June 13, 2019

by Rob Roper

The following is in response to a letter that appeared in the Caledonian Record on June 10th by Steven Isham. 

To the editor:

Steven Isham’s letter of June 10th mischaracterizes my op-ed, Politicizing Our Kids and Rising Suicide Rates, and in many ways misses my point. He writes “Rob Roper… posits that liberal claims about the environment are causing a rise in teen and young adult suicide rate. He makes this claim without providing any proof other than his own opinion.”

First, I posed this as a question, not a proven fact. From the article, “So, here is a question: is politicizing (politically weaponizing) our kids causing them serious psychological damage?” I do hope more people with a stronger background that myself will examine this issue further because I personally think it deserves more attention. It can’t be psychologically healthy to put so much pressure on young people – teaching them it’s up to you to save the world or you and everything you love will die – and to bombard them so relentlessly with doom and gloom scenarios about their futures.

I do not argue “liberal claims about the environment are causing a rise in teen and young adult suicide rate[s].” But I do question how those claims are being used by some adults (politicians, activists, teachers), if they are keeping children in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety, anger, and hopelessness for crass political purposes, and if doing so is psychologically abusive.

For example, the concept of a carbon tax is not inherently threatening to a child. But, if you tell a middle schooler that if we don’t pass a carbon tax now all the polar bears are going to die, and you encourage (or coerce) that child to take part in a political campaign to pass the carbon tax, and then the carbon tax doesn’t pass, because, you then say, all the adults running the world don’t care about you children… what do you think the likely impact will be on that child’s psyche?

Mr. Isham writes, “anxiety over the environment is not listed as a factor for suicide in any list of such factors I could find.” I don’t doubt it. But anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness and isolation are all cited risk factors in teen suicide and substance abuse (also a major problem in Vermont). Therefore, it makes sense to me that indoctrinating kids with the idea that they live in a violent world on the verge of cataclysmic destruction, controlled by people who are racist, homophobic, and otherwise hostile to their sense of identity would feed negatively into all of those psychological factors.

It was my hope that the op-ed would start a conversation that would lead to some more concrete answers and insights on this issue, so I thank Mr. Isham for helping to start that broader conversation. I invite others to join in as well.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

 

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June 12, 2019

By John McClaughry

The plastic bag ban is sitting on Gov. Phil Scott’s desk. If he signs it, Statehouse Chronicle writer Guy Page reportsa working group created by the bill will set to work to select the next targets on the State of Vermont’s War on Plastic, a subset of the perpetually fruitless War Against Climate Change.

Chief lobbyist Paul Burns of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group – VPIRG – tells us that “The law creates a working group to look at where we go next.” That would be bans on “disposable plastic food service ware, like plates, cups and utensils; plastic film, and single-use ‘printed materials’ including even ‘telephone books’, and also possibly covering store sale flyers.

The VPIRG bill suggests that the working group should consider a policy of “extended producer responsibility” for a producer of a product to “provide for and finance the collection, transportation, reuse, recycling, processing, and final management of the product.” The group should consider “a financial incentive for manufacturers, distributors, or brand owners of single-use products to minimize the environmental impacts of the products in Vermont. The environmental impacts considered shall include review of the effect on climate change of the production, use, transport, and recovery of single-use products.”

I’m no particular champion of plastic bags – BUT this is one more foolish VPIRG nanny state scheme to fight the supposed Menace of Climate Change. Governor Scott should put an end to it.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 11, 2019

By John McClaughry

Remember the Champlain Flyer? That was Howard Dean’s commuter train that ran 13 miles from Charlotte to Burlington. After three years’ operation and spending $27 million, the little used Flyer was mothballed.

But now eco-entrepreneur and subsidized wind power mogul David Blittersdorf has a brilliant new idea: Run a subsidized commuter train from Barre to Montpelier, a distance of seven miles. Blittersdorf just happens to own five refurbished Budd rail cars himself.

