This Labor Day, as progressives promote their protection and advancement of workers, let’s become aware of the harm that labor unions have caused. George Reisman summarizes:
Far from being responsible for improvements in the standard of living of the average worker, labor unions operate in more or less total ignorance of what actually raises the average worker’s standard of living. In consequence of their ignorance, they are responsible for artificial inequalities in wage rates, for unemployment, and for holding down real wages and the average worker’s standard of living. All of these destructive, antisocial consequences derive from the fact that while individuals increase the money they earn through increasing production and the overall supply of goods and services, thereby reducing prices and raising real wages throughout the economic system, labor unions increase the money paid to their members by exactly the opposite means. They reduce the supply and productivity of labor and so reduce the supply and raise the prices of the goods and services their members help to produce, thereby reducing real wages throughout the economic system.
Progressives criticize “bill mills,” but the movement has its own.
Criticism of policies based simply on their sources is a weak form of argument. But this is the substance of criticism leveled against ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council.
Opponents of ALEC say it is a “bill mill” that “pushes” legislation upon unsuspecting state legislatures. Since the goal of ALEC, according to its website, is to “advance limited government, free markets, and federalism at the state level,” it’s good that legislators are being advised by an organization with these goals. There are, of course, forces on the other side that seek, on a daily basis, to grow government at the expense of freedom.
It’s not uncommon for states to look to other states for legislation. A few years ago, a bill appeared for consideration in the Kansas Senate that would add taxes to sugary soft drinks. I found that the Kansas bill contained large sections of statutory language taken word-for-word from a California bill. (See Tax law imported to Kansas from California.) While this bill was introduced in a Senate controlled by Republicans — President Steve Morris and Vice President John Vratil — neither were friends of limited government or taxpayers.
While ALEC has model bills, it’s not the only organization that does. Meet ALICE, or American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange. Its website says “The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, or ALICE, is a one-stop, web-based, public library of progressive state and local law on a wide range of policy issues.”
In more detail, ALICE describes some of its content as “Models = Generalizable framework laws that can serve as the basis for actual legislation.” Also, “Exemplary = Actual laws that were enacted or introduced somewhere that represent good progressive local or state legislation.”
Does this sound like a “bill mill?” According to ALEC critics, bill mills are bad.
I could present to you the list of people and organizations that fund ALICE. You might realize that many of them work in favor of big expansive government instead of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets. But I think we’d be better off if we examined ALICE proposals based on their merits, just as we should judge ALEC proposals in the same way.
Debunking CBPP on tax reform and school funding (Part 1)
By Dave Trabert
If Ronald Reagan were alive and saw the latest piece from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), he would say, “Well, there they go again … not letting the facts get in the way of the story they want you to believe.”
The premise of their March 27 piece is that “Kansas’ huge cuts have left … schools and other public services stuck in the recession, and declining further — a serious threat to the state’s long-term economic vitality.” That’s not true, of course, but it’s what the way-left-leaning CBPP wants you to believe … and what the big-government interests in Kansas are only too happy to repeat.
CBPP and their allies seem to believe that government needs an unlimited supply of taxpayer money and could not possibly operate with a penny less. It’s a classic entitlement mentality and the premise is laughably false.
CBPP claim #1 — Kansas’ revenue loss will rise to 16 percent in five years if the tax cuts are not reversed.
As is typical for CBPP, they don’t explain how they arrive at their 16 percent figure but it probably has something to do with their entitlement focus (what government could/should have rather that what it needs). Regardless, the facts from Kansas Legislative Research (KLRD) show otherwise.
KLRD estimates that General Fund revenue will be 9.6 percent higher in five years.1 FY 2014 is the first full year of income tax reform; revenue is 7.1 percent lower this year than the record-setting level of 2012 but it is actually 1.3 percent higher than three years ago! Even more remarkable, a new revenue record is predicted to be set in FY 2018 — just four years after historic tax reform was fully implemented.
I dare you to find one media outlet in Kansas reporting these remarkable facts. To the contrary, most media and their big-government allies cling to versions of CBPP’s “sky is falling” mentality.
