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Last updated: Friday, September 22, 2017, 9:46 AM
Aggregated more-worthy news.
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Obama's ACA didn't fix this:
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending compared with the 2013 OECD per capita average of advanced countries, which becomes extra cost overhead on U.S.exports—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's end price gouging and adopt efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
In 2015 US total per capita health care spending was $9451 – $5044 more per person than in France without better results.

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

....Even if Trump is eager to bail on [The Paris Agreement] as soon as possible, the United States won’t technically be able to make an official exit until November 2020, the tail end of Trump’s first — and, with any hope, last — term. What he can do is start the process to make that happen, which will be routed largely through a State Department that might still lack the proper staffing to carry out the job.

Effectively, nothing has changed; since the Rose Garden announcement about the decision to bail on the agreement earlier this summer, the White House’s line has always been that it would stay in if it could somehow negotiate a better deal. Multiple countries have also said that the underlying language of the deal won’t change no matter what the White House does.

Most of the document’s emissions reduction plans, meanwhile, are tied to each country’s nationally determined contribution brought to the table in France in 2015.

The central feature of the U.S. commitment that year was the Clean Power Plan, aimed at capping emissions from power production. Scott Pruitt has spent his tenure so far as Environmental Protection Agency administrator making every attempt to dismantle it from within; his agency is currently in the process of reviewing the plan and proposing its replacement, and on a longer term mission to cripple its own authority.

Put simply, whether Trump stays in the agreement means little if the chief means of compliance — the Clean Power Plan — is gutted. On the other hand, if states and companies move in the direction the plan intended even without it in force, Trump’s gutting loses power. After the withdrawal, many have even stated that they intend to strengthen their carbon-cutting plans in response. All of that has more bearing on the atmosphere than Trump’s rhetoric around Paris.

Kate Aronoff | The Intercept
As Harmony of the Seas sets sail from Southampton docks on Sunday she will leave behind a trail of pollution – a toxic problem that is growing as the cruise industry and its ships get ever bigger

When the gargantuan Harmony of the Seas slips out of Southampton docks on Sunday afternoon on its first commercial voyage, the 16-deck-high floating city will switch off its auxiliary engines, fire up its three giant diesels and head to the open sea.

But while the 6,780 passengers and 2,100 crew on the largest cruise ship in the world wave goodbye to England, many people left behind in Southampton say they will be glad to see it go. They complain that air pollution from such nautical behemoths is getting worse every year as cruising becomes the fastest growing sector of the mass tourism industry and as ships get bigger and bigger.

The Harmony, owned by Royal Caribbean, has two four-storey high 16-cylinder Wärtsilä engines which would, at full power, each burn 1,377 US gallons of fuel an hour, or about 66,000 gallons a day of some of the most polluting diesel fuel in the world.

In port, and close to US and some European coasts, the Harmony must burn low sulphur fuel or use abatement technologies. But, says Colin MacQueen, who lives around 400 yards from the docks and is a member of new environment group Southampton Clean Air, the fumes from cruise liners and bulk cargo ships are “definitely” contributing to Southampton’s highly polluted air.

“We can smell, see and taste it. These ships are like blocks of flats. Sometimes there are five or more in the docks at the same time. The wind blows their pollution directly into the city and as far we can tell, there is no monitoring of their pollution. We are pushing for them to use shore power but they have resisted.”

John Vidal | The Guardian
The whole gang wants you to feel better, and they have the cards to prove it.
Karen Chee with Illustrations by Jason Adam Katzenstein | The New Yorker
The Best Health Care System in the World: Which One Would You Pick? [the obvious question not asked: "which of these countries has the worst 'system'"]
To better understand one of the most heated U.S. policy debates, we created a tournament to judge which of these nations has the best health system: Canada, Britain, Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, France, Australia and the U.S.
The Revolution Towards a Green Economy.

NRDC’s new report, America’s Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future, shows how the United States can meet our short- and long-term climate goals relying primarily on today’s proven clean energy solutions—and with tremendous climate and health benefits that far surpass the cost.

We can do it with a bold and rapid, but achievable, expansion of energy efficiency, renewable energy, electric vehicles and decarbonized buildings, all supported by a modernized grid. Plus, we don’t need to wait for breakthroughs—we can achieve our goals with the tools we already have.

By taking advantage of our nation’s vast renewable resources and reducing energy waste across the U.S. economy, we can slash our reliance on imported and dirty fossil fuels by at least 70 percent. And our ambitious, but feasible, build-out of clean energy also decreases our reliance on riskier or more costly strategies like nuclear power and biomass. The benefits of NRDC’s approach vastly outweigh the costs by 7 to 1—so we need to keep pushing forward—hard—on renewable, efficient, and electric technologies....