Blittersdorf told VT Digger May 26: “We are fixing up these Budd cars  at the old Bombardier plant, and trying to get the state to use them. We’re getting a little resistance. They’re going to get on the rail line somehow.”

Blittersdorf’s allies slipped a provision in the transportation bill conference to have VTrans study his project including “Greenhouse gas reduction/increase of operating diesel-powered railroad cars, compared to alternatives.” There are already bus lines serving Montpelier, Barre and Berlin, but Blittersdorf doesn’t own any buses, just rail cars.

It’s against the rules of the legislature to add new provisions to a bill coming out of conference, but apparently no one caught on and raised a point of order.

This latest scam illustrates once again the enthusiasm of certain entrepreneurs to sniff out, or help create, ever more subsidized programs to fight the menace of climate change, then make money from them, until they fail, as the Blittersdorf flyer surely will.

John McClaughry is President of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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June 7, 2019

By John McClaughry

Steven Greenhut, writing in the Orange County (California) Register, makes an interesting point about drugs in prisons. He quotes a San Francisco Chronicle news story that reads “Nearly 1,000 men and women in California prisons overdosed last year and required emergency medical attention in what officials acknowledge is part of an alarming spike in opioid use by those behind bars.”.

“Think about that revelation,” Greenhut writes. “They are among the most tightly controlled environments on Earth, yet correction officials can’t figure out how to deal with dramatic spikes in the number of inmates who are dying from drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning. California’s prisons have every manner of scanner, camera and security system. They use body scans, visitor searches, drug-sniffing dogs and drones to patrol the place. The inmates are a captive audience and can, quite obviously, be subjected to any anti-drug program that officials can concoct. And still the problem festers.”

“This is the nature of government. It can’t stop the flow of illicit substances in a sealed and militarized building that’s under its total control. It throws hundreds of millions of dollars at the problem. It holds hearings, as officials ponder what to do.”

“Not only is the state incapable of keeping drugs out of its prisons, it is incapable of adequately maintaining its own prison infrastructure” Greenhut concludes. “If they can’t keep heroin off of death row, then maybe they should rethink their ability to control the rest of us.”

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 5, 2019

By David Flemming

Vermont has reached solar saturation, creating the possibility that parts of our electric grid could malfunction and leave thousands without power for days. But some large renewable energy companies are trying to lobby our government for yet more solar.

Nearly 50% of Vermont’s 150 electrical power substations are at risk of “transmission ground fault overvoltage”  (TGFOV) if more solar is added. As developers and homeowners use net metering to supply more solar electricity generation to our grid, the load (demand for electricity), has stayed constant with our stagnant population. This means that if homeowners add solar panels to the grid, something as common as a tree falling on a power line could send a surge of destruction back toward substation transformers.

In February, Green Mountain Power (GMP) filed with Vermont’s regulatory authority, the Public Utility Commission to charge $75 per kilowatt for new solar projects. Since the average residential solar project is around 6 kilowatts, the average developer/homeowner would be charged $450.

A renewable energy trade group, Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), was able to negotiate with GMP to decrease that ~$225 size-dependent fee to a $37 per kilowatt which would be used to fund the grid upgrades. Now, a 50% fee reduction does seem a little drastic. Did Green Mountain Power suddenly figure out how to make the grid upgrades at half of the initial cost?

Still, some renewable energy magnates weren’t satisfied with this amazingly generous reduction in fees. David Blittersdorf’s solar company, All Earth Renewables (AER) lambasted the $37 fee for still being too high: the “distribution grid of today and tomorrow must be available (read: “free to developers”) if a more electrified renewable-powered society is going to make a difference in addressing climate change.” To that point, the grid upgrades “should be borne by ratepayers — the collective beneficiaries of Vermont’s renewable energy laws and policies.”