CBPP is flat out lying when they say Legislative Research “… estimates that Kansas received $803 million less revenue this year because of the 2012 tax cuts…” It should be noted here that CBPP provides no citation for their outrageously false claim. Here’s the truth. KLRD did predict that much of a loss in personal income tax revenue (not total revenue as claimed by CBPP) two years ago when tax reform was being discussed but they did so on a static basis using the parameters of a particular proposal. Changes to that proposal have since been implemented and consensus revenue estimates have dramatically improved. CBPP wants you to believe that an outdated, static estimate is current despite having access to information that contradicts their claim.
The November 2013 Consensus Revenue estimate for FY 2014 was $5.857 billion or just $484 million below last year’s total revenue.2 Tax revenue (which comprises the vast majority of General Fund revenue) was predicted to be down $466 million and Other Revenue was projected to be $18 million lower.
But tax revenue has been running well ahead of November projections so official revenue estimates were increased in April (after the CBPP publication) by $103.3 million for FY 2014 and $74.3 million for FY 2015.3 Later years were not adjusted upward but that’s just a function of the Consensus Revenue process; we will hopefully an even brighter revenue forecast soon from Legislative Research.
Whenever you see CBPP’s false claims repeated by media, legislators or others who are opposed to tax reform, ask them why they are spreading false claims in light of these facts from Kansas Legislative Research:
FY 2014 revenue will be 1.3 percent greater than just three years ago.
Revenues will hit an all-time high in FY 2018, just four years after full implementation of tax reform (and maybe sooner, if revenues continue to run ahead of projection).
Tomorrow’s post will deal with their fairy tales about education and other state spending.
Will Kansas Progressives’ expressed love for courts and constitutions hold up in light of the school finance decision?
In January Paul Davis, a prominent Kansas Democrat and candidate for governor, tweeted “With the school ruling due any day now, will Brownback comply w/the court order or try & rewrite the KS constitution?” These words were followed by a link to Davis’ website that copies an article from the New York Times. (That article has its own host of problems, explained in New York Times on Kansas schools, again and More about the New York Times on Kansas school finance.)
This mantra — that the Kansas Constitution requires the legislature to spend more on public schools — has been the drumbeat of Kansas Progressives. Their reverence for and deference to the Kansas Constitution is curious in light of their opinion of the United States Constitution.
The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in Gannon v. Kansas contains something that Kansas Progressives support: A ruling that Kansas schools are not funded equitably. It’s thought by many that $129 million in extra spending is needed to fix the discrepancy.
But the Supreme Court stopped there, sending the issue of adequate funding back to the lower court along with a few instructions. It’s these instructions that will test Kansas Progressives’ belief in the wisdom of courts and their reverence for the Kansas Constitution.
Kansas public school spending supporters — that right there gives away their main motivation — want more school spending. Whatever distortions of facts they make, well, it’s all for the kids, don’t you know?
So right away the public school spending supporters want to deflect attention away from the performance of Kansas schools. Spending is easier to talk about, and the facts about Kansas school performance is not nearly as pretty as the education establishment wants you to believe. Two things to know: When evaluated in the light of the demographic differences between Kansas and other states, the performance advantage of Kansas largely disappears (see Kansas school test scores must be evaluated considering demographics. Further, Kansas has weak standards for its schools, and further weakened them not long ago (see Why are Kansas school standards so low?).
The Court had something to say about this in its opinion: “Regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy in education required by Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution.” So perhaps we will see a court consider the results of Kansas schools rather than just the inputs.
Then, when we consider spending, the public school spending establishment performs a slight of hand, directing attention to only a portion of spending on schools: base state aid per pupil. That measure of spending has declined. But it’s a narrow measure. In the last school year base state aid per pupil was $3,838. That’s the figure often used as the level of school spending. But in that year total Kansas state spending per pupil $6,984, or 1.82 times base state aid.
Adding local and federal sources, spending was $12,781 per student, or 3.33 times base state aid.
This is important, as the Court issued some instructions in its remanding of the case to the lower court. All funding sources are to be considered: “In the panel’s assessment, funds from all available resources, including grants and federal assistance, should be considered.”
