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Established 1973 — Last updated: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 9:34 AM
Policy, Practice & Analysis
Permanent Editorial?
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending as compared with the 2011 OECD per capita average, which becomes extra overhead on everything U.S. workers make—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's adopt more efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
2011 US per capita health care spending was $4390 more per person than in France (acclaimed as having the best healthcare) and $5169 above the OECD average without better results. (Ref. 2009, 2007, selected 2007 with avg. doctor visits showing we're least cared for for the money, 2003 and 1998.)

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

[Sorry I didn't date this, which has been updated over time, my anger unrelenting. It was posted in early 2010. A similar editorial re. triple-play communication services is also much deserved, since all OECD countries pay much less.]
By some estimates, the price of oil already has dropped below what investors in Keystone would need to break even, and some analysts believe further drops are in store.

....Matt Badiali, an oil industry analyst at Baltimore-based Stransberry Research, said he suspects the pipeline ultimately will get built. But he said he is confounded by the continued hype around Keystone, which he said would do nothing to help keep down the price of energy in the U.S.

EVAN HALPER | The LA Times
This is an act of colossal irresponsibility where, for the sake of an agreement, not one solution has been found. The “big idea” is to leave to every country the task of deciding its own cuts in pollution according to its own criteria.
Roberto Savio | Informed Comment
Kids exposed to the highest levels of two common phthalates in the womb had an IQ score, on average, more than six points lower than children exposed at the lowest levels.
Tom Philpott | Mother Jones
Africa is experiencing a revolution towards cleaner energy through renewable energy but the story has hardly been told to the world, says Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner, who had been advocating for renewable energy at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, said Africa is on the right path toward a low carbon footprint by tapping into its plentiful renewable resources – hydro, geothermal, solar and wind.

Wambi Michael | Informed Comment
China has promised to diversify its energy production with a “staggering” increase in gas, renewables and nuclear energy generation expected before 2030, the IEA’s annual medium-term coal market report says.

Even so, Beijing is still expected to account for 60% of growth in the global coal industry by 2019 and, along with India, and other countries in south and east Asia, will be “one of the main engines of growth in coal consumption.”

Arthur Neslen | The Guardian
The United States has painted itself into an Obamacare corner. Obamacare has enough good elements that repealing it would harm millions of people. Keeping it in its present form will harm additional millions and inflict serious economic damage. But it is impossible to reform Obamacare, since Republican politicians won't support changes that prolong its longevity.

To escape this mess we need a magician who can pull a political rabbit out of their hat, and the best person to do this may be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[Reducing per capita healthcare costs by $thousands annually would greatly boost GDP by making US exports competitive again, and it would reduce the offshoring of jobs.]
Paul deLespinasse OPED | The Oregonian
For years, the U.S. intelligence community has questioned how vulnerable oil and gas pipelines are to a destructive cyberattack.

They got an answer when hackers targeted an oil pipeline in Turkey. Majority-owned by BP, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was built to be one of the most secure in the world. But it was no match for the digital intruders who injected malicious software into the control network, allowing them to tamper with the system and cause an explosion that sent flames 150 feet into the air.

The incident in 2008 -- but only coming to light now -- becomes one of the earliest known examples of a cyberattack used to destroy critical infrastructure. And it has security experts and officials worried about the implications for the U.S. There are 182,000 miles of pipelines that carry oil, chemicals and other hazardous liquids, 325,000 miles of pipelines that transmit natural gas in bulk between states, and 2.2 million miles of pipelines that distribute natural gas to homes and businesses, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

[More reason to get off fossil fuels fast!]
Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley | Bloomberg News

Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world per capita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
OLGA KHAZAN | The Atlantic | Ref.
The cost of cancer drugs [13:52 60 Minutes' video]
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs

Dr. Peter Bach: Medicare has to pay exactly what the drug company charges. Whatever that number is.

Lesley Stahl: Wait a minute, this is a law?

Dr. Peter Bach: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: And there's no negotiating whatsoever with Medicare?

Dr. Peter Bach: No.