NRDC’s pathway relies on four critical pollution-reduction strategies:
  1. Energy efficiency investments, along with electric cars and appliances, cut U.S. energy demand in half compared to our “no-action” reference case by 2050, avoiding significant amounts of power plant pollution. Multiple authorities, ranging from the respected National Academies to well-known consultancy McKinsey to expert energy-efficiency think-tanks conclude this level of energy savings is feasible, with top-performing companies and utilities already achieving them. Invisible Energy, by our colleague David Goldstein, describes efficiency’s nearly limitless potential. Despite much progress on efficiency, however, almost 70 percent of all raw energy is still wasted in the United States. By eliminating that waste from where it’s produced to how it’s transmitted to how it’s used in our homes, buildings, cars and factories, the United States can use less, spend less, waste less, and pollute less.
  2. Wind and solar grow to provide at least 70 percent of our electricity supply in 2050, a roughly 13-fold increase from today. Including hydropower and geothermal, renewable electricity is 80 percent. This expansion is feasible and achievable. Renewable energy is already our country’s dominant source of new energy, thanks to continuing price declines and increasing industry experience with these technologies. We view our model results as showing a floor, not a ceiling. Much more renewables growth is possible. For instance, for technical reasons, our model doesn’t incorporate the fast-growing area of rooftop solar generation.
  3. Using clean electricity, our model directly displaces fossil fuels from our cars, homes, offices and factories. NRDC prioritizes electrification where it’s the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon, as with electric cars and electric heat pumps.
  4. For some of the remaining, limited harder-to-electrify niche uses, like airplanes or long-haul trucks, our model uses lower-emission fuels, such as sustainable biomass, synthetic gas derived from renewable electricity, and some carbon capture and storage, to reduce emissions.
Vignesh Gowrishankar , Amanda Levin | Common Dreams
"Instead of pushing for clean technology and to end our oil addiction, the Trump Administration is quietly pushing to open up one of America’s great last wilderness areas."

You would have thought that after being battered by two devastating hurricanes in recent weeks, which experts believe were fuelled by warmer seas caused by climate change, even the most die-hard climate denier would think again.

But you would be wrong.

You would have thought that as the cost of rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey mounts, with an estimated bill of $150 billion so far, that politicians would press to move away from a fossil fuel economy.

But you would be wrong again. In fact the opposite is happening.

Instead of pushing for clean technology and to end our oil addiction, the Trump Administration is quietly pushing to open up one of America’s great last wilderness areas, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

Andy Rowell | Common Dreams
I see the cracks in our system just as U.S. doctors see the cracks in yours. But we don’t believe the solution lies in dismantling universal care.

There’s a joke we sometimes tell in Canada: What’s a Canadian? An apologetic American with health care.

It’s funny because we half-believe it’s true. The United States and Canada are about as similar as two countries get. But Canada has had a publicly funded, single-payer health care system in each of our provinces and territories since the 1960s. It works. Maybe it can work for you too.

I was in the room on Capitol Hill last week when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced new legislation that would seek to enact a single-payer health care system in the U.S. If Sanders’ bill moves forward, all Americans would have access to Medicare, regardless of their age or financial situation. Is it that simple? In some ways, yes.

In Canada, the notion that access to health care should be based on need, not ability to pay, is a deeply ingrained value that crosses party lines right and left, and is a source of collective pride. The single-payer, publicly funded health care systems in Canada cover virtually every resident of our country, at a much lower cost than the U.S. model.

There are plenty of nasty rumors in the American media about the quality of health care in Canada. In fact, Canadians live longer than Americans, and according to a recent study published in The Lancet, the Canadian system outperforms the U.S. on quality and access to care overall.

As a practicing physician and a hospital administrator in Canada, I see the cracks in our system just as American doctors see the cracks in yours. It’s true that sometimes Canadians wait too long for non-urgent or elective investigations or procedures. That is why across Canada, governments, health care providers and citizen groups are working hard to improve access for procedures like hip replacements, cataract surgery or non-urgent advanced imaging. But we don’t believe that the solution lies in dismantling universal health care and creating a system where some cannot afford the care they need.

Most importantly, Canadians don’t wait for urgently-needed care. When Canadians get sick they get the care they need, and the care they get is good. When my patients need to see a doctor, they don’t have to worry about paying for the visit. And when they are admitted to the hospital, they don’t see a bill.

Is it true that Canadians get health care in the United States? Occasionally. When it happens, it’s often because our senior Snowbirds happen to fall ill while they are enjoying your better winter weather in Florida or Hawaii. More rarely — so rare that it’s hard to accurately measure — people do travel by choice just to buy immediate care.

Of course, Americans travel for health care too, sometimes because they can’t afford it at home. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that about 750,000 U.S. patients travel abroad each year for medical treatment. That’s a larger proportion of the U.S. population than even the highest estimates of Canadians seeking treatment abroad.

Single-payer health care is also much less administratively onerous and expensive. The billing office in the clinic where I work serves more than 40 primary care doctors, and employs only two billing clerks — because billing is so simple. Every month my practice sends one bill to the public insurance plan, and every month we get paid on time.

Compare that to the multiplicity of private insurance plans my American colleagues deal with. The costs of administering this system are much lower — in Canada overhead is less than 2% in public plans, compared to the 18% spent by private insurance firms in the U.S. Overall, health care spending in Canada accounts for 10% of our GDP, compared to 17% in the U.S. Per capita we spent about $4,644 in U.S. dollars in 2016, compared to $9,892 in the U.S. Yet more than 1 in 10 Americans are uninsured.

Like all industrialized countries, Canada needs to meet the challenges of an aging population while contending with rising costs, advances in technology, and an imperative to keep people longer in their homes. No nation has figured out the magic formula: There is much we need to do to improve our system, and even where we know our outcomes are good, it isn’t very Canadian to be boastful.

But Canadians, along with others all over the world, will be watching as the conversation around single-payer health care continues to unfold in the U.S. As we have long ago discovered, everyone should have equal access to health care when they need it — it is a basic human right.

