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Thursday
May292014

Black Veteran Speaks Out on VA Scandal

As the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to fester, Project 21 member Kevin Martin, a Navy veteran, weighs in on the lack of decisive action on the part of the Obama Administration:

There are plenty of veterans such as myself who have seen President Obama’s public reaction to the growing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal as both political theater and a desperate attempt by this commander-in-chief to cover his posterior.

First of all, it took the President a few weeks to really seem to take a close look into this scandal.  While he says he wants people to believe this is something he just found out about through the press, the truth if the matter is that the Bush Administration warned him about problems at the VA when he was in transition and after he campaigned before that on fixing problems there.  

Obama chose to campaign on the narrative of fixing the infrastructure of things such as VA hospitals.  He did not, however, campaign on cutting the massive red tape that is sharing the blame for the reported deaths of more than two dozen veterans over the last six years that are allegedly related to VA neglect.

As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote in Politico: “If six years into his presidency he has yet to fix the VA he promised to fix before he took office, that’s either an indictment of his presidency or the liberal vision of government or both.”

I don’t put much faith in Obama move of dispatching his deputy chief of staff to try to get to the bottom of the VA’s troubles.  It seems pretty clear that nothing was done to fix the problems that existed at the time he took office.  Nor will these troubles likely end with the Obama Administration.

Several presidencies and Congresses, under the control of both political parties over the decades, have mismanaged the plight of veterans seeking their promised medical benefits.  And they seem to have failed to understand that those problems are inherent in a government-controlled, socialistic health care scheme.
We veterans are also intelligent enough to realize the uncovered incompetence is not limited to just a few hospitals.  The suspect in the tragic Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C. last year is an example of that.  He visited VA facilities for care, but he was never diagnosed properly and was told to follow-up on his VA treatments with his primary-care doctor.

We should be asking how the federal government can be expected to oversee the health care of 330 million Americans when it cannot even provide the same — or less — for nine million military veterans.  Our nation’s veterans often face massive wait times, with some apparently dying while awaiting what can be simple procedures.

It’s particularly upsetting to hear that returning veterans who heroically served our nation and fought the Global War on Terror are now reportedly receiving substandard care while terrorist suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay are allegedly being provided with better care by comparison.

To add insult to injury, there are elected officials on Capitol Hill seeking to delay new laws meant to hold VA officials accountable for the current state of affairs or help prevent future problems.  It is a slap in the face to veterans and their families for our government to provide bonuses to some of the same officials who allegedly cooked the books and kicked veterans’ concerns under the table as they misled lawmakers and public into believing they were providing promised benefits to those who served.

The time for political double-speak from the government has long since passed.  It’s time to hold the VA accountable for its dismal record.

Thursday
May292014

National Center's Hogberg Suggests Elites Might Benefit Most from ObamaCare 

Even though ObamaCare is still in relative infancy, it already seems to be at a tipping point.  A time can be seen where government subsidies cannot sustain demands for coverage.  Furthermore, the “truly sick… don’t have much in the way of political clout” to complain, and the liberal politicians bent on sustaining (and possibly expanding) the government’s takeover of American health care are largely entrenched in safe districts and “can weather the storm” of constituent outrage.

On the 5/28/14 edition of “Wilkow” on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze network, National Center for Public Policy Research policy analyst Dr. David Hogberg noted the nature of the government’s new health care scheme might ultimately benefit the elites more in the end as those beholden to the government for their coverage will be forced into longer waits for treatment with little recourse.  David also explained that an overwhelmed system with dwindling government subsidy will likely force providers to “prioritize patients with private insurance.”

When host Andrew Wilkow suggested this is a slippery slope to potentially impose a more all-encompassing single-payer system, David explained the inevitable rationing and delays that would come with this increase in government control “wouldn’t work our so well for the sick.”

Wednesday
May282014

VA Scandal Not An Reason For Privatization But Is An Excuse For More Spending

Reading over defenses of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has me wondering if there is ever any reason in the mind of a liberal to turn a government program over to the private sector?  In this particular case dozens of veterans died, so maybe that calls for some drastic changes.  Not according to Suzanne Gordon:
It is of course unacceptable if patients suffered as a result of any delays. But regardless of what went wrong at any VA facility, turning veterans over to private sector insurers and for-profit hospitals is not the solution.
It seems that privatization would be exactly the answer to reduce waiting times for treatment.  After all, how often do you hear about people who have private insurance and go to private hospitals waiting months for treatment?  
 
Reading further, I also must wonder is there is ever a crisis in government that, in the liberal mind, doesn’t call out for more funding?
If some waited too long to be seen, maybe it’s time for Congress and the White House to figure out how to free up funds to care for veterans who are living longer with more complex conditions.

But is the VA really underfunded? Let’s look at some of the evidence. 

Back in 2000, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the taxpayers spent just over $47 billion on the VA.  By 2012 taxpayers spent over $124 billion.  That’s an increase, after inflation, of 98 percent.  (To check my math, download Table 4.1 here.  Inflation calculator here.)

That, however, is spending for the entire Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs and not the Veterans Health Administration, where the problem is.  To get a better look at that, go here and download the file for “Average Expenditures Per Patient by Healthcare Priority Group:  FY2000 to FY2012.”  The VA groups puts patients into priority groups for treatment based on their health status.  An explanation of the groups can be found here.  Below is a table of the real change in spending per capita on groups one to seven from 2000 to 2012.

While that paints something of a mixed picture, it tends to show more spending increases than decreases.  The bottom line is that it’s not data that support a “Congress doesn’t spend enough” explanation of the scandal. 

