Income Equality: The Fast Lane to Poverty

I remember sightseeing on a particularly impoverished island a few years back. The dust from our bus’s wake bloomed across turquoise shutters that opened on a hollow beauty shop next door to a hand-scrawled sign that announced, “Se vende cerveza.” A woman, probably the shop owner, stared absently at our rolling vehicle. Not much else to do.

“Who lives there?” I asked our guide pointing to a row of mansions near the local hilltop. “Those belong to the politicians and movie stars,” she said. “No one else can afford to live there.”

Later I returned to my poor, middle class and even a few wealthy American friends. That harsh visual of the little nation’s inequality between poverty and wealth, never left me. Imagine my shock when I discovered that little nation, with people so poor they scrubbed their clothing in a washtub, had more income equality than the United States.

It is popular in America to treat the disparity of household wealth, as the root of lowered living standards for the poor and middle class. The meme goes something like, “the top 1/10th of 1% of Americans have more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. If we shuffled that money around we would all be better off and the rich would never miss it.”

Actually, global research proves the opposite. According to Pew Research, at the end of 2014 upper income families earned almost 7 times as much as middle-income earners and nearly 70 times as much as lower income families.

Stats like this send Mother Jones on another “Odyssey of revolt.” Her website even explains how much income the average household has surrendered so the top 1% can be, well, the top 1%. (Hint. It cost nearly $597,000 each year for your family to support folks like Donald Trump.)

It is true, US income inequality is worse than that of Guyana, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Nor have things improved under President Obamas’ “spread the wealth” campaign. According to Georgia Keohane a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, median family income is declining in the US and “the growing chasm between the rich and the rest – is at levels unseen since 1929.”

Here is the part Ms. Jones and Ms. Keohane missed. A newly released report shows the income of middle class Americans is over 3 times higher than their Venezuelan counterparts, and 10 times higher than those families in Nicaragua and Guyana. Researcher Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute, discovered that “Americans in the bottom fifth have incomes 4.5 to 34 times larger than their counterparts” in countries with higher levels of income equality.

As Winship’s report shows, areas of very high wealth concentration, do accompany lower incomes at the bottom. But, there was no indication the wealth caused the decline. Rather, culture, historical and geographical differences appear to be larger factors in predicting the level of living standards than income equality.

The message is clear. While some may grumble that the rich have more money than they do, when the rich earn more, in most cases, so do all other income levels. Spreading other people’s wealth around does not help anyone. Winship goes on, “Across the developed world, countries with more inequality tend to have, if anything, higher living standards.”

The next time you see folks clamoring for income equality, remind them. Equal income is often the fast lane to poverty, and that may be too big a price for anyone to pay.

 

How HUD Will Legally Enslave Your Community

Local rule died in America on July 8, 2015. With it passed the rights of rural and suburban communities to decide their own futures. The trigger was the final 377-page ruling from HUD called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing that attempts to remove discrimination and achieve balanced and integrated living patterns.

As one blogger beams, “What could possibly be wrong with helping low-income families to move into better neighborhoods?” In this case, everything.

AFFH is reminiscent of the old cartoon character Elmer Fudd, who used his shotgun to abolish an annoying fly. He blew up furniture, broke windows and destroyed his home, while the fly happily buzzed away. Like Elmer, AFFH leaves a destructive wake and does little to solve the problem.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing requires the agencies that apply for HUD grants to perform massive demographic analyses locally and again regionally to determine any imbalances in living patterns as defined by HUD. Communities then resolve the imbalances to HUD’s satisfaction. Recipients must complete the analysis every five years.[1]

Communities receiving HUD grants must complete an Assessment of Fair Housing that requires recipients to analyze occupancy data including, race, color, religion, national origins, English proficiency[2] and more along with a list of factors that might contribute to an imbalance of living patterns between low, middle, and upper middle-income families. Imbalances might be the result of segregation or disproportionate housing needs based on race, color, religion, national origins and more.

Recipients then create a list of community assets such as parks, recreation areas, schools and jobs along with a breakdown of any barriers[3] that might prevent access by all community members. A barrier might be as simple as an application requirement for public housing, home size, or a neighborhood voicing resistance to having low-income housing next door. Once the recipients identify the barriers, they submit a mitigation plan for HUD’s approval.

Through each process step, HUD maintains control. The Assessment of Fair Housing even measures the success of your community outreach against HUD’s own national standards.[4] HUD provides, and communities must use, nationally and regionally uniform data[5] to create their assessment.

Sound exhausting? You are just beginning. AFFH also makes you provide a similar regional Assessment of Fair Housing. As Stanley Kurz, author of “Spreading the Wealth” explains,

“it’s not enough for, say, Philadelphia’s “Mainline” Montgomery County suburbs to analyze their own populations by race, ethnicity, and class to determine whether there are any imbalances in where groups live, or in access to schools, parks, transportation, and jobs. Those suburbs are also obligated to compare their own housing situations to the Greater Philadelphia region as a whole.” [6]

If you think AFFH will not apply to your community, you are wrong. The new regulation targets each of the nation’s 74,000 census tracts[7] and applies to current, future and past recipients of Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, Emergency Solutions Grants and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS.

Given the scope of the analysis and the dual local and regional requirements, virtually every recipient will require a discrimination mitigation plan that can include additional affordable housing, additional transportation choices or new hi-density structures, all paid for by the communities.

Through AFFH, HUD guides the mitigation process and can dictate where and how communities build homes and even who will live there. To reduce disparities, communities can be required to construct hi-density urban villages that guarantee access to “community assets” for all residents. Some may be required to advertise in nearby regions to attract sufficient families to eliminate HUD-defined imbalances.

Because the mitigation of local and regional imbalances are part of every analysis, communities can join a regional consortium as a way to receive Fair Housing certification.  Conversely, regions can fulfill their obligations by annexing suburbs used in their analyses.

HUD generously states, “…joint and regional collaborations are entirely voluntary.”[8] They are about as voluntary as keeping engine oil in your new car. If communities balk at annexation, HUD threatens to withhold or redirect their funds.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing exposes current and past[9] recipients of HUD Community Development Block Grants and other HUD money to lawsuits by predatory third party opportunists.

HUD grant recipients must certify that they “…will take meaningful actions to further the goals identified in [their fair housing analysis]…and will take no action that is materially inconsistent with its obligation to affirmatively further fail housing.”[10]

This important bit of legalese contained in the Federal Register links fair housing to the Federal False Claims Act. It enables the government or a third party to bring legal action in the event recipients “knowingly present or caused to be presented…to the US government, a false claim for payment or approval.”

Example –

Westchester County New York was the first community sued under a HUD-related false claims act by a third party. Greg Gurian of the Anti-Discrimination Center of New York accused Westchester of falsely claiming to have removed barriers to discrimination in the county’s HUD application.

Westchester lost their main case, was placed under court monitoring and ordered to build millions of dollars of new affordable homes. Gurian fared well for his troubles. According to court documents, he will receive $7,500,000 and his attorney another $2,500,000 once the US Treasury receives Westchester’s settlement[11].

Thanks to AFFH, recipient communities will have lawsuit targets on their backs. The rule’s wording has created a hunting ground for predatory third parties to “get rich” suing recipients who fail to meet the commitments they made to the US government.

Merely completing the Assessment of Fair Housing can create legal vulnerabilities. In June of 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that even agencies with neutral policies and practices that have an unintended adverse impact on protected groups, are still liable under the Fair Housing Act.

