September 30, 2009

California Tax Commission Releases Ground-Breaking Plan -

California Tax Commission Releases Ground-Breaking Plan -

Our own Vermont Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission created by the Legislature in the 2009 session would do well to consider this recommendation by a similar group in California. Vermont, on a much smaller scale, has many of the same problems and underlying culture/ideologies driving the painful deficits that are staring us in the face in the next 2-3 years.

"...They [CA commission members] may be motivated by the reality that California's steeply progressive tax rates are defeating the purposes of progressive government. To wit, only a growing economy can create opportunity for the middle class and enough state revenues to finance schools and health care for the poor. A tax code that depends on 1% of taxpayers, 144,000 filers, to finance 50% of state income tax revenues has proven to be unsustainable, notwithstanding the liberal dogma that says tax rates don't matter."

Businesses have been fleeing California for tax-friendlier states. Meanwhile, Vermont has seen little economic growth and virtually no job growth in the private sector during the past decade.

September 29, 2009

More Cows and More Milk Mean More Headaches -

More Cows and More Milk Mean More Headaches -

Genetic technology that enables farmers to produce more cows than bulls contributes to ever more supply than demand for milk.

Our politicians would serve us better by understanding that we have an oversupply problem...simply too much milk. Rather than snarking around looking for evil scapegoat milk processors and continuing to subsidize excess production, they would serve the dairy industry better by enabling dairy farmers to convert to other forms of agriculture.

September 27, 2009

TeamObama Apparently Discombobulated

Aides in the Obama administration must be beside themselves with the political pain that foreign affairs is wreaking on their domestic agenda. His United Nations appearance, the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, the public revelation of Iran's secret underground nuclear facility (certainly not a secret to the players involved) [One wonders why now is the right time to go public with it?], and the quandary of Afghanistan have all served to push the domestic agenda away from the public consciousness.

Or is that all part of a grand diversion scheme to take pressure off Congress to enable them to push through health care reform, cap and trade, and card check while Americans are absorbed in foreign policy issues?

TeamObama clearly has its hands full. They have failed to convince Americans that their health care reform is the right way to go and they have to make a strong public case for whichever course of action he decides for Afghanistan. That won't be easy regardless of his decision. I sense that most of the softening up that's happening in the liberal media is preparing the way for a decision not to send the troops the Pentagon is requesting for a counterinsurgency strategy.

Vermont's junior Senator has this to say about the war in Afghanistan:

We do need to have that debate!

NY Times Public Editor Speaks About Coverage of ACORN, etc.

Hoyt, the NY Times Public Editor rambles on about how and why the Times provided scant coverage to the ACORN story and the resignation of Van Jones, an Obama 'czar' that were rampant on the Internet. A couple of quotes below show that he may have some understanding why I and many millions of people believe the Times has become a 'flack' for TeamObama.

The Times is a liberal, biased newspaper, just as Fox News is a conservative biased cable network. To pretend this is not the case is ridiculous. If they believe they are 'fair and balanced' as Fox is wont to say, they are kidding themselves.
Be not deceived!

"But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself."

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.

How can she say this and believe it? Abramson is obviously in denial.

Here's a story in the Washington Post about ACORN's corruptness that just as well could have run in the New York Times were they not editorially a TeamObama mouthpiece.

September 26, 2009

AT&T Says Google Voice Violates Net Neutrality Principles - Bits Blog -

AT&T Says Google Voice Violates Net Neutrality Principles - Bits Blog -

Here's the real issue (Follow the Money!):

"Whether AT&T is right depends on all sorts of technical interpretations of the commission’s policies and which regulations actually apply to Google Voice, which is a technological patchwork of telephone calling and Internet communication.

But that really isn’t AT&T’s primary concern. The company is mainly trying to score some debating points and show that sometimes companies have good reason to treat some uses of their networks differently than others. (If you do want to get into the policy minutiae, start with this post from the public-interest telecom lawyer Harold Feld .)

