Republican governors are following the script of Obama and Clinton in their campaign strategy for the Medicaid expansion that is needed to implement ObamaCare: The cast of earnest white coats and tearful upstanding, hard-working patients with hard-luck stories. Statements that sound as though they were written by the same PR firm. The same dire consequences of inaction.
Children won’t get their shots, cancer patients won’t get their chemotherapy, hospitals will close, a victim of hepatitis C will die without benefit of treatment, people won’t go to the doctor and be made healthy, jobs will move to China, and on and on—unless we expand Medicaid to people at 133% (actually it turns out to be 138%) of the federal poverty level. But not 150%, 250%, or 500%.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” is a favorite concluding sentence.
What “it” basically means is to get the “free” federal money before somebody else does. Since it doesn’t cost “us” anything, at least not at first, it’s a “no brainer” to just grab it. It means billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs, for “us.”
But if we exercise our brains for a minute, we see that in reality the billions go to “them,” not “us.” They are the ones in the expensive suits lurking in the background and attending the closed-door meetings. They are the million-dollar-a-year executives of managed-care companies or administrators in big hospital chains. They get the billions and trickle a portion down to people in scrubs and white coats who do real work, for the care of approved patients. They are the real players; the visible ones are props, shills, or camouflage. They are the decision-makers, who decide who is eligible for what.
They don’t think like doctors. Doctors ask, “What is the best way to help this patient with hepatitis c?” Rather, they ask, “Is this person with a certain set of social characteristics worth spending some of ‘our’ resources?”
The case made by the hospital lobby does not compute. Big hospitals are expanding and renovating. They have opulent reception areas and building cranes in front. They claim to lose money on every Medicaid patient—yet they want more such patients? They bemoan the loss on uninsured patients—but their DSH payments (disproportionate share payments meant to compensate for this) will be cut more under ObamaCare if the state expands Medicaid than if it does not. Big CEOs are not dumb. They surely have a reason, with dollar signs on it, for wanting more Medicaid. I just don’t think they are telling us what it is.
Managed-care companies want Medicaid for an obvious reason. It is their cash cow. They have the process of covert rationing down to a science. No need to worry about not meeting executive payroll. If drugs are too expensive, they disappear from the formulary; cancer treatments that are too costly become “inappropriate,” “experimental,” or even “futile.”
Patients of course want care. But do they really want Medicaid? About one-third of eligibles do not enroll. Maybe it is just too difficult. Maybe they read the disclosure form explaining that if any money is spent on their behalf after age 54, whether for managed-care fees or actual services, it can be seized from their estate. Maybe they know that a lot of doctors won’t make an appointment for them if they have a Medicaid card.
Doctors representing organized medicine are on the dais with the governor. But they probably don’t want more Medicaid patients in their own practice. The pay is low, and administrative overhead is high. Worst may be the frustration in having to constantly fight to get patients what they need.
Medicaid was enacted in 1965 and has grown and grown to the point of threatening to bankrupt states. It covers about one in five Americans, but the number of uninsured keeps growing too.
One might think that it is time to do something different. Instead, when a government program fails, the no-brainer answer is to expand it further. We see it over and over again. It’s as predictable as the result of letting Lucy hold the football for Charlie Brown.
[First published at AAPS Online.]
Environmentalists mistakenly think that blocking the Keystone pipeline will prevent crude oil, derived from Canada’s oil sands, from being extracted and from being conveyed into the US to be refined into gasoline, asphalt, and other products that are important to the transportation and manufacturing sectors. Their ultimate goal is to stop all development of the Canadian resource.
The oil spilled, as a result of a train derailment on Tuesday, highlights their misguided efforts.
News flash: Canada is developing their abundant oil sands and the crude oil is already being shipped to the United States—albeit in a more costly and less safe mode.
Early Wednesday morning, 14 cars of a 94-car mixed-freight train, derailed near Parker Prairie, MN. The Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) train was carrying oil from Western Canada to Chicago—though CPR does ship to refiners along the Gulf of Mexico, the Northeastern US and Eastern Canada. Of the 14 cars, one ruptured and, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, spilled as much as 26,000 gallons of crude oil (a car can contain 550 barrels of oil and trains often carry 80-150 cars). Two other cars had some leakage—though due to the frozen ground, “there’s no threat to ground or surface water” and there were no injuries.
The CPR train carrying Canadian oil to the US is part of a growing trend, as producers and refiners have turned to railroads to make up for a lack of pipeline capacity. It is estimated that, as Canadian production rises, “rail shipments of western Canadian crude had leapt about 150% to roughly 150,000 barrels a day in the last eight months.” The Wall Street Journal recently stated: “Pipeline or not, lots of Canadian crude oil is headed to the US.” It reported that, this year, more than 200,000 barrels a day will be shipped to the Gulf Coast refining hub, and called the increased use of railroads “an end run around the much-delayed pipeline”—which would more than quadruple capacity to 830,000 barrels a day. The March 11 article says: “Some oil industry executives and analysts, meanwhile, have raised concerns about rail accidents involving carloads of crude oil.” Despite, a decade-long drop in accident rates, Tuesday’s derailment/spill highlights Keystone’s importance—though a Keystone approval could hurt Obama supporter Warren Buffet’s recent purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad that carries about 25% of the Bakken’s oil and “can ship higher volumes from North Dakota or Alberta in the future.”
The use of rail for Canada’s “stranded” crude oil is not new. Calling it a “pipeline on rails,” in February 2011, the Globe and Mail reported: “Although pipelines continue to carry the overwhelming majority of Canada’s oil production, both Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. have begun using their rail networks to deliver crude.” Rail does offer several advantages for transporting Canadian crude. As the National Post, in 2009, points out: “Geopolitically, the rail option opens up the world markets for producers but also allows Canadian oil producers to bypass protectionism as well as the fickleness of environmental politics south of the border.” Oil crossing the international border via rail doesn’t require State Department approval.
Pro-pipeline pressure on the Obama administration is mounting. During the weekend’s Senate budget votes, 17 “moderate and conservative Democrats sided with Republicans on the Keystone pipeline.” Addressing the vote, the Wall Street Journal states: “The Senate vote is symbolic since the budget outline lacks the force of law. Still, the vote reflects the growing bipartisan consensus that a private investment creating tens of thousands of jobs trumps the scare tactics of environmentalists.”
Worry over “contamination from spills” is one of the “scare tactics” used by environmentalists to oppose the Keystone pipeline—yet pipelines are universally accepted as safer than transport by rail or truck (trucks bring the crude oil from the drilling site to the rail terminals).
Another “scare tactic” is to debunk the law of supply and demand; the ability of more resource to lower prices at the pump. On my own Facebook page, a “friend” posted the following: “My question, which neither you nor anyone else has answered is: If producing more oil here lowers prices as Marita says it will, why are we exporting it and why are prices so high?” From Bloomberg Businessweek, here’s an explanation. In short, Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Citigroup Global Markets, predicts that due to increased supply “$90 will be the new ceiling for oil prices rather than the floor it’s been in recent years.” The North American supply, he says, will result in a steep drop in oil imports “from OPEC’s biggest West African members” and “those barrels will have to find another home. The surplus African oil could end up competing with Mideast suppliers for customers in India, China, Europe, and Korea. As the global competition heats up, oil prices the world over will probably drop.”
In a few weeks, the State Department will be holding a pipeline hearing, a “listening session,” in Grand Island, NE. News reports state: “The meeting will give the public a chance to weigh in on the environmental impact of the proposed project.” Four State Department reviews have given the pipeline environmental clearance and, most recently, acknowledged that Canada will continue to extract its rich resource as “the oil sands are absolutely essential to maintaining the future living standards of Canadians,” and “pipeline or not, lots of Canadian crude oil is headed to the US”—though now coming via a “pipeline on rails.” As Wednesday’s little spill spotlights, those who really care about the environment support the Keystone pipeline. (Those unable to attend the April 18 hearing, can submit comments by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Apple, Inc. has grown into a widely admired and one of the most valuable companies in the world, producing terrific products that generate long waiting lines every time a new innovation is announced. You would think executive leadership would not feel the need to bow to environmental pressure groups to appear it is eco-friendly.
But apparently acceptance by the likes of Greenpeace, and a warm reception at Silicon Valley liberals’ cocktail parties, still ranks high in importance in the corner offices in Cupertino, Calif. – even though their boastful claims aren’t true.
The latest example surrounds Apple’s absurd assertion that its electricity-sucking data centers, which support services like cloud computing and iTunes, are powered completely by renewable energy. Why the Mac-makers would brag about a phony achievement that is so easily debunked makes you wonder how smart they really are.
“Our goal is to power every facility at Apple entirely with energy from renewable sources…,” the iCompany proclaims on its Web site. “So we’re investing in our own onsite energy production, establishing relationships with suppliers to procure renewable energy off the grid, and reducing our energy needs even as our employee base grows.
“Our investments are paying off. We’ve already achieved 100 percent renewable energy at all of our data centers, at our facilities in Austin, Elk Grove, Cork, and Munich, and at our Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino…. We won’t stop working until we achieve 100 percent throughout Apple.”
The iCompany is particularly proud of its new computer server farm in Maiden, N.C., where it has built what it calls “the nation’s largest end user–owned, onsite solar photovoltaic array” on land that surrounds the facility. The supposedly eco-friendly project – which spurred the London Daily Mail to label it “Apple’s NC iSore” last year – killed 100 acres of trees, which the clear-cutters initially burned until the smoke and soot inhalation got to be too much for the neighbors. Apple has embarked on another round of forest cleansing to build a similar-sized array on adjacent property, to generate more erratic power (only when the sun shines) by the end of 2013.
Calling the Maiden solar swath “end-user owned” is about as far as you can stretch the truth without calling it the opposite. If Apple truly depended on the electricity generated from its solar farm, customers would be smashing their iPods and iPads in frustration over sporadic cloud computing services. Instead what Apple does is sell much of the sun power to Duke Energy, which puts it on the grid where dependable sources – coal, nuclear and natural gas – provide the consistent electricity that Apple actually needs.
The same kind of arrangement exists for Apple’s 10-megawatt fuel cell facility – also adjacent to the Maiden data center – the nation’s largest such project to generate electricity that doesn’t belong to an actual utility. Apple contracted with Bloom Energy, a start-up company with big investor friends (including Al Gore) in Silicon Valley, to build the power generation project. As The News & Observer of Raleigh reported last April, “According to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fuel cells are among the world’s most expensive forms of electricity, costing $6.7 million per megawatt….”
Fuel cells are considered “renewable” because they require natural gas, but can use “biogas,” which can be captured from landfills and animal waste. Only Apple won’t be using biogas in its cells, but instead will buy renewable credits for landfill gas that is injected into natural gas pipelines. Gigaom.com reported in December that the fuel cell electricity and the renewable credits Apple earns will also be sold to Duke Energy.
So what’s on the surface – and what Apple wants everyone to believe – is that these large renewable projects are powering its massive data center in the foothills of Western North Carolina. But in reality, Apple is generating the very expensive electricity and selling it to Duke Energy, which will then recapture the cost in the overall rates it charges Tar Heel State businesses and residents. Meanwhile the power that Apple is actually using – which must be uninterrupted, round-the-clock and cheap – is sold to them at a sharply discounted rate by Duke.