Example –

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs offered low-income housing credits to residents in poor African-American areas as a way to help gain home ownership. A local group, the Inclusive Communities Project, sued the agency, alleging they allocated too many tax credits in poor areas and not enough in wealthy white neighborhoods, thereby creating a “disparate impact.” The SCOTUS ruled in favor of the ICP arguing that even an unintentional “disparate impact,” resulting from seemingly beneficial efforts can be in violation of the Fair Housing Act.[12]

While there are limitations on the court’s ruling, any agency that completes the Analysis of Fair Housing, is arming third parties with evidence of “disparate impact” and is vulnerable to a lawsuit.

Proponents of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing want you to think that those favoring the program help minorities, while the opposition allows poor families to suffer in poverty and discrimination. The opposite is true.

By herding African-Americans, other minorities and low-income families like cattle, the government is resigning them to a future worse than poverty. They have lost their rights, their choices, and their ability to excel through self-determination and personal growth. Those who believe AFFH helps poor and minorities are thinking only of the grand Oz-like scheme and ignoring the gritty reality of life under centralized rule.

Under AFFH, local officials’ hands are tied accommodating draconian federal requirements. This diminishes their ability to represent their constituents.    As regions fulfill their AFFH obligations, suburbs will find themselves annexed with little ability to refuse.

Congress could eliminate AFFH by sponsoring a bill with enough votes to override a presidential veto. With the 2016 election in gear, if enough Americans understood this ruling, that might be possible.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing may be an attempt to create balanced living patterns. Rather than remove discrimination, AFFH leverages it to codify oppression.

[1] http://www.fhco.org/pdfs/AFFHJeffrey1.pdf

[2] Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 136 / Thursday, July 16, 2015 / Rules and Regulations 42342

[3] Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 136 / Thursday, July 16, 2015 / Rules and Regulations 42348

[4] http://www.fhco.org/pdfs/AFFHJeffrey1.pdf

[5] http://www.huduser.org/portal/publications/pdf/AFFH-Assessment-Tool-data-tables.pdf

[6] http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/421389/attention-americas-suburbs-you-have-just-been-annexed-stanley-kurtz

[7] Federal Register /Vol. 80, No. 136 /Thursday, July 16, 2015 /Rules and Regulations 42339

[8] Federal Register /Vol. 80, No. 136 /Thursday, July 16, 2015 /Rules and Regulations 42319

[9] http://www.cdpublications.com/hud-unveils-massive-integration-plan-71

[10] HUD Final Ruling page 51

[11] http://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/FH-NY-0012-0009.pdf

[12] http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-1371_m64o.pdf

 

Unraveling the Secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership is actually the name of one of three agreements that together comprise the largest international trade agreement in US history. In popular use, the name also refers to the entire trade pact.

Senator Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner are working tirelessly to pass the TPP.

Fast-track, or trade promotion authority, are temporary powers Congress grants to the president in which they agree to pass his trade agreements without any amendments or filibusters. The president needs these powers to advance his TPP. On May 22, the Senate passed fast-track and set the stage for full passage of the agreement. John Boehner is now pushing aggressively to pass fast-track in the House.

Unlike any trade pact ever presented to Congress, the TPP authorizes control over vast segments of Americans’ lives, including the information internet service providers must collect, the healthcare system, the privatization of hospitals, and even control of banking institutions. The agreement consolidates greater power in the executive and diminishes Congress’ role in trade oversight.

Opponents complain the President shrouded the trade deal in secrecy. The administration counters, “There are going to be many months in which people will be able to look at every comma and period and semicolon in this deal.

The president argues the pact will “level the playing field” internationally, boost imports and lower tariffs for US goods in Asia-Pacific region nations. All of this will create 650,000 new jobs and $77 billion in new income.

TPP is shrouded in deceit and misrepresentation
While the WH did solicit opinions and publish summaries of their intentions for the pact, this might have been little more than a polite listening session. Most Americans still have no clue what the actual agreement says or does nor if any of those opinions were included.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is in a locked room where Congress can read it. Congressional members may not remove it, nor repeat or distribute details of what is in the agreement. Any notes they take must be surrendered upon exiting the ‘secret’ room.

President Obama rightly says he does not want to “announce our bottom lines…to the other side of the table.” Still, this whole process raises red flags, given the expansiveness of the new program, and that the Constitution provides Congress, not the executive, final trade authority. At the least, Congress is guilty of neglecting their responsibilities. It appears few members have gone to the private room to read the TPP.

As for “leveling the playing field,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), read sections of the agreement and concludes it does the opposite. According to Warren, the TPP is a handout to large international corporations. Under the agreement, if a multi-national corporation is in violation of US law, they can bypass our judicial system and take their case to an international board of arbiters.

Not only does this undermine the US rule of law, the conflict of interest is staggering. Many of the board judges are the same corporate lawyers representing the companies they are to judge. Since only large international investors, not small businesses can use this court; the TPP is inherently unfair.

Then there is the claim of improved exports and new jobs. According to an Economic Policy Institute report titled, “Heading South, US-Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA”, as the result of the 1994 trade agreement, the US lost a total of 682,900 net jobs and continues to lose more every year. Over 60% of the job losses were in manufacturing.

Nor did the predictions of improved exports under NAFTA materialize. According to the report, “Abstract promises about increased jobs and exports misrepresent the real overall effects of trade on the U.S. economy.”

What is most disturbing is that congressional leaders and administration officials continue to make the same job predictions for newer trade agreements. KORUS, the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement signed in 2007, predicted a $4-5 billion improvement in our trade balance with South Korea. Instead, domestic exports decreased by $3.5 billion in the agreement’s first year alone. By 2012 KORUS had cost the US 40,000 jobs.

We now know that the administration fabricated the 650,000 new jobs claim by manipulating the data in a policy analysis from the Peterson Institute for International Economics. It is unlikely the TPP will create any net new jobs. Peter Petri, one of the report’s authors explained, trade agreements barely effect new jobs at all.

Sen. Jeff Sessions: Power the agreement bestows on the executive branch and the worsening of our trade deficit

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) read the agreement and defied the WH by speaking out. He points to several inclusions that should disturb Americans. Two of his major concerns are the power the agreement bestows on the executive branch and the worsening of our trade deficit.

Under the agreement, the president can make additions to the trade deal. Congress is limited to either accepting or rejecting his regulations, but cannot change them.

This creates a large problem for Americans. Trade deal changes can run into hundreds or even a thousand pages or more. Congress does not read them. Like the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus package, Dodd-Frank and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership, most of Congress never reads bills before voting on them. They have no idea what the fine print contains.

There is no reason to expect future practice to be different. ‘Take it or leave it’ deals forced on Congress by the executive branch further erode government’s checks and balances and remove another layer of representation for Americans.

The TPP does require the president to submit any changes to Congress 60 days before providing the accompanying legislation. Even this is little help as it also authorizes the president to redact or black out information he does not want Congress to see. So, once approved, the agreement that was born in near secrecy, authorizes itself to continue in near secrecy.

Finally, the only way Congress can end TPP is to agree to vote it out of existence at the end of its authorization period. Even here, the administration has the advantage. The president, by filing a simple request receives an automatic extension.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a California-based non-profit firm that “protects civil rights in the digital domain.” They promoted President Obama’s Net Neutrality, (at least until they voiced serious reservations about the wording after the regulation passed,) and have generally supported the president’s initiatives.

After reading the leaked TPP Intellectual Property chapter, the group was outraged at the extensive control the agreement exercises over freedom of speech, right to privacy and limitations on due process. EFF notes, “The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy.”

The group concludes that “…innovation, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities” are all placed at risk under this secretive agreement.

Few in the world are better at shedding light on secrets than Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. His group recently published online the complete Investment Chapter of the TPP.

