Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

For "a human being, the question 'to be or not to be,' is the question 'to think or not to think.'" Ayn Rand

29 July 2014

ObamaCare's False Boast: It has significantly lowered the number of uninsured

It has become common to see supporters of ObamaCare, artfully and deceitfully called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claim that it has decreased the numbers of the uninsured from the 17.4% of Americans in 2010 when it was signed into law to the present 13.4%.

Of course the main factor affecting the percentage with health insurance is affordability.  It happens that in 2012 real dollars, 2010 was the minimum in household income for the upper limit of the lowest, the next lowest, and the middle quintiles of household income due to the Great Socialist Recession.  Even the fourth and next to the highest quintile upper limit was almost as low in that year in its worst year of 2009.  So of course one of the ways households hard-pressed due to the loss of income due to the Great Socialist Recession got by was by dropping their health insurance, especially assuming everyone in the household was in good health.

It makes more sense to compare the percentage of uninsured under ObamaCare now to the number before the Great Socialist Recession had its great depressing effect on household income.  In 2008, only 14.4% of Americans were uninsured for medical care.  That year was the maximum income year for all four lowest quintiles before the Great Socialist Recession depressed earnings, with the exception of the second quintile whose upper limit income maximized in 2007, but at a figure only $100 greater than that of 2008.  So, the great success of ObamaCare is really a 1.0% drop in the percentage of uninsured, not the 3.0% claimed by some of its advocates.

The proponents of ObamaCare want us to assume that all of that 1% is due to poor Americans obtaining insurance coverage either through Medicaid or as a result of federal government subsidy for their medical insurance coverage.  The fact that studies have shown no health advantage in being covered by Medicaid is unacknowledged by ObamaCare supporters.  The fact that more than half of the government subsidies are based on an IRS ruling that clearly violates the ObamaCare law and has been judged such by the DC Federal Court of Appeals is also ignored.

Another factor is ignored as well.  Many American households are wealthy enough to have been self-insured.  Few people understand how many are so wealthy and few people recognize that their decision to be self-insured was often a rational one, especially if members of the household were of generally good health.  Since good health is a useful attribute in achieving high incomes and in accumulating wealth, it is likely that the wealthier Americans are also commonly the healthier Americans.  Yet, the tax penalties of ObamaCare will have forced many such wealthy households to stop being self-insured, which is registered as uninsured.  Many such households had to purchase ObamaCare mandated medical insurance.  The movement of these wealthy households to being insured, is a part of the mere 1% decrease in the number of Americans uninsured.

So, how many American households might reasonably have been uninsured before the onset of ObamaCare?  In 2012, the top 5% of household income earnings exceeded $191,156 a year.  With such an income, one can easily afford the doctor's bills a relatively healthy family might incur.  But there is more.  In 2012, the total net household wealth was $80.66 trillion.  This is an average of about $659,000 per household.  Of course the median household wealth was much lower at about $120,000, actually a 2011 figure.

I do not have the wealth distribution figures for 2012, but those for 2007 are available.  Assuming about the same percentages of wealth in the wealthiest 1% and then the next wealthiest 4%, the average wealth for these groups of households in 2012 is:

Wealthiest 1%, $22,790,000 per household.

Next Wealthiest 4%, $4,495,000 per household.

So, any of these wealthiest 5% of households might well have chosen to be uninsured prior to ObamaCare.  Now, they are most likely better off being insured.  So it is clear that there is great potential for all of the 1% decrease in the uninsured since 2008 being people from the wealthiest and highest income households.

This may not be case, but until there is a complete and validated breakdown of the health care insured by income and wealth, we should not assume that the 1% decrease in the uninsured is the result of poor and maybe middle income people rushing into ObamaCare.  In addition, with the assurance of health insurance under ObamaCare for those with severe health problems, some wealthy and high income people are undoubtedly also saving money by putting unhealthy family members under ObamaCare's lower age-pooled rates.

Given the very small decrease of 1% in the uninsured since 2008 and the claims that large numbers of people have been signed up on Medicaid, it is clear that many of the people who had insurance in 2008 do not have it now.  This suggests strongly that a larger fraction of the middle income groups do not have health insurance now than did in 2008.  This is an expected effect of the large increase in the cost of insurance premiums brought on by ObamaCare for those who qualify for little or no subsidy.  It is also an expected result given the decrease in full-time employment since then due to this never-ending Great Socialist Recession.

14 July 2014

Does Increased CO2 Cause a Decrease in Infra-Red Emission to Space?

