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Alcoa Gets First Loan From Energy Dept. Program— But Doesn’t Need It

Somewhat Reasonable - April 04, 2015, 1:34 PM

stimulus-backed Department of Energy loan program that has not been tapped for four years, and was deemed unwanted two years ago by the Government Accountability Office, is suddenly ready and willing to dole out more taxpayer millions again – to a corporation that doesn’t need it.

In fact, Alcoa’s expansion project for which the funding is targeted – to produce special aluminum for automotive companies in Tennessee – has already been underway for 19 months and was first revealed almost two years ago.

DOE announced on Thursday that the renewed activity out of its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program will deliver a $259 million loan to the multinational conglomerate. The excuse for the financing – considering that ATVM’s purpose was to support production of alternative energy-powered automobiles – is to produce “high-strength” aluminum for automakers “looking to lightweight their vehicles.” Yes, they used “lightweight” as a verb, and claimed the funding would create an additional 200 factory jobs and 400 construction jobs in the process.

“The Department’s ATVM loan program can play an important role in helping to finance expanded domestic manufacturing of fuel-efficient technologies that will support the next generation of advanced vehicles and protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, in photo.

The amount being loaned represents pocket change for the corporation that had $23 billion in revenues in fiscal year 2013 and ended the year with $35.7 billion in assets. And the purpose is (or was) to expand “one of the most modern aluminum fabricating facilities in the world.” But the company long ago announced its groundbreaking for the facility – at a cost of $275 million – in an August 2013 press release, citing the 200 factory/400 construction jobs expansion. So the DOE loan covers pretty much the entire cost.

“The…expansion will convert some of the plant’s can sheet capacity to high-strength automotive aluminum capacity,” Alcoa announced, “as well as install incremental automotive capacity, making it a key supplier to both the packaging and automotive markets.”

So the project is happening without need for the DOE loan. In fact, demand is so high for Alcoa’s automotive aluminum that it’s the secondsuch expansion of one of its plants for that purpose. The first was a $300-million revamp of its Davenport, Iowa facility. According to the company, “much of the volume for the automotive expansions is secured under long-term supply agreements.” In other words, justification for the added capacity at the two plants is guaranteed by promises from auto manufacturers that their aluminum will be bought.

It’s pretty audacious that DOE and Secretary Moniz would try to extract credit for a project that was already two years into development and construction. But even if the agency’s role in business expansion and job creation was legitimate, it makes no sense. A $259 million “investment” for 200 factory jobs and 400 temporary construction jobs works out to high-six figures per job; if you count just the “permanent” jobs produced, the taxpayer backing comes out to $1.2 million per job.

Ironically, the DOE announcement about its financing for Alcoa comes 19 months (like the Tennessee groundbreaking) after the agency said it would renew efforts to find new loan recipients in an “active outreach campaign.” The effort had to be revitalized because the ATVM program was in a moribund state, in part because of a lot of bad publicity.

The program’s highest profile failure was Fisker Automotive, which went belly-up after receiving $193 million in stimulus support. Another that went bankrupt, Vehicle Production Group, received a $50 million loan that wasn’t repaid. Nissan and Ford Motor Company received billions of dollars to spur electric vehicle production, but none of their models have taken off and none would be sustainable with massive subsidies. Tesla Motors – the one alleged “success” story from the program – paid back its $465 million ATVM loan and has plenty of stock market fanatics, but is far from profitable and is largely surviving on hype and other subsidies.

Back in March 2013, DOE had trouble finding takers for the remaining $16.5 billion that had been allocated to the ATVM program. According to a report produced by the Government Accountability Office that reviewed DOE’s loan programs, those who might otherwise be interested in the financial help cited things like bureaucratic red tape, reporting requirements, uncertainty about credit subsidy costs, lengthy review times, and the expenditure of time and resources for an uncertain outcome as obstacles. A number of smaller companies had been strung along by government loan administrators, who allegedly gave impressions that financing would be forthcoming if certain conditions were met, but never came through. But what stood out most – especially in the ATVM loan program – was that many electric vehicle entrepreneurs were deterred by bad publicity surrounding previous loans.

So for the last few years the ATVM money has sat dormant at DOE. Now all of a sudden Alcoa is ready to accept a small sum that only seems to serve the purpose of helping the agency justify the continuation of the program. The announcement happened to come just a day following a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in which Sen. Lisa Murkowski criticized the program.

Rather than show the funding for alternative energy vehicle projects is needed, the Alcoa financing further demonstrates that DOE is mismanaging the money. The ATVM program should be shut down immediately.

[Originally published at NLPC]


Categories: On the Blog

The $15 Billion Failure to Store Nuclear Waste

Somewhat Reasonable - April 04, 2015, 12:35 PM

“The American people have spent 30 years and $15 billion to determine whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe repository for our nation’s civilian and defense-related nuclear waste.” That’s a quote of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) reported in the April issue of The Heartland Institute’s Environment & Climate News.

Compare that with the one year and 45 days it took to build the Empire State Building or the five years it took to build the Hoover Dam in the depths of the Great Depression. In the first half of the last century, Americans knew how to get things done, but the rise of environmentalism in the latter half, starting around the 1970s, has increased the cost and time of any construction anywhere in the U.S. In the case of Yucca Mountain it has raised issues about nuclear waste that is currently stored is less secure conditions.

As reported by CNS News in January, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has released the final two volumes of a five-volume safety report that concludes that Nevada’s Yucca Mountain meets all of its technical and safety requirements for the disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste.” Five volumes!

So why the delay?  The NRC says the Department of Energy “‘has not met certain land and water rights requirements’ and that other environmental and regulatory hurdles remain.”

A Wall Street Journal editorial on March 30 asserted that It is not about environmental and regulatory hurdles. It is about a deal that Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader, cut with President Obama to keep Yucca Mountain from ever opening for use. In return, Reid blocked nearly all amendments to legislation to shield Obama from having to veto bills. He virtually nullified the Senate as a functioning element of our government.

