Weekly Web Edition        December 15, 2017                 Elko Nevada, USA


 

Quote of the week:

"About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation."

—Will Rogers

 

From The Publisher:

Hurt The "Peace Process" In the Middle East? What Peace Process?

So let me get this straight.

 

Donald Trump just did what ALL of his predecessors since Dwight D. Eisenhower SAID they would do but didn’t and he, personally, is going to “hurt” the “peace process” as well as “destabilize” the Middle East?

 

Seriously?

 

This is just a measure internally to the United States of how delusional the left is and externally how duplicitous many if not most of our “allies” are.

 

My first question to the nice lady I was talking to at the airport in the People’s Republic of Los Angeles who told me the other night that “Trump’s going down” was, what peace process?

 

The Muslim clowns have officially been at war with the Jewish state since the day it was born in 1947. Unofficially, for several thousand years prior to that.

 

Everybody talks about a “two State” solution (like California and Alabama living in peace).  That’s never going to happen as long as one of those states wants to wipe the other off the map. (And, frankly, the results of an actual war in the Middle East would be similar to the last time ‘Bama played USC in 2016. 52 to 6, Roll Tide)

 

It’s time for the self-appointed experts who think they are trying to referee this contest to step into a state of reality and acknowledge that the Muslim side of the conflict is like a high school team playing the Dallas Cowboys.  

 

And let’s be realistic.

 

We have a better chance of seeing another six day war than the so-called Palestinians making peace with Israel. With similar but much more permanent results. To continue the sports metaphor, look at the lineups.  On one hand, given a piece of desert by the United Nations in 1947 which is slightly larger than New Jersey, Israel’s founding fathers created a thriving nation state which today has slightly more population than the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, all carved out of the desert.

 

The Palestinians? Not so much.

 

They are not really a state.  They exist on land which was seized by Israel during the Six Day War and later, at the demand of the UN, literally donated by Israel.  They exist mostly on the largess of the United States Department of State and they take a lot of our money to fund terrorism when they are not stealing it for themselves.  They are, for the most part, a group of people who want other people to support them and want Israel destroyed.  Essentially, it is a group of people who are bound only by their ability to be manipulated by other Arab states’ interests and a lack of any real ability to create anything. And, when was the last time an existing Arab state—Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, etc. volunteered to take them in? Hint: that would be…never.

 

So, instead of coming to Israel and saying let’s make a deal, they want to wipe Israel off the map.

 

If they weren’t trying to take their upset out on us, it would almost be funny.

 

Why should Israel voluntarily agree to deal with these clowns?

 

In fact, why should not Israel  ignore the Europeans and the others in the “world community” and simply go on the offensive?  It’s not like they are unequipped. A few operations similar to our Seal Team Six takedown of Osama Bin Laden and the world might just be a much safer place.

 

Israel has been turning the other cheek since its wildly successful win in 1967 and all it has achieved is today’s status quo.

 

Maybe it’s time to unleash Israel.

 

What are the Arab nations going to do?  Cut off our oil?

 

Thirty years ago, that was a threat.  Today, not so much.  We not only have a President who is willing to recognize Jerusalem, but the reality of energy independence which means that drilling has made a comeback.

 

Oilfields in America, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  What’s bad about that?

                                                                          FRED WEINBERG


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Is There Hope for Education?

 

By NATALIA CASTRO

Special to the Penny Press

 

Both sides of the aisle can agree that education reform is a necessity. With rising costs of higher education and increased joblessness amongst graduates, the higher education system is failing millions of young Americans. Rather than merely reauthorizing the Higher Education Act as administrations before have done, Congress is voting on the first significant changes to the legislation since 2008.

The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act  was introduced by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) as an opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act with changes to fit it into a modern context.

As Representative Foxx explains, “We need a higher education system that is designed to meet the needs of today’s students and has the flexibility to innovate for tomorrow’s workforce opportunities. The PROSPER Act is higher education’s long overdue reform.”

The bill encourages greater partnership between industry and institutions by focusing additional resources toward Federal Work-Study programs and provides institutional aid to develop and implement career-specific programs. In a major shift toward private sector partnership, the bill also requires grant application boards and accreditation boards to have at least one member of the business community present, to ensure institutions receiving federal funds are preparing students to meet the needs of the labor force.

