Monday, May 4, 2020

Governor Kelly continues the needless agony

Governor Laura Kelly’s one-size-fits-all approach to the reopening of Kansas after the Covid-19 shutdown further damages the bureaucracy-hammered Kansas economy, and puts her in the running with her friend and former governor Kathleen Sebelius for the title of most economically damaging governor in state history.

Last week Kelly laid out a three-phase blanket plan for the reopening of Kansas that leaned fully on top-down administration and centralized authorization. Its mandates were based on the assumption that every county, city, neighborhood, nook and cranny of the state was at equal risk from a resurgence of Covid-19. Every restaurant, car dealership, hair salon, bank, livestock sales and auction company, insurance office, and other potential commercial or recreational gathering place was ladled with another helping of state-mandated restrictions, which in reality varied only slightly from the rules in place prior to May 3 and which will extend through at least May 18.

That, despite a continuing confirmation of the ratio between infections and population which has chronicled the outbreak from the beginning: heavier concentrations of population have shown themselves to be consistently more at risk.

Case in point from Saturday’s Covid-10 report from Kansas Department of Health and Environment: of Kansas’ 105 counties, 23 had recorded no cases of people sick with the virus since public health officials began counting, and 57 counties had fewer than 10 cases. Those case counts began when the beginning of the “crisis” was broadly recognized in mid-March and they don’t account for the individuals who have since recovered from the bug.

Still, under both the initial shutdown mandate and even the reopening order from the Governor’s office, the Cactus Club Restaurant in Ness County where no cases were ever recorded was torpedoed with the same executive fervor as was J. Gilberts in Johnson County, where nearly 600 residents tested positive.

Kelly’s carpet bombing order of the Kansas economy is evidenced by state tax revenue figures for April which are less than half the $1.18 billion Kansas took in during April 2019. March unemployment claims skyrocketed as well in the state to more than 20 times the most recent weekly average.

What’s worse, Kelly’s phasing in of a reopening plan that treats the whole state with the same precautions needed where the virus is more present – Johnson and Wyandotte counties for instance – ensures a continuing erosion of the state’s economic might.

This level of damage wasn’t necessary.

Had Kelly the foresight to see past the need for government to seize the roll as sole protector of the populace, she might have judged the legitimate but measured health concerns in view of the more global damage to be done by such all-encompassing orders. Governors of states like South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and others made recommendations and set guidelines for their populations and their commercial sectors, then trusted in the logic and judgment of their citizenry. They were never under shutdown orders, and their economies saw less damage and have better prospects moving forward. By population, demographics and geography, they are greatly similar to Kansas.

In Kansas the tally of the carnage is yet incomplete, but Kelly’s debacle will most certainly approach that of her friend and cohort Kathleen Sebelius in the latter’s derailing of a $3 billion private investment to expand a coal-fired electric generating plant at Holcomb some years back. Sebelius’ embrace of green principles was intended to put her on President Obama’s political short list for bigger things. Indeed, her appointment to the cabinet post of director of Health and Human Services during the roll out of Obamacare left much to be desired. For her floundering ambition, the Kansas economy paid a historic price.

Kelly’s reopening plan should have stair-stepped its phase restrictions based on the documented impact to date of Covid-19 in individual counties, instead of stamping all of Kansas’ communities like the same bottle cap. Her over-governance has hurt Kansas through the days of Covid-19, and will make a longer road back than need be.

– Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kansas.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Kelly, Toland & wind farms: ‘Let them eat cake’

 It’s becoming apparent that Thursday’s misstep by Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Department of Commerce head David Toland wasn’t just bad timing.

While the now rusted and stagnant Kansas economy teetered on the brink of collapse last week and while small business people and members of the public took to the streets of Topeka to beg Kelly to reopen the state and let them get back to making a living, the governor’s chief business guru was touting the wonders of – wait for it – windmills.

It’s reminiscent of the line attributed to France’s Marie Antoinette when she was told the peasants had no bread: ‘Let them eat cake.’