TPP constructs an entirely new regulatory structure above US laws and places it in treaty form

Assange observes that the TPP constructs an entirely new regulatory structure above US laws and places it in treaty form.

“By putting it in a treaty form, there are 12 countries involved, that means it is very hard to overturn. So, if there is a desire, a democratic desire to do it on a different path…you can’t easily change the TPP treaty because you have to go back to the other nations involved.”

In January of 2014, WikiLeaks published the TPP Environment chapter. While the administration presented the TPP as an “ambitious 21st century trade agreement,” upon reading the section, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund all agreed, “the TPP Environment Chapter text does not meet that goal.”

Assange remarked, “Today’s WikiLeaks release shows that the public sweetener in the TPP is just media sugar water. The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”

Judging from emerging documents, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is more like a treaty wrapped in the verbiage of a trade pact. This construction enables the administration to win the authority of a broad treaty, while sidestepping the required 67 Senate votes.

Even more than secrecy, the TPP is shrouded in deceit and misrepresentation. Until there is greater transparency and an opportunity for all Americans to see what Congress is signing, I urge you to tell your representatives to vote “no” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Betrayal: Why Americans Can Never Blindly Trust Government

Americans look to government programs to provide social, environmental and economic protections. Many do not realize, that, in addition to its ‘good works’, government is often the most corrupt and secretive entity in the social equation.

Public treachery is equally distributed among democrats and republicans, left and right. Here are three recent examples of betrayal by the people upon whom we depend.

Subject: Florida’s regional ‘flip’

Under Florida State law, all counties must join and pay dues to support a Regional Planning Council. In addition to the added fees, many Floridians oppose RPC’s because they receive millions in grant money, which forces them to advance the federal government’s “Livability Principles” by implementing compact living, costly mass transit and even higher taxes. Regional Planning Councils also create a layer of unaccountable governance that often diminishes local authority.

After hearing concerned citizens, in January 2015, Republican State Senator Wilton Simpson, introduced SB 484, a bill that included the elimination of the 11 Florida Regional Planning Councils. Supporters were delighted to have someone on their side, even though they expected a tough fight to win passage. They never expected what happened next.

Bills pass through several committees before going for a Senate vote. In the first committee stop, before even reviewing SB 484, Senator Simpson had already stricken all of the text that had eliminated Regional Planning Councils. Not only were RPC’s safe, he added $2.5 million for their funding. The Senator’s flip shocked community residents.

The official people believed was supporting their cause, not only betrayed them, he did so with no explanation and little opportunity for their response.

Subject: Congress ditches parents’ rights in name of “Success”

It is hard to conceive that, in America, any elected official would try to pass a bill waiving parents’ rights over their children’s education.

In February 2015, that and more are exactly what happened when US Representative John Kline, a MN Republican, sponsored HR 5, the Student Success Act. HR5 re-authorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gives states their critical Title 1 education money each year. On his website, Rep. Kline writes that his bill “reduces the federal footprint, restores local control… and empowers parents.”

That is not all it does. Section 6561, of the Act reads, “STATES TO RETAIN RIGHTS AND AUTHORITIES THEY DO NOT EXPRESSLY WAIVE.” The rights this section refers to are clearly stated, “State Sovereignty over Public Education and Parental Rights over the Education of their Children.” Why, would anyone want to “expressly waive” their rights over their children’s education? The stunning answer is in the next paragraph.

The text explains that to receive the HR5 grant money, States must approve the use of the grant money in their States’ budget. It then goes on…

“…by approving the budget, the State legislature is expressly approving the grant program and, in doing so, waiving the State’s rights and authorities…”

In other words, if the State accepts the grant money, they automatically waive their rights and those of parents over education. The State no longer has the “authorities to act inconsistently with any requirement that might be imposed by the Secretary” of the US Department of Education.

When TN public official Karen Bracken, called Kline’s office for an explanation of the paragraph, a staffer responded, “That was not what Rep. Kline intended.” Someone intended it, because upon releasing a second version of the bill, the same wording appeared, just on a different page. Senator Kline had betrayed every States’ education department and every school-parent in America.

Congress tabled the so-called Student Success Act. For now.

Subject: Net Neutrality neuters users

President Obama lobbied hard to manage internet providers through an FCC ruling called Net Neutrality. He argued Americans needed protection from broadband providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast that might restrict content. Under the president’s proposal, ISPs could not:

  • Discriminate among content providers (users) trying to reach you online
  • Block or slow the traffic from websites or services, or
  • Provide a faster lane for some providers (users) and not others

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was one of Net Neutrality’s biggest supporters, claiming it would defend digital civil liberties.

Opponents countered with, “defend them from what?” The internet is already open and free, the scarce offenses the president cited were trivial, already corrected; and government controlling the internet is a bigger neutrality threat than ISPs.

In February 2015, the democratically controlled FCC voted 3-2, along party lines to control the flow of information on the internet by declaring it a public utility under the name, Net Neutrality. They released the text of the ruling in March. As the president promised, Sustainable Open Internet Rules now govern how broadband providers deliver content. However, buried in the text are clauses proponents did not expect. Convoluted wording display the FCC’s willingness to violate free speech:

“…our rules would not violate the First Amendment because they would be considered content neutral regulations…” The government defines content-neutral regulations as ones that, “furthers a substantial government interest” and does “not burden substantially more speech than is necessary.”

The FCC maintains that free speech only applies to the person communicating, not the broadband providers who are “conduits” for that speech. While government controlling the “conduit,” might not stop free speech, it can thoroughly manage how far and wide that speech is distributed. After reading the released document, even the Electronic Frontier Foundation sees what they call, “at least one worrisome bit: the repeated reference to ‘lawful content.’”
EFF now questions,

“Is the FCC saying it is OK to ‘throttle’ some content? How can the Internet providers determine what is ‘unlawful’ without snooping on their users?”

The rules’ text refers to the speech of the broadband providers, not users. But, by controlling one, you automatically manage the other, and the government’s record on transparency is far worse than that of any internet provider.

Through deceptive labeling and a marketing campaign that misled Americans, the federal government has rendered the ultimate betrayal. They handed themselves the ability to throttle free speech on the pretext of protecting us from those who never have.

The United States federal government has more power than any corporation or any other political body on earth. When people have power, they use it. It is up to Americans to assure they use it wisely.

Is ARC’s Urbanism Poised to Wreck Atlanta’s Affordability?

Atlanta has some of the most affordable housing of any metropolitan area in the U.S. If left to the Atlanta Regional Council (ARC), that could soon change.

Instead of allowing Atlanta’s people and lifestyles to expand organically in reponse to market needs and community wishes, ARC plans to use public policy to force transit oriented, “WalkUP” communities in areas that currently display an inclination toward walkability.

ARC believes that WalkUPS will be the new “urban driver.” The regional council promotes their design concept through tantalizing marketing brochures and self-serving surveys. But their advertising and surveys do not tell community members that regional planning requires massive regulations to fulfill planners’ schemes. Regulations most people do not want. That is why Douglas Porter, a nationally recognized expert in smart growth, makes it clear that planners must “empower regions to require local plans to conform to regional or state goals.”

It is those “required” regulations that limit the amount of real estate on which developers can build and sharply increase home construction costs. ARC’s WalkUP urbanism is a recipe for building an Atlanta for the wealthy.

Demographer Wendell Cox is an expert on housing affordability. His annual International Housing Affordability Study ranks metropolitan housing prices as a factor of local incomes. According to Cox, Atlanta consistently ranks among the most affordable areas to live in the nation, because it has fewer of the regulations generally associated with smart growth. NYT’s economic advisor, Paul Krugman drew a similar conclusion when he wrote that housing prices in dense, highly regulated areas, “have risen much higher than the national average.

