Wednesday, April 15, 2009

From DDT to Dursban (chlorpyrifos)

From DDT to Dursban, by Henry Payne
Planet Gore/NRO, Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Detroit, Mich. — Greens can take a bow: Bedbugs are back with a vengeance.

Responding to the biggest bedbug outbreak since World War II, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted its first-ever “bedbug summit” Tuesday outside Washington to address a widening public outcry. Some of the most vulnerable communities are inner cities like Detroit, and the major culprit, as it turns out, was the summit host.

Nine years ago, the zealots at Bill Clinton’s EPA banned the pesticide chlorpyrifos (to widespread media and environmentalist hosannas), the most commonly available household product in the world to address bedbugs, cockroaches, and other nuisances. Better known by its trade name, Dursban, chlorpyrifos had been available for 30 years in some 800 products in 88 countries around the world.

But despite widespread protest in the scientific community, EPA Chief Carol Browner erased Dursban from the shelves. “EPA has gone to great lengths to present a highly conservative, worst case, hypothetical risk based in large part on dubious extrapolations . . . and exaggerated risk estimates,” said Michigan State University toxicologist J. I. Goodman in a typical response.

Even Dr. Alan Hoberman, the principal researcher whose data Browner cited, told the Detroit News he disputed the agency's interpretation of his findings.

Such critics were also ignored by the press — as was evidence that the nation’s urban poor would be most vulnerable to a ban. Children insect-bite allergies and cockroach-induced allergens outnumber pesticide poisoning by 100:1. “Hardest hit will be lower-income families in cities like Detroit, who can ill afford a weekly house call from the Orkin man,” warned News writer Diane Katz, now with the Fraser Institute. “Yet that is precisely what the EPA is recommending as a substitute for a couple squirts from a can of bug spray.”

Nine years on, Greg Baumann — Senior Scientist at the National Test Management Association — confirms that the Dursban void has been largely unfilled, leaving millions to fight pests with less convenient preventative measures. Extermination, for example, costs between $400 and $900 — out of reach for low-income Detroit families.

And those accountable for this predictable disaster? The very media outlets who were cheerleading the EPA ban now feign ignorance. “Out of concern for the environment and the effects on public health, the EPA has banned many of the chemicals that were most effective in eradicating the bugs in the U.S.,” shrugs the AP in graph ten of its story.

And the EPA Administrator who approved the ban? Browner has been promoted to “climate czar” in the Obama administration.

Costs of a government-run health-care program modeled on Medicare will likely be extraordinary

The Pauper Option, by Jeffrey H. Anderson
Costs of a government-run health-care program modeled on Medicare will likely be extraordinary.
The Weekly Standard, Apr 15, 2009 12:00:00 AM

Democrats frequently claim that government-run health care is more affordable than privately run health care. Too often, Republicans don't challenge this wild assertion. If they don't start doing so, the costs will likely be extraordinary--both to Americans' finances and to their freedom.

Congressional Democrats, with clear presidential support, have recently begun airing sneak-previews of their upcoming summertime health-care blockbuster. It will prominently feature a "public option," which would "compete"--on very uneven terms--with private health insurance. In practice, this "public option" would channel millions of Americans into government-run health care, thereby further contracting--rather than expanding and reinvigorating--the private market and gradually closing off the public's options.

This proposal, the centerpiece of the Democrats' strategy to overhaul the American health-care system, is set to premiere in July (just in time to commemorate our nation's founding). What exactly will it look like? In the words of Tom Daschle, the "public option" will be "a government-run insurance program, modeled after Medicare."

Meanwhile, the New York Times writes that, when it comes to health policy, "The president's main focus is on starting to reduce the soaring cost of health care."

So President Obama's main health-care concern is to control its soaring costs. And his, and Congress's, proposed remedy is to add more government-run health care. High costs are the problem, and a new Medicare-like program the solution. Rarely in the whole history of medicine has there been such a disconnect between the disease and the cure.

Since its launch in 1965, Medicare's costs have soared skyward like an Apollo rocket. But these skyrocketing costs have not generally been made available for public viewing; rather, they have largely been shielded from sight. So before we consider christening another Medicare-like program, let's take a look at Medicare's record.

