American Elephants

“A Year of Action” Same As Last Year, And the Year Before. by The Elephant's Child

President Obama’s in his weekly address, called for “A Year of Action.” He visited a company in Raleigh, North Carolina that makes electric motors that might save businesses money on energy costs and cut “harmful [but nonexistent] carbon pollution.” He said it was part of his push to make America home to more high-tech manufacturing to make America more attractive for good jobs for the middle class.

Then he added these shameless whoppers:

And increasingly, we are.  Thanks in part to our all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, for the first time in nearly two decades, we produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world.  We generate more renewable energy than ever, and more natural gas than anybody.  Health care costs are growing at their slowest rate in 50 years – due in part to the Affordable Care Act.  And since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits by more than half.

So we are primed to bring back more of the good jobs claimed by the recession, and lost to overseas competition in recent decades.  But that requires a year of action.  And I want to work with Congress this year on proven ways to create jobs, like building infrastructure and fixing our broken immigration system.

Our booming production of oil has nothing to do with his “all-of-the-above” strategy. It is entirely produced by private enterprise on private property in spite of all his efforts to shut down any possibility of drilling. Health care costs are not slowing because of the ACA, but because of the recession and new diagnostic tools and new drugs saving lives. And the deficit was cut by the sequester. Other than that, he will act on his own to create opportunity and jobs, fair shot to get ahead, infrastructure, jobs lost to overseas competition (in other words don’t blame him), and a Year of Action— and he firmly believes this can be a breakthrough year for America. He’s focused on that every single day of this year.

Clueless. Utterly clueless.

Fifty Years of the War on Poverty. We Lost. by The Elephant's Child

There has been much talk this week of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” It has been 50 years, a half-century, since the federal government declared “an unconditional war” on poverty. Another lost war. The original goal as LBJ stated it was “to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.” And there’s the rub.

Fifty years later, fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official 2012 census report. Liberals argue that we aren’t spending enough money fighting poverty. Yet the federal government runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. The federal government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012, and about 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. That figure does not include Social Security or Medicare benefits. Welfare spending by the federal government and the states, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964.Converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all “official” poverty in the United States.

Poverty today bears little resemblance to poverty 50 years ago. The typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV. The home is larger than the home of the average non-poor Frenchman, German or Englishman. He has a car, more than one color TV and a DVD player. More than half have computers and a third have wide flat-screen TVs. They are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger even once the previous year.

LBJ intended to give the poor opportunity, and shrink welfare dependence, not expand it. By that standard the “war” has been a colossal failure. The root-causes have expanded and labor-force participation among men has dropped. A large percentage are less capable of escaping poverty than when the war began. Children raised in single-parent homes are more likely to face social and behavioral problems, and three times more likely to end up in jail, and 50% more likely to be poor as adults.

The incentives in welfare discourage marriage, current programs cut benefits sharply if a mother marries a working father. A single parent going to work may lose all benefits even though their pay is less than the benefits were. All programs should encourage marriage and families. Kids need parents and a father in the home. The government should require able-bodied, working-age adults to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving benefits.

America needs to have a safety net, but able-bodied adults should work. Dependence is not healthy, and Liberals often want to give people benefits in the assumption that they are doing good. Politicians believe that generous benefits create grateful voters for their political party. But that is putting politics before the health of the nation. Surely that wouldn’t be the aim.

Sloppy Bookkeeping, Error, Waste and Fraud. by The Elephant's Child

John Steele Gordon wrote at Commentary magazine:

Imagine that a health insurance company chose a random sample of payments made to its claimants and found that 10.1 percent of them should not have been paid at all, either through error or fraud. What do you suppose would happen?

First, whoever was in charge of accounts payable would be fired on the spot, his office contents on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes before the day was out. Second, a thorough overhaul of procedures would be quickly put into place to make sure the error rate was reduced to as near zero as possible. Third, a federal prosecutor would open an investigation into possible criminal activity. Fourth, a congressional committee would convene hearings and beat up the CEO for charging such high premiums when simply running his company properly would have allowed them to be drastically reduced.

But when Medicare’s fee-for-services programs ran exactly this error rate, the result was … oh, look, a squirrel!

At what point do we start talking about “real money?” Do our government officials get so accustomed to speaking in terms of trillions (the budget deal just signed into law) and billions that they lose any sense of what their casual expenditures and sloppy bookkeeping mean to a taxpayer’s family budget? Or do they simply think of it all as “government money” and fail to recognize that it all came out of the pocketbooks of real people?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had exactly that error rate in 2013, and paid no less than $33.2 billion that it shouldn’t have paid at all. Overall they paid out $55.9 billion improperly. Was anyone in accounts payable escorted to the street accompanied with their office contents? Don’t be silly.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid services spokesman Tony Salters said CMS doesn’t even attempt to recover all of its estimated overpayments. He said that agency contractors attempt to recover improper payments, and get “most” of that back, but those improper payments represent only a fraction of the total amount paid out incorrectly.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates that in just 13 “high-error programs” in fiscal 2012 wrongly paid out a shocking $101.3 billion. That’s a 2.86 percent of total federal spending — $16 billion more than the entire sequester for fiscal 2013. The sequester, with shrieks of pain and suffering, amounted to $85.4 billion and the end of the world.

Insurance companies, criticized and demonized, run tight ships, constantly looking for ways to cut costs and eliminate fraud and error. Any business with a 10.1 percent error rate would quickly end up in bankruptcy court. But there seems to be no check on government agencies. They cannot go bankrupt, and they apparently cannot be held to account for their intransigence. After all, it’s just “government money.”

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