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Last updated: Friday, December 15, 2017, 11:25 AM
News & opinion that matter
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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.

The unprecedented downpour and severe flooding was also 15% more intense due to climate change, which is making weather more violent around the world

....The researchers said their new work shows global warming is making extreme weather events worse right now and in the US. The cost of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has been estimated at $190bn (£140bn), which would make it the most costly weather disaster in US history, more than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined.

....Hurricane Harvey made first landfall on 25 August and then stalled over Texas, with torrential downpours dumping a year’s worth of rain on Houston and surrounding areas in a few days. In east Harris County, a record 132cm (52 inches) of rain fell over six days, the highest storm total in US history.

The WWA scientists used both historical rainfall records and high-resolution climate models to determine the influence of global warming. “This multi-method analysis confirms that heavy rainfall events are increasing substantially across the Gulf Coast region because of human interference with our climate system,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and lead author of the new study published in Environmental Research Letters.

“It was very a rare event – they were very unlucky,” said van Oldenborgh. But the research shows the chance of it happening was raised threefold by climate change.

The team also estimated that, even if the world limits warming to the internationally agreed 2C limit, the likelihood of such extreme downpours will triple again. “But, if we miss those targets, the increase in frequency and intensity could be much higher,” said Karin van der Wiel, also at KNMI.

“The link between global warming and more extreme weather is nowhere more obvious than in the US. Even if Donald Trump isn’t seeing the picture, many others are,” said Richard Black at the ECIU.

Damian Carrington | The Guardian
Fidel Sandi’s Achuar community has been plagued with oil contamination for decades – but he is now able to collect and gather evidence for his claims
Dan Collyns | The Guardian
Scientists have identified 2 million species of living things. No one knows how many more are out there, and tens of thousands may be vanishing before we have even had a chance to encounter them.

....Although insecticides have been blamed for the declines in Europe, Erwin thinks the ultimate culprit is climate change. The location he has been observing in Ecuador is pristine, virgin rainforest. “There’s no insecticides, nothing at all,” he said. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, in the time he has been there, something has changed in the balance of the forest. Studying the data, Erwin and his collaborators have found that over the past 35 years, the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out. And if the forest goes, Erwin tells me, “everything that lives in it will be affected”.

If this trend were to continue indefinitely, the consequences would be devastating. Insects have been on Earth 1,000 times longer than humans have. In many ways, they created the world we live in. They helped call the universe of flowering plants into being. They are to terrestrial food chains what plankton is to oceanic ones. Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months. After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.

Jacob Mikanowski | The Guardian
As America is battered by climate-intensified weather disasters, Republican politicians are trying to slash climate research funding
Click for bigger image. Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2017. Illustration: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

....Extreme weather fueled by human carbon pollution is occurring around the world. But in the midst of this, President Trump and many Republican elected officials want to decrease our spending on climate science. In the United States, we have flagship organizations like Nasa and Noaa that are our eyes and ears on the climate. But throughout the year, Trump has worked to get Nasa to sharply reduce or even stop climate research. Nasa has two main missions. One mission is exploration – going to Mars, the moon, and sending exploration satellites that look outward. The other part of Nasa’s mission is to look inwards, at our own planet. To do this, they use many instruments, including satellites to measure what is happening on Earth.

Trump and his administration want to jettison the Earth research portion of Nasa’s mission. This obviously isn’t to save money; the amount we spend on Earth-focused missions is very small. Rather, it is to halt research into the Earth’s climate. The following chart compares the cost savings from budget cuts with the extreme weather costs just this year in the USA.

Climate scientists have won the war on the facts. We know it is warming, we know how fast it is warming. We know what is causing the warming. And, we know what to do about it. Since Trump (and sadly the Republican Party as a whole) have lost that battle, they have decided to blind us so we just won’t know what is happening.

We should be investing in science and the instruments that scientists need (satellites, airplanes, computers, other sensors). And we should invest in the people. Without funding and jobs in climate science, how will we encourage the next generation of bright minds to enter this field?

...It is so sad that an entire political party has become branded as anti-science. It is sad, but their actions justify the branding.

