More confusion on Rick Perry’s brain freeze

Last week Rick Perry had his famous brain freeze on which departments he would eliminate from the federal government.

Commerce, Education, and oops. He is offered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which he says needs to be reformed. Later on he comes up with Energy. As a Republican from Texas, I am guessing he hates the EPA, and he is pro corporations in the energy sector (oil industry is huge in Texas). Why wouldn’t he get rid of the EPA and keep Energy? That just doesn’t make sense!

-Josh

Time to take Kent Conrad off Budget

Senator Kent Conrad, chair of the Budget Committee just said, there is not enough votes to do this with just Democrats. He said this to explain why he feels compromise is necessary to get Republican votes.

But the reality is that with 60 Senators caucussing with the Democrats (counting Independent Senators Sanders and Lieberman) they can get cloture in the Senate and they have a majority in the House.

Now if he said that compromise is need to bring moderate or fiscally conservative Democrats on board, he would be more accurate.

But he is wrong on the numbers, and I don’t want some one who can’t do simple math chairing the Budget Committee.

-Josh

Question of the Day – July 16, 2008

With airlines asking customers to have Congress look into speculation in the oil markets, and the American Medical Association asking us to call Congress to restore Medicare and Medicaid payment rates, when are these industries going to pay us for this lobbying?

Question of the Day – July 6, 2008

How can we as a nation be supporting our troops when the VA bans voter registration drives that help them vote in elections?

Is the White House being run by little kids?

I read this article in the NY Times and all I can think is that the White House is acting like some little kid that doesn’t want to hear it is time for bed, and is covering his ears while chanting, “I can’t hear you” over and over again.

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

But, hey this works.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

But not only did they water it down, they removed information that doesn’t support the blind faith that de-regulation is the only route to economic benefits.  Yet the original report would have contradicted that premise.

Over the past five days, the officials said, the White House successfully put pressure on the E.P.A. to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation, including a finding that tough regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in economic benefits over the next 32 years. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

But at least they know this,

Both documents, as prepared by the E.P.A., “showed that the Clean Air Act can work for certain sectors of the economy, to reduce greenhouse gases,” one of the senior E.P.A. officials said. “That’s not what the administration wants to show. They want to show that the Clean Air Act can’t work.”

I would rather see career bureaucrats like this running things rather than this one,

About 10 days after the finding was left unopened by officials at the Office of Management and Budget, Congress passed and President Bush signed a new energy bill mandating an increase in average fuel-economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The day the law was signed, the E.P.A. administrator rejected the unanimous recommendation of his staff and denied California a waiver needed to regulate vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases in the state, saying the new law’s approach was preferable and climate change required global, not regional, solutions.

Not sure if this last part refers to the unopened e-mail, but if they do, then the claim of executive privilege is showing some serious chutzpah.  I mean if you don’t open it, how can you claim that is part of that candid advice you are seeking.

Simultaneously, Mr. Waxman’s committee is weighing its response to the White House’s refusal to turn over subpoenaed documents relating to the E.P.A.’s handling of recent climate-change and air-pollution decisions. The White House, which has turned over other material to the committee, last week asserted a claim of executive privilege over the remaining documents.

Once again this White House shows it is pretty awful by pursuing ideology over science.

-Josh

If Bush is compassionate, then I am the Pope.

You may recall, that new catch phrase that was run during the 2000 election – compassionate conservative, this was to describe the new face of conservatism brought to you about George W Bush.

Sadly, he was high on conservatism, and very lacking in compassion.  As a perfect example, which you were probably ignorant of thanks to corporate media and their crush on candidate Bush.

As Christopher Brauchli reported in Common Dreams last fall,

In 1997 Texas was allotted $561 million that it was required to spend in full by 2000. According to the Dallas Morning News, mid-way through 2000 Texas had only spent $112 million leaving $449 million unspent. By June 2000, 123,000 Texas families had applied for assistance but only 27,000 children had been enrolled. According to the Children’s Defense Fund Report, Texas ranked 45th among the states enrolling children in CHIP. Texas was one of only 8 states where the number of children with any form of health insurance declined from 1997 to 1999.