Also, the public school spending establishment has argued that spending on teacher retirement shouldn’t be included in school spending. It doesn’t make it into the classroom, they say. (One wonders if teachers would continue to work if schools did not provide a retirement program.) But the Court has a different opinion: “Moreover, state monies invested in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) may also be a valid consideration because a stable retirement system is a factor in attracting and retaining quality educators — a key to providing an adequate education.”
The Court gave the public school spending establishment a little hope for relief. Often that establishment says that a multitude of rules and regulations prevent funds from being spent in the way they want. The Court said these restrictions may be considered: “The panel may consider the restrictions on the use of these federal, pension, and other funds and determine that even with the influx of these additional monies the school districts are unable to use them in the manner necessary to provide adequacy under Article 6. But regardless of the source or amount of funding, total spending is not the touchstone for adequacy.”
There again the Court issued the instruction regarding spending as a measure of an adequate education.
Jim Pinkerton, the journalist, Fox News contributor, and co-founder of the RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition told an audience this: “The purpose of high taxes on the rich is not to get the rich to pay money, it’s to get the middle class to feel better about paying high taxes.”
Pinkerton was speaking last week at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. His remarks, as he told the conference attendees, were based on the work of economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.
The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.
A common mistake is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many taxpayers, there is a direct relationship. For those who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these (and other) strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.
In The purpose of high tax rates on the rich I showed that despite wide fluctuations in the top marginal tax rate, the tax revenue collected since World War II is remarkably constant, when measured as a percent of gross domestic product.
This is not the only way to consider the effect of tax rates. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service and Congressional Budget Office, I developed two charts. One shows the share of total federal taxes paid by top income earners, in this case the top five percent and the top one percent. For the range of years for which CBO provides data, the top marginal income tax rate has varied widely and has mostly fallen, and the share of federal taxes paid by top income earners has risen slightly.
A second chart shows the average federal tax rate for these two groups of top earners. The average federal tax rates paid by top earners has varied much less than the variation in tax rates.
As Pinkerton told the Franklin Center conference attendees, high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off — that rich people are paying higher tax rates. But as the data shows, it’s a misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay taxes at correspondingly higher rates.
Pinkerton was referring to the economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.
The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.
The mistake the progressives make is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many people, there is a direct relationship. For workers who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these and other strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.
But as Pinkerton told the conference attendees, the high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off, at least based on the misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay correspondingly higher tax.
In 2010 W. Kurt Hauser explained in The Wall Street Journal: “Even amoebas learn by trial and error, but some economists and politicians do not. The Obama administration’s budget projections claim that raising taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers, those individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning $250,000 or more, will increase revenues to the U.S. Treasury. The empirical evidence suggests otherwise. None of the personal income tax or capital gains tax increases enacted in the post-World War II period has raised the projected tax revenues. Over the past six decades, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just under 19% regardless of the top marginal personal income tax rate. The top marginal rate has been as high as 92% (1952-53) and as low as 28% (1988-90). This observation was first reported in an op-ed I wrote for this newspaper in March 1993. A wit later dubbed this ‘Hauser’s Law.'”
Incentives matter, economists tell us. People react to changes in tax law. As tax rates rise, people seek to reduce their taxable income. A common strategy is to make investments in economically unproductive tax shelters. There is less incentive to work, to save and build up capital stocks, and invest. These are some of the reasons why tax rate hikes usually don’t generate the promised revenue.
The subtitle to Hauser’s article is “Tax revenues as a share of GDP have averaged just under 19%, whether tax rates are cut or raised. Better to cut rates and get 19% of a larger pie.” The nearby chart illustrates. The top line, the top marginal tax rate in effect for year year, varies widely. The other two lines show total taxes and federal income taxes as a percent of gross domestic product. Since World War II, these lines are fairly constant, even as the top marginal tax rate varies.