John Abraham | The Guardian

....A lack of regulation on drug sales can be owed to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in U.S. politics. The pharmaceutical industry has reportedly spent $2.5 billion in the past decade lobbying politicians, the most of any industry. Only 3 U.S. Senators have not taken donations from “Big Pharma” and only 1 out of 10 members of the House; the industry also employs 2 lobbyists for every member of Congress to ensure they are protected from regulations. The Pain Care Forum, an industry-funded interest group, spent $740m over a decade lobbying state and federal lawmakers against enacting limits on painkiller prescriptions.

staff | teleSUR
  • Sea ice also melting at fastest pace in 1,500 years, US government scientists find
  • ‘The Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago’ – author
Associated Press | The Guardian
English rivers polluted by powerful insecticides, first tests reveal [Are similar tests of U.S. waters conducted by the EPA anymore? We think not...]
Neonicotinoids, banned on flowering crops, were found in nearly all rivers tested, increasing concerns over their impact on fish and birds

Evidence is growing that neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used insecticide – harm other species, such as songbirds. Neonicotinoids have been in use since the early 1990s and now contaminate landscapes around the world. But very little monitoring of their concentration in soils or water is done, a failing recently condemned by a UK government chief scientific adviser.

The first systematic testing of neonicotinoids in rivers in Britain was mandated by EU water regulations and conducted in 2016. The results, obtained by the conservation charity Buglife, show that half of the 16 rivers tested in England had either chronic or acute levels of contamination. Of the 23 rivers tested across Britain, neonicotinoids were not detected in six.

Damian Carrington | The Guardian
Partners in Health wants to rebuild entire countries’ medical systems, and bring health care to some of the poorest people on earth.

....Recently, Ophelia Dahl was in Rwanda, speaking to a group of graduate students at the University of Global Health Equity, which was opened in 2015 by Partners in Health, an aid organization that Dahl co-founded when she was very young. “For the first time in a lecture like that, I included my father as an example of the suggestion that you can transcend your training. Don’t do this thing where you say, ‘Well, I don’t know that that can be done.’ You have to keep pushing. You don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not an inventor, I’m a writer.’ I think it’s connected to feeling entitled in the right way: ‘Fuck it. I’m not going to stand for that.’ You push. You push, push, push.”

In the final version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Willy Wonka exhorts Grandpa Joe, “You mustn’t despair! Nothing is impossible!” On the Partners in Health Web site, the organization’s stated purpose is to bring the benefits of modern medical science to some of the poorest people in the world. (The group operates in Haiti, Peru, Mexico, Siberia, the Navajo Nation, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Lesotho, and Liberia, in addition to Rwanda.) But Partners in Health also aspires to do something more amorphous, more imaginative, and more improbable: “to serve as an antidote to despair.”

....William Easterly, the economist, pointed to a fundamental difficulty with P.I.H.’s approach. “If you’ve said, ‘There’s a right to health care,’ you haven’t said whose obligation it is to provide it,” he told me. “From an economist’s point of view, that’s kind of fatal. That is the major flaw of positive rights: Who is to blame if they’re not met?” A moral imperative is not the same as a financial solution. Regan Marsh, who spent four weeks wearing spacesuit-like protective gear to treat Ebola patients, said that, as P.I.H. was getting involved in Sierra Leone, Dahl handled government agencies with trepidation: “Ophelia was sitting with people saying, ‘O.K., we will do this, but we are not a disaster-relief program. We will come only if you say that you are going to stay.’ Everyone said, ‘Yes, yes, we will be your partner to put a health system in here.’ And then, as soon as Ebola appeared to be stabilized, the money evaporated.” Dahl told me that you could “hear the sucking sound” as aid was pulled out of West Africa in the wake of the disease. “But, without an effective health-care system, it’s a matter of time before it resurfaces.”

It was crucial, Dahl said, that during crises people could count on organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières—“I mean, thank God for M.S.F.”—to set up self-contained triage units. But it was frustratingly difficult to persuade donors that long-term solutions are as necessary as emergency intervention. M.S.F. receives more than a billion dollars a year from donors, whereas P.I.H. takes in about seventy million. (Both organizations have four-star ratings, the highest, from Charity Navigator.) P.I.H. Sierra Leone started with an annual budget of seventeen million dollars, which has declined to five million, as donations have trailed off. “I wish we had more money,” Dahl said. “The idea that we’re constrained because we can’t find enough money, and not because we’ve failed to adapt. . . . But that’s what money forces you to do: make a series of terrible tradeoffs.”

