Sandy Ikeda on the problems of urban planning

Once again, Professor Sandy Ikeda has written a sharp and insightful piece for The Freeman, this time on the problems of urban planning. He expands on Jane Jacobs’ observations of 50 years ago on how urban planning (that is, efforts by government to control cities) gets in the way of the order that would emerge from many private plans.

Here is Ikeda’s conclusion:

What can government do? In the ordinary course of its activities a government can perhaps at best refrain from doing the things that would thwart the emergence of the invisible social infrastructure that gives rise to that diversity, development, and genuine liveliness.

The rest is mostly taxidermy.

Dispatches from the campaign trail, April 17, 2014

• We’re taking a break Good Friday and will be back in this space Monday. Happy Easter, everyone.

• National Democrats are pulling out all the stops to have someone other than House Speaker Thom Tillis face incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan this fall, according to National Journal. The Washington-based publication looks at a major ad buy from the Democrat-run Senate Majority PAC recounting the early days of Tillis’ speakership. Two aides were fired for having affairs with lobbyists and the Mecklenburg County Republican provided severance pay from taxpayers. National Journal notes that the timing of the ads — launched before the May 6 U.S. Senate primary rather than the fall general election campaign — seems designed to push Republican voters toward candidates Democrats see as more vulnerable than Tillis.

• The National Rifle Association’s PAC endorses Tillis in the GOP primary. The Washington Post takes note of Hagan’s successful fundraising efforts, saying the $2.8 million she collected in the first three months of 2014 is more than double Tillis’ total.

• State Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, is opening a fundraising lead in the contest for the Democratic nomination in the 12th Congressional District. Adams had raised slightly more than $350,000 as of March 31. In second place is Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, who raised $249,000 — the vast majority from out-of-state donors. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools attorney George Battle has collected $227,000, trial lawyer Curtis Osborne reported $193,000, and state Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, got $167,000. With $115,000 in the bank, Adams easily has the most cash on hand.

• A poll of 7th Congressional District voters by The Wickers Group shows state Sen. David Rouzer with a small lead over New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White for the Republican nomination, with 29 percent to 26 percent lead. Fellow GOPer Chris Andrade was not included in the poll.

Ten questions that the media should ask

Today, Wake County school officials are holding a press conference to discuss ““the alarming increase in mid-year teacher resignations and the dwindling supply of NC-trained teachers who are qualified to fill the empty positions.”  Here are some questions that the media should ask those participating in the press conference:

1. Is this a Wake County phenomenon or is there a consistent pattern of mid-year teacher resignations in districts statewide?  I suspect that some will hurl blame on Republican legislators, but if it is truly the result of policy changes, then we should see “alarming” mid-year resignations elsewhere.

2. Do we know why these teachers are leaving?  Having aggregate figures on resignations is one thing.  Knowing why they are resigning is another.

3. Has this happened in Wake County before?  If so, why?  It is vital to examine trends, rather than just one year of data.

3. Why is there a dwindling supply of NC-trained teachers? I am talking about data, not anecdotes.

4. Are the shortages in NC-trained teachers limited to certain subjects and grade levels? As a state, we’ve always struggled to produce teachers in certain subjects.  Science, math, and special education teachers are always in short supply.

5. Does it matter if they are trained in North Carolina or somewhere else so long as they are qualified?  According to Title II data, about one-third of North Carolina teachers are trained in other states.

6. Are there an “alarming” number of resignations of Wake County employees in other areas, such as administration or support staff?  If not, why?

7. What are the experience levels of teachers who are resigning? If the resigning teachers are in their early years in the profession, it would appear to validate the Republicans’ plan to raise base pay for those teachers.

8. Are the press conference participants interested in finding solutions or placing blame?  If it is the latter, then this is nothing more than a publicity stunt designed to score political points.

9. Speaking of finding solutions, have members of the Wake County Board of Education and central office administrators reached out to Governor McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and President Pro Tem of the Senate Phil Berger?  If not, why?

10. What role did Common Core play in the resignations?

Never met a tax hike he didn’t like?

In contrast to Tuesday’s discussion in Raleigh about the benefits of tax rate cuts for North Carolina families and businesses, we feature in this entry an assessment from Americans for Tax Reform about the Obama administration’s record on taxes.

Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama has formally proposed a total of 442 tax increases, according to an Americans for Tax Reform analysis of Obama administration budgets for fiscal years 2010 through 2015.

