Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Days of Future Past

Exodus 12 is very long, so we'll just take part of it today. It's a mashup of describing what is about to happen and what the Hebrews should do in the next two weeks; and what they will be required to do every year in the future to commemorate it. Note that God gives time for a lengthy buildup to the 10th plague and the exodus, apparently so that future commemorations can also be of substantial duration.

 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb[a] for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.
These instructions are weirdly specific. It isn't clear whether everyone, including the children and women, needs to be holding a staff. Do they have to eat the eyeballs, the brains, the intestines? And why? Note also the obvious contrivance that  the implication later on is that they have to eat unleavened bread because they are forced to leave in haste  and don't have time to let the bread rise. But in fact they have two weeks warning. They have to go out of their way to make unleavened bread. (Probably the people who wrote this used a sourdough method. KJV has "leaven" rather than "yeast," which had not been isolated or identified in the 6th century BC, let alone the 20th.)

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.
Sorry to keep harping on this but it is just so effing stupid. All of the animals are already dead. They were killed in the sixth plague. Then they were killed again in the hailstorm. Then their firstborn, who were already dead twice, were killed for the third time. Now they're going to be killed a fourth time. Anyhow verse 12 shows very clearly that this is about throwing shade on the gods of Egypt, not about getting the Hebrews out of captivity. That could have happened long ago but YHWH hardened Pharaoh's heart to make this show possible.
13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
Right. God wouldn't know that Hebrews were in the house if they didn't put lamb's blood on the door. Note that no such sign was  necessary for the prior plagues, but apparently the old guy is slipping.
14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.
17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”
This repeated emphasis on unleavened bread and the extreme importance given to it hard to understand as symbolism. Again, it obviously isn't really about haste since the requirement is to go without leavening for a week. (Again, the word "yeast" is presumably a mistranslation as the authors of this had no idea of the existence of yeast.  KJV more properly has "leaven".)
21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 
This hyssop is apparently not the modern culinary herb, but a wild plant of uncertain identity used in Hebrew rites of purification.
When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
24 “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27 then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.
 I have already said enough, I think, about God's moral character. Murdering all the firstborn of Egypt is not really the right thing to do. Also, too, God really can't tell which houses the Hebrews live in without spotting the blood on the doorframe? If you take a moment to think about it, this whole thing is really weird.

  1. Exodus 12:3 The Hebrew word can mean lamb or kid; also in verse 4.

Friday, June 28, 2019

And Down is Up

Update: Jimmy Carter isn't afraid to say it.  Maybe the dam will finally break.

Since I've started comment moderation I have found that it places a psychological burden on me to explain why I reject comments. The general criterion is that comments get shitcanned if they do not make any positive contribution to discourse. Sometimes I let comments through that are factually wrong or logically flawed just for the sake of pointing that out. I figure they show that people are out there who actually believe stuff that is false or nonsensical so it's a guide to what needs refutation.

But I'm getting tired of stuff that's so rucking fidiculous that it doesn't merit dignifying with a response. I'm going to dignify this one anyway because it's obvious that too many people are still getting their information from William Barr and the Three Stooges on Fox and Friends. I'm going to make one more attempt to break through the epistemological bubble, then I'm done.

Also, the individual who made this inane comment is hereby permanently banned. I have better things to do than argue with the impenetrably dense.

The comment in question is that Donald J. Trump was a "victim" of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Here are some actual True Facts from the Mueller report.  (Yeah yeah, rigged witch hunt. It also totally exonerated him.)

In an unprecedented attack on political infrastructure of the United States, military officers in Russia hacked into Democrats’ computers, stole emails, and release them to embarrass Clinton. The plot was first hatched years earlier, according to Mueller’s team, when Russians began studying how to manipulate Americans and turn them against each other, with one key lesson being to exploit the country’s racism. Working from a “troll farm” in St. Petersburg, Russians spread anti-Clinton fake news and pro-Trump propaganda across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram—all the while Silicon Valley slept.
And of course Trump knew perfectly well that this was going on, while it was going on, and he publicly encouraged it. It is true that Mueller did not recommend criminal charges for conspiracy, although some have questioned this decision. But he did conclude:

[T]he investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference. The Office charged some of those lies as violations of the federal false statements statute …
The Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated—including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts. Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.
Hmm. What are you trying to hide? But the beneficiary of this unprecedented interference in our politics thinks it's all a big joke.