One final point:  Note these two phrases Gordon uses: “If some waited too long to be seen” and “It is of course unacceptable if patients suffered as a result of any delays.”  If?

Tuesday
May272014

Commencement Controversies Ignore Holder’s Harangue

It’s graduation time, and that means controversy over college commencement speakers.

On the right as well as the left, political protests led to the cancellations of speakers.  For example, Bush Administration secretary of state Condoleezza Rice bowed out of giving the commencement address at Rutgers University because of anger on campus over her participation in the Global War on Terrorism.  At Haverford College, former University of California at Berkeley chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau pulled out because Occupy Wall Street sympathizers made a stink about treatment of radicals at that very liberal campus.

Someone who hasn’t raised eyebrows despite his actual questionable performance as a commencement speaker is Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder.  At Morgan State University earlier this month, Holder used the honor of addressing the graduates of this historically-black university to announce that a better America is being withheld from minorities because there are remaining vestiges of institutional racism that have yet to be defeated.

It was an odd admission by Holder of his own failure on a day that should have been focused on success.

Mentioning the recent media frenzy over unfortunate statements about race made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Holder warned that obsessing on the spectacular causes people to overlook the bigger problem — that people are now “likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.”

Holder implied there is a “more subtle” racism that remains part of American society that “cut[s] deeper” and “endures long after the headlines have faded…”

Can’t see this racism?  Holder obviously has a gift for seeing it — it’s a talent he seems to share with other members of the liberal elite.  “But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statue,” he said.  “And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obnoxious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”

Horace Cooper, the co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, takes issue with Holder’s apparent quickness to find a racist boogeyman under the bed who can be blamed as the source of so many of America’s problems.

Horace — a former staffer to congressional leadership, high-ranking federal official and constitutional law professor — notes that times are tough and things are particularly hard for black Americans.  But Horace says that Attorney General Holder and the rest of the Obama Administration, as well as their supporters elsewhere, have a lot to answer for when it comes to the source of this black misery.

In an upcoming New Visions Commentary from Project 21 that is set for early June publication, Horace notes:

Exactly what struggle was Holder referring to?  This presidency has certainly served up its own heaping portion of pain for at-risk Americans.  Tragically, they’ve harmed many of the very groups they claim to protect.
 Under this administration, which is the most progressive in American history, blacks have lost ground.  In the last five years, blacks have faced higher unemployment, a greater loss in household net worth and sizable increases of other indices measuring poverty in the black community.

But let’s be clear: this is not due to racism or because of discrimination.  It is due to the poor stewardship of the nation’s economy by the very White House that claims to have minority interests at heart.

Black America, like the nation as a whole, has suffered greatly in the last five years precisely because of ambitious policies pursued by the Obama Administration that have not worked.  In fact, these policies have made things worse.

Obama can be credited with creating more Americans unable or unwilling to grab a rung on the ladder of opportunity.  This is seen in historically low workforce participation rates, augmented disability rolls, stagnant home values and falling household incomes.

It is this signature failing that is likely the primary reason why fewer black Americans voted for the President’s 2012 re-election.

Putting a historical perspective on modern events, Horace adds:

President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “the only thing we have to fear… is fear itself.”  This White House has refashioned the saying.  At the Obama White House, all that’s offered is fear itself.

Racism and discrimination are no longer primary influences over the lives of blacks and other minorities, or anyone else.  The stale policies of expanded government and heavy-handed regulation — the primary policy achievements of this White House — are far more consequential.

top photo credit: iStockPhoto

Tuesday
May272014

Politix: Consumer Groups Fight Back Against Junk Science Tactics 

In a piece in today’s Politix, I write about some push-back against the junk science activists.

With increasing frequency, activist groups are trying to remove safe and useful products from the market. Why? Because they think they can fool consumers, retailers and legislators into thinking that the extensively-reviewed chemicals in everyday products are unsafe.

Remember when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement act banned ATVs and sport bikes designed for youth because of lead in the engines? The rationale, if one could call it that, was that lead in the batteries presented a risk to children, since children are known to mouth their toys.

Laws and regulations that attempt to set product formulation guidelines through sensationalized headlines, rather than the detailed scientific reviews currently used by regulatory bodies, are bound to lead to absurd outcomes.

Finally, consumer groups and scientists are fighting back with the facts, pointing to the science behind what goes into consumer products. 

Read the full piece here, and be sure to engage in the comments section. That’s what Politix is known for: making your voice heard as well.

Saturday
May242014

New York's Union College: Tuition $60,000 a Year, Uses Comedy Show as Science Source

97PercentScientistsClimateCook2013W

In the last few weeks I've had an op-ed in about three dozen newspapers across the country on the theme "top ten reasons why Congress should ignore advice to pass major legislation to combat climate change."

It contains this paragraph:

Claims that 98 percent of scientists endorse the global warming theory are propaganda. To get to 98 percent, activists include every scientist who believes the Earth has warmed even a little, and that humans have paid even a small part, but activists use the 98 percent figure as if it represents only scientists who believe warming is catastrophically dangerous and overwhelmingly human-caused. Since even “skeptic” scientists believe the Earth has warmed somewhat since the 1800s, when the Little Ice Age ended, and almost everyone believes humans have played at least a small role in warming by building cities and using energy, that means skeptic scientists are included in the 98 percent figure, which then is used as “evidence” that skeptic scientists are wrong.

After the article ran in the Schenectady Daily Gazette, Dr. Jeffrey D. Corbin, an associate professor of Biological Sciences at Schenectady's Union College, wrote a letter to the editor in rebuttal containing the following:

I suspect The Gazette patted itself on the back when it decided to "debate" whether there is evidence enough to act on climate change by publishing Ms. Ridenour's piece with a companion article by professor Michael Kraft.