We hear a lot about how Kansas shouldn’t strive to become more like Texas, especially regarding schools. Defenders of high school spending in Kansas portray Texas as a backwater state with poor schools. This video takes a look at Kansas and Texas school test scores and reveals something that might surprise you. (Click here to view in high definition at YouTube.) Narrative explanation follows.
Superficially, it looks like the Kansas school spending establishment has a valid point. Scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states, has Kansas scoring better than Texas (with one tie) in reading and math, in both fourth and eighth grade.
That makes sense to the school spending establishment, as Kansas, in 2009, spent $11,427 per student. Texas spent $11,085, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Considering only spending deemed by NCES to be for instruction, it was Kansas at $6,162 per student and Texas at $5,138.
Texas also has a higher pupil/teacher ratio. Texas has 14.56 students for each teacher. In Kansas, it’s 13.67. (2009 figures, according to NCES.)
So for those who believe that school spending is positively correlated with student success, Kansas and Texas NAEP scores are evidence that they’re correct in their belief.
But let us take another look at the Kansas and Texas NAEP scores. Here’s a table of 2011 scores.
Notice that when reporting scores for all students, Kansas has the highest scores, except for one tie. But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties. Similar patterns exist for previous years.
Kansas students score better than Texas students, that is true. It is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.
How can this be? The answer is Simpson’s Paradox. A Wall Street Journal article explains: “Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.”
The Wikipedia article explains: “A paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data. … Many statisticians believe that the mainstream public should be informed of the counter-intuitive results in statistics such as Simpson’s paradox.”
In this case, the confounding factor (“lurking” variable) is that the two states differ greatly in the proportion of white students. In Kansas, 69 percent of students are white. In Texas it’s 33 percent. This large difference in the composition of students is what makes it look like Kansas students perform better on the NAEP than Texas students.
But looking at the scores for ethnic subgroups, which state would you say has the most desirable set of NAEP scores?
Kansas progressives and those who support more spending on schools say we don’t want to be like Texas. I wonder if they are aware of Simpson’s Paradox and how it conceals important facts about Kansas school performance.
Once again, Kansans are subjected to a rant by Kansas House of Representatives Democratic Leader Paul Davis. On Facebook, he continually complains about the lack of funding for Kansas schools, recently writing “What do you think is more important: tax cuts for millionaires or funding for your local school?”
But here’s the worst thing Kansas has done. It’s a fact that Paul Davis won’t tell you, and it’s something that is very harmful for Kansas schoolchildren: At a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools.
For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”
For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):
“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.”
Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.”
In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.
A similar question was considered for math: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of mathematics standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”
For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):
“Although no substantive changes in the mathematics assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased (the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change).”
Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its mathematics grade 4 assessment between 2005 and 2009, but the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 4 standards did not change.”
For mathematics, NCES judges that some standards were weakened, and some did not change.
In its summary of Kansas reading standards, NCES concluded: “In both grades, Kansas state assessment results showed more positive changes in achievement than NAEP results.” For mathematics, the summary reads: “In grade 4, Kansas state assessment results showed a change in achievement that is not different from that based on NAEP results. In grade 8, state assessment results showed a more positive change.”
In other words: In three of four instances, Kansas is claiming positive student achievement that isn’t apparent on national tests.
Kansas is not alone in weakening its standards during this period. It’s also not alone in showing better performance on state tests than on national tests. States were under pressure to show increased scores, and some — Kansas included — weakened their state assessment standards in response.
What’s important to know is that Kansas school leaders are not being honest with Kansans as a whole, and with parents specifically. In the face of these findings from NCES, Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker wrote this in the pages of The Wichita Eagle: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.” (Thank teachers for hard work, dedication, May 27, 2011.)
A look at the scores, however, show that national test results don’t match the state-controlled tests that DeBacker touts. She controls these states tests, by the way. See Kansas needs truth about schools.
A year later a number of school district superintendents made a plea for increased funding in Kansas schools, referring to “multiple funding cuts.” (Reverse funding cuts, May 3, 2012 Wichita Eagle.) In this article, the school leaders claimed “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”
These claims made by Kansas school leaders are refuted by the statistics that aren’t under the control of these same leaders.