Failure to implement CHIP was not Mr. Bush’s only success in protecting Texans from the greedy needy. His other successes were described by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice. On August 14, 2000 Judge Justice entered a ruling on a case that had been filed against Texas for its failure to live up to a 1996 consent decree involving other health care programs. The judge gave Mr. Bush a report card that looked a lot like ones he probably got in grade school. It had lots of “needs improvement” on it. He said Mr. Bush had failed to improve children’s access to Medicaid, checkups under the program’s managed care arm were inadequate and fewer than 10 percent of children were receiving immunizations. He said the state had failed to inform indigent families about the availability of health services. He said managed care plans to which some indigent Texans had been assigned were not providing the required services and 1 million eligible individuals had received no dental care. In response to the judge’s findings Mr. Bush said: “[W]e’ve got a good record in signing up children for Medicaid and we’re going to continue to do so.” He must have been thinking of something the judge had overlooked.

So his record as Governor Bush was pretty dismal in helping the poor-more conservative than compassionate in my book.

Now the reason this is important is because Bush has done a couple of things to limit access to SCHIP from the top down, as the magical unitary executive that he is.  One is that he has vetoed increased funding for SCHIP to expand the number of children that are covered.

At issue is a program that provides health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance. The vetoed measure would expand the $5 billion-a-year program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years. Supporters say that would be enough to boost enrollment to 10 million, up from 6.6 million, and dramatically reduce the number of uninsured children in the country, currently about 9 million.

The other method he used was to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issue a letter explaining the statutory and regulatory reason to limit SCHIP to families whose income is below 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL).  Ironically, this letter has this sentence:

In addition, section 2102(c) of the Act requires that State child health plans include procedures for outreach and coordination with other public and private health insurance programs.

It sure would have been nice if that spotlight had been directed to Governor Bush’s record.

Back to this letter, I have a huge problem with the FPL because it is a one size fits all for the whole contiguous 48 states, and do we really think that $13,690 for a family of 2 can be stretched the same in Manhattan as in Topeka, Kansas?  That is why some of the states with a higher cost of living are expanding coverage past 250% of FPL.

The bigger issue for conservatives, who rely heavily on corporate campaign contributions, is that SCHIP could cause children with current private coverage to switch to public health insurance under SCHIP, this is called “crowd out.”  Of course, this is about private insurance not wanting to compete with public insurance, guess there some doubts in the church of free market!

The good news is that the Government Accounting Office has informed Congress that the letter constitutes a rule, and as such must be submitted to Congress and the Comptroller General before taking effect.

The August 17 letter from CMS to state health officials is a statement of general applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy with regard to SCHIP. Accordingly, it is a rule under the Congressional Review Act. Therefore, before it can take effect, it must be submitted to Congress and the Comptroller General.

Hopefully this ruling by the GAO will lead the CMS to withdraw the letter.

-Josh

Republicans are often so wrong!

This is topic that I was going to get to eventually, but a letter to the editor in the Strib has prodded to write about it, here is the letter in its entirety.

GAS PRICES
Blame the Democrats
During the hearings on gas prices being conducted by our illustrious House of Representatives, maybe the oil companies should have pointed out the real reason for the high prices: The U.S. government, namely the liberal Democrats, has stopped them from building the necessary refineries to refine the oil to gasoline and diesel fuel and from drilling new oil wells.
HAROLD OLSON, MINNEAPOLIS

Okay, Olson, you lay the blame on a bottleneck in refinery capacity as the reason for higher gas prices. On this, you and I are in 100% agreement. However, you blame environmentalists and their hold on Democrats, which is pretty predictable for a Republican. I, on the other hand blame the corporations that I think are gaming the system by creating artificial shortfalls to increase the prices.

