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Friday, March 14, 2014

Who knew Karen Weldin Stewart was a States' Rights advocate!

Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart is taking on the Feds over a States' Rights issue?

Wow.  Or maybe not "Wow."

Here's the deal:  the Obama administration has semi-covertly but legally announced that it is selectively not enforcing the individual mandate under the ACA and not collecting the tax penalty, as well as extending the exemptions for those with non-conforming policies . . .

. . . but KWS has now said (h/t Nancy Willing) that Delaware will not recognize that:
“Delaware law, as currently written, does not allow for the extension of non-compliant health plans after January 1, 2014. Furthermore, allowing the two-year extension of previously cancelled and non-compliant plans has the potential to raise premiums for everyone and could disrupt the market in Delaware.”<snip>“I would like to take this opportunity to remind consumers who do not have health insurance coverage that the open-enrollment period to sign up for a new plan will close on March 31, 2014. Individuals who do not have health insurance after this date may be subject to a tax by the IRS next year."
So I guess KWS--who doesn't care at all that Delaware's private insurance sector has become a monopoly for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, or that United Health Care is unilaterally cutting off Medicaid patients from the premiere children's hospital in the region, has suddenly discovered the 10th Amendment, and the ability of the State of Delaware to nullify Federal law.

Unless, of course, she's figured out (and KWS figuring out anything on her own is quite a stretch) that President Obama and HSS don't actually have the legal authority simply to change the terms of Obamacare by fiat . . .

Nah.  Not buying that one.  My theory is that the insurance companies are starting to push back against President Obama's continual backpedaling over his own signature legislation, because he's now starting to cost them serious money.  Since nobody in Congress is willing to do that, they're looking to their industry sock puppets in the States to do the work for them, since folks like KWS have always been there for the insurance industry before.

Read Duke economist/political scientist Michael Munger's brief take on this, and you'll realize immediately what's going on.

As for KWS, here's the story:  RING, RING.  "Hello?"  "We need you to jump."  "How high?"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today's WNJ is full of reasons to elect a Libertarian

Let's see:

We have the typical Gannett corporate journalism piece on why cutting the Defense budget is bad because it will reduce the staffing and equipment at Dover AFB.  Implied is economic disaster, even though economists long ago worked out that money taken out of the military budget and put back into the economy in other ways (even by the government) creates more jobs and more prosperity.

A Libertarian answer:  Let's continue taking money out of the largest military (not "defense") budget on the planet, and put that money to far better, non-violent use either by returning it to the taxpayers or at least by investing in roads, bridges, and schools as we somehow find it absolutely critical to do in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Delaware or Pennsylvania.

Then, in the surprise of the century, the Delaware General Assembly Task Force on campaign reform decides that it is more important to change primary dates to accommodate the preferences of incumbents than to make recommendations about campaign finance reform.  Signing off on it, one member has a sudden attack of honesty and declares the work to be "very shallow."

A Libertarian answer:  I've already suggested it:  Money only from individuals, not groups or organizations, and a campaign spending limit equal to gross one-year-salary for the position being sought.

Governor Markell ominously advises Sussex Countians to support his gasoline  and water taxes or see their businesses go under because nobody likes the pollution or bad roads.  For a man who just discovered in the sixth year of his term that Delaware's water was polluted, and who let the fund for highway repairs head for broke while he was handing out over $43 million per year in corporate subsidies annually, this is apparently the zealotry of a deathbed conversion.  Or just some cynical "legacy making" wherein he will be out of office before we get the bill.

A Libertarian answer:  Again, I've already suggested it:  start by cutting out corporate subsidies and other pieces of obvious waste, prioritize our spending and our projects, and build from the start both an infrastructure and an environmental agenda that's actually financially sustainable without being regressive.

