may not need and deserve a ‘helping hand’? All people of good will and benevolence might rightly have a sense of assisting those who they think deserve and may benefit from such support.

“But such good will and benevolence cannot be forced or made either ‘moral’ or ‘right’ by compelling a false philanthropy through government coerced redistribution of wealth. It not only undermines a proper and rightly human sense of concern for one’s fellow men, but leads to many wasteful and misdirected uses and abuses of the taxpayer’s hard-earned money.

“For this reason, I will be proposing over the last year of my presidency the repeal of the Department of Health and Human Resources, as well as the Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Commerce, Transportation, Energy and Agriculture.”

Free Markets for Better Health Care

“This now gets me, my fellow Americans, to the hardest policy decision I am going to propose to Congress in the current session. I came into office with the hope and dream of assuring affordable health care to each and every American. I even took pride when my opponents began to call the Affordable Care Act, ‘ObamaCare.’

“I call upon the Congress to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act. Everything that I have now learned from reading Hayek, Hazlitt, Friedman and Rand has taught me that turning over the health care industry and medical service to the regulatory and planning control of the government will lead to nothing but disaster for the nation.

“We do need better health care, at more affordable rates and prices, with improved coverage. But that can only come by freeing those creative minds of the market place in a setting of the most open competition as is possible. We must set loose the same competitive discovery process that has given all those other innovative miracles of more, better and less expensive goods and services over the years and decades.

“Deregulation of the medical profession and deregulation of the health insurance industry must be our new policy. Individuals should be free to decide and choose their own health plans and trade-offs, and the unrestrained profit motive must be taken advantage of to incentivize the offering of health insurance coverage and medical care quality improvements.

The Right to Ignore the State

“My fellow Americans, in closing let me just say that I also read the nineteenth century social philosopher of freedom, Herbert Spencer, and he has taught me is that as long as any one of you lives your life peacefully and honestly in your own affairs and in your social and market dealings with others, the government has no moral right to make any claim upon you.

“In other words, you have a ‘right to ignore the state,’ other than when it goes about its proper and limited business in securing and protecting the rights of each and every citizen from the violent and plundering acts of others.

“This is the real and only reasonable agenda for ‘hope and change’ that can bring our country freedom, prosperity and goodwill among all of our people.

“There is, of course, much more that we should do and can do to bring about that change for the better. That is why between now and when I leave office next year on January 20, 2017, I will be putting together proposals to repeal the powers of the NSA, bring all our troops home from around the world and call upon the Congress to abolishthe Federal Reserve System so we can move to a private, competitive banking system with a honest, market-based money such as gold.

“I think that the agenda for freedom, based on individual liberty, free markets and limited government that I have presented this evening can serve as a good beginning to return to the wonderful vision that our Founding Fathers hoped for when they established our great nation.

“Thank you, my fellow Americans, and may God Bless a reborn, truly free America.”

Barack Obama, of course, did not give such a speech to the country in his State of the Union address. But one can hope that some day there will be a president who will have been elected precisely to articulate and initiate such an agenda for individualism, liberty, and limited government in the United States.

[Originally published at Epic Times]

Categories: On the Blog

Ted and Trump Take Different Tracks on Ethanol

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 1:12 PM

Terry Branstad was first elected governor of Iowa in 1982. His six terms in office have made him the longest serving governor in American history and the most influential politician in the state. He rarely takes sides in the Republican caucuses and hasn’t endorsed a primary presidential candidate since 1996.

But the 2016 election is different in so many ways.

On Tuesday, January 19, at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit, Branstad jumped into the fray by attempting to influence the outcome of the February 1 caucus—not with an endorsement, but with a denouncement: “I don’t think that Ted Cruz is the right one for Iowans to support in the caucus.”

Branstad slammed Cruz because, as he told reporters: “He’s opposed to the wind energy tax credit. He’s opposed to ethanol and biodiesel”—which are the very positions that make Cruz an attractive candidate to limited-government, free-market Republicans.

Cruz has had the integrity to hold to his position of eliminating all subsidies on energy—even in Iowa where the winner of every caucus in both parties, since the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) became law, as a part of the Energy Policy Act, in 2005, has “strongly backed federal subsidies or mandates for the corn–grown fuel,” reports John Fund.

In his first year in office, Cruz co-sponsored legislation to repeal the RFS—which requires ever-increasing amounts of ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. In 2014, he took a different bite at the same issue and introduced a bill that would overhaul several energy policies, including phasing out the ethanol mandate in five years. Early in the campaign season, at the 2015 Ag Summit, March 7, Cruz was the only GOP candidate who didn’t support the RFS.

Since then, several GOP candidates have supported its phase-out. However, of all the presidential candidates, from both parties, only Cruz and Rand Paul received a “bad” rating on the American Renewable Future’s (ARF) “Final presidential report card on the Renewable Fuel Standard”—which means they demonstrated consistent opposition to the RFS.

While both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received a “good” rating, Clinton didn’t actually earn it, as her support for the RFS hasn’t been “consistent.” Fund writes: “Hillary Clinton voted against ethanol a total of 17 times in the U.S. Senate, saying she found it ‘impossible to understand why any pro-consumer, pro-health, pro-environment, anti-government member’ could vote for ethanol mandates. In 2007, as she announced for president, she took a sharp turn on the Road to Des Moines and embraced ethanol. This year, she calls ethanol ‘a success for Iowa and much of rural America.’”

Trump, however, likely earned his ARF “good” rating as he does not have a history of opposition to burdening “working Americans with hidden taxes,”—which is one of several derogatory phrases USA Today used to describe the RFS. In 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that Trump “has relied on tax breaks and federal funding to build his real estate empire.”

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Trump told hundreds of attendees at the January 19 Summit: “I am there with you 100%.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that Trump has met with ARF three times since April and has his staff stay in touch with the ethanol-lobbying group led by Branstad’s son Eric. Trump also said he was opposed to changing any part of the RFS—which means, as The Hill explains, “Trump calls for higher ethanol mandate.”

Trump’s ethanol position puts him at odds with most in his party—and even many democrats and environmentalists—as outside of Iowa, ethanol has few friends. In short, the RFS requires ever-increasing amounts of ethanol be blended into gasoline. When it was passed, it was assumed that Americans would consume more and more gasoline (not the less-and-less that is present reality), so rather than make the ethanol mandate be a percentage, lawmakers required specific volumes of ethanol. Corn growers have increased production to meet the demand. U.S. News states: “about half of Iowa corn goes to ethanol production for use in gasoline.” However, the higher ethanol levels have been proven to damage engines, reduce fuel efficiency, and even raise the cost of food. Plus, the RFS was established during a totally different energy era, a time when scarcity, not a global fuel glut, was the concern. Today, as U.S. News says, “the ethanol mandate makes no sense economically or environmentally.” The WSJ calls it: “one of America’s worst corporate-welfare cases.”

Cruz and Trump are making different political calculations. In a matter of days, we’ll know which one was wiser: Cruz who stuck to his principles, believing that people of Iowa “will respect his honesty,” or Trump, whose embrace of the “top-down government mandate,” as The Atlantic calls it, “speaks to just how much he wants to win Iowa.”

The Atlantic concludes: “If Cruz manages to win Iowa without siding with the state’s high-profile lawmakers and a powerful industry, it could send a message to future candidates that they don’t need to support the mandate to emerge victorious in Iowa.”

The scales may tip in Cruz’s favor as polling indicates that support for the RFS doesn’t have the political pull it once did. A recent Des Moines Register poll showed close margins on those who agreed and disagreed with Cruz’s position: 37 percent agree, 42 percent disagree. Polling released on January 22 found that RFS support is not a top priority for 95 percent of Iowa’s voters—with half of respondents saying they either “do not care much, or do not care at all, about the RFS and federal corn ethanol mandates.”

Regardless of who actually wins in Iowa, if Cruz comes out ahead of Trump, it could pave the way for a Republican president, whomever he or she might be, to finally repeal the outdated and unworkable RFS—which, oddly enough, could help Iowa’s corn producers. Refiners would still use ethanol. It has a place in the free market. As I’ve previously addressed, ethanol is the most cost-effective octane booster. But the RFS requires more-and-more unavailable advanced biofuels and less-and-less corn ethanol. When the Environmental Protection Agency announced the 2016 blending rule, it required higher advanced biofuel levels.

Soon we will know if Iowa has caught up with the rest of America in realizing that the RFS is ripe for repeal.

Categories: On the Blog

Base Policies on Reality, Not Deceit

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 12:56 PM

Dr. Bob Carter understood that climate frequently changes, and we must prepare to adapt.

Dangerous manmade global cooling, global warming, climate change and extreme weather claims continue to justify what has become a $1.5-trillion-per-year industry: tens of billions spent annually on one-sided research and hundreds of billions sent to crony corporatists to subsidize replacing dependable, affordable carbon-based fuels with unreliable, expensive “renewable” energy.

Some 50 million acres of US crop and habitat land (equal to Wyoming) have been turned into corn-for-ethanol farms, biofuel plantations, and wind and solar installations. American forests are being converted to fuel for British power plants. Towering turbines butcher birds and bats, while Big Wind is exempted from endangered species rules that would cost fossil fuel companies billions in fines and send their execs to jail for such carnage. (But if you’re saving the planet, what’s a few million birds and bats a year?)

Climate chaos is likewise the foundation for endless, punitive government policies and regulations intended to keep oil, gas and coal “in the ground.” Crony politicians pass laws and unelected bureaucrats impose rules that transfer taxpayer and consumer wealth, decide which companies, industries and workers win or lose, and control people’s lives, livelihoods, liberties and living standards.

Research and ruling classes benefit, while poor, minority and blue-collar families suffer – and Africans are told they must be content with wind and solar energy because, as President Obama put it, “if everybody has got a car” and air conditioning and a big house, “the planet will boil over.”

