An Inconvenient Freedom

By Ian Aikens | July 4, 2020

As the annual holiday most associated with the idea of liberty, it would not be an understatement to say that limited government took a massive hit this year. The virus was one thing, but the disastrous effects of the lockdowns will be felt for years to come. Worse still is what appears to be approval from most folks that the lockdowns were the correct course of action for state and local governments to take. While one can’t trust the mainstream media to put anything in perspective, I do believe a poll I read a few months back that 81% of the respondents did NOT want the lockdowns to end and were concerned about opening up too soon.

Incredibly, even here in the Live Free or Die state, it appears that most people have succumbed to the idea that “this time it’s different.” Really? If you check even the CDC records, in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were anywhere from 46,000 to 95,000 deaths in the US. For those with longer memories, you might recall the 1968-1969 Hong Kong flu season when an estimated 100,000 people perished in the US. Benjamin Franklin’s eternal words, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” come to mind. Should our state motto be changed to read “Live Free AND Die”?

I moved to this state specifically because it had a reputation for being liberty-oriented. What a major disappointment when our governor issued Emergency Order #17 and required all “non-essential” Granite Staters to stay at home. Of course, many people were already cutting back on their social contacts as news of the virus was everywhere, but not everyone was, so the heavy hand of government stepped in to “protect” us. The initial emergency order was only 4 pages long, but Exhibit A describing “essential” jobs was 11 pages long. My own industry was not originally listed as “essential,” but my professional trade association raised Cain, and voilà suddenly we were added to the list and became “essential.” So much for there being any doubt about the arbitrariness of it all.

On the other hand, I have great respect for how the pandemic was handled in South Dakota. The governor’s executive order was only 2 pages long, and there was no lockdown. As the governor stated, it’s the residents of South Dakota who are primarily responsible for their own safety. These days, what a radical thought to proclaim publicly—and as a government official too—that people have to take care of themselves and not expect the government to take care of them. They have the freedom to be treated like adults but also the responsibility to face the consequences of their choices. The governor noted that she was trusting them to act like responsible adults during the pandemic, so there was no need for authoritarian behavior like in other states.

Of course, the government control freaks weren’t keen on letting some folks keep their liberties intact, so when there was an outbreak of the virus at a meat plant in South Dakota, the governor took a lot of heat for not locking down the state. Unlike other governors who caved in to mounting pressure, she once again reiterated her non-authoritarian stance and also pointed out that meat plants were deemed essential by the president, so they would have been open anyway during a lockdown.

So, does liberty really work or are we destined for gloom and doom if our leaders don’t treat us like children? Obviously the original “models” were pathetic in how far they were off base, but let’s look at some actual data a few months into the pandemic. New Hampshire is not very different from South Dakota as it’s mostly rural. With a population of 1.36 million, it’s the 10th least populated state, while South Dakota is the 5th least populated state with a population of around 882,000. As of this week, New Hampshire had 373 corona-related deaths, while South Dakota had 93. Dividing the number of deaths by the total population, the virus death rate is .027% per capita for New Hampshire and .013% for South Dakota. If lockdowns save lives, then why is the rate lower for South Dakota, which had no lockdown? As for unemployment as of 06/19/20, the rate for New Hampshire was 14.5% and 9.4% for South Dakota. So apparently authoritarianism isn’t good for your livelihood—or even your health.

To be completely fair to our governor, one of our state reps told me that when some of them complained to the governor that state troopers were pulling drivers over during the initial phase of the lockdown to check why they were out driving, he vowed to put a stop to that nonsense. From what I’ve read, he kept his word, and there were none of the really outrageous civil liberty violations here like arresting surfers, citing people sitting in their cars watching the sunset, taking down the license numbers of cars in church parking lots during Easter Sunday, and the disgusting “Karens” who turned in their neighbors to local police departments and “good citizen” government hotlines.

As today’s holiday approached, there’s been a mainstream media feeding frenzy about the president visiting South Dakota and Mount Rushmore for a celebration and fireworks. The governor said, “We’ve told people to focus on personal responsibility. Every one of them has the opportunity to make a decision that they’re comfortable with. So, we will be having celebrations of American independence. We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home. But those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks, if they choose to wear one. But we won’t be social distancing.” Needless to say, those who celebrate the god of government control are fit to be tied. Ignoring CDC guidelines is akin to or perhaps worse than heresy.

If I were a bit more cynical, I would say the governor’s critics are hoping for lots of new infections and, better still, deaths resulting from today’s celebration in South Dakota. But I prefer to focus on being happy that there’s actually an elected official who is actively promoting self-ownership, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. Perhaps the meaning behind today’s holiday hasn’t been lost after all.

References:

Baumann, Beth. (2020, April 18). SD Gov. Noem Drops a Truth Bomb on Critics Demanding She Issue a Stay-at-Home Order. Retrieved from https://townhall.com/tipsheet/bethbaumann/2020/04/18/sd-gov-kristi-noem-claps-back-at-critics-who-wanted-her-to-implement-a-statewide-stayathome-order-n2567167

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1968 Pandemic (H3N2 virus). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1968-pandemic.html

Cummings, William. (2020, July 1). ‘We won’t be social distancing’ at Mount Rushmore celebration with Trump, says SD Gov. Noem. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/07/01/kristi-noem-social-distancing-mount-rushmore-trump/5354257002/

Fund, John. (2020, June 7). Kristi Noem: The Governor Who Stayed the Course. Retrieved from https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/06/coronavirus-pandemic-south-dakota-governor-kristi-noem-stayed-the-course/

State of New Hampshire – Governor Chris Sununu. EXHIBIT A to Emergency Order #17. Retrieved from https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/emergency-order-17-1585267833.pdf

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020, June 19). Local Area Unemployment Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm

Wikipedia. 2017-2018 United States Flu Season. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017%E2%80%932018_United_States_flu_season

Celestial Seasonings – July 2020

By Heather Durham | June 30, 2020

Summer Stars by Carl Sandburg

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars.
So near, a long arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy hum-strumming.