However, to "debate" this reality with one writer on each side does not give your readers the proper context of where the balance of scientific opinion lies.

JohnOliverLastWeekTonightW

Since John Oliver staged a "statistically representative" climate debate on his HBO show -- in which three climate deniers had the opportunity to challenge 97 scientists who acknowledge reality -- we should expect the same numerical accuracy on the pages of our newspapers, as well.

In the future, if you publish a, say, 400-word discussion of climate-change facts, you should limit the opposing viewpoint to 12 words. Only then will you present climate change in a way that accurately represents the balance of scientific opinion.

While it is entirely likely that many people do not know the false basis of the claim that 97/98 percent of scientists believe in the catastrophic global warming theory, Dr. Corbin cannot credibly claim ignorance here, because:

  • My article, which he must have read, explained the basis of the study upon which this claim is made, and the facts that I relayed them are not in dispute (nor did Dr. Corbin attempt to dispute them);

  • Dr. Corbin is a scientist, and good scientists never state facts without qualification unless they have been proven to be facts -- part of the scientific method involves always keeping straight what has been proven and what is merely alleged or theorized;

  • Dr. Corbin works at an institution of higher learning that charges $60,000 per year (exclusive of additional funding from taxpayers and gifts) for students to learn, and it is incumbent upon him and others in his position not to speak publicly on issues in which they are perceived to be experts if they have not first familiarized themselves with the material.

Anyone following the public debate on climate change at all closely will already know how the climate-change-is-a-looming-disaster propagandists twisted data in a throughly dishonest way to mislead people into believing that nearly all scientists disagree with the so-called global warming "skeptics." Dr. Corbin, as an expert in ecology and "global change," should already have known this, but if he somehow didn't, my piece, which he must have read, since he wrote to complain about it, would have clued him in.

Yet he used the false argument anyway (citing a comedy show, no less).

What does this tell us about the weaknesses of the arguments available to those who claim we need to spend many billions of dollars, kill jobs and raise energy prices to combat human-caused catastrophic global warming/climate change?

That they must be pretty darn weak, if this is the best the professor could do.

It also tells us Union College, at $60,000 per year, may be very overpriced. John Oliver is funny, but he's no source for science facts.

Additional notes: 1) The discrepancy between "98 percent" of scientists in my op-ed and "97 percent" of scientists in John Oliver's HBO show and Dr. Corbin's letter is due entirely to my error. The correct number as determined in the study we're all speaking of (Cook, et. al., 2013) is 97 percent. 2) Dr. Corbin also made the claim in his letter that, "every year since 2000 has been hotter than the average global temperature of the 1990s" and thus "we are warming, no matter what Ms. Ridenour wishes to believe." I will address this only briefly for those who do not have time to think through the obvious weakness in logic. The Earth stopped statistically significant warming in the late 1990s (exact year depends on the dataset used) and temperature has remained essentially stable. The Earth did warm throughout most of the 1990s. Therefore, the decade+ following the 1990s will logically be warmer than the average of the 1990s because the early years of the 1990s, in general, were cooler than its later years and, since temperatures have remained stable since, the years following. This is not, as Dr. Corbin claims, a proof that we have warmed since 2000. It is an illustration of basic math (the average of some cooler and hotter temperatures is lower than the value of just the hotter temperatures) and entirely consistent with the observed "pause" in global warming since the Clinton Administration. 3) I provided a link to my op-ed as it appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel instead of the Schenectady Daily Gazette because I can find no evidence that the Daily Gazette published it online, however, the op-ed (whose title was not written by me) was identical when submitted to each of the newspapers.

Saturday
May242014

Why a Leading Climatologist Changed Her Mind About Climate Change

GeorgiaTechLogoWInterested in the global warming/climate change/climate disruption debate, even slightly?

If so, I recommend this short, very readable and informative interview of Dr. Judith Curry, climatologist and chairman of Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, by Tony Thomas for Australia's Quadrant Magazine.

The interview begins:

TONY THOMAS: If the skeptic/orthodox spectrum is a range from 1 (intense skeptic) to 10 (intensely IPCC orthodox), where on the scale would you put yourself

(a) as at 2009

(b) as at 2014,

and why has there been a shift (if any)?

JUDITH CURRY: In early 2009, I would have rated myself as 7; at this point I would rate myself as a 3...

Read on find out why.

Hat tip: Climate Depot.

Friday
May232014

Stopping The ObamaCare Enrollment Report Makes Perfect Sense--Politically

When it came out that the Dept. of Health and Human Services was, for at least the time being, discontinuing the monthly exchange enrollment reports, Cato’s Michael Cannon said “HHS Has Lost Their Minds.”

There is a case to be made for that.  As Cannon notes:

[Charles] Gaba offers several reasons why HHS should keep issuing (at least) monthly enrollment figures. Even though the “open enrollment” period for the Exchanges has closed, Native Americans and those with “qualifying life events” can enroll at any time. Medicaid and SHOP Exchange enrollment are also year-round. People can also dis-enroll throughout the year for all sorts of reasons.

But from a political perspective, it makes a lot of sense.  Assuming that the higher ups in the Obama Administration approved this move by HHS (a pretty safe assumption), it is a move that benefits the Democrats in the November election.  Without more enrollment reports, it will be much harder to challenge the “8 million people enrolled in the exchanges” talking point.  