Climate Crisis, Inc. jealously guards this power and money train. The IPCC, EPA and NOAA spend billions in tax dollars to publish horror stories about runaway temperatures and looming disasters. Mike Mann sues anyone who disparages him or his work. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jagedish Shukla demand that anyone who disputes manmade disaster claims be prosecuted for “climate denial.”

Now a new Paris climate treaty says the “ultimate goal” is to stabilize atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that will “prevent dangerous [human] interference with the climate system” – under the assumption that CO2 now drives climate change and weather events.

The Paris accord stipulates that developed nations must reduce their emissions, regardless of impacts on economies, employment or families. This means they must de-carbonize, de-industrialize and de-develop – while they give trillions of dollars in cash and free technology to developing countries like Brazil, China, India and Indonesia, for climate “reparation” and “mitigation.”

Developing countries need try to reach their voluntary goals only if now-wealthy nations make those wealth transfers – and if reducing their emissions will not interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” of eradicating poverty, malnutrition and disease, and improving living standards and life spans.

This means fossil fuel use and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will continue to climb – and US, EU, Canadian and Australian sacrifices will have no effect on stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels, much less controlling Earth’s ever-changing climate or weather, again assuming CO2 does determine climate.

But what if this dynasty is built on a foundation of errors, miscalculations and exaggerations – or worse: on manipulation, fabrication and fraud? The house of cards would tumble down, the catechism of climate cataclysm would go the way of other vanished religions, and the power and money train would derail.

Before his untimely death January 19, Dr. Robert M. Carter, former director of James Cook University’s Marine Geophysical Laboratory and expert on historic and prehistoric climate change, offered succinct analyses of climate forces, fears and realities, underscoring how fragile the climate chaos claims are.

Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, he always emphasized. It is a plant-fertilizing trace gas (400 ppm or 0.04% of the atmosphere), essential for photosynthesis and life on Earth. Rising CO2 levels are increasing crop, forest and grassland growth, improving ecosystems and wildlife, and feeding more people. In fact, the 50 ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 between 1981 and 2010 fertilized an 11% boost in plant cover worldwide. Moreover, current carbon dioxide levels are quite low relative to their levels across geological time, meaning terrestrial, fresh water and oceanic plant life is currently starved for CO2 by comparison.

The real scientific debate, Professor Carter noted in his book Climate: the Counter Consensus and other works, is about the direction and magnitude of global human effects, and their likely significance in the context of natural climate change – which has been occurring ever since Earth developed its oceans, atmosphere and climate. Indeed, modern temperatures are not unusually warm, compared to many previous periods in the historic and geologic record. My friend’s other insights are equally important.

* The primary temperature records relied on by the IPCC and EPA are far too short to be a useful tool for policy making and are inadequately corrected for the urban heat island effect and other errors. One analysis of these records found errors of 1-5 degrees C (1.8-9.0 F) for 1969 data in certain regions, when the claimed warming for the entire twentieth century was only 0.7 deg C (1.3 F); errors for records in the early century are likely even greater. Reliance on these records is thus misplaced

* Recent warming trends in Greenland and the Arctic are not alarming in rate or magnitude compared to other similar and totally natural warming periods over the past 250 to 10,000 years, as recorded in explorers’ log books and geological evidence.

* When we consider those climate records, the positive feedback effects of rising carbon dioxide levels (such as enhanced water vapor in the atmosphere), negative feedback effects (more low level heat-reflecting clouds, for instance), significant natural sources of more atmospheric CO2, and the declining “greenhouse” effect of each additional CO2 molecule, it is unlikely that conceivable human carbon dioxide emissions will cause “dangerous” warming or other climate changes in the future.

* The rate and magnitude of the reported 1979-2000 warming are not outside normal natural variability, nor are they unusual compared to earlier periods in Earth and human history. There is likewise no unambiguous evidence that humans have caused adverse changes such as melting ice, rising sea levels, rainfall or droughts, or “extreme weather” over the past 50 years.

* Moderate warming will reduce human mortality, whereas colder weather will increase suffering and deaths, especially if energy and climate policies make heating homes less affordable.

* IPCC computer climate models have thus far not been able to predict warming or other climate changes accurately for even short 10-year periods. It is therefore highly unlikely that they can do so for 100 years in the future. Therefore, they should not be used as the basis for energy and economic policies.

* The IPCC does not even study climate change in its entirety, or all the complex, interrelated forces that cause periodic warming, cooling and other changes. It analyzes only variations allegedly caused by humans, and assumes that all recent and future changes are human-caused and dangerous. Its analyses, conclusions and recommendations therefore do not form a credible basis for public policies.

Carter’s ultimate policy recommendation was that climate hazards are overwhelmingly natural problems, and should be dealt with by preparing for them in advance, and adapting to them when they occur.

Whether the threats are short-term (hurricanes, floods and blizzards), intermediate (droughts) or long-term (warm or cool eras), preparation must be specific and regional in scale, for the perils vary widely by geographic location and a nation’s state of technological advancement. If governments prepare properly for natural hazards, their countries and communities will also be ready for human-caused climate disruptions, should they ever occur.

Professor Carter’s jovial Aussie persona will be sorely missed, but his insights and legacy will live on.

Categories: On the Blog

Why We Need the Legislature to Rein in CPS

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 12:43 PM

Co-authored by Timothy Benson and Lennie Jarratt

The administrators who run Chicago Public Schools, the taxpayers who fund the district and CPS parents have a real mess on their hands. CPS is facing a $500 million budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year alone. Altogether, the district is over $1 billion in the hole, and the debt CPS is carrying has been labeled “junk” by Fitch Ratings, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

With the large amount of money being tossed around, one might think that educational outcomes for CPS students would be positive. Unfortunately, CPS has not recorded an above-average score, relative to other major U.S. cities, on any National Association of Educational Progress test, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” going back to 2002. On the latest round of testing, only 25 percent of district eight-graders tested “proficient” in math. Twenty-four percent tested proficient in English. All this despite the fact that CPS teachers are among the highest-compensated of any big-city teachers in the nation and reportedly pay next to nothing for their generous retirement benefits.

Because CPS has been running out of money at a breakneck pace and taxpayers outside of Chicago want no part in providing the district a bailout, legislation is now being proposed that would allow state oversight of CPS and would permit the district to declare bankruptcy.

While those inside CPS headquarters and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office have called a state takeover radical and unprecedented, the state of Illinois already has oversight authority over local school districts across the state; the only exception to that is Chicago. The proposed oversight bill would allow the state to appoint a financial authority to review all CPS spending, renegotiate all contracts—including union contracts—and to potentially raise taxes once spending has been brought under control.

The state stepping in to rein in a school district’s out-of-control financial situation has happened numerous times before, including in Round Lake Area Schools District 116 (2002-11), Cairo Unit School District 1 (2003-13), Hazel Crest School District 152-5 (2003-12) and Venice Community Unit School District 2 (2007-12). The state is using this authority in East St. Louis School District 189, North Chicago School District 187 and Proviso Township High School District 209.

CPS should not be treated any differently than its sister districts throughout the state.

Opponents of state takeovers and district bankruptcies argue these actions allow for too many cuts to staff and essential programs. And while it is true that state oversight nearly always results in such cuts, these actions get districts out of bad contracts and get finances under control. Once a severely broken district budget is repaired, appropriate restaffing that fits the needs of the district takes place.

State takeovers are useful tools in combating fiscally reckless school districts—but they are, at best, defensive actions to be taken after major damage has been done.

If Illinois lawmakers truly want to end the unsustainable spending and borrowing practices of school districts around the state, they need to empower parents and take much of the financial control of schools out of the hands of bureaucrats.

One of the best ways to do this is provide each student with an education savings account, which would be directed by parents. ESAs allow parents to put their children in a school or other educational opportunity that best meets each child’s unique needs. Responsible parents would hold schools far more accountable than bureaucratic systems are typically able to do.

[Originally published at Crain’s Chicago Business]

Categories: On the Blog

More Welfare Reform is Needed in Mississippi

Somewhat Reasonable - January 26, 2016, 12:35 PM

Co-authored by Logan Pike and John Nothdurft

Mississippi took a step in the right direction when, at the beginning of the month, the Mississippi Department of Human Services announced it would implement work requirements for single people between the ages of 18 and 49 who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps. Although this is a positive development, there is still much that could be done to better help the State of Mississippi move people in poverty from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

The Heartland Institute’s 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card gives Mississippi a C- grade and ranks the Magnolia State 29th for its anti-poverty Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) policies. While Mississippi has successfully reduced its number of TANF recipients since 1996, its overall poverty rate has continued to increase and unemployment rates have worsened. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program and information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mississippi’s poverty rate increased by 15.4 percent from 1996 to 2013.

One of the most important ways governments can work with people to escape poverty is by helping them obtain work. Only 2.6 percent of full-time workers are poor, as defined by the federal poverty level standards, compared with 23.9 percent of adults who do not work. Even part-time work makes a significant difference; only 15 percent of part-time workers are poor.

A 2013 Cato Institute study examining the “work versus welfare tradeoff” found the current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work in many states. In Mississippi, a family collecting welfare benefits from seven common programs—TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children, public housing assistance, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and free commodities—could receive benefits worth more than $25,800. Considering the median salary in Mississippi is only $27,269, it’s reasonable to argue the current system incentivizes government dependency and discourages self-sufficiency.

There are four policies the state could implement that could, when taken together, help lift individuals out of poverty—all while protecting taxpayers and maintaining a safety net for those who need help the most.

The first would be to implement a cash diversion program. In fiscal year 2006, Mississippi temporarily employed a temporary cash diversion program to assist with the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Since then, Mississippi has failed to follow the lead of 33 other states that have a cash diversion program in place that allows case workers to make grants to qualified people who need short-term assistance. Without a cash diversion program, many people who find themselves in difficult financial situations end up enrolling in TANF, which needlessly creates more dependency.