If there was any doubt about that, it evaporated when Wired.com discovered on Duke Energy’s Web site a four-page paper (since removed, but saved by Wired) from its business development team that explained how they were able to convince Apple to come to North Carolina. As Wired recounted:
“Data center operators such as Apple are ‘the type of customer where the meter spins and spins at an exponential pace,’ said Clark Gillespy, a Duke vice president of economic development, according to the paper. ‘It may be the most ideal customer we could have.’ Their top concerns include ‘power cost and reliability,’ Gillespy said. ‘We were able to convince Apple that we were capable of providing the low cost and reliability they needed for their operations.’”
Besides the attractively priced electricity rates, Apple also was granted $46 million in special tax breaks from state and local government for the Maiden facility, which added to the savings. But no aspect of the location could have been more important than the power cost, which represented the single greatest ongoing expense they’d need to control in perpetuity.
So Apple’s claims that its massive server projects are “100-percent renewable” can be attributed to rhetorical trickery and political appeasement rather than reality. Duke gets 98 percent of its grid powerfrom nuclear and coal plants, which is the real reason Apple was drawn to North Carolina and has been joined there by Google and Facebook, which also have been big cloud computing support facilities there. As Wired noted, Greenpeace in 2011 called the three tech giants the “dirty data triangle.”
The sale of solar and fuel cell power to Duke also helps the crony capitalism cause. As NLPC has reported, Apple worked with Bloom Energy to build the costly, otherwise unjustified fuel cell project. Al Gore, an Apple director, is a senior partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, which in 2002 helped launch Bloom on its independent mission to “make clean, reliable energy affordable.” Kleiner Perkins and its high-profile partner John Doerr – a friend of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs – are identified by Bloom as its first investors, and Bloom is also credited as Kleiner Perkins’s “first clean tech investment.” Thus Gore has a conflict of interest in his dual roles as an Apple director and as a beneficiary of a sales deal with Kleiner Perkins client Bloom Energy.
In a world without cronyism, renewable mandates, and utility monopolies, electricity-hungry Apple would have laughed at Bloom Energy after hearing its sales pitch about some of the most expensive power on the market. But this is America, where the rich and politically powerful can cut deals for their own benefit and shift the costs onto those less able to afford it.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.
[First published at the National Legal and Policy Center.]
Gina McCarthy, President Obama’s choice to replace Lisa Jackson at the Environmental Protection Agency, has been chastised for having lied to Congress, in claiming that EPA did not use “dangerous manmade climate change” to justify new 54.5 mpg standards for cars and light trucks. She’s also been implicated in the agency’s practice of using fake emails to hide questionable dealings and activities.
These issues highlight attitudes toward ethics, law and public policy that prevail at EPA and too many other government agencies. However, that attention should not distract from other important matters.
Ms. McCarthy may be the worst of the new nominees. In addition to her dishonesty, she helped devise onerous mercury and soot rules that employed junk science to shutter coal-fired power plants and kill thousands of jobs – and those vehicle mileage standards, which will force people to drive less safe cars that will cause millions more serious injuries and thousands more needless deaths every year.
However, she, Ernest Moniz for Energy and Sally Jewell for Interior are all team players for the Obama White House; they all share ideologies and agendas that bode ill for America’s and the world’s energy, economic, health and environmental future. They represent a rapidly expanding, increasingly powerful government class that is determined to control what we eat, say, do and buy.
In the environmental arena, these would-be czars and czarinas want to regulate what kinds of energy we can produce and use, cars we can drive, and jobs and living standards we can have. They are the vanguard of a dangerous alliance of eco-imperialism and vulture environmentalism.
Driven by utopian, Deep Ecology and global governance ideologies, elected and unelected ruling elites pass laws, promulgate regulations and issue edicts, based on faulty to fraudulent science and unsupported proclamations about dangerous manmade global warming, resource depletion and sustainable development. They seek to radically and fundamentally transform the energy, economic and social fabric of our nation and world – in the name of “social justice” and “saving the planet.”
They operate with little or no transparency or debate, often with vague or minimal legislative or constitutional authority, and with virtually no accountability for the false pretexts they use to justify their intrusive actions, or the harm they cause to people and wildlife. Their attitudes and actions often reflect a callous disregard for environmental values and people’s property, civil rights, jobs, health and even lives.
Our courts give them almost limitless discretion to impose laws and regulations, select pseudo-scientific “facts” to justify them, and ignore both the imaginary benefits and substantive harm they cause. They allow and encourage sweetheart “sue and settle” legal actions between regulatory agencies and activist groups, capricious agency inaction on mineral leases and permits, and arbitrary bureaucratic waivers of endangered species and other environmental laws for gigantic wind and solar projects.
Nameless, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats effectively control the lands and resources of federal lands that constitute 30-86% of the acreage in Alaska and our eleven westernmost states. America’s federal, state and private lands are rich in energy, mineral, timber and other resources that offer vast job and revenue opportunities. We could easily have drilling, mining, forestry and ranching, along with recreation, wildlife, parks and wilderness – and for decades government regulators emphasized this “multiple use” approach. But today, environmentalists and bureaucrats block these uses and vigorously promote preservation.
Today their motto seems to be: If it creates real energy, jobs and revenues – pillory, ban, delay and regulate it out of existence. If it can be labeled “renewable” – mandate it, subsidize it, waive endangered species laws, and ignore the policies’ impacts on wildlife and on people’s health and well-being. Instead of ensuring that resource development activities are conducted properly, don’t permit them at all.
Under their agenda, US domestic oil and gas production climbed during Mr. Obama’s tenure – but the increase was all on state and private lands, mostly because of fracking and despite Team Obama, which is trying to limit and control this game-changing technology even there. On federal lands, oil production fell 23% and gas production plummeted 33% from fiscal-2010 to FY-2012 – dragging jobs, living standards, and federal bonus, royalty and tax revenues downward with them.
The eco-imperialists profess concern for human health and lives, wildlife and environmental quality. They demand pristine air quality to reduce risks that exist only in EPA computer models. But then they issue lethal vehicle mileage regulations, corn ethanol standards that increase global food prices and harm nutrition, and myriad rules that kill jobs and cause foreclosures, stress, and more heart attacks and strokes. They blame deadly wildfires on global warming, instead of on Deep Ecology policies that prohibit forest thinning, prevent treating insect infestations, and require substandard fire suppressants.
Nearly 700 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa rarely or never have electricity. As a result, pollution from open fires causes asthma and other lung infections that kill a million African women and children annually; countless more die from intestinal diseases due to eating spoiled, unrefrigerated food. And yet, during a speech in Ghana, President Obama said hungry Africa should rely on its “bountiful” wind, solar and biofuel energy, while his administration refused to provide or support loans for gas or coal-fired generating plants, because he believes Earth is “threatened” by global warming.
Eco-imperialist politicians, regulators and environmentalists demand heavy penalties for birds and other wildlife killed by petroleum-related accidents. They delay or ban drilling, fracking and mining because these activities might “disturb” sage grouse. But when millions of birds and bats are exterminated year after year by wind turbines, they turn a blind eye and actively help hide the horrific slaughter, while ignoring evidence that turbines impair the health of people living near them.
Vulture environmentalists hijack environmental laws to further the venal interests of eco-activists, bureaucrats and wealthy elites, who covet private property but don’t want to pay fair prices. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has joined celebrity fracking opponents, green pressure groups and blueblood vultures that are salivating over beautiful Catskill farmlands. Overtaxed, over-regulated owners could save their family farms through careful natural gas production – but the hovering vultures prefer to force them into foreclosure, and grab the prime properties at fire sale prices.
Radical greens used imagined threats to the western spotted owl to eliminate logging jobs and a way of life in western states, to create playgrounds for the green 1 percent. Now the feds plan to shoot formerly eastern barred owls, to keep them from breeding their spotted cousins out of existence – before their habitats are incinerated in fiery conflagrations brought on by other ignorant eco-imperialist policies.
In states and communities all over the USA, the Endangered Species Act, Agenda 21, critical habitat areas and buffer zones, endless regulation and litigation, advisory panels stacked with eco-activists but nearly devoid of private property owners, lowball appraisals of lands and water rights, climate change scare stories and other tactics are used repeatedly to seize title or control over property, without payment of just (or any) compensation. The abuses are endless, and are occurring over the planet.
In just one example, over 20,000 Ugandans were evicted, impoverished and left homeless by the New Forest Company and government authorities, to make way for foreign investors promoting “clean development mechanisms” and carbon-trading credits, as solutions to “runaway global warming.”
We went to war with England over far less than this, back in 1776. It’s high time that our environmental laws were again used to address real air, water and wildlife problems – instead advancing what Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore has called the “anti-science, anti-technology, anti-human” agenda of eco-imperialists and vulture environmentalists.
The New York Times told its readers on March 12 that Paul Ryan’s proposed 2014 budget involves “eliminating Medicare’s guarantee to retirees” and “dispensing with Medicaid and food stamps….” But Joe Farah, CEO of WND News, told his readers on March 15 that Ryan’s budget “fails to address unsustainable ‘entitlement’ programs.” They cannot both be right. But they can both be grievously wrong.
We hear a lot of talk about how Ryan’s proposed traditional budget is so “extreme.” But it is these two comments that represent the extremes on the issue. This kind of disconnected from reality rhetoric from both sides is what makes our democracy dysfunctional, unable to seriously discuss major issues.
A Better Medicaid for the Poor
Ryan’s proposals for Medicaid and food stamps would simply extend the proven, enormously successful, 1996 welfare reforms of the old AFDC program to those two programs. The 1996 AFDC reforms returned the share of federal spending on AFDC to each state in the form of a “block grant” to be used in a new welfare program redesigned by the state based on mandatory work for the able bodied. Like Medicaid, federal funding for AFDC previously was based on a matching formula, with the federal government giving more to each state the more it spent on the program, effectively paying the states to spend more. The key to the 1996 reforms was that the block grants to each state were finite, not matching, so the federal funding did not vary with the amount the state spent. If a state’s new program cost more, the state had to pay the extra costs itself. If the program cost less, the state could keep the savings. The reformed program was renamed Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
The reform was shockingly successful, exceeding even the predictions of its most ardent supporters. The old AFDC rolls were reduced by two-thirds nationwide, even more in states that pushed work most aggressively, as those formerly on the program went to work, or married someone who worked.
As a result, in real dollars total federal and state spending on TANF by 2006 was down 31% from AFDC spending in 1995, and down by more than half of what it would have been under prior trends. At the same time, because of the resulting increased work by former welfare dependents, the incomes of the families formerly on the program rose by 25%, and poverty among those families plummeted.
Medicaid currently pays doctors and hospitals only 60% or less of costs for their health services to the poor. Consequently, the poor on Medicaid face grave difficulties in finding doctors and hospitals that would serve them, and in obtaining timely and essential health care. They suffer worse health outcomes as a result, including premature death. Scott Gottlieb of the New York University School of Medicine writes in a March 10, 2011 commentary in the Wall Street Journal (“Medicaid Is Worse Than No Coverage at All”), “In some states, they’ve cut reimbursements to providers so low that beneficiaries can’t find doctors willing to accept Medicaid.”