In Japan at the G20 -- and sitting beside Vladimir Putin before the duo's first meeting since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report -- Trump was asked whether he would tell the Russian President not to meddle in future American elections.
"Don't meddle in the election, please," Trump said, smirking and wagging his finger at Putin.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
The dismissiveness is dripping in Trump's comment. You want me to say the little thing to the nice man? I'll say it. You happy now? (Pats collective media on head).
He wants the media -- and everyone watching -- to know that he's just going through the motions, that he doesn't really believe that he needs to tell Putin not to involved Russia in future elections. He's checking a box, in the most sarcastic way possible.

He doesn't seem to feel victimized. And it is preposterous to argue that the Russian interference didn't affect the outcome, not that it particularly matters. We can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but it's pretty damn clearAlso this. People don't want to face up to it because they don't want to deal with the implications.  Professor Campos explains.

As many people have pointed out, the legacy American media are not equipped to deal with a president like Trump. For one thing they can’t absorb the fact that the president of the United States is both a complete moral monster and utterly unfit for office in even the most prosaic terms, because that would mean the system had failed in a radical way, which can’t happen because that’s unimaginably bad, which means it’s impossible.
Something else follows from all this: If you support Donald Trump in any way, you will come to truly despise anyone who points out what a horrible thing you are doing. This too is part of the basic logic of hatred leading to eventual dehumanization: for example, as many students of the Holocaust have pointed out, the Nazis may have started out persecuting the Jews because they hated them, but they soon moved on to hating them because they persecuted them.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Up is Down

As we all know -- at least those of us who can differentiate between our anuses and a hole in the ground -- agents of the Russian government, and specifically Russian military intelligence, conducted a massive operation to influence the 2016 election in favor of their preferred candidate, Donald J. Trump. Time Magazine summarizes:

Over the course of the election, a wide-ranging group of Russians probed state voter databases for insecurities; hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee; tried to hack the campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio and the Republican National Committee; released politically damaging information on the internet; spread propaganda on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram; staged rallies in Florida and Pennsylvania; set up meetings with members of the Trump campaign and its associates; and floated a business proposition for a skyscraper in Moscow to the Trump Organization.
The goal, as determined by the U.S. intelligence community and backed up by evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller: To damage the Clinton campaign, boost Trump’s chances and sow distrust in American democracy overall.

YouTube, in case you didn't know it, a service the Russians used to spread propaganda, is a subsidiary of Google. In addition to YouTube, the Russians subverted Google in other ways, including advertisements. Many people are concerned about this -- they don't want Russia to be deciding our elections -- although the beneficiary of this is not. He has said that he will welcome foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election and when asked just yesterday if he would speak to Vladimir Putin about election interference at the G20 summit said that it's none of our business what he says to Putin. That's right, it's none of your business -- you, a citizen, taxpayer and voter -- what your president says to a foreign dictator.

Since even some Republicans in congress have at least pretended to be concerned about Russian interference in the past, and Democrats are concerned today, Google executives are at least pretending that they don't want a repeat of the events of 2016. However, they aren't saying exactly what they intend to do about it, although a Google executive was recently found to have said that she didn't think Elizabeth Warren's proposal to break up the big tech companies was the right solution.

You can decide for yourself what, if anything, is nefarious in the above paragraph, but it has created a Breitbart/Fox News freakout. They want their sheepish followers to believe that the assertion that Google does not want to see the subversion of the 2016 election repeated proves that they have a partisan bias. I kid you not. That's how stupid they think you are. Maybe you are.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

None so blind . . .

Just a quick note. This is an important fundamental principle of epistemology.

Fox News is propaganda. It's all lies. You must understand that if you want to have a properly functioning intellect.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Long Emergency: The Second Necessity

The first necessity is of course oxygen. Without it you'll die in a couple of minutes. The second is water, without which you'll be lucky to last a week.

If you enter "Global Water Crisis" into your favorite Internet search engine, you will get pages of documents with enough information to earn a Ph.D. I actually recommend the Wikipedia article in this instance, which is very thorough and well presented. It's also very long so you might want to take a look at the more succinct entry at the World Resources Institute. That one is a couple of years old and things have already gotten worse.

The fact is that over the past century, the percentage of humans who have access to adequate clean water and sanitation has increased. However, we have now bumped up against the limit, even as the supply is contracting in many places due to climate change. Hotter temperatures mean that whatever rain does fall evaporates faster, but precipitation is also decreasing in some places, particularly near the equator. Of course population growth creates more demand for water -- for drinking and household use, for agriculture, and for industrial use. Much of the demand has been met by withdrawing ground water, but that is a finite resource and its running out in many places.

India is one of the hardest hit countries, and the city of Chennai has now completely run out of water. It's being trucked in. Several other cities in India are expected to run out of water next year, and cities in Africa are also facing imminent crises.

