Thursday, 26 September 2013

The American Taxpayer, Insurer of Last Resort

No, I am not talking about Ted Cruz's display of heroic idiocy (even by Congressional standards), but I am referring to a more subtle, and bipartisan sellout of the American taxpayer: the potential reversal of National Flood Insurance Program reform, a program that takes in $3.6 billion in premiums but pays out $25 billion (actually the Treasury pays it, which is of course, YOU). This blog does not often link to The Weekly Standard, but this week's piece castigating members of both parties ready to undo last year's reforms is right on the money. Bloated millionaires with beach homes that have been reconstructed several times at taxpayer expense is so outrageous, the economics of it is the least offensive part. This is small potatoes compared to health care, but this is what a Tea Party insurrection should target: the most inequitable, most wasteful, and most immoral wastes of taxpayer funding. For the dismal environmentalist in me, this is not just recurring environmental insult, rebuilding expensive beach homes in sensitive habitat, it is taxpayer insurance against one of the ravages of climate change. Why should I, millionaire beach homeowner, care about climate change if YOU, American taxpayer, will bail me out? Alas, the monosyllabic wing of the Republican Party is more interested in green eggs and ham.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

American Agriculture Kills People

It was a busy news week last week for environmental lawyers, with the EPA releasing a proposed rule for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But another important release last week escaped attention: the Centers for Disease Control released a report on the causes and effects of antibiotic-resistant bacteria infection in the United States. This is a narrower analysis than an earlier World Health Organization report in 2012 that found 63,000 deaths in the United States and 25,000 deaths in EU states plus Iceland and Norway, resulting from antibiotic-resistant infections. The emergence of new bacteria demonstrating resistance to antibiotics is likely due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. The CDC study estimated, conservatively, that over two million Americans become infected each year with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, with 23,000 of them dying each year. That is more than the approximately 21,000 people Americans who lost their lives as passenger-vehicle occupants in 2011.

Why do I say that it is American Agriculture that kills people? Isn't it over-prescription of antibiotics that is causing antibiotic resistance? Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler reported in a 2012 New York Times op-ed that 80 percent of 2011 reported antibiotic sales went to agriculture, not human health care. Exactly how antibiotic overuse translates into antibiotic resistance is complicated -- different pathways exist for human and livestock transmission of antibiotic-resistant bugs -- but not that different, and not that complicated.With 80 percent of antibiotic use going to livestock growing, certainly more than half of the antibiotic resistance must be the result of ag use. Actually, a better guess is that more than 80% of the antibiotic resistance comes from ag, because they are applied to livestock in a manner that most contributes to resistance, being administered in low doses. David Kessler's estimate of the percentage of antibiotics destined for animals seems on the mark, with reporting the same figure. The CDC report does not estimate the percentage at all, just blandly and lamely stating that "[a]ntibiotics are also commonly used in food animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote the growth of food-producing animals." Clearly, fear of the bullying ag lobby runs deep.

It is a shame that physicians over-prescribe antibiotics. But at least that is a matter of public health. Antibiotics to promote growth, so that chickens can cost pennies less, at the cost of 23,000 American lives a year, is not a shame, but a national tragedy.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Clayton Kershaw, humanitarian

I digress. I will not only digress from being either an environmentalist or an economist, but I will give you a break from my dismal nature. This post is about my favorite baseball player on my favorite baseball team, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kershaw is not only having a remarkable (even for him) season, with his ERA at 1.92 more than a quarter of a point ahead of Jose Fernandez of Miami, he is receiving awful run support from his team (3.6 runs per start 68th out of 88 pitchers), something he has never complained about. He  seems to be embarking upon a string of success that has him being compared to Sandy Koufax during his unmatched six-year run. Taciturn Joe Torre glowed about Kershaw: "He's always learning something." Kerhsaw's perfectionism no doubt drives his success as well as his humility.

But Kershaw is not my favorite player because of the way he carries himself as a professional and a baseball player. In 2012, Kershaw became the youngest recipient of the Roberto Clemente award, given to the baseball player that has distinguished himself as contributing to society outside of baseball. This year, he received the Branch Rickey award, also in recognition of his humanitarian work. In 2011, Kershaw's wife Ellen convinced him to go to Africa with him to help in her cause, to help Zambian children orphaned by AIDS. To hear her tell it, between his relentless pursuits to get pitching and training in during the trip, he became wholly engrossed in the cause of helping these children. Kershaw has continued his work with Arise Africa, as part of his Kershaw Challenge fundraising efforts. Most recently, he hosted a ping-pong tournament, in which many of his teammates took part.

If you're dismal, this is a puzzle: why does the best young pitcher in baseball (who still wants to lead in the grueling race to be still better), devote as much time and effort as he does to helping orphaned African children? It's not even as if he is doing something that has a remote chance of ever redounding to his benefit: he is not helping out a teammate, a baseball player, an Angelino, or even an American. The Kershaws are not helping people in any "group" that they would conceivably be a part of. If the Kershaws had never happened upon the cause of helping African orphans, they would be no different.

If you're not dismal, then you can just enjoy this bit of philanthropy inside professional baseball, which very much needed a story like this.