Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The barely-educated journalists of today

Neal Boortz

OK … I’ll admit it. I did get a little testy on Twitter (@Talkmaster) Saturday afternoon while watching coverage of the crash landing of that Asiana 777 in San Francisco. There’s an explanation.

Just what mistakes did various Fox reporters make this weekend? Well here’s a few:

“The plane skidded on its back down the runway.” That gem was repeated for fully five hours after the accident and after half the free world saw the plane sitting upright in the dirt next to runway 28L.

"We don't know if there were one or two pilots. Presumably there were at least two." You don’t know? There are ALWAYS at least two pilots on a commercial flight. This time there were four.

“The plane overshot the runway.” Heard this several times. Tell me … if you overshoot a runway how do you manage to leave a debris field at the very beginning of the runway? Look up “undershot.”

“The plane cartwheeled down the runway.” Though it did lift in the air at one point before it slammed back down, the plane actually spun down the runway. It did not turn cartwheels.

Explaining video of one of the jet engines: “That’s the engine. That’s what makes it go.” Really? Now to be fair, don’t remember if I saw that one on CNN or Fox.

Now here’s one I didn’t hear myself, but got it from multiple Twitter followers. One reporter said that the problem might have been caused by the plane landing into the wind. Uh huh. Airplanes always land into the wind, Sherlock. Also heard that one reporter said that the airplane “landed first, then crashed.”

I truly thought that if kept listening I would soon hear someone say that the accident was either caused by global warming, George Bush, or the fact that gravity is always stronger over water than it is over land.

This wasn’t a part of this particular incident, but I am reminded of an accident in Atlanta. A small plane encountered a sinkhole while taxiing to the runway for takeoff. A wheel went into the pothole and the prop struck the ground. The local news anchor said “the plane crashed on takeoff.”

Aviation and the flying public are poorly served by people who know nothing about the subject engaging in wild and mindless speculation when an incident happens. Fox, CNN and the rest of the broadcast media can, and should, do better.



Employer Mandate Delay Spells Trouble for Obamacare

The dominoes are falling.  The administration’s decision to postpone implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate until after the 2014 midterm elections is just the first to fall. More will be falling soon thanks to the administration’s belated recognition that the health care law will be a job-killing burden on business.

In fact, this is actually the second major part of Obamacare to be postponed in the past few months. This spring, the administration announced that the ACA Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) would be postponed until at least 2015. That program was designed to help small employers provide their workers with a choice of health plans. But in April the administration had to pull back and admit it couldn’t provide those options.

Or perhaps we should call this the third major part of the law to fall apart. In 2011, the administration was forced to permanently postpone implementation of the CLASS Act, Obamacare’s long-term care program. That program was formally repealed in 2012.

Significantly, the administration’s decision to postpone the employer mandate may make a bad situation worse, at least for workers. The postponement affects only the mandate that employers (with 50 or more workers) provide insurance. The individual mandate remains in place, requiring nearly all Americans to have insurance or pay a fine. Individuals who would otherwise have gotten insurance through their employers may now be forced to purchase their own insurance.

It increasingly looks as though that insurance will be very expensive, especially for the young and healthy. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, some consumers “could see insurance rates double or even triple when they look for individual coverage under the federal health law later this year.”

Earlier this year, a study in the American Academy of Actuaries’ magazine found that 80 percent of young adults aged 18–29 not eligible for Medicaid will face higher costs, and that 20- to 29-year-olds on the individual market not eligible for subsidies will see their premiumsincrease 42 percent.

New federal subsidies are supposed to offset rising premiums to some degree. But it is now an open question as to whether those subsidies will be available in 2014. For the system to work, the administration needs to know which workers are eligible for subsidies. Workers who are being offered affordable insurance coverage through their employers are not eligible for subsidies. But employers won’t have to report whether their workers are being offered affordable insurance coverage until after the employer mandate takes effect, which means the government won’t have that data  until at least 2015. Without it, workers could be on the hook for the entire cost of the insurance they are being forced to buy.

And if the administration does find a way to offer subsidies? That will only further drive up the law’s price tag. The cost of the average exchange subsidy is now projected to be $5,510 in 2014, $700 more than it was projected to be last year. Overall, subsidies were estimated to cost $1.15 trillion over the next 10 years. But that was before the administration’s decision to postpone the employer mandate. With fewer workers receiving employer-based coverage, but all Americans still legally mandated to buy insurance, more workers will end up purchasing insurance through the exchanges, meaning that the cost to taxpayers of providing subsidies will almost certainly rise.

By postponing the employer mandate, therefore, the administration has shifted costs from employers to workers and/or taxpayers. That hardly seems fair.

So we should expect the administration to come under pressure to postpone the individual mandate as well.

The administration is also struggling to implement Obamacare’s federally run insurance exchanges. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has insisted that the federal government will be able to set up and run exchanges in some 33 states where state governments have chosen not to, but Sebelius has been unable to provide Congress or the public with a credible plan for doing so. A new report from the Government Accountability Office questions whether the exchanges will really be operational by their October 1 deadline. “[T]he timely and smooth implementation of the exchanges by October 2013 cannot yet be determined,” the report states.