I wonder why Paul Davis doesn’t write about these topics on Facebook.
When I read this opening paragraph of a letter from the leaders of Media Matters, I double-checked that this wasn’t a story from The Onion, the humorous and satirical news source:
Five years ago, Media Matters was founded with a few staffers dedicated to a singular, and daunting, goal: restoring accountability and integrity to American journalism after both had been systematically eroded by decades of conservative attacks. Until then, no progressive organization had been solely dedicated to this crucial task, allowing the right-wing media machine to run roughshod over one of our democracy’s most vital institutions. The consequences were obvious, as lies, smears, and misinformation proved instrumental in electing George W. Bush not once but twice, and in building public support for his radically conservative agenda.
An internal Media Matters For America memo obtained by The Daily Caller reveals that the left-wing media watchdog group employs an “opposition research team” to target its political enemies. Included in the list of targets are right-leaning websites, conservative think tanks, prominent financiers and donors, and more than a dozen specific Fox News Channel and News Corporation employees.
First, let’s stop talking about the need to “pay for tax cuts.” The only way in which tax cuts have a cost is if you believe that your income belongs first to government, and then to you. While that schema is preferred by Kansas Progressives, it’s contrary to freedom and destructive to jobs and prosperity. Kansas will be better off if Kansans are able to control more of their own spending, rather than having government spend it for them.
Second, we must remember that the projected “holes in the budget” or deficits have two moving parts: Income and spending. Any deficit or surplus is produced equally by both factors. A reduction in income to the government produces a deficit only if government chooses to keep spending.
Third, let’s stop talking about “irresponsible tax cuts” and how cutting taxes is an “experiment.” To proceed as Kansas has — that would be irresponsible, as we know that Kansas has been underperforming relative to other states. No experimentation is needed. We know that Kansas has not done well.
Fourth, we need to make sure that everyone is starting from the same set of facts. Here’s one example: While critics of the new Kansas tax policy focus on the elimination of state income taxes on certain forms of business organization, marginal tax rates were lowered for everyone. Additionally, the standard deduction was increased for everyone, meaning that zero tax is paid on a larger share of everyone’s income.
But one tax was raised. Kansas had a program that rebated sales tax paid on food. This was limited to those with modest incomes or over a certain age. It is generally recognized that the sales tax is a regressive tax, meaning that those with low incomes pay a larger share of their income in tax. Reducing this perceived inequity was the goal of the credit program.
In recognition of this, Kansas should eliminate the sales tax on food, especially if we keep the current high sales tax rate. This eliminates the clunky tax credit program and lets everyone save on food taxes every day, not just at tax filing time.
Critics also say that taxes were raised on some low income families. This argument is based on some tax credit programs that were eliminated, such as the tax credit for child and dependent care expenses, and another tax credit for child day care expenses. It’s important to remember that these programs were implemented as a tax credits, and they are properly categorized as welfare spending accomplished through the tax system. If we want to keep this welfare spending, let’s do it some other way. Spending through the tax system complicates the understanding of government finances.
What Kansas should do
Here’s what the Kansas Legislature needs to do: Keep the current sales tax rate, eliminate sales tax on food, and reduce individual income and corporate income tax rates. Reduce the income tax rates by an amount that would be revenue-neutral, so that state spending does not grow. This moves us towards more of a “Fair Tax” model, which many economists agree is better than taxing income. Elimination of the sales tax on food removes much of the regressivity of the sales tax.
To the extent that the legislature believes it needs other funds, take it from transportation funding. We’ve spent a lot on roads and highways in recent years. It’s enough for now.
Another important thing the legislature needs to do is get serious about reducing government spending. Kansas lost an important chance to save money — although a relatively small amount — when school choice programs failed to pass. These programs, across the country, save state and local governments money. Unfortunately, Kansas legislative leaders did not use this argument.
More ways to save: In 2011 the Kansas Legislature lost three opportunities to save money and improve the operations of state government. Three bills, each with this goal, were passed by the House of Representatives, but each failed to pass through the moderate-controlled Senate, or had its contents stripped and replaced with different legislation.