Higher education provides no benefit if students cannot receive jobs upon completion of their degree, the situation many students are currently finding themselves in.

Millennials are the most college educated generation, but at the same time too many are finding themselves unable to enter the labor force.  The value of a college degree has dropped substantially due to increased enrollment,  while tuition soars  alongside attendance.

In states like Iowa, more than half of the available jobs are middle-skilled jobs  requiring some form of vocational training or employment that needs more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. Students entering college, rather than taking these careers have caused a skills gap across industries in the state’s labor force.

This leaves students with costly degrees but no place to find jobs, most of these students are merely forced to peddle in their debt until an opportunity comes along.

The PROSPER Act begins to taks aim at assisting students with debt as well.

According to the Act’s summary  released by the House Education Workforce, the act simplifies the FAFSA system and streamlines student aid programs into a single grant, single loan, and single Work-Study program to “ease confusion for students who are deciding the best options available to responsibly pay for their college education”.

However, this has been a frequent area of controversy for the bill as well. Opponents of the bill have been quick to notice  the legislation ends several student loan forgiveness and repayment programs  for individuals working in the public and non-profit sector.

This is not the first time this option has been discussed, the Department of Education discussed the possibility of removing loan forgiveness programs earlier this year. Almost 600,000 borrowers have signed up for this program since President George W. Bush introduced it in 2007 to encourage graduates to enter the public service.

Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute  argues while this bill does take significant steps to mend the federal aid system and reduce debt, it does not do enough, “What needs to happen, ultimately, is for federal student aid to be phased out… Students with a demonstrated ability to do legitimate college-level work in in-demand fields would almost certainly be able to find private loans; both borrower and lender would likely profit. This bill, not surprisingly, does not phase aid out. It does, though, consolidate aid programs, and takes some small steps forward, capping total amounts students and their families can borrow from Washington, and letting schools say they won’t let students borrow a lot if the program doesn’t seem to justify it.”

The federal government leads student financial assistance, but only because former President Barack Obama made it so.  While passing Obamacare, a healthcare policy, President Obama federalized student loans to pay for the costly health plan.  Republicans blame this action for souring student loan costs in recent years.

If the history of higher education chaos, exacerbated by elements of this bill, teaches us anything, it is that the federal government should not be handling education policy. While this legislation attempts to limit the federal government’s role in education, it does not go far enough to ensure state control. Many of these very reform elements could be shifted to the states.

The Constitution says nothing about Congress or the executive branch’s role in education, let alone higher education. If states wish to build private sector relationships, they should be the facilitator of those, rather than the federal government which is woefully out of touch with statewide industry needs.

Higher education should be a bipartisan point for Congress, but not federal legislators, state legislators. While the full jury is still out on this bill, as it has not reached the House and Senate floor yet, once it does, representatives would do best to push issues to state governments rather than attempt comprehensive reform on their own.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government


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PERS Lying To The Taxpayers

By ROBERT FELLNER

Special to the Penny Press

A pernicious myth is being spread by some of Nevada’s news organizations about the financial health of PERS — erroneously suggesting the public should be unconcerned about a multi-billion dollar debt that continues to consume more and more tax dollars every year.

Geoff Dornan of the Nevada Appeal made this error again just last month, when he described the System’s unfunded liability as: “…the shortfall PERS would face if the system was dissolved and it had to pay retirement to every covered public employee.”

Likewise, the Nevada Independent falsely claimed in their “The Indy Explains” feature that PERS unfunded liability represents the amount that would have to be paid if the “government were to stop all operations at once and need[ed] to settle current and future debts to all PERS participants immediately.”

The Independent went on to say that “because that situation is unrealistic…there’s a range of opinions on how concerned Nevada should be about its unfunded liability.”

Just for the record, if the unfunded liability was an amount that only came due in the event the government ceased to exist, it would be worth ignoring.

However, that’s not at all what PERS unfunded liability represents.

In fact, neither news organization can cite any actuary or even any PERS official as a source for this false definition. The Independent acknowledged as such when alerted to their error by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, and agreed to seek out an accurate definition.

