American Schools Failing Our Children

This is what you get when a near government monopoly — subject not only to the manipulations of labor unions that treat schools as a job-entitlement program, but also the political whims of activists — controls a nation’s education system for decades:

U.S. millennials, defined as people 16 to 34 years old, were supposed to be different. They’re digital natives. They get it. High achievement is part of their makeup. But the ETS study found signs of trouble, with its authors warning that the nation was at a crossroads: “We can decide to accept the current levels of mediocrity and inequality or we can decide to address the skills challenge head on.”

The challenge is that, in literacy, U.S. millennials scored higher than only three countries.

In math, Americans ranked last.

In technical problem-saving, they were second from the bottom.

According to Todd Frankel’s article in the Washington Post, the problem has gotten worse than a decade ago, and American schools are producing highly inequitable results.  It’s a bit more than assumption to suggest that giving in to more of the demands of the progressives who make so much noise about inequality would only exacerbate problems, as the Obama Era has proven with income disparities.

The results don’t appear to be broken out by state, but given Rhode Island’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), especially in math, we can be sure that the Ocean State fares worse than the nation’s abysmal performance.

There is no more time for footsie with the special interests that are harming our children and our country.

(Via Instapundit.)

Trying to Overcome Overtime Challenges in Tiverton

I’ve got a post up on Tiverton Fact Check giving some of the details and background for a press release just put out by the town administrator making (dare I say) unilateral changes to the overtime practices of the fire department.  The bottom line is that the town cannot function with a department that runs through its overtime budget in roughly half of a fiscal year.

The change of minimum manning is one thing that folks in other cities and towns might recognize as a regular fight, but some of the administrator’s changes are of the sort that would make the average Rhode Islander say, “Huh? That’s how they did things before?”

  • Tiverton will now follow the practice of not granting overtime until (get this) firefighters have actually worked their entire regular schedule (with vacation and sick time not included).
  • Fire marshal duties, like inspecting newly installed fire alarms and reviewing plans for those alarms, will no longer be done as overtime, but will be done during regular shifts, and if there’s an emergency, the firefighter doing the work will put it aside, address the emergency, and then return to the marshal work.

I’ve gotten so used to being outraged by the practices of government at all levels, but especially the state and local levels in Rhode Island, that it’s difficult to know what even deserves to be reported, anymore.  It doesn’t help that so few people seem to pay attention or do anything beyond shake their heads and say, “This place is crazy.”

Of course, one reason this press release is worth highlighting is that some of the local politicians who originally voted for some of the offending provisions (like the minimum manning number) aren’t exactly taking credit for doing so, these days.  Rather, they’re throwing around distracting lies about bond rates and non-existent deficits.

Exhausted Liberalism Is Actually Dying Liberalism… or Undead

Jonah Goldberg had a good article, the other day, suggesting that liberalism (which proponents have been rebranding as “progressivism”) is “exhausted.”  He errs, though, in presuming a future for the ideology.

Meanwhile, the cultural Left has disengaged from mainstream political arguments, preferring instead the comforts of identity-politics argy-bargy. You judge political movements not by their manifestos but by where they put their passion. And on the left these days, the only things that arouse passion are arguments about race and gender.

Such critiques may seem like a cutting-edge fight for the future among the protagonists, but looked at from the political center, it suggests political exhaustion. At least old-fashioned Marxists talked about the economy.

Of course liberalism isn’t dead; it’s just resting.

I don’t know.  It was pretty obvious more than a decade ago — about when the rebranding to “progressivism” really began — that liberalism was dying.  Only fools and con artists could possibly believe the worldview on which it is built, meaning that most adherents were simply taking it on faith and not thinking it through.

Naturally, one can be a gratuitously educated fool.  If you believe you can completely construct your reality, then there are columns and arches of rationalization to support whatever structure you want to believe in, for whatever reason you want to believe in it.  As it happens, the Obama Era has been an excellent illustration of the consequences of denying reality — an illustration, that is, for everybody except for those who can’t see the world around them because the walls of their liberal temple block the view.

Arguably, liberalism is manifestly dead, but it’s also undead.  Through ritualistic lies and propaganda on a scale most often seen in totalitarian nations, the true believers of liberalism, large portions of whom hold jobs (frighteningly) in industries designed to explain to others what is real, managed to raise up the charming deceiver Barack Obama as president, and he’s striving to suck the blood out of the ailing husk of the Founders’ America.