But, ARC likes to think of Atlanta’s housing affordability as “complicated.’ By bundling transportation and housing costs together, the group blurs the actual cost of housing and uses the aggregate number to argue that Atlanta is not all that affordable today. Instead, they claim the city’s recent influx of residents is not the result of lower housing costs, but proof people will move in response to planned, urbanized communities.

History shows, while that may be partially true for the wealthy, it does not apply equally to low and middle income families. Smart growth regions like Seattle, Boston, Portland, San Diego and more have already become “WalkUPS” where only the wealthy can afford to live.

Portland, Oregon, is a premier example of a highly regarded model of regional planning and smart growth. Prior to 1989, it, like Atlanta today, was considered one of the most affordable cities in the nation. Between 1990 and 2000, with the ramp-up of growth management, Portland’s minority home ownership plunged by 20%. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Census shows that over 10,000 more low income minorites left the city. The results of urban planning were so devastating to low and middle income families that city official Judith Mowry lamented, “This is not a healthy, sustainable city.” Former Portland Commissioner, Gretchen Kafoury echoed her sentiments,”Oh my God. We thought we were doing the right thing.

Regardless of ARC’s claims, low and middle income families do not move to cities to be near nicely designed places. According to Cox, “Cities exist because of economic opportunities.” When residents are strapped with steep housing costs and restrictive regulations, the economics shift and they vote with their feet.

ARC may be happy when Atlantans live in costly homes and surrender their automobiles to meet hefty housing payments. But, when living costs rise, people don’t sacrifice their cars, they move. That would be a sad chapter in the history of one of America’s most affordable cities.

RHODE ISLAND REGIONAL PLAN STRIPS PROPERTY RIGHTS

With an area of 1212 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest of the fifty states, but is about to take one of the biggest leaps in the nation. The RI Division of Planning is advancing a HUD supported sustainable development plan that creates a single region out of every county, city and community in the state.

Though labeled Economic Development, the state plan links social justice, the economy and the environment in an expansive package that defines where and how future Rhode Islanders will live and work.

State officials deny protesters’ claims that regionalism steals property rights and challenges them to point to any examples. The challenge suggests that the Division of Planning has not thoroughly researched the results of regional efforts.

Plan Bay Area is a regional plan encompassing nine counties in and near San Francisco. Like the RI proposal, it invokes growth zones, walkable communities, reduced vehicle miles traveled and all of the boilerplate components of regional social engineering. Thousands of residents in the plan’s PDAs’, or preferred development areas, are not happy. In spite of their protests, these community members are losing their land and their homes to make way for so-called smart growth. As the plan steamrolls forward, these Bay Area residents see their property rights disappearing.

What happened to the property rights of the 10,000 people of color, economically forced out of their homes in Portland, Oregon? In the 1980’s, before the Portland Metro’s Regional land use policies took hold, over 65% of Portlanders could afford a median-priced home. By 2001 that figure had dropped to less than 30%.

Thanks to regional planning, Portland now has a reputation for being one of the whitest and least affordable cities in the nation. The city the NYT admiringly calls, “A Livable Shade of Green”, is not so livable for the families who can no longer afford their homes.

The Miami Valley Regional Planning Council (MVRPC) in SE Ohio offers a crystalline view of Rhode Islanders’ future if community residents allow the state’s Economic Development Plan to proceed.

The MVRPC’s unelected council voted to build a $5 million bike path. To ease implementation, they rolled their plan into the local county’s $65 million road widening project. The bike path came within 7 feet of the front door of the historic, 150-year-old home of Jennie Granato and her family. The Granatos had fixed a ramp to the doorway allowing wheelchair access for Jennie’s 84-year-old grandmother. Realizing they had property rights, Jennie approached the regional council requesting the bike trail be located elsewhere. The MVRPC told her this was a county issue since they had the road-widening project. In turn, the county told Granato it was a regional issue since the bike path was an MVRPC plan. To add insult, many of the county officials also sat on the regional council as they yo-yoed the Granatos between the agencies.

After months of unreturned phone calls and promised meetings that never occurred, the county took her property by eminent domain. They offered her the embarrassing sum of $24,000, which she finally had increased, only after a draining court battle.

The loss of property rights as regional councils squeeze homeowners into growth zones with ever-smaller homes and ever-increasing price tags is rampant across the nation. Federal agencies like HUD channel millions in grant money to cash-strapped states and planners in turn for mandates that bind the newly formed regions to boost pre-planned communities with few local choices. Residents are stuck with the bill.

In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The states’ fiercely independent inhabitants were suspicious of centralized government. Today that centralized government is in Providence, and it is stripping away the very rights their ancestors fought so hard to maintain.

THE STEALTH LAND GRAB OF REGIONAL PLANNERS

The people of Polk County Tennessee cherish their land. Farmers will tell you the soil conditions on every square inch of their acreage and landowners reverently discuss their properties’ history. These people would never knowingly submit to strict zoning regulations or government control of their land. Yet without their knowledge or their informed consent, that is exactly what is about to happen.

Thrive 2055 is a planning scheme to roll 16 counties in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia into a single regional bundle effecting over 1 million residents. Drive distances to work, bike paths, light rail, mixed-use construction, and greenbelts will all converge into a unified scheme that is a carbon copy of plans unfolding across America. By forming a region, zoning decisions now made by local communities, will be under the authority of a powerful, regional board.

Most Polk County residents never heard of Thrive 2055. It is no wonder. Only a handful of residents attended planners’ meetings. On a recent radio appearance, a spokesperson stated that after 2 years of community outreach, planners received just 1200 completed community surveys. For every 1 million residents, 998,800 did not participate.

According to the planners, community members decide their plan’s makeup and the surveys are critical for gathering their information. The anemic participation suggests very few are interested. Nor have planners been forthcoming about who took the surveys. Were they stacked with the families of venders who stand to profit from Thrive 2055, or possibly groups of opponents and their friends? Why are they continuing with a so-called ‘community plan’ with so little interest on the part of the community? The planners have not answered one of these questions.

Community participation and full-disclosure about the good and bad of regional planning is fundamental if residents are to make informed decisions. Thrive 2055 offers no plan details. They claim the community decides the plan. What community? Are the 1200 who took the survey deciding the plan for the remaining 998,800?

The few who have heard of the Thrive 2055 have scant idea of the outcomes beyond the colorful brochures and trendy planner-speak. Feel good phrases like, “educated people with good jobs living in a great place” do not inform people. Rather, they disarm them from questioning the underlying flaws of the process.

Since many people own their land and can produce a property deed, they feel their rights are safe. This fatal misunderstanding sets people up to lose their property rights, their home values and their way of life. The government does not need to own land to govern what owners can do with it. Instead, they need to control the zoning of the land. That is what regional planning does. It turns zoning decisions over to unelected boards who must comply with the requirements of the federal grants that paid for the regional plan’s implementation.

Already, in Chattanooga, the financial epicenter for Thrive 2055, planners are entertaining the idea of form-based codes. This is a programmable system for fast tracking zoning ordinances while marginalizing or altogether bypassing legislatures.

Nowhere do planners discuss these important facts with community members.

The community did not ask planners to sell them a regional plan that would swallow their communities’ choices. It is incumbent on the planners to reach a representative number of people with full disclosure. It is not incumbent on the people to participate in a poorly defined and unsolicited scheme that endangers their property rights. Perhaps it is time for Thrive 2055 to admit their failure to inform and engage the public, and simply to move on.