What the states could do under Ryan’s proposed reforms is shown by the example of Rhode Island, which received a broad waiver from federal Medicaid requirements in return for a fixed cap on federal financing for 5 years. The state turned to managed care, competitive bidding by health care providers, and comprehensive case management by private insurers for those on Medicaid. It shifted more long term care out of nursing homes to home and community-based care.
The Lewin Group, a top health care consulting firm, studied the reforms and concluded that they were “highly effective in controlling Medicaid costs” while improving “access to more appropriate services.” Indeed, the state’s costs were reduced by nearly 30% in the first 18 months alone. Yet the poor enjoyed assigned health providers to ensure they received essential care.
Alternatively, states could serve the poor by using the program to provide premium assistance that would help the poor to pay for the private health insurance of their choice in the marketplace. Such premium support would free the poor from the Medicaid ghetto, enabling them to obtain the same health care as the middle class, because they would be able to buy the same health insurance in the market. Such market health insurance has to pay the doctors and hospitals sufficiently to enable those with that insurance to obtain timely, effective health care, or their insurance would have no customers.
This would be an enormous gain for the poor. Yet, CBO scores extending these same reforms to Medicaid as saving $750 billion over 10 years. That is why it involves win win entitlement reform.
The poor would similarly gain from extending these same reforms to food stamps, just as they gained from the reforms of AFDC, with similar savings for taxpayers. This cannot remotely be characterized as “dispensing with Medicaid and food stamps,” as the esteemed New York Times tells us. The Times these days reads like a college Marxist student newspaper.
A Better Medicare for Seniors
The Senate Democrat budget, which actually does fail to address unsustainable entitlement programs, says regarding Ryan’s budget, “House Republicans would dismantle Medicare….” But Ryan’s budget proposes to increase Medicare spending from 2014 to 2023 alone by 70%. That cannot be accurately characterized as dismantling Medicare.
The Democrats add, “the Republican plan would privatize Medicare by simply handing beneficiaries vouchers that are capped at growth levels below projected health care costs.” But this is not how the Republican proposal works at all. The Democrat Party is just abusing vulnerable seniors with dishonest, disconnected from reality rhetoric like this.
Ryan’s Medicare reforms would simply extend the more modern, popular, and successful policies of Medicare Parts C and D to the old fashioned Medicare Parts A and B. Medicare Part D is the prescription drug program. Just like Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms, Part D provides premium support payments to seniors, which they use to purchase the private prescription drug coverage of their choice. Because of the private market competition, and incentives for seniors to choose lower cost plans, Part D costs have run 40% below projections. Compare that to Parts A and B, which by 1990 cost 10 times the original projections for that year when the program was adopted.
Medicare Part C is Medicare Advantage, under which nearly 30% of seniors have already chosen private insurance to provide all of their Medicare coverage. Seniors believe they get a better deal through this highly popular program due to choice and competition.
Ryan would empower workers under age 55 today with the choice of a private plan competing alongside traditional Medicare when they retire in the future. All those private plans must provide at least the same benefits as Medicare today to participate. Medicare would provide these future seniors with a premium support payment they could use to pay for or offset the premium of the private health insurance they chose. That premium support payment is set by competitive bidding under rules ensuring it will be enough to pay for at least two of the competing plans providing at least the same benefits as Medicare. Or seniors even in the future could choose to stay in Medicare just like it is today. These Medicare benefits under Ryan’s reforms are just as guaranteed as Medicare benefits are today.
Ryan includes extra assistance for lower income seniors empowering them with more choices, while means testing the assistance for higher income seniors like Medicare Parts B and D do today. Ryan’s Medicare would also provide higher payments to the insurers for sicker seniors. It would also assess a fine on insurers covering more low-risk seniors, and pay incentive payments to insurers covering more high-risk seniors. This would create special competition in the private market focused on serving the sickest most in need of first rate health care.
So Ryan’s reforms do not involve “simply handing beneficiaries vouchers that are capped at growth levels below projected health care costs.” Congressional Democrats have a responsibility to understand Republican proposals so they can truly determine if they support the reforms or not. But like little children, Congressional Democrats just close their eyes and stomp their feet “No!”
This Medicare reform plan was actually developed by President Clinton’s Medicare Commission, so it had bipartisan support at a time when the Democrat Party had grown ups in influential positions, rather than just adolescent, Marxist, revolutionaries posing in grown up drag. The legislation providing for these reforms was actually introduced in the Senate by liberal Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. It has been endorsed by long time liberal academic Alice Rivlin, the Godmother of the CBO, serving as its first director.
Indeed, the plan was developed from an initial proposal in 1995 by two lifelong liberal scholars, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution, and former CBO Director Robert Reischauer. They were the first to propose a premium support system for Medicare in a 1995 article in the journal Health Affairs. The Reischauer/Aaron concept was later embodied in Medicare Parts C and D in the 2003 Medicare reforms, where they have already worked very effectively.
By contrast, President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” supported by all of these Senate Democrats, cut Medicare by $716 billion over the first 10 years alone. According to the Annual Report of the Medicare Board of Trustees for 2010, over the first 20 years of full implantation of the Affordable Care Act, 2014 to 2033, Obama’s Medicare cuts would add up to $5 trillion. According to the 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government, the present value of President Obama’s total future cuts to Medicare total $15 trillion.
These are all primarily cuts in payments to doctors and hospitals for health care services to seniors under Medicare. Medicare’s Chief Actuary Rick Foster reports that by the end of this decade, Medicare will be paying less to doctors and hospitals for health care for seniors than Medicaid pays for health care for the poor. And Medicare will be falling farther and farther behind Medicaid each year. Ultimately, Medicare payment rates will be one-third of what will be paid by private insurance, and only half of what is paid by Medicaid.
Under Obamacare, soon enough seniors will be lined up behind welfare mothers in trying to find doctors who will see them and hospitals that will admit them. These cuts affect seniors already retired today, not just those years into the future.
Foster reports that even before these cuts already two-thirds of hospitals were losing money on Medicare patients. In a few short years, hospitals that serve seniors in particular will begin closing, and retirees will have increasing difficulty obtaining access to care. As Harvard University health economist Joe Newhouse explains, seniors will likely have to seek care at community health centers and safety net hospitals.
And this does not even count any further cuts that may be adopted by Obamacare’s Medicare death panel, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). That Board will be composed of 15 unelected, appointed, Washington bureaucrats with the power to adopt still more Medicare cuts that would become effective even without the approval of Congress.
Ryan further explained the effect of the reforms in an Address at the AARP convention last September:
“Now in order to save Medicare for future generations, we propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own health-care decisions. Our plan empowers future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same level of benefits as traditional Medicare. This financial support system is designed to guarantee that seniors can always afford Medicare coverage – no exceptions. And if a senior wants to choose the traditional Medicare plan, then she will have that right. Our idea is to force insurance companies to compete against each other to better serve seniors, with more help for the poor and sick – and less help for the wealthy.”
These reforms are better for seniors than Obamacare’s Medicare most of all because they free seniors from the cuts and government health care rationing involved in Obamacare’s mangling of Medicare, by allowing them to choose private insurance paying market rates instead. Only through such private insurance will seniors be able to continue to enjoy the high quality, most advanced care they have come to expect from Medicare.
Ryan concluded in his address to AARP, “You see, Medicare is going bankrupt. Everyone understands this…So the disagreement isn’t about the problem. It’s about the solution. [The President’s] top down bureaucratic cuts to Medicare just don’t work. Providers stop providing care.” Ryan’s reforms reduce future Medicare spending by no more than President Obama does through Obamacare. The difference is that the Ryan spending savings are achieved through market incentives, senior choice, and marketplace competition that has been proven to work.
This is win win entitlement reform, because the result would be a better Medicare for seniors than Medicare under Obamacare, yet the taxpayers would enjoy major savings from the reforms.
Health Care for All Without Obamacare
Ryan’s budget also proposes to repeal Obamacare, with a CBO scored savings of nearly $2 trillion over the first 10 years alone. Several years after implementation, Obamacare would still leave 30 million uninsured, according to CBO. Yet, free market health policy economists, in particular those led by John Goodman at the National Center for Policy Analysis, have already long proposed a comprehensive health care safety net that would assure essential health care for all, with no individual mandate and no employer mandate. These reforms are fully consistent with Ryan’s proposed budget as well.
The first component of such reform would be the Medicaid block grant reforms that are already included in Ryan’s budget. Consequently, if you are too poor to buy health insurance, the government would give you the additional funds you need to buy it.
The second safety net component would be High Risk pools in each state. Those uninsured who become too sick to purchase health insurance in the market, perhaps because they have contracted cancer or heart disease, for example, would be assured of guaranteed coverage through the risk pool. They would be charged a premium for this coverage based on their ability to pay, ensuring that they will not be asked to pay more than they could afford. Federal and state funding would cover remaining costs, which could be financed through the Medicaid block grants as well. Similar risk pools already exist in over 30 states, and they work well at relatively little cost to taxpayers because few uninsured actually become uninsurable in the private market.
Consequently, if you are uninsured and become too sick to then get market insurance, you are assured of getting essential coverage.
The third safety net component would be guaranteed renewability, which means as long as you continue to pay your premiums, the insurer cannot cut you off because you get sick, nor can it impose discriminatory premium increases any greater than for anyone else in your original risk pool. Contrary to President Obama’s misleading rhetoric, insurance companies in America have never been allowed to cut off those covered after they get sick, which would be insurance fraud.
Consequently, if you have health insurance, you will be able to keep it, and so will be assured continued access to essential health care.
The fourth component would be for the government to offer every individual the same, uniform, fixed-dollar subsidy for health insurance, whether employer-provided or individually purchased, through a refundable tax credit for all replacing the current tax preference only for employer health insurance. The credit would be equal to what we expect to spend from public and private sources on free care for each person on average when he or she is uninsured. If an individual chooses to be uninsured, the subsidy would be sent to a safety net agency providing health care to the indigent in the community where the person lives, so he could get health care there as well.
Consequently, the uninsured as a group would effectively pay for their own care, eliminating any free rider problem, without any individual or employer mandate. That is because by turning down the tax credit for health insurance by choosing not to insure, the uninsured would pay extra taxes equal to the average amount of the free care given to the uninsured. The subsidies for health insurance would then effectively be funded by the reduction in expected free care the insured would have consumed if uninsured. This could be implemented through Ryan’s proposed tax reform.
This again would be win win entitlement reform, achieving universal health care for all, with enormous savings for taxpayers.
[First Published at Forbes]
Renewable energy wind turbines as electricity sources possess extreme environmental problems not found in its renewable energy rival–solar photovoltaic. These problems are due to rotation during operation of 130-foot or more long, thirteen-ton turbine blades with tip speeds of 200 miles per hour.
An unavoidable problem of wind turbines is killing flying creatures. The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) has produced a video “Eagle lawsuit ruffles wind industry feathers.” The video records an eagle being killed by a wind turbine. It appears the eagle went back for a second look at the turbine and a blade struck the fatal blow. Possibly the eagle thought the turbine was a bigger bird.