[All other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug costs]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times | Ref.
Climate Change: Lines of Evidence [play chapters or all 28 minutes]
The National Research Council via YouTube | Ref.
A.C. THOMPSON and JONATHAN JONES in ProPublica | Ref.
Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us [long, print & study; 3:38 video]
Looking at real bills for real patients cuts through the ideological debate over health care policy.
STEVEN BRILL in Time Magazine | Ref.
Econ4 on Health Care [10:00 video]
the USA ranks first in the world in health care spending, but only 45th in life expectancy....
YVES SMITH comments in Naked Capitalism | Ref.
Climate change inaction is a leading global cause of death.
DARA | Ref.
If we had the per-person costs of any other OECD country, America’s deficits would vanish....
EZRA KLEIN in the Washington Post | Ref.
How Industry Money Reaches (aka 'bribes') Physicians
Special Report in Pro Publica | Ref.
To remove your appendix in one California hospital costs $180,000, at a different facility the bill is $1,500. [Who has time to shop?]
RYAN FLINN in Bloomberg | Ref.
SOURCE: Public Broadcasting System & ABC News | Ref.
In recognition of the dangers inherent in the consolidation of mainstream corporate media The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel (formerly a newspaper) advances awareness of important suppressed news and opinion.
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The Democratic revolt in Congress soon wilted under White House pressure but Elizabeth Warren’s fiery advocacy has given the Progressives of the party a boost
“I’m walking out of this meeting feeling very proud of my caucus because there was moral clarity, there was conviction”, said freshman California congressman Jared Huffman at the height of the great Democratic revolt of 2014. “I had the feeling a few moments ago that we stood for something. I hope it holds.”

....Warren has long made a name for herself opposing the banking industry in Washington. What differed this time was the growing agreement of more moderate Democrats that something was deeply wrong, not just with the budget process but the whole way their party has approached compromise in Washington in recent years.

Dan Roberts | The Guardian
I fear for the future of this country.
....Should people accused of stealing be held accountable? Definitely. But the justice system entangles the most vulnerable so effectively that even the innocent often find it easier to just plead guilty. Meanwhile the capable, and sometimes the stealthiest and most damaging, are slapped on the wrist and given a pass.
JOHN LEWIS | The Atlantic
In this post I want to rectify that mysterious silence, and take a look at the truly nauseating Kline-Miller amendment, passed by the House, and part of the Senate bill forwarded to Obama for his signature. David Dayen summarizes:
Under the bill, trustees would be enabled to cut pension benefits to current retirees, reversing a 40-year bond with workers who earned their retirement packages.
Michael Hilzick:
Under ERISA, the 1974 law governing pensions in the private sector, benefits already earned by a worker can’t be cut.
Now they can. That’s right. Even if you’re retired and vested in a private pension plan, your benefits could be cut. Congress retraded the deal (if I have the finance jargon right). That’s nauseating even for today’s official Washington. And the bill was passed in a thoroughly bipartisan fashion: Kline is a Minnesota Republican, and Miller is a “liberal” California Democrat. [Reach me that bucket, wouldja?]
Lambert Strether | Naked Capitalism
The divisions that were on full display during the debate over a $1 trillion spending bill may become the norm in 2015.
RUSSELL BERMAN | The Atlantic
THE police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

[Thanks to stupid/corrupt Supreme Court rulings, the U.S. Government has become two mafia families vying to "lead" the country. The 'system' for each is to rake in more money to doctor legislation so their rich become richer. (Yes, a minority of representatives in Washington do care about the public foremost, but—with less campaign funding—they end up losing in future elections.)]
Mark Bittman | The New York Times
How the spending deal got done.
Ultimately, this odd, bipartisan coalition — Hoyer, Reid, Boehner and Obama — outflanked, outwhipped and outmatched Pelosi, liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and progressive House Democrats. Despite the deep Democratic reservations about changes to Wall Street regulations and GOP concerns about allowing Obama to unilaterally change the enforcement of immigration laws, the legislation passed 219 to 206 at 9:37 p.m. Thursday night.
JAKE SHERMAN and JOHN BRESNAHAN | Politico
In a letter to Mr. Obama on Friday, advocates of stricter campaign limits said the proposed changes amounted to “the most corrupting campaign finance provisions ever enacted” and urged him to veto the bill. “In a ‘bipartisan’ unholy alliance, Senator Reid and Senator McConnell joined with House Speaker John Boehner to secretly insert into the Omnibus bill the destructive campaign finance provisions, which were unknown to the public and members of Congress until the day the bill was filed in the House,” the letter stated.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE | The New York Times
Progressive activists haven’t agreed on what to call the movement urging Elizabeth Warren to run for president, but they largely concur on this: with every recent anti-establishment move the Massachusetts senator grows more attractive as a 2016 candidate, both in her own right and as a progressive foil for Hillary Clinton.
KATIE GLUECK | Politico
Lambert Strether | Naked Capitalism
Dan Arel | AlterNet