July 1. An open star cluster from Serpens (IC4756) may be viewable near midnight but may require binoculars.

July 3. Asteroid Herculina in Sagittarius may be viewable most of the night.

July 4. The Earth will be at its farthest point from the sun.

July 5. There will be an eclipse of the full Moon this evening between 23:08 and 1:53 am. The Moon will also be at its farthest point from the sun. The Moon will be closely passed by Jupiter.

July 6. The Moon and Saturn will rise and be close to each other.

July 8. Venus will be as bright as it ever gets in the sky this evening.

July 10. Venus will be at its farthest point from the sun.

July 11. The Moon and Mars will both rise and closely approach one another.

July 12. This date will bring the last quarter of the moon which will also appear smaller than normal.

July 14. Jupiter, in Sagittarius will be viewable most of the night.

July 15. Asteroid 2 Pallas from Sagitta will be viewable much of the night. 134430 Pluto, in Sagittarius will be viewable much of the night.

July 17. The Moon and Venus will rise and closely approach one another.

July 20. There will be a new Moon today which will pass close to the Sun. Saturn, in Sagittarius will be viewable much of the night.

July 22. Mercury will be at its farthest point from the Sun.

July 25. The Moon will be at its closest proximity to the Earth and will appear larger than usual.

July 26. Mercury will be at its highest point in the sky.

July 27. The Moon will be at first quarter.

July 28. The Piscis Austrinid meteor shower can be best viewed at 3:00 am.

July 29. The Southern Aquariid meteor shower will be best for viewing at 5:00 am … yes, just before dawn. The Capricornid meteor shower will be viewable most of the night.


References:

In-the-Sky.org. (2020, June 29). Guides to the Night Sky. Retrieved from in-the-sky.org

Sandburg, Carl. (1920). Summer Stars. Retrieved from www.yourdailypoem.com/listpoem.jsp?poem_id=425

Wikipedia. (2020, June 20). 2 Pallas. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Pallas

Wikipedia. (2020, March 22). 532 Herculina. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/532_Herculina

Wikipedia. (2020, April 22). Alpha Capricornids. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_Capricornids

Wikipedia. (2020, June 4). Piscis Austrinus. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piscis_Austrinus

Wikipedia. (2020, April 18). Serpens. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpens

Wikipedia. (2019, February 23). Southern Delta Aquariids. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Delta_Aquariids

Opting Out

By Ian Aikens | June 15, 2020

While “Staying at Home” recently, I decided to get my taxes out of the way once and for all. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that I owed a larger-than-expected amount on my state income tax. I know they say we have no state income tax here in New Hampshire, but that’s baloney. If you have received more than $2,400 in income in interest, dividends, or annuities in one year, you will pay the State of New Hampshire a 5% tax on the total. Of course, they do have some of the usual exemptions for age and blindness (and why not deafness too – isn’t that discrimination?), but if that isn’t a tax on income, then I don’t know what is. They say it’s a tax on passive income, not earned income, but a tax is a tax, no matter what you call it.

However, what I did discover is New Hampshire has a great option available to take a credit against this income tax by making a donation to a school scholarship program. This 85% credit, not deduction, is part of the New Hampshire Education Tax Credit Program. It serves two worthwhile purposes: it helps children from families with less financial means attend non-government schools, and it gives state bureaucrats less money to waste. The latest data shows there were 413 students in the state benefiting from this program at 58 participating schools. This is a lowly participation rate of less than 1% of the 47,584 students who are income-eligible statewide. Still, to the families of those 413 students, even a mere scholarship of 15% of government school per-student spending means a lot.

So, how does the program work? As with all government programs, they come with their share of rules, conditions, and requirements. That said, the requirements don’t appear to be particularly onerous. To be eligible, the family members must be New Hampshire residents, the child must be between the ages of 5 and 20 (and not graduated from high school) or must be entering kindergarten for the first time or entering 2nd-12th grades and coming from a government school. The family’s income cannot exceed 300% of the federal poverty level, which in lay terms means $51,720 for a family of 2, $65,160 for a family of 3, and exponentially an additional $13,440 for each additional family member. There are only two government-approved scholarship organizations that qualify for the education tax credit program – the Children’s Scholarship Fund and the Giving and Going Alliance. I checked out both organizations before I gave my donation, and both seemed just fine to me. The Children’s scholarship Fund is for nonsectarian schools, and the Giving and Going Alliance is for the more faith-based crowd. Most important, the scholarships are awarded to students struggling in their current government schools to allow them to attend any school—private, religious, out-of-district government school, even home schooled—that the parents deem best for their child.

The tax credit program was established in 2012 by SB372 and launched in 2013. It only applied to business organizations, which could utilize the 85% credit against the Business Profits Tax (BPT) and/or Business Enterprise Tax (BET) or Interest & Dividends Tax (I&D). However, HB1686 extended the same credit to individuals to use against any I&D tax owing. The program has an annual cap of $6 million, and while contributions from donors have increased over the years from $20,000 in fiscal year 2014 to $381,000 in fiscal year 2018, it still has never gotten anywhere close to the cap.

For years, those who purport to help the poor have been on the offensive to kill the program or chop it down as much as possible. One of their favorite arguments is the program is for the benefit of “the rich.” The data does not support their claim. In the 2018-2019 school year, 61.4% of the students in the Children’s Scholarship Fund and 44.9% of the students in the Giving and Going Alliance qualified for free or reduced-price lunches.