Finally, there is the spectacularly tone-deaf editorial by PNC Region VP Nicholas Marsini Jr which praises early childhood education because the overriding purpose of our schools is apparently a return on investment in jobs: 

Another form of economic development invests entirely in preschoolers so that as adults, they have the skills to become successful in the workplace. Some might even emerge as business owners who themselves create jobs. Early childhood education as economic development, however, does not grab the same headlines as news that a new company is coming to town with a promise of hundreds of jobs.
Yet the outcome of investing in Delaware's youngest learners can generate a stronger, if not a better, return than traditional investments. Its effects create an improved workforce, strengthen our communities and reduce crime.
Maybe this passes for enlightened social commentary among bankers, and maybe Mr. Marsini is correct in that the only way we'll get corporate Delaware to actually invest money (as opposed to divert taxpayer money for its own purposes) in our schools is by selling them strict "return on investment" scenarios.  If he is right, and the idea of public education enhancing democracy, building citizenship, creating critical thinkers, or nurturing the talents of each child (no matter how they may not relate to employment) is all lost, then so is American civilization.

A Libertarian answer:  let's acknowledge that we've got to fix Wilmington before we solve education problems for Delaware's poorest children; that we have to stop WASTING tens of millions of dollars each year on high-stakes testing, ridiculous teacher accountability regimes, and bureaucratic waste in order to have the money to invest in research tested initiatives; and that we have to get back to valuing the investments of parents, teachers, and local school boards in Delaware's children more than we value the investments of bankers and politicians.

Can I get this ALL done as a single Libertarian in a General Assembly controlled by Democrats and Republicans (who pretty much already agree with each other on everything but marriage equality)?

No, I can't.

But what I can do it force them to start have REAL conversations, and looking at alternatives outside the box, and representing somebody besides the PACs that currently control Delaware elections.

If you think that's important, then whether you live in the 22nd District or not, think about looking to the right and sending me a few bucks.  The well-heeled, corporate-backed incumbent is collecting PAC donations at $600 a shot like he usually does.  Give me from $5-25 from a few hundred people and I'll give him a race like he's never seen--like Delaware's never seen.

I'll give him an actual race about ideas . . . .

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Food stamps in Delaware and the real welfare queens

17% of Delaware citizens are on SNAP [Food Stamps].  That's 157,000 people.

Many of those, and thousands more, receive food assistance from the Food Bank of Delaware.

25% of Delaware citizens are on Medicaid, and that number will grow in the Medicaid expansion.

This leads to several recurring arguments:

First, there are the arguments about people deserving or not deserving the assistance.  Today's WNJ story certainly hits that note [and you know the authors knew it would]
Currently, this year's food stamp benefits average out to pay $1.40 per person per meal, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It's not a lot, said Lawana Pipkin of Wilmington, a mother of seven children ages 18 to 2, with another on the way."It can become, like, stressful, very depressing," said Pipkin, who one morning last week had no milk for her children's breakfast and was unable to afford more. She was about a week shy of receiving her March food stamps.
This brings out the folks who want to argue about Ms. Pipkin's choices in having 7+ children with no means of support across two decades, and that's certainly a realistic observation.  It is an observation made on the strength of a single sentence, with no information about mental illness, or injuries, or other life conditions, but it is still a legit question.

My immediate response would be that eight individuals receiving $4.25/day equals $34/day and therefore $12,410 per year if Ms. Pipkin received SNAP benefits every day of the year.  A welfare queen?  Possibly.

But, hey, if she is, she's an amateur compared to Dennis McGlynn of Dover Downs, who managed to talk the General Assembly into an $8 million bail-out of his industry so that he could keep his $700,000+ salary.  

Or how about the tens of millions the State of Delaware has handed over in welfare payments/subsidies to likes of Delaware City Refinery ($32 million), Fisker Automotive ($21.5 million), Bloom Energy ($16.5 million and counting), Amazon ($7.5 million) . . . ?

So while I deplore fiscal waste and bad choices as much as the next guy who wants to be your State Representative, here's my thought:  let's deal with the welfare queens taking tens of millions of my tax dollars before I start worrying about Ms. Pipkin.