Raise your hand if you’ve felt like a “collective beneficiary” of top-10 in the nation electric rates. Blittersdorf has used his political connections to grow a fledgling business dependent on subsidies into a $20 million annual revenue behemoth. Renewable companies don’t need more tax dollars. They’ve already gotten millions from Vermont.

It’s time to see if they can survive, weaned off the government teat. We’ve given them a two decade head start. Companies that depend on taxpayers to do business don’t deserve Vermont’s corporate welfare. It’s time they learn how difficult it can be to run a business in Vermont without government assistance.If they can’t manage with that, they will never be able to manage on their own.

An electric grid that wasn’t designed with net metering in mind limits how much solar Vermont can absorb. Vermont has, quite literally, more solar generated electricity than we know what to do with. A blatant cash grab on the part of renewable companies is the only reason Vermont would invest in more solar. But it’s not a very good reason.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

 

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June 4, 2019

by John McClaughry

Bernie Sanders is fond of explaining socialism by pointing not to Nicaragua or Cuba or Venezuela but to Scandinavia, especially Denmark. Veronique deRugy, writing in Reason magazine, offers some additional information about how the Danes do it, and it’s sure not Sanders socialism.

She explains that the generous welfare benefits Denmark offered in the 1970s dug a large fiscal hole, that ever since the Danes have been trying to backfill.

The Danes lowered their top income tax rate from 73 to 63 percent, lowered the corporate tax rate from 50 to 22 percent, abolished the wealth tax, reduced the length of government supplied unemployment benefits from indefinite to two years, and raised the retirement benefit age.

Its parliament passed an act in 2014 aimed at ensuring a balance or surplus on the general government balance sheet and tight expenditure management across government. The annual deficit can’t exceed half a percent of Gross Domestic Product.

The independent Danish Economic Council assesses annually whether government policy is adhering to the targeted structural public balance, and whether the proposed expenditure ceilings are consistent with medium term projections in the structural balance for public finances. In 2017 the country ran a budget surplus of 1.09 percent of GDP.

In short, the capitalistic Danes are letting economic growth bring in the revenues to pay for the welfare state, under tight budgetary controls. I suppose Bernie has no idea about any of that.

— John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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May 30, 2019

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—Amid the global gallop towards economic protectionism, there’s the     political temptation to use tariffs which undeniably produce a feel good factor for politicians and polemists, but whose bottom line is paid by the consumers.  The current trade tensions between the United States and China has all the ingredients of a turgid political melodrama; massive U.S. trade deficits, lost industries and jobs, and Chinese technology theft.

The game is being played out on an uneven field; President Donald Trump has thrown down the Tariff gauntlet in a bid to negotiate a fairer trade deal with Beijing and to bring parity for     American workers.  In this volley, a 25% Tariff has been slapped on $200 billion of Chinese   imports.

But tariffs, a levy on imports, remains just another tax.  More precisely tariffs are taxes imposed on goods imported from a foreign country.  Companies pay the tab upfront and then pass on the bill to customers.

The use and abuse of tariffs is nothing new. In the pre-WWII era the U.S. and most other    countries used them to collect revenue.  Indeed, both political parties, Democrat and Republican, have variously embraced them as a political panacea to solve economic problems. Since the 1960’s American tariffs have dramatically declined to about 5 percent in 2016.  Trade expansion and economic growth has followed.

Historically European countries such as France and Germany used tariffs to protect national industries and their workers.  Throughout most of Europe, consumer costs remain higher precisely because of protecting local manufacturers.

Tariffs are wielded to protect industries and jobs, to punish economic predators, and to score   political points. President Trump totally understands that a tough “tariff regime” would hinder strong economic growth and cause retaliation, but at the same time the use of tariffs remains a powerful tool to bring countries to the negotiating table. Many trade union members and blue collar Democrats back the Administration’s trade policies.

The proverbial cheap Chinese imports have created lower prices for American consumers.    Conversely, they have decimated U.S. industries. Larry Kudlow, the president’s Chief economic advisor concedes that by slapping a 25 percent tariff on Chinese products “both sides will suffer.”

