The Government Is Controlling Private Property to Save Frog Species Not Seen in 50 Years

Scott Blakeman /

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is seeking to protect the dusky gopher frog on the Endangered Species List by designating over 1,500 acres of private property in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana as a “critical habitat” for the embattled amphibian.

But here’s the kicker: The frog hasn’t been seen on the land in question for over 50 years.

The federal government has the ability through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to designate land as “critical habitat” subjecting it to additional regulations. But the government can’t simply claim that private property is “critical habitat” without first conducting an economic analysis to determine the economic impact. If the analysis shows that the cost of creating a critical habitat burdens the property owner and outweighs the perceived benefit to the endangered species, the land can be exempted from the regulation.

In the case of the St. Tammany property, the economic analysis produced by the USFWS revealed that the “designation could preclude all development on the land, causing the landowners to lose as much as $36 million.” Meanwhile, the land is not actively benefitting a single dusky gopher frog. But the plans to make the land a critical habitat proceed. This is a federal land grab at its worst. And, unfortunately, the courts are complicit.

Oral arguments were heard in a U.S. district court last week regarding the situation. U.S. Department of Justice attorney Mary Hollingsworth noted that the property in dispute is a good prospective breeding ground for the frog and is “in very good shape and could be used today if the frogs were there.”

But, as noted earlier, the intriguing thing is that the frogs aren’t there – and they haven’t been seen there or anywhere in Louisiana for 50 years. Moreover, calling the land suitable for the frog is debatable at best. Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer M. Reed Hopper noted that “this land does not include the physical and biological features that are critical for the dusky gopher frog, so it’s no surprise that there aren’t any frogs on the property.” The government wants to effectively restrict use of private land that could cost the landowners millions to protect a creature that doesn’t live, and possibly could not even survive, there.

Unfortunately, the court’s decision allows this inanity to proceed. Pacific Legal Foundation reported that a federal judge “reluctantly” upheld the designation of this unsuitable area as “critical habitat.” The judge acknowledged the ESA appears to go too far but suggested that is a matter for Congress to address and not the courts.” The Foundation called the action by the USFWS to not follow its own rules an “irrational decision.”

An “irrational decision” is a good way to put it. Moreover, it’s outrageous that the government could restrict development of private property and cost a family $36 million dollars, not to mention the cost in jobs and economic activity of not productively using the land. And the deeper issue of excessive government intervention shouldn’t be forgotten. M. Reed Hopper says it well:

“Essentially this is sort of a test case for the Fish & Wildlife Service. This is the first time they’ve ever extended their authority this far, and if they get away with it here, they’re likely to do it in the future.”

Though the frog may be little, through the Endangered Species Act, this amphibian is trashing private property rights that should be protected under the Constitution, potentially costing people millions, and setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

 

Tot Is Family’s Sole Survivor as ISIS Terrorists Target Iraqi Town - Daily Signal

Tot Is Family’s Sole Survivor as ISIS Terrorists Target Iraqi Town

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel /

After escaping a terrorist-besieged Iraqi town with his family, 2-year-old Hassan was wounded when a suicide bomb went off near a mosque.

The blast in the Kurdistan-controlled Kirkuk province, set off by terrorists from the group Islamic State, killed the boy’s entire immediate family. Today, three weeks later, the toddler remains in the hospital, bandages covering much of his face.

Dr. Ali al-Bayati, head of an Iraq-based humanitarian group called the Turkmen Saving Foundation, said of Hassan:

He belongs to a refugee family who left Amerli seeking a safe place after the savage attack of the terrorists to their city. He lost his family, as they were killed in the explosion with many of his relatives as well.

The Aug. 7 incident, which al-Bayati recounted to The Daily Signal by email, is one example of the plight of Shitte Turkmen in Amerli, a city in northern Iraq where they have been under siege for months by the Islamist terrorists.

The Obama administration reportedly is considering a humanitarian relief operation for the Shiite Turkmen in Amerli, similar to the one conducted to help the Yezidi religious minority. That crisis helped push the U.S. back into military action in Iraq.

But today, in a press conference at the White House, Obama downplayed the prospect of new military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama said, adding:

Folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at. …The suggestions seems to have been we’re about to go full-scale on some elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL and the suggestion has been we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow with Congress still out of town, they’ll be left in the dark. That’s not going to happen.