Letters to the Editor
Readers | Ongoing

  • Taliban gunmen have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar
  • Death toll has risen to 126, says official
  • Attackers and hostages still believed to be inside
  • Read the latest summary
Haroon Siddique | The Guardian
Far-right group Pegida holds ‘Islamisation’ protest, using slogan from 1989 campaign against East German government
Kate Connolly | The Guardian
i
A survey shows which countries matter more to U.S. policymakers—and which matter less
URI FRIEDMAN | The Atlantic
"We did the right thing," Cheney told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. But for more than a decade now, Cheney has been peddling false information to the American public: Saddam was amassing WMDs to use against the United States, Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes so it could create a nuclear weapon, a 9/11 ringleader met with an Iraqi intelligence officer. And now: Torture wasn't torture, and it worked. After all that—though he's still afforded elder statesman status by much of the media—he probably deserves derision more than rebuttal.
DAVID CORN | Mother Jones
The criminal gang that struck on 9/11 had no second strike capability. Bush’s gigantic over-reaction, blowing apart whole countries and societies year after year, has only enormously spread the Al-Qaeda forces into a dozen countries through affiliates and offshoots such as ISIS.

Fighting stateless terrorism with massive state terrorism and torture that strengthens the former creates a deadly boomerang. It destroys our priorities, mutes the waging of peace and corrodes our democracy with its purported rule of law. It also obscures the history of the West intervening violently in the East’s backyard for a century, carving up its colonies, backing local, brutal dictatorships with U.S. arms, money and diplomatic cover.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s first step should arouse Congress to its constitutional duties and stop the destruction of the separation of powers by an overweening White House executive. Certainly the Left-Right in the Congress should agree on that principle. It helps if we the people, who pay the price, give them constant nudges in that direction.

RALPH NADER | CounterPunch
Confessions are four times more likely when interrogators adopt a respectful stance toward detainees and build rapport, a study finds.
OLGA KHAZAN | The Atlantic
Suddenly there is a chance – a remote chance, but a chance nevertheless – for the Left to regain power.

WHY? WHAT has happened?

The easiest explanation is that people just got fed up with “Bibi”. Netanyahu is a person it is easy to get fed up with. In fact, it has happened to him before. His wife, Sarah’le, who is universally disliked, does not help.

URI AVNERY | CounterPunch
Ed Pilkington | The Guardian
How are universities working to curb the prevalence of harassment against researchers?
When she was a graduate student, geobiologist A. Hope Jahren planned to study a little-understood body of water under southwestern Turkey. “I dreamed of an ocean of hot water underneath Denizli Province, an ocean that occasionally sloshes out onto the surface to form ice-blue thermal springs,” she wrote in a September op-ed published in the New York Times. Jahren was a promising graduate student, she noted, and diligently went to scope out the region before committing completely to a life of researching it.

But then she was sexually assaulted. “It was broad daylight when I began walking back to the hotel, and a stranger pulled me into a stairwell—and then did some other things. Perhaps an hour later I staggered out with his blood under my fingernails,” she wrote. She still doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she knows she will never return to that region of Turkey. Instead, she now studies plants in a lab in Hawaii. “I still love rocks and I still dream of the ancient Aegean seas, but for the better part of my career I’ve sealed myself into a locked laboratory, a small well-lit world that I can control.”

[Arabs have chronic cultural problems....]
ALEXANDRA OSSOLA | The Atlantic
The country still needs a lot more investment to really change the life trajectory of young kids being raised by poor, single moms. [Might I suggest "enlightened boarding schools"? We could repurpose vacant, old schools...]
FAWN JOHNSON | The Atlantic
Staff selections from a year of reading
Conventional wisdom among banking experts is that Wall Street’s successful fight last week to get a pet provision into the must-pass budget bill (or in political junkies’ shorthand, Cromnibus) as more a demonstration of power and a test for gutting Dodd Frank than a fight that mattered to them. But the provision they got in, which was to undo a portion of Dodd Frank that barred them from having taxpayer-backstopped deposits fund derivative positions, may prove to be more important than it seemed as the collateral damage from the 40% fall in oil prices hits investors and intermediaries.
Yves Smith | Naked Capitalism
This week, Bill speaks with outspoken veteran journalist John R. MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine, about the problems with TPP, which is being negotiated in secret, behind closed doors. MacArthur says that the “free trade” agreement will take jobs away from Americans: “I guarantee you, this is a way to send more jobs [abroad], particularly to Vietnam and Malaysia.”
Bill Moyers | Moyers & company
Billionaires David and Charles Koch are suing to stop the backlash they'd face if forced to disclose donors to their Americans for Prosperity Foundation.
Joel Rosenblatt | Bloomberg Politics
Staking out a much narrower view than previous courts, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that unless the government could prove that the tipper expected some valuable benefit in exchange for the tip, there would be no violation of federal insider trading proscriptions. Giving away information with no expectation of anything in return is apparently now permissible.