A companion article by CFACT is “Wind turbines kill up to 39 million birds a year” by wildlife expert Jim Wiegand. Details of studies on bird fatalities caused by wind turbines are cited in this article.
It has been long known wind turbines are devastating to bat populations. A U. S. Geological Survey Report “Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines: Investigating the Causes and Consequences“ mentions thousands of bats are killed annually at wind turbine sites around the world. Besides being minced by turbine blade rotations, bats are subject to deaths by other means as explained by the August 26, 2008 Scientific American article “On a Wing and Low Air: The Surprising Way Wind Turbines Kill Bats.”
Bats are killed by pressure pulses causing burst blood vessels in their lungs. Due to these deaths being caused by remote features of wind turbine operations and bats very small body weights, bat carcasses may be located large distances from offending wind turbines and never found. As nocturnal creatures, bats are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because their operations are frequently late at night when demand for electricity is at its lowest.
In another article by CFACT, “Greens work to still wind, darken solar power projects” by Professor Larry Bell is cited several examples where environmental groups like the Audubon Society and Sierra Club have stopped wind projects due to massive bird kills anticipated by wind turbines. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the United States had at the end of 2012 more than 60,000 Megawatts of wind turbine output supplied by 45,000 turbines.
The majority of wind turbines are located in vast agriculture areas of the United States stretching from Texas to Canada. The estimate of 39 million annual bird fatalities by Jim Wiegand may be a gross underestimate. Bats devour insects and their loss in agriculture areas may have devastating impacts on future agriculture production.
Other environmental problems of wind turbines are their influence on humans. Effects of long-term exposure to low-amplitude pressure pulses unnoticed by humans may be a future problem. In addition are sound pulses at about 20 cycles per minute matching turbine’s speed of rotation. Long term health effects from these disturbances can’t be known.
Other problems with wind turbines are they catch on fire and explode. In 2011, an upper New York state wind turbine exploded and spread debris for 1/4 mile. Pictures of wind turbine fires in Texas and other locations are found here. Additional problems are winter ice forming on blades. Spinning turbine blades have thrown refrigerator-size pieces of ice hundreds of yards.
Wind turbines should be subjected to the same Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) critera imposed on nuclear power plants. The MCA for a nuclear plant is a Loss-of Coolant-Accident (LOCA) in which reactor coolants stop flowing and reactor cores are subject to melting due overheating.
The MCA for a wind turbine is a 13-ton turbine blade snaps off during operation and the blade is hurtled possibly one-half mile. If the blade lands in a local high school football stadium during Homecoming, thousands could be killed before the 13-ton blade comes to rest. Exclusion zones surrounding wind turbines need to be established to protect the public from injury. A smaller scale injury is individuals being struck by decapitated eagles or similar flying creatures.
These are a few violent environmental problems with wind turbines unknown to solar photovoltaics. Like solar energy, additional environmental assessments need to be made about wind turbines energy requirements to build and install them in comparison to energy output during operating lifetimes. Environmental effects of acquiring rare earth metals for generator magnets, large quantities of fiberglass and other metals, and vast amounts of concrete for turbine bases need evaluated. Like solar energy, the intermittent operation of wind turbines require fast responding fossil fuel electricity sources to maintain continuity of electricity supply. Poor performance of backup electricity supply may reduce or even eliminate wind turbine’s savings of fossil fuel use.
Like solar photovoltaics, wind turbines are expected to have a practical operating lifetime of around 25 years. What happens to wind turbines no longer useable? Will the country be strewn by unsightly landscapes of tall towers with dangling turbine blades? This is a view of thousands of still wind turbines shown on I-10 west of Palm Springs, CA that I visited years ago. Whether they been torn down today I am unaware.
If you want to know what a carbon tax on emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would do to America you need only look at the destruction of industry and business in Australia, along with the soaring costs for energy use it imposes on anyone there.“The carbon tax is contributing to a record number of firms going to the wall with thousands of employees being laid off and companies forced to close factories that have stood for generations,” Steve Lewis and Phil Jacob reported in a March 18 issue of The Daily Telegraph, a leading Australian newspaper. “Soaring energy bills caused by the government’s climate change scheme have been called ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ by company executives and corporate rescue doctors who are trying to save ailing firms.” The passage of a carbon tax in America would have the exact same results and it remains a top priority for the White House and Democrats in Congress who see it as a bonanza in new funding for the government. As Paul Driessen writes in a Townhall.com commentary: “More rational analysis reveals that dreams of growth are nothing more than dangerous tax revenue hallucinations. They would bring intense pain for no climate or economic gain.” Too many Americans still believe that CO2 is causing global warming, but CO2 plays no role in climate change and is barely 0.038 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. More to the point, there is no warming and hasn’t been for the last seventeen years as the Earth is in a natural cooling cycle that has prolonged the advent of spring with severe snow storms throughout the nation. There is no scientific justification for such a tax, but those advocating it don’t care about the science. They care about raising revenue for an ever-growing government to spend and waste. Driessen points out that “Hydrocarbons (coal, oil, and natural gas) provide over 83% of all the energy that powers America. A carbon tax would put a hefty surcharge on everything we make, grow, ship, eat, and do. It would put the federal government in control of, not just one-sixth of the economy, as under Obamacare, but 100% of our economy and lives. It would make the United States increasingly less productive, less competitive globally, less able to provide opportunities for our children.” The case for a carbon tax simply doesn’t exist, but there are powerful forces in Congress and the support of the White House to impose such a tax. The power of the environmental movement and its long history of lies about the climate, primarily the global warming hoax, cannot be dismissed or ignored. In Australia, “The Australian Securities & Investments Commissionreports there were 10,632 company collapses for the 12 months to March 1—averaging 886 a month—with the number of firms being placed in administration more than 12 percent higher than during the global financial crisis.” It represents “a record high…led by widespread failures in manufacturing and construction, which accounted for almost one-fifth of collapses.” Greg Evans, the chief economic economist for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that “It defies logic to adopt a policy which even the Treasury acknowledges will lower our standards of living and be harmful to national productivity.” Adding to Australia’s struggling companies, the carbon tax and one on mining were showing up as “sovereign issues” in discussions with foreign investors.” Who would want to invest in Australia if these two taxes were destroying the economic strength of the nation? Politics in Australia is no less a battleground than here in America. Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who introduced the carbon tax, just beat back a bid by her Labor Party’s dissidents to reinstall former leader Kevin Rudd who lost to her in 2010 and 2012. Much of the opposition to her comes from the harm being inflicted by the carbon and mining taxes. Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow in energy and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. During the 2012 campaign, he described a carbon tax as “political poison for the Republican Party.” Mitt Romney opposed it, but ‘the big attraction of carbon taxes these days is not as a global warming policy but as a revenue enhancer. In both parties, deficit hawks and big spenders (often the same individuals) are flailing for ways to boost federal revenue.” That is precisely the problem afflicting a nation whose Congress and President could not find a reason to cut anything from the federal budget. The result was the “sequestration” that imposed cuts neither party could agree upon. In a Fox News article, “Here comes Team Obama’s carbon tax”. Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment and author of “Democracy Denied” reported: “The Treasury Department’s Office of Environment and Energy has finally begun to turn over documents about its preparations for a carbon tax in response to transparency warrior Chris Horner’s Freedom of Information Act request. The documents provide solid evidence that the Obama administration and its allies in Congress have every intention of implementing a carbon tax if we fail to stop them.” President Obama’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, is on record wanting to double or triple the cost of energy, much as his predecessor wanted.A carbon tax, if enacted, would totally undermine a nation that has a debt climbing toward $17 trillion and millions unemployed in an economy that is struggling to inch its way out of the depths of the financial crisis. If you wanted to destroy America, you could do it with a carbon tax. Australia is reeling from the cost to its economy and the higher energy costs its people are paying. We don’t want that here. [First posted at Warning Signs.]
For weeks now the buzz about Fisker Automotive, the latest Department of Energy-funded clunker, is that two China-based automotive companies – Zhejiang Geely Holding Group (which owns Volvo) and Dongfeng Motor Corp. (which is state-owned) – were in bidding negotiations to buy an ownership stake of an unknown size. The speculation was that Fisker was following a similar path as stimulus-financed A123 Systems, which supplied the batteries for Fisker and was recently bought by Sino-owned Wanxiang Group.
But what seemed like the inevitable has been halted if a Wall Street Journal report (subscription-only) from Tuesday is to be believed. Apparently Fisker’s management still thinks it can access the remainder of a $529-million DOE loan, which it had received a portion of ($193 million) before its shortcomings forced the feds to say “no mas.” According to one of the newspaper’s sources, Fisker negotiators proposed to the Chinese that they draw the remainder of the loan as part of a deal, which they say (at least in part) scuttled Geely’s and Dongfeng’s interest in the company.
Why? Because as a condition of the DOE loan, Fisker would be required to manufacturer its next model – the Atlantic – at a refurbished General Motors plant in The First State that had been closed for years.
“The Delaware plant is big, old and expensive,” the Journal reported, citing an unidentified source, “and the Chinese balked at the U.S. loan because they don’t want to be compelled to build cars there.”
And according to another report by Reuters, Geely totally withdrew its interest in Fisker because of the DOE’s Delaware requirements.
“Those obligations are too complicated to handle and seem too risky,” said a Reuters source. “The plan’s footprint was too big. It would take a long, long time to fill up the plant with products and restore employment there.”
Whoa! So the communist Chinese – who haven’t met a government-mandated “green” project they can’t subsidize and love – won’t do a deal with Fisker, even though the U.S. government has deemed the Delaware plant worthy of taxpayer “investment?” How are these Far East entrepreneurs missing the Obama administration’s keen vision and business acumen?
After all, this was the plant where Vice President Joe Biden made a personal appearance in October 2009 to announce how the future of electric cars – sparked by the know-how of founder Henrik Fisker and investment from the Recovery Act – was going to burst forth from the remnants of that shuttered GM factory on Boxwood Road in Wilmington.
“While some wanted to write off America’s auto industry, we said no,” Biden said at a ceremony that also featured Democrat Gov. Jack Markell, Democrat Sen. Tom Carper, and Republican Rep. Mike Castle. “We knew that we needed to do something different – in Delaware and all across the nation. We understood a new chapter had to be written, a new chapter in which we strengthen American manufacturing by investing in innovation. Thanks to a real commitment by this Administration, loans from the Department of Energy, the creativity of U.S. companies and the tenacity of great state partners like Delaware – we’re on our way to helping America’s auto industry reclaim its top position in the global market.”
Sounded like a can’t-miss plan, right? According to the 2009 White House press release, $359 million of the DOE loan was going to “revive manufacturing at the Boxwood Plant.”
“This is proof positive that our efforts to create new jobs, invest in a clean energy economy and reduce carbon pollution are working,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the time. “We are putting Americans back to work and reigniting a new Industrial Revolution that is paramount for the economic success of this country.”