“Since there is no permanent disposal facility, spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear reactors—‘enough to fill a football field 17 meters deep’ according to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report—is currently being stored at dozens of above-ground sites. The GAO expects the amount of radioactive waste to double to 140,000 by 2055 when all of the currently operating nuclear reactors are retired.”

The United States where the development of nuclear fission and its use to generate electrical energy occurred is now well behind other nations that have built nuclear facilities and are adding new ones. As Donn Dear, an energy expert with Power For USA, points out “there are only four new nuclear power plants under construction, all by Toshiba-Westinghouse LLC. One other plant, Watts Bar 2, whose construction was held up for several years, is being completed by TVA.”

Meanwhile, as Dear notes, “South Korea is building four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates. The Russian company, Rosatom, is building power plants in Turkey, Belarus, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The China National Nuclear Corporation is scheduled to build over twenty nuclear power plants.”

These represent jobs and orders for equipment that are not occurring in the United States, along with the failure to utilize nuclear energy to provide the growing need for electricity here. The same environmental organizations opposing construction here are the same ones supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s attack on coal-fired electrical plants. The irony is, of course, that nuclear plants do not produce carbon dioxide emissions that the Greens blame for the non-existent “global warming”, not called “climate change.”

A cynical and false propaganda campaign has been waged against nuclear energy in the U.S., mostly notably with the Hollywood film, “The China Syndrome” about a reactor meltdown. If you want to worry about radiation, worry about the Sun. It is a major source. Three incidents, Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, added to the fears, but no one was harmed by the Three Mile Island event and Chernobyl was an avoidable accident.

More recent was the March 11, 2011 shutdown of the Fukushima reactor in Japan as the result of an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Three of its cores melted in the first three days, but there have been no deaths or radiation sickness attributed to this event. That’s the part you’re not told about.  In the end, all it takes is one ignorant President to set progress back for decades. In this case it was President Jimmy Carter for not allowing reprocessing of nuclear waste, a standard practice in France where only one-fifth of spent fuel requires storage. In the 1980s there were three U.S. corporations leading the way on the introduction and use of nuclear energy to produce electrical power; General Electric, Westinghouse Electric, and Babcock & Wilcox. Today only Babcock-Wilcox continues as a fully owned American company.

Thanks to President Obama, we have lost another six years on the Yucca Mountain project. That fits with his refusal to permit the Keystone XL pipeline. No energy project that might actually benefit America will ever see his signature.

Some are arguing that America is a nation in decline and they can surely point to the near destruction of our nuclear energy industry as one example. That decline can begin to end in 2017 with the inauguration of a new President.

Categories: On the Blog

NTU urges Washington legislators to oppose House Bill 2211

Out of the Storm News - April 04, 2015, 12:12 PM

From National Taxpayers Union:

Before implementing this 60 percent tax, lawmakers should consider the make-up of an e-cigarette. The main ingredients that produce the water vapor—propylene glycol and glycerin—are considered harmless by the FDA and can be found in everything from toothpaste and fog machines to foods and cosmetics. Such products contain no tobacco, and a study by Dr. Joel Nitzkin of the R Street Institute found that e-cigarettes can actually reduce the risk of tobacco-related deaths or illnesses by 98 percent or more. By implementing a tax rate of 60 percent, HB 2211 would discourage the use of an option that can save lives.

40 Years of Media Hype for Climate Alarmists

Somewhat Reasonable - April 04, 2015, 12:32 AM

Heartland friend Julia Seymour at the Media Resource Center reminds us that the “experts” the media relies upon to tell us what is happening to our climate — and why it is happening — are not to be taken as the Word of God. That is what Walter Cronkite was considered in the 70s and 80s, and he was also wrong — or purposefully grabbing whatever he needed to grab in order to perpetuate the idea that your “betters” should plan your life.

In a great post at the MRC site, Seymour notes that the stone tablets brought down from the priests of climatology in the 70s have since been ground to sand — as will those of today’s climate alarmists.

A while after the report below, the “coming Ice Age” was replaced by “run-away global warming,” which was then replaced by “catastrophic man-caused climate change,” “global weirding,” and other nonsense. None of the actual science has borne this out, mind you. But the media, and the world’s governments, must continue to perpetuate the notion that humans need to be strictly controlled, lest the earth be destroyed. Funny how that is always the default position after government-approved “scientists” weigh in.

Seymour writes:

Some climate alarmists are already trying to play up legendary journalist Walter Cronkite’s April 3, 1980, coverage of “global warming” and the “greenhouse effect.” But what they will almost certainly ignore is that only a few years earlier Cronkite and fellow journalists were warning about a “new ice age.”

The media have been susceptible to climate change alarmism for more than 100 years, but it wasn’t always about warming. In the 1970s journalists were chilled to the bone and found arguments for a coming ice age “pretty convincing.”

Like Cronkite, “the most trusted man” in news, reporter and commentator Howard K. Smith also brought up the threat of a new ice age. Smith did so repeatedly.

“Warm periods like ours last only 10,000 years, but ours has already lasted 12,000. So if the rhythm is right, we are over-ready for a return of the ice,” Smith said in his comment on the January 18, 1977, ABC evening newscast.

He cited “experts like Reid Bryson” who based their worries on “cooler temperature readings in the Great Plains” and elsewhere and the “retreat of the heat-loving Armadillo from Nebraska to the southwest and to Mexico.” Bryson argued the return to an ice age had begun in 1945.

Read Seymour’s whole post. Watch the video below, and share liberally — especially among your liberal friends.