Their next favorite argument is that the program “carves out” $6 million that would otherwise go to government schools. More bunk. Firstly, the maximum tax credit is 85% of the $6 million, which is $5.1 million. Secondly, up through March 8, 2019, the total tax credits claimed since the program started are only $2,218,254. That’s only 7.25% of what could have been claimed over a 6-year period.

Another favorite rant against the program is that it drives up property tax rates. Considering how small the program is, this is completely laughable. The funds that would have been paid to the state if the tax credits had not been claimed go to the general fund (a big black hole), and since only 24% of state funding goes to education, there’s a 76% chance the funds would have gone to other priorities than education. If you count every dollar given out on a per-student basis since the program began, it would only come to $12.66 per student. However, per the Department of Education’s Office of Student Finance, the total annual cost at government schools is an average of $18,991/student. Looking at it another way, even if you included all the educational tax credits claimed from 2014-2019 (6 years) and compared that to what the state spent in just the last fiscal year ($1.4 billion), that’s .16 of just 1%. Any way you slice it, the program is a drop in the ocean of what is spent at government schools.

If they were really so concerned about property tax increases, maybe they should look at the Veterans Tax Credit Program. Its numbers are huge compared to the peanut Education Tax Credit Program. In 2016, 54,790 veterans claimed $26.76 million in property tax credits through the veterans’ program as compared to a few hundred students. As an example, looking at Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest school district, in 2016, 2,797 veterans claimed the credit for a loss in tax revenue of $1.2 million. Contrast that with 27 students who received scholarships at a total loss in tax revenue of $133,534, which includes the additional grant for the federal lunch program. That’s roughly 11% of the veterans’ credit, so why go after peanuts if your real concern is high property taxes?

Of course, the real elephant in the room is the increase in state spending on education despite the steady drop in student populations. From 2009-2018, the statewide average decline in enrollment was 10.1%. However, spending and adding staff have gone in the opposite direction. From 1992-2015, New Hampshire government schools’ student-staff ratio declined from 8.6 to 5.8 (national average was 8.0 in 2015). It is the dramatic increase in non-teaching staff that is driving the wild spending. In 1992 the schools had an average of 19.6 students for every non-teaching staff member; by 2015, the number was down to 10.8 students for every non-teaching staff member. If schools are for teaching, why are so many non-teachers needed?

Despite all these extra resources at government schools, clearly one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for every child. Why begrudge children who do better in non-government schools (and for the most part are not from the upper echelons of society)? Such a large pool of students who are eligible for the federal school lunch program suggests that students who use the scholarship program tend to do worse in government schools and need extra attention and resources. So, by leaving government schools, that should not only reduce the burden there, it should reduce it even more since those who leave require more services. If the money truly followed the child, then this miniscule number of students should actually get more resources, not less. However, under the education tax credit program, the average scholarship for 2018-2019 was $2,301, and the rest of the tuition costs was shouldered by the families. Not to mention transportation costs, which parents have to arrange themselves. And yet these families manage to get their kids into better schools at great expense to themselves and are grateful for the program due to better outcomes for their children.

This is a win-win for everyone. Certainly, the parents and children are happier with the expanded choices afforded by the program. In surveys required by the program, 93.8% of the parents in the Children’s Scholarship Fund and 96.9% of the parents in the Giving and Going Alliance indicated that they were satisfied with the program. Government schools get to lose a few “customers” who are better served elsewhere anyway, and the foregone revenue has a negligible effect on their budgets. Perhaps the only losers are the power control freaks who cannot stand it when anyone opts out of their centralized control plans.

References:

Cline, Andrew. (2019, March 27). The Education Tax Credit Program: Fact vs. Fiction. Retrieved from jbartlett.org/wp-content/uploads/The-Education-Tax-Credit-Program-Fact-vs.-Fiction.pdf

ed Choice. (2020). School Choice – New Hampshire Education Tax Credit Program. Retrieved from www.edchoice.org/school-choice/programs/new-hampshire-education-tax-credit-program/

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2017). The NH Education Tax Credit Program. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/education-tax-credit.htm

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2018 and 2019 ED-05). Children’s Scholarship Fund Organization Report. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/documents/childrens-scholarship-fund-ed-5.pdf

NH Department of Revenue Administration. (2018 and 2019 ED-05). Giving and Going Alliance Scholarship Organization Report. Retrieved from www.revenue.nh.gov/quick-links/documents/giving-and-going-alliance.pdf

Celestial Seasonings – June 2020

By Heather Durham | May 30, 2020

SpaceX demo-2 mission in its the first attempt at sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, was postponed due to weather. This mission is the first attempt, using a U.S.-built commercial vehicle to continue this endeavor from America, since 2011.

The mission is scheduled to launch from the historic Kennedy Space Center’s 39A Launch Pad. Two seasoned astronauts are scheduled to travel 19 hours and are scheduled to arrive at the Space Station where they will be living and working for up to 4 months. Below is the link to the NASA YouTube channel where the launch may be watched.

And now let’s see what’s available for sky watching in June.


June 1. M13, Hercules Global Cluster will be high in the sky around midnight. Viewing will be easier with binoculars.

June 2. Mercury will rise to its highest point in the night sky. The Moon will show and appear larger than normal.

June 3. Venus will be in close proximity to the Sun. M12, the globular cluster from Ochiuchus will rise high up in the sky.

June 4. Mercury will be very distant.

June 5. There will be a full Moon out tonight. The globular cluster, M10 – another one from Ochiuchus will rise high in the sky.