James Carafano, a leading authority on national security at The Heritage Foundation, warned against taking too long. He told The Daily Signal:

It is good to be cautious when you are putting lives and our national treasure on the line, but time matters. A fireman that shows up after the fire isn’t much good. Giving ISIS time and space to root itself into Iraq will make it that much harder to kill.

Obama this week authorized U.S. military surveillance flights over Syria, an act that led to speculation that the president soon would pursue airstrikes against the Islamic State’s base of operations in Syria.

>>> Commentary: 11 Reasons Why ISIS Might Be More Dangerous Than al-Qaeda

Obama, who was to meet with his National Security Council this evening, suggested he would be selective in launching missions similar to the one he authorized to help the Yezidis:

We will continue to focus on [protecting] the American people, and where we can, we will focus on humanitarian acts like the one that saved so many people on a mountain, and we will cobble together a coalition we need for a long-term strategy.

The Turkmen in Amerli are not waiting for U.S. direction, al-Bayati told The Daily Signal. He said 5,000 Turkmen volunteers are fighting the Islamic State jihadists in Amerli.

At least 15,000 civilians, including many women and children, are trapped in Amerli without access to food or water, he said.

The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said last weekend that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”

Al-Bayati said city streets are blocked by Islamic State fighters and the only way out is by air. Electricity and water are completely cut off, he said.

>>> Q&A: Should the U.S. Bomb ISIS Targets in Syria?

Airdrops by the Iraqi military have provided residents with food as well as weapons to help them beat back the Islamic State. However, residents often go 10 days without any airdrops successfully reaching them, he said.

The Islamic State terrorists target Amerli’s residents for persecution because they are part of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority.

To secure Amerli, al-Bayati asks that the U.S. contribute airdrops of food and water, as it did for the Yezidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, and conduct airstrikes on Islamic State militants in the area:

We need immediate help for Amerli. We need the U.S. to support Iraqi Turkmen in getting autonomy in their places and international protection, as they are exposed to genocides every few years by extremists.

Meanwhile, al-Bayati said, 2-year-old Hassan continues to receive medical treatment at Faruq Hospital in the Sulaymaniyah province of Iraqi Kurdistan.

While Hassan recovers, however, his hometown remains a target of the Islamic State’s advance.

Education Savings Accounts: Enabling Customized Learning - Daily Signal

Education Savings Accounts: Enabling Customized Learning

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona /

An education option that better targets resources, empowers parents, and tailors a student’s learning experience specifically to his needs—while also enabling families to save for college? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s the reality for families in Arizona and Florida that have access to pioneering education savings accounts (ESAs).

In 2011, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the nation’s first education savings account program into law. Known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in Arizona, ESAs are true to their name: They empower parents with the ability to fully customize their child’s education.

This year, Florida became the second state to enact an ESA program, which the Sunshine State calls Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs).

Eighteen-year-old Max Ashton is an ESA recipient in Arizona. Max is an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man. He was also born legally blind and has additional needs in school. This is why, when given the option to use an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents jumped at the chance. Marc Ashton, Max’s father, said of the decision:

A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 dollars per year to educate that student. We took 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona—the best education in Arizona—plus all his Braille, all his technology, and then there was still money left over—still money left over—to put toward his college [tuition]. And so he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University…and do extremely well, because we were able to save money even sending him to the best school in Arizona over what the state would normally pay for.

ESAs act like an “education debit card.” With an ESA, 90 percent of the state funding that would have been spent on their child in public school is placed into a restricted-use savings account for parents to use toward a variety of approved education services and products, including private school tuition, private tutoring, curricula, textbooks, individual public school courses, and education therapies. Parents can even roll over unused funds into a college savings account.

In its first year of operation, 34 percent of Arizona families chose to use their ESA funds toward multiple education options. This suggests that when parents are given the ability to customize their child’s education, many will take advantage of the opportunity, tailoring their child’s education to that child’s individual needs.

With this ability to customize, ESAs could be considered “School Choice 2.0”—the next generation of school choice. ESAs restore accountability in education by shifting responsibility in education decision-making back to providers who know the needs of the student best: the parents.