The problem is that the arts of progressive vampirism don’t produce powerful offspring in the image of the charismatic figures who took their souls, but rather something more like zombies.  Reality simply doesn’t make sense for a society whose heart has stopped beating, and the core impetus for its re-creators is the power to control those who have been remade.

You end up with confused masses, unhinged from the old morality of the living, who exist under the influence of increasingly lunatic leaders drawn to their roles not by some lingering quest for purpose, but simply because they want to wield the power.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 3 – March 5

1A. H5350: Binding arbitration for municipal employees. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

1B. H5475: Abolishes expiration dates from RI public-school teacher and municipal employee contracts, making their terms permanent until a new contract is agreed upon. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

1C. H5473: Subjects fire-department “platoon structure and/or shift schedule” to collective bargaining. (H Labor; Thu, Mar 5)

2. H5317: Reduces the allowed difference in municipal property tax rates for different property classifications from 50% to 25%. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 5)

3A. S0023/S0311/S0313: Mandates that for car-tax purposes, automobiles be assessed at trade-in rather than their retail value. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 3)

3B. S0043 raises the car-tax exemption for “distressed communities” to $6,000 (this is an automatic raise, not a local option). S0227 raises the car-tax exemption for “distressed communities” to $6,000 and compensates said distressed communities for the reduced revenue with state money. (S Finance; Tue, Mar 3) In present Rhode Island context, this means certain communities can receive a state subsidy for their financial mismanagement.

Ominous “Neutrality” on the Internet

So-called “net neutrality” is an issue that I probably haven’t followed as closely as I should have.  Reading the Associated Press on the issue, it’s difficult to understand why it’s a contentious issue at all:

The 3-2 vote ushered in a new era of government oversight for an industry that has seen relatively little. It represents the biggest regulatory shake-up to telecommunications providers in almost two decades.

The new rules require that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone must act in the “public interest” and refrain from using “unjust or unreasonable” business practices. The goal is to prevent providers from striking deals with content providers like Google, Netflix or Twitter to move their data faster.

Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that this simple-sounding move comes with over 300 pages of regulations, or that nobody except government and technology insiders has seen the actual rules.  Nothing says well-intentioned government involvement in the Internet like a complete lack of transparency!

As John Fund points out, this has been a cause from the well-funded far left, assisted with heavy pushing by the Obama administration, some of whom have the explicit goal of making the Internet a more friendly environment for a particular point of view:

In essence, what McChesney and his followers want is an Unfree Press — a media world that promotes their values. “To cast things in neo-Marxist terms that they could appreciate, they want to take control of the information means of production,” says Adam Therier of the blog TechLiberation.

In a world in which the IRS is a political activist agency creating obstacles for the president’s opponents, it would be foolish not to be suspicious of non-transparent action by a bureaucratic agency effectively enacting legislation with a vote of five unaccountable people.

Friday Fun: “RI’s Economic Development Shuffle”

So, it’s the beginning of another budget season, and with a new governor to boot — Gina Raimondo, of pension reform fame.  That must mean that it’s political season to make positive noises about economic development.

Of course, when it comes to Gina (or “gina,” as her campaign signage put it), we’re looking at an additional dimension of credulity.  Some among “the business community” assume she’s not just the typical tax-and-spend (on-somebody-other-than-the-business-community) progressive Democrat.  We’ll see.

But the flurry of media hits about whether the new governor can come up with a scheme to outshine all the schemes before suggests another offering from Justin Katz and His Out-of-Tune Piano.

RI’s Economic Development Shuffle

Well, Gina, she called me, just the other day
She’s our new Wall Street gov’nor, so I heard what she had to say
She said, “I need you to set Rhode Island right.”
So we made a few plans,
And shook a whole bunch of hands,
And the hors d’oevres were dynomite.

We’re good, y’see,
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

We all know Rhode Island should grow at a faster pace,
But we paid our dues, man, and we don’t want to have to race.
The good news is, there’s a central planning bus.
So we’ll call all our old schemes new,
And tilt the board more for just us few,
And pray the state will outlive us.

