March 15, 2010

President has made a mess of health care reform

Douglas Turner writes in The Buffalo News (click the title of this post):

A year ago President Obama strolled confidently into the garden of good and evil, bit deeply into the apple and created the mess he and congressional Democrats are in now concerning health insurance reform.

Only a few heady weeks into his presidency, Obama called his first White House health care summit. It was not with those who got him elected, folks from the neighborhoods, the universities, the clinics and officials from hard-pressed state and local health agencies.

Thinking he was still in Chicago, Obama blithely muscled such non-entities aside and settled in with silk-suited brass from the health insurance trade, the hospital conglomerates and the prescription drug business.

With trusted Chicago aides at his elbow, Obama made an amoral deal with the drug manufacturers that has poisoned everything that happened since. He had a debt to pay. The drug makers had donated tens of millions to his Senate and presidential campaigns.

Just after this summit, Obama secretly promised the Rx people that there would be no government jaw-boning with the industry to get lower prices for seniors and others. Obama also promised them there would be no drug importation from Canada and other reliable foreign countries.

This, after then-candidate Sen. Obama promised his administration would enter into talks for lower prices and would bring cheaper but identical products in from Canada. As a U. S. senator and presidential candidate, Obama voted for both.

I am indebted to reporters Tom Hamburger, who broke the story last year about this amazing turnabout, and Paul Blumenthal, who recently added important details. Obama’s 180-degree switch sent a signal to all legislators with close ties to special interests. Obama had campaigned on transparency and chasing lobbyists out of town. Now, it all moved behind closed doors, just as in the ferment over Hillary Clinton’s failed health care proposals 15 years before. The lessons then and now: Don’t trust the people.

On April 15, 2009, there was a secret meeting at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee at which the drug industry outlined its advertising campaign for health insurance reform. Another part of the $80 billion deal was filling in some, but not all, of the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D.

Seeing that Obama didn’t believe his own campaign rhetoric about transparency, the Senate Finance Committee began its secret talks on what constituted health insurance reform. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is chairman. Charles E. Schumer, D-N. Y., is a prominent member. Baucus emerged on June 20 and called Obama’s unsavory deal with the drug industry “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” It certainly wasn’t for sick people with limited incomes.

Not long afterward, Senate Democrats got all wobbly about the public option that passed the House. This would be a government-supervised and subsidized insurance program. It would have been the best yardstick by which private health insurance costs could be measured and controlled. On Oct. 28, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Independent, said he would block any bill that contained the public option. Many senators, awash in insurance industry money, shed crocodile tears at the demise of the public option.

Obscured in quarrels over details is the collapse of public trust.

Now, instead of cost control, we are arguing over a symbol: The idea that Democrats need to pass something, even though it won’t produce better health care.

Nothing better symbolizes that special hell into which Obama’s dealings sent health care than a rule being shaped by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and chairwoman of the Rules Committee. She would have the House symbolically approve the Senate bill that would cost New York taxpayers $1 billion a year in added Medicaid costs. Part of the money subsidized payoffs to Vermont, Nebraska and Michigan to buy their senators’ votes last Dec. 24.

March 11, 2010

Eric Rosenbloom Distortions - LI Offshore Wind Initiative

Promoters of an industrial wind energy plant off the shore of Jones Beach, Long Island, New York, attempted some time ago to debunk a few of the findings in the early but still comprehensive and persuasive paper “A Problem With Wind Power”. Theirs was a weak effort indeed, but since it is still occasionally cited as definitive, this refutation from January 2009 deserves to be reposted. Answers follow each “distortion” and “truth” pair from the Wind Works 4 LI group.
‘The Distortion’
No power plants have been shutdown in other countries with wind turbines because wind is an intermittent resource.

‘The Truth’
Both Germany and Sweden have shut down nuclear reactors with the intent of supplying the loss of capacity with wind power (
Intent is very different from what actually happens. In fact, Germany has essentially halted their planned shutdowns of nuclear plants and will now extend their operations. Germany is planning 26 new coal plants, 8 of them on a fast track for 2010. Sweden has not in fact shut down any nuclear plant and is now planning to build new ones.
‘The Distortion’
If you build wind turbines you need backup generation