Preserving that talking point may seem like a desperate move, but Obama and the Democrats don’t have much else.  All the reporting on rate shock and deductible shock has torpedoed any claim that costs on the exchange are better.  Coverage on “skinny networks” has deprived ObamaCare supporters of the argument that the quality of exchange plans are better.  The enrollment number is all they’ve got left.

And even that might not work.  Every time Democrats bring up the 8 million figure in the fall, the media might point out that we don’t know the actual number since HHS discontinued the reports.  On the other hand, the Obama Administration is probably gambling that the press won’t push that line too much, and history suggests the odds on that are good.

Discontinuing the reports is deceptive and unethical.  Unfortunately, it may also be good politics. 

Thursday
May222014

A Study In Contrasts

If Mexico had the same policies as the U.S., U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi wouldn't just have been released from prison, but given a path toward Mexican citizenship.
Thursday
May222014

'Covert Rationing' Is A Feature Of Single-Payer Health Care

About a week ago Elizabeth Price Foley wrote a very nice piece entitled “VA Scandals Raise The Specter Of Healthcare Rationing” at the Daily Caller.  However, this one paragraph caught my eye:

Rationing care can take many forms. It can be overt, like the Canadian or British health care systems, which have unambiguous, publicly-announced waiting times and coverage denials for certain procedures. Or rationing can be more subtle, with little or no public participation. This latter, covert form of rationing is what the VA has adopted.

In recent years, though, Great Britain’s NHS has engaged in plenty of covert rationing in addition to the overt kind.  (I suspect Foley knows this and was merely making a distinction and not implying officials in Britain’s NHS don’t try to hide its rationing when they can.)

As the below stories show, NHS administrators seem to live in a culture of hiding information that reflects poorly on them—British hospitals even hide data on patient dissatisfaction with the food.

So, why do the people who run hospitals in the NHS hide data on waiting lists and the like?  For starters, their patients aren’t their customers.  In other markets, if a business inconveniences their customers too much, the customers take their money elsewhere.  The business eventually shapes up or goes under.  With the NHS, the funding comes from government and it keeps coming, regardless of how poorly patients are treated. 

There might be some consequences if the politicians see ever-increasing waiting times.  However, politicians are not likely to interview actual patients but will instead rely on data in government reports.  If you fudge the data the politicians see, then politicians may think the NHS is doing better than it is, and as a NHS administrator you are off the hook—heck, you might even be in line for a promotion.

Unless, of course, someone blows the whistle and the press gets a hold of it.  In that case a few heads can roll.  But notice that in the previous paragraph I wrote there “might” be consequences.  Read this story about the 1,200 deaths due to incompetence at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust.  At the time, “Not a single official [had] been disciplined.”

With that said, below are excerpts from stories about “covert rationing” in the NHS.  And keep in mind these came on the heals of a government crackdown on “hidden waiting times” back in 2011.

-Daily Mail, April 28, 2014:

Errors in hospital waiting list times have undermined public confidence in the data, claims a public spending watchdog. 

The Public Accounts Committee called for independent audits in future after spot checks found one in four hospitals recording false waiting list times.”

 

-BBC, February 12, 2014:

Colchester Hospital chief ‘to get grip’ after cancer scandal.

The interim head of a hospital says she will focus on getting a “grip” on its problems after staff said they were bullied into falsifying patient data.

police inquiry began at Colchester Hospital after a health watchdog found “inaccuracies” with waiting time data relating to cancer treatment.

Seven whistle-blowing investigations are currently under way at the hospital, the the BBC has learned.

 

-BBC, January 23, 2014:

NHS waiting time data for elective surgery ‘unreliable’.

Patients in England cannot rely on information on waiting times for non-emergency operations, such as knee and hip replacements, a watchdog says.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found wrong and inconsistent recording after reviewing 650 cases in seven trusts.

The watchdog said it was unable to discern whether this was deliberate, but overall the practices concealed delays rather than over-recorded waits.


-Telegraph, February 21, 2013:

Audit Scotland found the proportion of patients marked as “socially unavailable” to attend appointments had risen from 11 per cent to more than 30 per cent as ministers imposed more stringent deadlines….

While official figures showed only three per cent of in-patients were waiting longer than the target nine weeks in June 2011, auditors found that the real figure was 23 per cent when periods of ‘unavailability’ were included.

Audit Scotland could not state definitively that boards had deliberately fiddled the system to meet their targets because there are few records stating why patients were deemed to be unavailable.

Tuesday
May202014

In Single-Payer Health Care, Quality Is NOT Job 1

A few weeks ago, I came across this blog post at KevinMD about one physician’s experience working in Sweden’s single-payer system:
There was, in my view, a culture of giving less than you were able to, a lack of urgency, and a patient-unfriendly set of barriers. One example: Most clinics took phone calls only for an hour or two in the morning. After that, there was no patient access; no additions were made to providers’ schedules, even if some patients didn’t keep their appointments, not that there was a way to call and make a same-day cancellation.
That jogged my memory and after some searching I found this diary by Patricia Balsom who was dying of cancer while under the “care” of Britain’s National Health Service.  Here are a few excerpts:

Left leg started to swell around 7.45pm. Called the out-of-hours doctor service. Two hours later we called again. The girl on the phone said she thought we just wanted advice, as this was a line for seriously ill patients. We told her I was terminally ill. She asked if we needed a doctor, and we asked her if she was medically qualified. She said she was not. 
That was not her only “phone” difficulty:
We called at 9am about my blood tests. A district nurse came and took blood at 10.45am. She insisted that Mick took the blood sample to Hillingdon Hospital because she “didn’t have time” to take it herself. (What if I was alone and we didn’t have a car?) She told me the hospital would contact me in the afternoon with the results. Didn’t explain what I was supposed to do with them. Waited all afternoon and evening, and no call came.
How well an entity fields phone calls is a pretty basic standard of quality.  Businesses that answer calls promptly or return them in a timely fashion usually get good marks from customers.  It appears that single-payer systems fail even that basic test.
And here are some of Mrs. Balsom’s final thoughts on the NHS:
I feel Hillingdon Hospital are making whatever time I have left so much more stressful than it need be. They are cheating me out of quality time with people I care about….I don’t feel as if anyone in the NHS is really in charge of my case. 
Read it all.
Monday
May192014

Why Humana Said 'No'

In late April I attended the Humana shareholder meeting and asked, in part, “if the situation arises where Humana qualifies for taxpayer money through the risk corridor*, can we get your promise that you will reject it?”