Second, at 60 months, Mississippi maintains the highest recommended limit of lifetime eligibility for individuals and families under the 1996 welfare reform law. In recent years, states as diverse as Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, and Indiana have limited their time limits to 24 months or less. These states have taken this approach with the idea that being dependent on welfare for five years can ingrain habits and lifestyles that make it very difficult to achieve self-sufficiency.

Third, Mississippi needs to put in place protections to ensure those who are enrolled in TANF and food stamps are actually in need of the financial help they are receiving. In 2014, 21 percent of the state’s population was enrolled in food stamps, and according to the Foundation for Accountability. “[B]etween five percent and 25 percent of states’ welfare spending has been found to be wasted or fraudulent.”

One way to ensure only those truly in need are entering government-funded social programs is to utilize asset tests. Currently, 14 states use asset tests to check food stamp eligibility. The current income and asset test for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) requires recipients to have a gross income below 130 percent of the poverty level, a net income below 100 percent of the poverty level, and less than $2,000 in assets, but many SNAP recipients are accepted under looser standards through “categorical eligibility.” In states using categorical eligibility for SNAP, recipients are determined not by the income and asset limitations established for SNAP, but by participation in other cash welfare assistance programs, which can have more relaxed eligibility standards.

Requiring photo identification on EBT cards and limiting where they can be used are other ways to prevent fraud.

Fourth, Mississippi should follow the lead of other states and better integrate their welfare and state social services by co-locating service providers. This helps government bureaucracies share information and gives caseworkers more flexibility to direct their clients to the services they need.

Ultimately, Mississippi’s current set of welfare and anti-poverty programs disincentivize work, trapping welfare recipients in a sustained cycle of poverty. Legislators should continue to reform Mississippi’s welfare system by adopting policies that improve opportunities for upward mobility and self-sufficiency and protect those people who truly need assistance.

[Originally published at the Clarion Ledger]

Categories: On the Blog

Common Core: A Fiasco for the Next Generation

Somewhat Reasonable - January 25, 2016, 1:18 PM

Co-authored by Nancy Thorner and Bonnie O’Neil 

Author Patrick Wood warned us that America’s schools were in danger back in 2005. In his article “Global Schooling: The Hijacking of American Education”, he equates the virtual takeover (or hijacking) of American education to that of seizing control of a moving vehicle by use of force, in order to reach an alternate destination. The time period for this hijacking coincides with the economic plundering of America.  According to Patrick Wood, the takeover started roughly in 1973 and is still in progress today.

The success of this globalism agenda rides on the back of manipulating the minds of students to reflect patterns of global dogma. The students may be academically inferior to their 1970 counterparts, but scholarship was easily traded for the globalist-friendly character traits of a globalized citizen, one who will not question the globalist agenda but instead welcome it as an inevitable evolution of civilization.

Wood’s article takes the reader through the timetable of Phase 1 for executing the Plan: the PREPARATORY PERIOD, 1980 to 1995, when the Globalist Plan went into high gear with the establishment of the Center on Education Policy (CEP), which was founded and financed by Globalist foundation money and staffed by operators who would carry out their elite wishes. Its Statement of Purpose has the audacity to proclaim “We do not represent any special interests.” What follows, however, doesn’t jive with the previous Statement’s denial of special interests representation: “We try to help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools.”

On the surface, President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” passed in 2002 seems to address turning the education system around, but instead it was the capstone of an effort stated in the 1980s to federalize education for all students.  NCLB achieved two major goals for global education operatives: For the first time in the history of the U.S., all education standards fell under the umbrella of the federal government. Second, it created a mechanism for mandatory national testing and data collection for children in public schools.

Through the monetary bribery of states, the Common Core curriculum had its beginnings in the Obama administration in 2010.  States were permitted to drop the highly unpopular “No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB), if they agreed to accept Common Core.  Most states signed on sight unseen and before the new education program was even tested.  

Presently, Common Core curriculum has been accepted by most states.  Cause for great concern is warranted, because Common Core specifies the textbooks and curriculum that must be used in carrying out the Common core lesson plans, curriculum that contains the indoctrination material of the Global elites. Common Core’s “recommended” reading list originated from one centrally controlled location.

Why would Global elitists, through the ACLU, want all vestiges of Judeo-Christian tradition removed from the classroom?  Their Global education agenda would not and could not work as long as students could compare the elitists’ propaganda to the uncompromising Judeo-Christian ethic. In Communist Russia, Lenin and Stalin’s solution to Christianity and Judaism was simple: kill the Christians and Jews.

The Deceptiveness of Common Core

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, an EducationViews Contributor, was the only English Language Arts “content expert” on the Common Core Validation Committee, She and her teammate, retired math professor John Milgram, have now become critics of the merits of the Common Core State Standards.  Stotsky claims that the Common Core writers were not qualified.  Although the states that adopted Common Core’s standards did so legally (usually by a vote of their State Board of Education), many state policymakers deliberately minimized public awareness and discussion of the standards’ academic deficits in order to ensure the passage of Common Core and its continued usage.

Some State officials chose to deceive the public about aspects of Common Core in outright defiance of the expressed will of State Legislators, who wished to revise or eliminate Common Core’s standards.  This was the situation in South Carolina, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisiana, and New Jersey.

Dr. Stotsky’s article of Dec. 24, 2015, explains how State Departments of Education deliberately deceived parents about Common Core, apparently using a common excuse that “the end justifies the means.”  Following are some of the popular ploys used to deceive the public:

  • Giving PARCC, a national Common Core-base test, another name to minimize Common Core’s involvement.
  • Using restricted review methodology that inhibits statewide reviewers from a standard-by-standard review.
  • Stacking review committees with Common Core partisans and giving them limited purview to minimize participation by undergraduate teaching faculty in Mathematics and English. 
  • Skewing public discussion with unbalanced public forums that used speakers who were biased for Common Core.
  • Relying on rigged external reports, seemingly unbiased external reports by groups such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve, Inc., both of which are funded by the Gates Foundation that had supplied millions of dollars in the Common Core project.

Common Core given new life by a bi-partisan Congress

Lest anyone think that acts of deception about Common Core have come only from one side of the political aisle and/or specific State Departments of Education, perhaps the greatest act of deception is the preposterous claim about the thrust of the recent re-authorization of ESEA by its major author Senator Lamar Alexander.

In an op-ed in The Tennessean on December 12, 2015, Senator Alexander implied that he had “repealed the federal Common Core mandate and reversed the trend toward a national school board.” Instead, as Peter Cunningham, a former official in the USDE pointed out, “the new law that the Senator from Tennessee is so proud of, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against.”

Under the new law, every state must adopt “college-and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.” Senator Lamar Alexander, former president of the University of Tennessee, has managed to deceive not only his constituents in Tennessee and the entire country but also himself.

See here Thorner’s published article of January 11, 2016, at Illinois Review: “Republicans Accused of Cynical Scheme that Led to Odious Education Law” (the“Every Student Succeed Act” or S1177).  Common Core activists tried for months to warn Congress that the new Federal Education Bill was a disaster that would cement, not overturn, the odious progressive-education philosophies of the Obama Administration,  Except for 64 House members (click here to see how your member voted) and 12 senators (click here to see how your senators voted)who were brave enough to buck Republican leadership, their warnings were dismissed. 

Is Common Core a ruse to sell books?

A recent article dated January 12, 2016, defined Common Core as a disaster in terms of delivering quality and meaningful education.  Instead, it’s a system designed for Sustainable Development and Technocracy. Nevertheless, bookmakers and publishers are raking in money hand-over-fist as they replace virtually every book in the U.S. school system with the new curricula.  The same publishers will sell another round of books to put things back where they were when Common fails. Purchasing Common Core material is a must, as testing is geared to the Common Core Curriculum.

The West Coast sales manager from one of the nation’s biggest school book sellers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, told an undercover muckraker with Project Veritas that “I hate kids.  Don’t even kid yourself for a heartbeat.”  She added that “it’s all about the money. What are you, crazy? It’s all about the money.  You don’t think that the educational publishing companies are in it for education, do you? No, they’re in it for the money.”  Naturally the sales manager was fired when her remarks reached her employer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

States Common Core standards exist

This map shows the state level adoption of Common Core with its progressive and brainwashing curriculum.

States that have withdrawn:  Indiana, South Carolina.

States that never adopted Common Core:  Virginia, Texas, Nebraska, and Alaska.

Partial adoption state:  Minnesota.   

The most recent polls indicate Common Core is becoming more and more unpopular, as parents experience it and the public becomes more knowledgeable about it.  Whether you are a parent who has concerns, or a citizen who objects to a federalized education system conceived and initiated by suspicious sources with an agenda, it is important for you to speak out and let your voice be heard. 

Join the fight with millions of concerned citizens and parents who realize the new national system is not right for America.  Attend school board meetings to make public statements; contact your local, state and federal representatives to express your concerns.  Oh, and tell all those officials that our forefathers specified education was exclusively the responsibility of each State government and they need to take back their job and keep control at the local level.  That might frustrate those who promote Global education and a one-World government, but for those of us who value our local sovereignty, we will fight back against the wealthy elitists’ agenda, because we love the U.S.A.

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Jonathan Williams: Welfare Reform and Economic Reform Go Hand in Hand

Somewhat Reasonable - January 25, 2016, 12:28 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, managing editor of Budget & Tax News Jesse Hathaway talks with Jonathan Williams, Vice President of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Center for State Fiscal Reform, about how welfare reform and economic reform go hand in hand, and what states can do to help the needy back onto their feet and into society.

ALEC’s report, Rich States, Poor States, cites The Heartland Institute’s 2015 Welfare Report Card, a an apples-to-apples study on states’ welfare systems, allowing governors and state legislators to quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of their states’ programs, and to craft a reform agenda that truly helps those most in need. Williams explains how successful government programs are not measured by how many people they add to their rolls, but how many are helped off of the rolls, and how government policies can be reformed to actually achieve their stated goals of helping people achieve their dreams.