The subsequent revelation is frightening: Kansas’ top business leaders don’t have a plan for defibrillating the state’s government-torpedoed economy to bring it back to life, other than wishing on the rural cancer of wind farms? Maybe Kelly and Toland could help out by sending us a plague of grasshoppers while they’re at it?

No one has yet made a good estimate of the damage in real dollars done to Kansas in the five weeks or so since Kelly ordered us to stay home, forbade gatherings of 10 or more people and stressed that we stay six feet apart from each other. Her order amounted to a Buck Rogers-esque freeze ray for Kansas’ small business operations and revenues. The week of March 21 saw more than 23,000 first-time filings for unemployment benefits in Kansas according to the U.S. Department of Labor – ten times the weekly average over the previous 10 weeks. Claims doubled again the following week to more than 54,000.

That means the difference between the dollars those workers previously earned and their unemployment checks suddenly was no longer circulating in the economy paying rent, mortgage payments, buying furniture, etc., and those now drawing unemployment are likely nervous to spend what little they now have.  Sales taxes from those foregone purchases won’t be collected by the state and redistributed to your city and county. Transient guest taxes paid by travelers at the state’s hotels and other lodgings are mostly gone because travel is curtailed. The economic effects have been seismic. Businesses whose revenues have stopped can’t pay their bills or their employees. They don’t advertise either – many of your favorite radio show disc jockeys have been furloughed, and The Kansas City Star ran an article on Sunday literally asking for public donations.

Perhaps worst hit have been the very hospitals that the jack-booted order sought to protect. Hospitals went to battle stations and girded their loins for an onslaught of Covid-19 patients that never came. They spent extra dollars on Covid supplies while at the time shutting down revenue-generating elective procedures like mammograms, colonoscopies and elective surgeries. Those losses are now catastrophic and have resulted in an entirely new medical crisis in the U.S.- hospitals that are broke.
This debacle and concerns over lost civil rights as a result of Kelly’s order were the issues to which members of the Open Up Kansas movement attempted to call attention on Thursday in Topeka. But neither Kelly nor Toland saw fit to address the group to listen to their concerns.

Instead Toland, who last year heralded his own “Listening Tour” of rural Kansas, on Thursday issued to state media a press release extolling the virtues of wind farms to the state. While nearly all facets of the Kansas economy plummeted, Toland touted the subsidy dependent, corporate tax credit-fueled disasters which have ravaged rural home values, threatened the health of residents, jacked up electric rates and pitted neighbor against neighbor throughout the state’s impoverished rural areas all to produce the most expensive electricity every conjured – but only when the wind blows.

Of course Toland’s wind energy fetish is reserved specifically for those of us in rural areas. After all, for some reason you don’t find wind farms in Johnson County.

But Toland’s derelict approach to the state’s economy is a secondary concern right now. It is Kelly’s choking stay at home order which should be lifted immediately to let Kansas’ businesses and healthcare institutions start trying to heal themselves.

– Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in sunny Garnett, Kan.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Statistically, you have a better chance of being hit by lightning wearing a green hat while singing the National Anthem and watching an Andy Griffith Show rerun than of dying of the coronavirus. But why let facts get in the way of history's best made mainstream media panic ever?

Crude oil prices plummeting; stock markets collapsing; cruise ships that can't dock at port; European soccer matches held behind locked doors with no audiences. I'm reminded of Bill Murray's famous line from Ghostbusters: “Human sacrifice – dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!”

Despite the fact a couple of thousand poor souls have lost their fight with coronavirus so far compared to an estimated 600,000 who die worldwide from the flu every year, the American mass media has staked a frenzied claim in the coronavirus realm that surpasses even its obsession with mass shootings and hurricanes. But not tornadoes, because they happen mostly in the Midwest – New York and Los Angeles media aren't exactly sure where the Midwest is.

Though he'll never get credit for it, President Trump had the only logical comments on the “crisis” to have been uttered so far: It's like the flu, it'll pass, he told us. But he was immediately inundated by the tsunami of media crazy over the virus to the point he had to spend some federal money on coronavirus just to keep mobs from burning the White House.