Clearly, these are two very different reasons for a reduced (or limited) refining capacity, but which is true? Maybe some of both?

Well unfortunately for Olson, he is wrong, so very very wrong! These two quotes come from oil company internal memos, and are documented in June 14, 2001 report (pdf) by Senator Ron Wyden,

“As observed over the last few years and as projected well into the future, the most critical factor facing the refining industry on the West Coast is the surplus refining capacity, and the surplus gasoline production capacity. The same situation exists for the entire U.S. refining industry. Supply significantly exceeds demand year-round. This results in very poor refinery margins, and very poor refinery financial results. Significant events need to occur to assist in reducing supplies and/or increasing the demand for gasoline.”
Internal Texaco document, March 7, 1996 (pdf of memo)

“A senior energy analyst at the recent API (American Petroleum Institute) convention warned that if the U.S. petroleum industry doesn’t reduce its refining capacity, it will never see any substantial increase in refining margins…However, refining utilization has been rising, sustaining high levels of operations, thereby keeping prices low.”
Internal Chevron document, November 30, 1995 (pdf of memo)

I think the introduction to the report really explains the situation, and the argument that even 7 years later is still being rolled out by Republicans,

America is indeed facing an energy crunch. For much of the year, gas prices have soared and supply has trailed demand.

During the course of my ongoing investigation into potential anti-competitive and anti consumer practices by the oil industry, I have obtained documents that raise serious questions about the circumstances leading to limited gas supply and high prices.

The oil industry and its allies would have the public believe that insufficient refining capacity, restrictive environmental standards, growing gasoline demand and OPEC production cutbacks are the primary reasons for the current oil and gas supply problem.

However, the record shows – supported by documents I have obtained – that there is more to the story. Specifically, the documents suggest that major oil companies pursued efforts to curtail refinery capacity as a strategy for improving profit margins; that competing oil companies worked together to subvert supply; that refinery closures inhibited supply; and that oil companies are reaping record profits, yet may benefit from a proposed national energy policy that would offer financial incentives to expand refinery capacity.

For the last several months limited domestic refinery capacity has taken center stage as the purported reason for insufficient domestic gasoline supply and higher prices.

In the mid-1990s too much refining capacity, not too little, concerned the nation’s major oil companies. At that time, the oil and gas industry faced what they termed “excess refining capacity,” a circumstance they viewed as a financial liability that drove down overall profit margins. The industry reduced the total amount of potential supply by closing down more than 50 refineries in the past decade. Since 1995 alone, 24 refinery closings have taken nearly 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

Well, that sure proves my point.

-Josh

What we are up against

My friend Rick put me on to this article about Comcast paying money to have people “save seats” during a regulatory meeting about net neutrality.

You probably know what net neutrality is, but just in case you don’t.  If you are connected to the internet (you are reading this right?), there is a company (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) that is being paid for that connection.  These ISPs that you are paying (or someone else is paying), are providing a service, the question is how that service should be delivered.

Net neutrality means that you are paying for a pipeline (or tubes if you are Senator Ted Stevens) at a certain rate of data transfer from the ISP and that rate doesn’t change no matter what you look at.  If you look at the National Rifle Association, American Civil Liberty Union, Greenpeace, Constitution Party, or Ron Paul’s presidential candidate web site, all of these will have the same access because your pipeline is neutral to the source content (note speeds could vary because of the hosting server of the content).

If we get rid of net neutrality, the ISP, who you the consumer are paying, will be able to charge the content provider for improved access to the viewer.  So big corporations, especially media companies may decide to pay to increase the download speeds of their web content.  Little ol’ bloggers will probably not pay, and their content may be slowed down.

In reality, the content may be slowed if it is unfriendly to the corporations that control your access to the internet, not just based on financial shakedown, extortion that the ISP is charging.

So back to this meeting that started the whole thing.  So the worry that we have is that ISP will create a bottleneck for information by slowing the data transfer rate.  This might not happen, but if you look at the tactics they used in the meeting, it is same damn thing.

An official at Free Press, a nonprofit advocacy group that has criticized Comcast for limiting the amount of data some of its customers send over its network, accused the cable company of “stacking the deck” at the hearing with the 30 to 40 “seat-warmers.” An official at Harvard said dozens of real participants were left standing outside the auditorium with placards.

So they pay to have people sit in the auditorium taking up seats (the bottleneck) to limit the number of people that want to weigh in the on the issue from participating.  Man, that sounds like the concern that net neutrality advocates have on the internet.

Now if the need to monitor, or limit data transfer is so crucial to a functioning system, then that should be clear on its own merits, which I personally don’t think it is.

Comcast feared a loud and critical crowd at the hearing where executive vice president David Cohen was scheduled to testify. Comcast, which offers high-speed Internet to 48 million homes, has said it needs to manage Internet use so that a small number of customers transmitting very large video files do not clog the network for everyone.

How about a study by an independent group to demonstrate that this concen of a small number of customers will clog the network?  Show me that research, not by an industry connected group, and I will listen.

Comcast has a different idea of what a small proportion is, than me.

Comcast says the number of seat-warmers was small in proportion to the capacity of the 290-seat auditorium. There was additional standing room.

Lets say that there are 20 SRO spaces, that pushes the capacity to 310.  If the low end estimate of 35 people is used that is 11.3% of the auditorium, I think that is significant.  If they are there to just to fill space, to keep citizens out that question Comcast’s position, then that is a perfect example of how corporations try to circumvent the democratic regulatory process.  Now the article says that they may have been there to save seats for employees, but stacking the audience either with employees and warm bodies is not playing fair.

On a tagent in the reporting, this pisses me off because it strikes of elitism.

Bracy, of the Berkman Center, said the group of seat-warmers caught her attention when she showed up at the Ames Courtroom at 7:15 a.m. Monday to prepare for the hearing.

About 35 people — mostly men dressed in jeans and baseball caps and one in a camouflage jacket — were parked in the first three rows of the auditorium drinking coffee and reading the Boston Globe, she said.

They were “regular Joes” who looked like they could have come from Dunkin’ Donuts, Bracy said. She was surprised to find them there several hours before the late-morning event. “I thought, great, we’re reaching out to new communities.”

If I attended, I would probably have the paper with me, and probably be in jeans, looking like the “regular Joes.”  When did participation in the democratic process require a certain dress code.

-Josh

Foxes guarding the henhouse

This is about media consolidation, but not about Fox News.

The FCC voted today on 3-2 party line vote to ease ownership restrictions on media companies, as reported in Reuters.

The FCC voted 3-2, along party lines, to ease the 32-year-old ban on ownership of a newspaper and broadcast outlet in a single market.

Now I am proponent of regulations, but when a party orthodoxy carries on with the anti-regulation legacy that gained momentum under Reagan, with appointees to regulatory bodies, we need to watch the foxes.  I think Senator Rockfeller nailed it as reported in a different Reuters article.

Another member of the committee, Democrat John Rockefeller of West Virginia, complained that the FCC “appears to be more concerned about making sure the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines rather than the public interest.”

Rockefeller said the committee should write legislation next year that “addresses the structure of the agency, its mission, the terms of the commissioners, and how to make the agency a better regulator, advocate for consumers and a better resource for Congress.”

To me this feels like the attempts by professional sports team owners to get public funding for their stadiums.  They will just keep working at it until they wear you down, or they sneak it through.  Back in 2003, the FCC had a similar vote.  The next month the House voted 400-22 to block the rule change.   Read the timeline at NOW (only goes through 2004).

-Josh

Voluntary Regulation

Mark Fiore, animator and satirist, has a great flash animation this week on voluntary regulation, and how great it is.

I am pro-regulation, and fear the possibility of a Ron Paul presidency.

-Josh