Ariel Levy | The New Yorker
Kittiwakes and gannets are among seabirds that have joined endangered species on IUCN red list as food stocks dwindle, says study

....“Birds are well studied and great indicators of the health of the wider environment. A species at higher risk of extinction is a worrying alarm call that action needs to be taken now.”

The study found that overfishing and changes in the Pacific and north Atlantic caused by climate change have affected the availability of sand eels which black-legged kittiwakes feed on during the breeding season.

This has caused “disastrous chick survival rates”, it says, with nesting kittiwake numbers plummeting by 87% since 2000 on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and by 96% on the Hebridean island of St Kilda.

Globally, the species is thought to have declined by about 40% since the 1970s, justifying its move from the “least concern” category to “vulnerable” on the Red List.

“The alarming decline of the black-legged kittiwake and other North Atlantic and Arctic seabirds, such as the Atlantic puffin, provides a painful lesson in what happens when nations take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to conservation,” said Marguerite Tarzia, European marine conservation officer for BirdLife International.

Matthew Taylor | The Guardian
Ajit Pai's plan would leave the U.S. with a "gaping consumer protection void," say 39 senators
Julia Conley, staff writer | Common Dreams
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'
BOB SOMERBY in The DailyHowler | EVERY DAY


"Trump's utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity has been underscored during his 11 months in office," editorial states.

USA Today, the most widely-circulated newspaper in the U.S, has penned a scathing takedown of President Donald Trump, calling him "uniquely awful," unfit to clean the toilets in his predecessor's presidential library, and a person "who can always find room for a new low."

The blistering editorial, published Tuesday evening, is especially striking as its comes, as one observer noted, from a "centrist-to-conservative editorial board."

It comes on the heels of Trump's "sexist smear" against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which the editorial says showed the president "is not fit for office."

Brushing off White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders's defense of the tweeted attack, the editorial board writes: "A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush."

Beyond the unsurprising attack on Gillibrand, the piece references other "sickening behavior" by Trump, including his mocking of the numerous women who have accused him of sexual assault or harassment.

The take-away from his time at the White House thus far is clear: "Trump's utter lack of morality, ethics and simple humanity has been underscored during his 11 months in office."

The piece goes on to offer a bulleted list of this display, including his enthusiastic support of accused child molester Roy Moore; his "contempt for ethical strictures that have bound every president in recent memory"; his seizing of various incidents to promote anti-immigrant sentiment; and the fact that he appears to be "going for some sort of record for lying while in office."

That there are only half a dozen senators calling on Trump to resign is "a shock," the editorial states.

USA Today's editorial board also took an usual step ahead of the presidential election, writing that it "has never taken sides in the presidential race. We're doing it now."

That editorial also called Trump "unfit for office," and warned its readers: "Whatever you do... resist the siren song of a dangerous demagogue. By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams
'If This Bill Passes, People Will Die': Tax Scam Opponents Rally as GOP Aims for Final Vote Next Week [another 'pure' Republican bill purposely done in secret to avoid embarassing analysis]
"This tax bill was written for Republicans' wealthy campaign contributors," concluded Sen. Bernie Sanders
Jake Johnson, staff writer | Common Dreams
Bipartisan backing for the bill, which would protect immigrant youth like us and aid the economy, extends from Fortune 500 companies to faith leaders
  • This piece is part of We're Here To Stay, a Guardian series edited by Dreamers — young immigrants who arrived in the US as children, and who are now in danger of losing their right to stay here legally.
Diana Pliego, Bruna Bouhid and Jonathan Jayes-Green | The Guardian
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Five years after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, advocates who are disappointed with the failure of efforts to limit access to firearms are changing their strategy.

Instead of pressuring lawmakers to push new gun-control measures through the U.S. Congress, volunteers from groups including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America are now running for office themselves.

Nine of 13 volunteers trained by the group ran for office this year and won seats, ranging from New Hampshire state representative to city council member in West University Place, Texas. Fourteen more have already declared their intentions to run for office in 2018, seeking seats in Congress, state legislatures and local government, all running as Democrats.

“The reality is that the work doesn’t really start in Congress. That’s where it ends,” said Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, who launched her group the day after the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The group began training candidates after more than 400 of its 70,000 members said they were interested in running for office.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Watts said. “It’s going to take several election cycles.”