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

Categories: On the Blog

Why Zero Rating & Flexible Pricing Options Are Just & Reasonable to FCC

Somewhat Reasonable - January 24, 2016, 10:00 AM

Always be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.

Net neutrality absolutists demanded Title II regulation of the Internet in hopes of getting the “strongest possible” net neutrality rules.

They imagined Title II to be their ultimate tool and power to enforce whatever they want to redefine net neutrality to be, whenever they want to redefine it: e.g. no paid-prioritization, no zero rating offerings, no usage-based pricing, etc.

Never mind the nettlesome fact, that net neutrality, as a term, principle or concept, can’t be found in U.S. law.

And never mind the nettlesome Title II reality, that decades of FCC/court precedents have established that economic price discrimination can be, and often is, legally just and reasonable.

Net neutrality absolutists had to learn in Comcast v. FCC that the FCC could not enforce net neutrality without prior net neutrality rules.

They learned the FCC did not have the legal authority to ban commercially reasonable market behaviors in Verizon v. FCC.

Now they appear on path yet again to learn in USTelecom v. FCC that the FCC does not have the authority to ban paid prioritization given that the FCC and the courts have never found it just and reasonable to compel a carrier to provide a service permanently for a price of zero.

Apparently net neutrality absolutists are desperate to find or manufacture a new net neutrality “problem” because their complaints against zero rating offerings like T-Mobile’s “Binge On,” AT&T’s “Sponsored Data,” or Verizon’s “FreeBee Data,” are fed with pretty thin gruel.

Apparently they also realize that it is PR thin ice to jump up and down in opposition to competitive companies giving consumers more choices to get more data for less cost, because isn’t that exactly what competition is supposed to produce?

That’s why those complaining about zero rating offerings are defaulting to their triple-carom-shot fear, and patently un-provable assertion, that broadband pricing freedom like zero rating, threatens to “tilt the playing field” in favor of big companies at the expense of entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Opponents of zero rating plans are increasingly looking like self-appointed barking guard dogs that chase and “catch” a car driving by, only to keep chasing and barking because they belatedly realize there is nothing else they can do.

Why?

For decades FCC/court Title II precedents have determined multiple forms of economic price discrimination to be in the public interest under Title II regulation.

Remember Title II was originally a law to regulate a government-sanctioned, national telephone monopoly. And the FCC established and the court affirmed that even a monopoly had the right to many pricing freedoms to operate a profitable business under Title II regulation.

How could the FCC possibly find that competitive companies could not price like a monopoly could price?

Consider just some of the many forms of economic price discrimination the FCC and courts have long ruled commercially reasonable: economic price discrimination between local service and long distance; between instate and interstate long distance; between different countries; between low and high volume users; between business and consumers; etc.

And Title II for decades has allowed and encouraged zero rating, toll-free plans like 1-800 sponsored phone service.

So be careful what you ask for.

Net neutrality absolutists asked for Title II regulation of the Internet, and now they are in the process of learning that Title II is ironically and actually a powerful legal protection against them getting the FCC to ban a zero rating offering because that likely would be found unjust and unreasonable under longstanding FCC/court precedent.

[Originally published at the Precursor Blog]

Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Weekly – World Mourns Loss of Climate Scientist Dr. Robert M. Carter

Somewhat Reasonable - January 22, 2016, 2:34 PM

If you don’t visit Somewhat Reasonable and the Heartlander digital magazine every day, you’re missing out on some of the best news and commentary on liberty and free markets you can find. But worry not, freedom lovers! The Heartland Weekly Email is here for you every Friday with a highlight show. Subscribe to the email today, and read this week’s edition below.

Dr. Robert M. Carter, R.I.P.
Joseph Bast, Somewhat Reasonable
Dr. Robert M. Carter, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this week. He was the author of two books and coauthor of three volumes in the Climate Change Reconsidered series, produced by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). Bob was the very embodiment of the “happy warrior” in the global warming debate. He was a scholar’s scholar, with impeccable credentials (including a Ph.D. from Cambridge), careful attention to detail, and a deep understanding of and commitment to the scientific method. READ MORE

Left Exposed: The Rockefeller Brothers Fund
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), one of the ten largest donors to anti-technology and left-leaning activists in the United States, specializes in “prescriptive grantmaking” to advance its ideological agenda rather than conducting an open and objective grant-application process. RBF funds or has funded virtually all the radical environmental groups in the United States and is responsible for the Left’s takeover of the environmental movement since the 1990s. READ MORE

Featured Podcast: Donn Dears’ New Book: Nothing to Fear
Policy advisor, author, and former energy executive Donn Dears joins Environment & Climate News Managing Editor H. Sterling Burnett to discuss his new book Nothing to Fear: A Bright Future for Fossil Fuels. Dears explains that mankind has the ability to withstand nearly everything mother nature may throw at it, so long as governments don’t institute policies that cripple its ability to respond to potential threats. LISTEN TO MORE

Inside the Chicago Public Schools Crisis
Tim Benson, Townhall
You’d have to look long and hard for a better example of a mismanaged and underperforming public-run school system than the Chicago Public Schools. Despite the fact that CPS teachers are the most highly compensated teachers in any major city, the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to go on strike during the 2016 spring semester. Most, if not all, of this would be forgivable if the system succeeded in adequately teaching Chicago students. It has not. READ MORE

New Book! Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming The Heartland Institute released at COP-21 in Paris its newest book on global warming: Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. The authors demolish the most pernicious myth in the global warming debate: that “97% of scientists” believe mankind is the cause of a global warming catastrophe. Scientists Craig Idso, Fred Singer, and Robert Carter critique the sources of this myth and present a summary of the physical science that makes it plain beyond any doubt that there is no global warming crisis. Go to Amazon.com or the Heartland store now and order a copy, or become a Heartland donor and get a free copy! READ MORE

Heartland Education Experts React to Potential Chicago Public School Bankruptcy
“In a move that redefines ‘quixotic,’ the rump GOP super-minority legislative caucus wants to allow the Chicago Public Schools to declare bankruptcy and put the district under state control,” said Heartland Senior Fellow Bruno Behrend. “This attempt to replace one Ponzi scheme with a larger, more bankrupt Ponzi scheme is another indicator of the lack of seriousness of Illinois politicians.” READ MORE

How ‘Freedom Frackers’ Are Liberating Saudi Arabia
Isaac Orr, Grand Forks Herald
The U.S. fracking boom has challenged the energy hegemony of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). While we enjoy the low prices that result from the fierce competition, countries like Saudi Arabia are feeling the heat. The Saudi kingdom has managed to keep demands for more political freedom at bay by spending billions of dollars on social welfare programs that provide free education and health care to all citizens. This strategy is unraveling as oil prices continue to fall and the country’s budget deficit continues to rise. READ MORE

PUC Out of Line in NV Energy’s Dispute with Casinos
James Taylor, Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Warren Buffett-owned (and misnamed) NV Energy – a public utility that provides electric service to much of Nevada – was granted a near-monopoly under Nevada law. The Nevada Public Utilities Commission is supposed to safeguard against this near-monopoly taking advantage of its customers but has not. The three largest Nevada casino companies, fed up with NV Energy’s high prices, are being hit $127 million in exit fees, a staggering sum, for the crime of wanting to purchase their electricity elsewhere. READ MORE

PPOs Are Going Extinct in Obamacare Marketplace
Justin Haskins, Consumer Power Report
It’s undeniable the health care system in America was not working as well as it needed to at the time President Barack Obama entered the White House. But Obamacare has made the health insurance marketplace even worse for most Americans. There are fewer quality options available today than at any time in recent history, and health insurance prices are rising at staggering rates. With fewer PPO plans on the market, a trend that will likely continue over the next few years, the situation for consumers will only get worse. READ MORE

Bonus Podcast: Erick Elder – Is Your State Preparing for the Next Economic Recession?
The stock market is off to a dreadful start this year and many think it’s only the beginning. Will your state be adequately prepared if we enter another recession?  Erick Elder, an economics professor at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, joins Budget & Tax News Managing Editor Jesse Hathaway to discuss a new Mercatus Center study about how state lawmakers are preparing for upcoming economic woes. LISTEN TO MORE

White House Finalizing Strict E-Cig ‘Deeming’ Rules
Robert Lurie, The Heartlander
In another example of the Obama administration using regulations to circumvent Congress and vastly expand federal authority, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is considering new federal regulations requiring all e-cigarette products to apply for federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, regardless of whether they are new products or previously created. The proposed FDA “deeming rule” would extend the agency’s tobacco regulatory authority to consumer products without tobacco, such as e-cigarettes. READ MORE

Invest in the Future of Freedom! Are you considering 2015 gifts to your favorite charities? We hope The Heartland Institute is on your list. Preserving and expanding individual freedom is the surest way to advance many good and noble objectives, from feeding and clothing the poor to encouraging excellence and great achievement. Making charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations dedicated to individual freedom is the most highly leveraged investment a philanthropist can make. Click here to make a contribution online, or mail your gift to The Heartland Institute, One South Wacker Drive, Suite 2740, Chicago, IL 60606. To request a FREE wills guide or to get more information to plan your future please visit My Gift Legacy http://legacy.heartland.org/ or contact Gwen Carver at 312/377-4000 or by email at gcarver@heartland.org.  
Categories: On the Blog

How ‘Freedom Frackers’ are Liberating Saudi Arabia

Somewhat Reasonable - January 22, 2016, 11:54 AM

Saudi Arabia is known for its vast reserves of oil. It’s also known for its oppressive political regime, which severely restricts the freedom of religious minorities and women.

Thus far, the Saudi royal family has maintained its highly oppressive form of government by pacifying its people with an extensive welfare state funded by oil money. But low oil prices brought about by hydraulic fracturing in the United States are forcing the monarchy to give the Saudi people more freedom in order to remain in power.