(The story you have just read is unfolding in communities across the country.

New York’s Capital Region Sustainability Plan, Together North Jersey’s Regional Sustainability Plan, Envision Lehigh Valley [PA], and California’s Plan Bay Area are few examples. Google “regional sustainable development” and the name of a city near you to learn more about regional plans in your area. JA)

NJ DOE EXECUTIVE ATTACKS SUSTAINABLE FREEDOM LAB DIRECTOR OVER ANTI-COMMON CORE OPINION – READ THE RESPONSE

Gregg Edwards, New Jersey’s Deputy Secretary of Higher Education recently launched a personal email attack on me following my Common Core presentation, then called for open distribution of his diatribe. I replied back to his remarks and included my reply below.

Until his scathing reproach of my work, I had never heard of Mr. Edwards. With a little checking, there is much to admire about the man. He originated a successful NJ think tank, advocated for free-market principles, is a pro-choice education reformer, has targeted excessive state spending and fought union control of education.

But his email tantrum is an embarrassment of vacuous rhetoric. He engages in trite generalities, false attributions, and unsupported conclusions. While claiming a distaste for ad hominem attacks, he handily employs them with far more ‘rigor’ than found in the Common Core standards he so admires.

Though the Deputy Secretary displays an argument notable for its dearth of topic familiarity, he concludes that the presenter, who truly has researched Common Core, may indeed be a liar.

Mr. Edwards is not alone in the lemming-like migration of States’ officials toward the Common Core standards. Perhaps it is the No Child Left Behind waivers or the access to Stimulus money that has enhanced their perception. Perhaps it is the logical fallacy that because some standards make sense, national standards must therefore make even more sense.

Whatever the reason, state officials miss two key points about the Common Core State Standards.

First: No one has ever been able to prove any correlation between nationalized standards and the ability of children to be “college and career ready.” In fact, studies show that inappropriate standards can cause severe harm to children. So why are officials experimenting with a program that has no hope of accomplishing its aims and using our children as the guinea pigs?
And,

Second: By supporting the CCSS, officials have surrendered their states’ right to make critical education decisions to the federal government. The President has already proposed that future Title 1 allocations will depend on states meeting the Common Core standards.

What has happened to the free choice Mr. Edwards so heartily endorsed? Why let Common Core extinguish such an enviable reputation as his? CCSS has made fools of officials across the country and it is time for them to stand together and discard this attack on educational individuality and the opportunity for true student excellence.

Mr. Edwards’ original email http://sustainablefreedomlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/G-Edwards-email.pdf and my response follows.

THE REPLY LETTER FROM JOHN ANTHONY FOLLOWS:

———————————————————————-

Gregg,

Thanks very much for taking the time to watch and comment on my Common Core presentation. (Dan, I appreciate your routing Gregg’s message.)

Gregg, your impressive response hits on a lot of points, so let me see if I can address them.

“Here’s one thing I didn’t hear in John Anthony’s hour-plus critique of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): A substantive critique of the actual standards.”

Early in the presentation I let the audience know that, according to the Fordham Study the CCSS actually have higher standards than about 75% of the states. I also mentioned, since the states had a prior incentive to create lower standards in response to NCLB funding, and many did, this wasn’t saying very much. Highly credentialed people sharply differ on their opinions of the ‘rigor’ of the CCSS.

But, the bigger issue is this. Studies of standards, both international and national, and their impact on student performance indicate there is no correlation between the two. Canada and Australia both outperform the U.S. yet have individualized standards for their provinces. Finland, considered a model of education, does not use standardized testing. Other nations do, some with good results others with poor.

Washington DC, and California have math standards that are higher (according to the Fordham study) than CCSS, yet score 45th and 50th respectively among the states in the 8th grade NAEP in 2011.

In other cases, Massachusetts has higher standards and their students tend to perform better.

Demonstrably, standards have little to do with student performance. So, why are we wasting time and money on activities that don’t address the main issues?

The more I researched, the more I found that support for the CCSS amounted to flowery words and empty rhetoric that has begun to assume a life of its own.
Here are four pages of quotes1 from CCSS supporters. Can you find a single reference to any concrete measures that indicate these standards have improved academic results?

“I heard lots of ad hominem, boogey man, and paranoia –fueled attacks. For example, just say the names BILL GATES and ARNEY DUNCAN and, voila, you’ve proved that CCSS are the devil’s work! (In that vein, it was particularly galling to hear Anthony besmirch the reputation of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation because it received money from the Gates Foundation. Fordham has been a stalwart in promoting choice and school reform. Yet because it accepts Gates $, Anthony wants his audience to deny the value of its research. Dan, I thought these smear tactics were the weapons of the Left.”

Like you, Gregg, I dislike ad hominem deflections. Actually, I admire Bill Gates for his drive and his business vision. As for Arne Duncan I have no opinion beyond his words and actions relative to education. Nor do I have anything but respect for the Thomas Fordham Foundation. By ‘smear’, I think you are referring to several fact-based issues mentioned in my presentation that relate solely to their engagement with CCSS. So, let’s look at both of them.

If the Gates’ Foundation had merely invested in supporting states’ efforts to create self-driven standards, I certainly would not argue against that. But, that is not the case.

The Gates’ Foundation has been the aggressive force behind virtually every aspect of Common Core. Their funding ranges from the National Governors Association, CCSSO, Achieve, the National PTA2 to organize parental endorsement, the NEA3, and inBloom to assist in creating states’ databases to the American Federation of Teachers4 for teacher development that is aligned with Common Core. The Gates Foundation, in addition to design and promotional efforts, even provided aid to states to apply for the Race to the Top5 money that embedded the CCSS.

But what about the students? Check the grant list for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. No grants were given to assess the effectiveness of CCSS in helping kids. Instead the money was dispensed to rate and then promote the standards. Millions were spent to create marketing programs in schools, legislatures, teacher’s lounges, unions, and media and in the community. But, where is the substantive work? You can’t find funding to measure efficacy, because there is none. How many States’ governors know this?

According to Michael Petrilli, VP of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute6, “It is not unfair to say that the Gates’ Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education.” This is at best disconcerting.

How could a reasonable person, knowing the obsession with which Gates has pursued Common Core, not be curious why his was the only organization that paid to evaluate the very standards he promoted? As honorable as Fordham is, there is a troubling conflict of interest. Why didn’t the states, who supposedly led the program, pay to find out if they even work?

On June 25, 2013, in front of the nation’s news editors, Arne Duncan falsely said the DOE does not collect student data. Here is how we know his claim was false. While CCSS do not require data sharing, the assessments provided by the RTTT application-mandated testing consortia do. On page 3 of the Cooperative Agreement7 between PARCC (NJ’s chosen consortium) and the DOE, it clearly says, that PARCC must collect student level data; and on page 10 that all data collected at the State level must be shared with the DOE and others. Arne Duncan is either unaware of DOE agreements or thoroughly dishonest. Either should be enough to cause any State official to think twice before engaging with the DOE.

“Criticisms of CCSS usually leave this impression: There’s nothing wrong with the status quo. Today’s academic standards are fine. Teachers are doing as well as can be expected; conducting bona fide evaluations, eliminating tenure, tying teacher pay to performance aren’t necessary. The Asbury Park public schools are great!

“When you strip away the mostly hysterical and non-factual arguments against CCSS, you see that most opponents really are against standards, period. (Look at Indiana, where CCSS was repealed and replaced by new standards developed by Indiana officials. CCSS opponents still aren’t satisfied. That’s because CCSS isn’t their enemy; standards are the enemy.)”