Now my second observation:  as a Libertarian I don't like Food Stamps or other such programs, because I really do believe that society could be structured so as not to need them any more.  Someday. But not in the foreseeable future.  So my solution to SNAP and other domestic transfer programs is similar to what Utah is doing for the homeless.

Instead of programs, let's just kill the bureaucracy and give poor people the money in the form of a guaranteed annual income.

Lest my Libertarian friends think I've gone crazy, please note that there are plenty of Libertarians out there who support this idea.  Take Reason, for example:

Perhaps the best example of the demeaning nature of the current welfare system is the SNAP program, otherwise known as food stamps, which works by giving recipients a card that can only be used to buy a selection of government-approved goods. Alcohol, tobacco, pet food, and vitamins are only some of the products that those on food stamps cannot buy because the powers that be have determined that they know what is the best lifestyle for food stamp recipients. 
Instead of treating those who, often through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times like children who are incapable of making the right choices about the food they eat or the drugs they may or may not choose to take, why not just give them cash? Doing so would not only cut down on the huge administrative costs of America’s welfare programs, it would also promote personal responsibility and abolish much of the humiliation and stripped dignity associated with the current welfare system.
Or take Mungowitz and Angus of Kids Prefer Cheese [if you really are a Libertarian, you know who they are, right?], who have long advocated for such.

Here's the real point: if we actually get around to cutting corporate subsidies and other forms of welfare that allow the government to pick the winners and losers in the private sector, we'll have plenty of money to use to figure out the best way to feed hungry children and put them in a position where they'll never need hand-outs again.

So if you're not willing to go after the politicians who subsidize the corporations, don't come to me complaining about Ms. Pipkin and her kids, OK?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Libertarian case for unions

Today Representative Kim Williams has an op-ed in the WNJ about unions and "right to work."

(Excursus:  it is a tribute to how badly I hate the new layout of both the paper and the website that I didn't even see this piece until somebody put it up on Facebook this evening.  Food for thought.)

It's pretty important for me, as a Libertarian candidate, to note that I take a left-Libertarian, almost market anarchist stand on this issue, following along the lines of mutualist Kevin Carson, and that I find the rights of association among workers to be just as important as the prerogatives of management.

(Readers interested in theory are referred to Carson's Labor Struggle:  A Free Market Model.)

I've served as a union grievance officer (2 years) and a union president (6 years), albeit in a labor organization nearly unique (but still allowed) in Delaware.  The DSU faculty is an open shop.  Unit members do not have to join or pay dues to benefit from the contracts we negotiate and enforce; as a union we have to earn that 0.75% of their salaries.  (We currently have about an 85% membership rate.)

Given all of the statist tools that have been given to corporate and business entities with which to drive labor prices down, some form of labor organization remains absolutely necessary in order for the workers to be able to pursue their equally justified agenda of raising their own salaries and benefits to the greatest degree possible, and (a factor most writers do not consider) to both improve working conditions and defend their unit members from arbitrary and capricious conduct.

Libertarians love contracts more than laws, but contracts mean nothing without an ability to enforce the terms.  You don't want to know the number of times (not just in my own organization) that I have watched managers blatantly violate agreements they had made with their own workers regarding sick leave, or hours, or working conditions, or the timely payment of salaries owed.  An individual worker facing a huge corporate organization has little or no chance at redress, even in the courts.  Perhaps even especially in the courts.  An active union can help balance the scales.

Unfortunately, the passage of Wagner and Taft-Hartley almost fatally crippled unions by taking away a wide variety of non-traditional strike related activities, and the current public meme that police officers firefighters, teachers etc. should not have the right to strike is one more assault on the ability of workers to exercise their right to free association and mutual contract.

Maybe I'm too radical for Delaware:  I do not believe that the State should have the power to prohibit anyone from striking.  The multiple scenarios of societal disaster that would occur from such strikes are highly overplayed by a huge public relations/propaganda machine that (you guessed it) operates at the behest of corporation and State.