And yet somehow the Chinese are missing it. But Geely and Dongfeng may also have been put off by the internal dissent between Henrik Fisker and CEO Tony Posawatz. According to another Reuters report, the two executives disagreed over the continued pursuit of DOE funds, which is reportedly favored by Posawatz and understandably opposed by Mr. Fisker. After all, the initial $193 million in taxpayer support was a magnet for media scrutiny and resultant additional headaches. So because of what Mr. Fisker called “several major disagreements” with executive management over direction, he quit as chairman of his own company last week.
“What happened after Solyndra obviously has shifted unfortunately the discussions — rather than talking about … that everybody wants America to be the leader in new technology, it shifted to being more political focused,” Fisker told The Detroit News after he resigned. “That’s a situation everyone’s going to have to deal with.”
Everyone will except Geely and Dongfeng, who don’t need Fisker as much as Fisker needs them. Besides the financial considerations and the Delaware burden, the Anaheim automaker also has a trunk-load of excess baggage. Fisker has suffered a series of publicity blunders including recalls, a breakdown of its Karma model at Consumer Reports’ test facility, layoffs, a SEC investigation of its primary venture capital raisers and subsequent punishment of them by an arbitration board. Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports in September pegged the Karma as the worst luxury sedan on the market, and fourth-worst sedan overall. During the review process the publication reported it had to send its model back to the dealer for repeated problems such as frequent instrument, window and radio glitches, and recurring warning lights.
And the perception that the Delaware plant is too big and old isn’t the only problem there, either. The state made a $21.5 million incentive agreement with Fisker as well, and according to The Delaware News Journal, Gov. Markell says the state must continue to make payments under the deal he arranged. The state has paid at least $6 million for the company’s grant already, and as of last August Delaware taxpayers were stuck paying more than $400,000 (presumably more now) in utility bills, even though the factory is vacant.
Considering all these factors, maybe it is presumptuous to think China would bite on the “opportunity” to buy Fisker anyway, Delaware or no Delaware. And even if they did, it might be assuming too much to think the U.S. government would go along with Chinese ownership (although it didn’t raise much objection with the bankruptcy sale of Fisker’s battery maker, A123 Systems).
But then again, being in the electric vehicle business means never having to prove yourself. The Obama administration has taught us that you only have to presume you will succeed.
Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.
[First published at the National Legal and Policy Center.]
The March 26 edition of The Wall Street Journal has a special section titled “Environment” presenting excerpts and features from the Journal’s latest ECO:nomics conference. While the opening essay by John Bussey [subscription required] tells us the green bubble has burst, the rest of the section presents the usual pleas for more subsidies and regulations from the Baptists and bootleggers of the renewable energy movement.
According to Bussey’s opening essay, the annual ECO:nomics conference brings together “top entrepreneurs, thinkers, companies, investors, and environmentalists who define the intersection of business and the environment.” That’s only partly true. He left out the part about the “top entrepreneurs” being those who are most successful at winning government subsidies or benefiting from regulations that handicap their competitors.
The “top … thinkers” at ECO:nomics are only those who unquestioningly embrace the latest myths and hype from the environmental movement. Most corporate CEOs at the conference are just trying to paint themselves and their firms a fashionable shade of green to please the liberals in their public relations departments. And the environmentalists who show up are of the liberal/Democrat/alarmist stripe and rarely or never of the free-market variety.
Many years ago, economist Bruce Yandle (himself a pioneer of free-market environmentalism) coined the phrase “Baptists and bootleggers” to describe the unholy alliance of true-believers in an apparently noble cause and those out to make a buck off the laws and programs adopted in the cause’s name. The classic example is the Baptists’ campaign to ban alcohol and the huge profits delivered to bootleggers during Prohibition and later in “dry” counties and cities. Today, the best example of Baptists and bootleggers is the partnership between radical environmentalists trying to ban fossil fuels and the renewable energy industry eager to sell its over-priced, intermittent, and unreliable products.
Nowadays economists refer to bootleggers as “rent-seekers,” defined as individuals or parties who profit off rules and regulations that limit competition and consumer choice. And instead of referring to true believers as Baptists, who after all may be entirely right in their religious beliefs, we might follow the example provided by the Soviet Union’s KGB and call the true believers “useful idiots.”
Anyway, once a year The Wall Street Journal hosts a garden party for the useful idiots and rent seekers and then prints a series of puff pieces about the folks who attend. It isn’t good journalism or even entertainment, more like a very boring People Magazine feature about the speeches delivered at a PETA fundraising event in Beverly Hills. This year’s edition generated full-page ads from Shell Oil and FedEx and a few smaller ads, which one assumes is the main measurable output of the endeavor.
This year’s write-up, though, reported a skunk at the party. Bussey’s brief opening article contains these marvelous lines:
“Large parts of green-tech investment look like the torched and salted fields left behind by Roman conquerors; barren, lifeless – and bereft of a return on capital. Put another way: In some areas, if you aren’t already investor road kill, you’re likely the hedgehog in the headlights about to join your maker.”
After saying not all is lost, he returns to the story about the skunk:
“But it was undeniable that waning investment in the green side of the energy spectrum was the other dominant theme. A range of factors have [sic] scared off capital: poor returns on existing investments; the failure of big solar efforts like Solyndra; shrinking government budgets; the impact of state-subsidized Chinese competitors; and indeed, the advance of cleaner shale gas, which has undercut momentum toward some alternative energy sources.”
It’s a nice list, but he might have added that 16 years without any global warming, the collapse of foreign carbon trading markets, the Climategate 3.0 and Fakegate scandals, the rise of “energy poverty” as a major political issue in Europe, and growing skepticism about the ability of scientists to predict future climate conditions all have damaged the standing of the useful idiots at the conference, causing rent seekers to look for other targets to whom to attach themselves.
Might this be the last ECO:nomics event? One can only hope so. But human nature being what it is, another event will quickly take its place. The Wall Street Journal’s advertising department is surely making plans for the next big thing. A suggestion: How about something to do with investing in real businesses producing viable products?
“Man bites dog” is news, runs an old adage, but “Dog bites man” is not. Yet “Democrats pass 1st budget since ‘09” still made headlines over the weekend and it is hard to tell into which category it fits.
It should go without saying that in a two century-old republic the government passing a budget should not be news. Doing so should be the first duty of a financially responsible legislature; living within it should be the second. But this is the first time in the current administration that the United States Senate – the self-styled “world’s greatest deliberative body” – has taken the first step, and it will likely never take the second.
For the bad news about this “budget” is everywhere else: it passed with a bare 50-49 majority at 4:38 a.m. on a Saturday morning in March, with no Republicans in favor and five Democrats defecting; it will never be reconciled with the considerably different budget that a Republican House passed earlier this month; and even if enacted it would authorize higher taxes and a record $3.7 trillion in spending.
Yet even in a nation staggering under record debts and deficits, Senators somehow found the money to pay for carry-out in pizza (for the Democrats) and barbecue (for the Republicans) for their all-night session and to hire cars to drive them home.
So man bites dog, or dog bites man, and the era of irresponsible spending and continuing resolutions continues. One wonders: how long?
The redesign of The Heartland Institute’s Somewhat Reasonable blog is now live! Its designed to be prettier; faster; better-organized; easier to read, navigate and search; more visually dynamic, more fun to share with friends, and easy to find and visit other sites in Heartland’s digital presence. Keeping tabs on the commentary of Heartland’s staffers, fellows, and policy advisors is now a better experience than ever.
New features of the redesigned Somewhat Reasonable include:
- A “slider” at the top of the blog that features up to five posts of our choosing.
- Much faster load times on the “front end” for the reader, and the “back end” for the bloggers.
- Links in the menu bar below the masthead sorted by the same categories as at Heartland.org and at the Heartlander digital magazine for consistency and easy reference/research.
- A right sidebar that is a lot cleaner and more functional than on the old blog.
- A cleaner and more attractive “Heartland on YouTube” feature in that right sidebar.
- A search bar right where people look for it – top right of the page – that works quickly to find what you want via keywords.
- Social media buttons that are discreet, but noticeable and useful, embedded into the masthead.
- Links at the very top of the page that send people to Heartland.org and the Heartlander digital magazine – as well as a drop-down of “Reasonable People” to quickly find everything written by author. (One can also use the “Reasonable People” links prominently featured in the right column.)
- A “most popular this month” feature that lets you see the hottest posts at Somewhat Reasonable at a glance.
- A “tag cloud” at the bottom of the right sidebar so folks can see at a glance what keywords are used the most.
I hope you all like the new Somewhat Reasonable blog as much as we do.
Your college tuition covered only a fraction of the cost of your education, you are told, and whatever success you’ve had in life is a result of the knowledge you gained and the people you met while in college. And surely you use in your daily life what you learned in important classes like “The Psychology of Deviant Social Behavior” and remember the great times you had in late-night bull sessions, your first sexual conquest or finding your one true love, and drinking with your buddies until you passed out? (In the last case, probably not; after all, you did pass out.)
These are all good reasons, I’m sure, to remember those halcyon days with fond nostalgia and to forget what a nuisance it was to be paired with a freshman year room-mate whose politics, personal hygiene (or lack thereof), and choice of music you couldn’t stand, or to have to fly Mohawk Airlines into Ithaca, New York, in the dead of winter after spending all night sleeping on the floor of LaGuardia Airport because you got “bumped” from your student stand-by flight. But with college alumni fever at a seasonal high here at NCAA basketball tournament time, here are ten top reasons not to give to your college alma mater:
10. They don’t need the money as badly as you do.
As of 2012, sixty-nine colleges and universities, from Amherst to Yale, from Notre Dame to Yeshiva, had endowments of at least one billion dollars each. That’s one billion, with a “B.” Topping the list is Harvard with over $30 billion in the bank, but Yale, Stanford, and Princeton all exceeded $15 billion and every school in the Big Ten but Iowa makes the list – and that state makes up for it with tiny Grinnell College at roughly $1.4 billion. The combined total of all college endowments is probably not quite enough to pay off the national debt, but it’s a lot more than you will ever have in your 401(k).
9. The president of your college makes more money than you ever will.
Okay, not everybody goes to Yale, but former Yale President Rick Levin recently retired after twenty years with a salary that topped out at over $ 1.6 million. (In 2010 alone, according to Bloomberg Business Week, Levin received a 6.4% raise from 2009 to $1,627,649 following a year in which Yale’s endowment fell nearly 29%, from $22.87 to $16.33 billion, and many Americans got no raises at all.) That same year, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 36 private-college presidents received salaries of more than $1 million each.
8. College didn’t teach you anything really useful.
Unless you majored in accounting or engineering, your college major and most of the courses you took probably didn’t do anything for you that you couldn’t or didn’t do for yourself. Most of the world’s knowledge is not in the heads of professors and their graduate students but in the world’s great books: from Plato and Jane Austen to James Joyce and J. D. Salinger, the world’s great writers and thinkers are out there for all of us to discover and you don’t need a college professor to find them.
7. Faculty don’t really teach very much.
One reason you didn’t learn much from your college professors is that many of them actually teach very little. Most of the nation’s great universities have become research institutes and business incubators, living off government grants and private donations and turning the knowledge they gain into profitable technologies they then license or around which professors build private businesses. That’s all well and good in a larger sense, but it’s a heavily subsidized process unrelated to actual teaching. What teaching does go on is heavily handled by graduate assistants barely out of college themselves who are hoping that someday they, too, will lead the life of a professor, which is necessarily nicer than yours. In short, you don’t need college professors as much as they need you.