‘The Truth’
Electric grid systems can handle a certain percent of wind power without needing additional generation. The 140MW able to be produced by the wind park is within these parameters. The grid is already designed to compensate for loss-of-load contingencies when large power plant units suddenly become unavailable.
Because a system can handle contingencies doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be operated normally. Furthermore, as the system is already designed to handle dropouts of major suppliers, then it would have to be expanded to also be able to handle sudden drops in production from a wind energy plant. In other words, most of the time the system can indeed already deal with large fluctuations of wind production, but it then also has to still be able to handle the loss of a major supplier or two – so more excess capacity is needed to ensure reliability.
‘The Distortion’
Because other electric generators need to be running at lower efficiencies in ‘spinning reserve’ they will actually pollute more than the avoided emissions from the wind turbines

‘The Truth’
The fact is: electrical generating units are constantly varying their outputs, starting and stopping, as the demand for electricity rises and falls throughout the day. When not running or burning less fuel, they pollute less!
This “distortion” isn’t even in Rosenbloom’s paper. Nevertheless, the fact is that running thermal plants at a lower output than their ideal, running them in spinning reserve, ramping them up and down, and starting and stopping them – all of this increases carbon emissions per unit of electricity supplied. It is like stop-and-go city versus smooth highway driving. Wind – intermittent, highly variable, nondispatchable – on the system would increase all of these inefficient uses. Whether or not that inefficiency would cancel the theoretical savings of taking wind energy into the system is easily determined by records of fuel use. And so far, there is no such evidence of less fuel use per kilowatt-hour provided on any grid. In fact, coal use in the U.K. and the U.S. has increased in recent years relative to electricity use.
‘The Distortion’
Other countries are reducing their subsidies for wind power

‘The Truth’
This is what is supposed to happen with any industry as it reaches a sustainable point in any market. E.g. Spain began to reduce subsidies in 2002 and their wind generating capacity still grew 33% in the last two years. (in the USA fossil fuels still receive very large subsides despite overwhelming market penetration)
Development in Germany has slowed dramatically with a decline in subsidies, and development in the U.S. has gone up and down with the existence of the Production Tax Credit. Spain continues to fund its wind industry with future carbon credits sold to others. The fact is, the wind industry lobbies hard for subsidies and could not thrive without them. In the U.S., compared with 44 cents for coal, $1.59 for nuclear, and 25 cents for natural gas (the three main sources of electricity in the U.S.), wind received $23.37 per megawatt-hour of its electricity production in 2007, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (click here). And that’s only federal (not state or local) financial (not legislative) intervention and ignores the 5-year double-declining-balance accelerated depreciation that is available to wind.
‘The Distortion’
The German Energy Agency report issued in February 2005 said increasing wind generation would raise costs by 3.7 times

‘The Truth’
Completely false. We encourage you to visit the agency’s website and read their report to see for yourself that Mr. Rosenbloom’s claim was uniformed ( The true additional cost per household is 12 euro a year.
Obviously, this means that projected increases of electricity costs would be 3.7 times more with a large wind program than without. Dena’s page for the publication states that “[t]he expansion of wind energy will cost private households between 0.39 and 0.49 euro cents per kWh in 2015”. That’s up to 25 euros for 5,000 MWh. Table 8 in the English-language summary shows the different costs between expanding wind and not from 2007 to 2015 under three pricing scenarios: While the cost increase from 2007 to 2015 for private households (“nonprivileged consumers”) is 1.9-2.8 times more with wind, for industry (“privileged consumers”) it is 3.8 to 5 times more.

Rosenbloom’s paper also puts this economics issue in the context of several studies having concluded that the goal of CO2 mitigation can be achieved much more cheaply by other means. The Long Island [N.Y.] Power Authority rejected the project in Long Island Sound for simple economic reasons.

The Distortion
The US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the use of monopole towers as a means to mitigate bird deaths

The Truth
Completely False, the document Mr.Rosenbloom cites, actually promotes the use of monopoles to mitigate bird deaths. It appears he didn’t read his own citation. (, pg.6 statement #1)
The FWS recommendation to use monopole towers (on page 3 of the document) is simply an acknowledgement that lattice towers provide roosts. It does not suggest that using a monopole tower makes it safe to operate a wind turbine in flyways and feeding and gathering areas. While the industry points to the tower design to absolve itself, the problem remains the giant blades, both directly and by the turbulence behind then, not to mention habitat fragmentation, degradation, and destruction.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism

March 10, 2010

Wind Watch web site and Rosenbloom want your money for our work

… the shady Eric Rosenbloom …

"Eyes black as coal and when he lifts his face every ear in the place is on him. Starting soft and slow like a small earthquake; And when he lets go, half the valley shakes." …

… unethical …

… clean up its act …

… the ethically bankrupt Rosenbloom is an equal opportunity abuser …

… in January he went back to the dark side. …

… Rosenbloom's request that you send HIM money …

… unethical scoundrels such as Eric Rosenbloom …

So wrote Bob Gorman, managing editor, at the Watertown Daily Times (New York) in an obviously libelous, misinformed, and vaguely antisemitic rant last month.

