Union Public Policy Class

Solving the World's Problems One Bulldog at a Time

Climate Change

Being that we were not able to spend all that much time discussing Shea’s presentation here are just a few of my thoughts. First of all, thanks Shea for trying to condense a topic that has been a big part of public policy since most of us can remember into a thirty minute block. I am not normally a science person but I did really enjoy the science that you had in the presentation. I thought that it gave us a good base from which to evaluate the policy issues. I had a question and then one big issue that’s of particular interest to me that I wished you would have at least mentioned. First, you talked about Kyoto a good bit but my question about it is whether or not there is a real way to enforce that. Are there any repercussions for not abiding by the terms other than looking bad on the world stage?

The one big issue that I wished you would’ve brought up in the presentation was coal. You mentioned it briefly at one point I think, but coal is the ultimate evil for many environmentalists. I have heard the argument that it is one of the biggest contributors to the global climate change, but the fact remains that it is how a vast majority of the country’s electricity is produced. I  wouldn’t have minded seeing some figures on how much coal and various other materials contributed to the climate change issue, assuming it is really an issue.

Just a quick question to Spicer as well. Where did you get the stuff about EPA regulations hurting gas milage? I haven’t been able to find anything to that effect, but I thought it was really interesting. If you want to post a link to an article about it or send me in the right direction to find stuff about it I would appreciate it.

Thanks!

My friends accuse me of being a cynic. When they do, I vehemently object, but I have been convicted that almost everything I have to say about politics inspires myself and others to despair rather than to praise God. Therefore, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will list here the things I am thankful to God about in United States history and politics.
I give thanks for the rich history America has been given. It is true that the US has comparatively little real history when compared to some nations in the old world, but in our short 236 years we have seen more philosophers, fools, heroes, villains, and remarkable revelations of God’s grace than is the historical trend for two centuries. For this rich history I think God.
The song “God Bless America” has proven to be prophetic. For the massive and unparalleled blessings God has heaped upon my nation I am thankful. The United States possesses the most productive agricultural regions in history due to the plains and Midwest, we have rivers that could rival any of the great cradles of civilization in the old world, but instead have been been the veins and arteries of commerce and agriculture. America’s vast land has been a source of identity in centuries past and wealth in present experience. Nowhere else in the world can it be said that such vast areas of temperate climate are united under one flag and still remain in-exhausted. The United States possesses the potential energy and natural resources to rival any great empire in history.
In times of Feudal insecurity, castles would have moats dug around them in order to pose geographical barriers to invaders. America has been blessed with the largest moats in history in the form of oceans. Invasion of the United States has always been a near impossibility due to the incredible challenge posed by the oceans, and as America’s navy grew stronger these moats seemed to become larger and deeper. Global trade has had to reorient itself around the United States. This has caused the oceans to become both the economic and military strength of the United States.
Geography has been the greatest ally of the United States. Oceans, rivers, land, and resources are not the work of human endeavor. Truly every moment that Americans do not thank God for our wealth and strength is a moment of shameful ingratitude.
Beyond geography, however, America has developed a rich culture and people who seem to take the best elements of every immigrant community we absorb and wrap them into a unique and diverse people. God has truly blessed America in demographic strength in diversity, and for this every American should be thankful.
Given our natural strengths, America has not been shy on the world stage. It would be naive to say that America has always been a force for righteousness in the world, but there have been dictators overthrown, markets opened, billions of standards of living improved, millions liberated from oppression, and countless other actions. America has been bold and our gifts have not been completely squandered. For this I thank God.
I often find myself wringing my hands about the gridlock and lack of efficacy in our government, but too little do I remind myself of the value of slow change. A system where the whims of 51% can overthrow a century of precedence is not something to be desired. So in a rare moment of perspective, I thank God for the complicated, bureaucratic, inefficient, unrepresentative, and slow government of the United States. With the state of humanity, it is quite likely that democracy has come to the wrong conclusion. Because of this we should respect slow change and even no change at all.
Although this will pain me to say it, we ought to be thankful for all sides of the political spectrum. I am thankful for conservatives and the respect and wisdom they show. I am thankful for liberals and the idealism and love of equality that gives them drive. I am thankful for Democrats and the diversity of interest their coalition brings (Unions and Environmentalists under the same roof!). I am thankful for Republicans and their coalition as well (consider the miracle of evangelicals voting with libertarians and businessmen). I am thankful for libertarians for their individualism and for socialists for their collectivism.
I am also thankful for God’s mercy. Every nation is fraught with sin, but ours has several grievous and mortal sins at its core. That God has not sent us down the road of Sodom and Gomorrah or even sent plagues or invasion upon us is proof of his Grace. God has spared us in spite of our evil, may we forever be thankful for that.
On this day specifically I am thankful for turkey and potatoes that God blessed the world with through America and for the friends and family that I have who make up a part of this nation. God has richly blessed America. My prayer today is that we take these blessings and do not squander them.

