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Mark Steyn: “Free speech is in retreat around the world”

I love Mark Steyn’s writing. He is, of course, known for his biting wit, which is terrific and entertaining. But I also appreciate his intellect and writing style. In this piece, Steyn takes on the “Beverly Hills big shots” over their quick cave to threats over “The Interview.”

Free speech is in retreat around the world. Twenty-five years ago, through all the violent demonstrations and murders of associated figures, The Satanic Verses remained in print and in almost every bookstore. Were it a new book being pitched today, no publisher would take it. I see that, following the disappearance of The Interview, a Texan movie theater replaced it with a screening of Team America. That film wouldn’t get made today, either.

Hollywood has spent the 21st century retreating from storytelling into a glossy, expensive CGI playground in which nothing real is at stake. That’s all we’ll be getting from now on. Oh, and occasional Oscar bait about embattled screenwriters who stood up to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee six decades ago, even as their successors cave to, of all things, Kim’s UnKorean Activities Committee. American pop culture – supposedly the most powerful and influential force on the planet – has just surrendered to a one-man psycho-state economic basket-case that starves its own population.

Kim Jong-won.

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There Is Hope For Kids Who Need Our Help

Carolina Journal’s Dan Way reports on a development in education policy that offers hope for a better future for kids in areas of the state that, for now, have few education options.

Some state education officials are hoping that a plan approved by the State Board of Education and sent to a legislative committee for action will speed the process of letting high-performing charter schools replicate their success in underserved regions.

“This is literally an instance of let the market dictate the supply. My personal hope is that we will actually see replication in places where you don’t see an adequate supply of charter schools,” said Martez Hill, executive director of the State Board of Education.

“I have a hope and a desire to see this happen in eastern North Carolina, among other regions, Hill said.

“I would think we’ll probably see a variety of replication models that may just focus on a certain region, or may focus on certain types of students. We’re interested in all types of innovative possibilities,” Hill said.

The State Board of Education approved a report to the General Assembly at its Dec. 4 meeting advocating a fast-track charter school replication process for charter schools that can demonstrate three years of proven academic and financial success.

Let’s urge legislators to take a tangible step forward in bringing hope and opportunity to more North Carolina children.

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Rejoice For The Children

Those of us who believe every child, no matter his/her circumstances, deserves an opportunity to learn in an environment that best suits his/her individual needs and interests can rejoice in the latest news about North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program.

The N.C. Supreme Court says the state can commence administrative preparations for the Opportunity Scholarship Program while it considers an appeal from a lower court’s order that ruled the program unconstitutional.

“The State Education Assistance Authority may proceed with all preliminary administrative steps necessary to prepare for the 2015-16 academic year,” the Supreme Court’s order says. However, the court stopped short of allowing it to actually distribute funds for next year’s scholarships. Distribution had been scheduled to start Aug. 15, 2015.

“We are encouraged by the Supreme Court’s order granting our petition and allowing the Opportunity Scholarship Program to move forward,” said Renee Flaherty, an Institute for Justice attorney representing parents of Opportunity Scholarship recipients. “This means that the program can continue without disruption so that families can apply for scholarships and will receive them for the 2015-16 academic rear, if we prevail on appeal.”

“This is excellent news for the thousands of families who missed the opportunity to participate in the program’s first year and are eager for an educational option that best fits their needs,” said Karen Duquette, vice president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports the voucher program. “Not only will this allow new families to apply for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but the Supreme Court has already showed a strong sign by allowing existing scholarship recipients to continue on the scholarship this year, which is hopefully a good indicator about the future of the program for next year and beyond.”

While this is good news, we also recognize that the entrenched Big Education monopoly that wants to take away this opportunity from low-income kids is engaged in a fierce legal battle to protect the status quo system. We must continue our fight against the progressives and their Democratic allies to ensure that these children are not trapped in schools that fail to meet their needs.

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Wake Schools To Keep Taxpayer Money For Kids They Aren’t Teaching

Unbelievable. That’s the only apt description of what the News & Observer reports is occurring in Wake County schools. Wake has enrolled 1,023 fewer students than the funding that was appropriated to the system by the state. It’s not unusual for projected enrollment to differ from actual enrollment. Projections are educated guesses.

