The betrayal

You know, since the events that led to the formation and rise of the TEA Party the Republican Party has promised to be our savior if only given the chance. After they successfully won the messaging battle over Obamacare in 2009-10 – aided by the ham-fisted, cynical fashion it was rammed through Congress and onto Barack Obama’s desk – the GOP won a smashing electoral victory that flipped the House just two years after the second of two successive wave elections convinced many political pundits we were on the verge of another decades-long run of Democratic dominance in Washington. While that success took a pause in 2012, perhaps because the Republicans nominated the originator of state-supported health insurance in Mitt Romney to face Barack Obama, the actual implementation of Obamacare beginning in 2014 resulted in yet another midterm electoral shellacking for the Democrats that November, costing them control of the Senate.

All along, Republicans told us these various steps along the way, once they won the House in 2010. First they whined that they only had one-half of one-third of the government, which sufficed as a campaign plank until 2014, when they won the Senate. Once they won the Senate, they actually passed a bill repealing Obamacare – of course, it was vetoed by Barack Obama and the votes weren’t there for an override. So now they needed the White House and then, once and for all, we could be rid of Obamacare.

July 26, 2017. The Senate has its chance to pass a nearly “clean” Obamacare repeal bill, with a majority of Republicans in the body. There’s no question such a bill would sail through the House and we have a nominally Republican president in Donald Trump who would be for repealing Obamacare – although he wanted to replace it, too. It just has to get through the Senate, and yet – it did not. Seven Republicans joined all 48 Democrats (as one would expect) in turning their back on the people who elected them.

So who’s in this Hall of Shame? Well, it’s mainly the usual suspects: Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), John McCain (Arizona), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio). With the exception of Maine – where Trump won one of the state’s two Congressional districts (for one electoral vote) but lost overall – all these states went GOP in the last election, yet their Senators sided with the Democrats. And as President Trump noted, “Any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the ObamaCare nightmare, and I predict they’ll have a lot of problems.” Yet only Heller faces the voters in 2018 – McCain, Murkowski, and Portman were just re-elected and the other three aren’t up until 2020.

The question now is how GOP loyalists are going to spin and explain this one away. To be quite honest, I think people have known for many moons that the Republicans were selling the voters a bill of goods but if you can’t keep your caucus together on something that’s been a fundamental promise for seven years then it’s clear even the fig leaf is gone. Despite their high-minded rhetoric, the GOP is now just as much the party of big government as the Democrats are. Now it’s just a question of which side gets the spoils.

And now where do those who believe in limited government go? They are now political orphans because the Republican Party just showed they aren’t willing to stand by those principles when push comes to shove.

41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

July 19, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on 41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text 

For some reason the vibe seemed a little different to me this time around – maybe it’s because this is the first one I’ve attended as an erstwhile political participant. But at 10:00 I rolled into town and got my ticket (this was a first, too – more on that in a bit) so I started looking around while I was there. Immediately I found there was still one constant.

Bruce Bereano probably brings half the people down there, and I’m not kidding. If you consider that the political people are a significant draw to this festival, and his massive tent is annually chock-full of Annapolis movers and shakers, one has to wonder just what would be left if he ever pulled up stakes. Would they have a crowd like this?

But the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce (as event sponsor) has its own ideas on VIP treatment.

For an additional $15 fee on top of the ticket price, you could get access to this tent with its amenities. It was an answer to some of the corporate tents that were doing this anyway. Many of those were still doing their thing.

Most of the people were already in line at 11:30 waiting on lunch. While the ticket says 12, if you wait until then you’re waiting for food.

But let’s face it: the media doesn’t really come here to see food lines, although that’s where I found this crew from Channel 47, WMDT-TV.

No, the real draw for this edition was the potential 2018 candidates. Until the last couple cycles, odd-numbered years were somewhat sleepy because the campaigns weren’t really underway yet, while the even-numbered years saw Tawes fall on a date less than two months before the primary. That’s now flipped on its head because the primary was moved up to June, so this is the last Tawes before the 2018 primary. So several contenders were out scouring for votes – none, I would say, moreso than this guy.

State Senator Jim Mathias (standing, in the gray shirt) has a huge target on his back that’s far larger than the logo on the front. He is the one Democrat Senator on the Eastern Shore, and the GOP sees his seat as a prime candidate for taking over next year as they need to flip five Senate seats to assure themselves the numbers to sustain Larry Hogan’s vetoes.

To that end, Mathias was the one candidate who had his own supporter tent. To me, that was interesting because most of the local Democrats that I know spent their time milling around the Mathias tent (wearing their own gray shirts) and didn’t hang out at the “regular” Democrat party tent.

Just a couple spots over from Mathias was the Somerset GOP tent.

Now you’ll notice I said Somerset. For whatever reason, Wicomico’s Republicans chose not to participate this year and there were few of my former cohorts to be found. Since that’s how I used to get my tickets, I had to make alternate arrangements this time. That’s not to say there weren’t Wicomico County Republicans there such as County Executive Bob Culver, Judge Matt Maciarello, Salisbury City Councilman Muir Boda, and many others – just not the Central Committee.

Closer to their usual back corner spot were the Democrats.

Their focus seemed to be more on the larger races, as even their state chair Kathleen Matthews was there. Here she’s speaking with Crisfield mayor Kim Lawson.

(Lawson has a smart-aleck sense of humor I can appreciate. When a photographer introduced herself as being from the Sun, he thanked her for making it a little cooler here than back home. I got it right away, she looked befuddled.)

The small posse you may have noticed in the original photo of the Democrats’ tent belonged to gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross, who eventually caught up to them at the tent.

I asked Ross what he would do differently than the current governor, and he said he would focus more on education. One thing I agreed with him on was something he called a Democratic “failure” – focusing too much on preparing kids for college when some aren’t college material and would be better suited for vocational training. But he limits himself in the palette of school improvement and choice to public and charter schools, whereas I believe money should follow the child regardless. Ross also has this pie-in-the-sky scheme about government credit to working moms for child care which I may not quite be grasping, but one assumes that all moms want to work. I think some may feel they have to work but would rather be stay-at-home moms.

The thing that stuck out at me was his saying that when two people disagree, at least one of them is thinking. You be the judge of who ponders more.

But the Democrats’ field for the top spot is getting so crowded that I got about five steps from talking to Ross and saw State Senator Richard Madaleno, another candidate.

Having done the monoblogue Accountability Project for a decade now, I pretty much know where Madaleno stands on issues – but I was handed a palm card anyway. Indeed, he’s running as a “progressive.”

And then there’s this guy. I didn’t realize he was talking to the state chair Matthews at the time, but I wonder if she was begging him to get in the governor’s race or stay out of it. I suspect state Comptroller Peter Franchot is probably happy where he is.

Franchot is probably happy because he works so well with this guy, the undisputed star of the show.

This turned out to be a pretty cool photo because I was standing in just the right spot to see his car swoop around the corner, come to a halt, and watch the trooper open the door for Governor Hogan to emerge.

If you follow me on social media you already saw this one.

Say what you will, and Lord knows I don’t agree with him on everything: but Governor Larry Hogan was treated like a rock star at this gathering, to a point where he could barely make it 50 yards in a half-hour.

This would have been of no use.

I said my quick hello to Larry moments before WBOC grabbed him for an interview, and that’s fine with me.

Here are two ladies who were probably glad he was there, too.

In her usual pink was State Senator Addie Eckardt, while Delegate Mary Beth Carozza was in her campaign blue. And since Carozza told me she treasures my observations, here are a couple.

First of all, it’s obvious that Jim Mathias is running scared because why else would he spend the big money on a tent and dozens of shirts for the volunteers that showed up (plus others who may have asked)? Not that he doesn’t have a lot of money – the special interests across the bridge make sure of that – but Mathias has to realize there is some disconnect between his rhetoric and his voting record. And he’s not prepping for a major challenge from Ed Tinus.

A second observation is that most of the Mathias signs I saw driving down there were flanked by signs for Sheree Sample-Hughes, and you don’t do that for a Delegate seat you were unopposed for the first time you ran. Something tells me Sheree has a higher goal in mind, but it may not one worth pursuing unless the circumstances were right.

One thing I found out from the Democrat chair Matthews is that at least two people are in the running against Andy Harris and were there. I didn’t get to speak with Michael Pullen, but I did get to chat for a bit with Allison Galbraith.

So when I asked her what she would do differently than Andy Harris, the basic response was what wouldn’t she do differently? We talked a little bit about defense, entitlements, and health care. Now she is against government waste (as am I) but I think my idea of waste is somewhat different. She also claimed to have saved some sum of money based on her previous work, but I reminded her she would be one of 435 and there seems to be a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality in Congress. (I should have asked her who she would pattern herself after as a Congresswoman.)