What AT&T and Google agree on is that the system for exchanging payments between phone companies for completing long-distance calls is deeply flawed. I looked into this last year, when Kevin Martin, then the F.C.C. chairman, wanted to reform what is called intercarrier compensation. After a week trying to understand those rules, I ran away screaming. Our long-distance system is so topsy-turvy that it makes the Mad Hatter’s tea party look like drill time at West Point."

And the struggle continues...

The lines between content, software, telecommunications services within the framework of laws and regulations continue to blur as the Internet protocols and applications become more pervasive. The issues are really important because decisions or lack of them at the FCC threaten carrier business models that have been crafted on the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the various definitions and rulings about interconnection compensation rules, subsidies (Universal Service Fund, etc.), enhanced services, and pending issues like net neutrality and others, how/if wireless carriers should be regulated, et al.

Technology marches inexorably forward as very smart people build tools and applications that have great consumer and business appeal which often threaten to upset the carefully honed business models of the telecommunications carriers.

Google and its spawn loom like a cloud over these carriers. Is it any surprise that no significant deals or partnerships have been wrought between them and Google? The big carriers , e.g., AT&T and Verizon, likely see Google as only a step away from munching their lunch, just as the newspapers believe that Google has eaten theirs by sucking away lucrative advertising dollars.

And because Google is widely seen as being very close to TeamObama by virtue of the warm relationship between CEO Eric Schmidt and President Obama, the carriers are concerned that future regulatory and legal decisions in this arena are more likely to favor Google's positions over their own.

September 22, 2009

Dismal Test Results for Science Education in Vermont

The information below from Vermont's Department of Education is dismal news indeed. In fact it is an embarrassment and I think reflects very poorly on our teachers and their understanding, let alone capacity to teach science. Teaching 'green' and 'respect for the environment' does not qualify as science.

Despite exorbitant spending on education, these awful results show how far we have to go to get our money's worth. Students especially deserve better and so do taxpayers!

Fifty-two percent of Vermont fourth graders tested were proficient or higher in science, up four points from last year. In grade eight, 25 percent were proficient or higher, down one point. In grade 11, 27 percent were proficient or higher, up 2 points.

“There is an obvious need for improvement in how our students are learning science,” said Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. “The wide range of results by individual school, from zero percent to 96 percent proficient, shows me that students are capable of achieving the standard, but they are not all receiving the standards-based science curriculum that we expect due to the varied delivery of curriculum in our school districts.”


September 22, 2009

Statewide Science Assessment Results Released

MONTPELIER – Statewide science assessment results for Spring 2009 were released by the Vermont Department of Education today. The results are from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) science exams, given to Vermont public school students for the second time in grades 4, 8 and 11 in May 2009.

Fifty-two percent of Vermont fourth graders tested were proficient or higher in science, up four points from last year. In grade eight, 25 percent were proficient or higher, down one point. In grade 11, 27 percent were proficient or higher, up 2 points.

“There is an obvious need for improvement in how our students are learning science,” said Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. “The wide range of results by individual school, from zero percent to 96 percent proficient, shows me that students are capable of achieving the standard, but they are not all receiving the standards-based science curriculum that we expect due to the varied delivery of curriculum in our school districts.”

As seen in previous years statewide and nationally, an achievement gap persists between students from low-income families and their peers. In grade four, only 33 percent of those students were proficient or higher, compared to 61 percent of their peers. In grade eight, only 10 percent of those students were proficient or higher, compared to 30 percent of their peers. In grade 11, only 13 percent of those students were proficient or higher, compared to 30 percent of their peers.

“These results represent an early snapshot of science understanding by Vermont students, and indicate that alignment of instruction with science grade expectations in elementary classrooms is beginning to make a difference,” said Science Assessment Coordinator Gail Hall. “However, all school programs need to continue to give standards-based science content greater emphasis within classrooms, as well as problem solving, critical thinking, and reading and writing skills in science.”

The NECAP exams were created in collaboration with Rhode Island and New Hampshire. These exams are designed to specifically assess how well Vermont students have learned the skills and content contained in the Vermont Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities. This is the second year of results on the NECAP science exams.

For school reports, visit For more information, contact Jill Remick at (802) 828-3154 or Michael Hock at (802) 828-3115.