A Recreational Look at Parks

The traditional idea of parks comes down to two specific ideas: land and community. As I have afore mentioned in the presentation American ideals are much different than that of the normal proponents of parks. The libertarian perspective on parks and recreation asserts the destruction of our ideal in favor of the more traditional standard.

Let us first consider land.

 

Land

In ancient times, fields would pass down through the family. The reasons for this are obvious; a family would make their living off substance farming. Each family would need a certain amount of land that could support them. For this reason families would need a large amount of land (for the sake of crop diversity) and families would naturally be larger in order to till the land, plant the seed, tend the plants, and harvest the crops. Thus inheritance from one generation to the next would include land and livestock. Israel is a very unusual example because they saw God as dividing up their land for them and regardless of property rights land would revert back to the original family every 50 years. Rome and Greece took the model we are more “familiar” with, that of land being owned by family and passing through to the family under you. If you lost your land in Rome or Greece, good luck on getting it back. Mainly the wealthy owned the land. If you were on the land of a noble man, and you weren’t in the family, you were probably a slave. The ruling people could use your land for the purposes they wanted. The general consensus through the ages is: the land is yours, unless the government needs it.

How America Views Land

With the dawn of the industrial revolution, land was viewed more as a commodity than a necessity. Manufacturing, brokering, and marketing could be done in buildings. The South could worry about the land issue. Paul Bunyan came a cuttin’ down the trees and a tamin’ the wild for the sake of lumber, manufacturing, and the American Way. As with all movements this created a backlash. The rise of exploitationist stocked the flames of the Romantic preservationist. Preservationists (or treetotalers as I call them) are propelled by a very romantic (not realistic) view of nature. Their vision of nature mirrors that of those who first came to this country. The Hudson River school (a group of Romantic painters) pursued their romantic pains on canvas. In their famous works man is portrayed as tiny and nature is both his master and teacher.

The Progressive era attempted to pursue all American mythos at once. Instead of trying to seek better ways that industry and nature could work. They wanted the exploitationist balanced with the preservationist. That is why you have government funding both parks and railroads. We now lived in a time hurt by both ends. The scars of exploitation run deep in our hills, rivers, and lakes (oil spills, acid rain, and endangered animals). Whilst the folly of trying to keep nature natural, stops us from possible technological progress (in fracking and oil pipelines) and reasonable budget cuts in parks and services. Reality must temper the passions of both sides in order for America to know what to do with the issue of land and environment.

Community

In his book National Parks: Rights and the Common Good, Francis N. Lovett reminds us of another way to think of parks and recreation. (Here you see the difference between parks and recreation: American parks are a romantic ideal, recreation is a communitarian approach to using parks). Just because something maybe communitarian does not make it bad. After all we feel the need for providing government buildings to elected officials and memorials to our veterans. Thus we should not begrudge the government staking claim to some land and making it public. “Often a well preserved park or national monument both serves the common good and is a source of joy and ennoblement for many individuals.” Every society needs a place of meeting and gathering. American recreation looks at nature as a means to an end, American parks see nature as an end unto itself. Thus recreation uses (not exploits) nature, while parks revere nature. Common places provide common culture.