The 442 total proposed tax increases does not include the 20 tax increases Obama signed into law as part of Obamacare.

“History tells us what Obama was able to do. This list reminds us of what Obama wanted to do,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

The number of proposed tax increases per year is as follows:

-79 tax increases for FY 2010

-52 tax increases for FY 2011

-47 tax increases for FY 2012

-34 tax increases for FY 2013

-137 tax increases for FY 2014

-93 tax increases for FY 2015

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Obama budget with the lowest number of proposed tax increases was released during an election year: In February 2012, Obama released his FY 2013 budget, with “only” 34 proposed tax increases. Once safely re-elected, Obama came back with a vengeance, proposing 137 tax increases, a personal record high for the 44th President.

In addition to the 442 tax increases in his annual budget proposals, the 20 signed into law as part of Obamacare, and the massive tobacco tax hike signed into law on the sixteenth day of his presidency, Obama has made it clear he is open to other broad-based tax increases.

Stossel cautions against falling for climate hyperbole

John Stossel‘s latest column posted at Human Events offers some skepticism about alarmist environmental arguments.

A few years back, we were going to be killed by global cooling, overpopulation, pesticide residues, West Nile virus, bird flu, Y2K, cellphone radiation, mad cow disease, etc. Now it’s global warming.

Reporters don’t make these scares up. The recent hype about global warming comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Most of its members are serious scientists. But reporters don’t realize that those scientists, like bird flu specialists, have every incentive to hype the risk. If their computer models (which so far have been wrong) predict disaster, they get attention and money. If they say, “I’m not sure,” they get nothing.

Also, the IPCC is not just a panel of scientists. It’s an inter governmental panel. It’s a bureaucracy controlled by the sort of people who once ran for student council and are “exhilarated by the prospect of putting the thumb of the federal government on the scale.”

Actually, that wasn’t a quote from a global warming alarmist. It’s from anti-marijuana alarmist and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joe Califano. But it’s the same crisis mindset. Scientists who disagree, who are reluctant to put their thumbs on the government scale, don’t feel welcome in the IPCC.

It’s possible climate change may become a problem. But even if industrialization brings warming, we’ve got more important problems. On my TV show this week, statistician Bjorn Lomborg points out that “air pollution kills 4.3 million people each year … We need to get a sense of priority.” That deadly air pollution happens because, to keep warm, poor people burn dung in their huts.

Yet, time and again, environmentalists oppose the energy production most likely to make the world cleaner and safer. Instead, they persuade politicians to spend billions of your dollars on symbolism like “renewable” energy.

“The amazing number that most people haven’t heard is, if you take all the solar panels and all the wind turbines in the world,” says Lomborg, “they have (eliminated) less CO2 than what U.S. fracking (cracking rocks below ground to extract oil and natural gas) managed to do.”

Barack Obama and voter suppression

Those who have followed North Carolina’s voter ID debate closely might find some interest in a Daily Caller column from Hughey Newsome, member of the advisory council for Project 21.

Claims that voter ID and other polling place protections are intentional attempts to suppress minority voters continue to garner headlines. That this has happened in the past cannot be denied, but there have been numerous attempts to deny voters’ voices, and not all are Jim Crow analogies.

For example, there was an upstart community organizer from Chicago who ran for a state senate seat in Illinois in 1996. He won his party’s nomination, in part, by invalidating thousands of names on his opponents’ petitions – including those supporting the incumbent – by looking for inconsistencies in names, addresses and pertinent registration information.

Embattled ballot protection efforts such as list purges are used to deal with many of these same inconsistencies this candidate used to knock out his competition and eventually run unopposed in the primary and win easily that November.

During the 2008 presidential primaries, party officials in Florida and Michigan improperly held their primaries earlier than national party leaders allowed. The Republican Party held to its rule that such violations meant only half a state’s delegation would be seated at the convention, but Democrats held their delegations in political limbo. Full voting rights were restored just before the convention — after the presumptive nominee was secure in his victory. Until then, the nominee — once again, the community organizer from Illinois — remained remarkably silent as his party threatened to essentially invalidate primary votes in two states.

Ironically, the organizer responsible for both those political maneuvers was the same person complaining about voter suppression at Sharpton’s convention — President Barack Obama.

To think that only one political party might suppress minority votes with malicious intent is erroneous. Politics is a tough game. To assume only one party or group would resort to such tactics is naïve and preposterous. Such naiveté leads to ironies such as our President, who actively limited voter options in 1996 and was silent when votes were at risk of being invalidated in 2008, now seeking to invigorate a flagging base by stoking fears of voter suppression.

