Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unions vs. Environmentalists and Manufacturing Jobs

Chevron is one of the largest (if not the largest) employers at its refinery in Richmond, CA, and has been for 107 years. The relationship between Chevron and Richmond is often contentious as the city has grown up around the once-isolated refinery and as more is learned about the effects of pollution on the health of the workers and the residents.

The latest clash, however, is between environmentalists and unions over Chevron's plans to modernize sections of the refinery, allowing it to process heavier grades of oil with higher sulfur content. Currently, Chevron refines Alaskan crude oil; however, the amount coming in is decreasing. In order to keep the refinery going at capacity, Chevron needs to be able to refine oil coming from Saudi Arabia and Asia--which has is heavier and has a higher sulfur content. Per the Contra Costa Times:

"Chevron insists it is seeking to refine only higher sulfur crudes. Because the project also includes installation of new sulfur removal equipment and better pollution controls, sulfur emissions are expected to decline significantly as a result. Environmentalists, however, contend the company also intends to refine heavier crude oil and that this will increase emissions of toxins and other pollutants."

According to the Environmentalists, Chevron's Environmental Impact Report (a three-volume report)was too vague. The Contra Costa Superior Court judge agreed and ordered Chevron cease work.

With a stroke of a pen, one thousand union workers were laid off.

Chevron is appealing the ruling in State Court. Union officials want to get the work restarted as quickly as possible. Environmentalists claim they don't want anyone to lose their jobs, but that the health of local residents is important, too. In a wonderful display of economic cluelessness, they suggested that Chevron continue to pay the laid-off workers while the matter is being negotiated.

Meanwhile, according to the latest article in The Contra Costa Times, the City of Richmond and local non-profits lose out:

"Chevron and the city announced the 19 community groups that would receive $565,000 under the now-defunct community benefits agreement. The amount is about half the $1 million the agreement outlined.

Under that $61 million pact, Chevron was to provide funding over 10 years for city police, job training and other programs, and pay for air quality improvements at its plant. The agreement is contingent on the refinery's construction permits being approved. Because the court ordered permits be set aside, the agreement has ended."

But wait, there's more! Not only are one thousand people now unemployed at a time when unemployment is 11.5% in California, and the delay will necessarily increase construction costs which will eventually impact the price of gasoline at the pump, but the new refinery was also going to have the latest in pollution control technology, including more efficient sulfur scrubbers. There was going to be an increase in carbon dioxide emissions, now defined as a pollutant because of its alleged effect on global warming, but as far as human health is concerned, carbon dioxide is not toxic.

Drew Voros, Business Editor for The Contra Costa Times, wrote about the wider implications of this fight between manufacturing jobs and environmentalists. If frustrated long enough, Chevron will move the refining of the high-sulfur crude to their plant in Southern California. The losers will be the average joes in the Bay Area and the City of Richmond who will not have the money to provide services for their citizens. We'll breathe a little better, but other refineries (Tosco took over the former Union Oil refinery just up I-80 from Chevron) and maufacturers will take a look at what happened and will decide the fight isn't worth it. Who will replace them?

I see this fight as yet another example of college-educated elites doing what they think is "best" for the working class. Not everyone is "book smart": some folks are good with their hands, with spatial relationships, prefer not to work at a desk in an office. We need those people--they fix our cars, repair our broken pipes, refine our oil, keep our water running, generate our electricity, keep our planes in the air. And, yes, manufacturers should not pollute the air. They should have high safety standards and those standards should be enforced--it's in their own best interests to do so, frankly. But, those standards also need to be reasonable. Many environmental groups would love nothing more than to have the refineries and manufacturing plants go away and, frankly, for society to turn back the clock to a time when humans lived in "harmony" with nature. The fact that life was short and often brutal back then doesn't seem to occur to them.

Uplifting Story of the Morning

Let's start the day with a positive story, shall we? A story about one suburban woman, with an idea, making a difference in her local community.

Meet Anna Chan, also known as "The Lemon Lady." Because her daughter prefers to nap in the family SUV, Mrs. Chan drives all over her neighborhood and noticed fruit trees in the yards with unharvested fruit. So she knocked on the door of the houses and asked if she could pick some. Most of the homeowners agreed. After Mrs. Chan picks the fruit (mostly lemons when she started--lemon trees are very popular out here), she donates them to the Salvation Army pantry and the local SHARE pantry at the First Christian Church.

She's also been working with adults and children in a low-income neighborhood to establish a community garden. Mrs. Chan donated the starts from her backyard garden. Apparently the children in the neighborhood love watering it and keeping it alive, although they might not like eating the vegetables.

Mrs. Chan has set up a blog site with ideas on how to help in your local community: If you're a gardener or have a fruit tree, check it out!

Updating My Blog Roll...

I had a few minutes this morning, so I updated my blog roll, adding Bookworm Room (she's a local, a conservative living in an area that's possibly more liberal than San Francisco), Neo-neocon (not local, but another 9/11 conservative who is a psychologist, so has some interesting insight into the way people's minds often work), Pajamas Media (logs of articles and videos, many examples of different flavors of conservatives, and wide-ranging comments that are sometimes more entertaining than the articles), and Big Hollywood (you can live in La-La Land and not drink the Kool-Aid!)