Despite complete accommodation of Gorman's concerns by National Wind Watch, he flew off the handle anyway, taking his professional and perhaps personal frustrations out on "the shady Eric Rosenbloom", whose "crime" seems to have been simply to actually engage with Gorman rather than cower obsequiously.

(It should also be noted that, as clearly stated on its "About" page, National Wind Watch "is a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation registered in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" and "All of the work for NWW is by unpaid volunteers", and on the "Donate" page, "Every dollar goes directly to providing the information that campaigners around the world rely on".)

Medicare for all!

Stop the medical insurance bail-out bill! Dave Lindorff writes at Counterpunch:

When Obama came to my neighborhood this week to press for public support for his health “reform” bill, he wasn’t just greeted by tea-party hecklers. Speaking to a large group of mostly supportive students and local residents at Arcadia University in Glenside, the president at one point mentioned that “people on the left” want “single-payer.” But before he could add that that approach wasn’t going to happen, he found himself drowned out by cheers calling for Medicare for all and single-payer.

That kind of says it all.

I’m with Marcia Angell, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. The Obama plan for health care “reform”, as well as the two versions passed by the House and the Senate, are all devious disasters that do nothing to solve the nation’s burgeoning health care crisis, and in fact, will make it worse.

The only thing to do at this point is to take the whole stinking pile of paper and put it in the compost heap. Kill it.

This whole effort was never about reform from the day last March when the new president called on Congress to begin deliberations on health care reform. It was about catering to the wishes of the big players in the Medical Industrial Complex--the big pharmaceutical multinationals, the hospital companies, the physicians and, most of all, the insurance industry. People and their health care needs had little or nothing to do with this.

That’s why we’ve ended up with proposals that would do nothing to control costs, that would force health young people to buy unregulated, high-cost and high-profit plans that would be money in the bank for the insurance industry, and that would finance any subsidies for the poor by cutting back on benefits for the only group of Americans who currently have a form of single-payer insurance--the elderly with their Medicare.

President Obama began this whole obscene nightmare with a lie, when he said that even though single-payer systems clearly work to open access to all and keep costs down while providing better overall health results in places like Canada and some European countries, they cannot be applied in America “because that would mean starting over from scratch.” He knew when he said it that this was a lie. America already has a well-run and successful single-payer healthcare program in place that is bigger than the entire Canadian health care system, and that’s Medicare, which was established in 1965, and which currently finances the care of 45 million Americans. You just have to be 65 or disabled to be eligible for it.

As Dr. Angell pointed out on a recent Bill Moyers Journal segment, the simplest way to solve America’s health care crisis would be to just start a gradual expansion of Medicare, say by lowering the age of coverage to 55, and then 45, and then 35, until everyone was covered and the insurance industry was pushed out of the health sector. ... Medicare gives the elderly a freer choice of physician and treatment than any but the most gold-plated private insurance executive health care plan.

Obama continued this lie when he claimed, in his last mention of the issue during his State of the Union address to Congress, that he and Congress had considered every idea. In fact, he and Congress have for the last year, carefully prevented any consideration of the idea of single-payer, or of expanding Medicare to cover every American. Bills that would do that, authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in the House and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate, were blocked from hearings or votes in both Houses by Democratic leaders, at the White House’s urging, while the White House itself barred single-payer advocates from any of its discussions.

Instead the president met behind closed doors with the lobbyists of the various health care industries, to cut deals with each sector in order to gain their support for his “reform” plan. It was as if the Department of Justice had called meetings with the various crime families of the Cosa Nostra in order to cut deals before developing a plan to “tackle” the Mafia. ...

The US currently devotes 17.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product to health care, and if this “reform” in any of its guises is passed, that share of the economy devoted to health care will quickly rise past 20 percent, with no end in sight. This is madness. Expanding Medicare to cover everyone, as I have written earlier, would actually save everyone money immediately, and the country as a whole. Consider that the most expensive consumers of health care--the elderly--are already in the system. Adding younger, healthier people to Medicare would cost incrementally much less. That’s why the Canadians spend about 9 percent of their GDP on healthcare, while covering every Canadian, while we spend nearly twice as much and leave 47 million of our citizens uninsured and unable to visit a doctor.