Dr. Roy Spencer says:
"....if you add more and more CO2, the effective radiating altitude to space goes ever higher, which is colder, which means less IR radiation, which means a warming tendency for the lower atmosphere."
Let us evaluate this statement, which Dr. Spencer made in a post criticizing this post by Andre Loftus at American Thinker.   Dr. Spencer says that Andre Loftus erred in not considering pressure broadening and therefore increased absorption of the long-wave infra-red radiation emitted by the Earth's surface and this change of infra-red emission to space in the upper atmosphere.  I am only going to address the latter issue in this post.

Now if you have a simple idea that a given number of CO2 molecules are in thermal equilibrium with the atmosphere of the upper troposphere, which cools as the altitude increases, and the increased CO2 moves the source of the final infra-red emission into space to a higher altitude, then the rate of energy emission into space will decrease per molecule.  If the total rate of heat emission to space drops, then somewhere in the Earth system there will be warming.

But let us check out whether such a simple model makes sense.  Among the things we must consider are:

1)  If we increase the number of CO2 molecules, we have more emitters and more emitters might be able to emit as much or more energy into space even if each emitter is emitting less energy.

2)  While it is true that the troposphere cools with increased altitude, if the final emissions are from altitudes such as about 11 km, according to the U.S. Standard Atmosphere this is about the altitude at which the troposphere becomes the tropopause and the atmosphere is no longer cooling with increased altitude.  According to many accounts, most of the final CO2 IR emissions into space are from this altitude or higher already, so added CO2 may not provide much additional final radiation from the below 11 km altitude.

3)  While it is true that most re-emission events of adsorbed long-wave infra-red in the lower troposphere are prevented by collisions with nitrogen and oxygen molecules and with argon atoms, so that the CO2 molecule comes to be in equilibrium with the temperature of the local layer of air, this stops being true in the upper troposphere.  At sea level there are about 6.9 billion collisions/s, while at 11km altitude the number of collisions is only about 1.8 billion collisions/s.  At sea level fewer than 0.2 of the infra-red excited CO2 molecules re-emit infra-red radiation before a collision, but at 11 km more than 0.77 will re-emit any infra-red radiation they have absorbed from lower altitude molecules before they suffer a collision.  This total re-emission number increases with further altitude.  Consequently, only a small fraction of the final emitter CO2 molecules into space will be affected by either the cooler atmosphere around them or a static temperature atmosphere around them as more CO2 molecules are added.

4)  An increase in the number of CO2 molecules in the upper troposphere may result in a warming of the upper troposphere, causing the temperature at the final emission altitude to space to warm from the current profile and making each final emitter molecule in the upper troposphere a more efficient energy emitter.

So, we basically have four cases for a final emitter CO2 molecule:

1)  The molecule is in the upper troposphere where a decreasing temperature gradient exists and was in equilibrium with the immediately surrounding molecules.

2)  The final molecule was in the troposphere, but not in equilibrium with the immediately surrounding molecules.

3)  The molecule is in the tropopause where there is no temperature gradient, but it simply re-emits the radiation it received from a molecule in the top of the troposphere, so it changes nothing.

4) The final emitting molecule is in the tropopause and in equilibrium with the surrounding tropopause molecules.  Only the increase in the number of such cases relative to those of Case 3 will result in any decrease in the efficiency of energy transmission into space per molecule.  This decrease is not proportional since the energy that was transferred to collisions goes into increasing the static temperature of the tropopause.

Let us consider the case which best lends itself to Dr. Spencer's argument.  The final emitter CO2 molecule is in the upper troposphere and in equilibrium with its immediate surrounding layer of air.  This is actually not a very common case, because according to reports, the mean free path of CO2 emissions at the principle absorption wavelength of interest is between 25 and 48 m at sea level.  We will take the greater length of 48 m, since that is the better case for Dr. Spencer's argument.  The mean free path (mfp) is proportional to the atmospheric density assuming a well-mixed CO2 case.  That implies the mfp is 142 m at 10 km according to the relative densities at sea level and 10 km according to the US Standard Atmosphere.  This in turn makes it clear why most final CO2 emitters are in the tropopause and not in the upper troposphere.  Even with a chance of only about 0.2 or less of an absorbing molecule in the tropopause of coming into equilibrium with the surrounding molecules of the tropopause, most emission chains will have many chances to do so.  So most final emitters are already in equilibrium with the tropopause and are not going to change their energy emission efficiency to to an increase in numbers.