Humana’s CEO, Bruce Broussard replied, “No, we will not make that promise.”

Now we know why.  According to Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard,

Humana alone expects to receive between $575 and $750 million from the “Three R” programs—risk adjustment, reinsurance, and risk corridors—that serve as a backstop for the insurers. To put this into perspective, this sum is about half of Humana’s 2013 profit. 

Changes to the Three R’s help explain why premiums are going up. About half of Humana’s Three R’s money is coming from the reinsurance fund, which is set to decrease across the entire exchanges from $10 billion in 2014 to $6 billion in 2015. Per Broussard, this is a “big part” of the story in the expected increases in premiums. That cash enabled them to keep prices below what they otherwise would have been; remove it, and premiums have to rise.  

It’s not clear what percentage the risk corridor money accounts for, but it’s probably substantial.  If it were even 25 percent of the “three R’s money”, that would be over 10 percent of its profit.

Finally, Cost absolutely nails it in this last paragraph (bold added):

For now, federal subsidies are so generous that, for insurers, what would otherwise count as a loss now counts as a victory. And for consumers, the price they pay for their policies is well below the actual costs for those policies. That is not a “market,” and thus the claims that this “market” is “working” are meaningless. A working market does not require a $10 billion federal reinsurance guarantee, with a potentially limitless amount of risk corridor cash to follow. 

*SIDENOTE: WHAT IS THE RISK CORRIDOR?  The risk corridor provisions require companies that make a profit on the exchanges to use some of those profits to help insurers who take a loss on the exchanges.  However, if there are more insurers who are losers on the exchange than there are ones who make a profit, the taxpayers then step in to help the insurers who have incurred losses.  For more on the risk corridors and the other 2 R’s, go here.

Friday
May162014

Segregation is Gone, but Schools Still Saddled with Special Interest Politics

This coming Saturday, May 17, is the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court handing down its groundbreaking civil rights decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.  That decision led to the desegregation of America’s government-run schools and provided a jolt of confidence and energy into a burgeoning civil rights movement. 

Other Project 21 members were featured in a press release published earlier this week to  marking the upcoming anniversary, but new Project 21 member Dr. Michael Dozier provided a longer statement that commemorates the anniversary that deserves to stand by itself.

Dr. Dozier wrote:

I reflect with pride upon the monumental achievement that led to the end of segregation in our nation’s school systems.  The 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education was a victory for the civil rights movement that helped define a path for equality.

I can recall the grainy film of Ruby Bridges, the brave yet innocent six-year-old black girl who proudly marched past crowds of bigots in Louisiana in 1960 as they hurled insults and threats in her direction.  In doing so, she became the first black child to attend a previously all-white elementary school in the South.

When Oliver Brown earlier sued the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, he was fighting for the opportunity to provide his children with an education on par with that of white children.  He was successful — at least to the degree that segregation was no longer legal.

Sadly, however, education is once again no longer an equal prospect.  Rather, special interest groups maintain inordinate control of government run-schools.  The mandated curriculum they push is geared toward promoting a social agenda.

Today’s education no longer seems to focus on the fundamental knowledge our children need to achieve the rights our forefathers scribed in the Constitution.  Instead, it hastens the end of American exceptionalism.

Because of this change in American public school systems, it is likely many young black children lack the knowledge of why Brown v. Board of Education was the catalyst that gave them the opportunity to achieve every dream they could imagine.  They do not realize that a new form of oppression and segregation has entered the hallowed halls of our education system, leading to the failure and social disintegration of our schools.  They do not know how we have squandered the opportunities granted to us lately that was earned through the blood and tears shed by many of our ancestors as the result of allowing liberal social dogmas to dictate our path.

The Brown v. Board of Education decision was supposed to give blacks greater opportunities and advancements, but we — as a people — have retrogressed.  We failed to learn from our past.  Now, we are destined to relive it.

George Santayana wrote in his book, Reason in Common Sense, that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Lowering the bar based upon race, gender or financial standing leads to ignorance, intolerance and disparity.  It is obviously not what Oliver Brown had in mind when he bravely stood his ground.

Let’s pray that all Americans open their eyes and begin standing up and fighting this new form of fascism.

Friday
May162014

ObamaCare Death Spiraling--The Young Enrollees Aren't That Healthy

New evidence further strengthens the case that the ObamaCare exchanges are headed for a death spiral.  

First, a new McKinsey report confirms that the young invincibles (or, at least the 18-29-year-old portion of them) are the least likely among all age groups to have paid their first premium (p.6):  

As I’ve noted before, the 18-34-year-olds will probably account for a disproportionate share of the group that does not pay their premiums.  That means the crucial 18-34-year-old demographic will be even smaller than the 28 percent of exchange sign-ups recently reported by HHS.  As that number decreases, the risk of a death spiral increases.  (For even more on the age imbalance of the exchanges in certain states, see this American Action Forum report.)

