Policy, Practice & Analysis
Today's posts in bigger type to the right.
Prior 2/3-days posts in smaller type.
Saudi Arabia is encouraging the dramatic collapse of oil prices in order to damage the surging global clean energy industry, British entrepreneur Richard Branson has claimed. “They have done it before and it hurt. They don’t just want to damage the US fracking industry, but also the clean energy business. The collapse of oil prices is going to make it much more difficult for clean energy,” he warned, speaking from the Caribbean island of Necker.
But the British entrepreneur said that now was the time for governments wanting to reduce their carbon emissions to introduce a carbon tax on fossil fuel users because the tax would be cushioned by the fall in prices. “If governments want a carbon tax [at the climate summit ] in Paris next year, then it would be the best time. What the clean energy business needs is a gap between it and coal and oil.”
Just as the Prius has established itself as the first true mass-market hybrid, Toyota hopes the Mirai will one day become the first mass-market hydrogen car. On sale in Japan on Dec. 15, it will be available in the U.S. and Europe in late 2015 and has a driving range of 300 miles, much farther than most plug-in electrics can go. It also runs on the most abundant element in the universe and emits only heat and water—and none of the gases that lead to smog or contribute to global warming. “This is not an alternative to a gasoline vehicle,” says Scott Samuelsen, an engineer and director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California at Irvine. “This is a quantum step up.”
According to data from NOAA, 2014 is sure to set a new temperature record
Obama said in a video Tuesday
that he had issued a memorandum withdrawing the region from all future oil and gas lease sales. The region, he said, "is a beautiful, natural wonder and it's something that is too precious for us to be putting out to the highest bidder." The region is the source of 40 percent of the wild-caught fish in the United States
, and its fishing industry generates $2 billion each year.
The George W. Bush administration opened 5.6 million acres of the North Aleutian Basin for oil and gas leasing in 2007. In March 2010, Obama withdrew the area from offshore lease sales through 2017. Tuesday's announcement extends those protections indefinitely.
[What/who has polluted the rest of the world's fishing areas...
The governor came to the right conclusion on banning the drilling process because the risks to the environment and human health are unacceptable.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world per capita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs
Dr. Peter Bach: Medicare has to pay exactly what the drug company charges. Whatever that number is.
Lesley Stahl: Wait a minute, this is a law?
Dr. Peter Bach: Yes.
Lesley Stahl: And there's no negotiating whatsoever with Medicare?
Dr. Peter Bach: No.[All other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug costs]
The National Research Council via YouTube
A.C. THOMPSON and JONATHAN JONES in ProPublica
Looking at real bills for real patients cuts through the ideological debate over health care policy.
the USA ranks first in the world in health care spending, but only 45th in life expectancy....
Climate change inaction is a leading global cause of death.
If we had the per-person costs of any other OECD country, America’s deficits would vanish....
How Industry Money Reaches (aka 'bribes') Physicians
To remove your appendix in one California hospital costs $180,000, at a different facility the bill is $1,500. [Who has time to shop?
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Pyongyang denies responsibility for cyber-attack and threatens grave consequences if Washington continues to blame it
In an email to Mother Jones, the actor says if the US, China, Russia, and UN don't react strongly, global culture will be "very different."
Francis had a diplomatic triumph this week. If only he could resolve the world’s bloodiest conflicts too
Developing countries of the global south don’t have enough electricity. Sometimes rural populations are only just now getting electricity. Ironically, many of them can leapfrog conventional power and go straight to solar and wind. Indeed, in the next generation, renewables will be a central element in national development.
SunEdison has been awarded a contract to build 350 megawatts of utility scale solar plants in Chile. But what is important here is that SunEdison will be able to generate the electricity more inexpensively than if it had used coal or natural gas or nuclear, and does not need any subsidy to produce this result. If this comparative cost advantage is true now, the advantage will grow rapidly over the next decade.
MeyGen project could power nearly 175,000 homes through network of turbines on seabed at Ness of Quoys off Caithness
Both public and private sector are unwilling to invest in wave power, frustrating the development of what could be a huge clean energy source for the UK
The new rules will control coal ash tank sites and monitor new and existing impoundments for contamination of groundwater
About half of black male students at Normandy High [Michael Brown’s school] never graduate. Just one in four graduates makes it to a four-year college. The college where Mr. Brown was headed is a for-profit trade school that recruits those it once described in internal documents as “Unemployed, Underpaid, Unsatisfied, Unskilled, Unprepared, Unsupported, Unmotivated, Unhappy, Underserved!”
The sudden dramatic collapse in the price of oil appears to be an act of geopolitical warfare against Russia. The result could be trillions of dollars in oil derivative losses; and the FDIC could be liable, following repeal of key portions of the Dodd-Frank Act last weekend.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says mass arrests on Dec. 14 of journalists, screenwriters and television producers were necessary to eliminate agents of a “parallel state” bent on seizing power. But Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to stifle criticism and dissent show an authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe, one where being a democracy, a NATO ally and a candidate for membership in the European Union are somehow compatible with upending the rule of law and stifling freedom of expression.