6. That’s because they’re too busy travelling – at someone else’s expense.
I’m all in favor of world travel for the simple reason that, scenery aside, meeting people from other lands and finding out they’re just like you makes it less likely that some day you’ll want to kill each other. But in perusing travel brochures that arrive in the mail I can’t help but notice that college alumni tours escorted by one (or two) faculty members always seem to cost more than comparable tours not sponsored by colleges. The reason: You pay for the faculty members’ trips.
5. You pay taxes that they don’t.
You also pay taxes that your college professors and administrators don’t. Sure, they pay taxes on their reportable income, along with sales and gasoline taxes and the like. But your college president probably lives rent-free in a nice house, if not a mansion, for the value of which she or he pays no taxes, and professors have lots of tax-free perks – like travel. And so long as they remain “not for profit” institutions (despite their enormous wealth), colleges themselves pay no taxes on the property that they increasingly pull off the property tax rolls in that land that surrounds them, leaving a larger tax burden for the rest of us.
4. You work twelve months per year; they work eight or nine.
If you’re lucky enough to have a full-time job in the private sector then you likely work year-round. Sure, you get some weekends and holidays off – and maybe even a few weeks’ vacation if you can find the time to take it – but college professors and administrators get the same weekends and holidays plus “winter break,” spring break, and summer vacation. Don’t even try to get in touch with a college professor between May and September; they’re too busy travelling, likely at someone else’s expense.
3. Sex week.
Harvard, Yale, Northwestern, the University of Chicago, and a few other schools – perhaps no longer including the University of Tennessee – now offer a week of programs devoted to how to have more, better, and/or kinkier sex by yourself or with others of whichever (trans)gender you may prefer. Oh, sure, this sounds like a great idea and you’re wishing they had offered it when you were in college instead of having to figure it out on your own. But do you really want your hard-earned dollars subsidizing porn stars and prostitutes showing college kids how to have kinky sex?
2. Health care coverage for sex-change surgery.
Along with sex week, an increasing number of colleges are providing full medical coverage for sex-reassignment surgery. (No, we’re not being homophobic, bigoted, or anti-LGBT here; one of our favorite causes is the Human Rights Campaign.) But college kids who aren’t mature enough to stop drinking beer when they’ve had enough ought not to be encouraged to make such life-changing decisions as changing their gender. (They should at least leave that to graduate school.)
1. And the Number One Reason Not to Donate to Your College Alma Mater: You are responsible for your own success.
Yes, our president may tell us we “didn’t build that” and the more erudite John Donne put it more poetically: “No man is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” But the real reason your school was good, or great, or even moderately mediocre is because YOU were there. Graduates of Harvard, Yale, and the University of Notre Dame don’t tend to lead more productive lives because they attended those schools (although the connections they made there didn’t hurt) but because those schools attracted people like you: bright, personable, hard-working, and highly motivated.
Come to think of it, helping to put all good people in touch with one another might be a good reason to give after all!
As of yet, disgraced scientist Peter Gleick has not appeared in public to receive the award the enviro-left would like to give him for his willingness to commit crimes in the service of destroying all who present real science.
Honestly, I find it amazing that some wacko leftist outfit hasn’t already re-jiggered a bowling trophy with Gleick’s name on it to laud him for ratting out apostates of the religion of climate alarmism. Pity. He’ll just have to settle for his creation of the Fakegate scandal as a legacy.
As for the “major award” for Gleick, word comes that the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards gave him and the Pacific Institute a “Lifetime Achievement” Water Conservation Award. By bestowing this “honor” on Gleick, the organization has sullied any good reputation it might have enjoyed. Peter Gleick’s actions are an affront to science, and a disgrace the Pacific Institute shares.
The Heartland Institute sent not just one letter to the board of directors of the Pacific Institute, but two. The letters asked the board to at least look into and respond the crimes to which Gleick admitted. To date, a little more than a year later, Heartland has received no response.
The first letter, sent on February 29, 2012, noted that the Pacific Institute had opened an investigation into what Gleick had done and asked for results. Heartland asked this:
The Heartland Institute’s staff, directors, donors, and other victims of Mr. Gleick’s crime look forward to reviewing the outcome of your investigation. Please confirm that you intend to make public the results of your investigation.
I hope that you and the firm you have hired will pay special attention to the documents I have enclosed:
- The emails Gleick exchanged with Heartland prior to committing his crime, in which he was respectfully invited to debate Heartland Senior Fellow James M. Taylor on the issue of climate change at Heartland’s anniversary benefit event in August. In these emails, Gleick is informed of Heartland’s policies regarding the confidentiality of its donors and why we adopted that policy. Gleick declined the invitation to debate.
- The emails Gleick used to steal documents intended to be read only by members of Heartland’s board of directors. Gleick falsely assumed the identity of a member of Heartland’s board on the same day (January 27) that he declined the invitation to debate climate change with Taylor.
- The forged memo Gleick included with the stolen documents and falsely represented, in his message accompanying the documents to 15 allies and journalists, to have come from The Heartland Institute. I have highlighted the forger’s own words, as opposed to text that was copied and pasted from the stolen documents, and included my own analysis of this fraudulent document.
- Gleick’s partial confession, in which he admits to having stolen the documents but claims that the memo, which he previously said came from The Heartland Institute, came “in the mail” from an anonymous source. He claims he stole documents because “a rational public debate is desperately needed,” a debate he had just declined to participate in. He offers his “personal apologies to all those affected,” presumably including people he knew his actions had put in harm’s way. He does not say or offer to do anything that would limit or undo the harm he caused.
I hope you will tell me, as you review these documents, if you recognize the author of the highlighted text of the forged memo, and if you believe Gleick received it from an anonymous source, and if you believe Gleick has shown any personal remorse for what he has done.
Finally, please pass along the following questions to the “independent” firm you hired to investigate Gleick:
- Did Gleick use Pacific Institute computers to establish the Gmail email account under the name of a Heartland board member?
- Did Gleick use Pacific Institute computers to establish the Gmail email account under the name of “email@example.com,” which he used to send the fake memo and the stolen documents to 15 media outlets?
- Does the investigative firm intend to examine whether Gleick is the author of the fake memo?
- Does the outside firm have access to all of the personal computers Gleick may have used to write and send the emails or to write the forged memo?
- Is the fake memo or any trace of it on Gleick’s personal computer(s)?
- Is the fake memo or any trace of it on the Pacific Institute’s computer system?
- Is there evidence (as a blogger says) that the fake memo was scanned into a PDF document on a scanner at the Pacific Institute?
- Does the Pacific Institute have possession of the hard copy of the fake memo or the envelope in which it was supposedly sent?
- What steps does the Pacific Institute plan to take to preserve these and other documents relevant to the investigation?
As noted above, The Heartland Institute has yet to receive any answer. Nor has the Pacific Institute revealed anything about its “independent” investigation — as opposed to The Heartland Institute, which has been open about everything from the start.
Heartland sent a second letter to the Pacific Institute on April 30, 2012, after the results of many truly independent investigations of what Gleick admitted to doing — and to which he has not credibly explained or admitted. That second letter asked:
Since that letter was sent, several new pieces of evidence pointing to Gleick as the author of the fake memo have emerged:
■ A computer analysis conducted by Juola & Associates, the premier provider of expert analysis and testimony in the field of text and authorship, concluded “it is more likely than not that Gleick is in fact the author/compiler of the document entitled ‘Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy,’ and further that the document does not represent a genuine strategy memo from the Heartland Institute.”
■ Anthony Watts, host of WattsUpWithThat, widely considered the world’s most popular and influential Web site on climate science, commented: “It seems very likely then, given the result of this analysis, plus the circumstances, proximity, motive, and opportunity, that Dr. Peter Gleick forged the document known as ‘Confidential Memo: 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy.’ The preponderance of the evidence points squarely to Gleick.”
■ A thorough forensic analysis of Heartland’s computers (and those owned by Heartland’s president and his spouse) by Protek International concludes “the Memo was not created on Heartland’s computer systems and never existed there, or within Heartland’s email systems, prior to its posting online on February 14, 2012.”
All three documents are enclosed, along with a background document about Fakegate that we are circulating widely.
Gleick has been widely condemned for his serious breach of ethics. For example, New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin wrote, “One way or the other, Gleick’s use of deception in pursuit of his cause after years of calling out climate deception has destroyed his credibility and harmed others.” Revkin went on to write, “The broader tragedy is that his decision to go to such extremes in his fight with Heartland has greatly set back any prospects of the country having the ‘rational public debate’ that he wrote – correctly – is so desperately needed.”
On February 27, 2012, in response to Gleick’s confession, the Pacific Institute announced the Board of Directors had agreed to Gleick’s “request for a temporary leave of absence” and installed Elena Schmidt as “acting executive director.” The institute also announced it had “hired an independent firm to review the allegations” because it was “deeply concerned” about Gleick’s unethical and possibly criminal conduct that has done great harm to The Heartland Institute.
Since that date, however, no member of the Pacific Institute’s board has even attempted to distance the Pacific Institute from Gleick’s behavior, and there has been no announcements regarding the results of the “review.”
Even more alarming, there has been no indication that Gleick’s “leave of absence” has interrupted his work for the Pacific Institute. On March 8, just 10 days after the institute accepted his “leave of absence,” Gleick delivered the opening plenary remarks at the California Water Policy conference in Los Angeles before an audience of 300 people. The conference Web site and media reports identified Gleick with his “president” title intact.
On April 16, Gleick took part in the International Water Security Conference in Oxford, England. Gleick was, again, part of a high-profile plenary panel and listed in the program as “President and Co-founder, Pacific Institute.” A news report by Reuters of the conference quoted Gleick extensively and identified him as a “leading water expert and head of the U.S.-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security.”
On April 24, Gleick spoke at the Oxford Amnesty Lecture – apparently part of a scheduled tour. The organizers of the lecture also identify him with his Pacific Institute affiliation and refused to cancel his speech after The Heartland Institute informed them of his theft and fraud.
Since February, Gleick and the Pacific Institute have been silent about every aspect of this matter, save a brief statement from each party. The Heartland Institute has spent countless hours and scarce financial resources publicly fighting to restore its reputation in the press, with the public, and with donors. It is long past time for the Pacific Institute to answer for its role in Peter Gleick’s scandal.
In light of the above facts, please respond to the following specific questions for the Pacific Institute:
1. Does the Pacific Institute think a punitive “temporary leave of absence” of just 10 days is sufficient in light of its board of directors being “deeply concerned” about Gleick’s actions?
2. If Gleick’s “temporary leave of absence” was over after 10 days, why has the Pacific Institute not publicly announced that Gleick was reinstated to his post as president?
3. If Gleick is still on a “temporary leave of absence,” does the Pacific Institute endorse his speaking tour under the organization’s name?
4. It has been two months since the Pacific Institute said it had hired an independent firm to investigate Gleick’s theft and fraud. When can The Heartland Institute and the public expect to see the results and an announcement of action by the Pacific Institute?