People use the common places for various activities, such as hiking, fishing, picnics, camping, swimming, boating, jogging, plain ole meandering and much more. In an urban setting parks provide a break from concrete jungles. They allow people a taste of nature whilst still the convenience of a city. Local parks will typically include a playground, basketball courts, and a few fields for soccer or football. They can also include baseball fields and golf courses depending where in the country they are. The majority of these smaller parks are owned by the states. Depending on the county they maybe able to afford a number of things. I come from an affluent county where one local park has several baseball fields, two full size football fields, several practice/soccer fields, a skate park, stands for football, and a well maintained pond. Why do I mention this? To show the affect money has local politics and local parks and recreational habits.

Numbers

But of course when I talk about parks and recreation what exactly am I talking, how much do we spend on it?

Well… Here’s just Tennessee:

But why should I focus on Tennessee? Our parks are visited more than Yellowstone. Can I get an “Mhhmmmmm!”? TN: 7,695,502 visitors to national parks (in 2011)  v. WY: 5,982,465 visitors to national parks (in 2011).

(Instead of inserting charts and making this post even longer I have here links to some condensed numbers via the National park service) http://www.nps.gov/state/customcf/bythenumbers/tn.pdf

http://www.nps.gov/state/customcf/bythenumbers/wy.pdf

 What are the benefits of parks on the national level?

Once again these are mainly indirect. One benefit would be parks and recreation promote healthier life styles without forcing people to pay for a gym membership (helpful in urban environments). With the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid, this could be of grave importance in the future. Most payment for park passes or camping ‘licenses’ are in place to offset operation costs. Thus the federal government looks to retrieving tax revenue through taxing the local businesses who thrive off tourism and taxing to fill up the tank, as well as fees for filming and still photography (because a picture is worth a thousand dollars)*. Now when we think of tourism don’t just think interstate tourism, though that is an important factor. Think international tourism. According to the International Trade Administration 48% of international tourists visit Historical Places , 29% visit Cultural Heritage Sites, and 24% of international tourists visit national parks. So on a national level, parks generate little income, but the truth is we don’t how much pull they really have. In order to understand the impact one must observe parks at a state level.

http://home.nps.gov/applications/digest/permits.cfm?urlarea=permits

*Actually the costs are a little more reasonable

What are the benefits of parks and recreation on the state level?

The easy answer here is: everybody now knows that Wyoming has a purpose. Taken more seriously and setting aside the intrinsic qualities like (community and identity):

  1. State sales tax (it’s not a coincidence that we have a 9.45% sales tax)
  2. Business boosts- Helpful because this will be later taken out as state income tax, if there is one.
  3. Revenue from small recreational leagues. (Baseball, soccer, football, Frisbee golf?)
  4. Speeding tickets (some people just can’t wait to get to the park).

“My research indicates that state parks contribute roughly one-third of all nature recreation in the United States, measured in hours of nature recreation per capita. Using conventional economic approaches to estimate the value of recreation time combined with relatively conservative assumptions, the estimated annual contribution of the state park system is around $14 billion. That value is considerably larger than the annual operation and management costs of state parks.”                         –Juha Siikamäki

Taken from: http://www.rff.org/Publications/Resources/Pages/179-Parks.aspx

 

What government agencies are involved?

National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Archives, Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration, Federal Highway Administration, and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Costs:

The annual budget for the NPS is $2.8 billion. However the rest is much broader. Consider that when a fire happens due to campers the local fire department is called. This cost will hit both the fire department and the park rangers. For the sake of the specie diversification and safety the government will participate in controlled burns. Because parks and recreation are include county, state, and federal levels, solid numbers are hard to come by. However in a very recent bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the administration allocated 300 million dollars to improve/make recreational trails among other things. The Recreational Trail Program takes in $75 million. But I think focusing on parks is the best course of action.

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/MAP21/summaryinfo.cfm

Problems

The largest problems for parks are not those that are economical but cultural. Parks have the hardest time competing with the whacked dynamics of a highly virtual society.