Even if the next class of candidates, none of whom are running as Republicans, succeed in winning office, they will face an uphill battle against a U.S. Congress controlled by Republicans, who are staunch defenders of the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Sandy Hook was at the time the second-deadliest mass shooting carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history. It sparked new energy among gun-control advocates who pushed for fresh federal restrictions on assault weapons, which were blocked by Republican lawmakers and the powerful National Rifle Association lobby.

A steady stream of mass shootings have continued across the United States since Sandy Hook, including two deadlier incidents - the slaughter of 58 people at a Las Vegas concert in October and the massacre of 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub last year.

Barbara Goldberg | Reuters
Environmental racism, extreme poverty, and disease thrive on a breathtaking scale in U.S. Black communities in the South, shocking a UN investigator.
staff | teleSUR
New York Times reported Jones statistics as 671,151 votes (49.9%), while Moore received 650,436 (48.4%) following 100 percent of precincts counted.
staff | teleSUR
After watching her home state struggle with budget shortfalls, a concerned Illinois reader urges fellow citizens to take action on pending legislation.
Nancy Turner | Common Dreams
Israeli undercover soldiers seen arresting Palestinian protesters [Palestinians need more and better weapons for a fair fight]
Footage shows officers posing as protesters before pulling out pistols and seizing stone throwers in West Bank
Peter Beaumont | The Guardian
Of more than 50,000 killings of women since 1985, nearly a third took place in last six years, official report says

....The rise in such killings coincided with Mexico’s militarised offensive against drug cartels launched in late 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón. It also roughly tracks overall homicide trends during the period.

About 12% of homicide victims in Mexico last year were women, compared with about 10% in 1985. That was down slightly from the early and mid-2000s.

“Violence against women and girls – which can result in death – is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships of power,” the report said.

The tiny state of Colima registered the country’s highest femicide rate in 2016, with 16.3 per 100,000. It was followed by the states of Guerrero, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Morelos.

....Most of those are states with a heavy presence of organized crime gangs. Guerrero, in particular, is a hotspot of cartel violence. The Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco in Guerrero registered more killings of women last year than any other municipality, with 107.

Associated Press | The Guardian
Nearly 2.7 million people have been displaced internally by conflict, violence or disasters, per the latest figures released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, IDMC, in Africa and Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, earlier this December.
staff | teleSUR
A summit of Islamic nations has issued a unified response to counter the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The draft declaration has also called on the US to withdraw from the Middle East peace process.
“The U.S. is now the most unpredictable actor in the world today.”

As conflicts ignite and burn and flicker out around the world, U.S. officials assess the dangers they represent back home. Not all of these conflicts directly threaten American interests, which is why the Council on Foreign Relations conducts an annual survey to help U.S. leaders prioritize threats in the year ahead. For the past decade, this survey has focused on the risks posed to America by foreign actors. Now it’s reckoning with the risks America poses to the world—and to itself.

“The U.S. is now the most unpredictable actor in the world today, and that has caused profound unease,” said Paul Stares, the director of CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, which produces the annual survey. “You used to be able to pretty much put the U.S. to one side and hold it constant, and look at the world and consider where the biggest sources of unpredictability, insecurity are. Now you have to include the U.S. in that. ... No one has high confidence how we [Americans] would react in any given situation, given how people assess this president.” This president might welcome the development. “I don’t want people to know exactly what I’m doing—or thinking,” Donald Trump wrote in 2015. “It keeps them off balance.”

America’s newfound unpredictability is most evident in two scenarios that emerged as the highest-priority risks identified by this year’s report, which drew on the feedback of 436 government officials and foreign-policy experts: 1) military conflict involving the United States, North Korea, and North Korea’s neighbors, and 2) an armed confrontation between Iran and the United States or a U.S. ally over Iran’s involvement in regional conflicts and support of militant groups.


France is to impose a total ban on pupils using mobile phones in primary and secondary schools starting in September 2018, its education minister has confirmed.

Phones are already forbidden in French classrooms but starting next school year, pupils will be barred from taking them out at breaks, lunch times and between lessons.

Teachers and parents are divided over a total ban, however, with some saying children must be able to "live in their time". In France, some 93 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds own mobile phones.