By 1970, having been in existence for five years, Medicare was well-established. That year, its price-tag was $42 billion. By 2008, Medicare's cost had soared to over $468 billion--an 11-fold, or 1000 percent, increase. Given the effects of inflation, this might not seem too surprising. However, that's Medicare's cost-increase after having already accounted for inflation. So, for every $1 in inflation since 1970, Medicare's costs have risen by $1--and then by another $10. In actual dollars, we now spend $62 on Medicare for every $1 we spent in 1970.

True, more people are now enrolled in Medicare. During the span that Medicare's costs have risen more than 11-fold in real dollars, its beneficiaries have slightly more than doubled. Therefore, Medicare's per-beneficiary costs have more than quintupled--after accounting for inflation.

To be sure, other health-care costs have risen as well, although this hasn't happened in a vacuum. Medicare's artificially low, government-set payment-rates lead to rampant cost-shifting, as doctors and hospitals charge higher rates to private individuals and insurers to try to compensate for the below-market fees they receive from Medicare. A recent study by Milliman Inc, a prominent actuarial consulting firm, estimates that this has raised the cost of private health-care by $88 billion annually. In addition, cumbersome Medicare-mandated administrative tasks shackle private health-care providers with much additional work, which has to be paid for by someone--and it can't be Medicare, whose reimbursement rates are fixed.

Despite this rather significant handicap, privately run health-care has proven to be far, far less expensive than the government-run variety. What Medicare saves in lower reimbursement rates for any given service, it more than makes up for in extraordinarily poor coordination of care and good-old-fashioned bureaucratic waste. The numbers speak for themselves:

Since 1970, our overall national health expenditures (NHE) apart from Medicare and Medicaid have risen 83 percent in relation to the gross domestic product (GDP). Meanwhile, the cost of Medicare has risen 304 percent versus GDP--and that is without even counting the relatively new Medicare prescription drug benefit. The passage of decades hasn't notably improved the government's performance: Since 1990, NHE apart from Medicare and Medicaid has risen 19 percent versus GDP, while the cost of Medicare has risen 57 percent versus GDP.

So, while the costs of American health-care have increased greatly in recent decades, such costs haven't, by any stretch, increased evenly across the board. Since 1970, the cost of all health care in America apart from the two biggest government-run programs has not even doubled versus GDP. Over that same span, Medicare's cost versus GDP has more than quadrupled.

And yet the president and the Democratic Congress want to adopt more Medicare-like programs to cut costs?

Given the way that Medicare's costs have been kept in the dark, even a simple cost-to-cost comparison is illuminating: Since 1970, the cost of Medicare has risen almost two-and-a-half times as much as the cost of all health care in the United States apart from Medicare and Medicaid--the vast majority of which is run by the private sector. Since 1970, Medicare's per-beneficiary costs--even without counting the prescription drug benefit--have risen 50 percent more than our overall per-capita national health expenditures aside from Medicare and Medicaid. They have risen 8 percent more since the year 2000 alone.

But the truly amazing thing is this: Since Medicare's costs continue to rise exponentially, they are just beginning to embark on their spectacular path into orbit. Medicare's costs are projected to rise more in the next decade than they have risen in the previous four decades combined, reaching $1 trillion annually--after which, they are projected to rise still faster. And with the baby boomers retiring, the number of workers per beneficiary will drop within two decades from today's figure of just under four, to merely two and a half. As a result, far fewer and fewer people will bear far higher and higher costs.

Perhaps most dazzlingly of all, the United States now has $55 trillion in projected unfunded federal liabilities over the next 75 years. That's money we've already pledged to spend but which our projected budgets don't cover and which we have no plans for how to raise. Much of that is for Social Security or payments on the national debt--both of which pose massive challenges. But the vast majority of that figure--about $34 trillion of it--is for Medicare. To put $34 trillion into perspective, it's twice the size of the annual economic output (as measured by GDP) of Germany, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom--combined.

That's our future financial liability without adding to Medicare, and without adding another program like Medicare.

One wonders how the President and the Democratic Congress can possibly think that adding a new Medicare-like program is the way to reduce our health-care costs, or to make us more financially solvent as a nation. Perhaps they haven't seen the numbers. Or perhaps the allure of further centralization and consolidation of power in Washington under their control is just too tempting for them to resist.

Either way, Dr. Obama needs to find a new cure for his patient's affliction with soaring costs. If not, the American people should sue him for gross negligence and pursue a different course.

