Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Juking the Nursing Home Stats

Previous posts have described "juking the stats" in public policy issues.  The New York Times reports on the five-star Medicare rating system for nursing homes:
[An] examination of the rating system by The New York Times has found that Rosewood and many other top-ranked nursing homes have been given a seal of approval that is based on incomplete information and that can seriously mislead consumers, investors and others about conditions at the homes.
The Medicare ratings, which have become the gold standard across the industry, are based in large part on self-reported data by the nursing homes that the government does not verify. Only one of the three criteria used to determine the star ratings — the results of annual health inspections — relies on assessments from independent reviewers. The other measures — staff levels and quality statistics — are reported by the nursing homes and accepted by Medicare, with limited exceptions, at face value.
The ratings also do not take into account entire sets of potentially negative information, including fines and other enforcement actions by state, rather than federal, authorities, as well as complaints filed by consumers with state agencies. Last year, the State of California, for example, fined Rosewood $100,000 — the highest penalty possible — for causing the 2006 death of a woman who was given an overdose of a powerful blood thinner.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Defense in Decline

At Politico, Austin Wright and Leigh Munsil report on a big drop in defense jobs.
The number of employees at the five largest U.S. defense firms has dropped 14 percent from a peak in 2008 — and 10 percent over the past decade, according to a POLITICO analysis of employment figures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense company, has shed close to a quarter of its employees since 2008. Raytheon, Boeing’s defense unit and Northrop Grumman have also shed thousands of workers over the past five years, seeking to maintain profits even as defense spending contracts.

The job losses make clear just how rapidly the defense industry has seen its fortunes change. After years of growth starting with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and continuing with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, companies have been making massive cuts to adjust to the budget declines they’ve seen so far — and further anticipated reductions.
“A great deal of the profitability that you see among some companies in our industry was unfortunately delivered on the backs of thousands of workers who lost their jobs,” said Chip Sheller, a spokesman for the trade group Aerospace Industries Association.
But some analysts say this strategy will eventually have consequences. Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst at the investment firm Guggenheim Securities, said the cuts mean losing skilled workers and risking deterioration of engineering and research capabilities.
“One of the things that people appreciate is they’re maintaining their profitability, but that is at the expense of not only employees but also infrastructure,” he said. “There’s always a question of how much you can do without having a negative impact.”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Saving the Declaration

As British troops approached Washington in August 1814, Secretary of State James Monroe wanted to secure key US documents.  At RealClearHistory, Ryan Cole writes:
He had also sent a memo to the State Department, then housed in the Old War Office Building on 17th Street, addressed to Stephen Pleasonton and John Graham. In it, Monroe advised the men, both department clerks, to take “the best care of the books and papers of the office.” These included the Declaration of Independence, the journals of Congress, George Washington’s commission and correspondence, and many other documents chronicling the business of the young republic.

It was Pleasonton, a methodical middle-aged Delawarean, who received the note and carried out Monroe’s request on the 24th. While the capital erupted in panic and the British, who had actually turned away from Washington, and then headed back toward the city, approached, Pleasanton went to work. He quickly purchased large quantities of linen, which were then fashioned into sacks and filled with the precious papers.

As Pleasonton labored, Secretary of War John Armstrong, walking to his office, cornered the clerk and chided him for his alarm. Armstrong, Pleasonton recalled years later, “did not think the British were serious in their intentions of coming to Washington.” Pleasonton politely disagreed, reasoning that “let their intention be what they might, it was the part of prudence to preserve the valuable papers.”

Once the materials were packed, Pleasonton took one last glance around the State Department rooms and noticed, to his chagrin, the Declaration of Independence still hanging on a wall, which he promptly cut from its frame and placed in one of the gathered carts, which were then dispatched for a mill owned by Edgar Patterson, two miles from Georgetown, on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Brits on the Burning of Washington

The British Embassy tweets about the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington:

DC Burning

Today is the 200th anniversary of the British burning of the Capitol and the White House during the War of 1812. From the Senate:
On August 24, 1814, as the War of 1812 raged on, invading British troops marched into Washington and set fire to the U.S. Capitol, the President's Mansion, and other local landmarks. The ensuring fire reduced all but one of the capital city's major public buildings to smoking rubble, and only a torrential rainstorm saved the Capitol from complete destruction. The blaze particularly devastated the Capitol's Senate wing, the oldest part of the building, which was honeycombed with vulnerable wooden floors and housed the valuable but combustible collection of books and manuscripts of the Library of Congress, then located in the Capitol building. Heat from the intense fire reduced the Senate chamber's marble columns to lime, leaving the room, in one description, "a most magnificent ruin." Quickly, President James Madison arranged for Congress to meet temporarily at Blodgett's Hotel when it returned to session in September, and the business of Congress continued uninterrupted. The following year, the Senate moved to the Brick Capitol, a large red-brick structure built to accommodate Congress temporarily. Not until 1819, after a major reconstruction project, did the Senate again meet in the historic Old Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol.
Also see the materials at The White House Historical Association. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Wilderness Act

Chase Huntley of the Wilderness Society talks about the Wilderness Act:

Ride-Sharing and Regulation

Regulation is often a political weapon that businesses and professions use against competitors.

At CalNewsroom, John Hrabe reports:
Just hours after he voted against California’s burgeoning ride-share industry, State Senator Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was arrested for driving under the influence.
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department inmate log, Hueso was arrested early Friday morning by the California Highway Patrol on two misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence. He was booked at 3:27 AM.
On Thursday, Hueso voted in favor of a bill that one ride-share executive fears “would literally spell the end of the ride-share industry.”
Hueso also has a conflict of interest: his brothers own a cab company.

Hrabe also reports:
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz is one of the state’s biggest opponents of ridesharing, the relatively new service provided by such companies as Uber, SideCar and Lyft. He’s also a leading recipient of campaign contributions from the taxi industry.

During a Wednesday appearance on one of Southern California’s top-rated radio shows, Koretz admitted he’s taken money from cab companies.

“I’m mad that you’re doing the bidding of the taxi companies because that’s what this is really about,” John Phillips, the quick-witted co-host of KABC AM 790′s Mid-Day LA show, said during a heated exchange over controversial new regulations on ridesharing services. “The taxis are now having competition from someone who is eating their lunch.”

Then, he bluntly asked Koretz, “Do you take any money from the taxi cab companies? Have you gotten any contributions?”

“Yeah, sure,” the councilman replied. “A few bucks here, a few buck there.”