Archive for February, 2015

Over the weekend the New York Times did a hit piece on a man named Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist still employed with the  Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA, because his superiors haven’t figured out how to completely get rid of him.

Disclosure: Dr. Soon was employed with the Caesar Rodney Institute from November 2012-April 2013. He wrote two articles on climate science and made one appearance with CRI Advisor Dr. David Legates. Their presentation can be viewed here and here. Their PowerPoint is available here.

From the New York Times:

“For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.

One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.

But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”

Stop for a moment. They argue that because “corporations” fund Dr. Soon’s research, he must be doing this only to please his fossil-fuel company corporate masters who “deny” the climate “science” because of their capitalist greed. Yet the same people doing the attacking happily accept money from groups or people like The Ford Foundation, Climate Action Fund, Tom Steyer, 11th Hour Project (founded by Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google CEO Eric Schmidt), the United Nations, government agencies invested in proving man-made climate change in order to increase taxes and regulations, other businesses involved in the green energy movement, etc., yet somehow their contributions or motives for proving man-made climate change theories as fact are not questioned in this article.

We knew at the time Dr. Soon joined CRI he had received money in the past from those in the energy sector (we didn’t know how much though) who have an interest in preventing carbon taxes and the like from ruining their businesses. But do you blame them? The radical environmentalist movement has an agenda to destroy “fossil fuels” and anyone who stands opposed to the unnecessary growth of government control over the private sector. Note that he doesn’t get money for his research because the people giving grants cut him off for his disagreement, and he does have two small kids he has to provide for. If he cannot compete fairly for grant money because his work does not fit in with what his employers want (that humans are destroying the planet and only government regulations and carbon taxes can save us), then where else do people expect him to get money for his income?

“Environmentalists have long questioned Dr. Soon’s work, and his acceptance of funding from the fossil-fuel industry was previously known. But the full extent of the links was not; the documents show that corporate contributions were tied to specific papers and were not disclosed, as required by modern standards of publishing.

Though he has little formal training in climatology, Dr. Soon has for years published papers trying to show that variations in the sun’s energy can explain most recent global warming. His thesis is that human activity has played a relatively small role in causing climate change.

Many experts in the field say that Dr. Soon uses out-of-date data, publishes spurious correlations between solar output and climate indicators, and does not take account of the evidence implicating emissions from human behavior in climate change.”

Naturally we never find out who the “many experts in the field” are because they are not cited. Also we note that those who criticize Dr. Soon’s research do not point out the specifics where he is wrong or where his data is out of date.

“Dr. Oreskes, the Harvard science historian, said that academic institutions and scientific journals had been too lax in recent decades in ferreting out dubious research created to serve a corporate agenda.

“I think universities desperately need to look more closely at this issue,” Dr. Oreskes said. She added that Dr. Soon’s papers omitting disclosure of his corporate funding should be retracted by the journals that published them.”

CRI has this problem too. We are accused by our detractors of being “right-wing nuts,” yet our work, coming directly from public sources, is not challenged on its merits. Assumptions are made because we don’t support the “general consensus” on issues like Sea Level Rise, Prevailing Wage, and carbon taxes.Personal attacks are used in place of debate.

Now environmental policy is only a minor part of CRI’s platform. To the extent we cover environmental policy we do so in the forms of how it will affect energy policy or civil liberties. Policy Director Dave Stevenson prefers to focus on energy-related issues and keep away from the overall climate-change debate because it isn’t our main focus, with the exception of stopping the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and carbon taxes. We are not suggesting alternative energies are bad or that we as humans don’t cause environmental problems we need to resolve. However, given the nature of the attacks and the source it comes from, we feel this should be addressed from our end. If you believe people like Dr. Soon are wrong, then prove it with your own data and not just broad assumptions about who your opponents are.

As for whether Dr. Soon’s papers meet academic guidelines, we have no dog in that fight and no comment.

We stand by the material which is up on our website and until someone provides credible evidence that Dr. Legates’ and Dr. Soon’s data is incorrect, we will leave it up.

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Every once in a while we at CRI like to think about economic freedom issues that don’t directly relate to our mission. One such story which showed up in our chilly, soon-to-be-snow-covered inboxes is this one on DelDOT helping the Newark Police patrol the roads near Exit 1 and the Maryland border (route 896, Christiana Parkway, Route 40) where some truckers have been known to exit the highway and then rejoin I-95 about 2 miles away without paying the toll.

Barring the unusual traffic delay this move adds maybe 10 minutes to one’s commute in exchange for saving $4 in tolls. Clearly a large number of truckers believe adding 10 minutes to their commute is worth saving $4 for. So how does the state respond? by hiring more “enhanced” enforcement of toll evasion by heavy trucks and commercial vehicles along Newark-area routes restricted to local deliveries only. The enforcement will be more infrequent but they will reserve power to pull trucks over and check the drivers’ records to make sure they are on local roads on their way to make a local delivery.