An Oxford Economics forecast estimates the tariff increase could cost up to $800 per household.

Yes, but here’s another part of the larger picture.  If Walmart were a country it would be one of the world’s largest trading powers!  But while offering American consumers far lower prices, such stores massively fuel the China trade deficit. According to some estimates, the Walmart trade deficit with China has eliminated or displaced over 400,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2013.

From bicycles to clothing to even the humble mousetrap, China’s factory to the world has pushed American producers aside.  For example, China was the source of 94 percent of bicycles imported into the U.S. in 2017!  A Wall Street Journal article underscores that even niche American bicycle manufacturers are dependent on Chinese parts and thus still will be affected by tariffs.

A strong U.S. economy with powerful job creation and record low unemployment has allowed the President to go head to head with Beijing on trade.

What are the numbers?  Consider for a moment the U.S. trade deficit with the People’s Republic of China; in 1988 it was $3.5 billion, by 1998 $57 billion, in 2008 it climbed to $268 billion, and in 2018 it surged to $419 billion!

While the American Chamber of Commerce in China touts the line that U.S. exports to China at $120 billion have never been higher (happily true), there’s nonetheless a widening trade gap where China’s exports to the USA also have never been higher.

But beyond deficits, American jobs especially in key industries such as aluminum and steel have taken serious losses, until now.  Tragically now the American farmer is taking the brunt when it comes to agricultural exports to China.

Significantly the President has cancelled aluminum and steel tariffs on Canada. This is part of Washington’s overdue compromise to pass the renewed and updated version of the NAFTA trade deal comprising Canada, Mexico and the United States.  The U.S. should equally lift its tariff threat on trade partners South Korea, Japan and Germany.

Now both Washington and Beijing must work overtime to solve the trade impasse lest             uncertainty and a blame game become part of a vicious cycle. The Trump Administration’s entrenched rivalry with Beijing over Trade, the South China Sea, and Taiwan forebodes a dangerous trajectory towards potential conflicts. So, what then remains the ultimate endgame?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.

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By John McClaughry

The 2019 legislative session is now history, and it’s worth taking stock of its accomplishments, both positive and negative.

On the plus side, the FY2020 general fund budget is balanced (up 3.1%), that is, it’s balanced if the $55 million FY2019 surplus projected last January actually shows up. The main reason for the surplus is the economic boom produced by the 2017 tax bill enacted by a Republican President and Congress. Naturally, the Democrats in Montpelier aren’t eager to make that point, but they’re very happy to spend the money.

The new money allowed the legislature to dedicate 6% of the 9% rooms and meals tax to fund the EPA-required Lake Champlain cleanup. That leaves a $9 million hole in the General Fund next year, to be filled by the newfound surplus money without raising any tax rates. Whether this scheme will reliably fill $12 million holes in following years may prove to be a troublesome question.

Another $27.5 million of the new money will go to funding post-retirement health care benefits for state employees. The legislative leadership, pressed by the state employees’ and teachers’ unions, is commendably trying to catch up, although the $4.5 billion total liability won’t be funded in anyone’s lifetime.

Remarkably, House and Senate Democrats failed to pass their two highest priority measures, the minimum wage increase and a payroll tax-financed family leave program. Gov. Scott is likely to again veto a minimum wage increase, and probably a payroll tax leave bill. Some House Democrats are starting to listen to small business concerns, and some are worrying about the increased costs to the Medicaid home care budget. There may well be enough of them to join with Republicans to sustain a veto. We’ll find out next year.

The “yield” bill that determines local school property tax rates contained a one cent increase in residential and nonresidential yields. As Rob Roper has pointed out, “this is necessary to fund an additional $70.5 million in new spending this year — an increase of 4.5% — for a system that continues to lose student population. K-12 enrollment dropped from 76,220 to 75,510 between the 2016-17 school year and the 2017-18 school  year, continuing a 20-year trend that shows no signs of slowing.” No matter how many students disappear, public school spending will never turn downwards so long as the public sector enjoys its unionized monopoly.