Danielle Martin | Common Dreams

China currently imports approximately #10 billion worth of meat annually to help feed its 1.4 billion people.

China has signed a multimillion-dollar deal to purchase lab-grown meat from Israel.

The $300-million agreement has elicited positive feedback from environmental and animal rights groups because the meat — though grown using some animal cells — is produced in a laboratory, significantly reducing the practice of slaughtering animals.

The Asian superpower is not regarded as a world leader in environmental issues, so the deal with the three Israeli companies – SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies and Meat the Future – is viewed by some groups as a sign that China is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.

Head of the Good Food Institute, Bruce Friedrich, said the deal was a “colossal market opportunity.”

He believes the deal “could put (clean) meat onto the radar of Chinese officials who have the capacity to steer billions of dollars into this technology”.

Just last year, the Chinese government issued an advisory, telling citizens to reduce their consumption of meat by 50 percent.

How lab-grown meat helps

UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while Worldwatch Institute has estimated it could be as much as 51 percent.

The world’s water freshwater supply is also significantly impacted by traditional farming.

Source: TeleSur | Informed Comment
Study finds excessive levels of the metal, which can seriously harm unborn children, in women from Alaska to Indonesia, due to gold mining, industrial pollution and fish-rich diets

....The new study, the largest to date, covered 25 of the countries with the highest risk and found excessive levels of the toxic metal in women from Alaska to Chile and Indonesia to Kenya. Women in the Pacific islands were the most pervasively contaminated. This results from their reliance on eating fish, which concentrate the mercury pollution found across the world’s oceans and much of which originates from coal burning.

The most extreme levels were found in women from sites in Indonesia where mercury is heavily used in small-scale gold mining and where fish is also commonly eaten. Such gold mining leads to serious mercury pollution and is also a source of harm to women in Kenya, Paraguay and Myanmar.

Industrial pollution is another source of mercury, and the research found this affected women in Nepal, Nigeria and Ukraine.

“Millions of women and children in communities mining gold with mercury are condemned to a future where mercury impairs the health of adults and damages the developing brains of their offspring,” said Yuyun Ismawati, an Indonesian woman from Ipen, the coalition of NGOs that produced the scientific report. “As long as the mercury trade continues, so too will the mercury tragedy.”

....Coal-fired power, one of the primary sources of mercury pollution in the oceans, is the real offender. It is time to phase it out.”

Damian Carrington | The Guardian
Experts will investigate sources of smog and advise local authorities on how to tackle the problem

China will send out over 100 environmental inspection teams to more than two dozen cities around Beijing as part of a new campaign to tackle the smog problem plaguing its northern region.

The Hebei provincial government also announced on its website on Friday that 1.8 million households would switch to natural gas from coal for fuel and heating in order to improve air quality.

The push to eradicate smog by tackling its source came after Premier Li Keqiang promised to spend “as much as it takes” in March to address the public health issue.

The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is supposed to reduce levels of the PM2.5 particulate by more than a quarter from 2012, while the average daily concentration is to be cut to 60 micrograms per cubic metre in Beijing.

Particulate concentration in the first half of this year went up 14.3 per cent in the northern region compared to the same time last year, mainly because of record-breaking pollution in January and February.

Speaking at a conference on Thursday, environment minister Li Ganjie said the ministry would send experts to Beijing, Tianjin and 26 other cities in Hebei, Henan, Shanxi and Shandong to look into the source of pollution in those places and to advise the local authorities on what to do about it.

In a bid to reduce the average PM2.5 concentration and the days of heavy air pollution over winter – from 10 to 25 per cent – the ministry will also send out 102 teams, made up of 310 inspectors, to check on the polluters in these 28 cities.

They will visit several times over the four-month inspection period to ensure pollution regulations are enforced.

Meanwhile, the Hebei authorities said 1.8 million households in the province would make the switch to natural gas by the end of October so that it can meet air quality targets. The province is trying to reduce annual coal consumption by more than 6 million tonnes, with each city required to bring down PM2.5 levels by 15 per cent. But some cities, such as major coal producer Tangshan, have been asked to go further, with a reduction of 22 per cent.

Huang Wei, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing, said she was optimistic the region could reach its targets by the end of the year.

She said concentrations of PM2.5 had been declining since 2013 but worsened again last winter, going up by 20 to 30 per cent because of record-breaking levels in January and February this year.

Huang attributed the spike to poor enforcement of policies, saying the environmental protection ministry had found that more than 50 per cent of companies had failed to achieve emissions reduction targets.

“But this new action plan from the ministry is very detailed and contains additional measures to hold local officials accountable, as well as stepped up inspections to address the enforcement problem,” Huang said.

The Health Care Debate We’re Not Having [we need to fully expose and root-out America's profit-obsessed, mafia-like healthcare practices]
Two new books show how access to health care is only part of the problem.
Shannon Brownlee | Washington Monthly, magazine
As Frankfurt motor show puts battery vehicles centre stage, the tide could be turning against combustion engines
Adam Vaughan | The Guardian
"This has set off alarm bells we cannot afford to ignore," according to U.N. report
Julia Conley, staff writer | Common Dreams

Recent years have seen outbreaks of preventable diseases once thought controlled, what is this backlash against vaccination all about?
dryriver | SlashDot

....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up onthe parents’ hypothesis and found that in mice, cyclodextrin indeed blocked plaque formation, melted away plaques that had already formed in arteries, reduced atherosclerosis-associated inflammation, and revved up cholesterol metabolism—even in rodents fed cholesterol-rich diets.