But in the end, I was hot, sweaty, sunburned, and dog tired. I will say, though, that despite the rancor that seems to be pervasive in our world these days when it comes to politics most of the people in Crisfield got along just fine. I think I was very bipartisan in speaking since I talked to many GOP friends and met some of these Democrat candidates I didn’t know so I had an idea who they were. And who knows? I haven’t checked yet, but I may be on the Sun‘s website – that same photographer Lawson joked with took my photo later while I was asking Ross questions and got my info.

By the time we do this next year, we will know who’s running for office and the campaigning will be more serious. So will the eating for the 50% that don’t care about politics and never wander by Bereano’s massive setup. As long as the Tawes event can cater to both they should be okay.

The mid-Atlantic may be getting back into the game

May 31, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on The mid-Atlantic may be getting back into the game 

This is one of those posts it took me a few days to write as life intervened, but it turns out to be a happy accident in this case.

While I’m certainly not been the biggest fan of Donald Trump as President overall, he has had his moments. Today he’s given Radical Green a conniption fit just by announcing he will make a formal declaration on whether we will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement tomorrow afternoon. It’s expected he will decide to withdraw, but there’s also a school of thought that believes it’s just a negotiating ploy to give America a better bargain than Barack Obama negotiated.

In the meantime, it looks like another of those moments may be the rebirth of something that was strangled in the crib during the last administration when they overreacted to the comparatively rare Deepwater Horizon disaster by eliminating the prospect of oil exploration off the mid-Atlantic coast.

In order to get to that point, though, a necessary step is to do seismic surveying. Remember when the environmentalists had a cow awhile back because they were talking about doing this for oil exploration, and it got everyone’s knickers in a wad all up and down the coast? Well, it turns out doing this can serve a lot of other interests as well, at least according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

“Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”

The last G&G seismic data for the Mid- and South-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) were gathered more than 30 years ago when technology was not as advanced as today. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities, and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the Department in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.

It was also over 30 years ago that a series of exploratory oil wells were drilled and capped off the New Jersey and Delmarva coastline, with the closest to us being about 80 miles ESE of Ocean City. At the time it was determined this was essentially a dry hole, but the exercise was useful as a study of the ocean floor and substrate below. So if the same is true now, I wonder why the environmentalists are so afraid of exploratory drilling and seismic surveying? Maybe because they know as well as I do that there’s a significant amount of oil out there, and it would keep the price of oil affordable enough to undercut the subsidies needed to keep renewables competitive?

And last week’s update from Energy Tomorrow was doubly interesting because not only did it have the release regarding the seismic surveying, it also had a small news item that pointed to a new, soon-to-be-released (and peer-reviewed) three-year study that concluded fracking has no effect on groundwater. (Are you listening, Larry Hogan? There’s still time to reconsider your foolish ban on fracking in this state before your election next year.)

Of course, the study authors did have a caveat to their findings:

In contrast to groundwater samples that showed no evidence of anthropogenic contamination, the chemistry and isotope ratios of surface waters (n = 8) near known spills or leaks occurring at disposal sites mimicked the composition of Marcellus flowback fluids, and show direct evidence for impact on surface water by fluids accidentally released from nearby shale-gas well pads and oil and gas wastewater disposal sites.

Now I know the Radical Green folks will be going “SEE! SEE! I BET YOU CAN LIGHT THAT WATER ON FIRE!!!” However, it seems to me one could easily have the same contaminating type of effect from a sanitary sewer overflow, underground tank leak, or EPA incident. The key words are “accidentally released,” and companies that want to stay in the business have a duty and legal obligation to be as careful as possible.

But this blows away one key argument from fracking opponents, not that they are much for using logic anyway.

With the right mindset and private-sector infrastructure investment, this region of the country could finally be energy self-sufficient on its own. The job created could be yours.

A few thoughts on the prospects to “repeal and replace” Andy Harris (and Obamacare, too)

The other day I noticed on social media that our Congressman, Andy Harris, had put up a post explaining his vote for Trumpcare 2.0, the “repeal and replace” bill for Obamacare. (Most people refer to it as the American Health Care Act, or AHCA.) At the time I saw this there were 1,043 comments on his post and probably 80 to 90 percent of them were negative. I can guarantee you that 80 to 90 percent of his district doesn’t oppose his vote, but thanks to this so-called “Indivisible” movement we are seeing some of the most seriously squeaky wheels get the grease that comes from taking 30 seconds to write the linguistic equivalent of “you suck!” on his wall. So I took about five to ten minutes to write my response, because there was a little research involved.

1,043 comments, mostly from people who probably didn’t vote for Andy in the first place, vowing he’s going to lose in 2018. Y’all need about 139,000 more folks.

In terms of repealing the disaster known as Obamacare, this was the correct vote, We have a long way to go in the process and it’s way too early to say what will happen in the Senate (except that regardless of what it is, Maryland’s Senators will vote no.)

Oh, and by the way, I just checked out that Allison whats-her-name and if she’s praising NARAL she’s not getting too far in this district. Most of us stand for life.

Also, since you are on the subject of town halls up and down the thread, could you get those aforementioned Senators down here to have one? Interesting how I never hear anyone clamoring for that.

I have to admit I was only being semi-flippant when it came to “Allison whats-her-name” because I had closed my window and honestly didn’t feel like looking it up. Her name is actually Allison Galbraith and she makes her living from, of all things, steering companies to government contracts. I kid you not.

But to begin this piece I want to address the two people who replied directly to my comment, whose names are Gail Jankowski and Bill Schwartz. I’m going to quote their opening sentences here, ladies first.

Gail: We will get MORE than enough votes to replace him because more and more constituents are learning just how negatively this AHCA will affect them!

Bill: Maryland is a Blue State and we need to ensure that the first district is fairly represented.

I’m sure Gail and Bill are nice enough people, and in her case she gets bonus points for (at least presumably, judging by the surname) marrying into a Polish family. (By the same token, I won’t take any points from Bill just because his ancestors insisted on unnecessary consonants.) But they seem to have a slim knowledge of political reality.

What the vast majority of people “know” about the AHCA comes from the talking points being fed to them from the media, which isn’t exactly a set of unbiased observers. But the 2018 campaign won’t begin in earnest for another 15 to 16 months, and what I’ve found out over the years, Gail, is that the issue you may think will drive the electorate this far out isn’t always the one that is front and center by the time people really begin to pay attention, let alone when votes are cast. The big difference between the era of the TEA Party eight years ago in the Obama administration and the Indivisible movement now is, while both are having a discussion about health care as a topic in the off-year before the election – although Obamacare was more dominant in the fall and winter of 2009 – the economy was much, much worse back then. If the economy is in good shape come the fall of 2018, the AHCA will be a minor issue by comparison. People generally vote with their pocketbooks, and the reason the 2010 election was such a wave was the pent-up outrage at an administration that addressed health care before job creation and the economy. (The sticker shock effects of Obamacare were the reason for the 2014 wave election, since it took effect in earnest that year.)

So if the economy remains in decent shape, the AHCA will be so minor of a concern by then that Andy Harris will once again get his 60-65% of the vote and cruise to victory. You see, Bill, Maryland is indeed (and unfortunately) such a blue state that our previous governor and the Democrats got greedy – or at least as greedy as their incumbent Democrat Congressmen would allow them to be. I’ve made this point before, but if the composition of the First Congressional District were the same in 2008 as it became in 2012, Andy Harris would be on his fifth term. By erasing the northern half of Carroll County from the previous configuration of the Sixth Congressional District and adding it to the First, it assured whoever the GOP puts up in the First District will win because the plurality of the state’s Republican voters now reside in the First, and it’s by a factor of almost 50% more than any other district. So based on the electorate of the district the First is fairly represented. (The rest of the state? Well, they are just poorly represented, but I’m working on that.)

So now let me turn to another aspect of social media. My friend Sarah Meyers, who describes herself as a proud moderate Democrat (and is a member of our county’s central committee) was distraught about the passage of the American Health Care Act, claiming, “The Republican House just voted to allow insurance companies to deny me healthcare.”

Now I’ll set aside the false conflation of actually having health care provided and paying for it, since there are other methods of doing so out there, but my response essentially noted that she is in the minority of people who are net beneficiaries of the ACA in terms of paying less. Those who get their insurance through their employer are paying far more, a fact that she chalked up to the “greed” of the insurance companies. But the “greed” is tempered by the fact that group insurers have to pay out 80 to 85 percent of their premium income on medical care, leaving the remainder for “administration, marketing, and profit.” Since neither administration nor marketing are free, one can presume these insurers are not rolling in profit. This “medical loss ratio” is part of the ACA and may be one reason why insurers are dropping out of the business.