September 20, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor - A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe -

Op-Ed Contributor - A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe -

Bravo for Secretary Gates. He makes a reasoned argument for the announced change in deployment strategy and technology for missile-defense in Europe.

In a former life I worked in the ABM systems that the army was testing to counter Soviet Cold-War ICBMs. Then I was amazed at the technology we had available. At that time we had the capability to destroy outside the atmosphere Multiple Independently-Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs). Now the developments and capability must be astounding.

I support Gates and TeamObama's decision to deploy a different, more effective system earlier than that originally proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic.

Cap & Trade Economic Impacts

Charts below are from the WSJ, 09/20/09 electronic edition accompanying two opposing opinions about whether the worldwide cap and trade proposal can achieve the goal (80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050) without damaging the economy.

Cap and Trade is a theory that will not achieve the goals espoused by its proponents for the simple reason that China, India and other developing countries simply will not buy in. They have already said so. Without participation by these countries, C&T simply will not work. How can it be simpler than that? Even the originator of the C&T theory has backed of its efficacy for the purposes of global greenhouse gas reduction.

For the U.S. to go it alone, or even with many other developed countries without the undeveloped countries would be foolish. To send them money to alleviate the economic pain to participate would be doubly foolish.

Of course, this all assumes that climate change is driven by man-made greenhouse gasses, an unproven belief.

September 18, 2009

Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business - Bits Blog -

Verizon Boss Hangs Up on Landline Phone Business - Bits Blog -

CEO Seidenberg is absolutely correct in his analysis that the traditional local telephone service provided over copper landline and its infrastructure of circuit switching business is 'dead.' But death will come painfully as witnessed by FairPoint Communications' difficulties in purchasing and operating the Verizon local telephone operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in the face of 10% annual decline in customer lines.

Rural telephony's 'last mile' In the future will be provided via 3G/4G/?G wireless. FairPoint's hoped-for cash cow of the local telephone business can only survive using the older technologies with massive subsidies, an then only a few years at most.

It's the end of an era in which I spent a good part of my career.

September 14, 2009

Kim Strassel: The President’s Tort Two-Step -

Given this state of affairs, is it any wonder that people do not trust this Administration to do the right thing in reforming health care? It’s a travesty that Congress should remedy, but too many are on the take from the trial lawyers, it would appear. We should not let this stand. When there’s obvious big money to be saved and the Democrats stand by and do nothing speaks volumes about their trustworthiness and, frankly, their ethics.

My guess is there are stories to be told about the other side of the aisle on other issues. Congress and politicians deserve their low approval ratings and Tea Party Patriots are right to rebel against this sordid state of American politics. Humbug!

Kim Strassel: The President’s Tort Two-Step -

September 9, 2009

Vermont Dairy in Tough Straits

Dairy economists at the USDA say there is a 'minimum efficient scale' and a 'maximum efficient scale' between which the unit cost of dairy output is flat, given constant input prices. This is the part of 'the curve' where dairy farms operate most efficiently. Unfortunately, the source does not define the size of a dairy operation at these points. It's a curve that suggests that below the 'minimum efficient scale,' unit costs decrease as volume increases. Above the 'maximum efficient scale' unit costs begin to rise again because input costs that must be purchased such as labor, manure haulage and disposal, and non-farm produced feed, etc., cause a higher cost per unit production.

In Vermont, it's likely that most dairy farms are too small to be on the 'flat' part of the curve portrayed.

The present economic pain for Vermont dairy farmers results from milk oversupply nationally and internationally and the first level derived products like powdered milk and bulk cheese. There simply are too many efficient cows, which suggests there are too many farms devoted to bulk dairy whose input costs are too high. (Fuel is not the culprit this year as it was before the last run-up in milk prices before the recession stimulated the plunge in market demand.)

Some suggest that milk could be marketed to leverage Vermont's quality 'brand cachet.' We have no evidence that 'cachet' could deliver higher retail prices for commodity milk. Most people are price sensitive for retail bulk milk and would not pay a large difference when brands exist side by side in the store. Vermonters might engage in a 'buy local' effort, but most Vermont milk is intermingled with other sources. The cachet associated with 'certified organic' milk could not support its higher price and the market retreated dramatically in this recession.