Beth Mole | ars technica | Ref.
Though it won't 'cure' Alzheimer's, tests show compound, similar to that found in energy drinks, clears amyloid beta plaques, which build up in the brain in early stages of Alzheimer’s
Ian Sample | Guardian | Ref.
JOE ROMM | ClimateProgress | Ref. | Ref.
Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output
Suzanne Goldenberg | Guardian |Ref.

A growing body of evidence suggests pollution can do a number on thebrain. The July/August Mother Jones cover story chronicled the research connecting neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to the dirty air we breathe; studies have found that pollution may also age the brain prematurely. And according to new research from the University of Texas-El Paso, pollution's damage to the brain may start even sooner than was previously thought: Fourth and fifth graders exposed to exhaust emissions, researchers found, don't do as well in school as their peers who breathe cleaner air.

Gabrielle Canon | Mother Jones| Ref.
Janet Redman / Foreign Policy in Focus | Informed Comment | Ref.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world percapita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
OLGA KHAZAN | Atlantic | Ref.
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs
[All the other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug & medical procedure costs]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in New YorkTimes | Ref.
What's missing? An agenda that inspires the millions who currently decide to just stay home."
John Atcheson | Common Dreams
unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The DailyHowler | EVERY DAY


How Bill Clinton set the stage for the GOP's war on the poor.

....The case that Clinton made for “welfare reform” created a powerful weapon that Republicans are using in their renewed assault on the poor. Paul Ryan has long defended his calls for draconian cuts to safety-net programs by explicitly comparing them to Clinton’s approach, which the House speaker has praised for yielding “landmark legislation” that he considers an “unprecedented success.” Echoing Clinton, Ryan has blamed poverty on a “tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of the culture of work.”

The most recent House budget sings the same tune, relying on lingering perceptions of the “deadbeat” poor. “The federal government should no longer create a culture of dependency on government,” the budget insists, “but rather should promote self-sufficiency and the value of a hard-earned dollar.” It recommends welfare reforms that “promote work and self-sufficiency,” as if the country hadn’t endured a debate over just that for the better part of the 1990s. In his own budget, President Trump explicitly calls for a new round of “welfare reform,” in nearly identical language. “We must reform our welfare system so that it does not discourage able-bodied adults from working, which takes away scarce resources from those in real need,” the president’s budget states. “Work must be the center of our social policy.”

But where “welfare” used to refer specifically to cash assistance, Republicans have expanded the definition. Now a whole new universe of programs has been lumped together and primed for the chopping block: food stamps, Medicaid, even unemployment insurance. Ryan calls “welfare reform” one of “the two big things” that Republicans want to get done this year. The House budget would impose harsh work requirements on a host of new programs and turn Medicaid into “block grants,” placing federal funds in the hands of individual states—a system that has dramatically eroded welfare benefits since 1996. Trump’s budget, meanwhile, calls for slashing $272 billion from a wide category of “welfare” programs over the next decade.

Republican governors and state legislatures, in the meantime, are not waiting for Congress to act. Fifteen states now strip aid from anyone who misses or fails a drug test. Some have imposed harsh lifetime limits on benefits: Families in Arizona, for example, are abruptly cut off after a year, no matter how dire their circumstances. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has sued the federal government to allow him to place work requirements on food-stamp recipients, contending that the states should have wider latitude to impose restrictions on benefits.

Republicans, of course, have been waging war on the poor for decades. But if Trump and Ryan succeed in slashing the safety net even further, Democrats will shoulder part of the blame. Back when Clinton first pushed for welfare reform, many Democrats fought hard to stop it. Almost his entire cabinet, and half the Democrats in Congress, opposed the measure. But in the two decades since, liberals have done next to nothing to change the toxic terms of welfare politics by challenging, in a consistent way, the stereotype that welfare recipients are undeserving. They’ve never tried to rekindle the War on Poverty. Instead, they’ve pushed mainly for tax breaks to “working families”—language that conjures up a Reaganesque divide between hardworking Americans who merit assistance and those who don’t. Even Bernie Sanders, who has denounced welfare reform as “an attack, by and large, on low-income Americans,” has never put forward a program for reversing the devastation it’s caused.

Since the passage of “welfare reform,” the number of Americans living on $2 or less a day has nearly tripled—including some three million children.

This fall, Democrats have a chance to start reframing the debate. With GOP majorities in both houses of Congress, liberals won’t be able to defeat all of Ryan’s and Trump’s proposals. But they should seize the opportunity to roll out concrete proposals to match their anti-poverty rhetoric. Two years ago, Representative Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, a former welfare beneficiary herself, came up with a promising approach. Her RISE Out of Poverty Act would fundamentally change the nature of “welfare reform” by shifting the measure of success from reducing welfare rolls to reducing child poverty. The bill would require that benefits rise with inflation, which hasn’t happened since 1996. And it would guarantee childcare for all welfare recipients who work. “You want to be self-sufficient?” Moore told me back when she first introduced her bill. “Hallelujah! Let’s talk about what it means.”