The battle against the Menace of Climate Change proceeded apace, although without the revenues from the failed carbon tax there isn’t much money available. The legislature voted more subsidies for plug-in electric vehicles “to help Vermonters benefit from electric driving, including Vermont’s most vulnerable.” The transportation bill found $1.8 million to pay for two electric city buses for Burlington. That bill also diverted $5.2 million from fixing deteriorating  highways to subsidizing passenger rail from Rutland to Burlington, certainly one of the state’s least pressing needs.

The proposed doubling of the heating oil tax to fund more home weatherization failed, but the legislators did find $1.7 million to expand this giveaway program, instead of asking the beneficiaries to pay for the weatherization from their energy savings.

Another last minute provision mandated a study of launching passenger rail between Barre and Montpelier – all of seven miles. That would give wind tower and solar panel mogul David Blittersdorf a chance to turn his five diesel-powered Budd cars into moneymakers instead of museum pieces.

On the plus side, the legislature gave up trying to impose a tax penalty on Vermonters who haven’t bought state-approved health insurance. All those people have to do is tell the State that they aren’t complying, and the State will assign an outreach person to try to change their minds. On the down side, the legislature prohibited any new association health plans, because they were letting people escape the clutches of Obamacare.

Thanks to Democratic Senators Kitchel, Mazza and Ashe, the Senate again refused to accept Rep. George Till’s primary seat belt law, which would allow the cops to stop and ticket any adult driver for not having his or her seat belt buckled.

On the down side, the legislators approved a 24-hour waiting period for a lawful handgun purchase. It’s supposed to reduce suicides, but more likely it will leave a helpless woman defenseless when her angry ex comes by with revenge in mind.

A notably nutty bill is the plastic bag ban. Next year your grocer can’t put your purchases into a one-use plastic bag. Why? Because those bags are made out of natural gas, and we need to burn that natural gas to provide grid backup power to all those wind towers and solar panels that only produce a third of the time. (Actually no one made that argument, but you’d think the climate warriors would rather turn natural gas into plastic bags than burn it and release carbon dioxide.)

Instead of the plastic bag, the store can sell you, for ten cents, a nice paper bag made by slashing and chipping the forests that the budget bill declares “are important for carbon absorption”.

Bills not acted upon this session are alive for 2020 so we’ll probably see more silly and potentially economy-wrecking climate change brainstorms, at least until the needs of dependent families, Medicaid recipients, deteriorating highways, lake cleanup, retirement funds and other really important causes gain the upper hand in the competition for available funding.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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May 30, 2019

by Rob Roper

Several entertainment producers, including Netflix, Warner Brothers, and Disney, are threatening to remove production of their programs from Georgia over that state’s pending law to ban abortion after the presence of a fetal heartbeat. Agree or disagree with their positions, doing so is their right. So, Phil, Mitzi, and Tim, why not give them a formal invitation to come start filming in Vermont?

Our legislature just passed what has been described as the most radical pro-abortion legislation — plus a potential constitutional amendment – in the nation. If pro-life legislation is a motivating factor in leaving someplace shouldn’t pro-abortion legislation be a factor in moving to someplace if your goal is to make a political point?

According to a report in MarketWatch, “[Georgia] state officials estimate that 455 film and projects were completed in Georgia last year, pumping $9.5 billion into the local economy, including $2.7 billion in direct spending.” Imagine what bringing just a handful of those projects to Vermont could do for our economy.

One of the most high profile shows in question is Ozark, starring Jason Bateman, which takes place in Osage Beach in rural Missouri. We’ve got plenty of forests, farms, economically distressed communities, and a big lake! I’m sure we could rustle up a riverboat too if that’s necessary to seal the deal. Vermont would be perfect.

