Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shhh, don't say 'gay'

Teaching about Oscar Wilde, discussing civil rights, and reprimanding children for anti-gay taunting could all get a lot tougher in Tennessee where a state Senate committee approved a bill that would prohibit elementary and secondary schools from providing "any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality."

If we don't talk about it, it doesn't exist, right?

A follow-on bill will prohibit Will and Grace re-runs and Ted Haggard sermons from being shown on Tennessee televisions before 10 p.m.

Boehner supports Obamacare for the elderly

What a long strange trip it's been.

During the floor debate on the Affordable Care Act (which Republicans affectionately refer to as "Obamacare") in March 2010, then Republican minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, described the Democrats' reforms thusly
...today we’re standing here looking at a health care bill that no one in this body believes is satisfactory.

...Can you go home and tell your senior citizens that these cuts in Medicare will not limit their access to doctors or further weaken the program instead of strengthening it? No, you cannot.

...Shame on us. Shame on this body. Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen.
In January of this year, Republicans made the repeal of the ACA their first substantive (though ultimately unsuccessful) piece of legislation.

Yesterday, however, Speaker Boehner was singing a different tune. When asked about the Republicans' plans to cut and privatize Medicare, Speaker Boehner said
It transforms Medicare into a plan that's very similar to the President's own healthcare bill.
He went on to praise the proposed program's efficiency and to state several times that he supported it.

So a short time ago, the President's proposals were shameful and unsatisfactory, but now, changes that are "very similar to the President's own healthcare bill" are laudable.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Throw Grandma from the nursing home

In yet another fine display of their "what's good for bidness, is good for the commonwealth" philosophy, North Carolina Republicans are now proposing that nursing homes should be allowed foist hard-to-care-for charges onto the county governments.
When a North Carolina assisted-living facility accepts a resident, the home has the legal responsibility to look after the person or to find a safe alternative placement.

But a bill making its way through the state House would shift that responsibility to county social services departments, which don't want the responsibility of dealing with early-morning phone calls demanding the care of a person with a disability such as dementia.

The bill also would allow facilities to escape state sanctions after making an unsuccessful attempt to find a new place for a resident.

Some advocates for older people say the bill could result in some of the most dependent residents being released to homelessness.
It's hard to come up with a more cruel and mean-spirited policy (though we shouldn't put this bunch to the challenge). The proposed change would put the most vulnerable patients at risk while also increasing responsibilities for county health agencies that the Republicans' are already targeting for cuts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

We didn't cover this in labor class

This semester's labor economics class is winding down. Somehow, I neglected to cover this novel workforce development strategy.
It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's just an unemployed guy in a red cape.

A Florida unemployment agency is under investigation for spending $14,000 in public funds on red superhero capes as part or broader campaign that frames joblessness as a battle between good and evil. The agency, Workforce Central Florida, even created a fictional villain, Dr. Evil Unemployment, whose superpower is apparently handing out pink slips in a bid to somehow take over the world.
The campaign has now been withdrawn, but you have to wonder what they were thinking.

About the only positive thing that you can say about this is that it beats the agency's careereoki campaign from two years ago.

Floridians must be so glad that they contract these services out to private agencies instead of letting the government handle social services.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Houston, we have some whiners

Is there anything that Republicans won't whine about? The latest is Texas Republicans moaning and groaning over Houston not getting a space shuttle. Reps. Ted Poe and Pete Olson write
Now that the space shuttle program is ending, no other place in the world deserves a retired shuttle more than Houston, Texas. Put simply, this decision should be a no-brainer.

But Houston has been overlooked. Shuttles are going to Los Angeles, Florida, and Washington. The prototype Enterprise is headed to New York City. "We were tremendously surprised," said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York after NASA made the announcement. No kidding.

Sadly, it seems partisan politics permeates this announcement. And we are demanding answers.

...Here's our justification for Houston: Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, visited by nearly 7 million international visitors every year. More than 750,000 people a year visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston to glimpse the history of space exploration. Houston doesn't seek an orbiter because it wants to add a relic to a museum to highlight a marvel of modern engineering. It is more profound than that. To Houston and the men and women of Mission Control, who dedicated their careers to human space flight; it represents a life's work.

We can find no logical explanation for this mind-boggling decision.
No logical explanation?

New York, our largest city, has averaged more than 45 million visitors per year since 2006. Los Angeles, our second largest city, welcomed about 24 million per year over the same period. Washington, DC, our Nation's capital, welcomed more than 15 million per year and hosts an extraordinary Air & Space Museum. And central Florida has not only been home to the shuttle program but is a major tourist destination. Orlando welcomes more than 45 million visitors per year, and the Kennedy Space Center alone draws 1.5 million visitors per year (twice as many as the Johnson Space Center).

Under other circumstances (i.e., when it doesn't benefit them), Reps. Poe and Olson are foes of government entitlements. Consider Rep. Poe in February
We are long overdue to stop subsidizing the government’s special projects for its special people with money that doesn’t exist.
and Rep. Olson in March
We can all find a way to do more with less.
What changed in the meantime? The availability of a big fat government goody.