Just how oppressive is the Saudi government? Many of the liberties American citizens take for granted are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. For instance, many forms of speech are prohibited, and those who have spoken out against the Saudi government face prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Freedom of speech can truly exist only if the people are allowed to say things the government does not like.

Freedom of religion also is nonexistent in Saudi Arabia. Many Christian churches are illegal, and the Saudi religious police recently arrested 41 people for “plotting” to celebrate Christmas. Such conditions are unimaginable in the United States.

Women also suffer under royal rule. Saudi Arabia is famous for not allowing women to drive, but women are also prohibited from traveling without a male chaperone, interacting with men in public, swimming, or trying on clothes when shopping. Additionally, women represent just 16 percent of the workforce.

Saudi Arabia has managed to keep demands for more political freedom at bay by spending several billion dollars on social welfare programs that provide free education and health care to all citizens. These programs are widely seen as a means of pacifying the Saudi middle class and preventing an Arab Spring-style uprising.

Plummeting oil prices, however, endanger the Saudi government’s ability to provide these benefits.

Oil prices peaked at $115 per barrel in the summer of 2014. Since then, prices have plummeted to less than $40 per barrel — largely because the United States has nearly doubled its oil output since 2008 through the use of hydraulic fracturing — far below the price the Saudi government needs to balance its budget.

Saudi government officials initially believed the kingdom could withstand low oil prices because it had accumulated an $850 billion “rainy day fund,” but higher-than-expected spending has caused the Saudis to hemorrhage more money than anticipated.

By some estimates, Saudi Arabia could exhaust its foreign currency reserves—now roughly $640 billion—by 2020 without a big hike in oil prices or deep cuts in spending.

Spending cuts are already beginning to occur. Saudi Arabia raised the price of domestic fuel by up to 40 percent and reduced subsidies for gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, water and electricity. Further spending cuts to the welfare state, plus the introduction of new levies such as the income tax, could threaten the stability of the Saudi government.

Oil prices are not likely to recover enough to plug the Saudi budget gap in the near future, as U.S. oil producers stubbornly have found new ways to cut costs and maintain production — even at lower prices. Additionally, fracking operations can boost production very quickly for relatively little cost, which is not true for Saudi oil producers.

Although recent executions may be a sign the Saudi royal family is trying to tighten its grasp on the population, there are some signs reforms are coming to the ultra-Islamic state. Women were allowed to vote for the first time ever in December 2015, and other civil and political freedoms for average Saudis are likely to follow as “freedom frackers” continue to pump oil from American soil, loosening the grip the Saudi theocracy has on its populace.

Fracking and the low-cost energy it produces strengthen the United States both at home and abroad.

[Originally published at the Grand Forks Herald]

Categories: On the Blog

PUC Out of Line in NV Energy’s Dispute with Casinos

Somewhat Reasonable - January 22, 2016, 11:48 AM

Nevada’s public utilities watchdog appears to be refereeing the impasse between Warren Buffett-owned NV Energy and several Nevada casinos with the expertise and objectivity of a professional wrestling referee. This brings up a question: Why is the Nevada Public Utilities Commission giving away the candy store to out-of-state (and misnamed) NV Energy while vindictively sticking it to Nevada’s largest job creator?

In return for being granted a near-monopoly under Nevada law, NV Energy must subject its major business decisions to the approval of the PUC. The PUC, in turn, is supposed to act as a watchdog on behalf of individuals and businesses that purchase power from NV Energy and is supposed to ensure NV Energy, owned by billionaire Nebraska stock speculator Buffett, does not take advantage of its near-monopoly status to put its customers at a disadvantage.

The state Legislature has granted customers an out clause from NV Energy, but has authorized the PUC to assess discretionary exit fees on those who leave. The exit fee, determined by the PUC, is supposed to compensate NV Energy for any increased costs the utility would incur as a result of the customer leaving. The very existence of an exit fee is controversial, because customers wouldn’t be looking elsewhere if NV Energy provided cost-competitive electricity.

Regardless of the wisdom of the exit fee provision, state law directs PUC to set the exit fee at a reasonable and compensatory amount, rather than a punitive sum. Three large Nevada casino companies, who are the foremost jobs creators in the state and whose bottom lines are extremely vulnerable to unnecessarily high electricity prices, are fed up with NV Energy’s high prices and have petitioned NV Energy of their desire to buy their electricity elsewhere.

Despite their requests, the PUC ruled in December that MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts would have to pay a staggering $127 million in exit fees to purchase their electricity elsewhere. The PUC sided with NV Energy on virtually every contested fee calculation, no matter how farfetched the asserted harm to NV Energy.

Lost in the news coverage about the $127 million in exit fees are additional poison pills, apparently added out of vindictiveness. The most draconian of these provisions forbids the casinos from purchasing power that previously came from resources controlled by NV Energy.

NV Energy, like many other utilities, often sells excess electricity in wholesale commodity markets. Utilities and power providers purchase excess electricity from each other, rather than generating additional, unnecessary electricity. Stretching its powers far beyond what the Legislature intended, the PUC has unilaterally ruled any power provider selling electricity to a casino seeking to leave NV Energy must guarantee and document that none of the electricity it sells to the casino was ever connected to NV Energy or its generation equipment. For all practical purposes, this restriction makes it almost impossible for anybody other than NV Energy to sell electricity to the casinos, directly contradicting the Legislature’s purpose of granting customers an out clause from NV Energy.

It is no secret NV Energy invests millions of dollars each year in full-time lobbyists in Carson City. The utility is, by most accounts, the most powerful lobbying outfit in the state. Those lobbying efforts are predictably focused on influencing the PUC. Still, the PUC can only do what the Legislature says it can do, and PUC commissioners serve only four years, unless they are re-appointed by the governor.

The PUC’s three commissioners — Paul Thomsen, Alaina Burtenshaw, and David Noble, all appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval — might be serving their own interests by giving NV Energy lobbyists every single request they desire against Nevada’s largest jobs creators. But don’t be surprised if Nevada policymakers and their constituents make this outrage a public policy priority and fire back soon, with some common-sense reforms that the PUC and NV Energy will not like.

[Originally published at the Las Vegas Review-Journal]

Categories: On the Blog

In The Tank Podcast (ep22): Top 10 Questions Libertarians Are Frequently Asked

Somewhat Reasonable - January 22, 2016, 11:11 AM

In episode #22 of the In The Tank Podcast, Hosts Donny Kendal and John Nothdurft answer the top 10 questions libertarians are frequently asked. This weekly podcast features (as always) interviews, debates, roundtable discussions, stories, and light-hearted segments on a variety of topics on the latest news. The show is available for download as part of the Heartland Daily Podcast every Friday.

In today’s episode of In The Tank, Donny and John begin with a talk about a handful of recent articles on global warming. A recent study shows that rising CO2 is making forests more resilient. Also, a new theory suggests people are too depressed about the doom associated with global warming to what to do anything about it. Donny and John then take on the top 10 questions libertarians are frequently asked. They are as follows…

  1. So, you’re an anarchist?
  2. You must really like Ron Paul, huh?
  3. Are you a Republican or a Democrat
  4. So, you don’t care about the environment?
  5. So, you don’t care about the poor?
  6. You must smoke pot, right?
  7. You don’t want any regulations?
  8. Who will build the roads?
  9. Do you like sweatshops?
  10. Do you hate democracy?

I hope you’ll listen in, subscribe, and leave a review for our podcast on iTunes. We welcome your feedback in our new show’s inbox at InTheTankPodcast@gmail.com or follow us on twitter @InTheTankPod.

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

 

Categories: On the Blog

Tax Burdens From Renewable Energy Sources are Large

Somewhat Reasonable - January 22, 2016, 10:00 AM

The Department of Energy announced state revenue from severance taxes dropped as the price of crude oil falls below $30 per bushel.  The following charts show tax revenue for 6 states.

Source: Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Quarterly Summary of

Source: Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Quarterly Summary of State and Local Taxes
Note: In Wyoming, revenue collections are due in February, and third quarter payments not required.

Fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas pay severance taxes to state and federal governments.  Income taxes to local, state, and federal governments and applicable property taxes.  Annual revenues are tens of billions.

With all the promotion of renewable energy sources of solar, wind, ethanol from corn, and other biofuels; it is important to reflect do these sources pay severance taxes?  Or for that matter do they pay any taxes?  The answer is a resounding no.  Fossil fuels are not a drain on taxpayers.  Renewable energy sources are a great drain on taxpayers due to subsidies for their production, lack of tax revenue from their products, and loss of fossil fuel tax revenue from fossil fuels they replace.

The policy of the Obama Administration of replacing a valuable commodity of fossil fuels that creates wealth with renewable energy sources that consumes wealth may be the reason for the economic malaise befalling the United States the past half dozen years.  Total losses may be hundreds of billions annually.

Categories: On the Blog

Alleged ‘Consumer Groups’ Oppose Consumers Getting Stuff from Anyone but Government

Somewhat Reasonable - January 21, 2016, 4:54 PM

One thing at which the Left is very good is naming things – so as to hide and obfuscate what these things actually do. Because if they admitted what these things actually do – they would poll…well, right where Congress is polling.

But one obvious example: ObamaCare’s official name is “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Which isn’t particularly accurate.

“Patient Protection?” President Barack Obama – the law’s fake namesake – incessantly (and knowingly fraudulently) said “If you like your doctor/plan – you can keep your doctor/plan.” More patients have lost their insurance than received insurance under the law.

“Affordable Care?” President Obama incessantly (and knowingly fraudulently) promised families a $2,500-per-year reduction in premiums. Premiums have instead rocketed skyward. And as the law is more fully implemented – the increases keep getting worse. 2016 will be dramatically worse than 2015. Which was worse than 2014. Which was worse….

So when the Left-Media-Complex parades out “Consumer Groups” – grab your wallets.

The Media rarely if ever identify Leftist entities as Leftist – instead assigning them non-ideological descriptives. Often, it is the ridiculous “consumer interest group” – as if the anti-free market side of the equation is pro-consumer, and the defenders of freedom are against the purchasing public.