Don’t need everybody.
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

Each gear has to fit:
Government, business, welfare advocate.
It’s a fine machine; don’t mess with it.

Not just talking pride.
We’re all safe inside.
If we go opening doors, where will we hide?

They say that a mind’s a terrible thing to waste
I’m not one to argue, long as they’re molded to my taste.
My business model, see, it’s got specific needs.
Don’t care if they’re white or brown,
Long as they keep my expenses down,
And the K-12 grows them up like weeds.

When wages freeze,
My friends and me,
We’ll develop the economy.

We’re the leaders who lead,
My friends and me,
We’re developing the economy.

Possible Budgeting Illusions from Raimondo

Shortly after Governor Gina Raimondo gave her presentation on Rhode Island’s economy and its budget implications, somebody asked me what I expected in her budget.  Here’s a succinct summary of the presentation from the Cranston Herald editorial board:

Neither cuts nor tax increases, the presentation asserts, will solve the problem. The sales tax would need to be raised from its current 7 percent to 8.8 percent in fiscal 2017 to close the projected budget gap. Meanwhile, the $255.6 million shortfall foreseen for that year significantly exceeds the total budgets of 21 combined state agencies.

The governor’s presentation proposes instead a shifting of resources to focus on job growth, creating a “virtuous cycle” in which those investments in education, infrastructure and property tax relief expand employment opportunities and thus grow the state’s revenue base.

My expectation is that Raimondo will follow the playbook from pension reform, with these steps:

  1. Declare a dire problem, consisting of a short-term emergency and long-term doom.
  2. Propose some technocratic solution that will supposedly fix the long-term problem once and for all.
  3. Make sure that there are enough gimmicks in the solution to defuse the short-term emergency and expect attention to have drifted by the time it falls apart.

The short-term emergency, in this case, is a balanced budget for the  next fiscal year, starting this July, and the long-term doom is the unyielding projected deficits resulting, in large part, from Rhode Island’s continuing economic decline.  The expectation, then, is that Raimondo’s budget will include some sort of new revenue stream, perhaps justified by its use toward some economic development scheme, mixed with budget reductions of the “waste and fraud” variety.  Whether the elusive waste-and-fraud savings could be realized is actually immaterial, inasmuch as the budget would be balanced on paper, and adjustments could be made when the budget is reviewed in November and fixed sometime during the fiscal year, when the eyes of those few who pay attention are mainly focused on the next year’s budget.

That’s what I told the person who asked me.  It was notable, therefore, to see this in yesterday’s Providence Journal:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Tuesday disclosed that Gov. Gina Raimondo had asked him if she could include “$40 million to $50 million’’ in Medicaid cuts, as a “placeholder” in her first budget proposal, without spelling out how and where she intended to reduce spending in the $2.7 billion government subsidized health-care program.

Mattiello said the governor told him, “in very general terms that there would be some kind of a placeholder and a request for a task force to figure out the cuts.’’

You’re Borrowing from the Banks One Way or Another

Depending on your perspective, it’s either “getting your head around the finance industry” or “adopting a particular perspective on the finance industry,” but whichever it is, once you’ve accomplished it, standard news coverage seems to miss most of the critical observations.  Take this article by Liz Capo McCormick and Daniel Kruger:

Growth is on a tear, hiring is the strongest in decades, and households are the most upbeat since 2011. Yet banks such as Bank of America Corp. keep plowing their burgeoning deposits into U.S. government and related debt — pushing the industry’s holdings past $2 trillion — instead of lending it all out.

What is a government bond, really?  It’s the government borrowing cash now and promising to pay more for it later.  In other words, the banks are lending the money out, just to the government instead of to consumers.

So, who is the government?  Well, if we’re talking about the power that it wields, then we’re mainly talking about an aristocracy of politicians, special interests, and wealthy individuals, but if we’re talking about responsibility for the money that it spends, then the government is all of us.  It’d be more precise, in other words, to say that the banks are lending to us by way of the government, rather than directly.

Why would they do that? Lending to the government is almost risk free, so the banks don’t get a tremendous return on their investment.  Lending to consumers has some risk to it, because people can wind up unable to pay, so banks account for that by requiring larger returns on their investment.