Now let us double the number of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere.  Let us assume that half of the present final emitters are at 10 km altitude and half are in the tropopause.  Then we will double the number of CO2 molecules and the mfp becomes half what it was, or about 71 m.  As a result, we will assume that all of the final emitters are now in the tropopause to minimize their temperature.  Let us compare the rates of energy emission into space for these two cases assuming an emissivity of 1 (since it does not matter for the comparison) and ignoring the fact that CO2 emits only a small fraction of the total black body spectrum:

Case 1:
P = (0.5) σ (T at 10 km)4 + (0.5) σ (T of tropopause)4
P = (0.5)(5.6697 x 10-8) [(223.25)4 + (216.65)4] = 132.87 W/m2

Case 2 with doubled CO2:
P = 2(5.6697 x 10-8) (216.65)4 = 249.82 W/m2

Of course these emission powers are proportionally exaggerated for simplicity, since water vapor still plays a final emission role and the emission is not black body emission.  Doubling CO2 results in a 1.88 times increase in the cooling rate of the Earth attributable to CO2 with the ballpark reasonable assumptions made.

The doubling of CO2 causes an increase in radiation into space and hence a cooling of the Earth system.  This is not to say that the surface temperature is proportionally cooled, but the complete system would be cooled.  It is difficult to see what set of assumptions on the altitude of final CO2 emitters would lead to a decrease of CO2 radiant cooling into space.  Even putting all of the present final emitters in the troposphere and keeping them there after doubling CO2 is not going to result in a reduction of infra-red emission by them into space.

The real effect of doubling CO2 is not as dramatically cooling as these calculations show because the upper troposphere and tropopause would surely warm up relative to their present temperature profile.

The quoted argument by Dr. Spencer does not hold up to examination.  There are many reasons, as I have argued frequently, to believe that carbon dioxide has a net cooling effect on surface temperatures and even on the heat of the Earth system as a whole.  In reality, its effect on surface temperatures is very small, for reasons I have discussed elsewhere.

13 July 2014

Evaluating the Mercury Emissions Danger from Coal-Fired Power Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency has recently put into effect a ruling called Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that requires power plants to greatly decrease their mercury emissions.  This directive is aimed primarily at coal-fired power plants and is said to be authorized under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.  The EPA claims that electric power units are responsible for 50% of the mercury air pollution in the United States.  The EPA provides a U.S. map with power plant mercury air emission quantities as well, including a scary health claim. 

Let us put this map into a rational perspective by comparing it with the total measured mercury air pollution across the country.  In this way we can extract a good sense of the contribution of man-made power plant mercury air pollution compared to that of natural sources.  If we live in an environment in which natural sources of mercury produce far more mercury emissions than do electric power plants, then we may look at the cost to benefit evaluation very differently than the power-lusting EPA does. 

Now, I have actually done this in an earlier post on this blog using total mercury air deposition maps for the years 2009 and 2010.  That post is Coal-Fired Power Plants Produce Insignificant Mercury.  Clearly the EPA was either not interested enough to learn about the mercury pollution problem to read that post or it was so motivated by emotional political concerns that it knowingly ignored the facts of reality cogently explained in my previous post.  However, in the interests of educating American voters, I will try to influence thinking Americans on this topic once again and use the newer total mercury air pollution maps of 2012 and 2011 to do so.

The Mercury Deposition Network measures the total deposition of mercury from the atmosphere each year at many stations across the USA.  These maps are found here. The mercury deposition distributions from the atmosphere across the USA for 2011 and 2012 are shown below. 

As in 2010 and 2009, the highest concentrations of mercury deposition from the atmosphere occur in the west, with particularly high rates in the Rocky Mountains, areas east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Southwest, and areas of the Great Plains states.  The Southeast is much less bad and as one works up the East Coast through the Middle States into the Northeast, the amount of mercury deposition decreases.  This general story of the mercury deposition concentrations is supported by all of the mercury deposition maps for the years 2009 - 2012.

California varies from year to year, having been rather bad in 2012, but not bad in 2011 and 2010, and somewhere in between in 2009.  If electric generating plants produce half the mercury deposition in the US as the EPA claims, it sure is hard to imagine that the mercury output of electric power plants in California varied so much in those years to explain the major variations in mercury depositions there.  It turns out that U.S. fires cause about as much mercury to become airborne as do electric generating plants.  According to Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, U.S. fires produce an average of 44 tons of airborne mercury a year.  Now, we can make some sense of the California variability.  2012 was a much worse fire year in California than the other three years and 2009 was the second worst of the four years.