I will probably add a few more to the Blog Roll shortly. Trouble is, I start reading the blogs and forget to update my own!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Joe Jackson And Thoughts About Michael

Last night, DD#2 and I happened upon Joe Jackson's interview on ABC. Not surprisingly, the interview was self-serving, the questions less than probing. What really creeped me out, though, is when Mr. Jackson spoke about his granddaughter, Paris. He looked almost predatory at the thought that Paris, and possibly her younger brother, Blanket, would follow in "the family business" on stage.

"They're Jacksons!" Mr. Jackson exclaimed.

Never mind what the kids might actually want to do.

The interview also featured clips of LaToya and Katherine Jackson. I noticed that LaToya strongly resembles her mother. The resemblance between Michael and LaToya (and Janet) was often remarked upon. Could it be that Michael's never-ending plastic surgeries were his efforts to erase all traces of his father from his face?

More Thoughts on Health Care

One of the problems when trying to calculate the cost of health care is what to include. The cost to fix my broken arm last year is much different than the cost of treating my breast cancer, which is much different than the cost of treating my migraines. Or my pregnancies.

Which of these conditions, if any, should insurance cover? Which should I be responsible for?

My migraines are debilitating. Before I found a medication that was effective, I was out of commission six to ten days a month, but isn't life-threatening. Left untreated, my breast cancer is. My broken arm was a comparatively simple fix: an x-ray, a sling, some physical therapy. My pregnancies had only minor complications, but I also had excellent prenatal care.

I haven't seen any studies cited in the MSM about the percentage of total health care costs is due to treatment, including medications, of chronic conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, to name a few. Some of these conditions are life-style related, some are genetic, some are age-related--which means some on within our personal control and some are not. The cost of treating these conditions is cumulative over time but the cost of not treating them may be higher.

Maybe the answer is a three-part system: pay out-of-pocket for routine care, much like you pay for routine maintenance on your car; buy insurance for catastrophic illness, like cancer; and set up a Health Savings Account/401(k) type account, to pay for chronic illness or long-term care. And if you are lucky enough to not spend your HSA, then you can pass it along as your heirs.

But, of course, to make this work would require that people plan ahead, exercise the self-discipline to save money for the future. In other words, it would require grown-ups to act like, well, adults.

Health Care Access vs. Health Care Coverage

According to, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats opened an all-fronts charge Tuesday to pass a $1 trillion, 10-year health care overhaul by August, unveiling legislation that would tax the wealthy to pay for universal coverage, create a public insurance plan and require individuals to carry insurance and businesses to offer it."

They hope to pass this bill in the next 15 days (counting the weekends).

The story seems to be that, without health insurance, there is no access to health care. That is not quite true. Hospital Emergency Rooms must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay. And, as Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air pointed out, just because the Government says they'll take care of your medical needs, doesn't mean you have access to a doctor or a hospital.

Without doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, technicians, pharmacists, therapists, and some health-related jobs I'm forgetting, no one has access to health care. The population of the U.S. is growing in real numbers and demographically is getting older--which means increasing demand. Is the supply keeping up?

Curious, I looked at medical schools and found this report on enrollment, just released by the Association of American Medical Colleges. There are currently 130 medical schools in the U.S. According to the opening paragraph of the report:

"Each year, the AAMC Center for Workforce Studies surveys medical schools regarding their enrollment plans for the next 5 years. Based on the 2008 survey, the AAMC estimates that first-year U.S. medical school enrollment will increase to 19,946 in the 2013 academic year. This represents an increase of 21% (3,458) from the 2002 academic year. Looking beyond 2013, this rate of growth will not lead to a 30% increase by 2015 as recommended by AAMC, but it could by 2017 or 2018."

Medical schools are targeting minority and rural students, hoping they will practice in underserved communities. The report does not clarify how it arrived at the 30% figure, whether that takes into account the drop-out rate of medical students during their four years of study, the rate of retirement of doctors currently practicing, population growth, or other factors.

The target figure is jeopardized primarily by the lack of financial resources in public schools to expand their classrooms, labs, and faculty; by the cost borne by the medical students; and by a shortage of training clinics. The shortage of clinics is critical: that's where medical students and interns practice, under supervision. Some of these clinics also contract with foreign medical schools, further limiting spaces.

This report is discussing only doctors. Anecdotal evidence (children of friends who want to go into nursing and family members in related health fields) suggests that the problem is worse for other health professions.

So, taking a supply-and-demand approach to this, if we are serious about increasing access to health care, shouldn't we concentrate on increasing the number of providers? And, if the number of providers increases, wouldn't the cost decrease because of competition?

Seems to me that the experience of Canada and the NHS in Britain bear this out. There is universal coverage; access, however, is determined by where you live--how much money your Province or County has in their budget. And, frankly, how is that so different than what happens in the U.S.? Where you live is almost more important than whether or not you have insurance to pay for your care.