Bernie Sanders railed against big banks (“Break ’em up!), fretted over climate change and income inequality, and deplored the high cost of a college education (“Totally moronic.”). He embraced a single-payer health system (“Guess what everybody! Health care is a right!”), proposed strengthening labor unions and lamented a lack of voter participation (“All over this country people are throwing up their hands in despair.”).
But Mr. Sanders reserved his greatest ire for what he called “one extreme right-wing billionaire family,” the brothers Charles and David Koch. In his view, they are the root of what is wrong in American politics.
“The Koch brothers are worth $85 billion. You might think that’s enough to get by, leave a couple of bucks to your kids,” the senator thundered, his voice rising, face reddening. “But apparently they feel an obligation to destroy Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”
The crowd lapped it up. “We need a debate in the Democratic Party about where we’re going,” said Sandy Easter, 65, an alternative healer and homeopath who distributed “Run, Bernie, Run” stickers. “I think he’s folksy — the real thing.”
The first Republican presidential candidate for 2016 is ‘not a scientist’ – and you can bet Democrats won’t back off the environment
Her fans don't want to talk about it, and that has some progressives nervous.
On the issues alone, Warren is hardly the only pol in lockstep with progressives—but Warren has a singular appeal to her wing of the party because they say she's uniquely talented at articulating their issues, and supporters are hesitant to even name another pol who could or should step up if she chooses not to. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has said he's likely to run as a Democrat in the race, would seem like a good fit and is a strong supporter of many top progressive issues. Or there's Sherrod Brown, another senator who's been a vocal critic of Wall Street and also happens to hail from the general-election swing state of Ohio. Brown is getting no buzz among progressives at all and has not expressed interest in running; Sanders comes in as progressives' distant second when compared with Warren.
The Democratic revolt in Congress soon wilted under White House pressure but Elizabeth Warren’s fiery advocacy has given the Progressives of the party a boost
“I’m walking out of this meeting feeling very proud of my caucus because there was moral clarity, there was conviction”, said freshman California congressman Jared Huffman
at the height of the great Democratic revolt of 2014. “I had the feeling a few moments ago that we stood for something. I hope it holds.”
....Warren has long made a name for herself opposing the banking industry in Washington. What differed this time was the growing agreement of more moderate Democrats that something was deeply wrong, not just with the budget process but the whole way their party has approached compromise in Washington in recent years.
I fear for the future of this country.
....Should people accused of stealing be held accountable? Definitely. But the justice system entangles the most vulnerable so effectively that even the innocent often find it easier to just plead guilty. Meanwhile the capable, and sometimes the stealthiest and most damaging, are slapped on the wrist and given a pass.
In this post I want to rectify that mysterious silence, and take a look at the truly nauseating Kline-Miller amendment, passed by the House, and part of the Senate bill forwarded to Obama for his signature. David Dayen summarizes:
Under the bill, trustees would be enabled to cut pension benefits to current retirees, reversing a 40-year bond with workers who earned their retirement packages.
Under ERISA, the 1974 law governing pensions in the private sector, benefits already earned by a worker can’t be cut.
Now they can. That’s right. Even if you’re retired and vested in a private pension plan, your benefits could be cut. Congress retraded the deal (if I have the finance jargon right). That’s nauseating even for today’s official Washington. And the bill was passed in a thoroughly bipartisan fashion
: Kline is a Minnesota Republican, and Miller is a “liberal” California Democrat. [Reach me that bucket, wouldja?]
The divisions that were on full display during the debate over a $1 trillion spending bill may become the norm in 2015.
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Accolade for Philae probe and its mothership, Rosetta, but top spot in journal Science’s list goes to genetic researchers
Science’s top ten breakthroughs
- Giving life a bigger genetic alphabet. How scientists added new letters to the genetic code
- Bringing in new blood. Researchers show blood components from the young can rejuvenate an old mouse’s muscles and brain
- Landing on a comet. Rosetta’s ten-year mission to comet 67P promises to transform our knowledge about the solar system
- Cells that might cure diabetes. Researchers create insulin-making cells in the laboratory
- Cooperative robots. Engineers use novel software to create fleets of tiny robots that can gather in formations and build simple structures
- The birth of birds. Scientists detail the many steps that turned lumbering dinosaurs into graceful birds
- Chips that mimic the brain. IBM and other companies have designed neuromorphic chips that process information in ways close to living brains
- Cave art. Scientists quadruple the age of cave art in Indonesia
- Manipulating memory. Researchers have found ways to delete existing memories in mice and insert new ones
- The rise of the CubeSat. Tiny 10cm-wide boxes containing a few thousand dollars worth of equipment are being used increasingly as cheap satellites
More than a year ago, Telsa and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk put out a white paper
describing the “hyperloop,” a supersonic transportation system that he claimed could carry passengers between at up to 800 miles per hour
. And better still, it could be built for just 1/10th the cost of California’s proposed high-speed rail. Twenty-two months later, that rail system has started construction and Musk has returned to running his companies — as he promised to do. But Musk’s vision was too tempting to just leave sitting for Dirk Ahlborn. He founded Hyperloop Transportation Technologies to pick up the idea and run with it. And today, Ahlborn and his team of more than 100 researchers, students and experts are out with a much more detailed design for the hyperloop. Their conclusion? A Hyperloop in California could be built within a decade, for between $7 and $16 billion and there are no technical showstoppers, Ahlborn says.