Each of these bills represented a lost opportunity for state government services to be streamlined, delivered more efficiently, or measured and managed. These goals, while always important, are now essential for the success of Kansas government and the state’s economy.
One bill was called the Kansas Streamlining Government Act, another would have created the Kansas Advisory Council on Privatization and Public-Private Partnerships, and another would have created performance measures for state agencies and report that information to the public. More information on these bills is at Kansas budget solution overlooked.
We have to wonder why these bills — or similar measures — were not introduced and advanced this year when the opposition in the Senate is weaker. These are the types of measures we need to take as a state.
In January, as FrackNation was being released, I interviewed McAleer. You can read my report at FrackNation to tell truth about fracking. I asked this question: “So why are progressives and liberals opposed to fracking?” Perhaps tellingly, McAleer replied “Fracking brings economic boom to rural America, and many people view rural America as a backdrop, as something to be used.” The elitists don’t really like farmers, he said. But they will gladly use them to make a political point. The idea that they would become independent from their largess is their concern.
Following is McAleer’s article as it appeared in the New York Post.
This was supposed to be a column about “Gasland 2,” the sequel to the anti-fracking documentary by activist Josh Fox, which premiered Sunday afternoon at the Tribeca Film Festival. Instead, it’s about my exclusion, along with maybe 20 farmers from upstate New York and Pennsylvania, from the screening despite having tickets for a theater with lots of empty seats.
Our mistake was to believe the Tribeca Film Festival’s claims to want diversity of opinion and people who are passionate about film.
As a journalist who made a documentary looking at the factual deficiencies in the first “Gasland,” I put some inconvenient questions to Josh Fox as he was speaking to the media on the red carpet.
The farmers milling around nearby decided to join in with pointed but respectful questions of their own. After all, they know their land better than anyone, and they felt aggrieved that their lives and communities had been misrepresented by the first “Gasland.”
They asked Fox if he now accepted that the water in Dimock, Pa., is clean. He’d claimed that Dimock was one of the most contaminated areas in the United States because of fracking. But state scientists and then the EPA investigated and found the water clean.
The farmers asked Fox if he’d accept the science and apologize for calling their community a wasteland. He didn’t reply.
There was silence also when they asked Fox if he’s going to withdraw his claim that fracking has caused a spike in breast cancer. That’s been debunked by the country’s top cancer experts, but Fox has remained silent, allowing the fears to linger.
Given that Josh Fox had misrepresented their lives so badly in the past, the farmers were interested in what was going to be in “Gasland 2.” Many got up at 4:30 a.m. to travel to New York.
Sherry Hart, a mother of three and the wife of a gas worker, was particularly excited to be there. She lives in Pennsylvania and had never been to New York City, but she felt that it was important to make the journey to see what was being said about her and her life.
But she was not to find out. As the red carpet cleared and the farmers went to take their seats, they and I were informed that we weren’t being allowed in. No amounts of appealing or complaining did any good.
It seems that inconvenient questions aren’t welcome at the Tribeca Film Festival.
It was devastating for the people who’d traveled so far. They were upset and bewildered.
Several hours after the media became interested in the exclusion, the Tribeca Film Festival issued a statement claiming that the screening was at capacity; the problem was simply a lack of seats.
But the farmers, like everyone else these days, have cameras, and they recorded film festival staff giving very different reasons for excluding them from the screening.
One staffer said they were not allowed in “because you’re making trouble.” Another was more honest: “We just don’t feel comfortable letting them into the movie,” she explained.
The festival organizers called the police just in case the farmers didn’t get the message that they weren’t welcome.
Julia Mineeva, a Russian journalist who’s covered the film festival for five years, thought she’d stumbled across a great story and started interviewing the various groups. When she went in to see the movie she was asked to leave, followed, put in handcuffs, arrested and charged with trespassing.
It seems that covering both sides of a story is an arrestable offense at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Festival founder Robert De Niro says he wants a festival that is controversial, but there was nobody more passionate than those farmers who made a round trip of hundreds of miles just to see a movie. But the message Sunday was that their passion was not welcome.