But even Moore’s proposal plays on the GOP’s turf, by emphasizing ways to reward the “working” poor. Instead of fighting a rearguard effort to preserve existing benefits, Democrats should go on offense, proposing even bolder ideas to aid the poor. For starters, why not call for a “universal basic income” that ensures every American a bare-minimum level of resources? Under UBI—an idea once championed by both George McGovern and Richard Nixon—the government would simply cut an annual check for every American. A federal supplement of just $3,000 a year would slice poverty rates in half.

BRYCE COVERT | New Republic
As our country becomes more diverse, our racial wealth gap means it's also becoming poorer.

America’s middle class is under assault.

Since 1983, national median wealth has declined by 20 percent, falling from $73,000 to $64,000 in 2013. And U.S. homeownership has been in a steady decline since 2005.

While we often hear about the struggles of the white working class, a driving force behind this trend is an accelerating decline in black and Latino household wealth.

Over those three decades, the wealth of median black and Latino households decreased by 75 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while median white household wealth actually rose a little. As of 2013, median whites had $116,800 in wealth — compared to just $2,000 for Latinos and $1,700 for blacks.

This wealth decline is a threat to the viability of the American middle class and the nation’s overall economic health. Families with more wealth can cover emergencies without going into debt and take advantage of economic opportunity, such as buying a home, saving for college, or starting a business.

We looked at the growing racial wealth gap in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now.

We found that if these appalling trends continue, median black household wealth will hit zero by 2053, even while median white wealth continues to climb. Latino net worth will hit zero two decades later, according to our projections.

It’s in everyone’s interest to reverse these trends. Growing racial wealth inequality is bringing down median American middle class wealth, and with it shrinking the middle class — especially as Americans of color make up an increasing share of the U.S. population.

The causes of this racial wealth divide have little to do with individual behavior. Instead, they’re the result of a range of systemic factors and policies.

These include past discriminatory housing policies that continue to fuel an enormous racial divide in homeownership rates, as well as an “upside down” tax system that helps the wealthiest households get wealthier while providing the lowest income families with almost nothing.

The American middle class was created by government policy, investment, and the hard work of its citizenry. Today Americans are working as hard as ever, but government policy is failing to invest in a sustainable and growing middle class.

To do better, Congress must redirect subsidies to the already wealthy and invest in opportunities for poorer families to save and build wealth.

For example, people can currently write off part of their mortgage interest payments on their taxes. But this only benefits you if you already own a home — an opportunity long denied to millions of black and Latino families — and benefits you even more if you own an expensive home. It helps the already rich, at the expense of the poor.

Congress should reform that deduction and other tax expenditures to focus on those excluded from opportunity, not the already have-a-lots.

Other actions include protecting families from the wealth stripping practices common in many low-income communities, like “contract for deed” scams that can leave renters homeless even after they’ve fronted money for expensive repairs to their homes. That means strengthening institutions like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The nation has experienced 30 years of middle class decline. If we don’t want this to be a permanent trend, then government must respond with the boldness and ingenuity that expanded the middle class after World War Two — but this time with a racially inclusive frame to reflect our 21st century population.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad and Chuck Collins |
Michael Dourson, president’s nominee for EPA position, founded consultancy in which he was paid to criticize studies questioning safety of clients’ products

Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee chemical safety at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces questions over his history as a close ally to the chemical industry and suitability to be its chief regulator.

Michael Dourson, the nominee, founded a consultation group in 1995, the Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, a private evaluation nonprofit organization that tests chemicals and produces reports on which chemicals are hazardous in what quantities.

Through the consultancy he accepted payments for criticizing studies that raised concerns about the safety of his clients’ products, according to a review of financial records and his published work by the Associated Press.

His nomination as head of the EPA’s office of chemical safety and pollution prevention had been due to be considered by a Senate committee on Wednesday, but this was postponed when the Senate adjourned early for the week.

Past corporate clients of Dourson and of a research group he ran include Dow Chemical, Koch Industries and Chevron. His research has also been underwritten by industry trade and lobbying groups representing the makers of plastics, pesticides, processed foods and cigarettes.

Dourson’s views toward industry are consistent with others Trump has selected as top federal regulators. Among them is the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who in March overruled the findings of his agency’s own scientists to reverse an effort to ban chlorpyrifos, one of the nation’s most widely used pesticides.

Associated Press and Guardian staff | The Guardian
The Republicans' undying effort to repeal Obamacare is incontrovertible evidence of their political nihilism.
JEET HEER | New Republic
The Republican Party leadership is looking to ram through its latest health-care bill before the American public realizes how awful it is.
John Cassidy | The New Yorker
Tens of Millions Could Lose Health Care.

How cruel and inhumane can a piece of legislation get?

Julie Chinitzl | Common Dreams
Experts believe he’s one of the worst secretaries of state in history. Here’s why.
Zack Beauchamp | VOX
To become a certified centrist, you simply need to love inaction, indifference, and the murderous Saudi regime

There is no shortage of overtly ideological internet publications and websites in 2017—Breitbart for the alt-right, National Review for the so-called "respectable" conservatives, Jacobin for the socialist left.

"We don't need visionary leaders with big, cumbersome ideas. We need competent managers with small ideas. Ideas that we can fit in our wallet. Like money."

But what about an online home for the dedicated centrists: for those who prefer small ideas to large ones; for those who oppose both fascism and universal healthcare; for those who take money from the murderous Saudi regime and still claim to value human rights?

Centrists, the wait is finally over: is the brand new, one-stop shop for all things "moderate."