Never mind that no one is more pro-consumer than a private company – after all, they are the ones trying to please as many consumers as possible. It would then stand to reason that the organizations defending private companies from government overreach are pro-consumer.

Because these “consumer interest groups” are in fact “government interest groups” – every solution” they push results in larger, more interfering government. Which is about as anti-consumer as you can get.

The Left knows this – which is why they co-opt private sector terms to describe what government does. To wit: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) farcically refers to conscripted (and ideologically harangued) taxpaying subjects as…“customers.”

One of the few downsides of the Internet – is our domestic Leftists can now very easily export their inanity. Especially egregious is when they manage to stomp out budding shoots of free market freedom in Third World countries already almost totally in the grips of their governments – and the resulting destitution.

To wit: Facebook has tried to give…potentially billions of poor Third World people – free Internet access. Our domestic “consumer groups” oppose the private sector – so they oppose this private sector move to liberate these people.

Mark Zuckerberg’s plan for world domination is in trouble.

The billionaire Facebook founder recently took to his social network in a bid to save Internet.org, his plan to give billions of the planet’s poorest people a limited taste of the World Wide Web.

What a jerk Zuckerberg is. (He is awful on a great many policy positions – but not here.)

So the Left blocked his free Internet service in India. And even more obnoxiously, ended free service for millions of Egyptians – whom Facebook had already connected.

Zuckerberg’s “plan for world domination” is…a little overwrought, no? If he gets billions of offline people online – that’s not domination, that’s a global public service of titanic proportions.

And God bless capitalism and the private sector – you can bet other huge companies like Google and Amazon will be watching how Facebook does. And if they see an opportunity, they will try to do what Facebook is doing – better than Facebook is doing it. Not domination – competition.

These competing private sector actions will – again, for billions of people – be rungs on the ladder up and out of abject poverty. But these “consumer groups” – have preemptively sawed down said ladder.

You know what entity actually wants to dominate the world? Government. Inherent-monopoly, all-encompassing government. Human history is replete with examples of government not treating its victims citizens very well. The Soviet Union? Communist China? North Korea?  How’s ObamaCare doing for our citizenry? How’s the IRS treating our citizens whose political views they don’t like?

World-domination-seeking governments messing with Internet access is absolutely a terrible idea. To wit: China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia,….

Do “consumer groups” – like the Media Marxist joint Free Press – acknowledge this? Of course not. They are some of the biggest world-domination-government Internet cheerleaders going. They desperately want government to provide Internet access. (Note: They of course don’t name it “government broadband.” Instead it’s “community broadband” or “municipal broadband.”)

Broad-Based Groups Band Together to Support Community Broadband Choices

“Broad-based groups” – ranging from Left…to very-far-Left.

Free Press Lauds ‘Community Broadband Act of 2007′

Which went nowhere in a Democrat-controlled Congress – because it’s just that terrible an idea. Which meant:

Free Press Action Fund Welcomes the Community Broadband Act (2015)

Wonder how that will go in a Republican-controlled Congress? Not well, so of course the Media Marxists cheerlead world-domination-government’s unilateral fiats.

The FCC’s All-Too-Welcome Move on Municipal Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – steamrolling states’ laws. How very federalism. The government-growing ends – by any means necessary.

Community Broadband Kicks Comcast to the Curb

And that’s the ultimate end. Eradicate the private sector – and replace it with government. As articulated by Free Press’s co-founder Robert McChesney – an avowed Marxist and college professor (please pardon the redundancy).

(T)he ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.

So for the uber-Left “consumer groups,” free Internet isn’t the problem – free Internet from the private sector is. World-domination-government providing “free” Internet – is for them just fine. And the ultimate, all-encompassing objective.

But as we know from reams of history: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” The cost is currently being paid by billions of impoverished Third Worlders – who these “consumer groups” are preventing from receiving free private sector Internet access.

These Leftist fetishists will instead make them wait for government. No matter how long it takes – no matter how awful it will inexorably be.

[Originally published at Red State]

Categories: On the Blog

Cosmic Cycles, not Carbon Dioxide, Control Climate

Somewhat Reasonable - January 21, 2016, 4:45 PM

Those who think the political war on carbon will cool the globe or keep climate stable need to study climate history.

Temperatures on Earth dance to a cyclic rhythm every hour, every day, every month, every season, every year, and to every beat of the sun-spot and glacial cycles.

The daily solar cycle causes continual changes in temperature for every spot on Earth. It produces the frosts at dawn, the mid-day heat and the cooling at sunset. It is regulated by rotation of the Earth.

Superimposed on the daily solar cycle is the monthly lunar cycle, driven by the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. These two cycles interact to produce variations in atmospheric pressure and tides, and currents in the oceans and the atmosphere. These are the daily weather makers.

The yearly seasonal cycle is caused as the tilted axis of Earth’s rotation affects the intensity of solar energy received by each hemisphere. This produces spring, summer, autumn and winter for every spot on Earth.

Then there is the 22 year sun-spot cycle, which correlates with cycles of floods and droughts. Sunspot cycles are indicators of solar activity which causes periods of global warming and cooling.

Earth’s climate is also disrupted periodically by the effects of changing winds, ocean hot spots and submarine volcanism that produce the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

The least recognised but most dangerous climate cycle is the glacial cycle. We live in the Holocene Epoch, the latest brief warm phase of the Pleistocene Ice Age. The climate history of the Holocene, and its predecessor the Eemian, are well documented in ice core logs and other records in the rocks. Each cycle consists of a glacial age of about 80,000 years followed by a warmer age of about 20,000 years, with peak warming occurring over about 12,000 years. Our modern warm era commenced 12,000 years ago, so it is probably nearing its end.

There have been eight warm eras separated by long glacial winters over the last 800,000 years of the Pleistocene. In every beat of this cycle, the vast ice sheets melt, sea levels rise dramatically, coral reefs and coastal settlements are drowned, and forests and animals re-colonise the higher land released from the ice. Warm climate animals such as hippos, water buffaloes and elephants got as far north as Germany in the last warm era. Then suddenly the ice returned, covering the northern hemisphere as far south as Chicago and London, destroying the forests, lowering the seas, stranding the relocated coral reefs and eliminating unprepared species. (Some dopey grizzly bears got stranded in the Arctic Ice and the most enterprising of them survived to evolve into white grizzlies now called polar bears.)

This regular repetition of natural climate change is partially explained by the Milankovitch cycles relating to changes in Earth’s precession, orbit and tilt. These drive variations in solar energy received by Earth and have the greatest temperature effect on the large land masses of the Northern Hemisphere.

On an even longer time scale, oscillation of the solar system through the plane of the Galaxy seems to trigger magnetic reversals and violent spasms of volcanism, crustal movements glaciation and species extinction. Earth is never still for long.

What about the role of carbon dioxide in climate? Al Gore did a great job to dramatise the recurring glacial cycles in his widely acclaimed work of science fiction. But he missed two inconvenient truths.

First, ice cores show that in the glacial spring-time the temperature rose BEFORE the CO2 levels rose. Therefore the rising CO2 cannot be a CAUSE of the warming – it is a RESULT of CO2 being expelled from the warming oceans.

Second, at the top of every summer-time in the glacial cycle, the high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were unable to prevent the cooling into the next cycle of ice.

We are already in the autumn of the current glacial cycle and nothing man can do will change that. Global temperatures today are lower than they were in Roman and Medieval times. They will still fluctuate with the effects of daily, lunar, yearly and sun-spot cycles, but the long-term trend of maximum and minimum temperatures will continue drifting downwards. Once summer temperatures in places like Siberia are unable to melt last winter’s snow, the already growing glaciers will join to form ice sheets and Earth will once again be gripped by another long Glacial Winter.

The transition from Greenhouse Earth to Icehouse Earth always occurs suddenly. Once our verdant greenhouse is gone, life of Earth will never be the same again.

The warm days, seasons, years and epochs have never been a deadly threat to life on Earth. Frost, snow, hail and ice are the killers. If our descendants do not have the energy, resources and wisdom to keep their people warm and fed through the coming glacial epoch, humans may follow our Neanderthal cousins who perished in the last glacial winter, just 20,000 years ago.

It is a wonder of the modern era that people who cannot accurately forecast next weekend’s weather claim they can regulate the temperature of the whole globe by bashing industry and taxing carbon.

There is NO evidence in climate history that carbon dioxide has a detectable effect on global temperatures. However if our continued use of cheap reliable hydro-carbon energy does slightly delay the onset of the next glacial winter, we and all life on Earth should count ourselves extremely lucky.

Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – Bette Grande: $1.6 Trillion Omnibus Bill and Lifting Oil Export Ban

Somewhat Reasonable - January 21, 2016, 4:23 PM

Fiscal conservatives had mixed emotions, to say the least, about the $1.6 trillion omnibus budget bill that was corralled through Congress by Republicans and Democrats alike. Among the few bright spots of this pork-laden spending package was a provision to lift the crude oil export ban which has been in effect since the Carter administration.

Heartland Institute Research Fellows Bette Grande and Isaac Orr discuss the impact lifting the crude oil export ban will have on oil production in the United States, and how it may influence politics globally. In addition, Grande and Orr talk about the hefty cost taxpayers will dish out for the renewable energy subsidies that were attached to the bill by Democrats as a condition for supporting oil exports.

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

Categories: On the Blog

Forrest McDonald, R.I.P.

Somewhat Reasonable - January 21, 2016, 3:36 PM

Forrest McDonald (1927-2016)

Another loss to our movement. Forrest McDonald, an eminent historian and social critic, passed away at the age of 89. News of it from a Philadelphia Society email today appears below:

It is with a grieving heart that I write to inform you that our Distinguished Member Forrest McDonald died on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, at the Hospice of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  Ellen was at his side and reports that he died peacefully and was not in pain.