Categories: On the Blog

Famous Journalist’s ‘70s Ice Obsession: ‘Glaciers Down to the Mason-Dixon Line’

Environment Suite - In The News - April 03, 2015, 10:05 PM
Some climate alarmists are already trying to play up legendary journalist Walter Cronkite’s April 3, 1980, coverage of “global warming” and the “greenhouse…

Famous Journalist’s ‘70s Ice Obsession: ‘Glaciers Down to the Mason-Dixon Line’

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - April 03, 2015, 10:05 PM
Some climate alarmists are already trying to play up legendary journalist Walter Cronkite’s April 3, 1980, coverage of “global warming” and the “greenhouse…

How should we punish grandma and grandpa for opposing gay marriage? - Hot Air

Law Suit - In The News - April 03, 2015, 7:20 PM
Conor Friedersdorf, a libertarian and supporter of gay marriage who’s nonetheless horrified by the mobbing of Memories Pizza, wonders what sort of discipline…

How should we punish grandma and grandpa for opposing gay marriage? - Hot Air

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - April 03, 2015, 7:20 PM
Conor Friedersdorf, a libertarian and supporter of gay marriage who’s nonetheless horrified by the mobbing of Memories Pizza, wonders what sort of discipline…

Heartland Daily Podcast – Devon Herrick: 5th Anniversary of Obamacare

Somewhat Reasonable - April 03, 2015, 4:01 PM

In today’s edition of The Heartland Daily Podcast, Managing Editor of Health Care News Sean Parnell speaks with Devon Herrick. Herrick, a senior fellow in health care policy at the National Center for Policy Analysis, discusses the fifth anniversary of Obamacare and what the touted drop in the number of uninsured really means.

Herrick and Parnell also discuss what Medicaid block grants could do to help bring innovation into the troubled program. Also discussed is the so-called ‘Doc Fix’ in Medicare and what it could mean for doctors and patients.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

Hillary Clinton’s Wiped Server: Democrats Love Truth and Transparency and Loathe Cronyism

Somewhat Reasonable - April 03, 2015, 3:14 PM

I think at this point in our collective national existence, “Trust me, I’m a Clinton” isn’t the best defense of one’s actions.

We won’t even get into prospective First Laddie Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the woman (well, a woman) who blamed the Benghazi, Libya murder of four Americans on an Internet video. She claimed to have come under sniper fire in Bosnia. She claimed to have been named after Sir Edmund Hillary. Her long list of lies is legendary.

Mrs. Clinton has an equally troublesome history with transparency. The 900+ FBI files. The Rose Law Firm records. Her then chief of staff shuttling boxes and boxes of documents out of the late Vince Foster’s Justice Department office. And on, and on, and….

And cronyism?

NY Times: Clinton Foundation Rife with Cronyism

Grassley Asks Weiner’s Wife About Clinton Consulting Gigs

Hillary Clinton and Brother Part of Corruption Probe by DHS Inspector General

Inspector General (IG) John Roth described the improper favoritism shown to several Democrats including the brother of Hillary Clinton, Sen. Harry Reid, and Virginian Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman during the Clinton administration.

Hillary Clinton’s Brother Granted Super-Rare Mining Permit from Haiti After State Dept. Sent Country Billions

Clinton In-Law Got Fees Tied to Pardon

Cozy. Now it has been revealed that she never, ever set up a government email account.

Her alleged reason? “I didn’t want to carry two devices” – which we now know is a lie.

Her alleged self-defense? “Trust me – I alone decided which emails were pertinent. Oh – and I deleted everything else.” When “everything else” was under Congressional subpoena.

Feel comfortable trusting her? Think this is a lifetime’s worth of truth and transparency? Me neither.

In this regard, Mrs. Clinton fit right in with the Barack Obama Administration. On truth:

Lie of the Year: ‘If You Like Your Health Care Plan, You Can Keep It’

Lawmaker: Obama Should Win ‘Lie of the Year’ Again for Claiming No Corruption at IRS

White House Knew ObamaCare Claims Were False

The Washington Post Confirms Obama Is Lying About Benghazi

Top Obama Aide: President Lied About Opposing ‘Gay Marriage’ to Deceive Blacks, Get Elected

And transparency:

Federal Agencies Stiff-Arm FOIA Requests

Obama Administration Sets New Record for Poor Handling of FOIA Requests

Obama Exempts White House From FOIA Requests

Obama Admin’s New Spending Website Rolls Back Transparency

Obama Transparency: White House Sets Record For Censoring Documents

Obama Pledged Government “Transparency” But Threatens Investigative Reporters

Obama Threatens To Veto Bill Mandating Security And Transparency For ObamaCare Exchanges

‘Most Transparent Administration’ Ever Threatens to Veto EPA Transparency Bills

And in moments of harmonic convergence – truth about transparency.

Obama: ‘This Will Be/Is the Most Transparent Administration In History’

Obama Promised to Debate Health Care on C-Span

Despite Promises, Obama’s Open Government Record Found Wanting

And cronyism.

Obama’s Cronyism on Display in the State of the Union

Cronyism and ObamaCare: Another Challenge for Reformers

80% of Green Energy Dollars Went to Obama Donors

Obama’s Manufacturing Hubs Mean Cronyism, Corporate Welfare And Less Innovation

The FCC Delivers the Latest Dose of Obama Cronyism

Barack Obama and Google – Crony Socialism on Steroids

Is this ceaseless dearth of truth, transparency and fair play exclusive to Administration Democrats? Of course not.

(Senate Democrat Leader) Harry Reid Is Proud He Lied About Mitt Romney’s Taxes

Harry Reid Vows Federal Transparency Act Will Never Be Voted on in the Senate

Cronyism is Killing the Democrats

Is this ceaseless dearth exclusive to federal Democrats? Of course not.

Let’s look at Oregon, their attempt at ObamaCare and their disgraced, under-investigation, resigned-from-office ex-Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber, shall we?

Have some Oregon Democrat cronyism.

Oregon Governor Quits Over Conflict-of-Interest Scandal

Ex-Gov John Kitzhaber Put His Top Political Consultant in Charge of Cover Oregon

How’d that Kitzhaber crony do running the show?

