Consumers May Again Be Free to Choose an Incandescent Bulb

(p. A1) The Trump administration plans to significantly weaken federal rules that would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs, a move that could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

The proposed changes would eliminate requirements that effectively meant that most light bulbs sold in the United States — not only the familiar, pear-shaped ones, but several other styles as well — must be either LEDs or fluorescent to meet new efficiency standards.

The rules being weakened, which dated from 2007 and the administration of President George W. Bush and slated to start in the new year, would have all but ended the era of the incandescent bulb invented more than a century ago.

. . .

The Trump administration said the changes would benefit consumers by keeping prices low and eliminating government regulation.

For the full story, see:

John Schwartz. “New Rollback To Ease a Ban On Old Bulbs.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 5, 2019): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was last updated Sept. 6 [sic], 2019, and has the title “White House to Relax Energy Efficiency Rules for Light Bulbs.”)

Chester Arthur Reformed Civil Service After Reforming Himself

(p. A15) One of America’s obscure vice presidents was Chester A. Arthur, a machine politician from New York. No one thought of him as presidential timber, least of all Arthur himself. He was chosen as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1880 only to pacify the corrupt yet powerful boss of the New York Republican Party, Sen. Roscoe Conkling, who had fought against the nomination of reform-minded James A. Garfield for president.

Then Garfield was assassinated soon after entering the White House and the machine hack was suddenly President of the United States.

. . .

But reform was in the air. Rutherford B. Hayes, elected president in 1876, had run on a platform promising to overhaul the civil service. He ordered a 20% staff cut at the Custom House, followed by an executive order forbidding “assessments” and barring federal workers from performing political work on or off the job. . . .

When Arthur unexpectedly became president, nearly everyone expected that the federal government would soon return to business as usual. It didn’t. Conkling wanted Garfield’s Custom House appointee fired and his own man put in, so he could use the patronage to fuel his political machine. Arthur refused. “For the vice presidency I was indebted to Mr. Conkling,” Arthur explained. “But for the presidency of the United States, my debt is to the Almighty.”

Mr. Greenberger also highlights the remarkable role that a perfect stranger played in Arthur’s transformation. Julia Sand, a semi-invalid living with her family on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, wrote Arthur a series of letters encouraging, warning and criticizing him, consistently urging him to overcome his corrupt past. He visited her only once, unexpectedly, but carefully preserved her letters even though he burned most of his other papers.

Her encouragement had its effect. In his first annual message to Congress, Arthur called for civil service reform and the reactivation of the moribund Civil Service Commission. In his second message, he called on Congress to pass laws banning assessments and requiring competitive examinations for civil service positions. Under public pressure, Congress quickly complied.

. . .

Even Mark Twain—no apologist for politicians—wrote that “it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.”

“The Unexpected President” is popular history, dependent on secondary sources, especially Thomas Reeves’s magisterial biography of Arthur, “Gentleman Boss.” But it generally avoids the pitfalls of the genre, such as assuming facts not in evidence in the sources. Above all, Scott Greenberger’s slim, well-written biography is a worthy tale of redemption—of a wandering man who, suddenly finding himself president, rose to the occasion and did his duty.

For the full review, see:

John Steele Gordon. “BOOKSHELF; Growing Into the Office; Chester Arthur was a product of the New York patronage machine. Then Garfield was killed, and suddenly the political hack was president.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 27, 2017, and has the same title as the print version.)

The book under review is:

Greenberger, Scott S. The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. New York: Da Capo Press, 2017.

Empty Threats to Leave Jersey, Gain Firms $100 Million Taxpayer Subsidies

(p. A1) PEARL RIVER, N.Y. — In the summer of 2015, Jaguar Land Rover North America told state officials in New Jersey that it was considering moving to an office development in New York called Blue Hill Plaza.

To keep the automotive giant’s headquarters in New Jersey, the state offered $26 million in tax credits. So Jaguar stayed.

Five months later, FC USA, a travel company, also told New Jersey that it was looking to relocate to the very same office development in New York.

So did Groupe SEB, an appliance manufacturer.

In total, over five years, 12 companies threatened to leave New Jersey and move to Blue Hill Plaza unless the state provided tens of millions in tax credits.

None followed through on the threat. In fact, an investigation by The New York Times suggests that nearly all of the 12 companies never seriously considered moving to New York.