And at the first sign of real controversy from real people, the festival closed its doors and called the cops.
The message is clear: They want “controversy,” but only of the kind they agree with, and it can only come from people who look and sound like them.
The rest of America can just stay on the sidewalk.
Progressives throughout Kansas are up in arms over the prospect that our state might someday have no income tax. They point to moderate, common sense Kansas governance that they claim has built Kansas into a great state.
Here’s one writer:
Who will stand up to this Governor and say that there is a self inflicted and avoidable form of cancer being foisted upon the body politic of Kansas. … This cancer is self defeating, self sustaining, and metastasizing rapidly. Who will try to stop it? Who will find the cure? Who among us will find the courage to stand up to the bully and stop feeding the beast?
Funny. I thought government was the beast that we taxpayers have been feeding. When taxing and spending is reduced, and when people are allowed to keep more of what is rightfully theirs — that’s a reduction reduction in bullying, and puts government on a diet.
In the Winfield Daily Courier, Dave Seaton wrote “Neither the Senate nor the courts are any longer a bulwark against extremism in Topeka. The Senate has become a palace guard for the governor, and the courts are fighting for their independence. We, the people in the middle — moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats and unaffiliated voters — are the only force that remains to turn our state back to a common sense direction.”
We might ask Mr. Seaton what is the record of moderate and common sense Kansas government? Perhaps the most important issue for most Kansans is jobs. In this regard, Kansas — under leadership of moderates and “common sense” governors — has performed poorly. A chart of the number of private sector jobs in Kansas as compared to a few surrounding states over the past eleven years shows Kansas at or near the bottom. (Kansas is the thick black line. Data is indexed so that all states start at the same relative position.)
Kansas private sector job growth compared to other states. Data is indexed, with January 2001 equal to 1. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Incredibly, not long ago Kansas was reported to be the only state to have a loss in private sector jobs over a year-long period. (Revisions since then have shown a small gain in jobs.) This is the culmination of governance by the coalition of moderate, traditional Kansas Republicans and Democrats.
Further evidence of the harm of moderate Republican/Democratic “common sense” governance was revealed last year when the Tax Foundation released a report examining tax costs on business in the states and in selected cities in each state. The news for Kansas is worse than merely bad, as our state couldn’t have performed much worse: Kansas ranks 47th among the states for tax costs for mature business firms, and 48th for new firms. See Kansas reasonable: We’re number 47 (and 48).
Then, there’s our schools. Here’s what House Democratic Leader Paul Daviswrote on his Facebook page: “The state should not be investing $10 million taxpayer dollars into private schools (which basically means public money with no strings attached) while leaving our local public schools severely underfunded.”
I’d like to ask Rep. Davis if he’s really proud of the results of Kansas schools — or if he is aware of the statistics. Many in Kansas say that our schools are much better than Texas schools, and that we don’t want our schools to fall to the level of Texas schools. If we look at National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores, we see that when reporting scores for all students, Kansas has higher scores than Texas, except for one tie.
But when we look at subgroups, all the sudden the picture is different: Texas has the best scores in all cases, except for two ties. Similar patterns exist for previous years. See Kansas school test scores, in perspective for tables.
Kansas students, in the aggregate, score better than Texas students, that is true. It is also true that Texas white students score better than Kansas white students, Texas black students score better than Kansas black students, and Texas Hispanic students score better than or tie Kansas Hispanic students. The same pattern holds true for other ethnic subgroups.
Comparing Kansas to the nation: Kansas does better than the national average in all cases. But if we look at the data separated by racial/ethnic subgroups, something different becomes apparent: Kansas lags behind the national average in some of these areas. See Kansas school supporters should look more closely for tables.
By the way, Texas spends less on schools than does Kansas. In 2009, Kansas spent $11,427 per student. Texas spent $11,085, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Considering only spending categorized by NCES to be for instruction purposes, it was Kansas at $6,162 per student and Texas at $5,138.
Texas also has larger class sizes, or more precisely, a higher pupil/teacher ratio. Texas has 14.56 students for each teacher. In Kansas, it’s 13.67. (2009 figures, according to NCES.)
