Saturday, August 23, 2014

Gardner whiffs on Obamacare ad

Cory Gardner needs to fire the genius who’s mapping his current campaign strategy. The whole “Cory as victim” isn’t playing at all well. What was, I’m sure, conceived as an out-of-the-park home run is actually stinking up the place worse than the Colorado Rockies.

In his latest ad, Gardner looks right into the camera, holds up what looks like to be the day’s mail as delivered to the Gardner farm, and complains that his family’s health insurance has been cancelled because of Obamacare.

Fortunately, the national media isn’t afraid to call you-know-what on his claim. In an interview on CNN, Gardner played the “I want to share my constituents’ pain” card by saying he refuses to use the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program. Stephanie Cutler would have none of it. She pointed out that, in fact, poor people – real, honest-to-goodness poor people, not “I wanna be treated kind of like” poor people – can get a pretty good insurance plan for $388 a month. And that’s in Yuma County, where Gardner is from. And there are 11 providers for residents east of I-25 to choose from.

Of course, Gardner can’t get that plan for $388 a month. He’s not really poor. Depending on who you ask, Gardner’s net worth is somewhere between $105,000 (Colorado Independent, 2011) and just north of $130,000 (, 2012.) You might have noticed that’s a sharp upward annual trend at a time when most folks’ incomes had flatlined. I don’t mean to imply that Gardner is wealthy, at least not in the way guys like Jim Vincent, Gordon Sipple and Dick Hoch were wealthy. But by any Yuma County standard, Cory Gardner can darn sure afford a decent health insurance plan that won’t force him to decide between seeing the doctor and buying groceries.

But let’s go back to the whole process that earned Gardner that cancellation letter in the first place. First, he had to turn down a plan all federal employees are eligible for. It’s not a single-payer plan; in fact, it’s not unlike the plan anybody lucky enough to work for a well-funded employer might have. Come to think of it, it’s very much like – no, it’s exactly like – the plans my wife and I both have. I’m thinking a lot of Cory Gardner’s constituents would love to have the plan he turned down.

Second, he had to sign up for a pretty crappy insurance plan in order for it to fail the minimum requirements Obamacare sets down. I wouldn’t be so cynical as to suggest he did it on purpose and then just waited for the letter – no, I’m definitely not suggesting that – but in politics, as in everything, timing is everything, and that letter couldn’t have been timed any better.

Problem is, Gardner’s cancellation letter isn’t doing him any good. Even Faux Snooze, mouthpiece for the far right, admits that Gardner “isn’t getting any traction” with his stage prop letter. That’s because Obamacare is a dead issue. Poor people – that is, people who are actually poor – are starting to get real health insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act and sham health care providers are being forced to offer real coverage or go out of business.

In any event, passing up good family health coverage just to pretend to be poor doesn’t seem like a very smart thing to do. And if Cory Gardner isn’t smart enough to provide real health care coverage for his family, how can we trust him to take care of us?

Keep coal in the ground? Maybe

There must be some interesting discussions in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s house. McConnell, Republican senator from Tennessee, is an avid champion of Big Coal. His wife, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, sits on the board of directors of Bloomberg Philanthropies (yes, that Bloomberg) which has just as avidly vowed to eliminate the coal industry in the U.S.

You’re probably thinking, “Now, Jeff, that’s not what they want to do, they just want to replace old coal-fired electrical generation plants with more environmentally friendly generating methods.” On the face of it, you’d be right. But go to the website of Bloomberg philanthropies and you’ll see they’ve partnered with Sierra Club to “end the coal era.”

Oh, sure, there’s a lot of green-sounding stuff like “retire outdated coal plants,” and “close dirty coal-burning plants.” So, okay, they just want to replace the outdated and dirty ones, right? Except that Bloomberg and Sierra Club consider all coal-fired plants to be dirty and outdated, including the new ones slated to come online to replace the old ones. In fact, Bloomberg is proud claim that it has blocked construction of all new coal-fired electrical plants in the U.S. and is now determined to “keep the coal in the ground in Appalachia.”

That no doubt comes as pretty bad news to the coal miners of America. When I first read about the Environmental Protection Administration’s “war on coal,” I thought it was yet more right-wing hyperbole. Then I saw the Bloomberg and Sierra websites and, to be honest with you, it sent a chill down my spine. Leave the coal in the ground? The cheap source of heat and light that’s helped power America for nearly two centuries? Ye gad, how many families is that gong to bankrupt?

Not that many, as it turns out, and maybe none. While researching the issue I was surprised to find that even US News & World Report, which is a fairly conservative yet thoughtfully pragmatic publication (its editors even admitted George W. Bush was a worse president than Richard Nixon) refuses to stand in Big Coal’s corner.
According to an analysis by Jeff Nesbit back in June, there are only 83,000 people employed in coal production in the U.S., compared with 143,000 employed in solar and another 85,000 in the wind energy sector. And both industries, according to Nesbit, are booming and expected to expand rapidly at least until mid-century.

That's all well and good, but how many of those jobs are available in Tennessee and West Virginia, the heart of coal country? Not many, as it turns out. The nation's solar power hotspot, as one might expect, is in the nation's climate hotspot -- the southwest. California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and part of Texas pretty much make up the cradle of the solar energy industry. Tennessee and West Virginia have little or no solar development and, unless you're a photovoltaic scientist, you have to move to the American southwest to cash in on that boom.

Wind energy jobs are about the same. Wind farms are concentrated in "wind alley," which stretches from Canada to Mexico through the nation's midsection, and most are west of the Mississippi River. there are a few in West Virginia, up around the Pennsylvania state line, and one in Tennessee.

The point is that the jobs that are supposed to "replace" coal aren't where the coal miners are. And unless someone takes responsibility for recruiting coal miners to move from Appalachia to the American Midwest or to the Sunbelt, pays to move them and train them, and then place them in good jobs, those coal miners won't find jobs to replace the ones Bloomberg and Sierra Club want to take away from them.

There are compelling reasons to make that migration possible, reasons that touch your life and mine. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a megawatt hour of coal-fired electricity costs $95.60. For natural gas it’s $66.30. Nuclear? Well, if we can get one built it’ll cost $96.10 for per megawatt hour of power. Wind weighs in at $80.30; solar is still pricey at $130. In other words, all of those wonderful new jobs in solar and wind power will make electricity available to you and me for anywhere from a little more to a littee less than what we're paying now.

Make no mistake, I’m an avid proponent of “green” energy. But I also think there’s a lot of Pollyanna thinking in the phrase “leave coal in the ground.” It’s going to take decades to develop wind and solar, and while the environmentalists are even daring to mention nuclear power again, there won’t be a new nuke power plant even approved in my lifetime, let alone built and online.

I hope the Bloomberg/Sierra Club cabal is ultimately successful. I also hope they work just as hard at finding all of those coal miners new jobs and making sure alternate power sources are safely developed to replace coal. Maybe then the coal can stay in the ground.