One of the next arguments I got was that the ACA “saves lives,” presumably because those who could not afford insurance or were no longer being tossed off for the various reasons of pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits, and so forth were being covered. But the evidence of this is anecdotal at best, and rather dubious in the amount of inference that has to be made. It truly depends on the source, but the best scholarly guess is a net wash. Even some of the partisans concede it’s a bogus argument. And while there’s always the emotional appeal of someone who can come out and claim they are a survivor because they had health insurance through Obamacare, it’s pretty difficult to speak with someone who didn’t because Obamacare made their deductible too expensive.

The most radical solution offered up was the old single-payer bromide, from local leftist Chuck Cook:

Single payer is the only solution, and it has been proven to work in every single industrialized first world nation on the planet… except ours. We are the outlier due to conservative ideology that honors the wealth of billionaires over the health of children.

Uh…..no. Honestly, we’re very close to having a single-payer system in place here given the lack of competition in many places and tight regulations on the health insurance industry in terms of how much they can make, what they must cover, and how they conduct their business. Basically it would be a Medicare/Medicaid for All system and you can just ask a doctor (whose Medicare reimbursement increased a whopping 0.24% this year, with Medicaid reimbursement being a fraction thereof) how they like it or check out study outcomes, as the left-leaning Kaiser Family Foundation did recently, noting…

Multiple studies, though not all, have documented improvements in beneficiaries’ self-reported health, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved quality of life following Medicaid expansions. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, which used a research design that is considered the gold standard, compared the experience of adults who gained and adults who did not gain Medicaid coverage through a lottery that allocated a limited number of new Medicaid “slots” for low-income uninsured adults in the state. The study found that Medicaid improved self-reported mental health and reduced clinically observed rates of depression by 30% relative to the uninsured group. The findings related to impacts on physical health were mixed. Medicaid increased the detection of diabetes and use of diabetes medication, but did not have a statistically significant effect on control of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. The researchers note that the study did not have sufficient statistical power to detect changes in these measures, and also that factors including missed diagnosis and inappropriate or ineffective treatments, among others, could mitigate the impact of coverage on clinical outcomes.

…to see if this meets your definition of “proven to work.” For me it’s lacking.

I think both sides agree, though, that the problems with the system are defined simply: access and cost. The government’s solution was twofold: one side was to force everyone into the insurance market whether they wanted to be or not (hence, the “shared responsibility payment”) so that the healthy people would balance out the sick and the other side was to try and make preventative care cost nothing out of pocket, but the problem with that is doctors aren’t going to work for free because they have families to feed, too. And thanks to all of the billing and coding concerns we have with modern government medicine, a good percentage of the staff in any doctor’s office is the overhead required to deal with billing and not there for patient care. (It’s akin to the number of administrators in a school system who don’t educate children.) In other words, “free” is the extra $2,000 on your deductible or $40 a week out of your paycheck.

One analogy often used as a comparison to health insurance is auto insurance, which is also mandatory in most states (New Hampshire is the lone holdout.) However, when you buy auto insurance it does not cover oil changes, new tires, and other mechanical issues. Similarly, the original intent of health insurance was to cover the medical bills in case you were hospitalized, as opposed to supplemental insurance like AFLAC which covers other expenses.

The idea of insurance is that of calculating and sharing risk among as many participants as possible. Let’s say you have a group of 1,000 40-year-olds whose lives are all insured for $100,000 and you know four of them will die on the average in a given year. You then know your premium pool will have to be set to $400,000 plus an amount set aside for the off-chance of a year where more than 4 die, plus administrative expenses, plus a little for shareholders. If you assume those other expenses total $300,000, then each participant would pay $700 a year to be insured for $100,000 if they die, which they may find is a prudent and affordable hedge against that risk as they have families to support. It would be impossible for a group of 2 or 10 to be able to do this, but over a thousand people it’s very attainable.

However, what we now have with health insurance isn’t truly insurance because there is so much mandated coverage and the risks are highly unpredictable. Nor are they being shared among all the participants equally because some are paying themselves through their employer, some are being subsidized for their coverage by the government, and others are completely on the government dime. Because a large amount of the money comes from funds never seen by the buyers (deducted from their checks, or just plain subsidized) they don’t much care what treatment costs, just their premiums and deductibles.

So let me return to the car insurance analogy. You have to have car insurance, and it has to be minimum coverage, but after that the market is relatively free and there are a whole lot of competitors. If you get tired of Allstate because they raised your rates 50% for no good reason, there’s always Progressive. When Flo gets too annoying, Jake from State Farm will be happy to help. If you don’t like them, we have local independent agents. They compete on price, coverage, and service – so why can’t that be the case with true health insurance, too? And what I mean by “true health insurance” is that you select what you want to cover from the options provided by the companies, or you can skip it altogether. (Or, the option for employers to provide group coverage can be left in place as well, as I’ll get to in a moment.)

I can already hear the Sarah Meyerses of the world screaming “but pre-existing conditions!” Yes, there can be high-risk pools created for those at the state level, or even groups of states can create a compact to make the pool even larger and share the cost among more people. If states want to create incentives for employers to provide insurance, that’s fair game as well. I happen to think the Tenth Amendment is the part of the Constitution that’s supposed to be most flexible, allowing states to do a large number of things that should be off-limits to the federal government. I may or may not agree with them, but that is their right to do so. There’s very little need for federal involvement in health care at all – certainly nowhere near the amount we have now.

I’m sorry to break this to Chuck Cook, but the United States isn’t like the rest of the “industrialized first world.” We are a constitutional republic where the federal government is intended to be limited, not maximized and in control of everything. (It’s also worth mentioning that the wealth of our billionaires – and the talent of a lot of other, less well-to-do American people – is quite often freely given to assist in promoting the health of people both here in America and around the world. Here’s a great local example.) So the idea that we don’t have single-payer health care is one of those rare things that’s still a feature of ours and not a bug. That’s not to say it can’t stand some serious improvement, though.

Let’s just see if we can’t make it more in conformance with what our great American experiment in liberty is supposed to be all about, mmmmkay?

About my hiatus

May 5, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on About my hiatus 

I see I have a select few who have stuck around.

In the month of April I put up a whopping two posts. after just eight in March. That point in my life I had long feared would come had arrived, a point where I had a lot on my plate combined with very little desire or passion to comment on the political news. Whether that’s the result of stepping away from the arena as I did last summer or just a realization that a lot of what I have done over the last decade was so much beating my head against the wall on so many levels is something others may speculate upon. All I know is that the spirit to open up the back side of my website and post my thoughts for the world to see wasn’t there enough to convince me to make it a priority.

But I do have the space, and it pays for itself as long as certain posts are placed there, so I may as well use it once in awhile, right?

Truth be told, there are three things that are overwhelming in this world: the amount of information that is at one’s fingertips when they learn to surf the World Wide Web, the amount of influence and power exhibited by government at all levels – which, in part, we can learn about from the internet – and, finally, the number of people who style themselves as political pundits who are trying to grab an audience that’s probably shrinking in terms of readers of the long-form commentary that’s my preferred method of communication. Once upon a time bloggers were the new, hip thing, but now people are looking to Tweets, video, or violence in the street to state their case. Nowadays you can get a lot more attention standing in the street holding a sign and blocking traffic than spending a couple hours researching points, formulating arguments, and making the argument to influence the discourse in 1200 to 1500 words. Donald Trump can dash off a Tweet and reach millions of people, so when was the last time he wrote an opinion piece? (Okay, it wasn’t that long ago. But he still employs Twitter way, way more.)

But I hate Twitter, have no desire to do video or a podcast because I know I’m not an eloquent speaker, and don’t really have any reason to block traffic in the street. So here I sit, writing again.

Yet there is so much going on that I have no idea if I could keep to a particular topic. Those of you who have stuck with me in my post-political phase that began last summer know I did not like Donald Trump, did not vote for him, and did not expect a whole lot to move in my preferred political direction when he shocked the world and won the Electoral College vote. I will give him credit for creating a perception the economy is improving despite glacial growth in terms of GDP. It is interesting to note there, though, that:

The increase in real GDP in the first quarter reflected positive contributions from nonresidential fixed investment, exports, residential fixed investment, and personal consumption expenditures (PCE), that were offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment, state and local government spending, and federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased. (Emphasis mine.)