....Insider trading is perhaps our most symbolic white-collar crime. Our ban on the practice expresses our deep social commitment to equality of opportunity; it embodies that peculiarly American revulsion for any special privileges that might be thought to accrue to the wealthy or to the political and social elite. As Preet Bharara, the United States attorney who spearheaded the most recent spate of prosecutions, explained, insider trading tells everybody “that everything is rigged and only people who have a billion dollars and have access to and are best friends with people who are on the boards of directors of major companies ... can make a true buck.”

Allowing executives to give away information to whomever they choose so long as they get nothing in return simply makes no sense.

MICHAEL PERINO | DealB%k
House Democrats, under the thought leadership of Elizabeth Warren, waged a monumental yet ultimately unsuccessful fight against two dangerous provisions in the so-called “CRomnibus” year-end spending package. But regardless of whether or not the budget bill included a rollback of derivatives reforms, or a nearly ten-fold increase in the donation limits for party committees, the battle on Thursday illuminated how the next two years in Washington will play out, and it doesn’t bode well for anyone who doesn’t employ a personal registered lobbyist.

In fact, the high-profile measures obscured how the CRomnibus boosts special interests at the expense of ordinary people in a host of other ways. Nobody in the Democratic coalition objected as vociferously to these other giveaways to right-wing hobby horses and corporate wish lists. And given how the White House basically turned on its own party, all too happy to accept the roll-backs of liberal priorities, it’s clear that this kind of legislative sausage-making will be the norm, not the exception, come 2015.

MICHAEL PERINO | The Fiscal Times
On December 11, 2014, the US House passed a bill repealing the Dodd-Frank requirement that risky derivatives be pushed into big-bank subsidiaries, leaving our deposits and pensions exposed to massive derivatives losses. The bill was vigorously challenged by Senator Elizabeth Warren; but the tide turned when Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorganChase, stepped into the ring. Perhaps what prompted his intervention was the unanticipated $40 drop in the price of oil. As financial blogger Michael Snyder points out, that drop could trigger a derivatives payout that could bankrupt the biggest banks. And if the G20’s new “bail-in” rules are formalized, depositors and pensioners could be on the hook.

The new bail-in rules were discussed in my last post here. They are edicts of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), an unelected body of central bankers and finance ministers headquartered in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Where did the FSB get these sweeping powers, and is its mandate legally enforceable?

ELLEN BROWN | WEB OF DEBT

We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout of the financial system. Our database accounts for both the broader $700 billion bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ProPublica | Ref.
SARAH ANDERSON in CounterPunch | Ref.
ANDREW HACKER in The New York Review of Books | Ref.
The former vice president's defense of brutal CIA interrogations is falling apart under scrutiny.
When Cheney tries to associate everyone tortured by the CIA with the people who perpetrated 9/11, he's using the same cheap misdirection that allowed him to respond to that attack by calling for America to wage war against Saddam Hussein. Cheney is a capable bullshitter.

But the more we find out about the torture program, the more he is reduced to increasingly naked expressions of his actual "argument": terrorism 9/11 9/11!!!! Take the moment in the Fox News interview when Baier brings up Senator Mark Udall's statement about former CIA Director Leon Panetta's review of CIA torture, and the fact that it reaches some of the same conclusions as the Senate report.

Here is Cheney's actual retort: "Well, I don't know where he was on 9/11, but he wasn't in the bunker." Baier seemed stunned that Cheney doesn't have any substantive rebuttal. I'm not. Many of Cheney's positions on this subject have no basis in fact.

It's nice to see a Fox News anchor help to expose that.

CONOR FRIEDERSDORF | The Atlantic
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The Daily Howler | EVERY DAY
 
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