$303 Million Later, Oregon Looks to Close Health Exchange

‘We Look Like Fools:’ A History of Cover Oregon’s Failure

Cover Oregon ‘Unmatched in Its Failure’

Oregon Health Care Exchange Has Yet To Enroll A Single Person

Not so good. How about a little Oregon Democrat truth-transparency combo?

Dishonesty, Lies Exposed; ObamaCare, Kitzhaber

Gov. Denies Prior Knowledge of Cover Oregon Failure, Exits Exclusive KATU Interview

Watch Governor John Kitzhaber Refuse Question Regarding Cover Oregon Corruption

Cover Oregon Ejects Reporters from Closed-Door Meeting with Legislators

Want some more Oregon Democrat transparency?

Former (Oregon Democrat) Gov. John Kitzhaber’s and Cylvia Hayes’ Trip to Dump Brings Police Sweeping In

The former governor and Hayes showed up at the Knott Landfill southeast of Bend in a pickup and an SUV about 2 p.m. last Friday and spent a few minutes dumping trash, according to Timm Schimke, the director of the Deschutes County Solid Waste Department….

(W)orkers recognized who they were dealing with and apparently decided the dumping might be of interest to law enforcement. Kitzhaber and Hayes are targets of a federal investigation.

Positively translucent. And of course this is as much a federal government problem as it is an Oregon one.

New Cover Oregon Allegations: ‘If It’s True, Someone’s Going to Prison’

Early in its life, Cover Oregon was given a $48 million “early innovator” grant from the federal government. That amount would later grow to $59 million.

There were a few strings attached.

To keep the money flowing, the website would have to hit specific benchmarks between 2011 and 2013. The state needed to show the feds it had picked a company to provide software and technical assistance; it had to demonstrate that the website was safe from hackers; and, most importantly, it had to show that people could actually sign up for insurance on the website.

Either the Obama Administration dropped the ball over and over and over again – or it simply allowed a fellow Democrat to run wild with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Thankfully, not everyone in Washington is quite so comfortable with this.

Subpoenas Arrive as Oregon Governor Announces Departure

Congress to Kitzhaber: Send Us Cover Oregon Records

Unfortunately, this is likely made more than a little problematic by Kitzhaber’s little trip to the landfill – the old school version of Mrs. Clinton wiping clean her email server.

Regardless, the investigations must press forward. Of Mrs. Clinton – and both ObamaCare messes. In Oregon and D.C.

Truth, transparency and anti-cronyism are all being eviscerated. And like all political fish – this one is rotting from the head of state.

Start with the Obama Administration – and work your way down.

[Originally published at Human Events]


Categories: On the Blog

Gov. Nixon can Save Missouri’s Failing Welfare System, but He Won’t

Somewhat Reasonable - April 03, 2015, 1:25 PM

By Logan Pike and Justin Haskins

Missouri’s dreadful welfare system is perhaps the worst in the nation, and Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has a unique opportunity to reform the failing program and provide significant and lasting changes that will improve the lives of thousands of Missouri’s citizens, but all indications are the governor won’t.

According to a new welfare reform report card published by The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Chicago, Missouri earned the dubious honor of being ranked dead last among all states for its dismal welfare policies.

Heartland’s study assigned letter grades and ranks in five categories—work requirements, cash diversion, service integration, time limits, and sanctions—and Missouri received F grades in three of those categories and D grades in the remaining two.

Recognizing the need for reform, legislators in the Missouri Senate advanced Senate Bill 24 in late February, legislation that aims to add strict work requirements, lower the cap for lifetime benefit limits, and provide a variety of programs that will help Missourians stay off of welfare rolls entirely. The House approved much of the bill on March 18, and the legislation is now awaiting final approval from the Senate. Analysts agree that Mr. Nixon, who has yet to announce his position on the proposed reforms, will eventually have to either pass the legislation or veto it.

Mandating strict work participation requirements is the most significant reform offered by the bill. Missouri is currently one of only 13 states that do not require recipients to obtain significant employment in order to receive government assistance and is one of the worst-performing states in the area of work participation. Without work experience and job training, it is incredibly difficult for individuals trying to leave welfare to find reliable, well-paying jobs. If recipients are required to work and develop job skills employers are looking for, the likelihood of gaining employment and moving from poverty to self-sufficiency is much higher.

Although many of the reforms offered by the Missouri General Assembly are commonsense solutions that have already been implemented by myriad states, analysts say it’s unlikely Mr. Nixon will agree to sign the bill into law, due in part to the recent battles between the governor’s office and the Republican-dominated legislature. Nixon’s proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state received significant opposition from Republicans, who refused to provide any funding for that proposal in the House’s version of the state budget that passed on March 12.

Even if Mr. Nixon vetoes the welfare reform bill, the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly has the votes needed to overturn a veto—and they almost certainly will.

Although the General Assembly will likely push needed welfare reform through any attempts made by Mr. Nixon to block the legislation, there’s no questioning what Nixon’s support for reform would mean for the divided state.

Not only would welfare reform help thousands of Missourians move from poverty to self-sufficiency, it would send a signal to the rest of the nation that both Democrats and Republicans are willing to work together, as they did in the 1990s in Washington, DC, to put partisan differences aside in the pursuit of improving the lives of Americans still struggling to recover from the 2008 economic crash.

[Originally Published by The Washington Times]

Categories: On the Blog

Cutting defense in a time of war

Out of the Storm News - April 03, 2015, 8:29 AM

Defense spending is a hot topic in Washington, with growing pressure to bust the budget caps agreed to in the Budget Control Act in 2011.

With uncertainty over Russian intervention in Ukraine, the advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, civil war in Libya and Yemen and continuing tensions with Iran, most budget proposals considered this year, regardless of party, are to increase defense spending, although by varying amounts.

With the geopolitical and domestic political winds blowing in that direction, is there a way for those of who support defense reform to remain relevant? There are, in fact, ample opportunities to cut defense spending, even when the United States is at war.