Funding:

The economy ain’t so hot and as such the government is hard-pressed to send any park bills to the floor that would assist the parks. Cuts need to be made and parks are the most likely candidate. Recreational bills have come and passed through riding on the back of other legislation (see above). Congress can pass recreational legislation because of the social and political benefits of having a candidate photographed at a basketball court in an urban environment with kids at his side than one next to a tree with rocks at his side. Margaret Walls in her article “Parks and Recreation in the United States: Local Park Systems” mentions that almost every urban park requests more funding. Also there is the issue of misappropriation of funds. There are backlogged maintenance costs some estimate it as high as $6 billion.

http://www.rff.org/rff/documents/RFF-BCK-ORRG_Local%20Parks.pdf

Environmental:

This is perhaps the most tragic irony of parks. No matter what you do you cannot escape the effects of industry. The idea of parks is to watch mother nature live until she is slowly smothered by happy tourists. Litter and overuse are expected problems for things like parks (you could say this is a “natural” side effect) the problems start to arise when the use of parks threatens to undo the look of parks.  While there are many good things that can be done with this (the installation of trash cans or a ban on Styrofoam cups in a park) the biggest problem is that we want non-modern looking solutions for environmental problems. Our main issue here is aesthetics. There are also issues of trees dying off, infestations, landslides, contamination, and poor air quality. These get lopped into maintenance costs.

Suburbanization:

Margaret Walls mentions one very interesting fact about parks, which I had not previously considered. She talks of the move from urban environments to suburban. In these cases the front lawn becomes one’s personal park (you can now understand where aesthetics plays in here as well). This could be a reason why people don’t like using their land to grow food for eating. With this emphasis on your personal park, who cares what the local one looks like? This would help explain why urban populations seek out communal places and suburban must pull teeth to foster community. There is also here the issue of virtual reality. Because most of today’s socialites love video games and Facebook, parks and recreation don’t have the same convenience factor. It is ‘all too easy’ to live a life distant from tangiable community.

Solutions

Here I will only address the possible solutions for funding.

Federal tax incentives:

Currently there is a 20% tax credit for rehabilitating historic, income producing buildings and a 10% tax credit associated with restoring non-historical buildings. One small solution would be to increase that 10% for non-historic renovation up to 15%. After all if private business can do the job better than the federal government, than why not give them a little more incentive to do it. Enact this for a year; watch the growth, then reduce the amount of money going to parks in general if there is sufficient renovation.

http://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives/taxdocs/Tax-Incentives-2011Statistical.pdf

Park Fees:

This has already been enacted in places like Wyoming and Michigan where the economies are stagnate and they need more revenue than usual, to cover the costs of when the park’s visitation is low in the winter. The trouble is this can reduce the amount of visitors and this doesn’t really help with smaller parks where people have less incentive to go. This has already been done a couple times and quite poorly at that.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2008/03/national-park-service-revenues-down-1-3-million-transition-america-beautiful-pass

Privatization:

Arizona is already picking up on this trend. They have turned over some of their parks to private holders, who are turning American mythos into money. Some of the problems would be the possible poor maintenance of American icons. After all once it’s out of government hands, it’s hard for a business to make easy laws prohibiting rascals from defacing the Grand Canyon (I know a ridiculous example but you understand the point). Also you could have an unnecessary rise in prices for the more iconic parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Teton. As always there is the high probability of over government regulation. After all the government never likes getting beat out of an industry. For further reading:

http://rrmpublicfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/A%20Tale%20of%20Two%20Parks.pdf

http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj1n2-6.html

Closing:

Saying goodbye to the America’s greatest idea would be impossible to do at once. If government funded parks must go it will be a slow trickle action. The dream must die a slow death, lest our psyche be destroyed. California plans on closing 70 state parks. These parks could be further developed by companies or best case scenarios bought by private investors/companies that would maintain it as a park. But development hurts. Why? Well ask Seth. One of those is Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Doesn’t sound familiar eh? Well that park happens to be the site where they shot the forest moon of Endor for the sixth Star Wars film. See what I mean about mythos, it hits you right in the heart.  http://www.closingcaliforniaparks.com/

Additional Resources:
http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2012/08/21/National-Parks-Show-Signs-of-Federal-Budget-Cuts.aspx#page2