Next, a few insurers are releasing their rate hikes for next year.  From Virginia:

…the Anthem HealthKeepers Inc. plan offered by a unit of WellPoint Inc. said it would raise premiums by an average of 8.5% across its individual plans in Virginia, which cover about 110,000 people and are sold on the online insurance exchange set up by the health law, as well as directly to consumers.

….The Virginia filings show other health plans proposing rate increases ranging from 3.3% for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., with around 10,000 members in the state, to 14.9% for CareFirst BlueChoice Inc., which said it had about 32,000 members. CareFirst said in its filing that it had seen the average age of its enrollees rise by several years. Neither WellPoint nor Kaiser immediately commented Sunday.

From Washington state:

Molina Healthcare (MOH), with 2,000 enrollees in Washington, aims to cut premiums by 6.8%. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan seeks just a 0.6% rise. But those carriers account for just 3% of state’s combined enrollment.

Meanwhile, Group Health Cooperative filed for an 11.2% rate increase for its nearly 24,000 exchange enrollees, about 16% of Washington’s total.

Weighting proposed rates by the size of the exchange operator suggests an average 8.8% hike.

Are those the types of increases that will likely drive younger and healthier people to leave the exchanges?  Only time will tell, but the fact that these increase are considerably higher than inflation (thus far about 1.77 percent in 2014) is a bad sign.

Another bad sign is the overall health of exchange enrollees.  Here are the results of a survey from Gallup:

 

Among the all U.S. adults, 50 percent report they are either in excellent or very good health.  The corresponding percentage for exchange enrollees is 37.  

That problem is showing itself in North Carolina:

“Not as many of the state’s young and healthy enrolled as expected,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced in a press release. The company expected 50 percent of its Obamacare exchange customers to be younger than 35, but just 32 percent of customers are below age 35 and just 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34.

 ….Even worse, the insurer believes that its few young invincible sign-ups are less healthy than expected as well.

“Early self-reported data indicates that BCBSNC’s young ACA customers (ages 18-34) are less healthy and seeking more medical treatment than we typically see in this age group,” according to the statement.

Blue Cross of North Carolina probably won’t be the last insurer faced with this problem.

When ObamaCare critics, myself included, talked about not enough young and healthy signing up, we too often used young as synonymous with healthy because young people usually are healthier.  But the viability of a health insurance risk pool depends on enough healthy people signing up.  And the big problem for the ObamaCare exchanges is that they may actually be attracting young people who are less healthy on average.  

Thursday
May152014

Project 21’s Martin Says #BringBackOurStrongForeignPolicy

So far, #bringbackourgirls has not secured the release of the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group.  No matter who flashes the hashtag – be it First Lady Michelle Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron or nearly-naked fashion models – these African Islamists seem unwilling to listen to the sound reasoning of a blank sheet of paper and a marker.

It also begs the question: do Islamist militants even tweet?

Upping the ante of late, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has offered to negotiate and even swap imprisoned militants for the girls.  America has sent “advisors,” planes and drones to assist in finding the girls.

With the lack of progress thus far, Nigerian troops have engaged and killed Boko Haram members.  Even Nigerian civilians are fighting back.

In other words: it’s on.

Why is Boko Haram kidnapping and killing Nigeria’s children in the first place?  It’s a hatred of the west, principally.  “Boko Haram” translates into “western education is a sin.”  They are kidnapping boys.  They are kidnapping girls.  In a nutshell, they believe in Sharia law that essentially says women should be at home tending to the needs of their husbands and not learning math.

It’s a series of hate crimes.

So why is the shocking kidnapping of all these innocent girls the thing that has finally made the world spring to attention about these radicals?  More importantly, why did the U.S. State Department pointedly choose not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization until just recently – despite the attacks on boys, girls, Christians and Muslims?

Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department resisted labeling Boko Haram a terrorist group.  It eventually was – in 2013, during John Kerry’s tenure.

During their era of innocence in American eyes, Boko Haram even openly threatened to kill the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.  And that was before Benghazi!

This is a bit much for Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network.  A Navy veteran who traveled in the Muslim world while serving our nation, Kevin is aghast at the way the Obama Administration – and the Clinton State Department, in particular – allowed the Boko Haram threat to go unaddressed and to fester.

Kevin said:

Boko Haram is a very dangerous Islamic terrorist group that has been destabilizing northern Nigeria for years.  Their terrorist actions over the last four years include mass murder, kidnapping and forced conversions to Islam.  There are thousands of victims of their actions and many more grieving family members and friends.

While some Americans are only now discovering the extend of Boko Haram’s past crimes through social media’s #bringbackourgirls – and, even then, it is mostly restricted to efforts highlighting the group’s kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls – the truth of the matter is that the Obama Administration had the chance to label Boko Haram a terrorist group as far back as 2011 and refused to do so.

It’s apparent that this neglect was because of the politically correct fear of labeling a group of African Islamists as terrorists.

But the facts are clear.  Since 2011, Boko Haram has grown stronger.  This is especially the case following the Libyan civil war, when the group was allegedly able to obtain several types of heavy weapons – including MANPAD anti-aircraft weaponry.  Possession of such armament essentially puts Boko Haram on par with Nigerian military.

While some conservatives – including me – question the effectiveness of the social media activism of Michelle Obama and others, the real question that remains is this: why, when the Obama Administration and the State Department had the chance, did it refuse to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

The Obama Administration inaction of a few years back – under the leadership of Hillary Clinton – likely only emboldened Boko Haram – which lead up to this particular kidnapping that has given them the worldwide attention they have obviously been seeking.

top photo credit: iStockPhoto

Tuesday
May132014

Don't Get Your Science News from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Though really, what sane person would get his science news from This Week Tonight with John Oliver?