And this got my interest piqued. So I did a little bit of looking and found this item from my old friends at Americans for Limited Government, which says in part:

(W)hen government spending is included as a component of GDP, and then is held steady or cut…it weighs down the GDP on a nominal basis. And when spending increases…it boosts the GDP nominally speaking. This is an inherent bias of the first order in favor of government expenditures when measuring the health of the economy. (Emphasis in original.)

So perhaps Donald Trump is on to something if government spending is down. Too bad he wants to spend more by not reforming entitlements. Meanwhile, his discretionary budget is pretty much a wash as the $54 billion he would cut from other programs is spent on defense – admittedly, a more Constitutional mandate but one that simply flat-lines the government. And it’s doubtful his budget blueprint will survive unscathed, meaning that spending is bound to increase yet again.

I did some looking on various websites and found that, interestingly enough, as the Y2K scare receded our GDP crossed over the $10 trillion barrier, coming in at $10.031 trillion for Q1 2000. As of Q4 2016 it was calculated at $18.8694 trillion for a 16-year increase of 88.11%. Meanwhile, the federal budget went from $1.863 trillion for FY2001 (the last Bill Clinton budget, which had a modest surplus thanks to the GOP Congress) to $3.854 trillion for FY2016, which was the last full year under Barack Obama and added $587 billion to the deficit. Government spending grew 106.87% during that time, while cumulative inflation was just 39.4% – at least according to the government.

I’m no economic genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I would suspect having GDP growth exceed inflation is good, but having government spending (which is a component of GDP) increase more quickly than either is a bad sign. If you take away the government spending component the question is whether GDP growth is still ahead of inflation. Maybe it’s not.

But who profits from that? I will grant there is certain government spending that adds value: if someone in the federal DOT had the gumption to have an interstate highway built between here and I-95 by Wilmington, not only would the money create local construction jobs on Delmarva but the greater ease in access to and from points north like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia would be good for local tourism and industry by making it easier to get here and transport there.

On the other hand, simple wealth transfers from rich to poor (welfare, Medicaid) and young to old (Social Security, Medicare) don’t add much in the way of value except in the sense that their care and feeding keeps a few thousand paper-pushers employed. But they are not creating value as their wages are extracted from those dollars others earn with work that adds value like mining, manufacturing, services like architecture and construction, and so forth. (Did I mention that I’m once again a registered architect in Maryland?)

So if you know this and I know this, why is the system remaining as is? I believe more and more that there is a group of well-connected people and entities who make their fortunes by gaming the system. Instead of government being a neutral arbitrator, they seem to be putting their thumb on the scale to favor those who now participate in an ever-widening vicious cycle of dependency and rent-seeking. To me, things should be fair for everyone with equal treatment in the eyes of the law but greed and lack of respect for one’s fellow man has changed the Golden Rule to “he who has the gold, rules.”

Surely, then, I’m asked why I don’t like efforts to overturn the Citizens United decision? I look at it this way: money in politics wouldn’t be a problem if there were no money in the honey pot for one’s sticky fingers to clutch on to. If the federal government did just what they were Constitutionally mandated to do, it wouldn’t matter in the least who gave campaign cash to who because the limits of government would mean lobbyists would have to make an honest living.

Consider that I’ve been riffing on this theme for over a decade and you’ll understand why I need a break sometimes. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve though, including the 2017 edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project. I think that’s going to be easier to compile because there are so many veto votes to use. Hopefully that will be done the first week of June, so we’ll see how this year’s General Assembly session stacks up.

And to be honest, it’s work I truly enjoy doing. Maybe that’s what keeps me going despite the lack of progress in changing things, so off to work I go.

There’s something about Andy…

April 2, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on There’s something about Andy… 

It has now made national news that the townhall meeting held by Andy Harris up at Chesapeake College turned into a loud protest brought on by the local, so-called “Indivisible” groups. (Even more amusing is their reaction when Harris called out one woman who continued to be disruptive. It’s from a page called “Shareblue” which is trying to be the Breitbart of the regressive Left.) Now I have attended Harris townhalls in the past (here are three examples; unfortunately two of them no longer have the photos) and they have often began with PowerPoint presentations – this is nothing new. But it seemed like the fringe Left wanted blood, so they reacted accordingly.

In some other forum I made the point that we never get to hear from the other side. Maybe I just don’t find out about it because I’m not on the radical left e-mail list, but it seems to me that our Senators rarely hold townhall meetings and when they do they are in politically safe (for them) areas like Silver Spring.

Yet the argument from the Left is that they are simply doing what members of the TEA Party did during the initial Obamacare debate in 2009. (The “Indivisible” crowd claims to be using the same tactics the TEA Party did.) I will grant the TEA Party stepped out of bounds on a few occasions – one case in point was this protest* in front of then-Congressman Frank Kratovil’s Salisbury office in July of 2009 that I covered (which remains one of the most commented-upon posts I’ve ever done here) – but when it came to a townhall setting, yes, we showed our passion. In comparison to the new alt-Left, though, we were well-behaved.

Then again, local conservatives have had to put up with disruptions from the Left for awhile so perhaps this isn’t a new phenomenon.

As evidence of the difference, I attended a meeting set up by Senator Cardin in August of 2009. It wasn’t initially intended as a true townhall meeting because its target audience was seniors, but a few of those in the local TEA Party (including me) managed to secure tickets – the 100 or so there could have easily been double or triple if the room were set to accommodate them. This explains how the meeting came to be:

Originally the meeting was set up back in March and wasn’t intended to be a town hall; however, once the health care controversy blew up this became a hot ticket. The intention was to get the perspective of residents who are over 50 and live on the Lower Shore, and the ground rules were pretty strict. There would be no questions during Senator Cardin’s presentation, the ratio would be one question for a GraySHORE member for each one from a non-member, and questions would have a 30-second limit.

In the welcoming remarks, it was noted that the state as a whole is getting younger but the Eastern Shore is aging. While the state is a “net exporter of seniors” at least 7 of the 9 Shore counties are net importers. We are also older and poorer than the state at-large. The idea behind GraySHORE was to brief elected officials with policy recommendations.

Something I found intriguing was the mention of Senator Cardin’s career. He has been our Senator since 2007, but served in Congress since 1987 and was a member of Maryland’s General Assembly for almost two decades before that – he was first elected in 1966. Basically, Senator Cardin fits the definition of a professional politician and I thought that was worth mentioning before I got too far.

When Senator Cardin came up, he noted that he was skipping the slide show to get to the questions. He also commented that this size group was a “manageable” group for dialogue.

As he had on prior occasions, the Senator couched the health care question as one of “what happens if we do nothing?” Health care costs were rising faster than income and would double in the next decade. As well, Cardin gave that mythical 46 million uninsured figure as part of his case and claimed that it cost each of us “an extra $11,000 per year to pay for (those not covered).”

The idea behind reform was to bring down costs through wellness and prevention and through better recordkeeping, while creating individual and employer mandates through the bill. It would provide a “level playing field” for private insurers and remove the caps on coverage, but above all reform “must reduce costs and be paid for.” Cardin compared the idea to Medicare, which has worked “extremely well” over its lifespan and was put into place because insurers wouldn’t cover the elderly or disabled. (Emphasis added for this post.)

It should also be pointed out that most of the TEA Party objections centered on policy and not necessarily personality. Bear in mind that the first TEA Party protests were over the stimulus proposal because the bill that eventually came to be known as Obamacare (which used as its shell a bill passed in the House but completely gutted by the Senate in order to satisfy the Constitutional requirement that bills dealing with revenue had to come from the House – a legislative sleight-of-hand if there ever was one) hadn’t been introduced yet. That came later on in the summer. So at the time this was done there were a number of competing bills for the Senate to consider.

And did the TEA Party raise a ruckus over that summer? Certainly, and they asked a lot of questions. But listen to how this went down. My guess is that the context of this video is one where it was taken after some townhall event or other public appearance by Kratovil. The questions are certainly pointed, but the key is that the audience is listening to Frank’s side of the story. They may not believe it, but they are being respectful. Now imagine if the lot at Chesapeake College were to be in that same situation with Harris – I doubt Andy would get a word in edgewise.

In truth, I think the “Indivisible” group would have began no matter which Republican secured the nomination and won the election – out of the field of contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination Donald Trump was probably the second-most philosophically close to the left (with onetime New York governor George Pataki, a pro-choice Republican, the only one being closer.) Remember, Trump is the one that added the “replace” to repeal of Obamacare.