Despite the efforts of the White House and the news media to insist otherwise, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the economy, and with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates so low, banks have incentive to accept the lower returns of government bonds.  With such emphasis on keeping inflation down, there’s less incentive to take some risks with money in the lower-risk parts of portfolios to try to keep the real value up.  And with so much in guaranteed returns on government bonds, banks and other investors can gamble those future earnings on stocks for the higher-risk parts of their portfolios.  (After all, much of the cash is simply money “printed” by the Federal Reserve.)

There are a number of vicious circles interlocking, here.  For one, if banks increase their consumer lending, consumers will increase their spending, and general demand will increase in the economy, which will translate into inflation, meaning those government bonds will be worth even less in real dollars.  Meanwhile, the more government debt there is, the less likely rate increases will be, because it would blow up the federal budget if it had to pay more on what it has borrowed in our name.

But hey, maybe the geniuses in government and the finance industry who brought us the mortgage-backed securities crash have really got this whole economy thing figured out and really do want what’s good for everybody, not just their own ever-divergent incomes.

Talking About Rhode Island’s 1%

The interesting part of PolitiFact RI’s review of an income-inequality statement by labor heavyweight George Nee isn’t that the reporters gave him a Mostly False (or couldn’t bring themselves to give him a full-on False), but the line that it draws for the 1% in Rhode Island (emphasis added):

Nee also directed us to a Jan. 26, 2015, report and data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, another Washington, D.C.-based liberal economic think tank. It compared each state’s highest earners — the top 1 percent — with everyone else.

The institute reports in Table 2 that in 2012, the average income of Rhode Island’s top 1 percent was $966,071 . That’s less than the $1.3 million U.S. average. …

(That report, by the way, concludes that your income needs to be at least $314,647 in Rhode Island to be in the top 1 percent.)

One wonders what sort of people make up this group of roughly 10,000 Rhode Islanders.  Investment types, successful business owners, lawyers, doctors, and so on, probably.  According to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s RIOpenGov payroll application, it also includes the University of Rhode Island’s basketball coach and university president.  One surprising member of the 1%, apparently, is Neil Steinberg, the President of the Rhode Island Foundation.

Most folks think of the RI Foundation as a mainly charitable organization, but it’s also been investing in socialistic enterprises, like RhodeMap RI, and other political manipulations of the state’s economy.  It’s odd to find that effort headed by somebody with (in the Economic Policy Institute’s words) “outsized” income.

It isn’t clear from the liberal think tank’s report whether it’s measuring household income or individual income.  If it’s the former, of course, Rhode Island’s government and its satellites would account for many, many more members of the 1%.  I mean, even some retired state workers have pensions that would suffice as half of a 1% income level.

Evaluating Tax Incentive Programs: Matching Practice or Kill Order?

When one reads that Rhode Island is engaged in something that might be seen as a “public policy best practice,” cynicism is usually the appropriate response. Such is the case with a Pew Charitable Trusts brief that cites Rhode Island as one of a handful of states implementing good-government reviews of economic development tax incentives.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., according to Pew, have taken steps to ensure “that tax incentives are evaluated regularly and rigorously.”

The legislation in question is a 2013 bill originating in the Rhode Island Senate, number S0734, which evaluates tax incentives and other government activities. The first section of the bill tasks the still-new Office of Management and Budget with “a comprehensive review and inventory of all reports filed by the executive office and agencies of the state with the general assembly.”

So rigorously have Rhode Island’s policymakers been reviewing all of the reports that state government pays itself to create for them that they now require a report on all of the reports that they receive.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

A Novel Idea on Transportation Budgeting

This is the eye-catching line from Jenifer McDermott’s Providence Journal story on transportation funding:

“We need to take a comprehensive look at solutions, everything from public-private partnerships to tolling,” she said. “We also need to ensure that we are delivering highway and transit projects quickly and cost-effectively, so that we get the maximum benefit from the federal funding provided.

Here’s a simple idea that one never hears the politicians suggest or the news reporters ask about:  Put all expenditures on a prioritized list, start funding everything at the top of the list, and stop when the money runs out.