Bare facts of the virus' insignificance aside, the impact of the surrounding panic is very real. Even though business, industry and employment in the U.S. and for the most part abroad are booming, trillions of dollars in value has been lost, hopefully temporarily, by retiree pensions, 401ks, kids' 529 college plans and other investment vehicles due to nothing but conjecture and flame-fanning. And all of it surrounding a sickness whose only real notoriety came from being listed on your bottle of Lysol as one of many bugs killed by the disinfectant. Coronavirus isn't even a player it the scheme of likely ways to die – it's the Beto O'Rourke of the virus world.

The chain reaction has become blatantly apparent. Organizations planning public events are now terrified of liability. They've been amply warned about this "plague," so if they go ahead with their event and one of the tens of thousands of people attending becomes ill, the organization is automatically subject to lawsuits and cash settlements for putting the public at risk. When media hears about the cancellation of an event and screams it as the latest "update," the public and those organizations become even more hysterical and take more restrictive actions, which the media feeds upon again.

And it doesn't take too thick a tinfoil hat to imagine that politics in the U.S. is at least partly to blame for the panic. Think about it – the media needed something to give the Democratic presidential candidates some traction in their forever quest for Trump's crucifixion. There's trouble on that front, because the party of diversity is winnowing down to a nomination contest between two crazy old white guys. A scourging disease of Biblical proportions is a great illustration that only a big, centralized government with “Medicare for all” can save us. And by the way, the whole thing is Trump's fault.

No assessment of the media and the public's propensity toward national panic is complete without mentioning the 1938 broadcast of CBS Radio's “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles. You remember the story – dial spinning listeners tuned into Welle's production on Mercury Theatre after the introduction, and became convinced that New Jersey had really been invaded by Martians. This was long before Senator Cory Booker provided proof. Even so, the grass fire example of media sensationalism still leads to a couple of important takeaways.

First, while social media is often credited with devaluing organized news operations, the reality is the rampant connectivity of billions of Facebook and Twitter accounts still depends on traditionally gathered media content and news makers – Meghan Markle excluded – to have something to talk about. Of course, like gasoline, it greatly lends to the grass fire analogy.

Second, the aroma of blood in the water is still intoxicating not only for the public but also for the media which feed that need in order to make careers, ratings and money. It isn't right and it isn't new, and it doesn't overshadow the tons of positive things the media does outside of over-exploring delectable, delicious tragedy. A free press is still a wonderful thing – even with a wart on its nose.

Eventually, the lack of substance from this panic will bore the media into finding a new hot ticket of the moment. Recovery is imminent. Like the microscopic germs that saved us in Welles' broadcast, it will be the media's own short attention span that will save us from coronavirus.

–Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Farming the taxpayers: The wind industry's cash cow

If the federal government offered billions of dollars in tax credits and other incentives to promote the stacking of Oreo cookies all the way up to the International Space Station, rich companies would line up to gobble the goodies –  and taxpayers would have to supply the milk.

And that 254-mile high column of cookies would be just about as practical as the billions pumped into the U.S. wind industry.

After all, the same type of fruitless dynamic has monetized corporate wind, which continues its race to force the 30,000 acre on-again, off-again industrial power plants down the throats of property owners and rural residents in Kansas and elsewhere in the country. The delicious addiction of tax incentives and outright subsidies has seen Big Wind grow fat without the pestering of logical accountability. Wind incentives indeed have been a cash cow so humongous only the federal government's barn can hold it.

That cow's been growing. Wind power has certainly expanded in "sometimes" capacity in recent years as the divisive developments have invaded rural communities, offering pittance lease payments to poor farmers and landowners suffering in ag economies beset by low commodity prices. But that growth's not been driven by market demand, since the market knows the only good electricity is electricity that always works. It's been driven instead by billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

The scheme is perhaps best illustrated with one question asked by each community in Kansas fighting the invasion of a taxpayer-funded wind development: Why are there no wind farms in Johnson County?

Most Americans are in the dark as to the detailed mechanics which have been used to fund the development of faulty wind power and the raw, massive bill they're footing in the form of those incentives. That scheme is designed to support an energy industry that can't and will never support itself with its own production in the market for electricity. It's a complicated array of local, state and federal subsidies, federal loans and loan guarantees which has topped $176 billion since 2000 – and most of the federal grants have been awarded since 2007.