5. Does the independent investigation include examination of computers and other office equipment owned by the Pacific Institute?
The Heartland Institute requests prompt answers for the sake of the Pacific Institute’s reputation, and for our organization to better understand the nature of Gleick’s harmful acts of theft, fraud, and deceit.
Since no member of the Pacific Institute’s board replied to my previous letter, you can understand why this letter is being posted online at fakegate.org and blind copied to all of the Pacific Institute’s major donors.
All of these questions are yet unanswered by the Pacific Institute and Gleick himself. Until they are, anything the Pacific Institute or Gleick does should be discounted as the work of thieves, cowards and frauds.
One of the funniest writers in the land of zeros and ones is Jon Gabriel — known to his happy Twitter fans as ExJon. He blogs for FreedomWorks these days, and his take on today’s Earth Hour (8:30 to 9:30 in your time zone) is required reading.
Jon notes that the “gimmick” of Earth Hour “is designed to make people feel like they’re accomplishing something instead of actually accomplishing something.”
But what does Earth Hour actually accomplish? Higher carbon emissions, it turns out:
Consider the activists’ recommendation of replacing electric lights with candles for an hour. Candles are made from paraffin, i.e., refined crude oil, and are far less efficient than electric bulbs — even those dastardly incandescent light bulbs our government is so helpfully seizing from us. You would need about 40 candles to match the light produced by a 40-watt bulb, but just one candle cancels out any theoretical CO2 reduction.
Then there’s the effect of a mass off-switch/on-switch across an electrical grid. Power companies still pump the same amount of energy despite a brief dip in consumption. But when a large number of people simultaneously increase consumption at the end of Earth Hour, a surge often requires engineers to fire up additional coal- or oil-fueled resources.
And liberals claim that conservatives are anti-science.
What really chafes is the flamboyant hypocrisy of Earth Hour advocates. “Let’s turn off our lights, then upload millions of tweets, photos and videos using our smartphones and computers!” Because where’s the fun in saving the planet if you can’t use electricity to brag about it every three minutes?
The facts show that Earth Hour is just another exercise in progressive posturing and self-congratulation. If conspicuous non-consumption saved the planet, we’d be able to run our cars on self-righteousness and moral preening.
Read the whole thing.
Meanwhile, our friend Tom Harris over at the International Climate Science Coalition suggests celebrating “Energy Hour” one hour earlier. Tom quotes Terry Dunleavy’s great take on this silly exercise:
“It’s important not to waste energy, and to generate it as economically as possible in terms both of cost and depletion of natural resources. Those are the right reasons for mass gestures like Earth Hour. However, it is a mistake to promote such initiatives as ‘saving the planet’ by reducing emissions of CO2 when so many qualified scientists do not support the hypothesis that man-made CO2 can or does cause dangerous global warming. As the public come to realize that they have been misled about the reasons for Earth Hour, much of the incentive to engage in constructive behaviour will evaporate.”
Yes. That will happen. But enviro-lefties get to preen about “doing something” to “raise awareness.” That’s obviously more important.
Nine states have sent dossiers on students — including names, Social Security numbers, hobbies, addresses, test scores, attendance, career goals, and attitudes about school —to a public-private database, according to Reuters. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessment. Every state is also building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education has recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so that schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their kids’ information has been shared.
Promises of researchers’ and governments’ good intentions are not enough to justify this, especially when tax dollars are involved and government entities are helping invade students’ privacy without parents’ or even school officials’ knowledge.
Very few U.S. citizens want to see their government even slightly imitate that of China, which keeps dossiers on all citizens’ performance and attitudes. These records influence work, political, and school opportunities. Because “everything they do will be recorded for the rest of their life … the dossier discourages any ‘errant’ behavior,” says Chinese professor Ouyang Huhua. This is not to say big databases equal communist oppression. But we do things differently in the United States because we trust our citizenry and we believe in self-rule.
Any researcher or organization wanting to plumb data – perhaps to help kids learn more, faster – can do so without trampling individual rights. First, the historic and accepted practice with student records has been to keep them anonymous when shared outside of schools. Researchers and government accountability gurus don’t need to know that Sally Smith failed Algebra I, even if her parents and teachers do. Researchers do not need personally identifiable information such as names, Social Security numbers, and addresses. They just need to know, for example, whether lots of students are failing Algebra I. Schools and states should check these privacy firewalls.
Second, students and their guardians should have full access to their own records, with the ability to correct false information. They also should be informed of and able to opt out of all data-sharing involving their records. Schools need parent consent to give children so much as an aspirin. They should get consent to share a student’s psychological evaluations or test performances.
Third, agencies should be required to explain exactly how they will keep the sensitive information in their hands from being hacked or exposed. The more people and organizations have access, and the bigger a treasure trove these databases become, the more likely security breaches become. Hundreds of thousands of people were put at risk of identity theft in 2012 because of security breaches in government databases, including one affecting three-quarters of South Carolinians. And child identity theft is often not discovered until adulthood, which makes youngsters’ records even more attractive to thieves.
Because the U.S. Department of Education has unilaterally knocked down federal privacy protections, lawmakers need to rebuild that wall. Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, New York and Oregon are a few states considering such legislation. They should act swiftly, and so should others.
[First published in the Washington Examiner.]
Today’s the three year anniversary of the final House vote on Obamacare. It is one ugly toddler, and its first steps are turning out to be disastrous. But is it here to stay?
From the beginning, there were three ways to replace Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement. The first and best option was that you could replace it by winning an election – and it would have to be a definitive win, not just the White House but the Senate, too. Republicans utterly failed to do this. Second, you could count on the Supreme Court to gut its central support mechanism, the individual mandate.
Thanks to John Roberts, this also failed, but not utterly, since the surprise 7-2 decision allowed states the freedom to block the Medicaid expansion, a massive entitlement increase which made up the bulk of the coverage increase under the program. But after both of these failures, the general chorus in the media is that the right has to give up on repealing Obamacare altogether – that it should accept it and work to implement it. See the recent complaints from Nita Lowey and others about the lack of funding for implementation, who will certainly cite this as the reason for a clumsy launch of the online systems this fall.
They seem to have forgotten about the third path: the right can replace Obamacare if it fails. And thus far, it gives every indication of failing. It has contributed to growing premium costs. Its budget impacts have been revised only in a negative direction (indeed, the only positives have been from fewer states implementing the Medicaid expansion). It has already been stripped of one mathematically and actuarially unsound entitlement. Most Republican governors have no interest in helping implement a program they believe to be ill-thought from its inception, and even Democrats don’t want their fingerprints at the state level on exchanges and Medicaid expansions their systems can’t handle.
The tea leaves from the implementers are not optimistic at all. Consider the latest lines from Henry Chao at CMS: “Chao was frank about the stress and tension of the compressed time frame involved in setting up the exchanges. “We are under 200 days from open enrollment, and I’m pretty nervous,’’ he said. “I don’t know about you,” he added, to murmurs from the insurance industry audience. Members peppered Chao and Cohen with many questions about the format for the health care policies they will submit to HHS for approval so the plans can be marketed in the exchanges.
Chao said the main objective is to get the exchanges up and running and signing up the uninsured. “The time for debating about the size of text on the screen or the color or is it a world-class user experience, that’s what we used to talk about two years ago,” he said. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” You’ve had three years and billions of dollars to work with, and you’re talking about being fearful of a “third-world experience” in the exchanges?
Part of the problem is how much the Obama administration counted on the states to do the implementation job. Instead, you have 33 states where the administration must run the insurance exchanges in whole or in part. And this extends to Medicaid expansion as well: the primary motivation for the Arkansas compromise endorsed by HHS, for instance, was not just the coverage expansion – it was that Arkansas’ own health department staff, in a Democratic administration, said that they couldn’t handle the sheer bureaucratic lift of adding a quarter of a million people to a program already rife with problems.
Laughably, today Bloomberg’s editors came out today against the Arkansas approach to Medicaid reform – because they apparently believe: “Medicaid is efficient, delivering a high standard of care at rock-bottom cost.” The divide between the national conversation and those at the state level is absurd on this score, and it’s one reason why the amount of balking at “free money” surprised so many people who don’t spend much time working with legislators.
So implementation is going to get messy, and in ways that will impact people’s lives far more directly than the instability of the early days of Medicare Part D. We’re not just talking about getting you a drug, keep in mind – we’re talking about births, limbs, surgery, transplants, life and death. That’s one reason Democrats have already shown themselves willing to be far more critical post-2012. They think this is fine because the law appears secure. But it’s also still very unpopular, with Democratic support dropping substantially since the election. Removed from the conflict of electoral politics, Obamacare requires less ideological fealty, and pointing out its flaws becomes less an act of betrayal than an admission of the obvious.
The central problem here is that Obama promised too much, and Obamacare will deliver too little. The Repeal Coalition will continue to work to undermine it at every opportunity, and the nature of its passage means that there is no foreseeable avenue for the normal bipartisan fixes and tweaks to make a sweeping law work better. Instead, Republicans are likely to seize on every sad story as justification for dramatic changes – and in 2016, mount campaigns designed to replace the system in whole or in part with plenty of material to use in their cause. It’s very possible, perhaps even likely, that moderate Democrats will run in 2014 promising to “fix Obamacare” in one sense or another.
Democrats privately admit they’re worried about implementation, but they are counting on government largesse to insulate them. They figure once the funding for Medicaid expansion and exchange subsidies goes out the door in 2014, they’ll be just fine. Perhaps. But Americans dislike dramatic shifts in experience and disruption – one reason Obama promised, ridiculously, that if you like your plan and doctor you can keep them – and Obamacare is nothing if not disruptive.
Confidence that it will endure beyond 2016 in its current form requires believing that it will work, that it will become more popular, and that premium costs will not continue to rise. If that happens, it will endure. If not, within a few years, it will be reformed in part or replaced entirely.
[First published at RealClearPolitics.]
If this were about fairness, the law would demand every retailer obtain every customer’s name and address. Every retailer would then have to determine the sales tax for where each customer lives, collect that amount, and then send the money to the appropriate tax jurisdiction. Every retailer would have to submit to audits from every tax jurisdiction in the country. But the Marketplace Fairness Act does not require this of all retailers. It requires this only of online retailers.
Surely the bricks-and-mortar stores could install the computer systems necessary to determine what the sales tax is where every customer lives. Surely it would be no problem for cashiers to ask every customer’s address, verify it, and enter that information into the computer system, which would determine the correct sales tax. Surely the bricks-and-mortar stores would have no problem using their computers to track this information and send the proper payments to the appropriate taxing jurisdiction for each customer. Surely they would have no problem submitting themselves to audits from tax jurisdictions across the country.
Surely fairness demands this. Surely bricks-and-mortars retailers would have no problem with true marketplace fairness.
In recent weeks, Illinois legislators have considered several major pension reform proposals. Several pieces of legislation were considered by legislators that attempted to take some positive steps towards controlling costs and increasing worker contributions, but many of them came woefully short of the comprehensive reform that is needed to ensure the long term solvency of the plan.