That sort of approach is off the table, though, because the list that the public would want to see wouldn’t at all resemble the list that politicians want to be reality.  The former would start out something like this:

  1. Safety
  2. Law enforcement
  3. Transportation

And the latter would look more like this:

  1. Handouts to political friends
  2. Vote-buying schemes
  3. Personal pet projects

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Nine Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 24 – February 26

1A. S0134: Creates a crime of “unlawful interference with traffic” with reference to “any federal or state highway”, with a minimum prison sentence of one year for a first offense, 60 days of which cannot be suspended or deferred. (At present, the definition of disorderly conduct includes obstructing a “highway…to which the public or a substantial group 12 of the public has access”, punishable by imprisonment of up to 6 months, and a fine up to $500) (S Judiciary; Tue, Feb 24)

1B. H5417: Eliminates the up-to six month prison sentence for most instances of disorderly conduct — including for “obstruct[ing] a highway…to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access or any other place ordinarily used for the passage of persons, vehicles, or conveyances” — except in cases involving domestic violence. (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 25)

2. S0314: Extends the state’s “facilities support” funding to all charter schools (currently, it is only available to “district sponsored charter public schools”). (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24)

3. S0305 / H5228: Writes into law in-state tuition at RI public colleges and universities for students who graduated from a Rhode Island high school that they spent three years at, including illegal aliens (but not non-immigrant aliens) who have applied for “lawful immigration status” or who promise to when a process is made available under a Federal amnesty law. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24 &; H Finance, Thu Feb 26)

4. S0122: Tax credits for Rhode Island residents who are college graduates “in an amount equal to the payments made in a given tax year…toward undergraduate or graduate student loan debt, up to a maximum amount for single tax year of one thousand dollars for an associate’s degree holder, five thousand dollars for a bachelor’s degree holder, and six thousand dollars for a graduate degree holder”. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 24)

Spending and Addiction to Debt

A chart that the Wall Street Journal tweeted a few weeks ago is worth revisiting.  It shows inflation-adjusted cumulative growth in household consumer spending from 1989 through 2012, contrasting the top 5% of households with the lower 95%:

Remind you of anything?  Both lines strike me as echoes from a chart I made a while ago showing different trends in the economy.  The top 5% line looks a lot like the total stock market value, and the lower 95% looks a lot like credit & debt, doesn’t it? (Click here for some of my theories related to this graph.)

I won’t go into how the Clinton administration worked to dislodge the stock market from the safe risk-mitigation of national debt, and how the Obama administration has worked to ensure that the folks in the top 5% made back all of their housing-bubble losses by letting them absorb all of the borrowed money.  The larger, more-nonpartisan point is the critical one, here.

We’ve let our economy become dependent on the national debt. After the Great Depression and World War II, debt became the main driver of growth.  During the Reagan years, the United States made a fair attempt at boosting productivity enough to chart a new course, but we never dislodged from debt.  This can’t go on, not the least because of the plain facts shown in the Wall Street Journal chart.

The wealthy are taking much of that imaginary money and cashing it in as tangible items and temporal lifestyle enjoyment.  As periodic stock market crashes prove, imaginary money isn’t very stable, and the Obama “recovery” has strongly suggested that all big losses will quickly be socialized, now, so that we all must take reductions to keep the rich in their glory.

Am I sounding somewhat progressive, here?  Not at all.  Progressive centralization and tyranny have gradually exacerbated this problem.  The solutions are to privilege individual initiative and work, again.  That means real cuts in taxes and elimination of vast swaths of regulation.

Progressives just can’t get their head around the reality that government is not how everybody gets an equal voice in policy.  It’s how powerful forces consolidate their power.  Everybody gets an equal voice when we come to the table as individuals able to interact in ways that privilege our value as human beings, not our ability to jump through the insiders’ obstacle course of hoops.

Learning from the HealthSource Experience

This is a predictable result of letting government run businesses:

The most common complaint into the Call 12 for Action Center over the past three months has been problems with HealthSource RI – so Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan went straight to the source to try to get some answers.

Customers are getting angry with the state-run Obamacare marketplace, saying critical health decisions are being put on hold because they can’t get a straight answer.

It’s bad enough that the government spent nine figures (that means over $100 million) putting together an organization and Web site expecting to have to handle several times more customers and is still having trouble managing the fraction that it actually has.  The real travesty, however, is that anybody with authority thought it would be a good idea to begin with.