"Right to work" zones are nothing more than attempts by companies to get the State to forcibly give them preferential treatment in the form of special powers to nullify the workers' right of free association.  They are, effectively, more corporate welfare.

A true free-market model of labor relations would find companies having to deal directly with their employees in order to realize a dynamic that makes it possible for both sides to prosper.

Sure, there is a meme circulating out there that "union greed" nearly killed the American automobile industry.  Horse puckey.  What nearly killed the American automobile industry (and what should have killed at least one of the too-big-to-fail "Big Three" a few years back) is a track record of idiotic decisions about product lines by the managers of the American automobile industry.

Anybody remember the disaster that was the Chevy Vega in the 1970s?  Or any car produced by Oldsmobile during the last ten years of that line's existence?  Organized labor didn't design the damn cars that fell apart or that nobody would buy; workers on the line just built them to spec.

Here's the bottom line:  there is a coercive aspect to unions that Libertarians tend to dislike, and too often in the blurry line that conservatives attempt to use to fuzz over the difference between the two ideologies, the Libertarian position is simplistically portrayed as "anti-union."

The reality is that since Wagner, Taft-Hartley, and a variety of other Statist/corporate mechanisms tilted 98% of the economically and socially coercive power toward corporations, I'm more than willing to start by scaling back corporate coercive power until the dynamic is a hell of a lot closer to 50-50, and then we work on both ends of the issue at the same time.

We've got a lot of years to go before we bring that equation back into balance, thanks to courts and legislators who "gave away the farm" while cheerfully pocketing all those union campaign contributions.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

This photo ran in today's WNJ atop a story about another hearing on the proposed data center/power plant in Newark:

So what's the problem?

The problem is what my friend Cassandra M at Delawareliberal calls "a false equivalency."

First, let's google for the page entitled "Steering Committee" and this is what you'll find:

Twelve Newark residents, including some well-known local activists like Jen Wallace and Nancy Willing, who have gotten together to fight what they believe (agree with them or not) is a bad decision to construct a power plant with a data center attached . . . .

Whereas if you visit the comparable page for, you will  find a list of well-heeled lobbying organizations for a variety of special interests--the same folks who have been purchasing politicians "in the Delaware Way" for decades:

That's, uh, the entire website, and the "Latest Articles" headline is not a link.   DEED does say on its FB page that a new site is under construction, and here it is:

What you do find is that nowhere on the DEED site (either of them) can you actually find a list of names of the people involved.  That "unique coalition of Delaware labor and business leaders" is apparently so proud of their endeavors that all the members have chosen to remain . . . anonymous.

If you do visit the DEED Facebook page (which currently sports an awesome 54 likes and a "most popular" week back in December 2013 when 7 people were "talking about this"), you can discover that our anonymous group has some significant heft--at least if you look at the guest list.

Tony DePrima, Executive Director, Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility
Chip Rossi, Delaware Market President, Bank of America
Ed Rendell, former PA Governor
US Senator Chris Coons
Governor Jack Markell
Representative Dennis E. Williams
DNREC Secretary Colin O'Mara
Finance Director Ann Visali
(By the way, if you visit the No Newark Power Plant FB page, they have 426 likes and 66 people currently talking about them.)

(And in case you think I didn't check, the Delaware Jobs Now FB page has 44 likes and nobody visiting the page--besides me--in weeks.)

Why is this all important?

Because the Delaware Way.

The News Journal shows you the photo of the two signs--one "for" and one "against"--and visually attempts to make the point that there are two groups, two sides to every story, sort of a visual equivalence.

The reality is that there is one grassroots group with almost no funding and a lot of individual activists hustling, and another semi-anonymous organization that contains leading Delaware Democrats, investment movers and shakers, and lots of bankers or attorneys.