June 6. Another globular cluster from Ochiuchus, M62 will ascend very high in the sky around midnight. The Moon will appear distant.

June 8. Both Jupiter and Saturn will rise and closely approach the Moon tonight.

June 10. The Daytime Arietid meteor shower from Aries is expected to show just before dawn. Yet another globular cluster from Hercules, M92 will be high in the sky.

June 12. Mars and Neptune will rise high in the sky together. The Moon and Mars will rise in close proximity to one another.

June 13. This date brings us the last quarter of the Moon.

June 14. The Moon will be orbiting far away from the earth and will appear smaller.

June 15. NGC6388 from Scorpius will be high in the evening sky.

June 16. Again from Scorpius, a butterfly open star cluster will rise high in the evening sky. NGC6397 from Ara, another globular cluster will rise.

June 18. Passing closest to the sun will be Comet C/2019 U6. Yet another Comet A/2019 U6 will closely approach the sun. From Ochiuchus – very prolific this month – comes IC4665, an open star cluster.

June 19. The Moon and Venus will rise together and be in close proximity to one another.

June 20. The longest midsummer day of 2020 … the Solstice. The Ptolemy cluster, M7 from Scorpius will rise and be at its highest point around midnight.

June 21. Today will bring us a new Moon.

June 22. The Moon and Mercury will rise together. The above mentioned comets will shine brightly. NGC6530 from Sagittarius will reach up high in the sky. Mercury will be as far away from the sun as it usually goes.

June 23. NGC6541, a globular cluster from Corona Australis will be at it’s highest point in the sky around midnight.

June 25. Jupiter and Pluto will rise together.

June 27. The June Bootid meteor shower will be prolific.

June 28. This date will bring the first quarter of the Moon. Asteroid 7 Iris from Sagittarius will display on the horizon, but most brightly, near midnight. Once more from Ochiuchus, an open star cluster will shine. This one is known as NGC6633.

June 29. The Moon should appear particularly big and bright this date.

June 30. M22 from Sagittarius will be bright. Mercury will orbit close to the sun.


References:

In-the-Sky.org. (2020, May 30). Guides to the Night Sky. Retrieved from in-the-sky.org

WKMG. (2020, May 30). SpaceX Rocket Launches 2 NASA Astronauts into Space. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFocqVe3NuM

Wikipedia. (2020, May 24). Ophiuchus. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiuchus

 

Celestial Seasonings – May 2020

By Heather Durham | April 30, 2020

So here we sit in our hours of darkness waiting for a light. We may very well have to become accustomed to a New Normal. I heard some wise words today … If you can’t see the light, then BE the light.

Let’s begin by reviewing and watching what the Cosmos has in store for May.


May 4. C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS, known as a comet or an interstellar object will be making its closest approach to the Sun. It will be well placed for viewing. Mercury will orbit very closely to the Sun. (Wikipedia, 2017).

May 5. The n-Aquariid meteor shower, from the Constellation Aquarius will be most prolific on this date. The Moon will appear closer than normal as it passes at its closest point to the Earth.

May 7. The Moon will be full as well as very high in the sky.

May 8. The n-Lyrid meteor shower from the Constellation Lyra will be at peak today.

May 9. Today, the Moon will orbit to it’s farthest point from the sun.

May 10. Mercury will orbit closely to the sun.

May 11. A moon-shaped cluster M4 from Serpens will be visible, but small so you may have to use a device for maximum viewing.

May 12. The moon and Jupiter as well as Saturn will rise closely.

May 14. The last quarter of the moon will rise today. The moon and Mars will rise closely to one another.

May 15. Our interstellar object or comet C/2017 K2 mentioned above, will be at its brightest.

May 18. Jupiter and Saturn will pass closely. The moon will appear somewhat smaller for its orbit will traverse at its farthest point away from the Earth.

May 20. The moon will pass closely to the sun.

May 22. Venus and Mercury will pass in close proximity. There will be a new moon today.

May 23. The moon and Venus will rise closely.

May 24. The moon and Mercury will rise close to each other.

May 28. Our M4 cluster mentioned above will orbit to its highest point in the sky.

May 29. Mercury will be at half phase. We will also be able to enjoy the first quarter of the moon.

May 30. The comet C/2019 Y4 (Atlas) will closely approach the sun.

May 31. The moon and Ceres will rise closely.


Previous in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – April 2020; next in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – June 2020


References:

In-the-Sky.org. (2020, April 29). Guides to the Night Sky. Retrieved from in-the-sky.org

Wikipedia. (2020, April 26). Aquarius (Constellation). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquarius_(constellation)#Meteor_showers

Wikipedia. (2020, April 9). C/2017 K2. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C/2017_K2

Wikipedia. (2020, April 29). C/2019 Y2 (ATLAS). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C/2019_Y4_(ATLAS)

Wikipedia. (2020, April 21). Lyra. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyra

Wikipedia. (2020, April 18). Serpens. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpens

Bolting the Door

By Ian Aikens | April 4, 2020

One of the many revelations that has come out of the current health crisis is the lack of available hospital beds in the state. True, it is a national problem and not confined to New Hampshire, but how did this come about? As has been written about extensively lately, the culprit is Certificate of Need (CON) laws that force applicants who want to build new hospitals or expand health facilities to be approved by bureaucrats at existing hospitals within 15 miles of the proposed facility. Yes, you read that right: if you want to construct a new health facility or expand health services to serve the public, the hospital nearby has to approve your right to serve the public. Hmm … is it any wonder that such applications have generally been turned down? To New Hampshire’s credit, the legislature did away with the state’s CON laws back in 2016, but the collateral damage persists to this day.