Henry Samuel | The Telegraph
Document suggests at least five camps are being set up as Beijing prepares for possible influx of refugees should Kim Jong-un’s regime collapse
Tom Phillips | The Guardian

Disintermediating nation-states
Marc Cherbonnier | The Baltimore Chronicle | Ref.
Although Americans are optimistic about the ordinary person's ability to help fight corruption, about 70 percent believe the U.S. government is failing at it
Jessica Corbett, staff writer | Common Dreams
Inequality report also shows UK’s 50,000 richest people have seen their share of the country’s wealth double since 1984

The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980, according to a report detailing the widening gap between the very rich and poor.

The World Inequality Report, published on Thursday by French economist Thomas Piketty, warned that inequality had ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries and said the problem would only get worse unless governments took coordinated action to increase taxes and prevent tax avoidance.

The report, which drew on the work of more than 100 researchers around the world, found that the richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016. And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more. The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth, and the top 0.001% – about 76,000 people – collected 4% of all the new wealth created since 1980.

“The top 0.1% income group (about 7 million people) captured as much of the world’s growth since 1980 as the bottom half of the adult population,” the report said. “Conversely, income growth has been sluggish or even nil for the population between the global bottom 50% and top 1%.”

The economists said wealth inequality had become “extreme” in Russia and the US. The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980. The researchers noted that “most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth owners”.

Rupert Neate | The Guardian
At the launch of their World Inequality Report, Thomas Piketty and colleagues explain the past, present and future trends of inequality around the world

....The tax bill just passed by the US Senate will not only reinforce this trend, it will turbocharge inequality in America. Presented as a tax cut for workers and job-creating entrepreneurs, it is instead a giant cut for those with capital and inherited wealth. It’s a bill that rewards the past, not the future.

Critically, the bill massively cuts corporate income taxes, mainly by reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%. Whatever one believes about the long-term effects of cutting corporate taxes, it is clear that in the short and medium term, the cut overwhelmingly benefits shareholders who can reap their additional profits without any extra work. The bill also reduces the estate tax (and even eliminates it in the version of the bill approved by the House of Representatives), and reduces income tax rates for business income that largely accrues to the top 1%. This tax plan makes the US look more and more like a rentier society.

Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman | The Guardian
The “Death Tax” Cargo Cult [we lack for morals and sanity in U.S. media & politics]
With its assault on the estate tax, the GOP is demonstrating that it’s not even under the thumb of the 1 percent, but the 0.2 percent.
Click for bigger image. A mansion in New York State. Arman Thanvir / Flickr (One of many properties?)

The estate tax is good. It acts as a modest brake on the growth of inherited wealth and the power of private dynasties, and brings money into the public coffers to boot.

That didn’t used to be very controversial. Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson were proponents of inheritance taxes, as were the nineteenth-century steel baron Andrew Carnegie and the right-wing economist Friedrich Hayek. For roughly two hundred years, outside a fringe of reactionary plutocrats, there was broad accord on the question of the estate tax. Even conservative philosophers and statesmen found it difficult to defend letting economic elites pass on large bequests to heirs unfettered.

Then something seemed to change. In the last two decades, the Republican Party began to make a show of its opposition to the estate tax. This about face is one sign, among many, of how far the GOP and American democracy generally have gone off the rails. The Republican Party now represents something unique: untethered to any intelligible political philosophy, it’s increasingly guided by nothing but a hatred for the Left and a blind devotion to the billionaire class.

The closer Mueller gets to Trump, the likelier it is that Trump will act to try to end his investigation. That’s why he must be protected now

....We are headed for a collision. Congress needs to act now to protect the Mueller investigation, head off a crisis, and make clear that the president is not above the law.

Fortunately, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are currently crafting legislation designed to deter Mueller from being fired. While this legislation is far from a panacea, it will help to tie Trump’s hands. But most importantly, it would send a signal to the country that the rule of law reigns supreme.

Whether or not this legislation makes it to the floor for a vote depends on Republican congressional leaders. Some in Congress say the legislation is unnecessary; if Mueller is fired, there will be bipartisan support on the Hill for action.

But the point is to stop the crisis before it starts. It’s not enough to let Trump act as a petty dictator and then try to pick up the pieces only after he destroys our democratic norms. Congress needs to be clear now that firing Mueller is unacceptable and un-American – we’re a nation of laws, laws that no one is above.

Max Bergmann and Max Boot | The Guardian
Who Broke the Economy? [might the recent template legislation from Koch bros.’ ALEC be implicated?]
The authors of a new book argue that government regulations have been giving an unfair advantage to those already on top.
ANNIE LOWREY | The Atlantic

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