Born in Orange, Texas, on January 7, 1927, McDonald marked his 89th birthday earlier this month.

One of the foremost historians of the U.S. Constitution and the early national period, McDonald earned his Ph.D. in history in 1955 from the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied with Fulmer Mood.  He taught at Brown University (1959-67), Wayne State University (1967-76), and the University of Alabama (1976-2002).  In 1987 the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded McDonald the Thomas Jefferson Lectureship.  McDonald had long been critical on Constitutional grounds of the Endowment, and he accepted the honor, but had to devise a circuitous scheme to avoid accepting the monetary award that accompanied it.

McDonald served as President of The Philadelphia Society from 1988-90, and as Trustee of the Society for three terms, 1983-86, 1988-91, and 1994-97. In 2010, the Society paid special tribute to McDonald at a Saturday evening dinner at the National Constitution Center co-hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Young America’s Foundation.  Those tributes may be listened to here.

I met McDonald a few times at Philadelphia Society events and got to hear him hold forth on his deep knowledge of American history. He was heads and shoulders above other historians in the room… and the room was filled with folks who prided themselves on knowing American history. His presentations were dense with facts and insights.

We have several of his books in our library, though not all of them. His bibliography, taken from his Conservapedia entry, follows:

We The People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution (University of Chicago Press, 1958; new ed. Transaction, 1992)

Insull (University of Chicago Press, 1962)

E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic (Houghton-Mifflin, 1965; new ed., Liberty Press, 1979)

The Presidency of George Washington (University Press of Kansas, 1974, paperback ed., 1985)

The Phaeton Ride: The Crisis of American Success (Doubleday, 1974)

The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson (University Press of Kansas, 1976; paperback ed., 1987)

Alexander Hamilton: A Biography (Norton, 1979; paperback ed., 1980)

The American People, textbook with David Burner and Eugene D. Genovese; Revisionary Press, 1980

Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (University Press of Kansas, 1985; paperback ed., 1987)

Requiem: Variations on Eighteenth-Century Themes (University Press of Kansas, 1988), with Ellen Shapiro McDonald

The American Presidency: An Intellectual History (University Press of Kansas, 1994; paperback ed., 1995)

States Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876 (University Press of Kansas, 2000)

Recovering the Past: A Historian’s Memoir (2004), autobiography

Categories: On the Blog

You Want to be Pro-Environment? You Want Less Government Everywhere

Somewhat Reasonable - January 21, 2016, 10:21 AM

It should not come as a galloping shock to…well, most of the planet – that American farms are a bit more sophisticated and technologically advanced than…well, most of the planet. Our farms are far more efficient – and thus far better on the environment.

And this is where the Environmental Left goes off the rails. The economic advancement they decry – is the economic advancement that allows for our vastly better treatment of the bits of land we use to farm (and every other bit).

Americans are one of the world’s few peoples who can afford to care about the environment. A Third World resident who hasn’t eaten for three days and drinks water from a sewer – doesn’t care quite so much about mythical problems like climate change.

The more efficient farms are – the “greener” is the planet. Because they can maximize their use of the least amount of natural resources (land and water being but two major examples). Which is what the Environmentalists claim they want.

Except Environmentalists don’t actually want that. What they are really all about – is anti-capitalism. (Earth Day’s date? Vladimir Lenin’s birthday.) What they want is economic regression. Back to a day when farmers were much less efficient – and MUCH harder on the environment.

The thing is, we have visual aides of what they want – all over the world. And these visual aides are environmental horror shows – in nations that are environmental horror shows. Because they are inefficient nightmare messes.

Yaa Amekudzi bounces along dirt roads in a sport-utility vehicle from one village to the next as part of a $1 billion scramble by the world’s top chocolate makers to fix the industry’s most vexing problem….

(C)ocoa production is down, including a steep slide last year in Ghana, the second-largest cocoa-growing country. Cocoa prices have jumped nearly 40% since the start of 2012.

As a result, the pressure is on Amekudzi and her team of five employees at Mondelez International Inc., the maker of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars and Oreo cookies, to help cocoa farmers boost their dwindling crop yields.

“They need to change the way they farm,” says Amekudz….

Similar instructions to farmers in neighboring Ivory Coast, the world’s No. 1 cocoa grower, have helped produce back-to-back record crops, companies say. But average crop yields are just one-third as big as they could be if all cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast followed good agricultural practices.

The problems worry the industry so much that 10 of the largest chocolate producers and cocoa processors agreed in 2014 to begin sharing with each other a wide swath of private data on farming practices and crop yields. The move was unprecedented.

“Good agricultural practices” – are the practices of farms here in America. The $1 billion these desperate cocoa companies are spending – is to spread the word about what we’re doing here.

And here’s the irony: This private money is being spent to mitigate the damage being done by billions and billions of government dollars – being spent subsidizing said slovenly, anti-environment farming.

As but one example: a product near and dear to these cocoa companies – sugar. Global sugar-producing farms are for the most part regressed, anti-environment messes – microcosms of their regressed, anti-environment nations.

Why are these farms stuck in the past? Because their governments are. These governments – in 20th Century, centralized-style – spend billions and billions of dollars subsidizing their sugar status quos, In effect bailing them out for their inefficiencies – and locking those inefficiencies in.

Human nature: If you pay someone to do something – they’ll keep doing it. And others will join them in doing it. These governments have paid a LOT of coin for inefficient, anti-environment farming. It is no shock that the world suffers so much of it.

Thankfully for these desperate cocoa companies – and anyone else who likes to eat food – there is a bigger, broader solution to this problem. We should sit down with these nations – and free trade away their ridiculous farm programs. In exchange for us free trading away ours.

And not just with sugar (See: Florida Republican Congressman Ted Yoho’s “Zero-for-Zero” Resolution). But with every crop and product farms produce – and governments warp with stupid programs.

It is the efficient, pro-environment, pro-humanity thing to do.

[Originally published at Red State]

Categories: On the Blog

How Lithuania Helped Take Down The Soviet Union

Somewhat Reasonable - January 20, 2016, 4:21 PM

This year, 2016, will mark the twentieth-fifth anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union from the political map of the world. A quarter of a century ago, the menace of Soviet-led communism, which had haunted the globe since the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, disintegrated from within and passed into the dustbin of history.

The Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe that Stalin had imposed in the aftermath of Second World War began to crumble in 1989 and 1990, as the communist regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania were replaced with democratic-oriented governments.

The collapse of the Iron Curtain that had divided the European continent since 1945 was symbolized most dramatically with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989. (See my article, “The Berlin Wall and the Spirit of Freedom.”)

The, then, head of the Soviet Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, was hailed in the West as an enlightened communist reformer who wished to create a new Soviet “socialism-with-a-human-face.”

He was also praised as a man of peace who was allowing the Eastern European “captive nations” to go free, when the threat or use of Soviet military force – like had been used in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 – could have, once again, crushed the dreams of the people in these lands finally to be free.

A Corrupt System Rotting from the Inside

The reality was that the Soviet Union was finished. I was traveling to the Soviet Union fairly regularly in its last years doing consulting work on market reform and privatization. What was clear was that the Soviet system was like a giant tree that had been eaten away from the inside.

Outwardly, it appeared immovable, but inside there was nothing but rot. All the power-structures remained in place: a large bureaucracy overseeing a vast government-owned and managed economy; the Communist Party with its tentacles of monopoly control all around the country; and the dreaded KGB, the secret police, maintaining its omnipresence throughout every corner of Soviet society.

But beneath the surface, the system had been eaten away. Soviet ideology had neither true believers nor idealistic adherents. At the same time, both the rulers and the ruled knew that the system ultimately could not be saved in its existing form. All that drove those who controlled and managed the bureaucracy and the Party was the fear of losing the power and the special privileges a communist dictatorship had put into their hands.

Empty Food Stores in Moscow, 1990

Whether it was in the dirty government-run food shops with their empty shelves, or in the dilapidated taxicabs with their gruff drivers behind the wheel, or in the homes of the Moscow intelligentsia, all you heard was anger, resentment and hatred for what seventy-odd years of communist rule had produced. Wasted, destructive and cruel years: that was the epitaph that almost every Russian verbalized in summarizing twentieth century Soviet history.

It was a totalitarian collectivist system that had attempted to remake human beings into “new socialist men,” and in the process had murdered well over 60 million men, women and children through execution, torture, starvation or forced labor in concentration camps, known as the GULAG, that stretched from one end of the Soviet Union’s vast territory to the other. (See my article, “The Human Cost of Socialism in Power.”)

A Crumbing Empire Determined to Preserve the Soviet Union

The Soviet retreat from its Eastern European communist empire was not an act of generous benevolence by a global great power. The fact was that any attempt to maintain Moscow’s political grip on these countries would have shattered the economic viability of the Soviet Union, itself. The cost of military force and direct day-to-day indefinite occupation of these Eastern European countries would have drained the Soviet Union of its remaining strength.

The economic reforms that Gorbachev had started to introduce following his ascendency to Communist Party leadership in the Soviet hierarchy in 1985, generally, had been an abysmal failure. Being neither real market reform nor the traditional rigid structure of total socialist central planning, it produced economic chaos, new layers of corruption and bribery, and political fears and uncertainties.

But there was one thing that both old-fashioned Communist Party “hardliners” and Gorbachev-style “reformers” were united about and agreed upon, that loss of the Empire would not extend into the Soviet Union, itself.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – the formal name of the Soviet Union – was comprised of fifteen national “republics,” of which the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic was the largest and the center of communist power. The other “Soviet Republics” were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Each of these non-Russian Soviet republics had its own national Communist Party leader; but invariably, the second in command in these fourteen other divisions of the Soviet Union was a Russian. The sham Soviet constitution talked about national autonomy and ethnic and linguistic diversity, but in fact the entire Communist Party and bureaucratic structures in these “republics” were dominated, overseen and controlled by Russians.