Launched by Canadian comedy writer Scott Vrooman, is obviously a parody—a rebuke of centrist ideas rather than an embrace of them.

But parodies are ineffective if they are not at least loosely grounded in truth. Judging by the response to the site's launch Wednesday, many felt that the satire "cut to the core."

"We want to create a fresh, same approach to politics and win the race to the middle," the site declares. "Not by offering policies that voters value, but by making voters feel more valuable."

To achieve this goal, the site continues, "we don't need visionary leaders with big, cumbersome ideas. We need competent managers with small ideas. Ideas that we can fit in our wallet. Like money. From lower taxes. Ideas like tax cuts. How about tax cuts?"

In addition to a "values" section (moderation, optimism, shopping, power) and a "friends" section (donors, focus groups, Saudi Arabia), the site also features a policy section with centrist "solutions" for some of the most pressing issues of our time.

  • Climate change: "Like every other problem, climate change can be solved with economic growth. We have grown our way out of recessions and we will grow our way out of this planet's inherent limits."
  • War: "Our military isn't just a weapon, it's a healer of the world’s wounds. Because as any good healer knows, the best way to treat a wound is to shoot off the blood with a gun."
  • Inequality: "Instead of 'haves' and 'have nots' we want a society of 'haves' and "think positive!'s."
  • Nuclear weapons: "We take a principled stand against the slaughter of civilians with nuclear weapons, and that's why we promise that if any nation uses them, we'll nuke that place to fucking ashes."

When asked about his motivation for creating the site, Vrooman told Common Dreams that he wanted to argue through satire that the "label 'centrist' is on its face absurd."

"It's obviously just a mask on zombie neoliberalism, which refuses to die even after it's whole intellectual edifice collapsed in 2008," Vrooman added, referring to the global financial crisis.

"Centrism has a global reach, but as far as I can tell it's everywhere the same: neoliberalism with a wider, faker smile."
—Scott Vrooman appears during a time of intense debate over the ideological trajectory of the Democratic Party, and of American politics more broadly.

Many argued in the aftermath of Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election that Democrats should move "back to the center" in order to regain power.

Others—like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—have argued that the time for "lukewarm" centrist ideas, like many of those satirically featured on, is over.

Vrooman agrees with the latter, but notes that is not merely taking aim at American centrists, but at all centrist politicians who function as—in the words of the site—"charismatic stage managers for capitalism."

"In my country, Canada, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party very much fall into this category of fake progressivism," Vrooman said. "Our handsome, walking-saxophone-solo of a Prime Minister made half of his cabinet members female but is also okay with mass surveillance, selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and building climate-torching pipelines."

"Centrism has a global reach," Vrooman concluded, "but as far as I can tell it's everywhere the same: neoliberalism with a wider, faker smile. And it's not good enough."

Jake Johnson, staff writer | Common Dreams
When everything falls silent, it's an incomparable, goosebumps-inducing display of human will. "Is there anyone here who hears me?"

In the face of an historically deadly earthquake in Mexico Tuesday afternoon, people of every age—and especially the young—headed out en masse to the most affected areas to lend their hands, breath, and whatever else they could to help victims.

On Escocia Street in the Del Valle neighborhood of Mexico City, the scene was especially heartbreaking. A building collapsed on the corner of Gabriel Mancera as did another one, further on, on the corner of Edimburgo Street. An hour after the earthquake Tuesday, a group of people tried to help—by yelling—to encourage a woman to leave her home. She didn't want to abandon it because of all that surrounded her: two collapsed buildings and one that was visibly damaged. Her son begged, "Please, Mom, come down now."

Finally, a group opened the door and pulled the woman out.

Four rows of volunteers began working in a frenzy of organized chaos on a nearby street. Everyone had their opinion on how best to mitigate the suffering, but there was cooperation in play. The outer rows stood pat, functioning as a hand-to-hand brigade; every bit of rubble that needed to move through the disaster zone passes through their hands. In the interior two rows, volunteers carried heavier debris, or else small groups with buckets attacked the most menacing heaps.

One collapsed building looked like a cut-off pyramid. At the start of the rescue operation, people began to work from its top-most point, winding their way down to the base. Finally, a fireman showed up—a real, professional one—who called everyone to attention and explained that the places in which they stood were putting more pressure on the building. That, obviously, wasn't good. What they should do, he said, was move to the sides: The pyramid had to be broken by working from its edges. He added that everyone who wanted to do something, who wanted to work, should move to the corners and begin to take apart the wall, picking it into any size chunks they could.

The people responded and reorganized themselves: Shovels, hoes, and the blessed construction workers with their unique skills with the chisel and hammer began to chip away quickly at the building's seams, following the instructions of the firefighter. The pieces fell in whole chunks at the hands of the workers, who were functioning like chiropractors for cement. At the base of the pyramid, a number of people filled buckets using shovels or their hands, determined not to stop the flow of debris.

Human rights expert warns against flooding "world with the American disease" of gun proliferation

The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to ease export rules to allow American arms manufacturers to sell more weapons, including assault rifles, to foreign buyers, despite concerns that weakened oversight will fuel global conflict and threaten national security.

"There will be more leeway to do arms sales. You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way."
—anonymous U.S. official

"Aides to President Donald Trump are completing a plan to shift oversight of international non-military firearms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department," Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing four U.S. senior officials at various agencies. The plan is part of a broader revision of the nation's weapons export rules that officials said is nearly finalized.

