Last updated: Saturday, August 18, 2018, 9:20 AM
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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
Cyclical natural phenomena that affect planet’s climate will amplify effect of manmade global warming, scientists warn

Following a summer of heatwaves and forest fires in the northern hemisphere, the study in the journal Nature Communications suggests there will be little respite for the planet until at least 2022, and possibly not even then.

....Based on this analysis, Sévellec says the statistical upward nudge from natural variation this year is twice as great of that of long-term global warming. Next year, it is likely to be three times higher....

Jonathan Watts | The Guardian
It is the temperature at which human cells start to cook, animals suffer and air conditioners overload power grids. Once an urban anomaly, 50C is fast becoming reality

Imagine a city at 50C (122F). The pavements are empty, the parks quiet, entire neighbourhoods appear uninhabited. Nobody with a choice ventures outside during daylight hours. Only at night do the denizens emerge, HG Wells-style, into the streets – though, in temperatures that high, even darkness no longer provides relief. Uncooled air is treated like effluent: to be flushed as quickly as possible.

School playgrounds are silent as pupils shelter inside. In the hottest hours of the day, working outdoors is banned. The only people in sight are those who do not have access to air conditioning, who have no escape from the blanket of heat: the poor, the homeless, undocumented labourers. Society is divided into the cool haves and the hot have-nots.

Those without the option of sheltering indoors can rely only on shade, or perhaps a water-soaked sheet hung in front of a fan. Construction workers, motor-rickshaw drivers and street hawkers cover up head to toe to stay cool. The wealthy, meanwhile, go from one climate-conditioned environment to another: homes, cars, offices, gymnasiums, malls.

Asphalt heats up 10-20C higher than the air. You really could fry an egg on the pavement. A dog’s paws would blister on a short walk, so pets are kept behind closed doors. There are fewer animals overall; many species of mammals and birds have migrated to cooler environments, perhaps at a higher altitude – or perished. Reptiles, unable to regulate their body temperatures or dramatically expand their range, are worst placed to adapt. Even insects suffer.....

Jonathan Watts and Elle Hunt | The Guardian
Trump represents the last chance for the fossil fuel industry to wreck this planet

....The conference was organised by the leading climate denial think tank, Heartland Institute (picture is a screengrab of its website) which has been regurgitating the same climate denial old rubbish – what we now would now call “fake news” – for the last two decades. It has received significant funding from Exxon and the Koch Brothers to do so.

But all their climate denial friends were there too, according to Reuters, including speakers from JunkScience, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and the Center For Industrial Progress and officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and the White House.

The panels included sessions on “Carbon Taxes, Cap & Trade, and Other Bad Ideas,” “Fiduciary Malpractice: The Sustainable Investment Movement,” and “Why CO2 Emissions Are Not Creating A Climate Crisis.”

Another one of the ludicrous conspiracy theories peddled at the conference was “that the United Nations puts out fake science about climate change to control the global energy market”. Oh and they hate renewable energy too, calling wind and solar energy “dumb”....

Andy Rowell | Common Dreams
Protecting public health was once an EPA priority—now it's being treated as just another obstacle to maximizing corporate profit

Even though Scott Pruitt, the disgraced former director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is gone, the agency remains in the thralls of aggressive lobbying by the chemical industry. Under his acting replacement, Andrew Wheeler, a former chemical and coal industry lobbyist, the agency is now poised to fundamentally weaken how the federal government determines the health and safety of some of the most dangerous chemicals....

Zack Kaldveer | Common Dreams

....These are grim signs. The Southern Resident population the females belong to has about 75 members, and has not had a successful birth in three years. In the last 20 years, only 25% of the babies have survived.....

Dwindling food source

The problem for this group of killer whales is a dwindling food supply, scientists say. Most killer whales eat a wider diet, but this particular group of about 75 resident orcas eats just salmon, which have been overfished in the area for commercial consumption. Manmade contraptions, like hydroelectric power sources, block the salmons' path to release eggs.

Exasperating the problem is that orcas do not have babies often or in large numbers, and when they do, it is a long process. It takes a calf a little under a year and a half to fully develop in the womb, and they nurse for another year. They must learn to swim right away, Balcomb said, and rely on their mothers for food for several years -- first through nursing, then through providing fish.

"Extinction is looming," Balcomb told CNN last month, but it is not inevitable if humans restore salmon populations and river systems in time.

Ayana Archie and Jay Croft | CNN
"Children, farmworkers, rural families, and science are all huge winners today... EPA's job is to protect public health, not industry profits."

In a "major victory for public health," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Thursday ruled the Trump administration illegally blocked a ban on chlorpyrifos—a pesticide linked to brain development delays in children and nervous systems issues for all people and animals exposed to it—and ordered that it be outlawed within 60 days.

"Allowing the use of this toxic chemical is not only irresponsible, it is a crime."
—Hector Sanchez Barba, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement

"Children, farmworkers, rural families, and science are all huge winners today," responded Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) North America. "The court affirmed that EPA's job is to protect public health, not industry profits."

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed household use of the chemical in 2000, citing concerns about children's health, it has resisted a ban to stop farmers from spraying chlorpyrifos on crops—which PAN and other pesticide critics have demanded for more than a decade.

"Some things are too sacred to play politics with—and our kids top the list," asserted Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The court has made it clear that children's health must come before powerful polluters."

"Our agricultural fields should be a source of life, not sickness," declared Labor Council for Latin American Advancement executive director Hector Sanchez Barba. "Allowing the use of this toxic chemical is not only irresponsible, it is a crime."....

Jessica Corbett, staff writer | Common Dreams
Retailers given six months to stop providing lightweight plastic bags or face fines of up to NZ$100,000
Kate Lyons and agencies | The Guardian
Elize Manoukian | The Armenian Weekly
On Thursday, hundreds of US news organisations are publishing editorials opposing the president’s attacks on the press. The Guardian stands with them

....It is not the press’s job to save the United States from Mr Trump. It is the press’s job to report, delve, analyse and scrutinise as best it can and without fear. The press has many faults. It can be self-regarding. Far worse, in Mr Trump’s America, some parts of the media are partisan outlets which show a cavalier disregard for truth: the president has embraced these. But a free press must call out intimidation and incitement when it exists. And it must do what it can to preserve respect for the facts and for balanced judgment. In short, it must do its job. Mr Trump’s insults and incitements are a calculated danger to that, and to the respect, civility and dialogue that should exist between the press and its readers. The Guardian stands with the US press in its efforts to maintain the objectivity and the moral boundaries that this president – like so many others in much more dangerous parts of the world – is doing so much to destroy.

Editorial | The Guardian
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'
BOB SOMERBY in The DailyHowler | EVERY DAY
The Trump administration is proposing to cut funding for programs that can provide to all children, not just the rich and a lucky few, the education they deserve

It’s become fashionable for celebrities and the ultra-rich to start charter schools or make philanthropic gifts with the aim of remaking our “failing” public schools.

Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gave away $100m to schools in Newark, New Jersey, which was largely squandered on consultants.

....But this July, basketball player and philanthropist LeBron James broke with this tradition and brought nationwide attention to community schooling in Ohio. The purpose of community schools is to turn the school into the anchor of the community and educate the whole child: children’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development. The evidence-based approach has recently been under assault by the Trump administration, whose proposed budgets would eliminate all federal funding for these types of programs.

The purpose of community schools is to turn the school into the anchor of the community and educate the whole child

Last week saw the opening of I Promise School, a district-run public school in Akron, Ohio. It is the brainchild of James’s foundation and the city’s public school district. The first student body is made up of 240 third- and fourth-graders who are reading a year or two below their grade level.

Rooted in a “trauma-informed” approach, I Promise students are privy to social-emotional learning and a hands-on Stem-based curriculum as well as an assemble of wraparound services: free breakfast and lunch, a Chromebook, bicycle, and an extended school day and year. Upon graduation from high school, their college tuition to the University of Akron is waived. Their parents also have access to a food pantry, GED program and job placement services.

Community schools often include engaging, culturally relevant curriculum, restorative justice, wraparound services, expanded learning time, and family and community engagement. The supports can range from health clinics, including vision, dental, and mental healthcare to washers and dryers to childcare to trauma-informed care.

Many of these schools secure funding from federal programs, such as 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, and Full Service Community Schools. Fortunately, as a result of the $1.3tn budget deal reached in March, the more than 1.6 million children who enjoy after-school and summer programming were spared from Trump’s austerity plans until the Trump’s next 2019 budget. Research has shown that participation in after school and summer programs produces higher test scores and attendance and fewer disciplinary issues. One survey found that more than 80% of parents said that such programs helped them maintain employment and “peace of mind about their children” while working.

Rather than cutting such programs, we should demand a “New Deal” for public education: a massive federal investment in community schools to guarantee that all children have an equitable public education.....

Nikhil Goyal | The Guardian


This country needs a serious opposition party that can defeat both corporate power and the GOP. Nothing else will do.

Despite being led by one of the most erratic and least popular presidents in modern history, the Trumpian Republican Party dominates U.S. politics.

One of the main reasons for this awful state of affairs is that the opposition party—which calls itself “Democratic”—is led by vacillating, corporate-oriented politicians who seem to have one firm principle: that the party’s progressive base must be repeatedly insulted, repressed, and denied a major role in democratic decision-making.

The latest slap in the face to the Democratic Party’s base came Friday when the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee—behind closed doors — reversed its ban on accepting political donations from fossil fuel companies. That ban had lasted a mere two months before the ridiculous flip-flop.

"Even in the face of a horrific menace like Trump, efforts to defeat the right at the polls are undermined by a Democratic leadership lacking in vision, values, and commitment to democracy."

Did “Democratic” Party leaders democratically survey the party’s base before toadying to oil, gas and coal company donors? Did the leadership consult environmental groups who so loyally support Democrats in election after election?

No and no....

Jeff Cohen | Common Dreams
America needs a centrist party that actually represents the economic center, not just zillionaires like me.

....Free from the elitist constraints of ideological centrism and refocused on the wants and needs of the majoritarian center, a unified Democratic Party has an opportunity to build an electoral wave strong enough to swamp the gerrymandered seawalls of the Republican-controlled Congress. And what would a truly centrist Democratic agenda look like? A $15 minimum wage, a restored overtime threshold, affordable public college, Medicare for All, paid family leave, crucial infrastructure investments, modern labor laws, and substantially higher taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals would be a good start. If that sounds like the platform of lefties like Ocasio-Cortez, it’s because it is. But when ideologically “lefty” ideas are both broadly popular and broadly economically beneficial, they occupy the majoritarian center from which electoral majorities are built.

Democrats need to stop balancing the economic interests of the top 2 percent against the interests of everyone else and start focusing on the needs of the majoritarian center—the 80 percent of families who have been left behind by 40 years of trickle-down economics. Raise wages now. That’s the kind of pragmatic centrism the majority of Americans truly want, and that our economy needs.

A veritable banquet of union-busting, gerrymandering, pro-fossil fuel, and school privatization proposals

When the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convened its 45th annual meeting of legislators and corporate lobbyists at the swank Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel on August 8, it served up a veritable banquet of union-busting, gerrymandering, pro-fossil fuel, and school privatization proposals for lawmakers to take back home.

Welcoming the ALEC crowd was Jason Saine, a North Carolina Representative and ALEC’s National Chairman. Earlier this year, CMD reported that Saine used $19,000 from his campaign kitty to order custom-tailored suits.

Other keynote speakers included Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, and White House Special Assistant in the Office of American Innovation Brooke Rollins. Rollins was an aide to former governor Rick Perry, who is now Secretary of Energy.

ALEC’s menu of policy proposals at the New Orleans conference included:...

Mary Bottari | Common Dreams
In an era of minority parties, primary victories don’t become election victories

Democrats will win the House in 3 months, and they have an outside shot at the Senate. But it’s not because they’ve figured out how to win elections, it’s because Republicans have – once again -- handed it to them.

That’s the only way Democrats win these days. Obama’s victory was a direct result of the disastrous Bush Cheney years. When their tax cuts for the rich, Wall Street-big bank coddling, neocon perpetual war machine dragged the economy into the mother of all recessions, and his clown version of the presidency finally woke up enough fear and loathing that people got up off their chairs and voted them out, Democrats captured the House, the Senate and the Presidency.

The only way they lose is when their policies are so overtly pro-oligarchy, or so explicitly damaging to the country – as with Bush’s recession and his Iraq folly – that they arouse a sufficient degree of fear and loathing among the rest of the cynically disaffected that they show up and vote.

But there’s a world of difference between winning because people are fed up with the other guys, and winning because they’ve embraced your values. Obama’s “hope and change” campaign was designed to appeal to people who were fed up with the status quo, but something that vague could never deliver a mandate. What was conveniently left out of the campaign was hope for what and change to what.

Similarly, Hillary’s painfully scripted campaign, in which she claimed to be a centrist, a progressive and then a centrist again in the space of nine months; in which she backed fossil fuel interests while claiming to take climate change seriously; in which she talked tough about Wall Street in public and talked kindly to them in private – was doomed to lose at a time when people were angry at the status quo politicians. They still are.

And now we have the DNC flip-flopping on the Party’s commitment not to accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests, announced on Friday afternoon – the favorite time for political hypocrisy to ooze out of the Washington establishment....

John Atcheson | Common Dreams
DOJ Sues Ivanka’s Ex-Business Partner for Massive Fraud [Criminal behavior is normal around Trump]
Moshe Lax and members of his family allegedly conspired to deprive the U.S. of $60 million.
Ben Schreckinger | Politico
Predator priests will only face justice when those they abused find the courage to speak up

It’s all about the bishops.” That’s the single most damning line from a new, 1,300-page report, released by the Pennsylvania supreme court on Tuesday, which found that 300 predator priests in the state had abused more than 1,000 children since 1947. It’s the latest scandal in the Catholic church’s continuing child abuse crisis.

The two-year investigation, conducted by Pennsylvania’s attorney general and a dozen grand jurors, involved hundreds of interviews, and examined half a million pages of church records. The inquiry is the biggest US government investigation into child abuse inside the Catholic church.

The incidents of abuse are shocking and deeply disturbing. They include a minor who was impregnated by a priest who paid for her to have an abortion, as well as a priest who confessed to the rape of at least 15 boys. In one instance, a priest abused five sisters in one family, including an 18-month-old girl.....

David Clohessy | The Guardian
Orthodoxy should be respected, but we cannot allow the politics of a radical minority to alienate millions of Jews worldwide.

....The issue at hand is first and foremost a moral one, but the new nation-state legislation may also have severe national and international repercussions. In Israel, it will heighten the sense of polarization and discord. Abroad, Israel may find itself associated with a broken values system and questionable friends. As a result, future leaders of the West may become hostile or indifferent to the Jewish state.

Tragically, the new policies will not strengthen Israel but weaken it, and in the long run they may endanger Israel’s social cohesiveness, economic success and international standing.

....This is not who we are, and this is not who we wish to be. This is not the face we want to show our children, grandchildren and the family of nations. Let us work together to change course and ensure that Israel will continue to be the Jewish democratic state it is meant to be.

Ronald S. Lauder | New York Times

Turkey’s central bank has acted to stem the lira’s crash, but the intervention was not enough to quell investors’ fears that the country’s financial crisis could spread to European markets.

The lira pulled back from from a fresh record low overnight but was still trading steeply lower at nearly 7% down against the dollar on Monday morning. The euro was also trading at a one-year low.

The lira’s performance continued to underwhelm despite the central bank pledging to provide liquidity and cut lira and foreign currency reserve requirements – a cash buffer – for Turkish banks.

Turkey’s central bank said: “[We] will closely monitor the market depth and price formations, and take all necessary measures to maintain financial stability, if deemed necessary.”

The Ankara-based bank pledged to provide “all the liquidity the banks need”.

However, it has not raised interest rates, which some economists argue is necessary to alleviate the crisis because it will curb inflation and deter investors from selling the lira. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has warned against raising borrowing costs....

Julia Kollewe and Martin Farrer | The Guardian
Data show a 3% increase of people killed in 2017 from the previous year; rapes also rose 8% to 60,018

....Data from the independent Brazilian Public Security Forum said that an average of 14 people died at the hands of police officers every day – an increase of 20% from the previous year.

....“We have two persistent phenomena: violence against women and criminal gangs dealing in drugs and arms,” Lima said.

Brazilians have recently been horrified by a spate of femicides – including the death of lawyer Tatiane Spitzner, whose husband Luís Felipe Manvailer was filmed by security cameras attacking her in their apartment building before she fell to her death from their fourth floor apartment. He has been charged with her killing.

....According to Rio’s Igarapé Institute, a thinktank specialising in security issues, just 10% of homicides lead to arrest and only 4% in charges.

Dom Phillips | The Guardian

Disintermediating nation-states
Marc Cherbonnier | The Baltimore Chronicle | Ref.
US dollar on its way out as world's lead currency? [What happens to US dollar valuation when oil sales must become illegal due to climate change and pollution? Does this feared chaos explain "conservative" denial of climate change?]
Tumbling emerging market currencies, including the Russian ruble, have caused Moscow to publicly wish for the "demise" of the greenback from global finance. Lars Halter examines how realistic such a wish actually is.

If the stability of a currency is entirely linked to the confidence in the issuer of the currency, then it does not look good for the US dollar. In Washington, US President Donald Trump appears to be busy fighting against the rest of the world.

His administration has kick-started a fierce trade conflict with China and other countries by slapping on tariffs and engaging in protectionist rhetoric.

In recent weeks, Trump has also picked quarrels with Russia and Turkey. But the two are striking back by hitting Washington where it hurts. Both Moscow and Ankara are questioning the global role of the US dollar.

The beginnings

The global advance of the American currency began on February 14, 1945, on the USS Quincy, which was anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, near the Suez Canal in Egypt. In the belly of the heavy cruiser, a reception room had been set up: A few hastily arranged armchairs and tables on an oriental rug, in addition to the stars and stripes, all against a background of navy bulkheads.

Only a handful of people, including then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Saudi King Ibn Saud, were present. During their talks, Roosevelt promised military protection to his Saudi guest in exchange for secure access to Saudi oil and settling oil sales in dollars.

The deal meant that in just over a decade after the US effectively abandoned the gold standard in 1933, the greenback was once again tied to a commodity: This time it was black gold (oil).

Despite periodic tensions in US-Saudi relations, the pact has survived. And as demand for oil rose rapidly in the subsequent decades, the demand for US dollars also climbed. An increasing number of cross-border transactions began to be settled in the American currency.

That is still the case today....

Less dollar dominance not inconceivable

It's difficult to find any consistency when it comes to Trump's rhetoric vis-a-vis currencies. He doesn't shy away from accusing other countries, particularly China, of currency manipulation. But then, with his tweets, he puts pressure on the Fed to follow his recommendations on monetary policy.

Although the US central bank has so far been pursuing a steady course, the White House's recommendations and demands regarding interest and exchange rates create uncertainty as to whether one can always rely on the political neutrality of the Fed.

Furthermore, no one wants to bet on Trump's economic policies. His actions too often contradict his rhetoric: He speaks of large trade agreements, but has so far only withdrawn the US from them. Not one of his promised new deals has materialized. A trade dispute with China, uncertainty with regard to his dealings with Russia and now a dispute with Turkey, which is causing a plunge in the value of the lira. In the current economic climate, the dollar doesn't seem to be a safe bet.

Against this backdrop, the question remains: Which currency in future could give the dollar a run for its money?

Russia and Turkey have announced that they want to return to national currencies in international trade — they want to avoid the detour via the dollar....

Lars Halter | Deutsche Welle
Accountable Capitalism Act would bring about ‘fundamental change’, redistribute wealth and give more power to workers

....In an article announcing the bill, Warren said she was looking to reverse “a fundamental change in business practices” dating back three decades that made corporations beholden to the bottom line at the expense of better worker wages and local investment.

“The obsession with maximizing shareholder returns effectively means America’s biggest companies have dedicated themselves to making the rich even richer,” she wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

The proposal would create a new Office of United States Corporations within the Department of Commerce, which would be responsible for granting the charters – and which could revoke a charter if a state attorney general requests it, and the office finds the firm has a history of egregious and repeated illegal conduct and has failed take action to correct it.

Large companies dedicated 93% of their earnings to shareholders between 2007 and 2016 – a shift from the early 1980s, when they sent less than half their revenue to shareholders and spent the rest on employees and other priorities, Warren said.

“Real wages have stagnated even as productivity has continued to rise. Workers aren’t getting what they’ve earned. Companies also are setting themselves up to fail,” she wrote.

Corporations currently get their charters at the state level.

The legislation would also require 75% of directors and shareholders to approve before a corporation could make political expenditures....

Erin Durkin | The Guardian
Anglo-Saxon capitalism’s drive to maximise profits in the short term won’t save the planet. Perhaps the Chinese model can?

This summer’s heatwave has provided a glimpse of the future, and it is not a pretty one. On current trends, the years to come will see rising temperatures, droughts, a fight to feed a growing population, and a race against time to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.....

Larry Elliott | The Guardian

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