Lest we forget, the Affordable Care Act (ACA; ObamaCare) was pushed through  by President Obama and Congressional Democrats on a party-line vote on Christmas Eve using procedural gimmicks and without having been vetted by the legislators, let alone the public.  In Rhode Island, the exchange came into being not as legislation, by an executive order from ideological governor Lincoln Chafee, and without significant public debate, and the accompanying expansion of Medicaid, which is now a major budgetary problem for the state, was pretty much a bureaucratic decision without the visible input of elected officials, at all.

Read Hogan’s article.  These aren’t insurmountable business problems, but it isn’t clear how well government agents can or will surmount them.  In a private business setting, a company that was having such problems after a year of operation despite having many fewer customers than projected would have to fix them pronto or go out of business, but for HealthSource to go out of business it takes major political battles, legislation, and horse trades for other legislation and other political incentives that have nothing whatsoever to do with healthcare.

And HealthSource represents a relatively mild leap into lunacy compared with legislation that some elected officials would like to pass.  Take H5387, for example, with lead sponsors Aaron Regunberg (D, Providence), Teresa Tanzi (D, Narragansett and South Kingstown), Arthur Handy (D, Cranston), Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls), and Gregg Amore (D, East Providence).

The legislation would create a new agency that would automatically register Rhode Islanders in government healthcare and collect premiums from them, while forbidding private insurers from offering competing products and setting prices for all doctors and other healthcare providers.  Picture a mandatory HealthSource that wouldn’t even have to risk going back to elected officials to raise money, if it were failing.

If a bill like that were to pass, it would be devastating for the people of the state, and it’s an indication of just how dangerous it is to elect such people to office.

New Governor and Restricting Transparency

It’s been a repeated complaint of mine that legislation sold as increasing transparency, a few years ago, was actually a restriction of it.  It may have become a little easier for novices to get some standard data, but for anybody actually digging into state and local government, things became more difficult.  Suddenly, going to the subject-matter experts in government was no longer possible without being routed through political officials or (worse) department lawyers practiced in routing people in circles.

With the election of Democrat Gina Raimondo as governor, the process appears to have notched to the next level, as folks who follow local journalists on Twitter may have heard.  In his latest “YouGottaBeKiddingMe” blurb, Edward Fitzpatrick writes:

When PolitiFact R.I. fact-checked a statement that the House speaker made about taxes, Governor Raimondo’s office refused to make state tax expert Paul Dion available. When a second case of meningococcal meningitis arose at Providence College, the state Health Department referred questions to the governor’s office, prompting Journal reporter Paul Grimaldi to tweet: “Why does @GinaRaimondo have a ‘gag’ order on a potential contagion outbreak?” And on Thursday, Journal State House bureau chief Katherine Gregg tweeted: “One after another, knowledgeable/respected people in govt. are telling me they have been ordered to direct all Q to gov’s office #muzzled.”

When Independent Lincoln Chafee was first elected to the governor’s office — ideologue that he was — he barred his administration from appearing on WPRO.  This strikes me as significantly worse.

Government already has too many advantages shaping its message for public consumption, to the point of giving voters a distorted view of what they’re voting on.

Looking for Environmental Scams on the Monthly Electric Bill

For those who have remained hesitant to jump into the great green tug-of-war over climate change, the reason may be the whiff of fraud that permeates it all.  Although most scientists are, as the saying goes, hard-working and honest folks, there is bound to be some bad apples amid the bunch.

It’s tough not to think the bad rap might be somewhat deserved when the stories roll in like another snowstorm over New England: from the fuel-guzzling private planes and helicopters used to get the super-rich to a Davos, Switzerland, so they can talk about saving the environment, to the Oregon governor stepping down amid accusations that his significant other used her connections to win contracts for a green-energy consultancy for which she worked, to mounting suspicion that temperature data is simply being adjusted to make it say what environmentalists need it to say.

The schemes and scams just seem to be everywhere, and one needn’t turn over too many rocks to find them.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

Selective Worries of Environmentalists

So, I was poking around on ecoRI and came across this article by Tim Faulkner:

Left out of the talking points that support expanding pipelines in New England are the efforts by energy companies to deliver that natural gas to Canada for export overseas.

Documents show that developers are already moving forward with this concept. Last October, Pieridae Energy filed a federal application to send domestic natural gas from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia, where it would be converted to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and exported. According to Peiridae, a company in Germany has already agreed to buy the exported LNG.