As Kathy Visser, mother of 10-year-old ESA recipient Jordan, explains:

I’m seeing children that are blossoming that were not learning in the traditional system, and to me that’s accountability. We need to look at ways to show that accountability. There is nobody that is going to be more accountable to that child than the parent.

The school choice movement is picking up steam across the country. As of 2014, 41 private school choice programs were operating in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Over 300,000 students are benefitting from school choice. As parents across America grow hungrier for customization in education, ESAs represent the way forward.

In Digital Age, Government Fails to Trace Food Stamp Fraud Online - Daily Signal

In Digital Age, Government Fails to Trace Food Stamp Fraud Online

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness /

States are ill equipped to detect and report food stamp fraud in the digital age, including attempts to sell benefits for cash, alcohol and other services,  a new report says.

Much of the fraud occurs through social media and e-commerce websites such as Craigslist, the investigation by the Government Accountability Office found.

The GAO reviewed state and federal efforts to address fraud committed by recipients of food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report noted:

The Office of Management and Budget has designated SNAP as a high-error program due to the estimated dollar amount in improper payments for fiscal year 2013.

In fiscal 2013, SNAP provided over $76 billion in benefits designed to help about 28 million Americans purchase food. On average, recipient households received about $275 a month in assistance.

>>> Commentary: Why Are Fewer People Using Food Stamps?

In the review, investigators discovered online postings of SNAP recipients offering the program’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards  in exchange for other good and services. EBT cards operate like debit cards and require a pin number for access to benefits.

Examples of fraud identified in the report include:

The misuse of food stamp benefits has been a “long-standing concern,” the GAO report says, while “technology has provided additional opportunities to commit and combat such activities.”

Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, said food stamp fraud actually is on the decline  and the greater problem is the headlong increase in food stamp spending and recipients. She told The Daily Signal:

Food stamps overall is in major need of reform. It is one of the largest welfare programs and has grown rapidly over the last decade.

>>> Commentary: Big Bank? No Problem. You May Still Qualify for Food Stamps

GAO studied fraud in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and eight other states, selected based on the number of household recipients and other criteria.

Most of the selected states reported difficulty conducting fraud investigations because of limited staff and the growing number of recipients. Also, once state agencies identify fraud, they have difficulty prosecuting recipients and recovering overpayments.

“Some state officials suggested changing the financial incentives structure to help support the costs of investigating potential SNAP fraud,” the report said.

The report, published Aug. 21 and titled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Enhanced Detection Tools and Reporting Could Improve Efforts to Combat Recipient Fraud,” calls for the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service to:

Most importantly, Sheffield said, food stamps should be reformed to promote self-sufficiency through work:

Able-bodied adults should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving assistance. This would change food stamps from a one-way handout to a program based on reciprocal obligation.

>>> Commentary: Americans Support Stronger Work Requirements for Food Stamps

This City May Hike Minimum Wage to $13.25 an Hour - Daily Signal

This City May Hike Minimum Wage to $13.25 an Hour

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko /

California’s at it again.

On Labor Day, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to announce a three-year series of hikes to the city’s minimum wage that will raise it to $13.25 an hour, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A labor activist, Maria Elena Durazo of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, applauded the move, telling the Times, “There is a crisis in wages for the working poor and we feel strongly about the largest increase as soon as possible.”

But will the hike ultimately help low-income men and women in Los Angeles?

That’s not so clear. First, let’s be clear: most employees aren’t working at minimum wage for years, even in low-skilled jobs. “Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers make above the minimum wage a year later,” wrote Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk in an issue brief released in January.

“This happens because most minimum-wage jobs are entry-level positions,” Sherk explained. “They teach unskilled and inexperienced workers basic employment skills. Without these skills, they cannot qualify for higher-paying jobs. As they acquire these skills, they become more productive and can command higher pay.”

Furthermore, minimum wage workers may not be who you think they are. Many of them are teens and young adults. And among those who are working minimum wage jobs and are 25 or older, the average family income is $42,462, according to Heritage Foundation research. To put that number into context, the official poverty level for a family of four is $23,850.

A higher minimum wage rate can also lead to unintended consequences that hurt low-income Americans. “Higher minimum wages both reduce overall employment and encourage relatively affluent workers to enter the labor force,” Sherk said in testimony before a Senate committee last year. “Minimum wage increases often lead to employers replacing disadvantaged adults who need a job with suburban teenagers who do not.”