How could it be cheaper to add everyone to Medicare? Expanding Medicare to cover everyone would probably cost somewhere between $800 billion and $1 trillion a year. That sounds like a lot of money, until you consider that we already spend $100 billion a year to care for veterans through the Veterans Administration, and $400 billion a year to care for the poor through Medicaid. We also spend $300 billion a year subsidizing hospitals that have to provide “free” charity care to the poor who don’t qualify for Medicaid, too. Since all those people would be covered by Medicare under Medicare-for-All, that’s $800 billion a year in current expenditures saved right there.

... You don’t want to pay more taxes? Well wait. If you were covered by Medicare, you and your employer would no longer have to pay for private insurance, which would mean a savings to workers of thousands of dollars a year, and even more to employers who currently pay the majority of health insurance premiums for employees. The net savings would be enormous.

Nobody has talked about this.

Universal Medicare would make American companies more competitive in the global marketplace, where other companies are not responsible for health care costs of their workers. It would make Americans wealthier, because they would no longer be paying for health care out of their own pockets. It would make everyone more secure, because they would no longer have to fear losing access to health care if they lost their job, and would eliminate most bankrupties, which are reportedly caused by medical bills.

So we know what needs to be done.

And we know that the current “reforms” on offer don’t do it.

So Dr. Angell is right. Obamacare needs to die.

There is reason to hope that it will die. Republicans oppose it, though not for any decent reason. They want unregulated private insurance and unlimited profits for health care industries. Ditto some conservative Democrats, who are also anti-government ideologues whose wallets are stuffed with health industry swag. But their reasons for oppposing health bill don’t matter. All that is needed is for a few progressive members of the House and Senate to admit that the health bills being considered are not reform, but the antithesis of reform, and to also vote against it, and Obamacare will be dead.

At that point we can start seriously demanding that the Congress and the President act to bring us real health reform in the way that really works: expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

March 7, 2010

It's Time for Revolution

Bill Quigley writes at Huffington Post:

It is time for a revolution. Government does not work for regular people. It appears to work quite well for big corporations, banks, insurance companies, military contractors, lobbyists, and for the rich and powerful. But it does not work for people.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence stated that when a long train of abuses by those in power evidence a design to reduce the rights of people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is the peoples right, in fact their duty to engage in a revolution.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said forty three years ago next month that it was time for a radical revolution of values in the United States. He preached "a true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies." It is clearer than ever that now is the time for radical change.

Look at what our current system has brought us and ask if it is time for a revolution?

Over 2.8 million people lost their homes in 2009 to foreclosure or bank repossessions - nearly 8000 each day - higher numbers than the last two years when millions of others also lost their homes.

At the same time, the government bailed out Bank of America, Citigroup, AIG, Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the auto industry and enacted the troubled asset (TARP) program with $1.7 trillion of our money.

Wall Street then awarded itself over $20 billion in bonuses in 2009 alone, an average bonus on top of pay of $123,000.

At the same time, over 17 million people are jobless right now. Millions more are working part-time when they want and need to be working full-time.

Yet the current system allows one single U.S. Senator to stop unemployment and Medicare benefits being paid to millions.

There are now 35 registered lobbyists in Washington DC for every single member of the Senate and House of Representatives, at last count 13,739 in 2009. There are eight lobbyists for every member of Congress working on the health care fiasco alone.

At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations now have a constitutional right to interfere with elections by pouring money into races.

The Department of Justice gave a get out of jail free card to its own lawyers who authorized illegal torture.

At the same time another department of government, the Pentagon, is prosecuting Navy SEALS for punching an Iraqi suspect.

The US is not only involved in senseless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. now maintains 700 military bases world-wide and another 6000 in the US and our territories. Young men and women join the military to protect the U.S. and to get college tuition and healthcare coverage and killed and maimed in elective wars and being the world's police. Wonder whose assets they are protecting and serving?

In fact, the U.S. spends $700 billion directly on military per year, half the military spending of the entire world - much more than Europe, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and Venezuela - combined.

The government and private companies have dramatically increased surveillance of people through cameras on public streets and private places, airport searches, phone intercepts, access to personal computers, and compilation of records from credit card purchases, computer views of sites, and travel.

The number of people in jails and prisons in the U.S. has risen sevenfold since 1970 to over 2.3 million. The US puts a higher percentage of our people in jail than any other country in the world.