Now according to the EPA, electric power plants in 2005 produced 53 tons of airborne mercury.  This was down from 59 tons in 1990.  It we assume the same rate of decrease after 2005 as between 1990 and 2005, in 2012 the mercury output would be estimated to be about 50 tons.  This is barely more than the 44 tons due to wildfires in the U.S.  This has consequences.  If the EPA says that 50 tons of output is the source of half of the airborne mercury, then the wildfire contribution is 44%.  This leaves very little for other man-made sources and for any other natural cause.  This, I will demonstrate, is a crock!

To see why, let us look at the mercury deposition maps and compare them to the distribution of the electric power plants.  The bulk of the electric power plants are in the East!  The worst of the mercury deposition is well to the west of them.  Since prevailing winds are from the west to the east, there is no way those huge swathes of red in the West are due to the electric generating plants mostly in the East!  Even granted that there are more wildfires in the drier and more sparsely inhabited West than in the East, there is no way the 44% of the airborne mercury due to fires is the cause of those huge red areas.  The numbers and the distribution of mercury do not add up.  There are clearly natural sources of mercury that are much more important than the EPA's colorful and self-empowering story would allow.

To hammer another nail in this sadly incompetent or untruthful story, note that the EPA map of power plant emitters shows a very large concentration of such emitters in the Ohio Valley, stretching from Eastern Missouri; through southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; Kentucky, West Virginia, eastern Ohio, and western Pennsylvania.  This cluster is such a large fraction of what the EPA says is 50% of the mercury airborne pollution, that if they were anywhere near right, there would be a bright red area where this cluster of power plants is and also to the east of them where the prevailing winds would carry their mercury output.  So what do we see?  We see some light red in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana that seems to carry over from the redder areas west of them.  We see a lot of tan in Kentucky, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania.  But note the particularly dense cluster of mercury output from power plants according to the dubious source of the EPA in eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania, and ask yourself why this is not the brightest of all red areas on the distribution maps.  And ask why eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey are largely green, indicating a low deposition of mercury in those downwind areas.

Consider the case of Idaho.  There are no power plant emission sites in the EPA map of such sites in Idaho.  Washington and Oregon states to the west of it have almost no power plant emitters.  Nonetheless, Idaho is in large part red in the two distribution maps here, as it was in the two earlier years as well.  Why?  It is not because Idaho is overwhelmed with forest fires.  No, there are other important natural causes of mercury emissions which can produce much higher concentrations of airborne mercury depositions than can the densest cluster of power plants.

Overall, it is clear that the contribution electric power plants make to airborne mercury is actually trivial in comparison to natural sources of airborne mercury.  As I pointed out in my previous post on this subject, this is likely mostly due to the wind erosion of the many mercury deposits brought to the surface by the volcanoes, which have long been extinct, but once were plentiful in the southern Rockies and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  It is very clear that electric power plants produce insignificant quantities of airborne mercury compared to the natural sources.

So if the EPA actually cared about Americans' health and if airborne mercury actually was a danger to us, then it should find the natural sources of mercury and clean up those sites.  Where a vein of cinnabar (mercury sulfide) is exposed, it would see to it that it was covered with a layer of concrete or in some other way kept from further erosion.  Of course, the west is already covered in the dust from such sources, but finding the richer sources of mercury would in time decrease the hazards.  Such an effort would have more effect than cleaning up the electric power plants in all likelihood, given the puny mercury output of the power plants.

In the meantime, people who choose to live in the West should at least be educated that they are exposing themselves to this mercury hazard.  Except, if it really is a hazard of great concern, then we should see significant health problems in the American West due to the high concentrations of airborne mercury there.  We should have no need to refer to far away island peoples with a heavy seafood intake to evaluate the medical problems caused by mercury.  This is what the EPA seems to do, though it will not make those studies public and some such studies are known to show no real problems.  There is general agreement though that most of human intake of mercury is due to eating seafood or fish from mercury-rich streams and rivers.  Eons of natural erosion of mercury deposits and volcanic outputs have loaded the oceans with about 200 ppm of mercury.