Currently, the State Department treats civilian arms exports as military sales, subjecting them to the same scrutiny as weapons like fighter jets. Under Trump's plan, handguns and assault rifles would be moved from the State Department's Munitions List to the Commerce Control List, which would enable quicker licensing for sales to foreign buyers.

Because the Commerce Department focuses on increasing trade, the shift is expected to significantly boost firearms and ammunition sales. Notably, following the Reuters report on Tuesday, gun stocks surged, with multiple arms companies posting their best days in several months.

"There will be more leeway to do arms sales," an anonymous official said. "You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer | Common Dreams

On Tuesday, Donald Trump made his début on the world stage—on the same elegant green-marble dais, donated by Italy after the Second World War, that he had mocked in a 2012 tweet as ugly. “The 12 inch sq. marble tiles behind speaker at UN always bothered me,” Trump wrote. “I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me.” Trump’s thoughts about the United Nations were bigger—and badder—this time around.

“Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” Trump declared. He vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t abandon its nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles that deliver them. He came close to calling for regime change in “reckless” Iran, for policies that “speak openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.” Trump called the nuclear deal—brokered by all the veto-wielding nations of the world body—“an embarrassment” to the United States, implicitly insulting the European allies that initiated the effort and the Security Council, which unanimously endorsed it. He implied a willingness to use military action in Venezuela “to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy.” He blasted Cuba and took sharp digs at China and Russia.

The President also delivered a few campaign-style zingers—like his pledge to “crush loser terrorists.” About North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump pronounced, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Trump reportedly insisted, over aides’ objections, that he keep the reference to the Elton John song in his speech. The line is sure to become part of U.N. lore—along with the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s quip, in 1987, “Remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in the movies,” and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s insult, the day after George W. Bush’s 2006 U.N. speech, “The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still.”

For a body more accustomed to nuanced diplomatic speak, and now yearning for leadership in an unsettled world, Trump’s bellicose speech was his America First doctrine on steroids. Indeed, he opened his remarks to leaders from almost two hundred countries with a litany of his achievements since Election Day. “Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been,” he boasted.

Robin Wright | The New Yorker

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia, the only major power that has not called on Iraq’s Kurds to cancel a referendum on independence next week, has swiftly become the top funder of Kurdish oil and gas deals, with as much as $4 billion pledged in less than a year, industry sources say.

Dmitry Zhdannikov | REUTERS

Disintermediating nation-states
Marc Cherbonnier | The Baltimore Chronicle | Ref.
Our ‘free market’ health care system gives CEOs the freedom to squeeze us.

Our current health care system in the United States works just fine — for the corporate executives who run it. Take, for instance, Michael Mussallem. This eminent power suit has been the CEO at Edwards Lifesciences, a California-based company that makes heart valves and assorted other medical devices, ever since 2000. Since 2010, Mussallem has pocketed an astounding $246 million in compensation.

Actually, astounding might not be the right word here. In the health care industry, colossally large paychecks for top executives have become standard operating procedure. In fact, four health industry CEOs have made more than Musselman since 2010.

One made much more. John Martin, the former top exec of the pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, has collected $863 million over the past seven years.

Overall, the CEOs at 70 major American health care companies have grabbed, just since 2010, a combined $9.8 billion. That comes to an average annual take-home of $20 million per exec.

All these numbers come from researchers at Axios, an online news media outlet. Two top corporate watchdogs — University of Massachusetts Lowell economist William Lazonick and Matthew Hopkins of the Academic-Industry Research Network — have confirmed the Axios pay figures.

The health care industry, for its part, is doing its best to ignore and dismiss these new executive pay totals. The national outlay for health care last year hit $3.35 trillion, goes the industry’s reasoning. Next to those trillions, the mere billions that go to health care execs amount to no more than a drop in the bucket, a tiny drip from an IV.

But this glib defense of executive excess in health care totally ignores the real danger in the big bucks cascading into corporate CEO pockets: Outrageous pay gives CEOs an incentive to behave outrageously — at the expense of our health.

How so? The vast bulk of corporate executive pay today comes in the form of stock awards. The higher a company’s share price, the heftier the CEO’s compensation. This stock connection encourages CEOs to single-mindedly focus on raising their company share prices by any means necessary.

Among those any means: Pharmaceutical CEOs will jack up prices on prescription drugs and do whatever they can to get doctors to prescribe more pills. Health providers will push unnecessary tests and procedures. Hospital chiefs will downsize support staffs for patients. All these decisions fatten corporate bottom lines, pump up corporate share prices, and leave our health care downgraded.

How could health care get better? Blue-ribbon commissions have all sorts of suggestions. They urge us to eliminate unnecessary procedures, tests, and devices. We need to better coordinate care, they add, and lower prices.

Corporate CEOs in the health industry have no incentive to take any of these steps. They want to keep the health care industry a “free market” Wild, Wild West where the biggest corporate players get to keep whatever they have the power to grab.

We need to break that power. And that brings us to the good news: Prospects for real change in health care are rapidly moving onto America’s political center stage. We now have 16 United States senators on the record supporting an overhaul of the U.S. health care system — introduced by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders — that places people first, not CEO paychecks.

This “single payer” Medicare for all overhaul would both guarantee every American access to health care and give the American public the bargaining power to blunt the greed grabs of the corporate health care industry.