Now from a locals’ point of view, trucks block lanes, wear down roads, and slow down normal traffic flow, all so a trucker can save $4 in toll fees. It should not surprise anyone then that keeping trucks who are not making local deliveries off the roads would be popular in the Newark area where this is occurring. From the article:

“During the first two months of patrols in November and December, state troopers and Newark officers conducted 386 total inspections, according to DelDOT.

Police took at least five trucks and nine drivers out of service due to violations in that time, said DelDOT’s Brian Motyl, assistant director of finance. Overall, they issued 179 citations, including weight, equipment, licensing and registration-related issues. Data for January was not yet available.”

That’s a lot of inspections! Over six a day, holidays included. There were nearly three citations issued a day. Each citation carries a fine ranging from $77-$95 and two points on the driver’s license. DelDOT says it’s spent $60,000 through January 31 on the enhanced enforcement; using the $95 fines for every citation issued, the state took in $17,005. That’s a loss of roughly $43,000 going by the math alone, and that’s if every ticket issued was for the maximum amount. On the other side getting heavy trucks off local roads might save money on construction repairs since heavier truck usage requires more repair work done but given New Castle County’s astronomically high Prevailing Wage rates any savings from fewer repairs would be wiped out by the PW and the cost of enforcing this program long-term.

We can safely conclude using this enforcement is costing the state more money than it takes in from citations or from forcing these “toll dodgers” to pay $4 at the toll booth. The article mentions an uptick in tolls collected from commercial traffic but notes tolls collected from larger vehicles has been down for some time. Now the enforcement campaign could pressure truckers to pay $4 rather than risk a $95 fine and points on the license might scare some truckers into staying on the highway, but now we move into the morality: is this way of enforcing laws an aspect of a free society? Having police do random checks for papers to make sure you comply with the local ordinance? Suppose the state lowered the toll to $2. Might that discourage all but the most toll-evading of truckers to just pay $2 rather than dodge the tolls, a move which would save the state tens of thousands of dollars on road repairs and enforcement?

Let’s hear your thoughts: Do you support this enhanced enforcement program? Or should the state try alternative means to discourage truckers from leaving the highways?

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In response to Senator Karen Peterson’s (D-Stanton) letter to the editor in The News Journal on February 12, 2015:
We want to set the record straight. First, We will address Senator Peterson’s first point that our information on legislative salaries is incorrect. The difference is the Senator wants to compare the average legislative salary in 2007 and 2013 separately. This biases the data downward due to the high turnover in the Senate and the even higher turnover in the House. What we did was to view data from all years 2007-2013. The reason the data is different because of the turnover between legislators who left office, whether by election or some other cause. When we give the average pay we mean total pay, including expense stipends and leadership/committee position bonuses. We are not exclusively talking about base pay, which the Senator clearly is.

All of our data comes from the Delaware Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which we received by FOIA request. Using publicly available data Dr. Stapleford viewed legislative salaries from 2007-2013,. but divided legislators into two categories: Those who were members of the General Assembly for the duration of time 2007-2013, and those who were legislators in 2013 but not 2007.

All data below is for the following individuals who were in the State Senate in 2007 and are currently still in the State Senate (other pay is the $7,334 legislators are allowed for expenses, which we have included as part of their pay). Regular pay has factored in leadership bonuses.

Regular Overtime Other Total
Blevins,Patricia M $51,826 $0 $7,334 $59,160
Bonini,Colin R. J. $46,184 $0 $7,334 $53,518
Cloutier,Catherine Ann $51,958 $0 $7,334 $59,292
Ennis,Bruce C $46,487 $0 $7,334 $53,821
Hall-Long,Bethany $42,332 $0 $7,334 $49,666

All data below is from 2013:

Blevins,Patricia M $63,934 $0 $7,334 $71,268
Bonini,Colin R. J. $47,893 $0 $7,334 $55,227
Bushweller,Brian J $55,474 $0 $7,334 $62,809
Cloutier,Catherine Ann $53,667 $0 $7,334 $61,001
Ennis,Bruce C $53,667 $0 $7,334 $61,001
Hall-Long,Bethany $47,893 $0 $7,334 $55,227
Henry,Margaret R $49,841 $0 $9,328 $59,169
Hocker SR,Gerald $47,656 $0 $7,334 $54,990
Lavelle,Gregory F $51,835 $0 $7,334 $59,169
Lawson,David G $53,312 $0 $7,334 $60,646
Lopez,Ernesto Braulio $47,656 $0 $7,334 $54,990
McBride,David B $56,417 $0 $7,334 $63,751
McDowell,Harris B $55,500 $0 $7,334 $62,834
Peterson,Karen E $53,667 $0 $7,334 $61,001
Pettyjohn,Brian Guy $47,656 $0 $7,334 $54,990
Poore,Nicole $48,337 $0 $7,334 $55,671
Simpson,Franklin Gary $56,417 $0 $7,334 $63,751
Sokola,David P $49,701 $0 $7,334 $57,035
Townsend,Bryan Jeffrey Schurgard $47,656 $0 $7,334 $54,990
Venables Sr,Robert L $48,619 $0 $7,334 $55,953