What Vermont does not have, unlike Georgia, is generous tax breaks designed to attract film and television production. But, hey, can you put a price on social activism? How about shouldering a little sacrifice for a cause you really believe in. And this is Bernie’s Vermont, after all, so you know your hard earned tax dollars will be well spent, right?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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By Rob RoperRob Roper

A month or so ago several national media outlets covered a study about spiking teen suicide rates. And not just suicide:

“We found significant increases in major depression, serious psychological distress which includes anxiety and hopelessness and suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among teens and young adults with smaller, more inconsistent increases among adults age 26 and older,” study author Jean Twenge told CBS News.” (CBS, 3/14/2019)

The problem is particularly acute in Vermont where our young people die by suicide at one of the highest rates in the country. So, here is a question: is politicizing (politically weaponizing) our kids causing them serious psychological damage?

We are taking these immature, trusting, malleable young people and bombarding them every day with messages like, if we don’t pass a carbon tax and all start driving electric cars within the next decade it will lead to, in the words of one Vermont Representative, “planetary collapse.” Grab a poster, skip school, and we’ll put your picture on the front page of the paper.

Of course, death by climate change is really a moot point because well before those ten years pass you’ll probably be shot in your school cafeteria by a lunatic with an AR-15, so you better skip class again, grab a sign and start calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Do that and we’ll put you on the cover of Time Magazine!

If you do somehow manage to survive, remember that everything in your life, macro or micro, is driven by racism, homophobia, xenophobia, white privilege, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, cultural appropriation, and who knows what other insidious forces of social injustice lurking behind that stranger’s smiling wave and wish for a Merry Christmas.

You are either an irredeemable, deplorable oppressor or the helpless victim of such oppressors, neither of which is a particularly appealing or self-affirming position to be in.

The kids aren’t coming up with stuff on their own. They are being manipulated by teachers, special interest groups, politicians, and often encouraged by their parents. Honestly, do you really think the middle and high school students marching on the State House for climate change came up with their list of demands on their own? “Double the number of low and moderate income homes weatherized annually.” “Expand local renewable power and electrification of heating and transportation sectors.” “Prohibit the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.” “Act on the Joint Fiscal Office’s carbon pricing study.”

With that last one, all plausible deniability went out the window. Do any of these kids know what the Joint Fiscal Office is, let alone did they read that study? Yet we are supposed to believe this is what they came up with while hanging out on the bleachers during recess? No, this is a list of special interest group priorities, and the kids are being exploited as a prop. That’s not healthy.

The social contract the adults are writing for young people today is one in which to receive positive recognition and social advancement you must continuously digest and regurgitate the most dystopian possibilities for your future on a planet populated by vile people embroiled in insurmountable, cataclysmic, environmental and moral crises. That’s awful enough. But, if you dare deny this bleak view and believe in a world where things are pretty good and getting better you risk being ridiculed, ostracized, and exiled. Can you imagine a more cruel emotional bind or a more potent recipe for creating anxiety, stress, and depression in a young, developing human being?

Let’s be honest with our kids. The world we live in is not the apocalyptic nightmare some would have you believe. The truth is we/you are lucky to be living in the least violent, most abundant, healthy, wealthy, peaceful time in human history. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. One of the safest places you will ever be is in your school, and, to quote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “Like the ‘world ending in 12 years’ thing, you’d have to have the social intelligence of a sea sponge to think it’s literal.”

Is our world perfect? No. Is there work to do to make things even better than they are today? Of course. But, as the adults here it’s our responsibility to fix these problems, not yours. Not yet. Our other job is to prepare you be well equipped, well adjusted, productive citizens for when you do become adults and assume the responsibilities of running the world. Poisoning your adolescent years with perpetual fear, anger, paranoia, and hopelessness while using you as front line cannon fodder in our petty political fights is not the way to achieve those goals.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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