I do not believe that anywhere in my presentation did I say or imply that today’s academics are fine, teachers are doing as well as can be expected, etc. Rather, I believe and implied that good change is good and bad change is bad. The talent is in recognizing which is which.

Standards are not the enemy. Inappropriate application of untried standards is. Common Core is a distraction that has no record of helping children, costs states on-going money they can ill afford, creates an illegal de facto nationalized curriculum, creates a pathway for the migration of increased student-level data without parental consent, diminishes the parents’ role in the educational process and deters the States’ ability to focus on initiatives that could truly help children.
“For years, NJ school reform advocates – – of which I count myself as one – – have promoted greater choice for parents and students, in large part, on the basis that many schools are failing in their mission. Our arguments appropriately rely on data-laden, empirical evidence. Without standards, without benchmarks, there can be no data or evidence. Without illustrating failure with hard evidence, it’s very hard to make the case for the reforms we want… unless, you think barking, “Milton Friedman and free markets,” at parents and policymakers will carry the day. It won’t.”

I firmly believe in school choice and even recommend it in my presentation. Creating national standards restricts rather than enhances choice. If the curriculum, the assessments, the textbooks, the teaching methods and the college entrance exams are all aligned with CCSS, how do I opt to avoid them? If the DOE ties alignment to the CCSS with eligibility for Title 1 funds, how likely will New Jersey be to repeal CCSS if it finds the program detrimental? The federal government and NGA/CCSSO have created a ubiquitous data-driven behemoth that community members will find impossible to escape. Where is the choice?

The CCSS themselves are not benchmarked, (they are “informed”,) contain no evidence of success and have never been pilot tested. Using your own argument, which I admire, why would anyone want them? Why not create true State standards and compete to improve performance by looking systemically at the entire process, rather than mold the process around outside (national) standards?

“Moreover, we’ve correctly argued that the standards we do have are pathetic. We emphasize that the HS Proficiency Assessment – – the high school exit exam – – measures the knowledge/skills that a student should have in the eighth grade. And I’m proud that the NJ choice coalition was central to exposing the high school Special Review Assessment for the sham that it was. Do we really intend to erase this noble record just because Bill Gates believes in high standards too?”

There are many variables in education. Hard measures and empirical evidence both indicate that even if current standards are pathetic, it is unlikely they are the cause of poor student performance. But, as long as we continue to concentrate on issues that are not the problem we are robbed of the resources to focus on those that could.

“Abandoning CCSS is tantamount to embracing the status quo, i.e., accepting standards that don’t ensure college or career-readiness. I would have more respect for CCSS opponents if I heard them also acknowledge the paucity of today’s standards. But they don’t and that failure suggests a willful ignorance of the deep problems that affect American public education.

“Let’s be candid: The school choice effort has had very limited success, nationally and in NJ. That’s true because “choice” doesn’t enjoy popular support. Why? Because most parents – – and especially suburban parents – – wrongly believe that their schools are terrific and, therefore, choice and competition are irrelevant to them. As long as this attitude prevails, state legislators will not feel pressure to enact meaningful, broad-based choice policies. Opposition to CCSS makes matters worse; it feeds the perception that – – except for those pesky cities – – all is rosy.

“CCSS will expose the truth. Through CCSS assessments, suburban parents will see that their schools are mediocre and their children are not being prepared for either the work world or college. Raising standards and assessing students’ ability to achieve those standards are key to winning more items on the reform agenda.”

How does discarding the CCSS equate to embracing the status quo? To the contrary it opens the door to greater creativity and opportunities. To suggest the state either accepts Common Core or accepts the status quo is a false choice. It implies the community has run out of better ideas. I do not believe this is true.
What Common Core does is prove that it is possible to create a test that fewer people pass. What is does not do is prove that by passing the test a child will have a greater degree of college or career readiness.

“I’m also alarmed and deeply dismayed that some school reform proponents would nonchalantly embrace our most powerful and influential adversary, the teachers union. Whether or not the union supports meaningful standards is debatable. But the union won’t tolerate the system of accountability made possible by CCSS and student assessments; teachers shouldn’t be judged on their ability to teach kids. The union strategy is death to CCSS by a never ending delay in implementation. By playing handmaidens to this subterfuge, these psuedo-reformers are turning their backs on one of, if not the most, essential element(s), to improving public education: Accountability.

“While its claim may be duplicitous, the union nevertheless asserts that it supports standards as they are embodied in CCSS. So, by cozying up to the union, the faux reformers not only have undermined accountability, they’ve linked arms with a group that says CCSS are good and desirable. There’s only one way to explain this lunacy: Opposing CCSS isn’t about education. Instead, it’s about opposing anything that is supported (and not even created) by the Obama Administration.”

I agree, this issue is too important for politicization.

“Finally, I am compelled to make a few specific observations on the Anthony presentation:

“He sounds like an apologist for the system and in no way a choice supporter. Parental involvement, he asserted, is absolutely essential for a student to succeed academically. From that point of view, it necessarily follows that there’s nothing that can be done to improve failing urban schools because the essential element of parental involvement is scant. Sorry, Dan, but I don’t abide that defeatist attitude, which is one reason why I support school choice.”

Gregg, I do hope we can have the opportunity to get to know each other better. You will find I am an optimist, I firmly believe in human potential and I believe we all have a greatness inside that sometimes it takes a special skill to unleash. Like you, I feel the current system is flawed, can be improved and that school choice makes sense. That might be the choice to go to public or private school, charter or homeschooling. It is equally important not to be restricted by nationwide standards of unproven value.

There is far more evidence that parental involvement8 improves student performance than do standards. I disagree that your conclusion necessarily follows the premise. One answer is for urban schools to find ways to improve parental involvement, not give up because it is difficult. Nor does this imply that parental involvement is the only solution. Local and state standards certainly have a role.

“Anthony attacks experimentation. When did the choice movement become opposed to experimentation? Charter schools, by their very nature, employ experimental and innovative teaching and learning techniques. To repeat, for Anderson, the status quo is acceptable; challenging it with new approaches is too dangerous. Not nearly as dangerous, I believe, as tolerating the status quo.”

What I attacked was the practice of experimenting with the long term educational outcomes of nearly 50 million children using a system that has been under-assessed, mass-marketed and thoroughly misrepresented to create the appearance of legitimacy. Why not experiment on a smaller group to be sure it works before rolling it out? Then, if it works, go for it. Doesn’t that make sense?

“He stated that the goal of CCSS is to make every student college-ready. That’s absolutely not true. If Anthony knows so little about this subject or, alternatively, is willing to lie to make his point, then listeners should be wary of everything he has to say.”

Your quote refers to the stated goals of Common Core, “Preparing America’s Students for College and Career.” (Not merely college.) Still, we all know that not every child can go or desires to go to college.

Gregg, I think my grasp of the subject matter and documented research speaks for itself. I am disappointed that you would imply I might be a liar. But in the spirit of seeking the truth, let’s look closer at your observation in the context of the CCSS.

The lead author of the CCSS is now the president of the College Boards. The college entrance examinations have been simplified to make it easier to gain entry into non-selective colleges, college freshman course policies have been altered to align with Common Core requirements and the President has already proposed Common Core Standards for college. So, how far are we from believing that there is an obsession with getting kids aligned with Common Core and into college? Now look at the attention paid to children’s developmental needs in the standards themselves. Notice the standards are all in terms of what it takes to get into college, not in terms of psychological development. This may be good or it may not be good. But either way, the emphasis I stated is there and I stand by it.

“So, I ask, Who is more trustworthy and credible on education reform issues? …. Jeb Bush, who, as Florida’s governor, created and championed many reform policies, was at the vanguard of the reform effort, and continues to be an active school reform advocate… OR, John Anthony, who… well, I don’t know what he’s done to advance the reform agenda because I couldn’t find anything via the Internet that associates him with school choice, tenure reform, performance-based teacher compensation policies or any other effort to improve public education.”

Good question! I think Jeb is a gentleman, as I do believe that David Coleman is highly intelligent and well-intentioned. I would enjoy seeing their research. Wouldn’t we all?

“Jeb Bush is a CCSS supporter, in part, because he helped create the effort to write CCSS. That doesn’t make him the reform movement’s oracle. But I worry about a movement whose supporters deny the views of those who have labored in the vineyards of school reform while affiliating themselves with those who have flat out opposed reform and others who are using reform advocates to achieve their own political goals.”

Jeb may have labored in the vineyards, but he probably should have tasted the wine before suggesting it was a fine vintage!

Seriously Gregg, my guess is that Jeb Bush at best is vaguely familiar with the wording in the Cooperative Agreement between the consortia and the DOE, the additions to the Federal Register that affect FERPA or even the HHS memorandum that guts student health privacy. I have spent time in Washington DC and am stunned at how little many Senators and Congressional representatives know about important bills and regulations. They are simply dealing with too many balls in the air. We do not deny Jeb’s views, we recognize their limitations.

More important are the deeply troubling aspects of CCSS. Fully 20% of the CCSS validating committee refused to approve the standards. In the world of validation, that should normally raise eyebrows. Where is their minority report to explain the concerns? Where are the remedies? They simply do not exist. The developers clearly only wanted to hear that the standards were accepted. The validating committee was even forced to sign non-disclosures and keep their opinions to themselves. Thankfully, they broke that silence. But, where is the transparency, especially if this is a state-led initiative?

In fact, the only information released about the standards was carefully edited by NGA and CCSSO, the copyright holders. Until a popular cry was raised, the dissenting experts were actually stripped from the list of VC members creating the false illusion that all members accepted the CCSS.

Gregg, red flags have been popping up everywhere on this, but they have been ignored.

When validating committee members disagreed vocally with the standards their positions were dismissed. Imagine, one day these were esteemed and respected professionals and the next they were labeled radicals. All because they found serious faults with the standards. This subterfuge alone should be enough to jettison the entire program.

Beyond that, where is the system for improvement of the standards? CCSS loftily offers that the standards will be revised with no details or avenues for front-line directed change. Can teachers who come face to face with students make improvements? The 15% allowance is cosmetic with no practical application.

Rather than capitalize on teacher excellence through a dynamic feedback and response program, their excellence dims as teachers must obediently follow the standards. Their pay, their increases, their evaluations and even schools’ evaluations are all predicated on success with the standards. Innovation is stifled and our children suffer.

Read the standards. Where is the innovation, challenge of the status quo, competition, individuality? These are all qualities it takes to succeed, yet, nowhere are they in the standards nor in the DOE’s proposed Affective Assessments9.
Standards are an important and acceptable way to track student progress. But the CCSS are provably a calamity waiting to worsen.

Gregg, again thank you for your time. I think very highly of Dan and I respect any friend of his. I hope you realize I am a strong believer in accountability and of student standards. But I know a botch-up when I see it. I look forward to having a conversation about education and even coming to a meeting of the minds. I am sure there are better ideas for NJ children.

Best regards,

John Anthony

TEN TRICKS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PLANNERS PLAY

Here’s a test. Think of a regional sustainable development plan that does NOT include open spaces, compact living and reduced vehicle miles traveled. From Plan Bay Area in San Francisco, to New York’s Capital Region Sustainability Plan the programs are the same.

Most of the plan elements are requirements communities must advance in exchange for accepting federal grant money. HUD’s euphemistic “livability principles” are nothing more than forced centralized planning. Regionalism, with its unelected boards and autonomous planning authority, are the 21st century version of “collectivism.”

As community members see their choices are dwindling, planners resort to ever more deceptive practices. In creating a recent DVD on planning, I exposed several of the tricks planners use.

1. Controlling the vocabulary

Planners use marketing terms arrived at in group studies to move their audiences. Terms like: resilient cities, healthy cities, sustainable and livable communities paint persuasive images.

Since most people want to be ‘healthy’ and ‘sustainable’, subconscious support is created for the plan with little understanding of the long-term consequences.

2. Rebranding

Other planners call their work, ‘placemaking’. This pleasant term is described as “creating livable physical environments supportive of: transit, walking, bicycling and social interaction…”

Sound familiar? “Placemaking” is simply repackaging of the same government required ‘livability principles’.

3. Controlling the process

J. Gary Lawrence, a Smart Growth advisor to Pres. Clinton, said, we must “change community decisions about what can or will be discussed and who has a right to be at the [planning] table.”

Andres Duany, one of America’s leading planners said in 2012… “We don’t need to have more public meetings… Just pass [our Florida Seven50 Regional Plan] and trust us.”

The industries’ top planners are on record saying, they want to decide what will be discussed, and who will be at the table. Community members, are expected to “just trust” them.

4. Managing community behavior.

One training organization that develops communications programs for groups including federal agencies and land trusts, recommends the following model to change community behavior.

• Define your target – in other words, who you want to do what
• Impress the target
• Track the people you have convinced
• Cultivate and nurture the relationship with the target
• And finally, ask your target to take the big step you’ve been after all along – the conservation easement, the major gift, etc.

Many planners use similar tactics. The problem is, most community members do not realize, they are being set up as targets.

5. Under-representation

While planners speak of community engagement, rarely do enough residents participate to justify implementing the sweeping changes of comprehensive plans.

Less than 350 people participated in South Carolina’s Greenville County comprehensive plan that will govern more than 450,000 people (.0008%).

In July of 2012, the NY Capital Region Sustainability Plan conducted three visioning meetings drawing a total of only 150 people from a region of over 1 million residents. (.0002%)

Planners steamrolled both plans forward, claiming overwhelming community approval.

6. Meeting control

Facilitators often control community ‘visioning’ sessions to arrive at the planner’s pre-determined outcome, rather than the community’s vision.

In one approach, facilitators praise responses that advance their plans, while marginalizing those that do not.

Tactics include ignoring critical questions and trivializing those who offer oppositional responses. If opposition persists, the attendees are dispersed into smaller groups to separate the dissenters.

7. Under-sampled surveys

Many surveys have such low participation rates they lack the sampling necessary for validity. But, that doesn’t stop planners from promoting the information.

One Capital Region Plan survey claims 76% of respondents want Green Infrastructure. But, of the 1 million residents affected by the plan, just 96 answered the survey question. (.0001%)

8. Skewed surveys

In another tactic, survey questions are worded in ways that promote only the responses the surveyor wants.

A 2010 planning survey for Carver, MA, asked residents, “Which of the following do you feel should be protected or acquired?” It then listed items including waterfront land, farmlands and more.

When respondents chose one of the items, it automatically constituted a vote in favor of public control of property. Residents were offered no option for rejecting public land control and were not informed of the long term consequences of ‘protecting or acquiring’ land.

9. Cherry picked surveys

In selling urban Smart Growth, NJ Planning commissioners quoted a 2011 National Association of Realtors study showing Americans favor “walkable, mixed-use, ―smart growth‖ neighborhoods.”

They did not reveal that the same study showed over twice as many people preferred suburban to city living, and chose single detached homes over the compact units used in Smart Growth.

10. Questionable claims

In promoting California’s SB 375, the state claimed: “Residences in auto-oriented suburban areas produce greater GHG emissions than higher-density areas.”

