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Established 1973 — Last updated: Saturday, December 20, 2014, 11:02 AM
Policy, Practice & Analysis
Today's posts in bigger type to the right.
Prior 2/3-days posts in smaller type.
Permanent Editorial?
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending as compared with the 2011 OECD per capita average, which becomes extra overhead on everything U.S. workers make—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's adopt more efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
2011 US per capita health care spending was $4390 more per person than in France (acclaimed as having the best healthcare) and $5169 above the OECD average without better results. (Ref. 2009, 2007, selected 2007 with avg. doctor visits showing we're least cared for for the money, 2003 and 1998.)

Lastly and importantly, health worker pay is NOT the problem.

[Sorry I didn't date this, which has been updated over time, my anger unrelenting. It was posted in early 2010. A similar editorial re. triple-play communication services is also much deserved, since all OECD countries pay much less.]
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.”

John Vidal | The Guardian
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.”
Brian Bremner, Craig Trudell, and Yuki Hagiwara December | BloombergBusinessweek
According to data from NOAA, 2014 is sure to set a new temperature record
John Abraham | The Guardian
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...]
Kate Sheppard | Huffington Post
The governor came to the right conclusion on banning the drilling process because the risks to the environment and human health are unacceptable.
THE EDITORIAL BOARD | The New York Times

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
OLGA KHAZAN | The Atlantic | Ref.
The cost of cancer drugs [13:52 60 Minutes' video]
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]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times | Ref.
Climate Change: Lines of Evidence [play chapters or all 28 minutes]
The National Research Council via YouTube | Ref.
A.C. THOMPSON and JONATHAN JONES in ProPublica | Ref.
Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us [long, print & study; 3:38 video]
Looking at real bills for real patients cuts through the ideological debate over health care policy.
STEVEN BRILL in Time Magazine | Ref.
Econ4 on Health Care [10:00 video]
the USA ranks first in the world in health care spending, but only 45th in life expectancy....
YVES SMITH comments in Naked Capitalism | Ref.
Climate change inaction is a leading global cause of death.
DARA | Ref.
If we had the per-person costs of any other OECD country, America’s deficits would vanish....
EZRA KLEIN in the Washington Post | Ref.
How Industry Money Reaches (aka 'bribes') Physicians
Special Report in Pro Publica | Ref.
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?]
RYAN FLINN in Bloomberg | Ref.
SOURCE: Public Broadcasting System & ABC News | Ref.
In recognition of the dangers inherent in the consolidation of mainstream corporate media The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel (formerly a newspaper) advances awareness of important suppressed news and opinion.
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The first Republican presidential candidate for 2016 is ‘not a scientist’ – and you can bet Democrats won’t back off the environment
Suzanne Goldenberg | The Guardian
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.
EMILY SCHULTHEIS | The National Jounal
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.

Dan Roberts | The Guardian
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.
JOHN LEWIS | The Atlantic
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.
Michael Hilzick:
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?]
Lambert Strether | Naked Capitalism
The divisions that were on full display during the debate over a $1 trillion spending bill may become the norm in 2015.
RUSSELL BERMAN | The Atlantic




Letters to the Editor
Readers | Ongoing

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
Robin McKie | The Guardian
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.
Mark Rogowsky | Forbes
Graphene may be the most remarkable substance ever discovered. But what are its ideal uses? [The Hyperloop Tube might be one use...]
JOHN COLAPINTO | The New Yorker
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.
PETER BAKER | The New York Times
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.
DAMIEN CAVE, RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and VICTORIA BURNETT | The New York Times
Sending in gunmen to liberate the Bay of Pigs failed, but perhaps we’ll do better with diplomats, tourists and investors.
Nicholas Kristof OPED | The New York Times
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.
JIM YARDLEY and GAIA PIANIGIANI | The New York Times
President Obama did what needed to be done: Alan Gross is home, and the U.S. has reversed its 50-year hostility toward Havana.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG | The Atlantic
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!]
CAROL GIACOMO OPED | The New York Times
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.”

–Dominique Harrison-Bentzen   
Abby Young-Powell | The Guardian
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
Antony Loewenstein OPED | The Guardian
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.
ANDREW SULLIVAN | The Dish
Bleeding the IRS Will Make the Tax System Worse
The budget deficit will grow, taxpayers won't get answers, and the rich will get off easier.
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.

NORM ORNSTEIN | The Atlantic
....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!]
ROBERT F. KENNEDY Jr. OPED | The New York Times
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.
Lynn Parramore interview | Naked Capitalism

We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout of the financial system. Our database accounts for both the broader $700 billion bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ProPublica | Ref.
SARAH ANDERSON in CounterPunch | Ref.
ANDREW HACKER in The New York Review of Books | Ref.
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.]
JULIA DAHL | CBS News
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
Reuters | The Guardian
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’
Ben Beaumont-Thomas | The Guardian
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The Daily Howler | EVERY DAY
 
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