Monday, August 31, 2009 - Save the Light Bulb! - Opinion: Save the Light Bulb!

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will effectively phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012-2014 in favor of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. Other countries around the world have passed similar legislation to ban most incandescents.

Will some energy be saved? Probably. The problem is this benefit will be more than offset by rampant dissatisfaction with lighting. We are not talking about giving up a small luxury for the greater good. We are talking about compromising light. Light is fundamental. And light is obviously for people, not buildings. The primary objective in the design of any space is to make it comfortable and habitable. This is most critical in homes, where this law will impact our lives the most. And yet while energy conservation, a worthy cause, has strong advocacy in public policy, good lighting has very little.

As a lighting designer with more than 50 years of experience, having designed more than 2,500 projects including the relighting of the Statue of Liberty, I encourage people who care about their lighting to contact their elected officials and urge them to re-evaluate our nation's energy legislation so that it serves people, not an energy-saving agenda.



Friday, August 28, 2009 - Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Nonverbal Cues - Opinion: Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Nonverbal Cues

Unfortunately, nearly all of their [teenagers] communication tools involve the exchange of written words alone. At least phones, cellular and otherwise, allow the transmission of tone of voice, pauses and the like. But even these clues are absent in the text-dependent world. Users insert smiley-faces into emails, but they don't see each others' actual faces. They read comments on Facebook, but they don't "read" each others' posture, hand gestures, eye movements, shifts in personal space and other nonverbal—and expressive—behaviors.

We live in a culture where young people—outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another—are ever less likely to develop the "silent fluency" that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social settings, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom. As text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish. The digital natives improve their adroitness at the keyboard, but when it comes to their capacity to "read" the behavior of others, they are all thumbs.

…we might reasonably pose questions about silent-language acquisition in a digital environment. Lots of folks grumble about the diffidence, self-absorption and general uncommunicativeness of Generation Y. The next time they face a twenty-something who doesn't look them in the eye, who slouches and sighs for no apparent reason, who seems distracted and unaware of the rising frustration of the other people in the room, and who turns aside to answer a text message with glee and facility, they shouldn't think, "What a rude kid." Instead, they should show a little compassion and, perhaps, seize on a teachable moment. "Ah," they might think instead, "another texter who doesn't realize that he is communicating, right now, with every glance and movement—and that we're reading him all too well."




Thursday, August 27, 2009 - Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief - Opinion: Obama's Health Rationer-in-Chief


White House health-care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for the 'overuse' of medical care.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, health adviser to President Barack Obama, is under scrutiny. As a bioethicist, he has written extensively about who should get medical care, who should decide, and whose life is worth saving. Dr. Emanuel is part of a school of thought that redefines a physician’s duty, insisting that it includes working for the greater good of society instead of focusing only on a patient’s needs. Many physicians find that view dangerous, and most Americans are likely to agree.

Dr. Emanuel says that health reform will not be pain free, and that the usual recommendations for cutting medical spending (often urged by the president) are mere window dressing. As he wrote in the Feb. 27, 2008, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): "Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality of care are merely 'lipstick' cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change."

True reform, he argues, must include redefining doctors' ethical obligations. In the June 18, 2008, issue of JAMA, Dr. Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for the "overuse" of medical care: "Medical school education and post graduate education emphasize thoroughness," he writes. "This culture is further reinforced by a unique understanding of professional obligations, specifically the Hippocratic Oath's admonition to 'use my power to help the sick to the best of my ability and judgment' as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of cost or effect on others."

In numerous writings, Dr. Emanuel chastises physicians for thinking only about their own patient's needs.

Is this what Americans want?



Tuesday, August 25, 2009 - Tax Withholding Is Bad for Democracy - Opinion: Tax Withholding Is Bad for Democracy

America is supposed to be a democracy in which we're all in it together. Part of that ethos, which has been so essential to the country in times of crisis, is a common understanding that we all pay a share of the costs. Taxes are an essential ingredient in the civic glue that binds us together.

Our democracy is corrupted when some voters think that they won't have to pay for the benefits their representatives offer them. It is corrupted when some voters see themselves as victims of exploitation by their fellow citizens.

By both standards, American democracy is in trouble. We have the worst of both worlds.


But the politicians' fear of being honest about taxes doesn't change the urgent need to be honest. The average taxpayer is wrong if he believes the affluent aren't paying their fair share—the top income earners carry an extraordinary proportion of the tax burden. High-income earners are wrong, too, about being exploited: Take account of payroll taxes, and low-income people also bear a heavy tax load.

End the payroll tax, end withholding, and these corrosive misapprehensions go away. We will once again be a democracy in which we're all in it together, we all know that we're all paying a share, and we are all aware how much that share is.



Friday, August 21, 2009 - A French Surprise - Opinion: A French Surprise


Politicians don't "grow" an economy like a vegetable garden, and the reasons behind economic growth in the global economy are at least as mysterious to our political class, if not more so, than they are to the rest of us.


…at a time when politicians around the world are desperate for any sign of a turnaround, it's refreshing to hear the minister responsible for France's economy speak the truth about growth. It is the product of literally millions of decisions made by millions of people about what to produce, buy and sell. Politicians can influence all that decision making, especially by increasing or decreasing the incentives to produce, work and innovate. But they can't control today's multi-trillion-dollar economies, no matter how much they'd like to take credit for doing so when things start looking better.