The tea party people are mad at the Republicans, who they accuse of selling them out to big businesses.

Democrats are working their way past depression to anger because their party, despite majorities in the House and Senate, has not made significant advances for immigrants, or women, or unions, or African Americans, or environmentalists, or gays and lesbians, or civil libertarians, or people dedicated to health care, or human rights, or jobs or housing or economic justice. Democrats also think their party is selling out to big business.

Forty three years ago next month, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached in Riverside Church in New York City that "a time comes when silence is betrayal." He went on to condemn the Vietnam War and the system which created it and the other injustices clearly apparent. "We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing oriented" society to a "person oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

It is time.

March 6, 2010

Single payer now ... or in 2017? If in 2017, why not now?

As reported by Ryan Grim at Huffington Post, at his recent meeting with House progressives about the health insurance regulation bill that was supposed to be a health care bill,
"Obama pointed Kucinich toward single-payer language that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was able to get into the bill. Kucinich fought for an amendment that would allow states to adopt single-payer systems without getting sued by insurance companies. Obama told Kucinich that Sanders's measure was similar but doesn't kick in for several years.
Section 1332 does indeed allow for states to establish a single-payer insurance system -- in 2017!

But many states are ready to implement such systems right now. Why the wait, if it's such a good thing?

Instead, Obama is fighting hard to criminalize not having health insurance, to force people to buy an expensive and mostly worthless product to protect the profits of private insurance companies. Just like with the collapse of the home mortgage market, he is opting to spend a trillion dollars to save the robber barons and to sweep crumbs to their victims.

I say it is a worthless product, because, as Michael Moore's film Sicko showed, having insurance doesn't mean very much when you actually need it. The majority of people who have insurance and are satisfied with it most likely have not experienced anything catastrophic yet.

(Single-payer [e.g., Medicare in the U.S.] aside, that is actually not as common in other countries as one might think. It is the system in Canada, and in Great Britain they also have socialized delivery of care [e.g., the Veterans Administration in the U.S.]. Most countries, however, simply recognized the conflict between profit and health care and so removed that aspect for universal care. That's called "people before profits", or representational democracy. A government that puts business before people is called "fascist". For a good overview of several systems around the world, see T.R. Reid's The Healing of America.)

A Harvard Medical School study estimated that 45,000 people die in the U.S. each year because of lack of insurance. Forcing them into worthless plans that they can't afford isn't going to help. To apply the words of John Kerry's 1971 speech about Vietnam to our current for-profit work-linked health insurance system,
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? ... We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership?
Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee wrote in response to Ryan Grim's article:
Obama is telling America, "No, we can't." But we've been showing more and more each day, "Yes, we can" pass the public option. If President Obama doesn't think the votes exist in the Senate, he needs to name which senators would oppose it. If he can't or won't, there's no reason for House progressives to be part of the White House's loser mentality.
Hear, hear! Waiting until 2017 for state-run single-payer is bullshit, and health insurance reform without a nonprofit public option is bullshit.

March 4, 2010

Denmark ranks low in 2010 environmental performance index

Agricultural practices and high reliance on coal, oil and gas gives the country a poor environmental ranking

Denmark is ranked a modest 32nd in the ‘Environmental Performance Index 2010’, compiled by researchers from American Ivy League universities Yale and Columbia.

The index ranks 163 countries, measuring factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, protection of habitats for fauna and flora, general pollution, aquatic environments and sanitation.

Although many of the countries that are ranked ahead of Denmark are not industrialised, many others are, including its Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway, which place fourth and fifth respectively. Another Nordic country, Iceland, tops the list as the most environmentally respectful country. [And Finland is 12th. Click here to see all of the rankings.]

Christine Kim, one of the researchers behind the project, said Denmark wasn’t the pioneer it claimed to be when it came to the environment.

‘When it comes to greenhouse gases, Denmark is not much of an environmental leader,’ she said. ‘And it’s mainly due to the way the Danes use and produce energy.’
Click here to read the rest of "Denmark’s environmental standards dismal" at Copenhagen Post (29 January 2010)

The point of calling attention to this is not to beat up on Denmark. It is to note that despite being the world leader by far in wind energy "penetration", they have still to deal with the same problems as other industrialized countries. Wind didn't change things much.

P.S.  Fun facts:  In 2008, the United States got 48% of its electricity from coal. In 2008, Denmark got 48% of its electricity from coal.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism