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Last updated: Monday, March 19, 2018, 9:59 AM
Aggregated News & Analyses
Today’s posts in bigger type–>
Prior 2 days are in smaller type.
Obama's ACA didn't fix this:
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending compared with the 2016 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"
2016 US total per capita health care spending was $9892 – $5292 more per person than in France
US health worker pay is NOT the problem.
"This is insane. If EPA rules are not based on science, what are they based on?"

A deeply unpopular plan by one of the Republican Party's most fervent climate deniers to restrict the use of scientific research in government rule-making isn't even advancing in the GOP-controlled Congress, but EPA chief Scott Pruitt appears to be moving to adopt it as official agency policy.

"It's just another excuse for Pruitt to really abrogate EPA's responsibility to protect human health and the environment."
—Yogin Kothari, Union of Concerned Scientists

As E&E News reported on Friday, Pruitt announced a push for "additional science reform" at the EPA during a closed-door meeting at the right-wing Heritage Foundation this week.

According to attendees and others who spoke to E&E News, this "reform" effort is expected to resemble Rep. Lamar Smith's (R-Texas) legislative attempt to prohibit the EPA from using scientific data that isn't fully available to the public and "reproducible" in developing policy.

"The proposal may sound reasonable enough at first," explained The Intercept's Sharon Lerner in a summary of Smith's bill. "But because health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share, the bill would prevent the EPA from using many of the best scientific studies. It would also prohibit using studies of one-time events, such as the Gulf oil spill or the effect of a partial ban of chlorpyrifos on children...because these events—and thus the studies of them—can't be repeated."

And while Smith's bill would restrict the EPA's ability to use certain kinds of crucial scientific research, it would "allow industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome."

Global energy giants forced to adapt to rise of renewables [the Middle-East's wars may be stupid given looming drop in oil and gas prices]
Companies face world where falling cost of solar and wind power pushes down prices

....If China sustains these reductions, Greenstone finds that residents would see their lifespans extended by 2.4 years on average. The roughly 20 million residents in Beijing would live 3.3 years longer, while those in Shijiazhuang and Baoding would add 5.3 years and 4.5 years onto their lives, respectively. These improvements in life expectancy would be experienced by people of all ages, not just the young and old.

Staff? | PHYS.ORG
Making up for years of delay and denial will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. Climate polluters must be held accountable
With the arrival of energy optimisation technologies, governments and industry must find a way to deliver efficient energy to everyone

....Australia has significant inequities in its pricing structures that often see vulnerable customers, particularly those in Indigenous communities, endure a drastically different service quality. These customers often have higher barriers to accessing energy efficient appliances and renewable technologies.

Under current pricing structures, lower income households spend a higher proportion of their income on electricity. So the challenge for policy makers, regulators and utility companies is to figure out how to provide affordable, reliable and clean electricity to all consumers.

The good news is there are innovative technological solutions on the way that will optimise our use of energy. These technologies will generate clean and renewable energy, provide ways to store it and, perhaps most importantly for households struggling with bills, automate its use in the most efficient and affordable way.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has willed the ends to tackle air pollution but he’s unable to will the means

Britain needs to do more to clean up its dirty air as it is a “major public health scandal”. So says the environment secretary Michael Gove. He’s right. The UK has been unlawfully breaching nitrogen dioxide limits since 2010. The government has been taken to court and lost three times. Finally a minister is committing to a clean air strategy that restricts diesel use “to ensure our air is properly breathable”. These words won’t be easy to walk back from. Neither should they be. Pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 UK lives each year, and affects neurodevelopment and foetal growth.

Until Thursday the cabinet minister appeared unwilling to do much about it. Mr Gove was unmoved by the admonitions of the UN when it said Britain was flouting its duty to protect citizens from pollution. Mr Gove, a Brexiter, no doubt did not care that the European Union is preparing legal action against Britain for breaching air-quality laws. It was under the European acquis that the high court said the government’s clean air plan was “unlawful”. In Mr Gove’s view, foreign courts should not hold ministers of the crown to account and their influence should end at our shores. In Brexit Britain it will not be judges but voters, whose lives are being shortened by breathing in filth, who will hold ministers to account.

This spectacle of moral pusillanimity, political ineptitude and Brexit confusion could not continue. MPs on the select committees cannot be faulted for portraying diesel vehicles as the main villains. Carmakers were exposed for playing with people’s lives by cheating emissions tests. Diesels are much more polluting than petrol cars, and the biggest proportion of pollution in UK cities does come from road transport. Scolding ministers for their timidity, MPs are right to say the government has to be much more ambitious and bring forward the ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from the current 2040 deadline. Many European cities want to ban diesel by 2025. Mr Gove’s a big thinker. He should be bolder.

Particle pollution increases as the wind slows down and chilly weather prompts the lighting of more wood fires
Gary Fuller with David Green and Timothy Baker | The Guardian
The death of a Brazilian community leader followed concerns about contaminated water around the aluminium plant but its Norwegian owners deny responsibility
Researchers find levels of plastic fibres in popular bottled water brands could be twice as high as those found in tap water
Sky-high prices of everything make US healthcare the world's most expensive [legal-corruption of government Makes America Less Great Again, and more of a mafia-state]
America spends twice as much on health as 10 other rich countries, due to the high cost of everything from prescriptions to doctors
From the Amazon to Africa, WWF report predicts catastrophic losses of as much as 60% of plants and 50% of animals by the end of the century
We need to hear from struggling Americans whose stories are rarely told in newspapers or television. Until they are, we must tell these stories elsewhere

The rapid rise of oligarchy and wealth and income inequality is the great moral, economic, and political issue of our time. Yet, it gets almost no coverage from the corporate media.

How often do network newscasts report on the 40 million Americans living in poverty, or that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on earth? How often does the media discuss the reality that our society today is more unequal than at any time since the 1920s with the top 0.1% now owning almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%? How often have you heard the media report the stories of millions of people who today are working longer hours for lower wages than was the case some 40 years ago?

How often has ABC, CBS or NBC discussed the role that the Koch brothers and other billionaires play in creating a political system which allows the rich and the powerful to significantly control elections and the legislative process in Congress?

Sadly, the answer to these questions is: almost never. The corporate media has failed to let the American people fully understand the economic forces shaping their lives and causing many of them to work two or three jobs, while CEOs make hundreds of times more than they do. Instead, day after day, 24/7, we’re inundated with the relentless dramas of the Trump White House, Stormy Daniels, and the latest piece of political gossip.

We urgently need to discuss the reality of today’s economy and political system, and fight to create an economy [more like Finland] that works for everyone and not just the one percent...

Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'
BOB SOMERBY in The DailyHowler | EVERY DAY


  • President to announce opioids plan in New Hampshire today
  • Trump called state a ‘drug-infested den’ last year
Guardian staff and agencies | The Guardian
For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate

....Is what Cambridge Analytica does akin to bullying?

“I think it’s worse than bullying,” Wylie says. “Because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says. And Wylie’s revelations only move it on again.

Mueller Wants Trump’s Business Records. What’s the Russia Connection? [real estate deals with money laundering for higher profits...]
In celebrating the dismissal of the F.B.I.’s deputy director, President Trump displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

....In his statement, McCabe spoke with bracing directness. “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said. In other words, McCabe was fired because he is a crucial witness in the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. The firing of Comey is the central pillar of a possible obstruction-of-justice case against the President, either in a criminal prosecution or in an impeachment proceeding. By firing McCabe, Trump (through Sessions) has attempted to neuter an important witness; if and when McCabe testifies against Trump, he will now be dismissed by the President’s supporters as an ex-employee embittered by his firing. How this kind of attack on McCabe plays out in a courtroom, or just in the court of public opinion, remains to be seen.

What’s clear, though, is the depth of the President’s determination to prevent Mueller from taking his inquiries to their conclusion...

Paul Ryan sold shares on same day as private briefing of banking crisis [offense in 2008 became a story in 2012, which now in 2018 is hot news...]
Vice-presidential candidate denies he profited from a 2008 meeting with Fed chairman in which officials outlined fears for financial crisis

....We live in a country where the poor who steal driven by hunger are jailed in and the rich who commit mass theft motivated by greed are bailed out. Instead of focusing on these malfeasance and iniquities that are bleeding our planet, we would rather take each other to the woodshed. So busy focused on what we are, we have forgotten who we are and the commonality of pains and the common hopes that bind all of us as one. Tragically, we let identities and ideologies get in the way of our common humanity. As the upper strata of society thrive through our disunion, we keep suffering apart.

....It’s high time we stop being the stepping stones of these two equally bankrupt political parties. As I noted in the “Break the Duopoly“, we must find a way to disband both parties—who are really parasites feeding on our Republic and feasting on our hopes—and empower our communities instead. More importantly, we must stop letting the rich and wealthy impose their ideologies on us and labeling us as if we are their pets. There is a reason I disavow the word black and African after all; I know the origins of these words and the intentions behind why they were given to us. In the same light, perhaps now is the time to stop finding identity through labels. As Bob Marley once said, we must free our minds of mental slavery—we are not the base of anybody! #WeAreNotTheirBase

McCabe, who stepped down in January and planned to retire Sunday, suggested dismissal is part of effort to undermine Russia inquiry
Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena for documents from the Trump Organization, where Ivanka Trump has played a leading role
The shooting of a black, gay councillor has dealt a new blow to communities oppressed by gangs

....Franco’s death last week at 38 – a carefully targeted shooting by apparently professional killers – sent shockwaves across the world and is forcing Brazilians to ask searching questions about their country’s inherent racism, violence and culture of impunity. European parliament deputies condemned the killing. Brazil’s prosecutor general, Raquel Dodge, called it an attack on democracy. The great Brazilian music star Caetano Veloso wrote a song for her.

Aleixo had known her for years, ever since they campaigned together against the Rio police’s introduction of armoured vehicles in 2006. “She always had an opinion, and a desire to find a solution,” he said.

Franco fought for the rights of women, single mothers like herself, gay people and favela residents. She denounced the violence inflicted by Rio’s police on the community as they fight – and occasionally collude – with the drug gangs and another force active on the streets: the unofficial militias whose members include serving and former police officers.

In Rio state 154 people were killed “in opposition to police intervention” in January alone, 57% up year-on-year. Many think this is the reason Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were riddled with bullets last Wednesday night – and fear the killing will discourage others like her.

Moscow also shuts down all activities of British Council in retaliatory move after expulsion of Russian diplomats
Turkey claims to have encircled Afrin, besieging up to 200,000 [Kurds are the new Armenians. Is ethnic purity—that DNA testing cannot discern—so important that Turkey and Syria must kill minority ethnic populations?]
Inhabitants of majority Kurdish Syrian city fear a blockade and bombardment are imminent
Paul Henry Dean guilty of ‘unnatural sex’ with young boys and men at orphanage
Since consolidating his power in rigged elections at the start of the decade, the Russian leader has pioneered a politics of fictional threats and invented enemies.

....No doubt the Russian state can still be maintained, for a time, by elective emergency and selective war. The very anxiety created by the lack of a succession principle can be projected abroad, creating real hostility and thus starting the whole process anew. In 2013, Russia began to seduce or bully its European neighbours into abandoning their own institutions and histories. If Russia could not become the west, let the west become Russia. If the flaws of American democracy could be exploited to elect a Russian client, then Putin could prove that the world outside is no better than Russia. Were the EU or the US to disintegrate during Putin’s lifetime, he could cultivate an illusion of eternity.

Busting the Myth of ‘Welfare Makes People Lazy’ [Are all conservative economic theories based on anecdotal gossip of ill-informed, often-biased people? There does seem to be a pattern...]
Cash assistance isn’t just a moral imperative that raises living standards. It’s also a critical investment in the health and future careers of low-income kids.
Nordic nations take top four places in happiness rankings, with annual study also charting the decline of the US

The 2018 World Happiness Report reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

....“Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year,” said the report’s authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

....“That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable,” said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. “GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

“In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive – he is just common sense,” added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 presidential election.

When fixing items is actively discouraged by manufacturers, recycling becomes a political act, say Repair Cafe volunteers

....The financial viability of the shop makes it attractive as a model. In the last year, Sophie Unwin, the co-founder of the Remakery in Brixton and the founder of Edinburgh Remakery is setting up the Remakery network to replicate the work internationally.

She has had 53 inquiries from groups interested in setting up similar enterprises in the US, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, Austria, Ireland, Germany, Australia and elsewhere in the UK.

The network will provide toolkits and advice to groups who want to recreate what she has done in Edinburgh. Unwin hopes that these resources will allow other groups to do in two years what it has taken eight years of trial and error and extremely hard graft to achieve.

For repairers, fixing things is a way of doing something about an obsession with consumerism that Unwin calls “a kind of sickness in society”.

“This is our little attempt to push a little bit in [a less wasteful] direction,” says Ward. “To say, we can fix this, we can repair things, don’t give up hope.”

US ambassador says Russia behind attack with ‘military-grade nerve agent’, while Moscow’s envoy replies with false-flag conspiracy theory
Donald Trump admits making up 'facts' in trade meeting with Justin Trudeau [“Stupid is as stupid does.” –Forrest Gump]
US president told donors ‘I had no idea’ when he complained to Canada’s prime minister over (non-existent) trade deficit
The US Postal Service, under attack from a manufactured crisis designed to force its privatization, needs a new source of funding to survive. Postal banking could fill that need.

....What has pushed the USPS into insolvency is an oppressive congressional mandate that was included almost as a footnote in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which requires the USPS to prefund healthcare for its workers 75 years into the future. No other entity, public or private, has the burden of funding multiple generations of employees yet unborn. The pre-funding mandate is so blatantly unreasonable as to raise suspicions that the nation’s largest publicly-owned industry has been intentionally targeted for takedown.

What has saved the post office for the time being is the large increase in its package deliveries for Amazon and other Internet sellers. But as Jacob Bittle notes in a February 2018 article titled “Postal-Service Workers Are Shouldering the Burden for Amazon,” this onslaught of new business is a mixed blessing. Postal workers welcome the work, but packages are much harder to deliver than letters; and management has not stepped up its hiring to relieve the increased stress on carriers or upgraded their antiquated trucks. The USPS simply does not have the funds.

Bittle observes that for decades, Republicans have painted the USPS as a prime example of government inefficiency. But there is no reason for it to be struggling, since it has successfully sustained itself with postal revenue for two centuries. What has fueled conservative arguments that it should be privatized is the manufactured crisis created by the PAEA. Unless that regulation can be repealed, the USPS may not survive without another source of funding, since Amazon is now expanding its own delivery service rather than continuing to rely on the post office. Postal banking could fill the gap, but the USPS has been hamstrung by the PAEA, which allows it to perform only postal services such as delivery of letters and packages and “other functions ancillary thereto,” including money orders, international transfers, and gift cards.

Renewing the Postal Banking Push

Meanwhile, the need for postal banking is present and growing. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, nearly 28% of US households are underserved by traditional banks. Over four million workers without a bank account receive pay on a payroll card and spend $40-$50 per month on ATM fees just to access their pay. The average underserved household spends $2,412 annually – nearly 10% of gross income – in fees and interest for non-bank financial services. More than 30,000 post offices peppered across the country could service these needs.

The push to revive postal banking picked up after January 2014, when the USPS Inspector General released a white paper making the case for postal banks and arguing that many financial services could be introduced without new congressional action. The cause was also taken up by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and polling showed that it had popular support.

....A more lucrative source of postal revenue was also suggested by the Inspector General: the USPS could expand into retail lending for underserved sectors of the economy, replacing the usurious payday loans that can wipe out the paychecks of the underbanked. To critics who say that government cannot be trusted to run a lending business efficiently, advocates need only point to China. According to Peter Pham in a March 2018 article titled “Who’s Winning the War for China’s Banking Sector?”:

“One of the largest retail banks is the Postal Savings Bank of China. In 2016 retail banking accounted for 70 percent of this bank’s service package. Counting about 40,000 branches and servicing more than 500 million separate clients, the Postal Savings Bank’s asset quality is among the best. Moreover, it has significantly more growth potential than other Chinese retail banks.

Neither foreign banks nor private domestic retail banks can compete with this very successful Chinese banking giant, which is majority owned by the government. And that may be the real reason for the suppression of postal banking in the US...

Swedish labor economist Rudolf Meidner spent his career pushing radical reforms that would shift power from business to workers.

Rudolf Meidner, one of the primary architects of Sweden’s famed social-democratic model, once described private ownership as “a gun pointed at the temple of the labor movement.” He spent his career as a union economist trying to resolve the standoff in labor’s favor.

Meidner’s economic model — given form by an exceptionally strong Social Democratic Party (SAP) and labor movement — delivered sustained material gains to workers in the decades after World War II (and, because of robust growth, private business). Swedish workers enjoyed the fruits of an expanding welfare state while exercising unprecedented influence and control over a developed economy.

....But a wave of wildcat strikes in 1969–1970 and a drop in private investment dramatized the mounting turmoil in the Swedish economy.

It was not enough — the gun remained in place, and by the 1970s, Meidner had concluded, along with the Swedish labor movement, that an alternative model of ownership was needed. “We want to deprive the owners of capital of the power which they wield,” Meidner explained.

“All experience shows that influence and control is not enough — ownership plays a critical part. I refer to Marx and Wigforss: we cannot fundamentally transform society without also fundamentally changing ownership.

The references to both Marx and Ernst Wigforss, a proto-Keynesian finance minister, typified Meidner’s synthetic approach to social change. He was a radical committed to societal transformation — but one who obsessed over the granular details of economic models. His efforts culminated in the so-called “Meidner Plan,” the most impressive attempt in an advanced capitalist economy to shift power decisively from owners of capital to workers.

If Meidner’s gambit had succeeded, private capital could have been disarmed — and labor finally freed from its threats. The plan’s failure — as well as Meidner’s career more broadly — illustrates the promise and hazards of left reformism...

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