As you can see if you look only at “regular”, or base, pay, Dr. Stapleford’s number is off the mark. But when you include other pay, these numbers increase. Title 29 Chapter 7 of the Delaware Code explains this further in detail.

The second charge by Senator Peterson is over the time legislators spend working. The work commitment for Delaware legislators of 6 months plus a few days comes directly from the Delaware code. (Not to mention that legislators not involved with the Joint Finance Committee are not required to work for this 5 week period) Legislators do attend meetings and events with constituents, lobbyists, and advocacy groups during the year but they are a) not mandated by law to do so and b) do not always do so for 40+ hours a week that most full-time salaried private sector workers are expected to work consistently.

We also want to point out according to the National Conference of State Legislators, Delaware ranks 12th in base salary for legislators. Each state has different session dates and while some states pay more and have fewer open dates than Delaware (Wisconsin, Illinois, Alaska, and Hawaii are also very generous with legislative pay), most states have part-time legislators who have similar responsibilities but get paid much less. We respect the Senator’s opinion on this but we do want to note that the majority of states do not have full-time legislators. Becoming an elected official ought to be a gesture of public service to one’s community, state, and country, not a full-time career path.

The third charge is over how legislative salaries are set. On this issue Senator Peterson is correct and CRI stands corrected on the original passage Dr. Stapleford published:

“To be clear, however, the legislators do not set their own salaries and stipends. This is done by the Delaware Compensation Commission of whom 5 out of 6 members are legislators and 1 member is from the private sector.”

From Title 29 of the Delaware Code, Section 3301:

“There is established a commission known as the “Delaware Compensation Commission,” hereinafter referred to as the “Commission,” consisting of 6 members, 2 of whom shall be appointed by the Governor, 1 by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and 1 by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The fifth member shall be the President of the Delaware Round Table. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget of the State shall serve as an ex officio and nonvoting member of the Commission. The appointees shall be persons not holding any public office nor employed substantially full-time with compensation by this State while serving on this Commission.”

The bottom line is that in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage in Kent County was $40,664 a year and in Sussex the average wage was $37,856, less than the average State Senator’s pay but without the allowance for up to six months of non-work time. Even factoring in New Castle County, the average wage in 2013 $53,820, which is still less than what all of our State Senators made that same year.

*Update: We are including State Representative data as well. We note the average pay for a Representative in 2013 was $55,801, or a little over $3,000 less than state senators. We’ll note that 14 state reps made than than the average wage but all cleared $50,000 once the constitutionally-mandated expense stipend is factored in.

Name base pay overtime other pay total pay
Barbieri,Michael $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Baumbach,Paul S $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Bennett,Andria L $47,834 $0 $7,334 $55,168
Bolden,Stephanie T $47,834 $0 $7,334 $55,168
Brady,Gerald L $48,549 $0 $7,334 $55,883
Carson Jr,William J $53,519 $0 $7,334 $60,853
Dukes,Timothy Dale $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Gray,Ronald E $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Heffernan,Debra J $53,519 $0 $7,334 $60,853
Hudson,Deborah $51,865 $0 $7,334 $59,199
Jaques JR,Earl G $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Johnson,James $53,667 $0 $7,334 $61,001
Johnson,Samuel Q $48,549 $0 $7,334 $55,883
Keeley,Helene M $47,904 $0 $7,334 $55,238
Kenton,Harvey R $53,519 $0 $7,334 $60,853
King,Ruth Briggs $44,189 $0 $7,334 $51,523
Kowalko JR,John A. $44,111 $0 $7,334 $51,445
Longhurst,Valerie J $56,417 $0 $7,334 $63,751
Miro,Joseph E $53,667 $0 $7,334 $61,001
Mitchell,John L $44,189 $0 $7,334 $51,523
Mulrooney,Michael P $47,893 $0 $7,334 $55,227
Osienski,Edward S $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Outten,William R $47,834 $0 $7,334 $55,168
Paradee III,William Charles $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Peterman,Harold J $47,834 $0 $7,334 $55,168
Potter,Charles $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Ramone,Michael J $47,893 $0 $7,334 $55,227
Schwartzkopf,Peter C $63,934 $0 $7,334 $71,268
Short,Bryon H $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Short,Daniel B $56,447 $0 $7,334 $63,781
Smith,Melanie George $55,472 $0 $7,334 $62,806
Smyk,Stephen T $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Spiegelman,Jeffrey N $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Viola,John J $51,865 $0 $7,334 $59,199
Williams,Kimberly A $44,041 $0 $7,334 $51,375
Wilson,David L $47,834 $0 $7,334 $55,168