While it's certainly true that dairy creates a host of other related economic activity and jobs, other types of Vermont agriculture would support similar activity on the same, or perhaps even less, acreage. I am persuaded that Vermont's bulk milk output to available markets could be met by fewer more efficient operations freeing much of our open agricultural land for other, hopefully more profitable, uses.

Despite the good will and hope, market forces will severely limit bulk milk dairy in it's present form in Vermont.

And then there's the massive problem, mostly downplayed, of Lake Champlain's phosphorous load, nearly 40% attributed to agricultural runoff, mostly from dairy farms. In Missisquoi Bay, the estimate is 70% or more caused by agricultural runoff.

So, we are on the many horns of a painful dilemma. Vermont continues to lose dairy farms because of price contortions, distortions and market vagaries despite Federal government intervention. No one wants to see dairy farmers and related businesses lose their livelihood, but the present situation is untenable without long term subsidies, something Vermont can not afford to provide.

September 6, 2009

America's Deficits

Quotes are from the Wall Street Journal story[9/4/09] based on an interview of Mr. Walker by John Fund, the author.

David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States and now President of the Peterson Foundation defines our United States deficits:

"We have four deficits: a budget deficit, a savings deficit, a value-of-the-dollar deficit and a leadership deficit." "We are treating the symptoms of those deficits, but not the disease."

In my view, the leadership deficit is overarching, long term and responsible for the other three. We need people [not politicians] in our nation who are proven leaders to step up and run for office. Somehow we voters must find a way to derail traditional politics that has produced our dysfunctional, partisan Congress who often demonstrate that they do not have the best interests of our nation as their prime motivator for serving.

"Mr. Walker identifies the disease as having a basic cause: "Washington is totally out of touch and out of control," he (Walker) sighs. "There is political courage there, but there is far more political careerism and people dodging real solutions." He identifies entrenched incumbency as a real obstacle to change."

Vermont Dairy Farmers Face Stiff Competition

Here's an underlying reason that Vermont's dairy farms are in such deep trouble financially. In addition to the convoluted federal milk pricing/subsidy system, Vermont dairy farmers simply cannot compete effectively by producing a commodity product, bulk milk, with farms of the scale shown in the video below.

September 5, 2009

How American Health Care Killed My Father - The Atlantic (September 2009)

How American Health Care Killed My Father - The Atlantic (September 2009):

I stumbled on this Atlantic story referenced by David Brooks' Friday, September 4, 2009 NY Times column. While stimulated by the death of his father caused by an infection received in the hospital, Mr. Goldhill has spent extraordinary effort to research and understand the perverse incentives in our health care system. This sytem gobbles up 18% of our nation's economy and it continues to grow at twice the rate of inflation. He argues that ObamaCare is not the right answer because it tries to revamp a broken system without the sort of long-term restructuring to make the patient the focus of health care rather than the the payer.

I agree with Mr. Goldhill that the government cannot control costs. A bureaucracy has never shown itself capable of cost control when politicians are pulling the levers of 'reform' and placing government in charge of our citizens' health.

I have quoted from the article, but please read it for yourself for a full understanding of his analysis and recommendations.

"Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value."

The government's record of cost control is dismal.

"In designing Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, the government essentially adopted this comprehensive-insurance model for its own spending, and by the next year had enrolled nearly 12 percent of the population. And it is no coinci­dence that the great inflation in health-care costs began soon after. We all believe we need comprehensive health insurance because the cost of care—even routine care—appears too high to bear on our own. But the use of insurance to fund virtually all care is itself a major cause of health care’s high expense."

Insurance in the health care arena has been distorted from the purpose that insurance should serve.

"The unfortunate fact is, health-care demand has no natural limit. Our society will always keep creating new treatments to cure previously incurable problems. Some of these will save lives or add productive years to them; many will simply make us more comfortable. That’s all to the good. But the cost of this comfort, and whether it’s really worthwhile, is never calculated—by anyone. For almost all our health-care needs, the current system allows us as consumers to ask providers, “What’s my share?” instead of “How much does this cost?”—a question we ask before buying any other good or service. And the subtle difference between those two questions is costing us all a fortune."