“Studies also find higher minimum wages do not reduce poverty rates,” Sherk added.

It’s laudable to want to help Americans struggling economically. But a minimum wage hike, while sounding good, could backfire and hurt the very people it was intended to help.

CBO Updated Budget Outlook Shows Economy Headed in Wrong Direction - Daily Signal

CBO Updated Budget Outlook Shows Economy Headed in Wrong Direction

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko / Rachel Greszler /

New figures from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) confirm the ongoing negative economic impact of Obama-era policies such as the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd–Frank Act, controls on energy production and transport, and Keynesian stimulus spending.

In an update to its annual Budget and Economic Outlook yesterday, the CBO projects lower gross domestic product (GDP), lower wages and salaries, and reduced retirement income for Americans in the years ahead.

According to CBO’s updated outlook, recent GDP growth has not met its previous projections, and the economy simply isn’t recovering as fully as it has from past recessions. This lower growth will have a significant impact on long-run economic growth and incomes. Compared to its February 2014 outlook, CBO now projects that GDP will be 0.8 percent (or $1.8 trillion) lower over the 2015–2024 period. Wages and salaries will be 1.0 percent (or $1 trillion) lower.

For a median-income family making $50,000 a year, CBO’s downward revision to wages and salaries amounts to a loss of $4,500 over the next 10 years. But it won’t just be working-age Americans who will have less income. CBO also projects that retirement incomes for older Americans will be smaller due to lower interest rates and lower stock returns.

In short, the CBO report describes an economy on the wrong track. Federal spending and debt are out of control. Federal taxes, regulations, and crowding out of resources are hampering economic growth and preventing the private sector from flourishing. What the nation needs instead are policies that reduce government interference and allow the private sector the freedom to drive job creation and long-run economic growth.

California to Triple Tax Credits to Hollywood - Daily Signal

California to Triple Tax Credits to Hollywood

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko / Rachel Greszler / Alex Anderson /

In an effort to revive a struggling entertainment industry, California Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislative leaders announced a five-year expansion to the state’s film and television tax credit program.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the governor approved a bipartisan plan to raise the annual allocated tax credits to $330 million, over three times the current allocation.

Between 2004 and 2012, the California entertainment industry lost 16,137 film production jobs. During that same period the state of New York increased its entertainment employment by 25 percent. The Milken Institute attributes this shift in employment to the billions of dollars in robust incentives from competitive states like New York, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana.

As film and television productions move to other states, California state leaders have been under pressure by industry unions to keep jobs within the state.

Thomas Davis, a business representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees argued that additional tax credits are essential to California’s entertainment identity.

“We can’t allow California to become another Michigan where we let our signature industry leave,” said Davis. “This is an opportunity to reinforce how important this industry is to the state.”

Curtis Dubay, a tax policy expert at The Heritage Foundation, explained that California’s attempt to lure businesses through incentives does not provide a long-term solution to the state’s problem.

“It’s no surprise California has to bribe its headline industry to stay in the state. Its taxes make it uncompetitive for any industry to operate in the state without such sweeteners. But targeted tax credits are bad tax policy,” said Dubay. “It would be better if California lowered taxes for everyone, rather than bestow indulgences on the politically connected.”

The proposed law would also remove a disputed lottery system, previously used as a means of distributing funds to approved applicants. Instead this law would allocate tax credits based on the economic impact and potential employment for each project.

“This law will make key improvements in our film and television tax credit program and put thousands of Californians to work,” said Brown.

The law is expected to pass the state senate later this week. In total, California will allocate $1.65 billion for film and television tax credits between 2015-2020.

 

Cartoon: Lois Lerner’s Missing Emails - Daily Signal

Cartoon: Lois Lerner’s Missing Emails

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko / Rachel Greszler / Alex Anderson / Glenn Foden /

What’s the full story?
140827_Cartoon_Foden>>> Seriously? IRS Says Lois Lerner’s Blackberry Was ‘Wiped Clean’

How Obama’s Handling of ISIS Could Affect Midterms - Daily Signal

How Obama’s Handling of ISIS Could Affect Midterms

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko / Rachel Greszler / Alex Anderson / Glenn Foden / Genevieve Wood /

A lot of voters are questioning the leadership this president has shown, but also the larger party, because you don’t see any other Democrats coming up, saying the president’s been wrong.

