From Energy Crisis to Leader in Clean Energy

Huffington Post: “Solar farms are blooming across California’s deserts, wind turbines are climbing the Sierra, photovoltaic roofs are shimmering over suburbs, and Teslas are the Silicon Valley elite’s new ride. A clean energy rush is transforming the Golden State so quickly that nearly a quarter of its electricity now comes from renewable sources, and new facilities, especially solar, are coming online at a rapid rate. Last year, California became the first state to get more than 5 percent of its electricity from the sun.”

“With its goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 now within reach, Governor Jerry Brown recently raised California’s bar, ordering the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below the 1990 level within the next 15 years — the most ambitious target in North America. To meet the new directive, planners say Californians will need to step up their energy transition even more: doubling energy efficiency, boosting electric transportation, and getting at least twice as much of their electricity from renewables. Energy experts caution that it will take effort, but they say it’s doable.”

“It’s difficult to remember that just 15 years earlier the state was experiencing an energy meltdown. Electricity prices skyrocketed, supply crashed and blackouts rolled, due mainly to a disastrous deregulation attempt and unscrupulous market manipulation. Fast-forward to 2014, and the state’s renewable capacity grew to an estimated 21,000 megawatts, including more utility-scale solar than all the rest of the states combined.”

Most Aren’t Paying Attention to Big Obamacare Case

obamacare lawsuit poll

Huffington Post: “More than seven in 10 people have heard “nothing at all” or “only a little” about King v. Burwell, a lawsuit brought by conservative and libertarian activists that seeks to eliminate Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies for 6.4 million people in 34 states, according to survey results published Tuesday by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The share of Americans saying they’d heard nothing — 44 percent — about this latest challenge to Obamacare’s survival outnumber those who have heard “a lot” or at least “something” by almost two to one.

GOP Lawmakers Push Online Sales Tax Reform

“GOP lawmakers reignited the online sales tax debate,” according to The Hill, “rolling out a new bill that they said could assuage previous Republican concerns about the issue.”

“The bill, from House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and a group of 15 other House members, would give states greater latitude to charge sales taxes on online purchases from out-of-state customers… Chaffetz and Womack both stressed that their bill would finally bring parity to the issue of taxing online sales. The Supreme Court has said that states can only collect sales taxes from companies that have a physical location within their borders.”

“Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have shown little interest in the issue, which divides Republicans far more than it does Democrats. Most Democrats back online sales tax legislation, while some of the Marketplace Fairness Act’s loudest critics were GOP presidential contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY).”

Study Shows How Government Funding Boosts Innovation

Stephen Dewhurst highlights a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that “each $10 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) results in 3.1 new private sector patents in the area of research that received funding – or about 1 patent for every 2 NIH grants.”

“This is largely because R&D at companies depends on prior knowledge created by publicly funded science.  Interestingly, the report also notes that about half of these patents are targeted to a different disease than the one addressed by the NIH research –  underscoring the fact that innovation depends on generalizable, fundamental scientific insights.”

“These new findings highlight the enormous importance of government funded science as a driver of private sector innovation and patenting, and underscore the need to grow the NIH budget after over a decade of stagnation.”

Hackers Got Security Clearance Forms

“Hackers who raided the U.S. government’s personnel office gained access to secret background investigations conducted on current and former employees,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The hackers had access to at least two separate background-investigation forms that must be completed for many U.S. officials to work in select national-security and other government jobs, and these forms are often necessary for someone to obtain security clearance. The two forms—known as Standard Form 85 and 86—contain extensive information about family members, mental health, and credit history. They also include records of ‘foreign contacts’—lists of non-U.S. officials that a person might know or have relationships with.”

“Such information could be considered a treasure trove of information for foreign intelligence agencies, as the records would provide access to the personal lives and relationship networks of some of the U.S. government’s most carefully screened and vetted officials, and could expose them to blackmail.”

Is Health Care Spending Growing Again?

Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. Census Bureau has published new estimates of health spending based on their somewhat obscure but important Quarterly Services Survey. Analysis of the survey data shows that health spending was 7.3% higher in the first quarter of 2015 than in the first quarter of last year. Hospital spending increased 9.2%. Greater use of health services as well as more people covered by the ACA appear to be responsible for most of the increase. People are beginning to use more physician and outpatient services again as the economy improves. The number of days people spent in hospitals also rose.”

Kansas Avoids Massive Budget Cuts

“Kansas will avoid massive budget cuts after a tax plan crawled to passage in the Legislature on Friday, but some lawmakers who voted for the plan say the state has failed to right its financial ship,” according to The Kansas City Star.