But all 12 received lucrative tax credits from New Jersey to stay — more than $100 million in total, according to documents obtained by The Times.

For the full story, see:

Nick Corasaniti and Matthew Haag. “Businesses Are Cashing In on Empty Threat to Leave New Jersey.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019): A1 & A25.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the published version, and has the title “How One Address Led to a $100 Million Tax Credit Scheme.”)

Higher Education Is a Lumbering “Dinosaur”

(p. A15) We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

. . .

“Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities.

. . .

At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

. . .

Though Mr. Vedder’s critique concentrates on the economic mire into which higher education has tumbled, he is not alone in his more general criticism. Over the past 20 years, analysts as diverse as Derek Bok, Alan Kors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Jeffrey Selingo, and Benjamin Ginsberg have warned that higher education, in its current form, is a dinosaur—an over-built, under-achieving creature whose chances of survival are increasingly dim. But on it lumbers. . . .

What may, . . ., bring about some kind of change is the dramatic fall-off in American birth rates since the Great Recession of 2008, as highlighted in Nathan Grawe’s “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education” (2018). No amount of federal student loans, or tuition increases, will do colleges and universities any good when, over the next decade, the pool of age-eligible students shrinks by 13% (by Mr. Grawe’s estimate). Inventing online alternatives and attracting full-tuition students from abroad is one way of paying the bills, but colleges have been trying both strategies for the past two decades, so the yield may not increase by much.

For the full review, see:

Allen C. Guelzo. “BOOKSHELF; High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.”)

The book under review is:

Vedder, Richard. Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2019.

Regulators Allowed New York City to Exploit Taxi Medallion Buyers

(p. A1) . . . The New York Times published a two-part investigation revealing that a handful of taxi industry leaders artificially inflated the price of a medallion — the coveted permit that allows a driver to own and operate a cab — and made hundreds of millions of dollars by issuing reckless loans to low-income buyers.

The investigation also found that regulators at every level of government ignored warning signs, and the city fed the frenzy by selling medallions and promoting them in ads as being “better than the stock market.”

The price of a medallion rose to more than $1 million before crashing in late 2014, which left borrowers with debt they had little hope of repaying. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, (p. A20) and thousands more are struggling to stay afloat.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi. “New York’s Top Lawyer Begins Inquiry Into Reckless Taxi Loans.” The New York Times (Tuesday, MAY 21, 2019): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2019, and has the title “Inquiries Into Reckless Loans to Taxi Drivers Ordered by State Attorney General and Mayor.” Where the online version includes a few extra words, or slightly different wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

“When the Forts of Folly Fall”

When I read the poem below I smiled. Part of me found it inspiring and part of me found it foolish. But I smiled.

(p. A11) . . . from the final stanza of Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Last Word”: “Charge once more, then, and be dumb! / Let the victors, when they come, / When the forts of folly fall, / Find thy body by the wall.”

For the full commentary, see:

Abigail Shrier, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Standing Against Psychiatry’s Crazes.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019.)

Cities Stop Recycling as Costs Exceed Benefits

(p. A1) Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

. . .

(p. A25)  With fewer buyers, recycling companies are recouping their lost profits by charging cities more, in some cases four times what they charged last year.

Amid the soaring costs, cities and towns are making hard choices about whether to raise taxes, cut other municipal services or abandon an effort that took hold during the environmental movement of the 1970s.

“Recycling has been dysfunctional for a long time,” said Mitch Hedlund, executive director of Recycle Across America, . . .

. . .

In Deltona, higher costs were not the only factor behind the decision last month to stop recycling. Even if the city agreed to pay the additional $25,000 a month that its recycling company was charging, there was no assurance that all the plastic containers and junk mail would be turned into something new, Mayor Heidi Herzberg said.

“We all did recycling because it was easy, but the reality is that not much was actually being recycled,” Ms. Herzberg said.

. . .

Some large waste producers are still going through the motions of recycling, no matter how futile.

Across Memphis, large commercial enterprises have had to stop recycling for now because of contamination problems. But the airport is keeping its recycling bins in place to preserve “the culture” of recycling among passengers and employees, a spokesman said.

For the full story, see:

(Note:  ellipses added.)

(Note:  the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2019, and has the title “As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling.”  The online version says that the New York print version had the title “As Costs Surge, Cities’ Recycling Becomes Refuse.”  My National print edition had the title given in the citation above.)