I happened to take a look at recent House Bill 1243 and noticed the same problem again, though in a different area. The bill would have added a clause to the law that no higher education institution will be granted permission to issue degrees unless first recommended by the New Hampshire Higher Education Commission. Obviously, no post-secondary school can go into business if it can’t issue degrees, so what we’re talking about here is whether such schools can open up for business in the state or not. Currently, permission to grant degrees rests with the legislature, but this bill would have given the power to recommend the applicant – if at all – before having the legislature give its authorization. Hence, a double roadblock instead of just one. Fortunately, the bill got bogged down in the Education Committee, as a majority of members felt it was ceding control from the legislature to the Department of Education. The committee ended up recommending “Inexpedient to Legislate,” which is a good thing since educational bureaucrats already have too much political power.

When you look at the make-up of the current New Hampshire Higher Education Commission, it becomes pretty obvious how the system is rigged: the president of New England College, the president of Plymouth State University, the president of United Way of Greater Nahua, the president of Rivier University, a litigation attorney, the president of the University of New Hampshire, a commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education, the chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire, the chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, the president of White Mountain Community College, the president of University College at Southern New Hampshire University, the president of Franklin Pierce University, a lawyer who was formerly an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, the president of Granite State College, the president of Colby-Sawyer College, the president of Keene State College, and the president of River Valley Community College. See a pattern here?! It’s these individuals who currently have the legal authority to evaluate and approve the plans of any out-of-state institution of higher learning that wants to enter the New Hampshire market. Is this not a bizarre conflict of interest? Does it make any sense? Why would any business allow a direct competitor for its customer dollars to possibly hurt its own business? Obviously, the business is going to find every reason in the book to deny approval.

No matter if they’re for-profit or non-profit or how they’re funded, all schools are still businesses – or at least should be – so it would be too much to expect elite administrators of schools already in operation to approve the entrance of new competing businesses. No one is that noble when such a conflict of interest exists.

To add insult to injury, there are special exceptions for some schools that don’t have to go through this approval process: any institution now granting degrees which has been in continuous operation since before 1775, and institutions of the university and community college systems of New Hampshire. So, the rules don’t apply to schools that have been around as long as Methuselah and government schools.

Instead of protectionist thinking that goes back to colonial times, how about a novel idea: let the students themselves decide which schools are worth attending or not. If investors, shareholders, lenders, donors, and students are willing to take a chance on investing in a new school – risking their own money, not the taxpayers’ – why does a new school have to go through this rigged approval process involving competitors with vested interests and politicians who often answer to special interests? If the teachers turn out to be lousy, the school’s reputation will suffer, and it will have a hard time attracting new students and staying in business. Do grown adults really need educational “experts” to protect them from poor choices?

Is the protection for the students or the elites’ schools? Just as CON laws are once again getting the spotlight turned on them, it’s time to take another look at educational paternalism and monopoly privileges and end the racket.

References:

Bosse, Grant D. (2012, February). Do Certificate of Need laws reduce costs or hurt patients? Retrieved from www.jbartlett.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Irrational-Certificate-of-Need-Laws.pdf

LegiScan. (2020). HB1243: Relative to the degree-granting authority of an educational institution in New Hampshire. Retrieved from legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB1243/2020

New Hampshire Department of Education. (2020). Higher Education Commission Members. Retrieved from www.education.nh.gov/who-we-are/higher-education-commission/higher-education-commission-members

New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (2019, August 24). The State and Its Government – Department of Education – Chapter 21-N. Retrieved from www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/I/21-N/21-N-8-a.htm

Wikipedia. (2020, April 1). Certificate of Need. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Certificate_of_need

Celestial Seasonings – April 2020

By Heather Durham | March 31, 2020

Before we review this month’s activities, I want to unpack one term which has arisen during our recent situation. I am speaking about distancing … but physical distancing rather than the perhaps misused social distancing. I am fortunate enough to be able to be remain physically distant from others because I reside in my own home and am able to function from there.

Socially, on the other hand, I connect often with others, whether it be by phone, email, FaceTime, or online audio, and/or video conferencing. I recommend strongly that you think along the same lines. We all need to keep in touch and look after one another.

Having said that, let’s now proceed to see what the skies have in store for us during April of 2020.


April 1 – First quarter of the moon. The Sombrero Galaxy from Virgo May be viewable with binoculars or a telescope.

April 2 – Asteroid 3 Juno from the Constellation Virgo should be viewable this evening.

April 3 – Mercury and Neptune will be rising. Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters from the Constellation Taurus will be viewable with Venus.

April 4 – A spiral galaxy, M94, from the Constellation Canes Venatici will be on display but not for the naked eye. A jewel box open star cluster known as NGC 4755 will be visible.

April 7 – Today we will have a full moon. Because it will be at its closest point to the Earth, it may appear a bit larger than usual.

April 9 – Jupiter and Pluto, both from the Constellation Sagittarius will be rising in the same direction.

April 10 – The Moon will be as far from the Earth as possible this evening.

April 13 – Eris, or dwarf planet 136199 is the most massive and second largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System, according to Wikipedia, will pass very close to the Sun. (Wikipedia,2019). Centaurus A or NGC 5128 will be visible but not with the naked eye. Omega Centauri, a bright globular cluster should be visible to the naked eye providing your view point is very dark.

April 14 – This will be the final quarter of the Moon this month. The Moon and Jupiter will rise together. The Moon, Jupiter and Pluto will be on display together. The whirlpool galaxy or M51 will be visible.

April 15 – The Moon and Saturn will rise and closely approach one another. M83 from the galaxy Hydra will be visible, but not with the naked eye.

April 16 – The Moon and Mars will rise and closely approach one another. 136108 Haumea from the Constellation Bootes will be viewable.

