November 27, 2018

by John McClaughry

Bill McKibben, the activist in residence at Middlebury College, has written a long piece in the November 22 issue of New Yorker. To many readers it will be a persuasive explanation of the terrors of climate change, with its sea level rises, fires, floods, and droughts,.

Bill McKibben with a grocery cart full of environmentally degrading plastic bags.

McKibben like Bernie Sanders lays the blame on ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers as the major culprits who have blocked dramatic action by the world to stop emitting greenhouse gases.

But the paragraph that caught my eye was this: “Even if a carbon tax somehow made it past the GOP, the amount Exxon says it wants—$40 a ton—is tiny compared to what the IPCC’s analysts say would be required to make a real dent in the problem. And in return the proposed legislation would relieve the oil companies of all liability for the havoc they’ve caused. IPCC estimates that avoiding “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” requires governments to impose carbon dioxide taxes of between $135 and $5,500 per metric ton”.

Here in Vermont, McKibben and the carbon tax advocates want to put a tax on heating oil, gasoline, diesel, propane and natural gas that rises to $40 a ton after eight years. If the whole world did that, according to McKibben it would produce only 30 percent of the absolute bare minimum needed to make any difference to Planet Earth. So they’ll demand to quadruple the tax, and make you pay it.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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November 26, 2018

by Rob Roper

Burning cars lit the Arc D’Triumph on Champs-Élysées in that Democratic Socialist paradise of Paris, France, this week as thousands of angry citizens protested that country’s Carbon Tax on vehicle fuels. Tear gas and water cannons were used to dispel the crowd. This was, according to the BBC, one of 1,600 protests across France on Saturday.

The source of citizen ire is primarily a fuel tax on gasoline and diesel fuel amounting to 3.9 euro cents per liter on the former and 7 on the latter. Another increase of 2.9 cents 6.5 cents respectively is set for January 1, 2019 with the promise of more to come. But, beyond the fuel tax, the BBC reports that the protests also “grew to reflect anger at rising living costs, particularly in rural areas, and other grievances against President Macron’s policies.”

Hmm. Sounds a lot like Vermont, doesn’t it?

French President Macron “insisted that the fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments, which is a cornerstone of his reforms of the nation.”

Sounds like the French president is wildly out of touch with the actual priorities of his people. This is what happens when politicians serve an ideology rather than the interests of the people who elected them. Which also sounds a lot like Vermont.

When our legislature returns in January, expect the new supermajorities of Democrats and Progressives to bring back a Vermont Carbon Tax bill. The Vermont Conservation Voters, a group that spend considerable money helping to elect these folks, has made this one of their priorities. If it passes, it will make Vermont a less affordable place to live, especially for rural, working Vermonters. The question is, who will our politicians serve?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 16, 2018

By David Flemming

George Plumb claimed in a November 9 VTDigger commentary that men should feel obligated to get vasectomies to prevent authoritarians from using booming populations to overthrow democratic governments. Vasectomies are hardly necessary in a golden age of material well-being and democratic freedom.

Here is his argument: “the huge population size in most countries has meant that we are no longer closely connected to each other. As a result, we are witnessing the loss of democracy and the rise of authoritarian/fascist governments based on hatred and violence. Over 50 percent of the countries in the world no longer have democratic governments…it is time for men to own up to their responsibility and get a vasectomy”

That “over 50% of countries” figure is completely false. Only 21 (13%) of the world’s countries had authoritarian governments as of 2016, according to Pew Research Report. 26% could not be easily categorized, and a whopping 97 out of 167 (58%) countries were democracies.

We are witnessing the rapid gains of democracy, at an unprecedented pace. In 1970, 1.7 billion people lived under some form of authoritarian government, approximately the same number that did in 2015. However, the world population has more than doubled between 1970 and 2015. During the past five decades, the people living in democracy has increased from 1.2 billion to 4 billion, nearly a four-fold increase!

It is not a coincidence that during this time of a doubling world population, we have seen a drastic increase in agricultural technologies that allow us to produce food with far less human effort and strain on natural resources. More mouths to feed come equipped with more brains to find better ways of feeding them.

2.2 billion individuals were in extreme poverty in 1970, about 2/3 of the world’s population. If that number had increased proportionally to population growth, there would be 4.4 billion individuals in extreme poverty by 2015. Instead, as our population has doubled and discovered new technologies, that number fell to to 705 million in extreme poverty by 2015.

The birth of children, especially in a state with some of the lowest birth rates in the nation, is something to be celebrated, not reviled. Vasectomies are a personal choice, and not something we should guilt fertile men into getting.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 15, 2018

by John McClaughry

During the last national election campaign Democrats scored points by attacking Republicans for wanting to deny health insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. The Republicans couldn’t muster a good answer, even though they had one readily available.

The Patient Care Act, the leading Republican alternative, was designed to deal with just this problem. Persons who stayed continuously insured would be allowed to move between insurance coverage platforms without their health status factoring into the premiums they must pay for coverage.  The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act included provisions aimed at easing the transition between group coverage and state-regulated individual market plans.  But the provisions addressing those transitions left gaps through which many people can, and do, still fall.