Jindal Challenges Obama’s “Unlawful Coercion” into Common Core - Daily Signal

Jindal Challenges Obama’s “Unlawful Coercion” into Common Core

Scott Blakeman / Josh Siegel / Brittany Corona / Kelsey Harkness / Katrina Trinko / Rachel Greszler / Alex Anderson / Glenn Foden / Genevieve Wood / Lindsey Burke / Andrew Kloster /

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday against the Obama Administration over its use of federal funding and waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to incentivize states to adopt Common Core national standards and tests.

Jindal contends that these actions put states on “a path toward a national curriculum.” The lawsuit charges that

through regulatory and rule making authority, Defendants have constructed a scheme that effectively forces States down a path toward a national curriculum by requiring, as a condition of funding under the President’s Race to the Top [RTTT] programs, that States join “consortia of states” and agree to adopt a common set of content standards and to implement the assessment protocols and policies created by that consortium, all under the direction of the United States Department of Education [DOE]. It is impossible to square the executive actions at issue with settled Congressional authority or the Tenth Amendment.

The complaint also notes that the DOE “has tethered NCLB waivers and other ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] [grant] conditions to the RTTT program objectives of Common Core standards and assessments, thus coercing States to participate in the objectionable RTTT conditions under the threat of more onerous conditions and/or the loss of funding under ESEA and NCLB.”

Analysis conducted in 2012 by former DOE officials came to a similar conclusion: “The Department has simply paid others to do that which it is forbidden to do. This tactic should not inoculate the Department against the curriculum prohibitions imposed by Congress” (emphasis added).

The DOE granted ESEA waivers to states such as Louisiana under the condition that they meet a variety of new requirements concocted by the DOE. And, pursuant to Section 9401 of the law, codified at 20 U.S. Code § 7861, the Secretary of Education is to waive “any statutory or regulatory requirement” of the ESEA (now known as No Child Left Behind) when a state requests a waiver.

The problem is that rather than wait for states to request waivers if they were unable to meet certain requirements, the Obama Administration actively encouraged non-compliance by developing an ESEA Flexibility program, the details of which were announced in September 2011. This program represented what the Congressional Research Service (CRS) described as “a fundamental redesign of key elements of the ESEA.” The program encouraged states to apply for waivers, insulating them from NCLB sanctions for failure to meet achievement benchmarks.

In order to receive a waiver, however, states were required to adopt standards common to a “significant number” of states (as the CRS report says, “presumably the Common Core State Standards”) or college-and-career readiness standards approved by a state’s Institute of Higher Education network.

Critics of Common Core have long argued that Common Core national standards and tests will inevitably strengthen federal power over education while weakening schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. They’re also more likely to result in standardizing mediocrity rather than establishing standards of excellence—something that has become more evident as states compare Common Core to the previously excellent standards in place in states such as Massachusetts and Indiana.

Moreover, this might not be legal—something the Governor’s lawsuit highlights. The waiver scheme might violate a number of statutes. The waiver program appears to encourage noncompliance. Furthermore, there are provisions in three federal laws that explicitly prohibit federal direction of curriculum: the General Education Provisions Act, the Department of Education Organization Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The federal government will likely argue that it is simply directing “standards” and not “curricula,” but this is something for a federal court to decide. The government will also likely argue that it is barely involved at all, because it is only directing compliance with those standards set up by a “significant number of states.” Yet the federal government has been quite involved in this process, not least by facilitating state development of Common Core and then essentially conditioning waivers on adopting Common Core. The extent of federal involvement is also something for a federal court to decide.

There are also serious constitutional questions. In Jindal’s view, even if (and it’s a big “if”) one presumes that federal law authorizes the President the waiver authority he claims, that federal law might be invalid under the Tenth Amendment to the extent it authorizes the “commandeering” of state law in the field of education. In the 2012 Obamacare case, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, struck down the Medicaid expansion component of the law because, in the Court’s opinion, the “retroactive” imposition of onerous new conditions on federal grants in that case was tantamount to holding a “gun to the head” of states. Such a “gun to the head” might be unconstitutional.

Kudos to Governor Jindal for pushing back against this misguided federal overreach.