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The big news in Delaware today (not the awesome magazine, but today today) is that the state Department of Education has issued Christina School District with an ultimatum: close the three “Priority Schools” in the district (Stubbs Elementary, Bancroft Elementary, and Bayard Middle School) by the end of February 2015 or else turn them over to an outside manager. If they don’t comply the state will take them over.

Whereas Red Clay SD countered the state’s takeover plan with one of their own which did not require teachers to reapply for their jobs or for school principals to be fired and replaced with new $160,000 a year principals, Christina SD did not come up with a plan the state finds acceptable. Their school board also voted to reject the turnaround plan. So now the state is flexing its political muscle to get control over these three schools.

If you look at a map of Christina (click this link) you’ll see the district boundaries make no sense.

Christina serves the city of Newark and the suburban area around it, and then a piece of downtown Wilmington about 12 miles from its easternmost edge. Newark and Wilmington are not the same city and each has its own challenges. We at CRI believe there should be changes to how districts are drawn and the City of Wilmington should have its own school district. All three of the schools scheduled for closure or loss to outside managers or the state are in the city limits of Wilmington. Nonetheless, Christina is in charge and must come to a decision soon. What will they do?

If the past is any indicator Christina will fight the state all the way to the last week of February. In 2013 the district initially rejected Delaware’s requirements under Race To The Top but changed a portion of their plan when the state threatened to withhold $2.3 million in RTTT funding from the district unless it complied with federal directives. However, Governor Markell and Secretary Murphy are not exactly pushovers; we expect them to stand their ground on this issue and fully take over the schools at the end of the month if Christina doesn’t counter the Priority Schools plan with one the state finds acceptable. However, in the end the Governor has more power than the district and they know it; they will have to implement some reforms or else those three Wilmington schools will probably be turned into charters or turned over to private “for profit” entities who will (most likely) hire private management to oversee a turnaround effort.

Whatever happens, we will be watching with interest. From our end we have no stake in this battle except to see education in Delaware turn around. Again we repeat: 51st in SAT score performance, 9th in per-student per-year spending, and 4th in per capita administrative budget (number of administrators to students). Without serious education reform the state will continue to see businesses decline to invest here (unless they get goodies from DEDO) because our public education system isn’t “world class” enough to produce enough educated young people needed to take the high-paying jobs which move people out of poverty. Parents with children who have jobs in New Castle County will move over the border to Pennsylvania or send their children to one of Delaware’s private schools (we are #1 in the country for highest ration of children in private schools as a percentage of the total student body).

We are involved in our own education reform efforts. Look for CRI, in the days and weeks ahead, to continue to talk about Education Savings Accounts and why Delaware needs them. or visit http://www.caesarrodney.org and learn about what you can do to Impact Delaware.

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The official posture of the De. State Government is that Delaware has a state-sponsored health insurance exchange, Chooseheathde.com. The Supreme Court and the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) say otherwise, that Delaware has a federal exchange. Why does this matter?

It matters to the 90% of the people who purchased their health insurance through the DE exchange and received a tax subsidy. It also matters to the other 5 million people in the US who did the same. If the Supreme Court decides FOR the plain language of the Affordable Care Act in the King v. Burwell case, which will be heard in March, and upholds the ACA, which is likely, then those aforementioned people lose their subsidy, and likely their insurance, and may have to refund the IRS in their next tax filing for 2014 and 2015. They would be retroactively declared in default of their policy and therefore responsible for their health care costs directly.

The case is very likely to be ruled in favor of the legislation as written, that on January 28th the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested the contingency plan in writing for the expected ruling from the Supreme Court. The same question put to the office of the Insurance Commissioner and the state Department of Health and Social Services referred me to the Federal DHHS and Sylvia Burwell for answers. Whereas the federal government has a contingency plan should the Supreme Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, Delaware does not have one.

The only possible interpretation of this is that Delaware does not have a state-sponsored exchange and therefore is financially vulnerable to the outcome of the Supreme Court case. The state government should be aggressively making contingency plans for this outcome which will affect not only the thousands of Delawareans who are relying on tax subsidies to cover the cost of insurance plans purchased through the state exchange, but also for our state’s budget, should the cost of health insurance be dumped onto Dover from Washington D.C.

Chris Casscells, M.D.

Director, Center for Healthcare Policy

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