Jeffrey H. Anderson was the senior speechwriter for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is a former Political Science professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Tracking Progress and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan

Tracking Progress and Security in Post-9/11 Afghanistan
Brookings, Apr 15, 2009

The Afghanistan Index is a statistical compilation of economic, public opinion and security data. This resource will provide updated and historical information on various data, including crime, infrastructure, casualties, unemployment, Afghan security forces and coalition troop strength.

The index is designed to assemble the best possible quantitative indicators of the international community’s counterinsurgency and nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, to track them over time, and to offer an objective set of criteria for benchmarking performance. It serves as an in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American and international efforts in Afghanistan, and is based primarily on U.S. government, Afghan government and NATO data. Although measurements of progress in any nation-building effort can never be reduced to purely quantitative data, a comprehensive compilation of such information can provide a clearer picture and contribute to a healthier and better informed debate.

Jason H. Campbell and Jeremy Shapiro spearhead the Afghanistan Index project at Brookings, with assistance from Michael O’Hanlon. Jason H. Campbell is a research analyst in Foreign Policy at Brookings. Jeremy Shapiro is a fellow in Foreign Policy and research director of the Center on the United States and Europe. Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy.

Conservative view: Federal President's New Plan to Decide Where Americans Live and How They Travel

President Obama's New Plan to Decide Where Americans Live and How They Travel. By Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D.
Heritage Backgrounder #2260
April 14, 2009

Title IX: What's good for women's basketball will be good for nuclear physics

A Threat in Title IX, by Christina Hoff Sommers
WaPo, Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's good for women's basketball will be good for nuclear physics.

To most Americans, that statement will sound odd. To President Obama, it apparently does not. In an October letter to women's advocacy groups, he declared that Title IX, the law that requires universities to give equal funding to men's and women's athletics, had made "an enormous impact on women's opportunities and participation in sports." If pursued with "necessary attention and enforcement," the same law could make "similar, striking advances" for women in science and engineering.

That campaign pledge is hardening into policy, which ought to give people pause. In February, the Congressional Diversity and Innovation Caucusmet with academic deans and women's groups to plan for the new Title IX deployment. Nearly everyone present agreed that closing the gender gap in the laboratory is an urgent "national imperative." What they failed to consider, however, is how enforced parity might affect American science. To get a better idea, let's look at President Obama's statements:

"Title IX has had an enormous impact on women's opportunities and participation in sports." Indeed, Title IX has contributed to significant progress in women's athletics -- but at what cost to male student athletics? Consider the situation at Washington's Howard University. In 2007, the Women's Sports Foundation, a powerful Title IX advocacy group, gave Howard an "F" grade because of its 24-percentage-point "proportionality gap": Howard's student body was 67 percent female, but women constituted only 43 percent of its athletic program. In 2002, Howard cut men's wrestling and baseball and added women's bowling, but that did little to narrow the gap. Unless it sends almost half of its remaining male athletes to the locker room, Howard will remain blacklisted and legally vulnerable. Former Howard wrestling coach Wade Hughes sums upthe problem this way: "The impact of Title IX's proportionality standard has been disastrous because . . . far more males than females are seeking to take part in athletics."

Title IX could make "similar striking advances" for women in science and engineering. Indeed it could -- but at what cost to science? The idea of imposing Title IX on the sciences began gaining momentum around 2002. Then, women were already earning nearly 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees and at least half of the PhDs in the humanities, social sciences, life sciences and education. Meanwhile, men retained majorities in fields such as physics, computer science and engineering. Badly in need of an advocacy cause just as women were beginning to outnumber men on college campuses, well-funded academic women's groups alerted their followers that American science education was "hostile" to women. Soon there were conferences, retreats, summits, a massive "Left Out, Left Behind" letter-writing campaign, dozens of studies and a series of congressional hearings. Their first public victim? Larry Summers, who was forced to resign as president of Harvard University in 2006 after he dared to question the groups' assumptions and drew a correlation between the number of women in the sciences and gender differences implied in math and science test data.

Is it true that women are being excluded from academic science programs because of sexist bias? Some researchers agree that bias is to blame; others, perhaps a majority, suggest that biology and considered preference explain why men and women gravitate to different academic fields. But researchers who dispute the bias explanation played little or no role in the Title IX conferences, summits or congressional hearings.