If the exchanges cannot begin open enrollment by October 1, it is unlikely that they can be fully functional by January 1. Any delay in opening the exchanges would further complicate the government’s ability to provide subsidies, and make enforcement of the individual mandate all but impossible.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and an author of the Affordable Care Act, recently predicted that Obamacare’s implementation would be “a train wreck.” The administration’s latest action suggests that the wheels have already begun to come off the train.



Some more Public Projects Carelessly Managed

On a drive back from a visit to Monticello yesterday, I listened to Jon Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson. In 1784 Jefferson was interested in a project to improve trade routes to the West from the Potomac River. In a March 15 letter to George Washington, he wondered whether it might be a (state) government-supported project, but admitted one problem with that idea:

"But a most powerful objection always arises to propositions of this kind. It is that public undertakings are carelessly managed and much money spent to little purpose."

So as small as the government was back then, it was already commonly known that government projects are often screw-ups. By the way, if you look at the history of the oldest federal agencies—such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Corps of Engineers—you will find scandals, mismanagement, and cost overruns from the the beginning.

Today, the parade of failures and mismanagement continues. Back from Monticello, I caught up on the Washington Post and found an article by Walter Pincus describing the “explosive costs of nuclear weapons disposal.”

"Costs have skyrocketed for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River plant in South Carolina … When the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) originated this MOX program in 2002, design and construction were to cost $1 billion. By 2005, the estimate was $3.5 billion. When project construction began in 2007, it was three years behind schedule with a $4.8 billion price tag. According to NNSA’s fiscal 2014 budget request, construction will hit $7.78 billion. The annual cost to run the facility has also exploded. NNSA estimated in 2002 that it would cost $100.5 million a year to operate the MOX plant. Annual operating costs are now expected to be $543 million."

Regarding the Hanford Nuclear site in Washington state, Pincus notes:

"To handle treatment of the millions of gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste, much of which dates to the 1940s, the Energy Department decided in 2000 to build a Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. The cost was estimated at $4.3 billion with a 2011 completion date. A December 2012 GAO audit said the cost has tripled, to $13.4 billion. Completion is not expected until 2019."

I discuss the huge cost of nuclear site cleanup in this essay and the problem of government cost overruns in this piece.

Governments have always been inefficient in handling spending projects, and will probably always be so. Of course, there are things we need governments to do, such as defending the nation. But the poor management record of government is one good reason to keep it out of all those activities that the private sector can and should be doing for itself.



Audited Virginia farmer faces more thuggery

Farmer Martha Boneta has been involved in a series of disputes with the "Green" Piedmont Environmental Council

Martha Boneta's lifelong dream — her pursuit of happiness — was to be a farmer.

Since purchasing Liberty Farm in Fauquier County, Virginia, where she grows organic vegetables and has over 160 rescued livestock on her small farm, her life has been a series of harassment and bullying by people in power.

The latest trouble is that her house in the nearby, charming village of Paris, which has been placid ever since Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson bivouacked nearby during the Civil War, was vandalized. The same day, she was harassed at her farm by strangers in a Georgetown-registered car.

Ten days earlier Martha had gone public about an IRS audit. Journalist Kevin Mooney broke the story that Boneta was audited by the IRS last year after a series of disputes with the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Fauquier County government.

It was later shown that the audit was disclosed to at least one Fauquier County official, perhaps feloniously.

Martha's disputes brought her national attention because of her willingness to stand up to ridiculousness. She was cited and threatened with $5,000 fines for hosting a birthday party for eight 10-year-old girls without an "events" permit from the county.

Citizens from around the state rallied behind the farmer and held two "pitchfork protests."

Martha bought her farm subject to a conservation easement held by the PEC, a group so well-financed that it once beat Disney's attempt to build a Civil War theme park in Northern Virginia.

Mooney interviewed PEC board member Margaret "Peggy" Richardson, who was the IRS commissioner under Bill Clinton. She resigned under a cloud after dozens of conservative nonprofit organizations were audited.  Asked about the IRS audit of Boneta coming on the heels of legal disputes between the farmer and the PEC, Richardson said, "Coincidences do happen."

But this audit has shown to be no coincidence. A Fauquier County supervisor blabbed about the audit two days after the notice was signed at the IRS and six days before Boneta received it. That shows collusion.

The supervisor is Richardson's friend and neighbor, and a former PEC board member.

Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that county officials seemed obsessed about Boneta after she had stood up to the PEC's wayward and bullying approach to enforcing its easement.

Then in 2011 the county concocted an ordinance restricting farm sales that was enforced only against Boneta. She was cited for selling such things as emu-feather necklaces and homemade pies without a "special administrative farm sales permit," even though such sales complied with Virginia law.

Fauquier County seemed to be using the force of government to carry out the PEC's agenda. In cloistered meetings, Fauquier officials praised the PEC's efforts against the Boneta Bill, and vice versa.

Boneta did not report the recent vandalism to the sheriff. During her legal disputes with the PEC, she reported that wires at her farm had been cut. Six months later, an unusual stretch of time, she was charged with filing a false police report. The case against her was thrown out.

When the county sent an official to her farm without a warrant under the auspices of investigating a zoning infraction, the official was accompanied by one armed deputy. Two more armed deputies soon arrived on the scene even though there was no threat of an incident.

Boneta is undaunted and has gotten more private security including a bulletproof vest.

Exposure of IRS abuse and government thuggery against everyday people who tangle with power is exploding. It is no coincidence that Americans in record numbers fear government.



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