I will grant that several of Trump’s Cabinet choices are relatively conservative, but for the most part they are also outsiders and I think he was looking more for that aspect of “draining the swamp” by intentionally selecting people outside the Beltway axis than selecting those who are for rightsizing government. But the leftists would likely be out in some force for John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, et. al. – just not to this extent. About the only two 2016 aspirants who would have attracted as much ire as Trump would have been Ted Cruz (because he would have governed from a truly conservative philosophy) and Scott Walker (based on what happened in Wisconsin.) Maybe Bobby Jindal would have been a third.

But here’s a message for those who believe Andy Harris can be toppled in 2018: Go ahead and nominate the most radical leftist you want to Congress, and you will watch Harris spank him or her by 20 to 25 points. Thanks to your favorite former governor, this district basically has the bulk of Republicans in Maryland and considering Andy had almost 80% of the primary vote (over a candidate with legislative experience, a previously unsuccessful candidate, and one other “regular” person) I don’t think you will get too far.

And I know you will point to Frank Kratovil’s 2008 victory over Harris as proof a Democrat can win here but bear in mind that the redrawn district took away the portion of Anne Arundel County Harris won by about 3,000 votes and added Carroll County, where Republican Roscoe Bartlett won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, or 25,000 votes. Even though the First District doesn’t take in all of Carroll County, I think that with the post-2010 First District Harris would have won in 2008 with over 50% of the vote.

Your caterwauling doesn’t help your cause. And if you want to use the TEA Party as your measuring stick, it’s worth noting that their success was really fairly limited insofar as national electoral results go. The problem with those on the far Left is that they are trying to sell the same stuff that didn’t work for their other “answers” to the TEA Party like the Coffee Party, Occupy Wall Street, and so forth, and most Americans don’t buy it. They wanted repeal without replacement, immigration laws to be followed and the border secured, regulatory agencies reined in, and – most especially – they didn’t want a third Obama term via Hillary Clinton.

Of all the things that fuel the Indivisible movement, they can’t get over the fact that under the rules in place Hillary lost despite getting more votes. Well, to borrow a phrase from another liberal movement, it’s time for you all to move on.

__________

*As longtime readers know, many of my photo archives were lost with the demise of an Adobe website where I used to link to them rather than place them on my website server – at the time my storage there was limited. In a stroke of remarkable fortune, this Kratovil protest piece was on the front page of my site when the Wayback Machine did its occasional archive so I recovered these photos earlier today – the post is once again complete and coherent.

Backtracking on fracking

Western Maryland is blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner burning natural gas and we need an all of the above approach to energy. I am concerned that there has been a knee-jerk reaction against affordable energy production in our state. Maryland is definitely behind the curve because this administration has decided to politicize the issue rather than take a balanced approach to ensuring we have access to clean and affordable energy sources to power our homes and businesses and grow our economy.

States throughout the country including our neighbors develop their natural gas resources safely and efficiently. Many of these states are realizing an economic boom through gas and oil exploration and are working in concert with groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council to harness these vast resources of domestic energy in an environmentally sensitive way.

Larry Hogan, in response to a WYPR-FM candidate survey, May 2014. (Emphasis mine.)

Three years later, western Maryland is still blessed with an enormous amount of cleaner-burning natural gas, but on Friday Governor Hogan decided it would be better to leave this valuable resource in the ground rather than create jobs and economic opportunities for a section of the state that lags behind the rest of Maryland when it comes to those two very things.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming, though: the temporary moratorium that was in place stemmed from a bill that Hogan allowed to become law without his signature rather than veto it back in 2015. The bill, which as originally introduced was laughably intended to “protect our health and communities,” was amended from a ban extending to 2023 to a prohibition intended to last until October of this year, when the Maryland Department of the Environment was to have regulations in place. But, as Governor Hogan noted in his press conference announcing the new fracking ban, Maryland envisioned the most stringent regulations in the nation – a roll of red tape that would have amounted to a de facto ban if enacted.

And to illustrate the political pressure Radical Green can put on wobbly members of the GOP, bear in mind that the original third reader vote on the 2015 House bill had 45 opposed, but that number whittled down to 33 once the Senate version passed and the House bill (as amended to match the Senate version) went to third reader. The wobblers who changed their votes were Delegates Anderton, Afzali, Beitzel, Carozza, Krebs, Malone, McComas, Miele, Shoemaker, and West. (This list is ten because two Delegates who voted “no” originally were absent the second time, but Afzali changed her vote after the fact to be truly gutless. Interestingly enough, Delegates Anderton, Carozza, Krebs, and Shoemaker all changed back three days later when the Senate third reader came to the House while Delegate Saab opted to join the dark side.) Conversely, the Senate only had two votes correctly in opposition all along, Senators Hough and Ready.

Now we can add Larry Hogan to the list that has wobbled and fallen – this despite a mountain of evidence that hydraulic fracturing, which has been ongoing for over six decades, is safe when done properly. Even the EPA, which put out a final report in the waning days of the Obama administration, noted they found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. Yet many of the circumstances they point out could occur at any chemical plant, and they note:

Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

So should I point out again that over 2 million wells have been hydraulically fractured over the last six decades without incident? It seems to me that past performance should be a very good predictor of future results, particularly as the technology advances. And if you read the report, you’ll note that the uncertainty of cause even extends to those limited, rare incidents blamed – many times falsely – on fracking and most publicized by Radical Green.

No one denies there is risk with hydraulic fracturing – just as there are documented issues with low-frequency noise and impacts on bat population with wind turbines and potential for environmental impact as more and more solar panels are spread over the landscape to significant effect – but the rewards from fracking, as measured by both local economic benefits and the lessening of reliance on foreign energy supplies, have been found to outweigh the risks in nearly every jurisdiction where fracking is possible, while the recalcitrant others (Maryland and New York) have believed the hype over the facts.

While Maryland is a small part of the Marcellus Shale formation that has produced the resurgent energy industry in a region that first benefitted over a century ago from an oil boom – there’s a reason we have motor oil from Pennzoil and Quaker State and it’s not because the brand names are cute – this is a time when the domestic oil and natural gas industry is in a holding pattern. Crude oil prices in the $40-50 a barrel range and a relatively constant balance of natural gas supply and demand means that Maryland missed the boat by about a half-decade in the current cycle, but an increased potential in natural gas exports – coupled with a multi-billion dollar investment in Maryland’s Cove Point facility for LNG exporting that’s slated to come online later this year – means our state would have been in good position to benefit in a few years’ time once natural gas exploration began and delivery infrastructure was put in place. (People tend to forget that part of the equation, too.) But politics, embodied in the baseless fear caused by a noisy environmental lobby, ruled the day Friday.

Allow me to let you in on a dose of common sense: there’s no way in hell Radical Green will give Larry Hogan any credit for what he did on fracking come election time. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will flock to whoever the Democrats end up anointing in their primary because their main goal isn’t a clean environment but to have statists in charge of government. Yes, the rank-and-file who might send a couple hundred dollars to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation every year may really care about the health of the bay, but when the people who benefit most from it are the ones who determine the annual “grade” for the cleanliness of the Bay one has to wonder how much of their thumb is placed on the scale. After all, if the Bay had a grade of A and was pristine H2O, what need would there be for a CBF?

The oil and gas industry doesn’t depend on a government subsidy – they just want a fair and predictable regulatory scheme. But a state which has no problem bending the energy trade by mandating a certain percentage of electricity comes from solar energy and demanding ratepayers subsidize an offshore wind farm seems to have an issue with the source that’s been proven reliable over time and is known as a job creator.

As a ratepayer and voter, I was willing to accept the slight environmental risk of fracking in return for a more prosperous state overall as well as more inexpensive and reliable energy. (And yes, I know that the area in question isn’t one where I live. But if I ever secure a piece of land nearby and someone wants to pay me for the right to use my land to explore for energy resources, I’m glad to oblige. No one has yet assessed the Delmarva Basins on which many of us live for their energy potential.)

In 2014, Allegany and Garrett counties provided almost 1/4 of Larry Hogan’s margin of victory as he carried the duo by 16,466 votes in an election he won by 65,510 votes. Add in adjacent Washington County and that number becomes 35,274 votes, or over half his victory margin. At the risk of losing thousands of votes in that region, Larry Hogan has acquiesced to an environmental lobby that’s not going to give him any credit, any dollars, or any votes for the decision he’s made.

I suppose Larry Hogan thinks he’s got an all-of-the-above electoral strategy, too. But at a time he could have changed Maryland for the better, he instead foolishly chose to surrender to the naysayers.

Some thoughts I have on Trumpcare

I don’t quite think I have to reintroduce myself to all of you, but it truly has been a long time since I sat down and wrote a piece for the consumption of my readers. (Editing Cathy’s last piece and writing two articles for the Patriot Post doesn’t really count for that purpose, nor does updating my Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame page to add a couple player moves.) Unfortunately, things won’t improve on that front for some time, but the opportunity which presented itself to take my writing time was one I could not pass up.

But in this interregnum, we were given the bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and since we are told President Trump has threatened to find primary opponents for any Republican who opposes it, I think I’m safe in calling this package Trumpcare. It’s still a government entitlement because there was a replace added with the repeal, and that already put a strike against it in my book.

The document I am going to base my initial impressions on will be the “talking point” document put out by the House GOP. To be honest, I really don’t have time at this point to read the original 123-page bill in depth, although I downloaded it for future reference and glanced through it to help with this piece. I look at this website as what the House Republicans are using as their chief selling points to the bill, so presumably this is their vision for federally-sponsored health care going forward. We have lived under Obamacare for about three years (as I recall, the major provisions did not all take effect before 2014, although some were in place shortly after the bill passed in 2010) so we know its effects: sizable increases in insurance premiums, a massive expansion of Medicaid (paid for in large part by Uncle Sam) to ratchet up the number of people with health insurance, subsidies for those who have less than a certain income yet are forced onto or choose to partake in the individual insurance market, the reduction in the number of competing insurance companies in many areas of the nation (some have just one insurer available to them), and the virtual elimination of catastrophic health insurance plans as insufficient for the needs of those insured. There were also a number of regulations and restrictions on insurers put in place, key among them the requirement of children being covered under a parent’s policy through the age of 26 and the elimination of discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

With this massive incursion into private industry, for the first time the federal government required purchase of a product under penalty of law – those who chose not to buy health insurance were subject to a “shared responsibility payment” collected by the Internal Revenue Service. Imagine if you had to buy a car every four years whether you were happy with the one you had or not, and you may have the idea of how people felt about this. Obviously the economics of it were to make everyone pay a little something, but that’s not the way a free country is supposed to work for something that’s not essential to core functions of government.

Here are some of the provisions within the American Health Care Act (AHCA):

  • It “dismantles” the Obamacare taxes on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums, and medical devices.

Okay, so far so good, although I suppose the definition of “dismantle” is in the eye of the beholder. I glanced through that section of the bill and it looks like this would not take effect immediately but at the end of this year. As a whole, individuals may see a little bit of savings but it won’t be something they will notice.

  • It eliminates the individual and employer mandate penalties.

This is perhaps the best news of all, but there is one huge catch to this: instead of paying this as a tax provision, you would have to pay a penalty to the insurance company in the form of a surcharge on premiums if you start up insurance again after not having it for a period of time. And that catch basically negates the whole benefit of removing the IRS from the equation, although I suppose an insurer could use the waiver of this surcharge as an incentive to bring people in.

  • It maintains the prohibition on charging more or denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions.

I have a big problem with this – not that it wouldn’t necessarily benefit me because I have asthma but because the idea for an insurance company is to make a profit by balancing the risks shared by the vast pool of policyholders with the expenses incurred by reimbursing those insured for loss. If someone is very likely to be a net loss to the insurer because they have a pre-existing condition, it should be the right of the insurer to refuse service. After all, banks don’t lend money at the prime interest rate to people who have poor credit records or no verifiable means of income because that would put their capital at too much risk for the return, so they either refuse the customer outright or charge an interest rate commensurate with the risk. That should be the right of a private insurer, too.

I was reading on social media that Maryland once had a high-risk pool for such patients, which was bankrolled by the state. While it’s not the use of taxpayer money that would be my most favorite, it is a state’s right to do so if they chose and there was nothing wrong with that system because it wasn’t directly competing with the private sector.

  • It keeps the provision of dependents being on their parents’ plan until they are 26.

This is another bad feature of Obamacare that should be buried with the rest of it. If you are 26 you should be able to stand on your own two feet and either be working for someone who offers insurance or be able to afford a plan on your own. (Or choose not to have insurance, which would be your right – although not necessarily recommended.)

  • AHCA also establishes what it calls a Patient and State Stability Fund.

Over the next nine years, the federal government will give out $100 billion to the states to assist them with their goals of insuring every citizen. I read quickly through this section and there are some provisions that give me heartburn: there are strings attached to the expenditure of the money and the states are required to come up with a larger and larger portion of matching funds for whatever they use the money for, up to 50 percent by the end of the program in 2026 – assuming, of course, this doesn’t become a more perpetual giveaway (which I’m convinced it will.) There is $15 billion allocated to this over the next two years and $10 billion per year after that, and I’m sure states will say this isn’t enough because they like that financial crack of Uncle Sugar’s money.

  • Modernize and strengthen Medicare by transitioning to a “per-capita allotment.”

The legalese on this one is beyond my scope of comprehension, but to me the idea of modernizing Medicare would be that of sunsetting it, not strengthening it.

  • Enhance and expand Health Savings Accounts.

One of the better features, although it would be even better with the free transfer of money between HSAs and other entities such as an IRA or 401 (k). If you needed more money in a particular year you should be able to move it without penalty.

  • A monthly tax credit for those who can’t afford insurance, up to $14,000 per year.

A subsidy under a different name. Basically they are replacing one tax scheme with another, still targeted to particular people.

All in all, I think the repeal should take place without the replace. It seems to me that we had a whole political movement and a bumper crop of angst spring up over the last eight years because people did not want any part of the government interference in their health care that Obamacare brought to us. Over that time, we lived with the disappointment of Republican excuses: “we’re only one half of one third of government,” “we have the House and Senate but the President won’t sign this,” “we can’t defund because there would be a government shutdown,” and so forth. After 2016, there was a Congress and President who campaigned on repeal, and yet you give us this?!?

A better alternative may be the plan presented by Senator Rand Paul, although it’s not perfect either. But it’s better than the GOP alternative, which is a great letdown for those of us who waited for the moment to eliminate the (not so) Affordable Care Act.

Speaking up about speaking out

There was a little bit of play in the news over the last few days about the refusal of Congressman Andy Harris to hold a live townhall meeting, instead opting to hold “tele-townhall” meetings where constituents in certain parts of the district can be on a conference call with their concerns. Naturally, the handful of liberals and Obamacare lovers (but I repeat myself) are calling Harris a chicken who’s afraid to come before those he represents. (And they know about calling Harris chicken. This is an oldie but goodie.)

So I had a comment on social media about this.

The (Daily Times) letter writer is misrepresenting the idea of why Andy Harris is holding back on in-person townhall meetings. First, it’s been stated in news reports that he wants to have a GOP replacement plan in place before he discusses the subject in an open forum, which makes sense in that respect – anything else is purely speculative. Obviously there is sentiment for keeping the ACA around, but there are also some who want the repeal without the replace.

And it’s also worth pointing out that Harris, far from being “a paid tool of the pharmaceutical industry,” received more in individual donations during the last election cycle than PAC donations. 62.5% of his contributions were individual, according to FEC records. Compare this to a Congressman like Steny Hoyer, who received only 28.2% of contributions from individuals, and ask yourself who’s being bought and paid for by special interests.

Yes, the writer tossed that Big Pharma tidbit in, so I had to set things straight once again.

Speaking of setting things straight, there is a pro-Obamacare group who is putting together a series of what could be called “empty chair” townhall meetings through the First District. Since they already knew Andy’s stance on having townhalls under the logical circumstance of not having a bill to discuss, what better way of sandbagging him than to have meetings and making him out to be afraid to face his constituents?

Yet I am quite confused about the one in Salisbury, which is scheduled for sometime this Friday. (One Facebook page says 3 p.m. but the other info says 6 p.m. Of course, they must know my calendar because I have a church event so I can’t make it.) If it’s at 6 p.m. there’s a pretty good chance the media will cover it.

But since the true intent of these sponsors is not just to keep the Affordable Care Act around, but allow it to morph into their true dream of single-payer, cradle-to-early-grave government health care for the masses (imagine the VA and its issues on steroids) it may be a good idea for some of the folks who provided the opposition at last Saturday’s pro-illegal immigration rally to show up at this event and ask our own questions about the not-so-Affordable Care Act. I’d like to have their excuses for why it’s failed in its intention to insure all Americans, why the exchanges set up in state after state have gone bankrupt, and why the insurance that’s been deemed acceptable has to cover so much when many in the market were pleased with their catastrophic-event plans? I’m sure you can think of others, not to mention that obvious lie about being able to keep your plan and doctor.

Anyway, we know the Left is still completely butthurt over Donald Trump becoming President – so much so that they are taking inspiration from the TEA Party.

I sort of stumbled across this site, which is a clearinghouse of town hall events held by members of Congress. It sounds innocent enough, and yes there is a public service aspect to it. But if you go to their “about” page, you find the real idea is distributing “a practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda.” So I downloaded my own copy of the “Indivisible Guide” for reference, and right up front the writers admit the following:

The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress. We saw them organize locally and convince their own MoCs to reject President Obama’s agenda. Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.

We believe that protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness. Trump is not popular. He does not have a mandate. He does not have large congressional majorities. If a small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama, then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.

To this end, the following chapters offer a step-by-step guide for individuals, groups, and organizations looking to replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents. The guide is intended to be equally useful for stiffening Democratic spines and weakening pro-Trump Republican resolve.

Of course, an event like Friday’s isn’t quite the same as a Congressional townhall because the panelists aren’t worried about re-election – and quite frankly, the vast majority of those who will be there wouldn’t vote for Andy anyway. In this case, the idea is to sow just that little bit of doubt in the minds of those who are otherwise strictly given a dose of propaganda. Notice that the event is targeting to a community that is more dependent on Obamacare and government assistance than most.

In this day and age of trying to eradicate the Obama agenda against America, the left is fighting the rear-guard action they didn’t think they would have to. The fun thing about the Indivisible page is their “action page” where “Actions are listed provided their hosts agree to resist Trump’s agenda; focus on local, defensive congressional advocacy; and embrace progressive values.” Front and center on this page are these area events, so the truth is out.

So let me ask a question: where’s their complaints about our esteemed Senators? Where is their local townhall meeting?

Perhaps the “silent majority” that elected Donald Trump better start speaking up.

Thoughts on renewable energy and handouts

February 11, 2017 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Thoughts on renewable energy and handouts 

With the whole Trump transition, controversy over various nominees, and other distracting background noise, there are a lot of subjects which have been placed on the back burner – one of them is renewable energy.

I noted a few days back that two pipelines stalled under the previous administration were kicked back into gear once Trump came into office, but at the very end I alluded to two battles shaping up in the Maryland General Assembly. One was the overturning of Governor Hogan’s proper veto of the “sunshine tax,” which I discussed a lot on the Facebook page of the Maryland Climate Coalition (a motley crew of environmentalist wackos, leftist faith-based groups, and a union or two.) The other is their misguided attempt to ban fracking in the state (SB740/HB1325) which has 23 of the 47 Senators as co-sponsors and over 60 members of the House of Delegates.  (Think of the sponsor lists as a handy guide for voting for their opponents in 2018.)

A couple days later, I received an e-mail from someone at the National Council for Solar Growth (NCSG), which I gather is a non-profit because she wrote “We’re in a dash to get as much exposure as possible in fear that our funding may soon be pulled. :(” According to their website, they are a 501 (c)(3) organization “with a mission to educate homeowners and businesses about the economic and environmental benefits of PV solar,” and some of the benefactors listed are the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, along with the Global Solar Council and PACENow, which is a financing mechanism that adds an assessment to your property tax bill.

One thing that is worth reading on their website is a case study on return on investment, using a home in Massachusetts as an example. This family spent $55,000 on a 10 kW system, which is probably double the amount some homeowners would require. But once you knocked off rebates, tax credits, solar renewable energy credits, and net metering, supposedly the cost came down to just under $30,000. Realize, of course, most of this “savings” is a subsidy by state and federal governments. In Maryland’s case, the “sunshine tax” that Hogan vetoed would increase the number of solar renewable energy credits utility companies have to purchase – basically they created an artificial market where none existed. In the case of this Massachusetts family, their upfront cost was defrayed by $3,725 and it would continue at that pace for another nine years.

All told, the family would put in about $30,000 but taxpayers and ratepayers would kick in $54,750 – $21,225 up front and $33,525 over the next nine years. The case study also said the family was receiving income of about $350 monthly from the utility company for net metering. It seems like a sweet gig, which is probably why I see Solar City trucks all over the place. But would they be as prevalent if the public money spigot were shut off? I think not, and remember our friend was fretting about NCSG losing their funding. The market may not be sustainable at this point, nor will it become so. Over time, the panels will begin to lose efficiency and may not end up saving them anything.

And then I started thinking about some of those who have been financing the Left over the years, particularly a “green energy” guy like Tom Steyer. Instead of working to mature the market and taking the risks inherent in building it while allowing people to choose whether they wish to participate or not, those financing Radical Green have instead been backing the idea of forcing people to adapt via government fiat. Don’t want to buy a solar energy system for your house? Well, we will just make the utility companies pay for it and they’ll just pass the cost onto you. Can’t find enough private financing to build the market? We’ll just lobby for our own carveouts and earmarks in the name of “saving the planet.” Instead of assisting those interested, they impose their preferences on everyone.

I think a great example of this is the electric car. Once upon a time, way back when, there were rudimentary electric cars produced. But people found it was cheaper and easier to use the internal combustion engine, and the American love affair with the automobile began. As opposed to mass transit, for one thing the automobile equates to freedom of movement: you are not at the mercy of waiting for the next train or bus nor are you restricted to going only to places they serve.

So I suppose it’s a concession from the Left that they decided electric cars are worth an “investment.” The problem is that they aren’t necessarily suited for freedom of movement in the respect that they have a limited range – it’s almost like you have a leash on yourself unless you know of places you can charge up, and that’s not even really an option because, as opposed to five or ten minutes at the local Wawa filling up, you would need at least a half-hour to charge enough for 90 miles. But the government is still trying to bring that market up to speed, to turn a phrase.

Consider the Chevy Bolt, which GM bills as an all-electric vehicle with a range per charge of 238 miles. It’s built on the same platform as their sub-compact Spark, but instead of setting you back about $17,000 as a Spark would a Bolt retails for $37,495. (Some of that is returned in a federal tax credit of $7,500 – again, no one is giving tax credits on the regular Spark. My older daughter and son-in-law would love that, since they both own a Spark.) But to do things right, you would need to install a home charging station, which costs about $1,000 – of which 30% is rebated in another federal tax credit. It requires at least 40 amp, 240 volt service so a rule of thumb is that you will use about 30 kWh to go 100 miles. Driving 1,500 miles a month (not uncommon around here) and that means additional electrical consumption of 450 kWh, which is about 50% of a typical home’s usage for a month. So much for net metering.

So let’s recap: you’re using far more electricity, limiting your range of motion, and costing taxpayers about $8,000 for dubious gain. (And I haven’t even discussed how they get the materials for the battery – hint: it’s not very eco-friendly.)

In essence, what has been going on for the last thirty years is that we have transferred billions of dollars from hard-working taxpayers to those who profit from a belief that mankind can save their planet from the scourge of climate change, which is laughable on its face. As I have said for years, I have no real issue with energy efficiency but that should be sought on a market standpoint, not because we are forced into it or made to pay for it. There are certain things which create abundant energy quite cheaply and reliably: coal, oil, and natural gas. At one time – before my time – we were told (falsely, as it turned out) that nuclear power would be so cheap they wouldn’t have to meter it.

With a government that’s spending $4 trillion a year, isn’t it time to let these giveaways to Radical Green go away? And before you argue about Big Oil and its “subsidies,” read this. America’s economic engine needs reliable and inexpensive energy to run at peak efficiency, and on this cloudy day with relatively calm winds I’m not seeing much from those other sources.

The replacement

For whatever reason, these days I get a lot more e-mail from the Democratic Party than I do the Republicans. (Perhaps the GOP stuff ends up in my junk mail somehow?) A lot of the time the Democrats’ stuff is comedy gold, although they are getting more than enough mileage out of vilifying the already easy to vilify Donald Trump.

Now I’m going to do something I try not to do here, and that is accept their word as gospel for the sake of argument. Lord only knows what kind of Astroturf George Soros, Peter Lewis, and other big-money far-left donors can gin up for rent-a-mobs, but as I said this can suffice as their case. This is an excerpt from an e-mail I got today.

Republicans are frantically trying to dodge their constituents who want answers about what’s going to happen to their health care.

Virginia Congressman Dave Brat recently complained that “since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go.” Another Virginia Republican, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, skipped out on “office hours” with her constituents after dozens showed up to ask about her Obamacare replacement plan.

When Arkansans showed up at Senator Tom Cotton’s office to ask about their health care, staffers locked the door and turned them away. Sixteen constituents showed up at Congressman Peter Roskam’s office in West Chicago to voice their concerns about repealing the Affordable Care Act and were told their meeting had been abruptly canceled. Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado was caught on camera sneaking out of a constituent event through a side door to avoid his constituents’ questions about health care.