April 17 – Once again this month we have another visit from the Canes Venatici, M3, a globular cluster.

April 19 – The Moon will orbit to its closest point to the Sun.

April 20 – The Moon will appear slightly smaller on this date as it orbits to the farthest point to the Earth.

April 21 – The Moon and Mercury will rise together.

April 22 – The Lyrid meteor shower from the Constellation Hercules will be at its peak. The pinwheel galaxy, M101 from the Constellation Ursa Major may be viewable, but not with the naked eye. There will be a new moon tonight.

April 23 – The n-puppid meteor shower will be at it’s peak today.

April 26 – Uranus will pass very close to the Sun today. The Moon and Venus will rise together.

April 28 – Venus will be at it’s brightest today.

April 30 – The Moon will be at its first quarter today.


Previous in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – March 2020; next in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – May 2020


References:

In-the-Sky. (2020, March 30). Calendar of Astronomical Events. Retrieved from in-the-sky.org/newscal.php?month=4&year=2020&maxdiff=7#datesel

Wikipedia. (2020, March 31). Eris (Dwarf Planet). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eris_(dwarf_planet)

Authoritarianism & Homework

By Ian Aikens | March 17, 2020

Does voting really count? Why bother to vote? These are questions that came to mind recently when I read the text of House Bill 1309. It would amend current law by adding in the following: “Unless restricted by any provision of law, the vote on a petitioned warrant article shall be binding upon the town” and “Unless restricted by any other provision of law, the vote on a petitioned warrant article shall be binding upon the school district.” So, what’s the issue here? If voters approve a warrant, then it becomes law, right?

Not necessarily. It turns out some towns and school boards are totally ignoring the will of the voters. There are several examples of this outrage, but for brevity, I will concentrate on only two instances here. The Newfound Area School Board dismissed as a “giant hindrance” petitioned warrant Article 5, which passed by a margin of 921 to 625 on March 12, 2019, that would have required large capital improvements to be approved by voters in separate warrant articles. On April 9, 2019, Merrimack voters passed, by a margin of 1,771 to 1,478, Article 8, which “seeks to require the following amendment to the “IKB Homework” Merrimack School Board Policy: “At the discretion of the individual teacher, homework assignments will be (1) collected, reviewed, and graded; and (2) the accumulative average of the semester’s homework grade will be counted towards the student’s total cumulative semester grade.” The school board had instituted a policy in 2017 that homework no longer counted toward students’ grades, and angry parents had presented the warrant article for the voters to decide. The school board ruled that the warrant was only “advisory in nature” and ignored it. A local parent filed a civil suit against the school board, but the New Hampshire Board of Education and New Hampshire Supreme Court both ruled in favor of the local school board. As is often the case, judges defer to bureaucrats over regular citizens.

I see a couple of issues here. The most obvious is who works for whom, and who bestowed the bureaucrats with divine knowledge? If you’re going to have representative government—and preferably a republican form that protects individual rights over mob rule—then obviously elected representatives need to listen to what voters have to say. Otherwise that makes a mockery of the whole process, and no wonder so few citizens bother to take the responsibility of voting seriously. Of course, with any issue, honorable people will disagree on the best way to do things, but majority approval for non-fiscal issues and super-majority approval of taxes are the generally accepted and tried-and-true ways to run a government in a civil society. Naturally, it would be best to have as few as possible of these critical areas in the realm of government and leave them up to individuals to decide their priorities—and fund them themselves rather than expecting their neighbors to fund them—but if you’re going to have government, elected representatives have to consider the folks they represent. If they don’t, you can always “throw the bums out” at the next election, but while they’re still in office, they can cause quite a bit of mayhem.

The school board’s attitude on homework is reflective of the dismal state of government schools these days. The board insists that homework is still required, but it just doesn’t count towards students’ grades. So why would students even bother doing it? No homework—what’s next? No grades? The standards just get lower and lower all the time. Why not let the teachers decide? In my time, homework was assigned to reinforce what was taught in school that day. It was also part of a curriculum that stressed time management, discipline, and personal responsibility. It is true that for the very bright, sometimes homework was more busy work than anything of real value, but in a one-size-fits-all compulsory education scenario, that’s inevitable. That’s all the more reason to expand school choice to accommodate individual needs, interests, and abilities.

But what about the less scholarly-inclined students who don’t fare so well in testing? Homework has always been their avenue to making it through school by boosting their grades. It’s generally accepted these days that testing isn’t always the best gauge of what a student actually learned, so why deny those kids the chance to succeed? Even more important, there’s an important life lesson to be learned by doing homework and having it count towards your grade: hard work is to be rewarded. And isn’t that how it is out in the real world? It’s not always the smartest that succeed the most, but those who apply themselves the most. There have been plenty of complaints already of students’ grades dropping due to the new school board policy, which has left some students at a disadvantage when competing for colleges and scholarships. Isn’t it strange that those who deride testing these days are the very same folks who would force the scholastically-challenged to rely more on testing for their grades? Strange or not, hypocritical or not, school board bureaucrats know better.

It is interesting that the school board was unanimous in deciding to keep the new policy, but the voters were about 55% to 45% in favor of going back to the old system. Clearly the bureaucrats felt one way and a significant portion of “the people” felt differently. Perhaps the bureaucrats truly believed they were doing what was “best” for the students and stuck to their guns. Or was it power lust? The truth of the matter is that there is no “best” way for all students, and any attempt to impose it will always give some students the short end of the stick.

By the way, the new homework policy instituted three years ago dictates that teachers may assign homework, and it must be “evaluated” by teachers, but “evaluated” does not mean graded. In my time, part of a teacher’s job was to actually read and grade homework. That was part of their homework. Should a labor contract dispute come up in the future, how convenient for government teachers to have their time freed up to walk the picket line for higher wages and benefits.