The Republican bill would have filled in those gaps, required state-regulated insurance plans to offer coverage to the continuously insured, and to guarantee its renewal.  The continuous coverage requirement does not need to be burdensome.  It can be satisfied through the purchase of low-cost catastrophic coverage as well as more comprehensive insurance plans.

There would have been a one-time open enrollment period during which persons who had not been previously insured could opt into coverage without facing higher premiums based on their health conditions.

These are reasonable provisions. Coupled with Federally-funded state high risk pools, they would have decisively refuted the Democrats’ political attack.  Too bad the Republicans didn’t mount a powerful counterattack on their opponents’ falsehoods.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 14, 2018

by John McClaughry

The very liberal Washington Post ran a story on November 7 on the fate of climate change issues on state ballots.

Their reporters wrote that “voters across a swath of resource-rich Western states largely rejected ballot initiatives aiming to nudge the nation away from burning fossil fuels and toward harnessing renewable sources of energy.”

“Voters in Arizona, one of the nation’s most sun-soaked states, handily shot down a measure that would have accelerated its shift toward generating electricity from renewables, particularly solar. “

“Residents in oil- and gas-rich Colorado defeated a measure to sharply limit drilling on state-owned land. Environmental advocates there failed to pass a measure that would have required new wells to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other “vulnerable areas” such as parks and irrigation canals — a distance several times that of existing regulations. It also would have allowed local governments to require even longer setbacks.”

The most closely watched carbon tax initiative was in Washington. Results from that state Friday showed that the carbon tax initiative had gone down to defeat by a 56-44 margin – compared to its 59-41 defeat two years ago. The Seattle Times assailed the initiative as “porous, lacking accountability and larded with special-interest payouts” and recommended a no vote.

Will next year’s even more liberal legislature renew its push for a carbon tax, or whatever new label they think up for it? Of course it will.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by Rob Roper

I voted three times last Tuesday. Or maybe I didn’t. My point is, you have no idea.

You see, I have two kids who recently came of voting age. They don’t care much about politics. They had no intention of voting in the November 6 election despite my badgering them about how important it is, so I voted for them. Or I didn’t. You don’t know, and neither does any election official.

Both my kids are in school out of state. Just maybe, knowing that they had no intention of voting, I requested that their absentee ballots be sent to our home address here in Vermont. Or not. They would have no idea I did this, and they’ll never know because they’re not paying attention, and, for all practical purposes, neither are any election officials. They’re just happy that the statistics show these politically engaged young people voted. They’re doing a great job. Hooray! But maybe my kids didn’t vote. Maybe I did. Thrice.

I could have got my kids’ two absentee ballots, filled them out, forged their signatures, which would be easy enough, and sent them in to be counted as legitimate votes. Or not. Again, nobody has any a clue. And, I know nobody will ask any questions. Why would they?

If on the-outside-the-orbit-of-Pluto chance someone did raise a question, I’d just say when the kids declined to vote I threw away the ballots. Someone must have taken them out of the trash and filled them out! How awful of them. Whomever they were. Go catch them. (Not for nothing, if this were what happened how would you catch them? You couldn’t, could you?)

So, I got to vote three times – one person, three votes! — cancelling out the votes of two fellow citizens who think differently than I do, suppressing their votes as effectively as if I had tied them up in a basement on election day. More effective, actually, because they’ll never know it happened and so won’t complain and scream for justice. It’s as if they never existed. Poof.

Actually, I didn’t do this. But I could have. Easily.

The question we have to ask is, how many of the 95,000 Vermont votes cast by absentee ballot in the 2016 election (and probably more in this last election, and even more in the next election) were cast in an illegitimate manner similar to the one described above? Someone filling out a ballot for their spouse, or an elderly parent. Or all the patients in the Alzheimer’s ward of the local retirement community. Again, my point is we don’t know. And we can’t know, because no effective safeguards are in place to police this kind of absentee ballot voter fraud.

We have radically changed the way we vote, but we have not maintained the security measures necessary to protect the principals of one-person/one vote, or for that matter the secret ballot. Even if a small percentage of the total number of absentee ballots cast are thus illegitimate, this is a serious problem. We can pretend it isn’t. We can pretend that politics is an ethical business that brings out the better angels of our nature so that nobody would ever cheat, even given a clear and open opportunity to do so. But it does happen, and it is a problem. How big? We don’t know. And that’s a problem too.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 6, 2018

by Rob Roper

Your fellow citizens are turning out in record numbers this year. Make sure you’re in the game as well.

Issues that affect your life in serious ways are on the line today. Will the legislature pass a Carbon Tax on gasoline, home heating fuel, etc.? Will they pass a new payroll tax to pay for a mandatory, government-run paid family leave insurance program? Will they raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour? Will they continue to allow the State Board of Education to merge local school districts that don’t want to merge? Will they pass more restrictions on gun owners? Will the governor have enough allied legislators to sustain vetoes of these bills if necessary?

If you care about any of these issues, vote!