Wake gets $4,639 per student from the state. While the final decision hasn’t been made, Wake’s funding could be reduced by the cost of 511.5 students – half of the 1,023-student shortfall, according to Andrew Cox, section chief of DPI’s school reporting section.

Here’s what’s different about the current scenario, however.

When Republicans led the Wake County Board of Commissioners, demands were often made that the school system should return money whenever enrollment fell short of projections. Wake’s enrollment came 750 students below the district’s projections, a figure involving more than $1.5 million in local dollars.

But James West, new chairman of the board of commissioners, said he has no intention of asking the school system to give back money. The new all-Democratic commission that took office after sweeping last month’s elections accused the former Republican majority of underfunding the school system.

“We don’t want to do anything that would destroy our working together and coming forward with the kind of cooperation we need to work in a positive way,” West said.

And what about the “cooperation” with the taxpayers who expect that the money they work hard for is spent efficiently? Bottom line: Wake schools will be keeping money intended for students that haven’t actually enrolled in the system. What is appropriate about that?

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Light Rail About Freedom? No, It’s About Tax Hike To Fund Train Very Few Will Ride

Carolina Journal’s Dan Way reports today on the relentless push by Wake County Democrats/progressives, who now control the county commission, to push ahead with a costly light rail plan that is highly unlikely to deliver on the utopian promises its supporters espouse. Just last year, consultants recommended expanding bus service to meet transit needs. But here’s what’s brewing now that progressives have taken control of the commission.

Jarrett Walker, president of a Portland, Ore.-based transit consulting firm bearing his name, has been engaged by Wake County and other local government and nonprofit groups — along with the Kimley-Horn consulting firm of Cary — to implement the new transit study.

Walker presented an outline and answered questions at a Dec. 8 public meeting of some 600 people at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Walker’s presentation of the recent history and benefits of mass transit systems used maps and grids to show how somewhat comparable capital cities of Columbus, Ohio, and Salem, Ore., have capitalized on expanded transit with higher frequency. But he downplayed discussion of how the transit upgrades would be paid for and whether they would include rail.

“We’re talking about paying some more taxes in return for a better transit system,” Walker said, “and people are going to decide for themselves ultimately whether it is worth that for them.”

He said the economic cost of an expanded transit system “is extremely tangible. We are talking an increment of some sort of revenue source that’s going to come out of somebody’s pocket.”

He cautioned against limiting judgments to just economic benefits because the pluses are “so diverse.” Transit “has social inclusion, social benefits. It has environmental benefits. It has benefits to people’s sensation of liberty,” and enhances income mobility for those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

Several times Walker linked transit with freedom, saying it provides commuters another option for travel; allows people to forego the financial burden of owning, operating, and parking a car; and eliminates the stress of driving for people traumatized by accidents.

Get ready: the consultant is telegraphing the messaging the commission may use to convince Wake County voters to agree to a half-cent sales tax required to move this wrong-headed plan along.

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Rep. Mark Meadows Pushes For Obamacare Answers

North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows of the 11th District this week questioned Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of Medicare and Medicaid Services, about Obamacare costs and tax liability. It’s a fascinating exchange about Obamacare’s impact.

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It’s Free, It’s Free, It’s Free!

AEI’s James Pethokoukis looks at plans by progressives to help get young voters to the polls in 2016. How about “free” college for everyone?!

This is exactly the kind of proposal which should make people skeptical of government. That’s right, make no demands on the higher education industry to improve affordability and value. Just open the spigot of taxpayer money to full blast. And when that happens, tuition will go up even more. Among other studies, work by Stephanie Riegg Cellini of George Washington University and Claudia Goldin of Harvard find that that aid-eligible institutions “charge much higher tuition … across all states, samples, and specifications” which suggests “institutions may indeed raise tuition to capture the maximum grant aid available.” As AEI’s Andrew Biggs has put it, “Much of federal student aid is corporate welfare for colleges.” Economist and college president Howard Bowen has described the inflationary dynamic this way: Colleges raise and then spend all the money can. And why not? Students are at an information disadvantage. They equate higher prices with higher quality and are unable to accurately gauge the value of specific institutions or programs.

Unless we break the money cycle, there will be no incentive for colleges to provide a competitive product, and for parents/students to shop for value and quality.