After more than 200 people submitted questions for a Facebook town hall with Sen. Thom Tillis, the senator logged off 11 minutes into the 30-minute event.

The Affordable Care Act is more popular than ever. Millions of Americans are reaping the benefits of access to affordable care — and 30 million stand to lose their health care if the law is repealed.

Again, this all may be “fake news” but here’s something that’s not fake: those who don’t want Obamacare repealed are probably the few profiting off of it at the expense of the many, which constitutes a great deal of working America. Since the RCP average has tracked the question in 2009, there has never been a majority in favor of Obamacare. To say it’s “more popular than ever” is true to the extent that it’s less of a dog than it has been.

And the other “fake news” is that oft-repeated claim that Americans will lose their health care if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and that’s not so. It’s federal law that emergency care has to be provided regardless of ability to pay. Nor is this considering how many people have decided to take their chances with the tax penalty since it would be less expensive than health insurance.

So this is a message to Republicans who are getting cold feet about repealing Obamacare: find yourself a fire and warm them up – let’s do this thing. The Democrats are so full of crap their eyes are brown: America wants Obamacare to be gone!

Yet there is the question of cost, because medical expenses are, well, expensive. I have a theory on that, though, and it relates to a similar phenomenon in another aspect of life.

Look at the cost of college tuition as an example. To some, the cachet of a degree at a prestigious university is irresistible, and they will pay whatever it takes to get it. Some people who are more academically suited to a state university still demand to go to an Ivy League school, and those schools know this. They also know that a) these students will likely go many thousands in dollars in debt, and b) they get paid up front by the federal government. Whether the student pays back his or her loans or not is immaterial to them because they got their money, and because of that these schools are padding their tuition and fees because they can. Maybe it’s to increase their endowments, but oftentimes it’s to provide non-educational amenities.

Let me share a story with you. I went to college from 1982-86 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It was selected because it had the program I sought to major in and was in-state so my tuition was lower – although higher than most others, as it had the reputation of being the best state school in Ohio academically. (So there was a little bit of cachet factor, too.) Very nice campus, relatively solid education. I would have been happy to see my older daughter go there, but she had other plans.

My wife at the time was a non-traditional student who had gone to another school before having the older daughter in question (I’m her stepdad.) So, after we married, she enrolled at the University of Toledo, which is more of a commuter school. Yet one thing they had was a state-of-the-art recreation center, paid for by the state since UT is a state school, too. I got to enjoy the facilities on occasion since my ex was a student, and they were nice. Soon enough, all of the other state schools were getting in line to have similar facilities put up and sometime in the 1990s, well after I graduated, Miami got theirs. While it may have been beneficial for the small percentage of those who majored in physical education, the real reason these were put up was so each of these state universities would have something to attract students. More students = more tuition and fees = job security for the thousands of university employees. And as I said: they got their money up front, never mind the students were saddled with debt for a decade or more. (As I recall, I didn’t finally pay my student loans off until 2001 or so.)

Now look at the medical field. Obamacare placed it in a similar position to that of state universities because it was flush with federal cash – as originally envisioned, people would either have their medical care paid for directly by the federal government (Medicaid) or they would give insurance companies a captive audience with relatively few choices via the exchanges. Insurance companies, in turn, were supposed to have “risk corridors” and other accounting tricks and bailouts to make them whole – the only people who would be left holding the bag would be the ones who actually paid for the insurance, and many of them on the individual market received subsidies from Uncle Sam, too as well. No wonder it cost a trillion dollars a year.

The weakness of the Obamacare system is that there’s no real incentive to cut costs. Yet there are two groups of beneficiaries who stand to lose the most if the ACA is repealed: those who are getting the subsidies or “free” insurance from the government and those providers who have been able to just keep raising prices because there’s a massive pot of money they want to get their paws into. Therein lies the rub: Obamacare is now in a place where it cannot be just cut cold turkey – there has to be a year or two transition period, and of course that gets into election time.

It’s worth reminding readers that Obamacare has its roots in what some dubbed Romneycare: the insurance mandate Massachusetts put into place several years before. To be quite honest, that is where the solution lies. Perhaps it would be appropriate to block-grant funding to states for a interim period of up to three years and allow them to tailor their own programs and set up funding mechanisms. States can choose to have all the bells and whistles or they can choose to invest their resources elsewhere, and that’s the way it should be. I think this would take care of most (but not all) of those who are getting the largest benefits. The others can vote with their feet if they so choose: government is not supposed to be all things to all people.

On the cost side, I think any and all federal insurance coverage mandates should be scrapped, allowing states to set their own systems and priorities. Now it can be argued that having 50 different systems would be difficult for a health insurance provider to navigate, but auto insurers already do this. There are advocacy groups out there that suggest how states can streamline the process by being similar to other states, so I suspect most states will have health insurance requirements that are fairly similar. Maryland may have the extreme in required coverage on one end while Texas may be the flip side. Because of this, I’m not sure selling insurance across state lines is necessarily doable in the respect that I can’t buy a Texas policy living in Maryland. But states should be encouraged to allow insurance products that reflect everything from the catastrophic coverage health insurance was originally to the Cadillac plans that pay for everything, even your hangnail or gender reassignment surgery.

So, the replacement for Obamacare is a more free market and freedom of choice to participate. Sorry, Democrats, but Obamacare has to go to help make America a healthy nation again. If Andy Harris has a townhall, hopefully he will stand his ground and make the case for repeal.

A good week for American energy (and American jobs)

I was sitting on some stuff from my old friends at API for awhile, but I decided it was getting a little too stale and broomed it. Luckily for both of us, events and more concise blogging make for a far better analysis, to wit from the Energy Tomorrow blog and Mark Green:

President Trump’s executive orders clearing the way to restart the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are welcome indeed. Both projects represent great opportunity for U.S. jobs, consumer benefits, economic growth and strengthened energy security.

At the same time, the significance of the White House’s action goes beyond a pair of important energy projects. It’s a signal that long-needed energy infrastructure will once again be able to advance in this country – under regular-order reviews and approval processes – providing broad benefits to millions of Americans. That’s huge.

Both projects had become political footballs, with political agendas trumping science, factual analysis and careful, lawful governmental review.

Keystone XL was reviewed five times by the U.S. State Department, which said the pipeline and the Canadian oil sands it would deliver to U.S. refiners would not significantly impact the environment. It enjoyed strong, bipartisan support from the American public, which saw the privately financed project as a job creator and economy grower. The builders of Dakota Access followed regular permitting and approval processes – only to see politics prevail over the rule of law – with the 1,172-mile pipeline just 1,100 feet from completion.

President Trump’s executive orders allow both projects to get on track again. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“We are pleased to see the new direction being taken by this administration to recognize the importance of our nation’s energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process that’s critical to pipelines and other infrastructure projects. Critical energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipelines will help deliver energy to American consumers and businesses safely and efficiently.”

I find it amazing just how little of the DAPL was controversial: it would be like driving from here to Key West to stay free at a Gulf-front cottage for a week only to find the last bridge is out and no repairs are scheduled for the month.

While I’m sure the folks in the media work hard to keep a sharp eye out for pipeline mishaps in this day and age, the fact that there’s a “dog bites man” quality to these stories means that they’re a pretty safe way to get oil and natural gas from one place to another. To hear Radical Green tell it, we should have totally contaminated Gaia ten times over by now, so the fact that we haven’t means either we do a good job of keeping environmental damage to a minimum (which, in the long run, pays dividends for these energy companies) or Mother Nature does a pretty good job of healing itself. (Consider the Deepwater Horizon from the more immediate perspective to that of more recent vintage, when those studying had to speculate on mental health of residents because the seafood coming from the Gulf was deemed safe.)

There won’t be a whole lot of jobs from DAPL now (since there’s less than 1/4 mile remaining to be built) but there will be jobs with Keystone. More importantly, this commentary from API reflects their optimism that the Trump administration will be more amenable to their interests, something that was missing over the last eight years despite the industry’s relative prosperity.

Closer to home, here’s hoping that streak continues: there’s been a full-court press on the Radical Green side to keep Democrats in line regarding Governor Hogan’s veto of the “sunshine tax” but also, more behind the scenes, there’s a call for a permanent fracking ban in Maryland. For that I have two words: big mistake. Our options should remain open, particularly since the regulations are being finalized.

America has abundant energy in many places, so if you have it you may as well use it for our good. No need to keep it in the ground – that’s the place for the pipelines to go. Let’s get to work.

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