As always, I will see how Milton’s representatives vote on HB 1309, it if it ever comes up for a roll call vote in the state house. Unfortunately, the bill was “laid on the table” this past week, which doesn’t bode well for its passage. Apparently, school board bureaucrats and selectmen aren’t the only ones infected with authoritarianism virus.


References:

Bevill, Robert T. (2020, February 20). Why HB 1309 is So Important. Retrieved from bedfordresidents.com/bra/2020/02/20/why-hb-1309-is-so-important/

Caldwell, T.P. (2019, September 8). School Board Chooses To Ignore Voters’ Will. Retrieved from www.libertymedianh.org/school-board-chooses-to-ignore-voters-will/

Houghton, Kimberly. (2019, February 21). Merrimack’s debate on homework & grades continues to the ballot box. Retrieved from www.unionleader.com/news/education/merrimack-s-debate-on-homework-and-grades-continues-to-the/article_dadd8a85-83e1-51f4-bcb5-2a1d363e9bf9.html

LegiScan. (2020). HB1309: Relative to the effect of warrant articles. Retrieved from legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB1309/2020

Markhlevskaya, Liz. (2019, May 7). Merrimack School Board In Legal Litigation Over Homework Policy. Retrieved from patch.com/new-hampshire/merrimack/merrimack-school-board-legal-litigation-over-homework-policy

Pecci, Grace. (2019, May 9). Homework policy still debated by area parents. Retrieved from www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/local-news/2019/05/09/homework-policy-still-debated-by-area-parents/

Teach 4 the Heart. Why You Should Grade Homework (But Not How You Think). Retrieved from teach4theheart.com/why-you-should-grade-homework-but-not-how-you-think/

Celestial Seasonings – March 2020

By Heather Durham | February 29, 2020

Hi there everyone and welcome to the March Edition of Celestial Seasonings 2020! March is the month during which we transition from winter into spring. We will change the time on March 8, and spring will begin on March 19. As I sit here writing this today in late February, the Sun is shining brightly and my thermometer says 55 degrees. Time to put down my tech gadgets and go outside for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Happy reading my friends and I hope you find the many delights offered to us well worth the wait and astronomical show. Now let’s begin our journey into the night skies of March 2020 …


March 2. LC2602, an open star cluster from the Constellation Carina will display. The Moon phase will be the first quarter.

March 6. M44, our prolific Beehive Cluster will closely approach the Moon.

March 8. Clocks are to Spring forward at 2 AM (or before you go to bed Saturday, March 7, or after you wake up Sunday, March 8). Neptune may be seen at the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth in the evening (Wikipedia, 2019).

March 10. NGC3532, from the Constellation Carina is also referred to as the Pincushion, Football, or Wishing Well open cluster will be visible (Wikipedia, 2019).

March 11. The Moon will orbit its furthest point from the sun.

March 14. y-Normid meteor shower from the Constellation Norma will be visible.

March 15. Asteroid 27 Euterpe, a minor planet designation will reach its highest point in the sky close to midnight.

March 16. This date will bring the last quarter of the Moon.

March 18. The Moon, along with Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will rise closely to one another.

March 22. Half of Mercury will be visible.

March 23. Mars and Pluto will rise together and be close to each other.

March 24. Venus will go to its furthest point from the sun. There will be a new moon which may appear smaller then normal for it will be at it’s farthest point from the Earth.

March 26. Venus will reach its highest point in the evening sky. 136472 Makemake, a minor planet designation will be visible most notably near midnight. Half of Venus will be visible. (in-the-sky.org, 2020).

March 27. Mercury will be as far away from the Sun as it ever goes.

March 28. The Moon and Venus will rise close to each other.


Previous in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – February – 2020; next in sequence: Celestial Seasonings – April 2020


References:

in-the-sky.org. (2020) Makemake. Retrieved from in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20200210_11_101

Wikipedia. (2020, February 24). Daylight Saving Time in the United States. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time_in_the_United_States

Wikipedia. (2019, December). NGC3532. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NGC3532

Wikipedia. (2019, October). Solar Conjunction. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/solar.conjunction

 

The Snoopers’ Dream

By Ian Aikens | February 24, 2020

Is there no limit to the lengths school administrators will go to undermine families?

Judging by House Bill 1459, a bill I recently weighed in against in a public hearing in Concord, their nerve shows no bounds. Under current law, parents have to give written permission for their children to fill out non-academic surveys. HB1459 would change parental permission needed from “opt-in” to “opt-out,” thus placing the burden on all parents to deny permission, rather than on school bureaucrats to obtain permission.

Why such a big deal over some innocuous questions in a survey? Under the law’s definition of a “non-academic survey or questionnaire,” it is “designed to elicit information about a student’s social behavior, family life, religion, politics, sexual orientation, sexual activity, drug use, or any other information not related to a student’s academics.” First and foremost, what business is it of busybody school administrators to pry into students’ and their parents’ family lives? Where I come from, we call that snooping, pure and simple. These are extremely personal areas—and definitely not in the province of school officials. In case they’ve forgotten what they get paid for, it is teaching the basics like the 3R’s, literature, history, science, and maybe a pinch of The Constitution once in a while, not probing into private lives.