And more good stuff about why government controlled health care won't work as well as a competitive marketplace.

"Cost control is a feature of decentralized, competitive markets, not of centralized bureaucracy—a matter of incentives, not mandates. What’s more, cost control is dynamic. Even the simplest business faces constant variation in its costs for labor, facilities, and capital; to compete, management must react quickly, efficiently, and, most often, prospectively. By contrast, government bureaucracies set regulations and reimbursement rates through carefully evaluated and broadly applied rules. These bureaucracies first must notice market changes and resource misallocations, and then (sometimes subject to political considerations) issue additional regulations or change reimbursement rates to address each problem retrospectively."

Here are the fundamental problems...

"A wasteful insurance system; distorted incentives; a bias toward treatment; moral hazard; hidden costs and a lack of transparency; curbed competition; service to the wrong customer. These are the problems at the foundation of our health-care system, resulting in a slow rot and requiring more and more money just to keep the system from collapsing."

And in conclusion...

"All of the health-care interest groups—hospitals, insurance companies, professional groups, pharmaceuticals, device manufacturers, even advocates for the poor—have a major stake in the current system. Overturning it would favor only the 300 million of us who use the system and—whether we realize it or not—pay for it. Until we start asking the type of questions my father’s death inspired me to ask, until we demand the same price and quality accountability in health care that we demand in everything else, each new health-care reform will cost us more and serve us less."

ObamaCare is a failed approach to remedy the health care crisis facing us. I have read little from others that is so on target as what Mr. Goldhill, a Democrat private business person, has laid out here. His solutions are not quick fixes, they are apolitical and they address the fundamental problems in today's health care boondoggle. Is TeamObama listening?

September 3, 2009

Carol Honored by United Way as HomeTown Hero (ine)

Today's breakfast organized by the United Way of Chittenden County to honor community volunteers was a grand success. The UW knows how to manage events, volunteers and recognition better than any organization I know. Kudos to the UW team and the event's corporate sponsors (Citizens Bank, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Mutual of America, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center) for a wonderful morning!!

What made is very special for the Ushers was that Carol was selected winner in the Senior category for her work in restorative justice at the Burlington Community Justice Center during the past 10 years. She was surprised, as you can imagine, and her thank-you include powerful words about the need and the power of reconciliation among individuals, within the community and the world.

Congratulations to my wife for her steadfast commitment to restorative justice and the honor of the award!!

September 2, 2009

David Brooks Losing Faith in Obama?

Op-Ed Columnist - The Obama Slide -

I have great respect for David Brooks as a journalist and author. Now he has come to realize, and is willing to say so, along with more and more Americans, that TeamObama is alienating millions by his policies and strategy. Brooks now advises TeamObama to "rebalance" because he has turned independents against him and his policies, particularly the wild spending spree that the Democrat Congress and this Administration have undertaken.

But Brooks is dead wrong to believe "Events have pushed Barack Obama off to the left." This man has been on the far left from his time in Congress and prior to that. I'm persuaded that he intends to remake America into a left-leaning socialist country. Some will argue that he needs time to settle in to the job and make the 'changes' he promised. I don't like the changes he has supported and the massive deficits he and Congress, especially the House, have supported. He certainly would be wise to change course, but that may not be possible because he is so leftist and his liberal allies in Congress, led by Pelosi and Reid, drink the same Kool-Aid. For a list of the far left liberal base in Congress, click here.

His charisma has bamboozled many voters who jumped in line to support him for President, mostly as a reaction against President Bush, I think. Obama is ineffective in the job and people will continue to see it and flee his bandwagon as he reveals his true nature and beliefs.

"The president’s challenge now is to halt the slide. That doesn’t mean giving up his goals. It means he has to align his proposals to the values of the political center: fiscal responsibility, individual choice and decentralized authority.

Events have pushed Barack Obama off to the left. Time to rebalance."