Nekritz-Biss Bill Fails in Senate
The piece most seriously considered recently was Senate Bill 35, sponsored by Reps. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Dan Biss (D-Evanston). This bill, which failed in the Senate 23-30, would have increased the amount teachers, university workers, state employees and lawmakers paid toward their retirement accounts, limit cost of living increases while placing a cap on the size of pensionable salaries.
In a January 10 Heartlander article, I examined several of the pension proposals being considered, including the Nekritz-Biss bill:
“Their bill would have frozen cost-of-living increases for all state workers and retirees. After the freeze ended, cost-of-living increases would have applied only to the first $25,000 of pensions. Adjustments for inflation would not have been awarded until a worker reached the age of 67. Most government workers in the state retire much before reaching 67 years old and receive annual pension increases right away.
The Nekritz-Biss bill would have gradually increased the amount employees would have contributed to their pensions, increasing by 1 percentage point the first year and 1 percentage point the second year. The proposal also would have placed a cap on the size of the pensionable salary with two standards: a worker’s current salary or a level based on a Social Security wage base, whichever is higher.”
An Alternative Proposal Attacks the Problems
The Nekritz-Biss bill is not the only pension reform bill receiving attention. Today the House will be holding a hearing on House Bill 3303, sponsored by Representatives Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) and Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton). Based on a model from the Illinois Policy Institute, this proposal would cut the states’ unfunded pension debt in half, move new hires into a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan while protecting already-earned benefits for government workers.
Under a defined-contribution plan, employers pay a fixed amount during the course of a worker’s career, this amount is then deposited into a personal account which the workers controls and manages, This allows the worker greater control over their retirement and the ability to customize it to their own needs. These plans not only give worker’s more control over their own money, but give more budget certainty to taxpayers.
Scott Reeder of the Illinois Policy Institute outlined in a Daily-Journal article several key points in the proposal:
Reduces the fiscal year 2014 unfunded liability by $46 billion, a 46 percent reduction. This brings the unfunded liability down from $101 billion to $55 billion.
Reduces fiscal year 2014 state contributions to $4.7 billion, a nearly 30 percent drop from $6.7 billion under current law.
Protects constitutionally guaranteed benefits already earned by retirees and current workers.
Empowers current workers to control their retirement savings going forward with 401(k)-style plans modeled after the existing State Universities Retirement System’s 401(a) plan.
Reduces the state’s annual pension contribution by more than $2 billion in the first year and eliminates the state’s unfunded liability by 2045. Ends the repayment ramp and instead moves to level annual payments.
Freezes cost-of-living adjustments until retirement systems return to healthy funding levels.
Aligns the retirement age with Social Security’s retirement age while still protecting workers who are nearing retirement under current law.
Promotes accountability and fiscal responsibility by requiring local governments to pay the employer share of their employees’ retirement savings plans.
Makes government workers’ retirement savings plans portable, giving workers more flexibility and freedom to move their plan from job to job.
In a statement on his proposal, Morrison argues that in order to maintain pension benefits in the long run, workers need additional control over their retirement funds.
“This bill reforms pensions in a constitutional way,” commented Morrison. “It protects the pension benefits workers have earned to date. The pension formula will simply apply to their current service and their current salary. They will receive a basic pension as if they had left government employment today. But in order to fully protect those benefits, we have to change how future benefits are earned. And while we’re making those changes, let’s do it in a way that empowers workers with real control, rather than keeping the power in the hands of this legislative body.”
Any efforts to reform Illinois’ pension system is made more difficult by the states’ constitution: Illinois’ constitution prohibits fundamental reform of pensions for existing public-sector employees. It is likely that any pension reform bill that makes it through the General Assembly will be challenged in court.
The legislature’s inability to reach agreement on any form of pension reform is troubling. Without an overhaul of the current, unsustainable pension system, Illinois taxpayers will continue to be burdened by substantially higher taxes to bail out the state for its imprudent policies. If state workers and union representatives cannot accept sensible changes to the pension system, more state workers will be laid off, taxes will increase, and the state’s economy will decline even further.
The Morrison-Ives proposal takes many of these steps that the state needs to manage its’ pension obligations while managing costs. Illinois legislators should give the bill serious consideration.
The mainstream media are reporting in breathless fashion about a new paper claiming current temperatures are their warmest in 4,000 years. Already, however, objective scientists are reporting serious flaws in the paper. The media may wish to paint a picture of runaway global warming, but the science tells a completely different story.
Recently graduated Ph.D. student Shaun Marcott has published a paper claiming he compiled a proxy temperature reconstruction indicating current temperatures are their warmest in at least 4,000 years. Proxy temperature reconstructions require careful scrutiny because the proxies are not direct temperature measurements, but represent other data and factors that may or may not have a close correlation with past temperatures.
Some proxies are better than others. Also, an agenda-driven researcher can easily cherry-pick certain anomalous proxies that support a predetermined conclusion while ignoring a much larger set of proxies that tell a different story.
Perhaps the most notorious of agenda-driven proxy reconstructions was published by global warming alarmist Michael Mann. As a young, relatively unknown recent Ph.D. graduate, Mann attained wealth, fame and adulation among global warming alarmists after assembling a proxy temperature reconstruction that he claimed showed global temperatures underwent a steady, roughly 1,000-year decline followed by a sharp rise during the 20th century. The media reported on the Mann hockey stick reconstruction as if it settled the global warming debate, but objective scientists pointed out several crucial flaws that invalidated Mann’s claims. Eventually, Congress commissioned distinguished statistician Edward Wegman to review and report on Mann’s methods and conclusions. After assembling a blue ribbon panel of experts to study Mann’s temperature reconstruction, Wegman reported the criticisms of Mann’s reconstruction were “valid and compelling.”
The Marcott proxy reconstruction shares much in common with the Mann hockey stick. Marcott is a young, recently graduated Ph.D. student whose asserted temperature reconstruction has launched him out of obscurity into media fame. As was the case with Mann’s hockey stick, objective scientists quickly pointed out serious flaws in the Marcott reconstruction. Also similar to the Mann hockey stick, the media is ignoring the devastating critiques of the Marcott reconstruction and misleading the public into believing that we finally have a study showing essentially the same thing that Mann claimed before his hockey stick was discredited.
Although objective scientists have had little time so far to dig into the meat of Marcott’s data, methods and conclusions, their initial observations are devastating. Don Easterbrook, geology professor emeritus at Western Washington University, has published two papers available here and here summarizing and documenting many of the already discovered flaws in Marcott’s reconstruction. Easterbrook reports that at least one more such paper is on the way, as he and other objective scientists find more and more flaws and areas of concern in Marcott’s reconstruction as they continue to analyze it.
Easterbrook points out that 80 percent of the data used by Marcott reflect oceanic data, not atmospheric temperatures. “Thus, they may reflect temperature changes from ocean upwelling, changes in ocean currents, or any one of a number of ocean variations not related to atmospheric climates,” Easterbrook writes. Given the opportunities for cherry-picking anomalous data to support a predetermined conclusion (such as objective scientists found regarding the Mann hockey stick), Marcott’s heavy dependence on oceanic rather than atmospheric proxies “in itself means that the Marcott et al. temperatures are not a reliable measure of changing atmospheric climate,” Easterbrook reports.
Easterbrook also notes that Marcott recycled Mann’s proxies to help compile the small portion of Marcott’s land-based proxies. Discredited proxies by any other name are still discredited proxies. Perhaps most damaging, Easterbrook observes that many other published studies and data, including analysis of extremely reliable Greenland ice core data, completely contradict Marcott’s asserted proxy data.
When many temperature studies, including studies presented by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicate current global temperatures are cooler than the vast majority of the past 4,000 years, and then an outlier study with quickly identified serious flaws claims exactly the opposite, one would think the media would make note of the discrepancies. Unfortunately, the media has demonstrated little interest in doing so. There are several reasons for this.
First, the news media is prone to overhype the news events of the day. Hype sells newspapers and attracts viewers. This is the case for all news topics and certainly applies to global warming.
Second, fear captivates people. This is one of the reasons why television and print news contains so much bad news and so little good news. A single breathless report of impending global warming doom is going to rope in more viewers and readers than a whole collection of reports explaining that current temperatures are actually quite cool in historical perspective.
Third, it is no secret that the media drifts left on many issues, and drifts left on environmental issues in particular.
Combine these three factors and you have a textbook recipe for yellow journalism; a perfect storm representing all the reasons why people no longer trust the mainsteam media to be fair, balanced and accurate.
The scientific record shows quite clearly that current temperatures are significantly cooler than the 4,000-year average, yet the media uses a seriously flawed study to claim the opposite. Global warming alarmists put their trust in the media, while global warming realists put their trust in the science.
[First published at Forbes.]
In addition to my interesting conversation with EPA Advisor Bob Sussman which was covered in a separate post here, there were a number of other interesting findings that emanated from various meetings with federal government personnel. Among them were the following:
- Most federal agency representatives and Congressional staff personnel did not foresee any significant issues with fracking regulations that would impair the continued boom in oil and gas production from plays like the Eagle Ford, Bakken and Permian Basin formations.
- Regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, all government officials we spoke with, even Democrats, believed that it would be difficult for the president to turn down the latest initiative to move forward with the construction of the pipeline given the latest favorable EIS from the State Department. The fact that Canada will pursue expansion of oil sands production regardless of the administration’s decision on Keystone XL, appears to undermine the environmentalists’ argument. At the same time, some officials recognized that an agreement to move forward could come at a cost to his support from the green lobby. With that thought in mind, some government spokespeople believed that this might cause the president to make a bolder pledge to advance on the climate change regulation front.
- In reference to such a pledge to double down on efforts to effect climate change regulations, some government representatives believe that the president will be looking for legal maneuvers that will allow him to bypass Congress and the Senate should legislators fail to honor his request. Some believe that the president could find language within the Clean Air Act that would, at least in his view, justify his unilateral action on the issue.
- Coincidentally, two new appointees were named to key federal agencies the day the D.C. conference began. Ernest Moniz was named as Department of Energy Secretary while Gina McCarthy was named as the president’s appointee for the vacated top EPA position. The early read on Mr. Moniz is that while he may be more supportive of an “all of the above” strategy for pursuing a national energy policy, he appears to be a staunch believer in AGW. Likewise, Ms. McCarthy appears, based on past testimony during her work with the EPA, to be cut from the same cloth as other alarmist ideologues.
- On a final note, a different issue that just came to the fore in energy industry circles has to do with the needed purchase of blending credits by many domestic refiners. Because the EPA set the 2013 quota for ethanol blending last year at levels that now require blending beyond the 10% “blendwall” (beyond which refiners do not want to accept the risk for engine damage from ethanol blending), refiners may be required to make up the difference by purchasing credits (or RINs – renewable identification numbers). The perverse ramifications of this EPA requirement are that: 1)domestic refiners will be incentivized to export more gasoline and oil products, 2) there will be a disincentive for exporting gasoline to the U.S. given the added cost of the RINs and 3) domestic refiners will be otherwise likely to pass along the cost of RINs to consumers. Estimates are that gasoline could cost $.05/gallon or more in coming months as a result of the issue, notwithstanding other secondary effects mentioned above.