  • Require the Pentagon to pass an audit to receive funding. The Audit the Pentagon coalition has been working on legislation to force the Pentagon to comply with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990. That law requires all federal agencies to pass an annual financial audit and the Pentagon has never been in compliance. Congress should attach financial penalties to defense spending any year the Pentagon cannot pass an audit. This will identify whether or not tax dollars are being spend appropriately by the Department of Defense.
  • Time to cancel the F-35 fighter. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is touted as possibly the last-manned fighter the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps would ever order. It’s also touted as the plane that would ensure American air superiority for years to come. The plane has been plagued with cost overruns and technical issues. The two most recent technical issues could impact the F-35’s intended role in close air support. The new Small Diameter Bomb II cannot fit inside the bomb bay of the Marine Corps’ F-35B. If an F-35 pilot wanted to engage targets using a cannon, they would be out of luck, as well. The software required to fire the cannon won’t be ready until 2019. It’s time to begin exploring alternatives to the F-35 and pull the plug on the program.
  • Cut the civilian staff of the Department of Defense. New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has opened the door to cutting more civilian staff. Republican lawmakers proposed a bill to cut more than 115,000 jobs from the Pentagon’s work force. Surely both parties can reach a deal to cut the size of the civilian workforce. This will free funds to take care of the combat needs of the military.
  • Reduce the number of generals and admirals and restructure the force. The U.S. military has too many generals and admirals. The force is also too top-heavy with the large number of support personnel attached to each flag officer. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once bemoaned that there were 30 layers of bureaucracy between him and an action officer. These generals and admirals have access to numerous taxpayer-funded perks, including stately quarters, personal chefs and drivers and private jets. As of 2012, the GAO estimated the cost to taxpayers of these combatant commands is $1.1 billion. This personnel structure not only bleeds taxpayer money, but places the lives of troops in danger, as it slows down reaction time in a crisis.
  • The Pentagon must better account for money spent overseas. While the entire Pentagon must be audited, so long as the United States is engaged in overseas combat operations, safeguards are needed to ensure the money is best spent wisely. Recent reports show that the government cannot account for $45 billion spent in Afghanistan. It will be much more difficult to ask for money for overseas operations without accounting for how current money is spent.

There is widespread agreement that men and women in uniform need the equipment and support to accomplish their missions. The Pentagon and Congress also have obligations to taxpayers to ensure that money is well spent.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Lawsuit over cable and satellite sports packages may be a bad play for fans

Out of the Storm News - April 03, 2015, 8:14 AM

As major league baseball teams ready for the start of the new season this weekend, a federal court in New York is considering whether to grant class-action status to a lawsuit over the way sports leagues package out-of-town games for cable and satellite companies.

The lawsuit, brought against Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League by cable consumers who are sports fans, contends that MLB and the NHL’s Extra Innings and Center Ice packages, respectively, gouge viewers because they offer no option other than to receive all out-of-town games. There also is no option to let consumers pay less to watch games featuring only one particular team. The NFL, which makes its popular Sunday Ticket package available exclusively through DirecTV, was not named in the suit, although that package could be affected by a final court decision.

The fans’ complaint is a variation on the long-standing demand for a la carte cable channels, made in the belief that it would be a much cheaper alternative if the cable companies allowed consumers to choose the few individual channels they want, rather force them to pay for groups of hundreds that they don’t watch.

In the case of sports-programming packages, the plaintiffs’ assumption is that, if it costs $200 for a season of MLB Extra Innings, which delivers about 40 out-of-town games a week, it would be proportionately less to deliver four or five.

The error in this assumption is that TV signals are not physical commodities that each have their own associated production and delivery costs. It costs DirecTV or Comcast the same amount to transmit one ballgame as it does all 15 that might be played on a given night. In fact, the signals from every game are reaching the satellite or cable receiver. It’s more accurate to say that viewers pay to have the signal descrambled.

Right now, it’s likely that viewers are getting a good deal. The service providers get games in bulk and pass them along to consumers. One thing is for certain, the choice to see the games only featuring your favorite team won’t be one-fifteenth the cost of the current Extra Innings package. Fans may be unpleasantly surprised, should they win this case, when there is no drop in the cost to select one team, but a substantial increase in the price to receive all games. That would be the logical way for things to go.

Overall, programming packages keep prices low by providing broad viewership. When a la carte was being debated in 2013, one analyst projected ESPN by itself would cost $30 a month, to make up for loss of general subscription fees and ad revenue.

Over the top (OTT) delivery, using the broadband connection, changes this equation substantially and may indeed become a new spin on the a la carte idea. It remains to be seen how this plays out.

As a final aside, I’m skeptical when people claim they only watch a handful of cable channels. If a Yankees fan living in Dallas is committed enough to purchase Extra Innings, as the pennant race heats up, that fan’s likely also checking out how the rival Red Sox are faring.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

End life tenure for federal employees

Out of the Storm News - April 03, 2015, 8:06 AM

J. David Cox traveled to Selma, Ala. at the invitation of. President Barack Obama to commemorate the hallowed civil rights march. It was an honor for the president of the American Federation of Government Employees. No other union heads were invited. George and Laura Bush were there, as was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who braved the police billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years earlier, also was in attendance.

Cox treated the august moment for remembrance as an opportunity. After shaking the president’s hand, Cox told him, “boss man, it’s time for a raise.” Being asked for more money at a civil rights event must have been an awkward moment for the president.

The timing of Cox’s ask was doubly tacky because it came shortly after the Government Accountability Office dropped a bombshell: only 0.18 percent of the federal workforce was fired for poor performance and bad conduct last year. Can anyone name another employer who so little weeds out bad workers?

Federal union heads blame management. Matthew Biggs of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers said federal managers have plenty of tools to dump bad employees. William Dougan, head of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said “a lack of proper training and preparation of the first-line supervisors” is the reason bum feds stay in their jobs.

Strictly speaking, federal workers can be fired for poor performance. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 lays out the process in law, which is further spelled out in reams of Office of Personnel and agency-specific regulations. An employee must have regular performance assessments and must be encouraged to help set performance standards. Those who do not perform well must be given notice, meetings must be held to discuss performance and under-performers must be given help and opportunities to improve. Before an employee can be fired or even demoted, he is entitled to be represented by an attorney. It takes six months to a year, according to GAO, to get rid of a bad fed, and this usually occurs with new hires.

Managers who take issue with an employee’s performance may face reprisal in the form of accusations of discrimination or creating a hostile work environment. This partly explains why so few feds are removed from their jobs; he process is paper-work heavy and grueling.

Unions exist to protect their members. But a “due process” system that produces guaranteed lifetime employment benefits nobody.

For one, it is inherently inequitable. Most of America’s 105 million full-time workers do not have jobs for life. Having to work hard and keep the boss happy is the norm. To the average working stiff, a government job for life looks like an entitlement. Perhaps this is part of the reason a mere 11 percent of the public has great confidence in government agencies.

GAO also observes the failure to show bad workers the door is toxic for morale. Most federal employees are good workers. They suffer when the bad eggs among them misbehave and fail to pull their load.

The feeling of guaranteed lifetime employment has insidious effects. Workers grow comfortable and see little reason to push themselves or keep their skills and resumes market competitive. At some point, they realize they are stuck: bored in their current jobs but uncompetitive in the job market. They become clock-watchers, waiting for the opportunity to retire.

Congress should make Cox an offer he cannot refuse: give federal employees a raise but end life tenure. Current employees could retain the protections of the Civil Service Reform Act, but all newly hired feds would be put on 10-year renewable contracts. Those workers who are good at their jobs will indubitably be retained, because it is a costly hassle to replace a good employee.

Over time, renewable 10-year contracts would produce a happier and better federal workforce, and one without bad employees enjoying taxpayer-subsidized jobs for life. What’s not to like?

The West not yet fully won for ridesharing

Out of the Storm News - April 03, 2015, 7:46 AM

On the heels of last week’s cross-industry compromise on insurance requirements for ride-sharing drivers, and with some legislative sessions drawing to a close, it’s a good time to take a look at where ridesharing insurance regulation stands in the West.

Unsurprisingly, some states have all but settled on a framework for regulating the insurance coverage for TNCs, while others are just beginning to work on legislation. While late-coming states will have the benefit of the wisdom won through extended negotiations by the parties elsewhere, they must act quickly if they hope to provide the legal certainty necessary for the speedy introduction of new insurance products.

Missed opportunity

The Legislature in Santa Fe adjourned without passing any TNC legislation. On the penultimate day of the legislative session, after passing the first chamber by a large margin, a New Mexico Senate committee scuttled the taxi-opposed measure without a vote. Now, for the first time in 60 years, there is talk of the need for a special legislative session.

Wyoming, in spite of having TNCs in state, also took no action before adjourning this session.

Active, but quiet, legislation

In Alaska and Oregon, ridesharing legislation has been introduced, but has been slow to move. In the far north, that is likely to change in the coming weeks. Session ends in Juneau in late April. Lawmakers in Salem have until July.

The Alaska bill is notable because, in its current form, it defines TNC activity exclusive of “Period 1” – when the app is on, but no connection is yet made. Both S.B. 58 and H.B. 120 read: “A person is performing TNC services…when the person accepts a request for transportation…” Alaska will be an interesting near-term test of how TNCs and insurers work together in the wake of their public agreement.

Oregon cities have been busy waging war on TNCs. Portland has banned ridesharing outright and Eugene recently sued Uber in an effort to achieve a similar outcome. Meanwhile, other more scandalous matters have preoccupied Oregon’s state government.

Two legislative vehicles, one supported by insurers and another supported by cabs, are vying for attention in the same committee. At the moment, only the insurer-backed bill, H.B. 2237, has been scheduled for a hearing.

Active and moving legislation

Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and Washington are in the midst of pitched battles in various committees.

After Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a TNC-backed bill last year, legislators in Phoenix have taken the unusual (and R Street-preferred) step of crafting insurance requirements for TNCs while simultaneously revising insurance requirements for cabs. Changes that were made in the Senate will require concurrence (another vote) in the House. But with all stakeholders more-or-less satisfied, H.B. 2135 has a good chance of becoming law.

In Hawaii, SB 1280 is scheduled for hearing this week. The bill would designate the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission as the industry’s regulator, a development that would do away the state’s hitherto confusing system of patchwork regulation. Though TNCs currently oppose the bill, there is reason to believe that further amendments will be forthcoming that will reflect the national compromise.

Montana’s TNC legislation, S.B. 396, is based on the national model and is now awaiting hearing in the second house. Time is of the essence, because the legislative session comes to a close at the end of the month.

Nevada – home to Las Vegas, one of the least friendly ridesharing environments in the nation – is working on legislation that could significantly improve its score on our RideScore evaluation of transportation-for-hire environments. S.B. 440 and its non-insurance concomitant seek to create a framework for TNC operation. Cab operators, who have outsized influence in Nevada, are flocking to Carson City to voice their opposition.

Legislation in Olympia that requires insurance coverage from “app on” has moved to the House floor after encountering opposition from its own author. S.B. 5550, which at one point embraced heightened local regulations, has been narrowed to address only insurance issues. At the moment, TNCs continue to oppose the bill because they believe that it goes beyond the national compromise.

Awaiting signature

Idaho’s Legislature has passed a bill (H.B. 262) that is now sitting on its governor’s desk. The bill comes just in time to resolve an ongoing conflict between TNCs and the city of Boise, which suspended its effort to regulate ridesharing, pending passage of the state law.

Laws in place

On the final day of March, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed S.B. 294 and made Utah the latest state to adopt a sensible model for ridesharing regulation.

Last year, in California and Colorado, legislation that defines TNC activity and makes determinations about the appropriate amounts of insurance coverage during the various so-called “periods of activity” became law. Colorado’s legislation went into effect Jan. 1, while California’s will come into effect on July 1.

Though insurers and TNCs have differing opinions about the quality of the two laws – insurers prefer the California approach and TNCs prefer the Colorado approach – the introduction of a regulatory framework in each state has created the certainty necessary for the filing and introduction of TNC-specific insurance products.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

No, the Culinary Is Not Political

Somewhat Reasonable - April 02, 2015, 3:57 PM

by Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio probably doesn’t cook much these days. Having built his reputation preparing expensive entrées for his well-heeled customers at Craft Restaurants, Colicchio is now cooking up liberal food policy to expand the government’s ever-encroaching role in how we eat, and what.

His self-promotion schedule and branding pursuits could put Kim Kardashian to shame. He’s the star and producer of two reality shows on Bravo, Top Chef and Best New Restaurant. Colicchio owns several pricy restaurants and “ethical sandwich” joints on both coasts. He lends his name to a collection of expensive artisanal kitchenware, including a coffee mug for only $46.

But apparently television and restaurant fame don’t hold enough gravitas for this wannabe political star. Over the last few years, Chef Colicchio has emerged as the face of the food movement, culinary elitists who insist that every bite of food is a political statement (think climate-change folks going after your shopping cart instead of your SUV).

Testifying before Congress a few years ago about the school-lunch program whet his appetite for politics. Since then, Colicchio has visited Capitol Hill several times to promote mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, and as the guest of organic farmer Representative Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) he even attended the State of the Union address in January. No doubt the chef will want a seat at the table to spin the now controversial update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, due for approval later this year.

To further impact food policy, Colicchio co-founded Food Policy Action, a PAC that scores lawmakers on how liberal they vote on food issues. Far from reflecting a consensus of top food and nutrition experts, the FPA scorecard represents a narrow view of some of the nation’s most ideologically divisive activists. The group grades House members and senators on whether they “promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers . . . and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.” The implication is that members of Congress who don’t agree with Colicchio and his leftist cohort oppose healthy food and the reduction of hunger and are indifferent to degradation of the environment.

In a video released during this month’s TEDxManhattan, Colicchio attempted to credit FPA for the loss of one Republican congressional seat last year because the candidate was “terrible on food issues” — a stretch given several other factors contributing to the congressman’s defeat. The PAC is gearing up to challenge Republicans on “food security” issues, including labeling GMO products and restoring cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The FPA board is filled with Obama-administration sympathizers, including Gary Hirshberg, an organic-food cheerleader and the Stonyfield chairman, and Robin Schepper, the former executive director of the Let’s Move! campaign, which just celebrated its five-year anniversary with the first lady gushing over her own bean-kale burgers and curried pumpkin with peas.

To buttress his political agenda, Colicchio serves up one amuse-bouche after another of half-truths and platitudes. Despite hundreds of billions spent each year to feed people in America, Colicchio insists that “we don’t have the political will in this country to fix hunger.” His biggest whopper is that the only reason that people prefer fast food to fresh produce is that the latter is more expensive, as if the demand for Big Macs reflected only people’s economic decisions and had nothing to do with what they like.

The chef is a big defender of SNAP, which he calls “one of the best-run programs in the country,” and is furious about the 1 percent funding cut for it in last year’s farm bill. He insists that poor people are obese not because of bad choices but because “the inability to afford healthy food is the biggest problem for millions struggling with obesity,” even though the program allows for the purchase of fruits and vegetables (fresh and frozen), lean meats, dairy, and other healthy items.

Serving as a mouthpiece for liberal foodies has paid off for Colicchio; MSNBC named him its first-ever food correspondent last month. (MSNBC host Alex Wagner is married to former White House chef Sam Kass, another food scold, who banned boxed macaroni and cheese from the White House kitchen.)

If you’re looking for practical dinner advice, look elsewhere. Colicchio will continue his “food is political” crusade. Gone are the days of mindless food shopping; culinary elitists like Colicchio want a trip to the grocery store to be a political experience. “In today’s world, it is impossible to separate our food culture from the politics and policies that shape our choices as consumers and taxpayers, whether we’re aware of them or not,” Colicchio said about his new gig.

Of course, Colicchio is just one line chef in the busy liberal kitchen of shamers and elitists determined to strip the joy and fellowship out of eating. The main problem with this movement isn’t its self-proclaimed noble intentions: it’s the impracticality of its core tenets, which are largely unattainable for most Americans. Consider the new executive director of the Let’s Move! campaign, Deb Eschmeyer. Her central qualification for the job? She sought to fight obesity by encouraging city kids to go to local farms for organic produce.

But the culinary elitists behind the food movement aren’t truly interested in how to get dinner on the table. Theirs is a political crusade disguised as a public-health campaign. They use food as a wedge to further divide Americans between blue plates and red plates.

Listen, for example, to Colicchio’s comparison of the food movement with social and political struggles of the past: “At some point, we need to take this social movement and turn it into a political movement,” Colicchio said during the Food for Tomorrow conference. “It’s what happened in other social movements as well, whether it was civil rights or whether it was marriage equality.”

The hyperbole is not only bad politics but will do nothing to improve Americans’ health.

Julie Kelly is a cooking instructor, food writer, and owner of Now You’re Cooking in Orland Park, Ill. You can reply to her on Twitter @Julie_Kelly2 Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, and you can reply to him on Twitter @JeffaStier

[Originally published at Pundicity]


Categories: On the Blog

Heartland Daily Podcast – National Association of Scholars: Sustainability – Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism

Somewhat Reasonable - April 02, 2015, 3:03 PM

In Today’s Heartland Daily Podcast, Managing Editor of Environment and Climate News H. Sterling Burnett speaks with Rachelle Peterson and Peter Wood of the National Association of scholars. After sharing the history and mission of the NAS, Peter and Rachelle discuss their new report: “Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.”

This report examines the thousands of sustainability programs and efforts that have been incorporated into college and university missions, operations and curricula and how the sustainability movement threatens to undermine democratic political institution and market capitalism in a quest to take us back to some utopian, bucolic simpler time with out modern technology and the reliance on fossil fuels for energy. The NAS report shows how colleges are being led by the nose by left-leaning institutions to buy into false promises of sustainability and climate alarmism, and how those same schools are in turn inculcating or attempting to brainwash students into rejecting the economic and political systems that has made modern liberal education and economic well-being possible and instead embracing paternalistic, elitist ideals of how society should be.

[Subscribe to the Heartland Daily Podcast for free at this link.]

Categories: On the Blog

The War on the Private Mind, by Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

Law Suit - In The News - April 02, 2015, 2:40 PM
There are two easy ways to get a Republican to roll over and put his paws up in the air: The first is to write him a check, which is the political version of…

The War on the Private Mind, by Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

Stuff We Wish We Wrote - Homepage - April 02, 2015, 2:40 PM
There are two easy ways to get a Republican to roll over and put his paws up in the air: The first is to write him a check, which is the political version of…

It’s time for open data in insurance

Out of the Storm News - April 02, 2015, 12:43 PM

The National Association of Police Organizations is a non-profit group that represents and serves police officers, police unions and local police associations. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners is a non-profit group that represents and serves insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Both are private organizations, although their memberships consist of public employees.

Most Americans have never heard of NAPO, although they are likely more familiar with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Fraternal Order of Police locals that are among its constituent supporters. Imagine one day that NAPO were to assert that it — and not the FBI or any other public agency — is uniquely entitled to collect, process and sell to the highest bidder all of the arrest reports and other criminal records collected by its members.

There would understandably be significant public backlash. Crime statistics are public records. They are collected by public officials, whose salaries are paid by the public, in the course of upholding the public trust. They should be free and open to everyone, due to the valuable role they play in research and in shaping public policy. But if anyone should profit from their sale, it is the taxpayers themselves, not a private organization.

And yet, that is precisely the status quo when it comes to the NAIC. Like other financial regulators, state insurance commissioners regularly collect data from the companies they regulate: quarterly and annual financial statements, investment schedules, reinsurance exhibits. But states also require regulated insurers to file those statements with the NAIC, which charges steep filings fees for the privilege.

What the NAIC does with the data it collects can mostly be filed under the category of “wholesaler.” It has natural clients in the major rating agencies and in financial data firms like Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and SNL Financial. But the group also produces its own reports for sale and markets its ability to sell customized data to order, bragging that:

We can search our financial statement data for any schedule/exhibit or we can customize an order right down to any page, column or line. Our database spans 10-years and has 6,000 companies if you need to track any trends in the insurance industry. E-mail idp@naic.org for a quote today!

As the size of that database would suggest, insurance data is big business for the NAIC. The group’s just-released annual report details how the organization took in $26.9 million in database fees in 2014 and $15.2 million in revenues from the sale of its publications and data products. Together, that represents 44.5 percent of the association’s $94.7 million in 2014 revenues. By comparison, member assessments from the 56 jurisdictions that comprise the NAIC generated only $2.3 million in revenues, or just 2.5 percent.

Apologists for the status quo are apt to note that those revenues are necessary to fund the NAIC’s operations, which include many valuable services to state insurance departments. It is undoubtedly true that the NAIC does, indeed, serve a crucial role in the state-based system of insurance regulation, from its Securities Valuation Office to the National Insurance Producer Registry. But the notion that granting a monopoly to a private organization on the collection and sale of what properly should be public records is the only way to deliver those services just simply has no basis in reality.

As detailed in R Street’s 2014 Insurance Regulation Report Card, U.S. states and territories collected $2.74 billion in regulatory fees and assessments from the insurance industry in 2013, but spent less than half that amount, $1.32 billion, on regulating the industry. If you throw in the $168 million in fines and penalties collected by insurance regulators, $1.15 billion in miscellaneous revenues received by insurance departments and, of course, the whopping $16.39 billion in premium taxes collected by the states, only about 6.4 percent of the more than $20 billion states collected from the insurance industry was actually spent on insurance regulation.

Surely, somewhere in that $20 billion, states could find at least the $15 million that would make up for the loss of data product sales and allow the NAIC to give this stuff away for free.

I’ve long advocated that the data currently controlled by the NAIC could and should be made available by the Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office, much as the Securities and Exchange Commission makes public company filings available through their EDGAR service and the Federal Reserve does the same for bank holding company reports through its National Information Center.

FIO was created, according to the statutory language of the Dodd-Frank Act, to “receive and collect data and information on and from the insurance industry and insurers; enter into information-sharing agreements; analyze and disseminate data and information; and issue reports regarding all lines of insurance except health insurance.” The text of Dodd-Frank also specifies that Title 5 Section 552 of the U.S. Code (better known as the Freedom of Information Act) “shall apply to any data or information submitted to the Office by an insurer or an affiliate of an insurer.”

FIO Director Michael McRaith demurely declined to answer when I asked him in a public forum last month whether his office should make this data available to the public for free, but he did agree that members of the public should be able to access information about insurance companies. I would not hold my breath waiting for the office to take a more forceful stance on the issue any time in the near future.

But perhaps not all hope is lost that the NAIC itself might finally see the light. There is precedent. Twenty years ago, the SEC was likewise intransigent about the costs and logistical difficulties involved in making public filings available for free on the Internet. That is, until the Internet Multicasting Service, with a donated computer and a National Science Foundation grant, created the software and user interface that would serve as the basis of Edgar. Within two years, the commission had taken over the project.

Given a sufficient groundswell of interest, let’s hope history can repeat itself.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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