Title IX must be pursued with "necessary attention and enforcement" in the sciences. This is nearly certain to happen. But the president should note the level of partisanship in the groups monitoring the enforcement. For example, in a 2008 briefing statement, the American Association of University Women, one of the more combative advocacy groups and a leader in the Title IX movement, issued a warning to "adversaries" who get in the way of its equity initiatives:

"Our adversaries know that AAUW is a force to be reckoned with. . . . We are issuing fair warning -- we ARE breaking through barriers. We mean it; we've done it before; and we are 'coming after them' again . . . and again and again, if we have to! All of us, all the time."

Federal officials have conducted occasional equity investigations of engineering and physics programs since 2006. But these have been haphazard and far less results-oriented than what Obama and Congress have in mind. The new Title IX initiative, modeled on athletics, will gratify women's advocacy groups. But will it help American science as much as it helped women's basketball?

Activist leaders of the Title IX campaign are untroubled by this question. Some seem to relish the idea of starkly disrupting what they regard as the excessively male and competitive culture of academic science. American scientific excellence, though, is an invaluable and irreplaceable resource. The fields that will be most affected -- math, engineering, physics and computer science -- are vital to the economy and national defense. Is it wise, to say nothing of urgent, for the president and Congress to impose an untested, undebated gender parity policy at this time?

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the forthcoming book "The Science on Women and Science" (AEI Press).

In the Age of Pirates

In the Age of Pirates. By Thomas L Friedman
TNYT, April 14, 2009



I’m wondering if President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aren’t those students, trying to deal with the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. I say that not to criticize but to sympathize. “Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be diplomats.”

This is not the great age of diplomacy.

A secretary of state can broker deals only when other states or parties are ready or able to make them. In the cold war, an age of great powers, grand bargains and reasonably solid client states, there were ample opportunities for that — whether in arms control with the Soviet Union or peacemaking between our respective client states around the globe. But this is increasingly an age of pirates, failed states, nonstate actors and nation-building — the stuff of snipers, drones and generals, not diplomats.

Hence the déjà vu all over again quality of U.S. foreign policy right now — the sense that when it comes to our major problems (Afghanistan and Pakistan and North Korea and Iran), we just go around and around, buying the same carpets from the same people, over and over, but nothing changes.

“We are dealing with states and leaders who either cannot deliver or will not deliver,” notes the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum. “The issues we have with them look less like problems that can be solved and more like conditions that we have to manage.”

The ones who can’t deliver — the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan — are the ones who promise to do all sorts of good things, and pull all sorts of levers, but at the end of the day the levers come off the wall because the governments in these countries have only limited powers. The ones who won’t deliver — Iran and North Korea — time and again tell us: “Yes, we need to talk.” But at the end of the day, their hostile relationships with America or the West are so central to the survival strategy of their regimes, so much at the core of their justifications for remaining in power, that it is not in their interest to deliver real reconciliation, but just to pretend to deliver it.

The only thing that could change this is a greater exercise of U.S. and allied power. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, that power would have to be used to actually rebuild these states from the inside into modern nations. We would literally have to build the institutions — the pulleys and wheels — so that when the leaders of these states pulled a lever something actually happened, and the lever wouldn’t just break off in their hands.

And in the case of the strong states — Iran and North Korea — we would have to generate much more effective leverage from the outside to get them to change their behavior along the lines we seek. In both cases, though, success surely would require a bigger and longer U.S. investment of money and power, not to mention allies.

Instead, I fear that we are adopting a middle-ground strategy — doing just enough to avoid collapse but not enough to solve the problems. If our goal in Afghanistan and Pakistan is nation-building, so they will have self-sustaining moderate governments, we surely don’t have enough troops or resources inside devoted to either. If our goal is changing regime behavior in Iran and North Korea, we surely have not generated enough leverage from outside. North Korea’s defiant missile launch and Iran’s continued development of its nuclear capability testify to that.

So, in sum, we have four problem countries at the heart of U.S. foreign policy today that we don’t have the will or ability to ignore but seem to lack the leverage or the allies to decisively change. The big wild card — a critical mass of people who share our aspirations inside these countries, rising up and leading the fight, which is ultimately what tipped Iraq for the better — I don’t see. As such, I fear we are sliding into commitments in Afghanistan and Pakistan without a real national debate about the ends or the means or the exits. That is a recipe for trouble.

Given all that is on his plate, you cannot blame President Obama for looking for a middle ground — not wanting to abandon progressives and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not wanting to get in too deeply. But history teaches that the middle ground can be a perilous place. Think of Iraq before the surge — not enough to win or lose, but just enough to be stuck.