But just in case some of you don't know any better, Oliver's recent skit, "Climate Change Debate," had a glaring error -- sadly, one that makes the skit substantially less funny.

So if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to watch it first, and then find out about the error.

OK, here's the error. Oliver's writers apparently are under the impression that global warming "skeptics" are at odds with the 97% of scientists who are said to agree that humans cause global warming. That's not so. The skeptics are among the 97% of scientists who agree that humans cause global warming.

That's how the percentage gets nearly to one hundred.

How can that be, you say? Neither Jon Stewart nor Rachel Maddow ever said any such thing.

Last Week Tonight with John OliverDon't expect to get science news from a comedy show.

Jon Stewart is selling comedy and Rachel Maddow is selling liberalism, that's how. They aren't science educators, and don't pretend to be.

Here's the deal. Despite all the contentiousness of the global warming debate, there really is not much debate that the Earth has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1800s, and that the Earth warmed during various decades since (and cooled during others, and didn't change much in still others). So scientists -- alarmists and skeptics alike -- pretty much agree that there has been global warming.

So, if the global warming theory is defined as "the Earth has warmed and humans have caused it," do skeptics believe humans have caused it?

Most skeptics believe humans have caused some of it and nature has caused the rest of it. Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer, for example, a very prominent skeptic and a key man behind the UAH dataset (which provides the ongoing atmospheric temperature records used by alarmist and skeptic scientists alike), believes humans have caused about half of observed warming. That puts him firmly among the 97% of scientists who believe, as John Oliver puts it, that "climate change exists." That also makes him a skeptic, because he does not agree with alarmists that warming is overwhelmingly human-caused and he does not believe human-caused global warming will inevitably cause a catastrophe.

Yet the ignorance and nastiness of the global warming debate is such that, according to Google, the alarmists and allied left-wing propaganda groups such as Think Progress have have called Dr. Spencer a "denier" no less than 34,000 times.

RoySpencerDenierGoogle051314

So if Dr. Roy Spencer, skeptic, had been in John Oliver's skit, he would have been seated with Bill Nye (preferably in his place, as Nye doesn't seem to know the North Pole from the South, and isn't a scientist anyway) as one of the 97 scientists. And many of his skeptic friends would have been there with him.

The debate, dear friends, is not whether the planet has done any warming over the last 140 years or so, or even in the late 20th Century, or even whether humans have caused any of that observed warming. The debate is over whether humans have caused the overwhelming amount of said warming (or even all of it), as alarmist scientists and activists like Al Gore believe, and whether said warming inevitably will cause a catastrophe for humankind (as the alarmists and activists also believe).

If you think about it, you'll realize the 97% figure always did sound a bit fishy. Out side of North Korean elections, when do 97% percent of people ever agree on anything?

Only when the question is asked so broadly, nearly everyone agrees.

Monday
May122014

Leftist PC Police Threaten Free Speech

In the space of just a few weeks, the quality of American freedom has been cheapened and its future made uncertain by a renewed assault of left-wing radicals bent on having their own way — and running roughshod over all other opinions in the process.  It’s political correctness all over again.

To follow are the some of the most high-profile recent examples of this re-invigorated, authoritarian thought police of the far-left:

  • Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice felt compelled to turn down an invitation to speak at the commencement of Rutgers University and receive an honorary degree because of campus protests against her diplomacy during the George W. Bush Administration.
  • A private conversation made public, in which owner Donald Sterling made inappropriate racial remarks to his then-girlfriend, led to the NBA banning Sterling from professional basketball for life and leaving him in a position where Sterling may essentially be forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers team that he owned and nurtured for decades (possibly to investment groups that include those who protested him).
  • After it was revealed he made a donation to a California referendum campaign to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman (a referendum that won by a large margin of victory in 2008), software CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his job at Mozilla.
  • Similarly, the Benham brothers found their upcoming reality show about house flipping cancelled before an episode was ever aired because of one of the brothers in particular and the family in general being outspoken against homosexuality and abortion.  It is reported that the basic cable network HGTV was “bullied” into removing the show from its schedule by gay activists.

This intolerance is political.  It is issue-driven.  It is meant to ensure a leftist agenda prevails despite legality, logic or popular support.

In Washington, despite liberal declarations in 2008 that America was entering a “post-racial” era, the race card seems to be played more than every.  Free speech through political contributions (from conservatives, at least) is under fire even though the U.S. Supreme Court, for one, continues to invalidate onerous campaign finance restrictions.  Adherence to traditional values, and being outspoken about it, for instance, can put a target on someone’s back.

Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, condemns this resurgence of political correctness and intolerance of a diversity of viewpoints that now seems to permeate American society, saying:

As more Americans sour on President Obama’s failed brand of progressive politics, a very vocal minority of hardcore partisans wants to shoot down any support for traditional ideas in our constitutional republic.

This radical fringe — which remains unrestrained by others who share their beliefs but either don’t wish or are afraid to attempt to check their zeal — thinks it has the right to be the thought police of America.

While sternly denying corporate identity when Mitt Romney or the U.S. Supreme Court recognized it, these people now bestow a similar personhood on government.  More precisely, they now appear to seek to personalize policy in such a way that opposition to the will of the government can get someone tagged as racist because the government — in their view — is now Barack Obama.

Anyone who believes our government should be held accountable also seems likely to be similarly smeared by these people as a racist.