Do these facts matter to Kansas progressives who want to maintain high levels of taxation and government spending? We first must ask if they are even aware of the facts. Sadly, I suspect they don’t want to know.
Fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production by injecting pressurized fluid into rock formations. Along with horizontal drilling, this technology has lead to a rise in the production of natural gas, leading to much lower prices for consumers, and to the possibility of U.S. exports.
FrackNation, the film that McAleer and McElhinney made, is set for premier on AXS TV on January 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm eastern.
I spoke to McAleer on the telephone last week. I asked is fracking really a big deal for America? He answered:”The word game changer is much overused, but this really is a game changer. It’s going to make America an energy producer. Natural gas is no longer tied to the price of oil. Anywhere there’s fracking in America, there’s no recession.”
“I’d almost go as far as to say fracking is maybe the reason President Obama was reelected. The reason he won Ohio because there’s a fracking boom going on there. People have money in their pockets. … If you live in a fracking area or near where there is going to be fracking you’re feeling good.”
So why are progressives and liberals opposed to fracking? “Fracking brings economic boom to rural America, and many people view rural America as a backdrop, as something to be used.”
The elitists don’t really like farmers, he said. But they will gladly use them to make a political point. The idea that they would become independent from their largess is their concern. He added that opposition to fracking is anti-fossil fuel, anti-progress, and anti-modernity, but above all it is anti-American.
Those opposed to fracking spread fear of environmental damage such as spilling the chemicals or polluting ground water. Is this fear real? McAleer said fracking has been going on since 1947. How long can you fear something that hasn’t happened, he asked.
On the new Matt Damon movie Promised Land, described by the New York Times as “an earnest attempt, sometimes effective, sometimes clumsy, to dramatize the central arguments about fracking and its impact,” I asked what’s wrong with that movie?
McAleer said “It’s not fair, I suppose, to fact check a work of fiction. Having said that, it is pretending to be in a real world situation. There are lots of allegations, lots of multimillion dollar lawsuits, but no scientific evidence. There’s no scientific evidence about what Matt Damon talks about in promised land. The biggest lie of all is that the fraudulent environmentalists — of which there are many — are somehow in the pay of oil and gas companies to smear environmentalists. That’s just ludicrous. Yes there are fraudulent environmentalists — many of them — but they work for the environmental movement, not for oil and gas.”
I mentioned an incident in an advertisement for the movie that shows a family receiving the results from testing their water. The tests showed that the water was clean and not dirty, like illustrated in a dirty brown milk jug. The reaction of the family was anger. McAleer explained that these people were suing the oil and gas companies. They demanded that the EPA come in and test their water, and the EPA said their water is safe. They watched their multimillion dollar lawsuit flushed down the drain, along with their celebrity status.
Your movie FrackNation that’s coming out in January: What will it tell Americans?
McAleer said the film will show there is absolutely no evidence that fracking has ever contaminated groundwater. But there is plenty of evidence that people have lied, exaggerated, and misrepresented fracking.
I asked about the famous example in the movie Gasland of a family being able to light their drinking water on fire, the implication being that this was possible due to methane gas leaking into their water supply, with fracking being the cause. McAller said that people have been able to like their water on fire for many years before fracking started. Native Americans called certain places “burning springs.” These are naturally occurring events. The director of Gasland knew that, but he told me he left it out because it wasn’t relevant. It’s unethical journalism.
When conservatives do this, it’s branded as evil. Mother Jones told us so. But it’s a good thing for liberals and progressives to meet, raise funds, and conspire, according to the magazine.
The progressive groups that attended the meeting (mentioned below) support policies (with a few exceptions) that reduce economic freedom and liberty. They’re obviously emboldened by a second Obama term. We’ll have to watch closely to protect ourselves.
A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP, the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.
At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues — potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. “It was so exciting,” says Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director. “We weren’t just wringing our hands about the Koch brothers. We were saying, ‘I’ll put in this amount of dollars and this many organizers.'”
Individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets in Wichita and Kansas