So are there any studies that show that the high concentration areas for airborne mercury in the West are the cause of elevated mercury illness problems?  No, not that I can find.  Is there any evidence of higher rates of mercury induced illness in the areas around the cluster of power plants on the Ohio River, especially in southern and eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania?  There is a study by the West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources entitled Exposure to Mercury in West Virginia by Barbara J. Smith that concludes:
Data are inadequate to determine if:
• mercury in West Virginia fish tissue is increasing or decreasing,
• West Virginian’s are exposed to more mercury than people in the United States,
• reducing mercury emissions in West Virginia will result in reductions in mercury residues in fish caught in West Virginia waters and
• adverse health effects are occurring in West Virginian’s due to mercury exposures from
eating fish.
It seems clear that epidemiologists and physicians have been unable to find any connection to date either between the comparatively high mercury deposition rates throughout much of the American West or in the vicinity of the major cluster of power plants in the Ohio Valley.  This has not inhibited the EPA in proclaiming itself a hero in stopping evil power plant operators from spewing mercury into the air.  No, even though power plant mercury is clearly of insignificant quantities relative to natural sources, the plant owners are expected to shut down or make very expensive installations of scrubbers to remove all traces of mercury from their emissions.

Shutdowns will result in the rot of large capital investments, the loss of jobs, and required replacement of plants with new plants which will direct more capital away from other business endeavors.  In some cases, electricity capacity shortages may result.  The installation of new scrubbers that can remove mercury will also redirect capital from other endeavors and it will increase the cost of electricity production.  In both cases, the added capital investment will require electricity cost increases for consumers.

If the mercury emissions of power plants were significant compared to natural sources and if some health consequences in areas of high mercury deposition could be demonstrated, then it would be rational to make a cost-benefit analysis of power plants that emit mercury.  One might conclude that the installation of mercury scrubbers was necessary or that coal had to be replaced by natural gas as the fuel.  However, given that neither of these rationally critical conditions can be shown to exist, it is a fool's errand to require the actions the EPA has mandated with the MATS ruling.

Given the false story the EPA is telling about airborne mercury depositions, it is clear that it is either incredibly incompetent in making rational scientific and economic assessments and/or that it is simply and only interested in increasing its own power.  There is good reason to believe that "and" and not "or" applies in that statement.  The story the EPA tells when it claims carbon dioxide is a pollutant which will cause catastrophic man-made global warming is just another such case in which its science and economics are extremely deficient.  Once again, in the carbon dioxide emissions case, it is also very clear that the EPA is only interested in gaining power.

It is also very clear that the EPA is fulfilling Obama's and the Progressive Elitists' vendetta against coal under both MATS and under its claim that CO2 is a pollutant.  Having a renegade administration that is trying to wipe out a major coal and energy industry is very harmful to our standard of living.  This is even worse given that they have reduced our production of oil and gas on federal lands and offshore as well.

04 July 2014

Why is American Independence Day Exceptionally Worthy of Celebration?

We are often told that we celebrate the 4th of July because American troops have fought to keep us free.  Or, it is simply claimed that the USA is the greatest country on Earth.  Some even say America is exceptional, but too often stumble over an explanation as to why that is so or was so.  Some say it is because America is a democracy.  None of these explanations is worthy of those Americans who have understood or who do now understand the real basis for American Exceptionalism.

American Exceptionalism is founded on the fact that the United States of America was to have a government that recognized that:
  • All individuals are equal before the law.
  • Each individual has the right to life, liberty, property, self-ownership, and the pursuit of happiness and these rights are broad.
  • Government is not the source of these individual rights.
  • Legitimate government exists to protect these individual rights.
  • Legitimate government has a very limited scope and no powers but such as are enumerated in the people's mandate for government, the Constitution. 
Together, these requirements and aims of government constitute the American Principle.

Today, only a minority of Americans believe in the American Principle.  Because of this, the United States of America has definitely lost much of its Exceptionalism.  The Index of Economic Freedom of the Heritage Foundation says the USA is the 12th freest nation, rather high in the group of mostly free nations, but falling once again compared to earlier rankings. The Simon Fraser Institute and Cato Institute do an evaluation of economic freedom around the world also.  Their 2013 report on the degree of freedom in 2011 places the USA in the number 17 position and falling from its earlier rankings.  So, yes the USA is the world's most powerful country.  It is a comparatively free country.  But it is not the world's freest country.

Frankly, the USA is not living up to the American Principle.  It is the American Principle that would make us the freest country in the world.  It is this principle that provides the basis for the great opportunities for personal happiness that we have often provided better than other countries in the past.  On Independence Day we should all be renewing our commitment to the American Principle and we should be paying respect to those Americans who were committed to it in the past and to those who are committed to it today.  We should all be eager to see America once again the premier country in the world with respect to our most important political value, our Liberty as individuals.