Lithuania and the Demands for National Independence

In each of these republics there was varying degrees of anger and resentment with both Soviet ideology and Russian linguistic, cultural, and national domination. But especially and always, there was anger and resentment against Russian domination.

Such resentments and anger were, probably, the most intense in the three Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In February 1990, an election was held in Lithuania, with a non-communist parliamentary majority coming to power. On March 11, 1990, that new parliament declared Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union, and announced that Lithuanian law took precedence over Soviet law, with Lithuanian youth no longer having to serve in the Soviet military.

Gorbachev’s response was immediate and uncompromising. Lithuanian independence would not be recognized, and he imposed an economic embargo on Lithuania in an attempt to bring the little republic to its knees. The embargo backfired, with virtually the entire Lithuanian population of three million people undertaking peaceful public demonstrations to show their determination to not give into Moscow’s manipulations. They were willing to pay the economic price for freedom.

Lithuanian Rally for Independence, 1990

Lithuania is an ancient nation, with a distinct culture, language and customs. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, United with Poland in 1386, the Polish-Lithuanian state was wiped off the map of Europe when is was carved up and annexed by Prussia, Austria and Russia in a series of partitions in the late eighteenth century.

Lithuania reclaimed its national independence as a constitutional republic in 1918, as the First World War was coming to an end, along with the other Baltic Republics of Estonia and Latvia. The national freedom of these three small republics was taken away in 1940, when they were annexed by the Soviet Union under Stalin’s orders.

Lithuania the Victim of Hitler and Stalin’s Plunder Pact

Since many may be unfamiliar with how Lithuania and the two other Baltic Republics lost their independence it is worthwhile to briefly review the history. On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact in Moscow. Declaring peace and closer economic ties between the two totalitarian powers, the pact contained a secret protocol to carve up Eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin.

Nazi-Soviet Division of Eastern Europe, 1939-1940

If a war broke out, Poland would be divided between the two countries. On September 1, 1939, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland from the West, and on September 17, 1939, Stalin ordered the invasion of Poland from the East. Before the end of the month Poland had ceased to exist, and was again wiped off the map of Europe.

The secret protocol (and then a revision in it) also contained a clause that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Finland were in the Soviet “sphere of influence” and therefore, handed over to Stalin’s tender care.

In October 1939, the three Baltic Republics were forced to sign “mutual assistance” treaties with the Soviet Union establishing Soviet bases in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with the stationing of large numbers of Soviet military forces in the three countries. Stalin tried the same strong-arm tactics with Finland, but the Finns chose to resist, with a war breaking out in November 1939 that lasted for six months until in March 1940, when the Finns were compelled to accept peace terms; the Finns lost large portions of borderlands to the Soviet Union.

In May 1940, the stage was set for the formal annexation of the Baltic Republics. Stalin demanded a change in the governments of the three countries, with political figures more to Moscow’s liking. In June 1940, the charade was ended, with the Soviet Army invading and fully occupying the three nations, and their official annexation into the Soviet Union in July 1940.

Immediately, the Soviet secret police and army went to work rounding up, arresting and deporting “enemies of the people.” In the end, including after the Soviet reoccupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the end of the Second World War, 500,000 people from the Baltic Republics were sent off to the slave labor camps of the GULAG, and another 150,000 were outright executed as “class enemies.”

Baltic Republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania

Lithuania Demands Independence from the Soviet Union

For the entire post-World War II period, the Soviet government insisted that the Baltic Republics had joined the Soviet Union of their own free choice. But in 1989, Gorbachev finally admitted the existence of the secret protocol to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, with its agreement to view the three countries as fair game for Stalin.

For the Lithuanians, this showed before the world that their loss of national independence in 1940 had been an act of brutal power politics by the two totalitarian tyrants. This justified their re-declaration of independence in 1990, and an insistence before the world that their freedom had been taken away fifty years earlier through an act of outright Soviet aggression.

Having not succeeded in getting the Lithuanians to back down as a result with the imposition of that economic embargo, Gorbachev and the Communist Party leadership feared that Lithuania’s defiance of Moscow’s dictates would set an example for other Soviet republics, fears that were well founded due to similar demands for independence in other parts of the Soviet Union.

Soviet Power and Lithuania’s “Bloody Sunday”

Twenty-five years ago, in January 1991, the Soviet government attempted to intimidate the Lithuanians through a show of military force, especially in the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius. When the Lithuanian government and people continued their defiance, the Soviet government decided to crush Lithuania’s freedom movement by force.

I was in Vilnius, Lithuania at precisely that time, meeting with members of the Lithuanian parliament, presenting an agenda for the full transformation and privatization of the Lithuanian economy into a free market system.

Rumors of Soviet plans to occupy government buildings, seize all communication facilities, and arrest the leadership of the non-communist government resulted in huge crowds of people surrounding the government buildings and communication sites.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 13, 1991, the sound of cannon fire echoed across Vilnius. The hotel I was staying at was less than a quarter of a mile from the Lithuanian radio and television stations. I joined the crowd that had formed to defend the radio station in the face of a large force of Soviet paratroopers advancing toward the building.

Lithuanian Freedom Fighter Crushed by Soviet Tank

The crowd of defenders began to chant over and over again, “Lietuva! Lietuva! Lietuva!” (“Lithuania! Lithuania! Lithuania!”) The KGB-commanded paratroopers moved toward the crowd, their machine guns pointed directly at the unarmed defenders of the radio station. And still the Lithuanians stood, undaunted, repeating their chant, “Lietuva, Lietuva.”

The paratroopers moved forward until they were face-to-face with the crowd. The two groups were now so close that the machine gun muzzles were in our chests, and still the people would not move. Orders were barked out by the Soviet officers, and the paratroopers began to fire their weapons above our heads. And still the people would not give way.

Finally, another order was barked out, and the paratroopers waded into us, beating people with the butts of their machine guns and with clubs. Only then, under these direct physical blows of brute Soviet power, did the people give way. Dozens lay on the ground bleeding or unconscious from the beatings. Those Lithuanians unharmed helped the wounded.

The paratroopers swarmed into the radio and television stations, beating up all those in the buildings and stealing their money and jewelry in the process, before throwing them out of the facilities.

Three miles away at the Lithuanian television transmission tower, the same acts were being repeated. Only here the consequences were far more deadly, as I witnessed when I arrived there. Two people were crushed under the treads of Soviet tanks. The paratroopers fired pointblank at Lithuanians who were in the transmission tower building and the surrounding grounds. A dozen people fell dead under the hail of bullets, with scores more wounded.

Richard Ebeling at Vilnius Television Tower after Soviet Tank Attack

In spite of the Soviets seizing the radio and television facilities, Lithuania’s democratically elected president, Vytautas Landsbergus, broadcast to the nation telling them to offer no armed resistance, but instead to face Soviet power through peaceful, civil disobedience. Right and morality were on their side, he assured the people. Lithuania, he promised, would be free.

In the center of Vilnius, at the Parliament building, tens of thousands of Lithuanians were standing vigil to protect this symbol of their declared new national independence. This ocean of unarmed Lithuanian men, women and children were, themselves, surrounded by a huge force of Soviet military units.

Thus ended Lithuania’s “Bloody Sunday,” as it soon came to be called.

“Business as Usual” as More Defiance of Soviet Power

But the Lithuanian government was determined to continue “business as usual” as one more demonstration of defiance against Soviet brutality and intimidation. A colleague and I met with the members of the Lithuanian Parliament the next day, on Monday, January 14, 1991.

We had to weave our way through the concrete barricades and heavy industrial equipment that had been placed around the Parliament building to help hold off a possible Soviet assault. Inside the Parliament building the corridors were crowded with 2,000 young Lithuanians who had taken an oath to defend the building to the death.

In the Parliament meeting room, we presented to the deputies our four-point program for the rapid freeing of prices and wages; the privatization of all state enterprises (banking, industry, agriculture and retail stores); reforms in the legal framework of Lithuania for the recognition, specification, and enforcement of private property rights and contracts; and the opening of Lithuania to international trade and foreign direct investment as soon as politically possible.

In February 1991, a referendum was held in Lithuania asking, “Do you agree that the Lithuanian state should be an independent, democratic republic?” About 85 percent of eligible voters participated and 90 percent said yes. In neighboring Estonia and Latvia, similar referenda were held in early March 1991with equally high voter turn out and assent for national independence as democratic republics.

Funeral for Lithuanian Victim of Soviet Attack

A Phony Soviet Election and the Beginning-of-the-End

Gorbachev attempted to counteract this by holding his own Soviet-wide referendum in mid-March 1991, asking whether or not the preservation of the Soviet Union was essential. Canadian and British polling observers reported that they saw Russian and Ukrainian voters voting early and voting often! When the polling authorities were asked why certain people had been given multiple ballots, they replied that these individual’s were also voting for their bed-ridden relatives and friends.

But even with a rigged election, affirmative votes in the Soviet Union as a whole as well as in the Russian Soviet Republic and Ukraine were only in the 70s percentage range. Voter opposition to the continuation of the Soviet Union must have been massive if even with a “fixed” vote, support for the system would only be manipulated in the 70s percentage range, in a regime in which 99 percent affirmative votes for whatever the Communist Party wanted had been the routine for seventy years.

This explains why Gorbachev and the Communist Party apparatus struck out at Lithuania. The Lithuanians had been at the vanguard in the movement for freedom in the Soviet Union. They had elected a non-communist government in free elections, had declared their national independence from Soviet rule, and strongly affirmed their intention of reversing a half-century of socialist central planning through privatization and free market reforms.

Lithuania’s defiance in the face of a Soviet economic embargo, political pressures and threats, and finally direct violence, brutality and murder twenty-five years ago on January 13, 1991, was like that proverbial stone that starts down the mountain and finally brings a destructive avalanche.

Through its resistance, defiance and, finally, unbreakable courage in the face of naked force, little Lithuania helped bring down the Goliath of Soviet power before the end of 1991.

[Originally published at Epic Times]

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