Just a few short years ago, this industry had both our major political parties too cowed to even discuss a move to Medicare for all. That discussion has now begun.

Sam Pizzigati |
If the president's tax plan passes, it'll be like he's cutting himself a check from the Treasury.

What’s the largest personal stake a U.S. president has ever had in legislation he signed into law? Whatever it was, it’ll be dwarfed by what Donald Trump’s signature will be worth — to himself — if Congress passes his proposed tax plan and puts it on his desk.

If that happens, Trump will be effectively cutting himself a check from the U.S. Treasury for several billion dollars.

Call me cynical, but it seems that’s exactly what Trump has in mind. His plan just fits his tax situation — or what we know of it, without access to his tax returns — too perfectly.

The president’s tax proposal eliminates two taxes that mostly benefit the wealthy, and cuts a third tax roughly in half. That would bestow a windfall worth billions on the Trump family.

First, there’s the elimination of the alternative minimum tax, or AMT.

The AMT applies to taxpayers whose income tax liability otherwise would be reduced excessively by certain deductions, including deductions commonly claimed by real estate owners like Trump. It’s like an alternative tax system in which the rates are lower but fewer deductions are allowed.

The one glimpse we’ve had of Trump’s tax returns suggests he stands to benefit massively from the repeal of the AMT. In 2005, Trump’s income exceeded $150 million, but his regular tax liability was just $5.3 million — that’s barely a 3.5 percent tax rate.

But the AMT increased Trump’s tax liability that year by over $31 million. Had Trump’s tax plan been in effect in 2005, it would’ve saved him that $31 million.

Still, that’s chump change in comparison to the tax windfall he hopes to bestow upon himself by cutting the top tax rate on the bulk of his income by more than half, from nearly 40 percent to 15.

We’re not talking about the corporate tax rate here. Trump could reap a tidy personal benefit from slashing the corporate income tax too, but the far bigger prize in his plan is its treatment of income from businesses that don’t pay corporate taxes.

Under current law, the income of those businesses is taxed to their owners at individual income tax rates. Under Trump’s plan, income from those businesses would receive preferential tax treatment, with a maximum tax rate of 15 percent.

That would be the final act in turning our nation’s tax policy on its head.

In 1980, before Ronald Reagan’s election, the maximum rate on workers’ wages — earned income — was less than the maximum rate applicable to all other types of income except long-term capital gains.

Under Trump’s tax plan, the maximum tax rate workers pay, after accounting for employment taxes, will be higher than the rate applicable to any other type of income.

That means no matter how Trump invests his billions — in real estate, bonds, stocks, business ventures, etc. — the income he generates would be taxed at a rate lower than what workers pay on their wages.

Trump’s preferential rate for business income is unprecedented. Is it a coincidence that the first politician to propose it just happens to be a real estate magnate with interests in literally hundreds of unincorporated businesses?

The biggest tax windfall Trump hopes to secure for himself, however, is one he won’t live to enjoy. I’m referring to the estate tax, of course — a federal levy on estates worth over $5.5 million for individuals.

Trump’s plan would eliminate that tax, no matter how large the estate. For Trump, that would mean as much as $1.4 billion on an estate estimated by Forbes at $3.5 billion.

The bottom line: If Trump’s tax plan passes, he’ll have secured for himself billions in tax benefits in less than a year as president.

Not bad work if you can get it, huh?

Bob Lord |

A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy [BEST DESCRIPTION FOR THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS I'VE EVER SEEN! Treason is much too kind a word for this...]
James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism has infected public policy in the US. Now it’s being exported
George Monbiot | The Guardian | Ref.
How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes enabling vast worldwide corruption]
When a wealthy businessman set out to divorce his wife, their fortune vanished. The quest to find it would reveal the depths of an offshore financial system bigger than the U.S. economy.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE | The New York Times Magazine | Ref.

The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes.

YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism | Ref.
We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout ofthe 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.
Reports released during the UN General Assembly meetings suggest global leaders need to increase efforts to end modern slavery and child labor

New research reveals that more than 40 million people, primarily women and children, were victims of modern slavery in 2016.

Of the 40.3 million victims of modern slavery last year, 24.9 million were in forced labor and 15.4 million were in forced marriages.

"Modern slavery occured in every region of the world," according to two reports released on Tuesday during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, and produced by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The studies were commissioned to gain a sense of the global situation as the U.N. works to meet target 8.7 of the sustainable development goals, which aims to "take immediate and effective measures to eradicate" modern slavery and human trafficking, "and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms."

Modern slavery is an umbrella term researchers use to refer to "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power," including forced labor, debt bondage, and forced marriage.

Among the reports key findings were:
  • An estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children were enslaved worldwide.
  • 24.9 million were in forced labor, working in the sex industry, on construction sites, at domestic residences, in the agriculture sector, and in factories.
  • 15.4 million were "in marriages to which they had not consented," and "enduring a situation that involved having lost their sexual autonomy and often involved providing labor."
  • Women and girls accounted for 71 percent of total victims, and 99 percent of those forced to work in the sex industry.
  • One in four victims were children, and 21 percent of all victims were children who were sexually exploited.
  • Over the past five years, an estimated 89 million people have "experienced some form of modern slavery."
  • An estimated 152 million children, or nearly one in 10, remain engaged in child labor.
  • Among child laborers, 73 million "are in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development."
Jessica Corbett, staff writer | Common Dreams

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