Furthermore, this cadre of radicals does not limit its policing of thought to one’s feelings on government.  Whatever it seeks to redefine, it wants to set the prevailing opinion that must be held by all.  Americans who have spoken out on the issues of traditional marriage, for example, have found themselves attacked, protested and forced out of public and private positions they have earned on merit because they dare to hold views counter to the mob.

These radicals have also sought to imprint their opinions on America through the media, public institutions and schools.  Anyone who is found to hold beliefs counter to theirs are often smeared as racist, traditionalist, nativist, sexist or homophobic because what this small minority has not yet been able to do is stop the exchange of ideas that Americans have come to appreciate and is still guaranteed by our Constitution.

photo credit: iStockPhoto

Sunday
May112014

Think Progress is Wrong to Claim Protecting Lands for Future Generations is a "Uniquely American" Idea

Royal National ParkIf Think Progress is right that preserving natural lands for future generations is a "uniquely American" idea, then Royal National Park in Australia, created in 1879 and shown here, must not exist.

I've been writing about Think Progress' announcement Friday of a new series dedicated to convincing Americans that anyone who believes our federal government should own less than 28 percent of our national land area is a wild-eyed right-wing fringe radical.

Friday I noted how unfair it is that western states have far less control over their own land area than eastern and midwestern states. Saturday I pointed out that Think Progress' belief that federal land ownership is equivalent to public access is charmingly naive at the level of Mary Poppins.

Today, smaller fare: I merely suggest that Think Progress is wrong to claim that leaving large tracts of public lands in a more-or-less natural state is a "uniquely American idea."

I'm easily as devout a patriot as anyone at Think Progress, but really, its "only in America" attitude about national parks and wilderness areas is a bit unsubstantiated. Other countries really do have parks and protected lands.

Australia created its first national park during the same decade we created ours, in the 1870s.

And Canada, for example, seems quite sure it has "vast expanses of intact natural areas," some of which are government-owned lands while others are privately owned. Canada created its first national park in 1885 -- after the creation of Yellowstone in 1872, to be sure, but not much after.

So does the USA have the greatest amount of protected land area? Maybe that's what Think Progress meant?

Nope. Russia has more (1,523,570 sq. km to our 1,383,174).

How about the greatest percentage of its land area under protection?

Nope. Germany has more (40.5% to our 14.8%). We're not even second (UK, 24.4%), or third (Japan, 16.3%), or fourth (France, 15.1%).

Other countries with protected natural lands include but are not limited to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Greece and Sweden, with quite a few others.

Where did Think Progress get the idea that having "places held in trust" for future generations to enjoy is "uniquely American"?

Did it make it up?

Saturday
May102014

Think Progress is Wrong to Equate Federal Ownership of Land with Public Access to Those Lands

Troublesome Wilderness Study AreaThis is the Troublesome Wilderness Study Area in Colorado, owned by the federal government. If you want to see it in person, you'll have to walk.

I wrote yesterday of the left-wing special interest group Think Progress' rather silly belief that in owning 28 percent of the nation's land area, the federal government owns exactly the right amount of land (or possibly not enough?) and that if the feds owned any less, dangerous harm to America's heritage would result.

Today I point out the ignorance of Think Progress in believing:

By seizing public lands [from the federal government], special interests are* infringing upon a uniquely American idea: that there are places held in trust for all Americans – present and future – to hike, fish, camp, hunt, and enjoy.

And also in believing federal land ownership is synonymous with access to said lands by the public, by writing, "Public lands are a place for all Americans."

Think Progress, meet your comrades in the environmental movement. Clearly, you have not been introduced, as getting humans off many federal lands is one of its goals. See here or here or here or here or here or elsewhere.

Approximately one-third of U.S. Forest Service System lands, equalling 58.5 million acres, are "roadless." That's a land area larger than Great Britain, and it means as it sounds: if you want to enjoy them, or fish and camp on them as Think Progress suggests is their purpose, you'll have to walk.

Some further 4 million acres of federal lands in the Rocky Mountains are similarly inaccessible. They are either totally surrounded by private land or no roads exist on which they can be accessed.

78 countries are smaller than that.

Who loses fishing and camping access to these lands if they are sold?

Hikers. Really energetic hikers. They are the only ones who can get in.

And let me remind Think Progress that no one except the feds had access to many federal lands during the 2013 government shutdown -- you know, the one President Obama forced because he did not want to delay implementation of ObamaCare, right before he delayed implementation of ObamaCare?

If the feds don't own the lands, people can have access to them no matter what hijinks are going on in Washington.

*It is unclear who exactly Think Progress believes is presently seizing public lands. The only land seizure I know of recently is in Ukraine.

Saturday
May102014

Never Compliment a Liberal for Getting Something Right - It Just Makes Them Want to be Wrong Again

SalonandSlateLogosLast week, I applauded Salon magazine for having the integrity to point out that its fellow liberal magazine, Slate, didn't know what it was talking about.

Slate claimed conservative opposition to Common Core is solely based on the fact that Common Core is connected with the left.

Salon disagreed with Slate, saying many liberals dislike Common Core and that many of those who oppose it, regardless of their politics, dislike it on the merits.

I ended my piece complimenting Salon with these words:

Understanding issues and analyzing actual concerns takes more work than writing pieces with a simplistic left-good; right-bad meme. Maybe that's too much to expect from Slate.

But perhaps there's hope. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said it was too much for Salon.

I spoke too soon. Salon published another piece, contradicting the one I complimented. Now it agrees with Slate.

Never compliment a liberal for getting something right. It seems to make them want to be wrong again.

The left just isn't comfortable with being right.

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