If you care but don’t think your vote matters, just remember that in 2010 Rep. David Ainsworth lost his seat to Sarah Buxton by one vote. Six years later, he won the seat back… by one vote. Your vote does make a difference. Sometimes THE difference!

And, bring your friends and relatives to the polls! While there are more examples of one vote margins than you may think, there are TONS of races that are decided by four, seven, sixteen votes. Be the difference.

No excuses! Vermont now allows for election day registration, so even if you are not registered to vote, you can be before the polls close today.

So, vote! As the lottery ads say, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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By David Flemming

A good many Americans are feeling stressed out about the elections tomorrow. Conservatives are worried about a blue wave, while progressives are worried about a red one. Thankfully, regardless of this election’s outcome, even the most entrenched political leaders will surrender their office if they lose. Of course, there is a chance that a few races may be close enough to justify a recount. But within a few days, we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the losers will step down (or step away) when the voting count is verified. Previous experience in past elections makes Americans expect that the transition will be peaceful. That which we take for granted is far from commonplace throughout the world.

Just this past October, political uncertainty in Cameroon reached a crescendo that dwarfed anything in the past 100 years of American electoral history. One candidate for president of Cameroon, a Mr. Maurice Kamto, told press that he had “received a clear mandate from the people and I intend to defend it until the end.” Kamto made this statement before the election had even happened, needlessly raising tensions across the country. In essence, Kamto decided to preempt any thought that he had lost by asserting he had won regardless of the vote count. This was especially dangerous in a country that has known politically motivated violence the past couple of years.

His opponent, President Biya is hardly a paragon of virtue himself. After abolishing term limits, Biya has clung to power for 36 years. Violence and unrest has been common throughout that time frame. Whether it is Cameroon’s contested election, China’s one-party rule, or India’s notorious caste politics, America’s electoral system is downright peaceful relative to the rest of the world.

Perhaps it’s time we take a step back from our chaotic political landscape in America and realize that our political “chaos” would be seen as a time of peace in most other countries. Perhaps it’s time we become a little more grateful that we don’t have to worry about violent transitions of power, or political candidates who are only willing to live in a future in which they are in power.

Have a great Election Day!

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

 

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November 2, 2018

by Rob Roper

Every year about this time people start asking how it is that college students who are not from here get to have disproportionate impacts on local elections. Are they really allowed to vote in our elections? Shouldn’t they be voting in their home towns in other states, or even in their home towns in Vermont? According to the law, it depends.

Vermont law defines a resident eligible to vote as:

…a natural person who is domiciled in the State as evidenced by an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the State indefinitely and to return there when temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.

College students are natural persons, and they are considered legally domiciled in the State – they sleep here more than six months of the year — which could allow them to Vote in Vermont. But the students must also show evidence of “an intent to maintain a principal dwelling place in the State indefinitely,” which means that they must show in some demonstrable way that do not intend to leave Vermont after graduation. Vermont election officials do not enforce this aspect of the law.

If the student does not intend, and/or cannot provide evidence of that intent, to remain in Vermont “indefinitely,” he or she would fall under the category described in the law of being “temporarily absent” from their principal domicile, such as their parents’ home out-of-state. “Acts consistent with this intent” would be things like returning home for vacations when school is not in session. If this is the case, the student should not be allowed on a Vermont voter list and should be voting back home. Not here.

Although we would certainly like young people who come to Vermont for their higher education to stay here indefinitely, we know for a fact that the overwhelming majority of them don’t stay, nor do they intend to. A recent study by UVM discovered that 70% of Vermont college students either actively intend to leave Vermont after graduation (40%) or have no intention whatsoever (30%) about remaining. Only 30% of students have some or a likely intention to stay. As such, merely attending college in Vermont should not be seen as evidence of intent to remain indefinitely.

What would be evidence of intent to remain? Maybe getting a Vermont drivers license. Opening a Vermont based bank account. Remaining and working in Vermont during summer vacations. But, again, Vermont election officials from the Secretary of State on down do not enforce this aspect of election law. Why? You’ll have to ask them.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 1, 2018

by John McClaughry

Among the cases to be heard before the Supreme Court his year is Edward Poitevant’s appeal to get out from the shackles of the Endangered Species Act.

That act, enacted in 1973, was built on broad support for protecting bald eagles, buffalo, and ivory billed woodpeckers, if any. But over the years the enviro movement has eagerly seized on the act to impose impossible restrictions on private land that conceivably could be habitat for all sorts of tiny species, even if those species do not actually inhabit the land to be protected.

In 2011 the Obama Fish & Wildlife Service designated Poitevant’s 1500 acres in Louisiana as a critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog – even though no dusky gopher frog had been seen there for the past fifty years, and the land is currently uninhabitable by the frogs, if there were any. To make the land into suitable habitat, the owner would have to rip out every tree, replant the 1500 acres with the right trees, make sure ponds are still there, and burn it over every year.

If Poitevant doesn’t want to do that – and why would he? – his land will be made off limits to development forever.

One legislative remedy would require that land can’t be designated endangered species habitat unless there is actually an endangered species living on it. But alas, even that draws furious opposition from the national enviro organizations.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
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