I’m no expert on this topic, but it seems to me that Faulkner uses a whole bunch of plural nouns when he appears to be talking about one company that may have a single prospect with another company.  It’s clear, moreover, that the concern of the activists quoted later in the article is not that the export business will pull increased supplies of natural gas out from under the New England consumer, but that it will encourage continued development of the natural gas industry in America, which would soften demand for very expensive renewable energy.

According to the application at the link, Pieridae is requesting a two-decade window during which it can explore these options, which would start either on the date of the first sale or seven years after its request is approved.  As the article makes clear, environmental activists have already applied to prolong the application process.  In other words, this is pretty long-term planning.

But what’s the concern?  The company won’t sell gas overseas unless it is more profitable to do so.  In other words, unless people in these other countries are willing to pay so much that the profit margin is better if Pieridae chooses to ship the gas additional hundreds of miles, then liquefy it, then ship it, and then unliquefy it, rather than simply direct it to energy plants and consumers closer-by on the pipeline.  And then there are other possibilities, like the flow being reversed to ship the natural gas from Canada or elsewhere to domestic consumers.  What’s scary in this mix… other than the very existence of a fossil fuel industry?

Then we turn to another article, by the ecoRI News staff:

A common algae commercially grown to make fish food holds promise as a source for both biodiesel and jet fuel, according to a new study published in the journal Energy & Fuels.

Why, in contrast to the pipeline story, is this not scary?  Similar to ethanol’s effects on food prices, wouldn’t increasing the demand for this algae increase its price, thus driving up the cost of farm-grown fish, thus pricing out lower-income consumers and making the depletion of wild fish stock that much more attractive?

There’s a wave of specifics to consider before worrying about such a thing, but it doesn’t strike me as much less plausible than the dark insinuations made in the pipeline case.

Rhode Island and New Hampshire Education Trends

According to his bio line, Ron Wolk is an advocate for “performance-based assessment” in schools, so his argument in a recent Providence Journal op-ed should be considered with that in mind.  That’s a minor qualifier, though, inasmuch as one expects people typically to advocate for things they believe in.

It’s just something to keep in mind while considering his comparison of education trends in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.  The two states, he suggests, began moving toward reforms at around the same time, and with much the same plan, but then:

As the years passed, Rhode Island marched in place for a while and then retreated when most schools continued with business as usual. The commitment to multiple measures was never fully accepted, and state officials steadily increased the 10 percent limit on New England Common Assessment Program scores until a “passing score” was deemed necessary for a student to graduate. Today, the state remains mired in a system where time is the constant and learning is the variable, and where the “learning” is largely “delivered” through classroom instruction. 

Meanwhile, New Hampshire has stuck with its vision, working at ground level with principals, teachers, parents and students to make CBE successful. Much work remains to be done, but progress is steady. More students are earning credit for supervised internships and projects in communities. Research shows significant declines in dropouts, school failures and disciplinary problems. Student engagement and learning have increased. Students say their work is more challenging and their interactions with teachers are more rewarding.

It’s a distortion to say that a “passing score” became obligatory in Rhode Island, rather than just a mild improvement of a non-passing score, which is the truth.  But putting that aside, is his characterization of the states’ trends accurate?

Looking at the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s online application to compare states’ results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, I’d argue that the answer is, “no.”  If you scroll down the application and compare the two states by multiple measures, a few trends emerge:

  • New Hampshire started the millennium considerably higher than Rhode Island.
  • New Hampshire is considerably less diverse (as evidenced by the fact that the “all students” category tracks so closely with the “white students” group.
  • Looking at just white students, for a more direct comparison, and averaging grades (four and eight) and test subjects (math and reading) Rhode Island moved from a 5.5-point deficit in 2003 to a 1.75-point deficit in 2013.

The most important observation, though, is that the overall impression of the trends is actually, as I’ve written before, a more-rapid improvement in Rhode Island than elsewhere… up until the point that Governor Chafee’s administration put a stop to the reforms that Wolk laments.

“Performance-based assessment” may prove, in the long run, to be an excellent principle by which to organize education, and the specific approach that Wolk appears to advocate may prove workable, but I don’t think this particular comparison is the evidence that he thinks it is.