There's no question of the chicken or the egg here. Without those subsidies and the generosity of the American taxpayer in opening his wallet for outright cash and his pledge to pay the income taxes for huge companies which escape them through production tax credits, there would be no wind industry in the United States. People in rural communities would still all be speaking to each other instead of being at odds over the giant turbines, and beautiful rural vistas across our country would still be intact instead of resembling science fiction movies.

General Electric, NextEra Energy, Berkshire-Hathaway and others – these massively wealthy companies have been the real winners in the fakery that has always defined the wind industry. The scam is clear – the environment hasn't benefited a whit with the spread of these monstrosities across our pristine rural landscapes, since stable electricity still has to be generated by conventional means to power your household when the wind doesn't blow. The only winners have been the already fabulously rich companies – both domestic and foreign – who've feathered their nests with taxpayer money and kept a willing U.S. Congress on their side.

Case in point, the Production Tax Credit – the gold mine of the wind industry that forgives taxes based on the sporadic output of the turbines – was set to expire with the coming of 2020. Its initial authors thought the industry should be self sufficient by now and ratcheted down the candy for the industry over the past several years with the intent of closing the incentive out by 2020. But at the last minute, in the glob of a temporary federal spending bill that took the place of an actual budget in December 2019, a Democrat-led congress approved the massive spending bill which conveniently rolled in a one-year extension of the tax credit for wind farms. Hence, the scourge of wind farm developers versus rural communities continues.

Famed rich guy Warren Buffet of Berkshire-Hathaway said it best in 2014 when explaining why his companies were in the wind business: "We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms," Buffet said. "That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit."
For the rest of us the logic speaks for itself, but still we continue to pay the cookie stackers.

-Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kan.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Allen County, Kansas, learns a wind farm lesson

OPINION.... Contractors and landowners who hired on for the construction of wind turbines in the Prairie Queen turbine generation field in Allen County have gotten their first lesson in the economic morals of wind farms.
That lesson is this: If they don’t want to pay you what they owe, they just don’t.
That’s reflected in a whole slew of liens filed against the properties of landowners there who leased turbine sites to EDP Renewables for the skyline obliterating construction project. And as everyone eventually learns about the national financial scam which is the wind industry in the U.S., the deal is only a deal when it benefits Big Wind.
The recent encumbrance of landowners’ properties because companies haven’t honored their word to hired contractors is an unfortunate common denominator connecting numerous wind turbine field developments across the country. We saw liens filed a few years ago with the turbine field nearby in Waverly in Coffey County; projects in New Hampshire, in New York, Oklahoma, Illinois, North Dakota and Indiana and others have seen liens filed against participating landowner properties.
The other common denominator is the savvy way wind companies slip the noose when they cause havoc in accounts receivable and let the chips fall on landowners who have no interest in the project other than hoping to collect lease payments. Anyone who’s ever actually read one of the leases flashed in front of landowners, along with that nice signing bonus, isn’t surprised. The mainstay of what should be company responsibility is specified in the very language of those leases to fall squarely on the heads of the landowners signing up with them.
The leases typically require landowners to pay any litigation costs involving their sited, 500-600 foot tall monoliths. They give up majority control over much of their land through site plans and easements, which the companies use to stack equipment and parts. Worse yet, gag clauses in those leases prevent disgruntled landowners from ever uttering a peep against their new benefactors, lest they lose their lease payments and get sued for breach of contract. In fact, a recent news story on the Allen County property liens by The Iola Register quotes a sole landowner who “asked not to be identified,” but swore he still supported the Prairie Queen project. That’s a magnanimous perspective from someone who now can’t sell his own land until a debt against it is paid to someone else.
Unfortunately Governor Laura Kelly’s rural interest dog and pony show of 2019 never offered any blanket state protections for communities and landowners beset by these unneeded, tax-credit fueled landscape destroyers. So, the landowners whose view of their beautiful Kansas vista was blinded by dollar signs are left to fend for themselves. ###
– Dane Hicks is publisher of The Anderson County Review in Garnett, Kansas.