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/10/30/proposed-federal-budget-cuts-would-deal-blow-to-americans-beloved-national/

http://tinet.ita.doc.gov/outreachpages/download_data_table/2011-leisure-profile.pdf

http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj1n2-6.html

Grant’s Presentation

Ok, I’m posting this for Grant because he is out of town.  It is late because of a long tale of technological woes, but it is here now.  Please access it here: 

https://www.dropbox.com/el/?r=/sh/nx4iy7eaaphpj81/J6wu7h5dJM&b=clk:7076120:15174017054507225159:777:446&z=AAAIYBpfG-8vSwYPnj9l6X__g3rD_5apryPVXIZ4WD1SkA

Careful, there are 5 files and they may not be in order.  The number is in the file name, so just check when you click them.  The power point should be there as well.

Marijuana Legalized, But Not For Long

Yesterday was a historic day in our nation’s history, not only because of the re-election of President Barack Obama, but because voters in the states of Washington and Colorado passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the biggest victory ever for the legalization movement. What does this mean for all of the pot smokers around the country? Will we see masses of hippies and libertarians moving to these states to partake in the freedoms they so rightly deserve? Businesses could thrive not only from the sales of the drug, but also from the sales of dealing with the side effects and consequences. There has even been rumor of NFL star Peyton Manning purchasing 21 Papa John’s franchises in Colorado last week, just in case the referendum passed (because, as many know, pizza is a favorite snack for marijuana’s side effect of “the munchies”).

I find this most interesting in respect to how the drug is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, which overrules states’ rights. Sources have said that the Drug Enforcement Administration has reiterated its stance that marijuana is an illegal drug and that possessing, using or selling it is a crime. The Colorado’s Attorney’s Office has released an identical statement. So how on earth is this going to be legalized? This just sounds like a legal disaster that will inevitably end up wrapped up in the court system for quite a while, ending with a Supreme Court decision.

So what’s the purpose of voters fighting for legislation like this when it will most likely be repealed, or at least strongly fought by the federal government? The answer is that it starts a renewed conversation about marijuana legalization. It was something that wasn’t on our nation’s minds this last election in the majority of the states, but now that other voters have decided to begin the conversation, other states will be sure to join in. How will Barack Obama deal with this revitalized policy issue during his next term? There are two ways he could turn. He could fight for the repeal of the legalization mandates, agreeing with the DEA’s stance on the drug. This would appease conservatives and anti-drug groups who fight to protect young people from harm they say would result if states set up a regulated and taxed marijuana trade. Obama could also go the route of agreeing with the states on legalization and fighting for the rights of Americans to consume marijuana if they so choose. This would preserve his image as the “cool” president (who smoked pot in college, he once admitted) and get him in with the young, hip voters. Who can complain about that? However, I honestly think Obama will fight marijuana legalization, but with the expectations the American people have for him in this next term, this policy issue is the least of his problems. Hey, if the next four years stresses him out too badly, maybe he’ll start taking his vacations in the Rocky Mountains instead of at Camp David.

Libertarians and the Major Parties

Dr. Baker told me to share this, so I’ll get your guys’ thoughts on the matter too.

This is my response to an article written by Randy Barnett of the Wall Street Journal.

I think this is a good appeal that he is making. I agree that libertarians should work within the parties to accomplish their goals instead of working outside them. This doesn’t happen now because it is both annoying to deal with people you fundamentally disagree with, and it is hard for people to work within the system without compromising their values.

That said, there is always the question of immediacy in resolving our problems. Personally, I don’t think the policies of Romney or Obama would solve the debt crisis or the economy within four years. Why then, would I cast my vote in favor of one or the other and send a false signal to the party that I favor their candidate – giving them the idea they can continue to send out mediocre candidates. That’s what happened with McCain and Romney. They aren’t good candidates and the Repbulicans didn’t have a good field to choose from. That means we independents were left with marginal choices.

The biggest struggle for me comes when we look at Supreme Court Justice appointments. Likely we’ll see three judges end their term over the next four years. The immediacy of that particular issue is one of the few I can see having any sway over conservative independents.