Unfortunately, it has so far failed to publish a correction or update the feature, which was written in February of 2017.

So what is the correct definition?

As a first step, we have to understand how a pension fund calculates its liabilities. Here’s a simplified example to illustrate the concept:

Say PERS had to make a $20 payment ten years from now, but currently has only $10 on hand. At first glance, it would seem like the System is only 50 percent funded, and would report a $10 unfunded liability. In practice, however, PERS reduces its reported liability by the amount it expects to gain from assumed future investment returns.

So, if the System posits that its future investment returns will boost its current $10 worth of assets to $20 over the next ten years, it would report a 100 percent funded ratio with no unfunded liability — as it expects to have all of the money owed by the time the payment is due.

Conversely, if the System only had $5 on hand, it would not expect to be able to meet its future obligation of a $20 payment in ten years from investment gains. It would then report an unfunded liability of five dollars, representing the additional amount the system needs immediately in order to be able to earn enough from investments over the next decade to make the $20 payment.

To get a sense of the magnitude of difference between the reported unfunded liability and the amount that would be owed in a termination event we can consult the nation’s largest public pension fund, The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) — which reports both the regular unfunded liability and the unfunded termination liability.

The California city of Adelanto, for example, currently enjoys a funded ratio of 98 percent and a tiny unfunded liability of only $205,000.

Yet, if Adelanto were to terminate its pension plan and had to fund all promised benefits today, its unfunded liability would explode from a mere $205,000 to as much as $11 million!

As this example illustrates, PERS unfunded liability is just a small fraction of the amount that would be owed if the System had to pay out all of its already-promised benefits immediately.

This principle is an uncontroversial and universally recognized fact, making the continued repetition of this gaffe so perplexing. (See, for example, the New York Times article “A Sour Surprise for Public Pensions: Two Sets of Books”).

So now we can identify what the unfunded liability actually represents: It’s a shortfall above and beyond what PERS expects to make from future investment returns. And therefore it’s an amount that instead must be paid entirely by taxpayers and government workers.

With this definition in mind, it becomes clear why, beyond the importance of simple accuracy, misrepresenting PERS $13 billion unfunded liability as an abstract, meaningless figure is so harmful.

To its credit, PERS recognizes the importance of eliminating its unfunded liability and, as such, currently expects to pay it off over the next 19 years or so. But the repeated misrepresentation of this figure obscures how PERS plans to pay that debt down — solely by raising taxpayer and public worker contributions!

In fact, this is precisely why taxpayer contributions to PERS hit an all-time high of $1.57 billion last year — an amount which ranked 2nd-highest nationwide when measured as a percentage of government revenue. It’s also why those contributions are set to rise even further in coming years, forcing cuts in public services, higher taxes or a combination of the two.

Already the amount docked from teachers’ paychecks to help fund PERS has risen 40 percent over the past ten years, leaving teachers paying some of the highest rates in the nation, without any corresponding increase in benefits.

Yet these real-world costs are regularly neglected in most news coverage of PERS, and not just in smaller newspapers like the Nevada Appeal.

Even former Review-Journal reporter Sean Whaley — who has since been hired by PERS as an independent contractor to help with their communications efforts — has downplayed or simply omitted taxpayer costs in his periodic updates on the fund’s growth.

Such omissions are serious, given that these costs, and the burden they impose on the taxpayers and public employees who must pay them, are the only reason PERS warrants media coverage in the first place!

And it’s not like there hasn’t been anything to report on in this regard:

The continued rise in PERS costs is already leaving fewer tax dollars available for public safety, road repair, teacher salaries and other public services — making PERS one of the state’s most important public policy issues, despite being one of the least understood.

As such, it is imperative that news organizations remember why they are reporting on PERS in the first place, and provide the public with complete and accurate information.

One of the best examples of comprehensive public pension reporting is the extensive, multi-part series on California’s public pensions recently published by the Los Angeles Times. It is a fantastic resource for any journalist or member of the public wishing to get more familiar with the topic.

 

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s director of transparency research.


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For this week's entire issue go to www.pennypressNV.com

In This week's issue are stories by Robert Ringer, Matt Barber, Chuck Muth and more!

 

 

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