Graphene may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered. But what are its ideal uses? [The Hyperloop Tube might be one use...]
The U.S. will open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, officials said.
The changes President Obama outlined will have a profound impact on Cuba — where isolation by the U.S. has fundamentally shaped the island’s economy, its politics and even its national identity.
Sending in gunmen to liberate the Bay of Pigs failed, but perhaps we’ll do better with diplomats, tourists and investors.
Pope Francis is being credited for helping bridge the divide by first sending letters to President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba, and then having the Vatican host a diplomatic meeting between the two sides in October.
President Obama did what needed to be done: Alan Gross is home, and the U.S. has reversed its 50-year hostility toward Havana.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are among those who want to continue a failed policy. [Majority of Cubans were born after sanctions began... It's time to stop making new enemies!]
A Preston art student raises over £20,000 for a homeless man who tried to help her get home safely
“I was touched by such a kind gesture from a man who faces ignorance every day, so I set on a mission to find this man. The more I spoke about him the more kind gestures I learned about him, such as him returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.
“He has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address. So that’s when I decided to change Robbie’s life and help him, as he has helped many others.”
Instead of trials for those accused of endorsing torture, or a process of accountability for political leaders, we get trials by essay. It’s not enough for a healthy democracy
Perhaps the only saving grace of this sociopath formerly in high office is that he understands that his legacy could well be as a war criminal unlike any in American history before him. That’s my only explanation for why he has to be out there day after day, year after year, attacking his successor, lambasting America’s return to civilization, and insisting that hanging people from shackles, freezing them to near-death, near-drowning them so that their abdomens are distended with water, anally raping them, breaking their limbs, and keeping them awake so long they hallucinated ... is not somehow torture. Ask yourself: have you ever met someone who believes that? Outside the professional criminal classes, that is.
Another awful provision of the "Cromnibus" spending bill got much less attention but is deeply destructive—the successful move by Republicans, including Senator Ron Johnson and Representative Ander Crenshaw, to cut $350 million from the IRS budget, following other cuts this year totaling $1 billion or more that have forced the IRS to cut 13,000 employees while it faces a much heavier workload from 7 million additional taxpayers.
Take out the "lavish gatherings," and you can save, what—$2 million? $10 million? Great reason to cut $1.35 billion! Here is the reality. Cutting the Internal Revenue Service will result in a serious drop in revenue—fewer audits, less oversight, with many studies showing that additional funding for the agency has always resulted in a sixfold or greater increase in federal revenues without changing the law to increase taxes. That will worsen our federal budget deficits. At the same time, fewer personnel will mean many fewer taxpayers reaching the IRS to get answers to questions, more delays in processing returns and refunds, a much rougher tax season, and lots of pain for individuals.
....Coal is an outlaw enterprise. In nearly every stage of its production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me
in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies. [Wake-up America, RFK Jr. is an ideal progressive candidate for President!
The typical affluent family in America now has nearly seven times the wealth of a middle-income family, the biggest wealth gap in three decades, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center
Yves here. This interview with Joesph Stiglitz is pretty subversive for a talk with a Serious Economist. Stiglitz doesn’t simply talk about the problem of inequality, but the drivers that most mainstream economists choose to ignore, such as the rise of monopoly/oligopoly power, worker exploitation, and how central banks have allowed banks to engage increasingly in speculative rather than productive lending.
BEAUFORT - S.C.
- A 14-year-old South Carolina boy who was quickly convicted of murder and then executed in 1944 has been posthumously exonerated.
Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen vacated George Stinney, Jr.'s conviction on Wednesday, stating that the boy's prosecution was marked by "fundamental, Consitutional violations of due process."
[We're we not surprised; it happened in a Red State.
Lawyers and law students in Los Angeles stage a die-in demonstration on Tuesday in protest against recent grand jury decisions not to indict white officers who killed unarmed black men. Despite rain, over 250 people took part in the protest in front of the Stanley Mosk courthouse in LA on Tuesday
Actor and director, who had emails exposed by the hack on Sony, said media ‘abdicated its real duty’ when reporting the attacks, and that ‘we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane’
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.