The statement is actually a misleading excerpt from the Transportation Research Board’s report, “Driving and the Built Environment”. California failed to mention the report’s own conclusion that researchers “lacked enough verifiable scientific evidence to support” their recommendations.

Verifiable evidence was available, however, from UK and Australian studies which each found GHG emissions were higher in the very compact living areas California is deceptively promoting.

Most planners do not set out to deceive people. The problem is, they cannot implement sustainable development, nor advance the government’s “livability principles” unless they re-engineer lifestyles, and foster plans that can infringe on property rights. People are beginning to realize that.

That is why sales tricks are necessary.

BAIT AND SWITCH: THE STORY OF ‘YOU CAN KEEP YOUR PLAN’

From October 7, 2008 through October 25, 2013, President Obama, unequivocally assured Americans, “if you like your health plan you can keep your health plan.” The Affordable Care Act was sold as a choice, not a replacement. On November 4, 2013, his statement was dramatically reversed. Here is the timeline and documentation of what happened. – John Anthony

March 23, 2010: President Obama signs his health plan into law and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act becomes the law of the land.

March 23, 2010: The law contains a ‘grandfather’ clause that protects existing plans and prevents cancellations.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), at the time the President signed the law, a plan was ‘grandfathered’ “as long as a person was enrolled in a health insurance plan on March 23, 2010, that plan has been grandfathered.” This meant everyone with an existing health insurance policy could keep their plan. But, there were some strings attached.

Insurers were mandated to add several costly requirements:

They were prohibited from placing any lifetime limits on essential health benefits
Plans could not be terminated for illness

Coverage had to be extended to dependent children up to age 26

There could be no annual essential health benefit limits on group health plans

There could be no coverage exclusion for pre-existing health conditions

Even if no profits were made, the PPACA requirements alone would add to the cost of a policy. PPACA placed a limit on the amount of profits an insurer could make. However, the law was “silent on the question about whether changes to a plan or coverage would make it a new plan.” These factors made it possible for insurers to issue policies that would comply with the new law.

June 2010: Obama administration orders agencies to write regulations that will restrict the ‘grandfather’ clause.

In June 2010, the Obama administration instructed The Department of the Treasury, The Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services, to use “regulatory guidance” to address when a plan was no longer “grandfathered.”

June 17, 2010: Agencies place new restrictions on ‘grandfathering,’ and predict up to 11.2 million individuals and 82.4 million group insured will now lose their plans.

On June 17, 2010, in response to the administration’s directions, the three agencies entered an “Interim Final Rule” in the Federal Register defining both, the new limitations placed on grandfathered plans and the estimated number of people who would lose their insurance as a result of the changes.

The new ‘grandfather’ limitations added:

Employees were limited in their ability to move into a different grandfathered plan when changing companies;

Companies were prevented from engaging in mergers for the purpose of retaining grandfathered plans;

Insurers were prevented from increasing co-pays by more than $5;

The Federal Register “Interim Final Rule” contains 11 pages of restrictions placed on insurers if they are to retain a plan’s grandfather status.

The additional coverage requirements coupled with the co-pay restrictions forced insurers to either apply to their state regulators for exorbitant rate increases, or drop their plans. HHS recognized this in 2010 and predicted that up to 93 million policy-holders would lose their plans:

Loss of current insurance:

In the Federal Register, HHS estimates there are 176.3 million people insured under federal and non-federal group plans and 16.7 million individual plan holders under age 65 in the U.S.

In the same entry, HHS projects that 66% of small employer plans and 45% of large employer plans will lose their grandfather status by the end of 2013. (This has advanced to 2014 as Pres. Obama postponed the employer mandate for one year.)

HHS projects that 40% to 67% of individual plans will relinquish their grandfather status by the end of 2014.

HHS projected that in total, up to 93.6 million Americans may lose their coverage by the end of 2014.

September 21, 2010: A Senate resolution is introduced to prevent the loss of policy cancellations.

By the summer of 2010, word had spread throughout Washington political circles that many, if not most Americans would lose their current health plans under the PPACA. On September 21, 2010, in an attempt to prevent cancellations under the new regulations, Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY) introduced SR Res. 39, A Joint Resolution to Disapprove the Grandfathering Rules established by HHS.

September 29, 2010: The President unequivocally assures Americans they can keep their plans.

September 29, 2010: House Democrats argue against the Republican resolution.

Democrats issue a rebuttal arguing that the new regulations were necessary to “preserve stability in insurance markets…and provide enhanced consumer protections in health insurance markets” and that Republicans were trying to derail the president’s plan.

September 29, 2010: Democrats defeat the resolution, assuring individual policies will be cancelled.

On September 29, 2010, in a 40 – 59 party line vote, (Murkowski, R-AK did not vote,) SR Res. 39 is rejected. Every Senate Democrat voted “Nay.”

October 25, 2010: The IRS predicts more than 10 million individuals will lose their current insurance plans.

On October 25, 2010, the IRS released a bulletin predicting that in excess of 10 million people will likely lose their individual policies as a result of the administration’s new ’grandfather’ regulations.

November 11, 2010: CBO releases a new definition of ‘grandfathered plans.’

On November 12, 2012, following the administration changes to PPACA, the CBO released a revised definition of the law’s grandfathered plan. It is now one that “has not undergone coverage changes that would cause it to lose grandfathered status.”

June 28, 2012: The President unequivocally assures Americans they can keep their plans.

September 26, 2013: The President unequivocally assures Americans they can keep their plans.

October 2013: Insurers begin cancelling policies.

In October 2013, in response to the new restrictive regulations, the initial wave of the predicted policy cancellations begins to cascade across the nation.

October 25, 2013: The President unequivocally assures Americans they can keep their plans.

October 29, 2013: NBC reports Obama knew about cancellations for 3 years.

NBC reported that sources “deeply involved” with the Affordable Care Act revealed that up to 80% of individual consumers could lose their policies and, in many cases will be forced to pay higher premiums.

November 4, 2013: The President reverses self and says Americans can only conditionally keep their plans.

On November 4, 2013, as news stories follow policy cancellations affecting over 2 million people, President Obama altered his original storyline to now suggest that “you can only keep your plan”, if it is not as good as the Affordable Care Act’s plan.

November 7, 2013: President denies knowing so many people would lose plans and that it will only affect 5% of people.

On November 7, 2013, after months or assuring Americans they could keep their healthcare, President Obama denies any knowledge that people would not keep their policies and, in contradiction of his own agency reports, assures the nation the cancellations will only affect 5% of the people.

November 14, 2013: Obama offers to postpone cancellations for a year

The President’s apparently naive offer for insurers to simply go back to what they before had may not work. Several states argue they cannot back track and insurers argue he has destabilized the market and this move could drive costs even higher.

Then, there is the question of legality. Does the president have the authority to re-write laws?

November 15, 2013: Obama seeks assistance from insurers to cover cancellations.

After ordering regulations that assured the cancellation of millions of policies, and blaming insurance companies for the dropped policies, the president sought help from insurers cover the losses.

November 20, 2013: The administration continues to blame insurers for cancellations.

Various members of the administration continue to argue that the ‘grandfather’ clause provided insurers the opportunity to simply ‘freeze’ their existing plans. The simplistic argument overlooks the high costs associated with the June 2010 HHS mandates. Insurers were caught in a ‘double-bind.’ If they raised premiums enough to cover the cost of new rules, policy holders would have dropped the plans. Yet, if they did not add the required benefits, their plans were no longer ‘grandfathered.’ Insurers dropped them, because they had no choice.

The big question. Why, with so much available data, did not one single main stream media outlet warn Americans that nearly 30% of us would lose our healthcare coverage until after the cancellations began?