Thursday, August 20, 2009 - The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare - Opinion: The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare


Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit.


Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.

Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.

Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.

Enact Medicare reform.

Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance...

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges.

Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.



Wednesday, August 19, 2009 - College-Entrance Test Scores Flagging

In my mind, these data show poor U.S. schools are not just an inner-city problem. - College-Entrance Test Scores Flagging

Only about a quarter of the 2009 high school graduates taking the ACT admissions test have the skills to succeed in college, according to a report on the exam that shows little improvement over results from the 2008 graduating class.

The Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT said 23% of this year's high school graduates had scores that indicated they were ready for college in all four ACT subject areas, or had at least a 75% chance of earning a grade of C or better in entry-level courses.

A Department of Education report in April on the results from the National Assessment of Education Progress -- a key federal test -- found that U.S. high school students haven't made any significant progress in reading or math for nearly four decades.




Thursday, August 6, 2009 - How to Fix the Health-Care ?Wedge? - Opinion: How to Fix the Health-Care ‘Wedge’

Consumers are receiving quality medical care at little direct cost to themselves. This creates runaway costs that have to be addressed. But ill-advised reforms can make things much worse.

An effective cure begins with an accurate diagnosis, which is sorely lacking in most policy circles. The proposals currently on offer fail to address the fundamental driver of health-care costs: the health-care wedge.

The health-care wedge is an economic term that reflects the difference between what health-care costs the specific provider and what the patient actually pays. When health care is subsidized, no one should be surprised that people demand more of it and that the costs to produce it increase. Mr. Obama’s health-care plan does nothing to address the gap between the price paid and the price received. Instead, it’s like a negative tax: Costs rise and people demand more than they need.

The bottom line is that when the government spends money on health care, the patient does not. The patient is then separated from the transaction in the sense that costs are no longer his concern. And when the patient doesn’t care about costs, only those who want higher costs—like doctors and drug companies—care.

Thus, health-care reform should be based on policies that diminish the health-care wedge rather than increase it.



Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - American Babies Are Ruining Everything - Opinion: American Babies Are Ruining Everything

More and more, we are hearing from people who might best be described as anti-birthers. …they advance a simple proposition: that the birth of each additional American child is a kind of calamity for the environment.

There’s a larger trouble with this point of view, of course, and it has nothing to do with the arithmetic. However new-sounding the language about “carbon footprints” may be, what we have here is the same old Malthusian view of people breeding themselves to destruction.

…. it means that when a friend has a baby, you have to think we’re all the worse for it. It means that instead of celebrating the development that brings things like refrigeration, cars and calories to people who don’t now have them, we fear the day that a child in Manila enjoys enough of the blessings of life to have the same carbon footprint as a kid from Minnesota.

The real answer, of course, is to have a little more faith in the creative powers of human beings. Given the freedom to grow and innovate, surely the same people who have licked polio, sent a man to the moon, and given us a revolution in information will sooner or later come up with new technologies that will provide for our energy needs while being friendlier to the environment.

The task is not without its challenges. But we’re not likely to get far with a “science” that defines the problem as American babies. - Teeing Up the Middle Class - Opinion: Teeing Up the Middle Class

Few of President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledges were more definitive than his vow that anyone making less than $250,000 a year “will not see their taxes increase by a single dime” if he was elected. And he was right, very strictly speaking: It’s going to be many, many, many billions of dimes.

Democrats already plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts, but that won’t raise enough money. So they’re proposing an income tax surcharge on “the wealthy,” but that won’t raise enough either. Democrats have no choice but to soak the middle class because only they have enough money to finance the liberal dream of yoking the middle class to cradle-to-grave government entitlements.

So waiting in the wings is the biggest middle-class tax increase of them all: a European-style value added tax, or VAT. This tax would apply to every level of production or service, and it is beloved by politicians in Europe because it raises so much money so easily without voters noticing.

The undeniable reality is that you can’t run a European-style welfare-entitlement state without European-style levels of taxation on the middle class (and eventually without low European-style growth and high jobless rates). It’s looking more and more like Mr. Obama’s no-middle-class-tax pledge was one of the greatest confidence tricks in American political history.



Monday, August 3, 2009 - Pay Your Teachers Well - Opinion: Pay Your Teachers Well

The conflicting interests of teachers unions and students is an underreported education story, so we thought we’d highlight two recent stories in Baltimore and New York City that illustrate the problem.

The Ujima Village Academy is one of the best public schools in Baltimore and all of Maryland. Students at the charter middle school are primarily low-income minorities; 98% are black and 84% qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Yet Ujima Village students regularly outperform the top-flight suburban schools on state tests.

However, Maryland’s charter law requires teachers to be part of the union. And the Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding that the charter school pay its teachers 33% more than other city teachers, an amount that the school says it can’t afford. Ujima Village teachers are already paid 18% above the union salary scale, reflecting the extra hours they work. To meet the union demands, the school recently told the Baltimore Sun that it has staggered staff starting times, shortened the school day, canceled Saturday classes and laid off staffers who worked with struggling students. For teachers unions, this outcome is a victory; how it affects the quality of public education in Baltimore is beside the point.

The actions of the teachers unions in both Baltimore and New York make sense from their perspective. Unions exist to advance the interests of their members. The problem is that unions present themselves as student advocates while pushing education policies that work for their members even if they leave kids worse off. Until school choice puts more money and power in the hands of parents, public education will continue to put teachers ahead of students.