The information the nosey parkers are going out of their way to obtain should be extremely alarming to any parent. Just think about the questions that could be asked in these surveys. Are there firearms in your house? Do your parents ever hit or spank you or your siblings? Do your parents ever leave you alone in the house? Have you ever seen marijuana or other recreational drugs in your house? Have you ever tried to kill yourself?* When you have sex, how often do you and/or your partner use a birth control method such as birth control pills, Depo-Provera shot, an implant, ring, patch, male or female condom (rubber), foam, diaphragm, or IUD?* How many adults have you known for two or more years who do things that are wrong or dangerous?* What political parties are your parents registered under? Who will your parents vote for in the next presidential election? Do your parents smoke or vape? By including the text “or any other information not related to a student’s academics,” the surveys could legally ask just about anything. Whatever happened to privacy and all those millions of privacy forms we see all the time that are supposed to protect our privacy? If it’s wrong for big corporations and private companies in the voluntary sector to share our data without our permission, why is it OK when government school bureaucrats do it? It is well documented that when government employees get hold of personal information, they sometimes misuse the information for nefarious personal purposes. And, even if not for personal misuse, can you just imagine what overzealous Child Protective Services bureaucrats would do with the survey data if it got into their overreaching hands?

(*Questions excerpted from a survey given to students as young as 5th graders).

All the survey results are supposed to be anonymous and kept confidential, but especially with declining student enrollment and smaller populations in many of New Hampshire’s rural towns, it wouldn’t be difficult for the snoopers to figure out where the responses came from—and possibly pay a surprise visit to a child’s home to check up on his “family life.” Data collection is one of the favorite ways for government bureaucrats to justify expanding their “services” in order to obtain more funding and personnel. Judging by the number of special interest groups who testified in favor of the bill, clearly they were looking for more business if only the schools could provide more data.

So how would the system of getting permission work under HB1459? Right now, if the school doesn’t receive the signed permission slip back from the parents, it’s a no go for the survey to be given to the student. Under HB1459 however, all the school would need to do is send written notice home to the parents via the student, and no signed permission slip would need to be returned. There was much ado by the bill’s proponents that the problem now is permission slips get lost in the shuffle of paperwork and never make it back to the school. The implication is that parents want to grant permission but logistics get in the way. From raising my own son, who always managed to lose not only papers being sent home but even the folder that contained the papers (“No homework, Dad!”), I can definitely agree with the proponents that indeed papers do get lost. However, their solution to the vanishing papers issue doesn’t solve the problem because the permission slip might never make it home in the first place; thus, by default the parents will be deemed to have given permission without ever having seen the permission slip.

Here is a real-life example how this scheme works in practice and enables bureaucrats to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. When I lived in San Francisco, the city was pushing its own government-owned electricity supplier CleanPowerSF over Pacific Gas & Power. Of course, they wanted enough rate payers to choose CleanPowerSF to make it financially feasible, so they have been “opting in” the entire city, one neighborhood at a time, over the last few years stealthily. When the issue happened to surface, a friend of mine who is a certified political junkie and in tune to what goes on at City Hall confessed that he didn’t even notice that he had been “opted in” to CleanPowerSF. He quickly opted out once he realized what happened, but considering that he is well read and generally informed, can you just imagine how little of the general public would even be aware of what had occurred right under their noses? In the olden days, when phone companies used to switch people over to their company without their permission, this was called “slamming” and was widely condemned. If it was wrong for “evil” corporations to pull this shenanigan, why is it suddenly OK when government officials do it? Where is the outrage now?

Also worth mentioning are comments made during the hearing I attended. One committee member noted that he heard from past similar surveys that older students weren’t taking them seriously and were filling in bogus answers. After all, if you’re taking drugs or sleeping around, would you really want to take a chance of your parents finding out, even though the results are supposed to be anonymous? So, after wasting limited resources to gather this data, even if the snoopers didn’t misuse it, it might not even be accurate in the end. Another point was brought up by the only other person to oppose the bill: who is vetting these surveys before subjecting the students to them? The lack of oversight really concerned her over the inappropriateness of some of the questions.

Lastly, should there be any question as to the motivation and purpose of the bureaucrats, one of the letters sent home to parents announced that the survey itself would be available for viewing during school hours at the school. Of course, most parents are at work during school hours, so why not just send the survey home for parents to view it themselves before granting permission? OK, for those concerned with wasting taxpayer dollars on hard paper costs, why not just post it online for all parents to see? In fact, parents complained about not being able to take the survey home for review, and some had to file several Right-To-Know requests to get hard copies. The breathtaking depth of the snoopers’ nosiness is surpassed only by their zeal to deceive and circumvent parents.

The bill is currently pending in the NH House Education Committee. If it makes it out of committee to the floor, I will keep an eye on how Milton’s representatives and senator vote on it. It and the shameful surveys are further evidence that something has gone really awry at government schools.

References:

Bamforth, Annabelle. (2014, April 9). School Misleads Parents On Survey Questions For Students. Retrieved from truthinmedia.com/school-misleads-parents-on-survey-questions-for-students/

Legiscan. (2020). HB1459: Relative to non-academic surveys administered by a public school or a chartered public school to its students. Retrieved from legiscan.com/NH/bill/HB1459/2020

Ross A. Lurgio Middle School. (2014, March 31). Dear Parent or Guardian. Retrieved from www.girardatlarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/AssetSurveyNotificationLurgio-03.21.14.pdf

School Choice for NH. (2016, February 16). Dear State Senators: Open Letter from Kathy Dunton. Retrieved from www.schoolchoicenh.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/SB-320-2016-letter-by-Kathy-Dunton-Rochester-NH-survey-homework.pdf

School Choice for NH. (2017, January 7). Non-Academic Surveys in the Classroom. Retrieved from www.schoolchoicenh.org/2017/01/24/non-academic-surveys-in-the-classroom/

Search Institute. (2012). Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes & Behaviors. Retrieved from www.girardatlarge.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Attitudes-Behaviors-Survey-1.pdf