Here’s my point: From a conservative side of things, it’s a choice of the lesser of two evils between Obama and Romney – Romney being the man they grudgingly vote for. However perhaps they should look farther down the road. If the world can hold on for another four years of the greater evil that is Obama, why not send a clear message to the party that a large percentage of voters are dissatisfied with the status quo. Hopefully the party will pick up on this and get better candidates out the next time.

In the meantime, it’s not as though we can’t do anything. There are plenty of Congressional races in which candidates will stand for more libertarian principles. There are more powers in government than just the president, and I think we’d do well to remember that when we cast our ballot.

“Get Your Steaming Hot Cup of Democracy”

Image

 

Too bad Jackson doesn’t have a 7-Eleven around. I just thought this was funny, but apparently 7-Eleven thinks these cups are accurate in predicting the election outcome. You can log onto their website and see what the “cup polls” are predicting. Overall the cups have favored Obama 59% to take the win with Romney not far behind. You can even see who is winning by states! Sadly, Tennessee doesn’t have any 7-Eleven stores, so I guess we will have to rely on other sources to see who are state chooses. 

Race to the White House

Tomorrow’s the big day! Presidential elections! We have all been waiting for it and it’s finally here! Almost like Christmas morning! Not every part of the country is exactly celebrating this fact. Many on the east coast face challenges such as having a place to vote. Over the weekend I saw that voting is still scheduled to take place in New York and New Jersey despite the power damage done by Hurricane Sandy. Power generators are being brought to election sites, voting locations are changing and machines are quickly popping up to ensure that voting day can still happen. I think this is good for those citizens living among the aftermath of the hurricane. By being able to vote it helps them move on from this disaster and hopefully will make life feel back to normal. And of course voting is important. As of Sunday, 266,000 homes and businesses were still without power. Travel to a polling site will be difficult to areas that were harder hit and out of the 1,256 locations in New York only 59 had to be moved or closed. Despite the challenges ahead for these cities, taking part in the elections can help both New York and New Jersey find their way back to normal life. 

Health Care Courts

Today in class, Luke discussed Tort and Medical malpractice reform and some different option that have been brought up to accomplish this change. One of these was the idea of “Healthcare Courts.” If i Understood correctly, these courts would act as a special court that specialized in these matters in order to have expert juries. This idea asserts that the average person does not know about medical procedures and terms and can easily be lost when trying to make an informed decision. However, I believe that if these courts were put into action that it would cause some problems on a few different levels. 

One of these would be that what good would a lawyer really be in these courts? If the jury already knows about issues in the cases and the problems do not have to be explained, then the lawyer just becomes someone who files papers. I also believe that if doctors are being judged by a jury of experts who know about this issue, they cannot be easily swayed making a lawyer almost obsolete when it comes to convincing the jury to find a favorable (or not favorable) verdict. 

Another issue that I see that is more philosophical one is that by producing a jury of experts, it eliminates the ability of other citizens to be on jury duty. While most people would not be complaining about decreasing their chance of being on a jury trial, I believe that it is one of our most basic civil duties that we have to offer as citizens. By the government limiting the citizens who can perform this duty just based on the fact that the government feels that they do not have the intelligence to do so could be seen as discriminatory. 

The Federal Reserve

My roommate asked me a question the other day about the Federal Reserve. He specifically asked about the purchasing of land by the Federal Reserve. Since then, I have been researching on the Federal Reserve System, and there are some very scary powers and practices of the Federal Reserve System. One being that the Federal Reserve buys government bonds by balancing the purchase with other purchases. This allows the Reserve to make purchases on what would be considered credit. It’s like the United States buying its own bonds by with other purchases. Also, the Federal Reserve’s power to print money allows it to manipulate the market of bond purchasing. Let’s say that the US government prints bonds that are in high demand, so the government gets a high price for them. Then the Federal Reserve buys those bonds from the original purchaser for a higher price. The Reserve can also ensure that the supply is kept in accordance with demand because it has almost unlimited buying power due to the purchasing practices as stated before and money printing. Also, many of the bonds are backed by land which means that the Federal Reserve also owns land in the United States. This is just one area that the Federal Reserve System can manipulate markets in order to further its own agenda. 

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