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Those Rotten Rich People Behaving Badly Again

The Left loves to berate the “rich” for not paying their “fair share” and for simply being rotten meanies who’ve won life’s lottery and don’t give a darn about the rest of us.

Wrong.

A firm that follows the habits of those with $30 million or more in assets shows this group is, in fact, quite generous. From the Wall Street Journal, here are just four of the top 10 charitable donations, according to the firm.

Warren Buffett gave $2.1 billion, or 3% of his net worth, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in the form of 16.6 million shares of Berkshire Hathaway.

Nicholas Woodman, the founder and chief executive of GoPro, and his wife gave $497.5 million, or 10% of their net worth, to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Ronnie Chan and Gerald Chan, brothers and Hong Kong real-estate moguls, gave $175 million each to Harvard, or 10% and 12% of their net worth, respectively.

Hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin gave Harvard $150 million, some 3% of his net worth.

Will the Left ever appreciate the impact the wealthy have on so many people in so many ways? I hope so.

 

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“kicking some workers to the curb in order to pay other workers more.”

I often wonder why those who argue for increasing the minimum wage are so dismissive of the people who will be hurt by their plan. There’s no doubt that hiking the wages for some will be a benefit to that group. But what about the people who won’t be hired or who won’t get the raise they’ve earned through stellar performance or productivity because there’s simply no more money to go around? What about them? We hear crickets from the Left on this undeniable fact.

In today’s Daily Journal, JLF’s John Hood brings us more data on the negative impacts of raising the minimum wage when there is no increase in productivity/value.

Thanks to two other economists, Andrew Hanson of Marquette University and Zackary Hawley of Texas Christian, we now have a reasonable estimate of how President Obama’s proposed minimum-wage hike would affect North Carolina’s labor market. Their paper, just published in the Journal of Labor Research, takes into consideration differences in preexisting wage rates and living costs across the states. It shows that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, as the administration and Democrats in Congress want to do, would eliminate as many as 1.5 million jobs nationwide.

Here in North Carolina, Hanson and Hawley estimate a low-bound job loss of 7,312 and a high-bound loss of 46,100 from their main model. Alternative models also produce sizable effects, some nearing 50,000 lost jobs.

Fairness requires me to point out, however, other workers would gain from the policy. They’d get more pay. Minimum wages act as a kind of income redistribution — kicking some workers to the curb in order to pay other workers more. But the welfare gains aren’t apportioned in a way that left-wing supporters of the policy ought to like. Middle-income whites boosting their discretionary incomes are disproportionately among those who gain. Lower-income black and Hispanic youngsters who may well need their jobs to meet their family’s basic needs are disproportionately among those who lose.

The best way to boost the wages of low-skilled workers is to boost the productivity of their labor. Better tools and equipment are one answer. Better education and training are another. Also keep in mind that on-the-job training can’t happen unless someone is, indeed, on the job. So making it attractive for entrepreneurs to start new firms and businesses to hire more workers will help, too.

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If It’s OK In Higher Ed, Why Isn’t It OK In K-12?

Ask folks why they think about the K-12 public school system and you’re likely to hear it’s a mostly one-size-fits-all system that doesn’t allow a whole lot of options. Ask folks what they think about colleges and universities, and lack of choices rarely makes the list of complaints. In a very interesting piece, the Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson writes that higher education gets a lot more things right than do the monopolistic K-12 schools. Among them:

Professors are paid as individuals, not as a collective.

University professors in demanding fields, especially those with options outside academia, are paid more. Thus, the mean salary for a professor of engineering is $117,911 annually, while a history professor earns, on average, $82,944.

While there can be debate about the merits of the “public-or-perish” criteria, pay differentials are based on individual merit, again unlike K-12 education. Instructors, who do no research, earn less pay than tenure-track professors, who are expected to publish. Moreover, professors are evaluated on their merits when they are up for tenure: How many journal articles have they published? How good (or bad) are their student evaluations? Have they performed any administrative, advising, or outreach work to the satisfaction of the committee? University teachers receive no credit for simply sticking around for a requisite amount of time.

K-12 officials could learn a lot from looking at how the universities operate. Differential pay — it’s a concept whose time has arrived.

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