This is how things "get done" in Delaware.  Delaware Jobs Now is a front organization for large campaign contributors, contractors, developers, and financiers pretending to be grassroots.  No Newark Power Plant (again, love 'em or hate 'em) is exactly the same kind of real grassroots organization that groups like those who fought against the gun control agenda, or those who fought for marriage equality.

Yep, I put the Greens Jen Wallace in the same sentence with somebody like Eric Boye from Delaware Campaign for Liberty, full well knowing that they agree on nothing.

Well, not quite nothing.  Both of them would agree that the thing that scares Delaware politicians the most is the idea of plain old citizens organizing around an idea or a principle, and being willing to make signs, stage rallies, and take their case to any forum they can find in order to gain just a little leverage against the corporate hacks who really run this state.

We need those groups--right and left (you rarely find them in the center)--Libertarian, Green, and C4L--because as fractured and underfunded and contentious as they are, guess what?

They're pretty much the only political hope for meaningful change in Delaware in any direction.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Talking about Delaware pollution without the lies and evasions

Like the Vichy French police official Louis in Casablanca who was "Shocked! I tell you, shocked!" to discover gambling at Rick's Place (while pocketing his winnings), the strategy of Governor Jack Markell, the rest of Delaware's "major party" politicians, the Editorial Board of the Wilmington News Journal, and our so-called "corporate leadership" has been to pretend that the discovery of pollution in the First State is the fault of . . . Delaware citizens.

More to the point, it is Delaware citizens who are going to be hit with a $700,000,000 bill for a multi-year clean-up--the overwhelming majority of which will find its way into the hands of the same corporations who dumped toxic chemicals into our air and water for years.

THIS is the famed "Delaware Way."

I'm going to lay it out for you.  It will be long and it will be unlovely, and I will take no prisoners.

I'm not ready to get into finding (and funding) the solutions yet, because we cannot do either until we are honest about who caused the problems and we get those responsible away from the decision-making process for the clean-up.

If we don't, the state's major polluters (which include, by the way, both our major corporations AND our state/local governments) will simply pocket hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars without ever dealing with the problem.

So here goes.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Helping Delaware (and Joe Miro) solve the Medicaid conundrum

Officials in Markell’s administration say they were surprised this fall when the federal government signaled it would shift some Medicaid costs back to the state. The move was triggered by a technical change in the way federal economists calculate personal income, and could cost the state an unexpected $25 million.
And I said this:
I'm not sure who really believed that (A) adding 20,000-30,000 people to the 215,000 people in Delaware already on Medicaid wasn't going to cost more; or that (B) the cash-strapped Feds weren't going to look for a way to shift more of the expense downward.  Nobody's repealed the law of gravity recently. 
Last week the WNJ reported that the General Assembly's budget committee and the 22nd State Representative District's own incumbent Joe Miro are now getting around to grappling with this issue:  
Lawmakers on the General Assembly's budget committee wrestled Wednesday with the rising costs of Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor that will cost state taxpayers an additional $25.6 million next year.
The program is now projected to consume about $700 million of Gov. Jack Markell's proposed $3.8 billion operating budget proposal under consideration in the General Assembly.
"We cannot sustain the expenditures that we have with the income that we're generating," said Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley. "Everybody on this committee realizes we need to do something." 
It is important to understand, no matter how you feel about Medicaid, that this is not something that our legislators can walk away from:  with the new Medicaid expansion one of every four Delaware citizens will be receiving his or her health insurance from the program.

Why is it that our legislators believe that the $3.8 BILLION dollars of tax revenue Delaware collects each year is inadequate to perform the essential tasks of government?

This is only a complex question to answer because our current crop of lawmakers starts with certain assumptions about what they need to do with our tax money, assumptions that are apparently driven more by who donated to their campaigns than by any sense of fiduciary responsibility.

You see, Medicaid (state subsidized health insurance for primarily the working poor) is something we can't afford to spend $700 million on (at least not without raising taxes, they tell us), but . . . .