And when they didn't that goody, what did they do? Cast unfounded aspersions and cry politics. Talk about an entitlement mentality.

Sadly, the only "partisan politics" on display here are from these two hypocritical whiners.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Compound errors

The local conservative weekly, the Rhinoceros Times, has an article about runaway public spending in Guilford County.
Now that the 2011-2012 Guilford County budget process is in full swing, with the county manager's proposed budget on the table and the budget ball in the county commissioners' court, it's interesting, and even kind of fun and nostalgic, to look back 10 years and see how things compare.

One look at Guilford County's budget for fiscal 2000-2001 and it quickly becomes evident that, while 10 years wasn't that long ago in some respects, when it comes to county budgets it was light years ago and a galaxy far, far away.

One way the 2000-2001 budget seems very distant from today is in the number of dollars shelled out. Just a decade ago, Guilford County was being run on a much smaller budget: The 2000-2001 budget totaled $397.5 million. That compares with a proposed county budget of $582.3 for 2011-2012 – a 46 percent increase in the county's budget in just 10 years.

The population of the county only went up 16 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 421,048 to 488,406.
Joe Guarino piles on
Spending increases in these areas outpaced population growth and inflation combined.

When county commissioners wring their hands and represent that they cannot conceive of ways to achieve spending cuts sufficient to avoid a tax increase, they are not being honest with us.

The fact is that we have had solid liberal Democratic leadership of the county for a long time, with all the fiscal profligacy that entails.
The figures that the Rhino and Joe put forward look like a big increase, but they aren't when you also account general price growth.

Over the last 10 years (from March 2001 to March 2011), overall price inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index went up by 26.9 percent.

The combination more than accounts for the growth in spending.

In 2000-1, the county was spending $944 per resident. In 2011-12, it is proposing to spend the equivalent of $939 per resident, based on 2000-1 dollars.

Far from letting spending run away, the county has kept its spending slightly below the combined rates of population and price growth.

Guilford County is facing a tough budget situation. However, the crunch has been caused by falling revenues, not exploding costs. Property values have fallen, depleting the county's largest source of revenue. The state and federal governments will also be transferring less money to the county next year.

In inflation- and population-adjusted terms, Guilford County has kept its expenditures frozen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Republican's budget rhetoric and reality

People with a memory for such things might recall that in their "Pledge to America," Republicans promised (underline added)
With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to prestimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future.
To this end, Republicans passed pointless, go-nowhere legislation. They then fulminated and threatened to shut the government down if they didn't get their way. With a shut down looming, their leader, Rep. John Boehner bargained tenaciously for spending cuts.

Today, those negotiated "spending cuts" were approved by a large majority of House Republicans (and with substantial support--81 votes--from Democrats).

The effect on this year's budget?

Total spending this year will be $3.3 billion higher than last year.

The Washington Post reports
The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday would cut federal outlays from non-war accounts by just $352 million through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in immediate cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending.

When war funding is factored in the legislation would actually increase total federal outlays by $3.3 billion relative to current levels.
So, far from reducing this year's budget, the Republican House just approved a $3.3 billion spending increase for FY 2011.

To quote Sarah Palin's question to the National Tea Party Convention, "how's that hopey changey thing working out for ya?"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

NCBCBS asks not to be blamed for misdirecting premium dollars

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (NCBCBS) is starting a new marketing campaign to spark a discussion on reining in health care costs. The News & Observer reports
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is tired of playing the scapegoat.

The state's largest health insurer will announce this morning that it's beginning a major marketing campaign to emphasize that many parties share the blame for rising health costs. The message is that those groups, including insurers, doctors, hospitals, drug companies, lawyers and consumers, must work together to reduce medical costs.

The effort will include TV commercials and other advertising with goats portraying the various groups. The Chapel Hill company also is starting a website, www.letstalkcost.com to spur more discussion about how to control medical costs.
At the risk of scapegoating the state's largest insurance oligopoly, let me suggest that NCBCBS first consider the cost implications of misdirecting its hostages' customers' premium dollars toward self-serving marketing and lobbying campaigns.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Congressional taunting

A new study of the communication patterns of Congress members finds that 27 percent of Congress' time is spent taunting.
On Wednesday morning, the Senate had been in session only a few minutes before the first exchange of barbed words.

“Democrats are more concerned about the politics of the debate than keeping the government running,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a floor speech. “They can’t blame anyone but themselves if a shutdown does occur.”

A while later, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) came out to speak. He had a few choice things to say about Republicans’ plans for cuts to the federal budget.

“The more the American people take a hard look at where [Republicans] want this country to go, the more outraged will be millions and millions of citizens,” Sanders said.
To which, McConnell later presumably replied, "The good gentleman's mother was a hamster and his father smelled of elderberries!"