Shlaes does not want us to compound the problem of economic illiteracy

Amity Shlaes invokes the theater, history, and economics in arguing for National Review Online readers about the importance of teaching the value of compound interest.

For their first encounter with the principle of compounding, many Americans have Walt Disney to thank. It is his and the Sherman brothers’ 1964 version of the musical Mary Poppins that includes the song “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.” A row of senescent bankers, led by Dick Van Dyke playing an asthmatic in a false beard, conjure for the child Michael Banks what the tuppence in his hand can generate if left to grow undisturbed. “Railways through Africa,” the men and Michael’s father tell the boy. “Dams across the Nile,” and, most evocative of all, “plantations of ripening tea.”

Never mind that the Shermans and Disney made sure to offset that lesson in markets with another number, “Feed the Birds,” so manipulatively redistributionist that it could have been scored by Thomas Piketty himself. What matters is that young people got some exposure to the rhythm of markets. They take in, after a while, that money growing 9 percent a year takes only seven years to double, a mysterious expression of the so-called Rule of 72. And that as they stare at their screens and move about their mutual funds, they can mutter Van Dyke’s famous line to themselves: “Tuppence . . . [pause to wheeze] will [pause to wheeze] comPOUND.”

These days that balance is gone from Poppins. Producers of the recent Broadway show kept “Feed the Birds” and the compelling near-vagrant lady who argues for spending today. The “Fidelity Fiduciary” number, however, is omitted. The recent film Saving Mr. Banks, about the making of Disney’s Poppins, does reference “Fidelity Fiduciary,” but it spends much more time reminding us that the author of the original Mary Poppins book, P. L. Travers, herself didn’t care for money.

The missing compounding principle in the Broadway Poppins in turn reflects the absence of this principle in our political culture. Compounding and redistribution used to be conveyed in tandem. Now, our culture pounds the theme of redistribution 24/7 and skips the rest. …

… The children of the wealthy still get herded quietly to the bank and learn about the Rule of 72. But the rest of the children in the country learn only about fairness, tax breaks, and evil plutocrats. Whatever is wrong with banks and banking law, and there is plenty, and whatever is wrong with markets, they still have the power to do for people much more than any tax committee can.

To restore the tarnished bank in the American mind requires more resources, political, legislative, and financial, than 1,000 Disney musicals. Banks should be allowed to fail, as “Fidelity Fiduciary” nearly does in the Poppins film. But a first step in the right direction might be to provide a little exposure of the compounding principle wherever possible, highlighting the historical record. Compounding, after all, is such a powerful engine of social mobility that it leaves the tax code in the dust. No one ever became rich from the EITC.

Carson urges return to American exceptionalism

Neurosurgeon and freshly minted political rock star Ben Carson offers National Review Online readers a history lesson about American exceptionalism.

What is disturbing in the pursuit of goodness is the turning of a blind eye toward corruption, much like the Romans did before the fall of their empire. Episodes such as the Internal Revenue Service scandal should alarm all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. The fact that one party has characterized it as a “phony scandal” tells you a great deal about the loss of honesty in our society.

The fact that one party is willing to use its majority status to cram a health-care bill down the throats of the minority party and the American people and then refuses to acknowledge the obvious illegitimacy of a bill passed largely on the basis of false information provides a barometer on the lack of importance placed on virtue in our society today. How can such a society in any way claim to be good?

How can a society that kills millions of innocent unborn babies and then labels anyone opposing the practice “anti-woman” claim even a modicum of goodness? How can a nation that uses its news media to subtly trash traditional families, promote a drug-filled lifestyle, and ridicule faith in God claim the mantle of righteousness?

I could go on pointing out how far we have strayed from our Judeo-Christian roots. For some, such a departure cannot come soon or dramatically enough. However, I believe the majority of Americans understand that we are different from everyone else, and that difference had a great deal to do with our rapid rise to the pinnacle of world power and wealth.

As we depart from our former values of decency, honesty, compassion, and fairness, our status as a blessed nation will also be diminished.

Our decline is not necessary if we can learn from the mistakes of others and reclaim the values upon which our nation was built. I am not advocating a national religion, but I do think we should seriously consider the words of John Adams, who said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

America can be great, but it requires real courage and conviction to resist the urge to be “cool.”