“Republicans, who hold supermajorities in the Kansas House and Senate, found themselves bitterly divided on taxes for weeks in the face of a $400 million budget hole as the legislative session stretched to 113 days, the longest in state history. The House scraped together the 63 votes needed for passage at 4 a.m. Friday, passing a plan that raises $384.4 million in tax revenue, after working around the clock since Wednesday night.”

“Little more than 12 hours later, the Senate approved the plan with 21 votes, again the bare minimum for passage… Brownback had warned that if lawmakers did not pass a tax plan before Monday, then he would make massive budget cuts — either issuing a 6.2 percent across-the-board cut costing schools nearly $200 million, or line-item vetoes of budgets for the state’s regents universities.”

Washington Post: How Kansas keeps making life harder for the poor

Patent Troll Bills Split Innovation Community

“‘Innovation’ is among the most highly prized civic and commercial virtues today. So much so that opposing sides in policy contests each claim its mantle,” writes Drew Clark. “Nowhere is this truer than in now-bubbling debate on Capitol Hill in Washington over patent reform.”

“And the divisions aren’t based on political party. In the Senate, the co-sponsors of the bipartisan PATENT Act are deep-red Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and dark-blue Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Schumer of New York… The bills’ target is that frequently derided species known as the ‘patent troll’: those who use a bogus claim and impose a litigation toll on an innocent entrepreneur going about creating jobs and driving economic prosperity.”

“Instead of being divided by party, or even squarely by industry, supporters of these two measures, and their opponents, pit one view of ‘innovation’ against another. On the one hand are those Silicon Valley companies constantly making and remaking the tools of the digital economy. On the other hand are inventors who use intellectual property as an asset and license the manufacture of their patented devices to others.”

Chart of the Day

Politico: “Afghanistan and Iraq loom large for both parties, but larger for Democrats.  Iran, Russia, Syria, North Korea, and Libya, on the other hand, are all mentioned far more by Republicans. Our data can’t answer the question of why certain countries came up, but it’s possible to guess a rule of thumb: Mention a country if it was involved in crises during the other party’s Presidency.”

Both Parties Face Pressure to Raise Taxes

“Pressure to raise taxes, at least on the wealthy, is rising,” writes the New York Times.

“Several developments are fueling that pressure. The Tea Party push to slash spending has lost steam and generated a backlash. Defense hawks want more money for the Pentagon, while other Republicans seek additional cash for highway projects. The largest potential targets for further cuts, Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, are hardly politically inviting.”

“Moreover, both parties, at least rhetorically, have embraced the need for Washington to address stagnant middle­class wages and rising income inequality. Enacting significant remedies — whether through new middle­class tax benefits or spending programs — requires cash Washington doesn’t have.”

Is Radical Innovation the Key to Lowering Health Care Costs?

“Though introducing more consumer choices and competition among health care suppliers certainly affects health care prices,” writes Veronique de Rugy, “nothing would have as radical an impact on prices and quality in the health care industry as revolutionary innovation.”

“For that, we must first free the health care supply from the many constraints imposed by federal and state governments and the special interests they serve. At the federal level, that means, among other things, radically reforming the Food and Drug Administration… Others suggest getting rid of federal and state regulations that prevent people from having access to more and better information about drugs, medical devices and procedures; forbid them to try new, unapproved drugs when they or their loved ones are terminally ill; and preclude doctors from offering new treatments to their patients.”

“Indeed, people often are better-suited to know what is best for them than bureaucrats in Washington. Moreover, these reforms would be important first steps to allow tech innovators to work their magic in health care. This would result in spectacular reductions of health care costs — making the need for health insurance much less important than it is now. “

Pennsylvania Governor Eyes Launching State Exchange

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) “formally proposed setting up a state-based insurance marketplace, potentially protecting hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents from the consequences of a Supreme Court decision that could gut Obamacare later this month,” Kaiser Healh News reports.

“A ruling against the Affordable Care Act could end insurance subsidies for millions of people who live in the 37 states – including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware – that rely on the federal marketplace. The 13 that set up state marketplaces two years ago would not be affected. Pennsylvania is one of two states to apply to set up an exchange.”

“It is unclear whether the Republican-dominated General Assembly would have to approve Wolf’s proposal, although it does control funding. Neither the administration nor Republicans in the legislature indicated any urgency in moving forward until the Supreme Court rules.”

Illegal Border Crossings Lowest in 20 years

“As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation’s population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million,” the Washington Post reports.

“A key — but largely overlooked — sign of these ebbing flows is the changing makeup of the undocumented population. Until recent years, illegal immigrants tended to be young men streaming across the Southern border in pursuit of work. But demographic data show that the typical illegal immigrant now is much more likely someone who is 35 or older and has lived in the United States for a decade or more.”