But we have problems right here in the U.S. of A. One fifth of U.S. agricultural production is dependent on the Ogallala aquifer, a vast underground lake in the Great Plains. This region is known as America's  breadbasket, but it's actually semi-arid. As farmers have pumped out the aquifer, the water level has dropped as much as 150 feet in some places and well have been abandoned.

Today the Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted at an annual volume equivalent to 18 Colorado Rivers. Although precipitation and river systems are recharging a few parts of the northern aquifer, in most places nature cannot keep up with human demands. “We have optimistic locations. Other places we can see the end,” says David Pope, who administered groundwater regulations in Kansas from 1983 to 2007 as the state’s chief engineer.
Some farmers are trying to shift to dryland crops, but the pumping continues. At the present rate the whole thing will be gone in about 50 years, but it will be gone much sooner than that in many counties. The main consumer is livestock and livestock feed, mostly beef.

So what can we do about this?

Ending greenhouse gas emissions an slowing climate change is the first, most critical measure, because it will have the most widespread impact.

Stopping human population growth is the second most critical measure.

Switching from beef to a plant based diet will make a huge difference.

We waste a lot of water, with inefficient irrigation methods, leaky pipes, and just plain profligacy.

Finally, we have to recognize the real cost of water and price it accordingly. That will require subsidies for low income people, but it's the same deal with fossil fuels. They need to be taxed to price in their real social cost. Income redistribution is necessary anyway, so let's do both.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: On the Sanctity of Human Life

Exodus 11 is on the short side. It is also crystal clear about the real meaning of all this.

 Now the Lord had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.”
 I'll just note again that we don't know how God is doing all this talking. Does Moses hear the voice in his head, does it come down from the sky, is there yet another burning bush? Anyway, KJV has it that the people are to "borrow" the silver and gold from their (presumably Egyptian) neighbors, which is obviously stealing  since their intention is to make off with it. Again, isn't there going to be a commandment about that? Hmm.

3 (The Lord made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)
The  parentheses are added by the translators, of course. I'm not sure why. Anyway apparently this is supposed to explain why the Egyptians handed over their valuables to slaves. In any case it's quite odd.

So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well.
The cattle are already all dead, remember? They were exterminated in the fifth plague, and then, even though they were already all dead, they were killed again in the hail. I need hardly point out that there seems to be something a little bit wrong about murdering all these people, maybe? None of them is responsible for Pharaoh refusing to let the Israelites go. God is responsible for that, as he keeps hardening Pharaoh's heart.
There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8
Aha, now we get it.  This is not the universal God most Christians and Jews understand  today. This God is specific to the Hebrews and cares only about them. The whole point of this exercise is to prove that.
All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
The Lord had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you—so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

So there you go. God is causing Pharaoh not to let  the people go for the purpose of giving himself an excuse to murder all the firstborn sons of Egypt. He is not murdering the firstborn sons for the purpose of freeing the Israelites, he is doing it to prove that he doesn't give a shit about Egyptians, and is capable of murdering them. That is the entire point of this story.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Many of my friends in the Reality Based Community are very puzzled by the adulation given by what seems to be an irreducible 39% of Americans to a man who is a massive failure as a businessman, who squandered a fortune given to him by his father only to be given another one; who squandered the second fortune and turned to supporting himself by laundering money for Russian gangsters and appearing on Nonreality TV as a fictitious version of himself; who is a racist who launched his political career promoting the racist lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States; a serial sexual predator; an ignoramus; a pathological liar; a malignant narcissist; a cowardly bully who incites to violence when he isn't taunting anyone who displeases him with moronic insults unworthy of a second-grader; and who was placed in office by a foreign adversary that is very obviously blackmailing him.

Chris Hedges offers an explanation. The phenomenon of the personality cult has ample precedent and it always adheres to particularly repulsive figures. As Hedges explains,

Cult leaders arise from decayed communities and societies in which people have been shorn of political, social and economic power. The disempowered, infantilized by a world they cannot control, gravitate to cult leaders who appear omnipotent and promise a return to a mythical golden age. The cult leaders vow to crush the forces, embodied in demonized groups and individuals, that are blamed for their misery. The more outrageous the cult leaders become, the more they flout law and social conventions, the more they gain in popularity. Cult leaders are immune to the norms of established society. This is their appeal. Cult leaders demand a God-like power. Those who follow them grant them this power in the hope that the cult leaders will save them. . . .

It was 40 years ago next month that a messianic preacher named Jim Jones convinced or forced more than 900 of his followers, including roughly 280 children, to die by ingesting a cyanide-laced drink. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge and address the impending crisis of ecocide and the massive mismanagement of the economy by kleptocrats, his bellicosity, his threats against Iran and China and the withdrawal from nuclear arms treaties, along with his demonization of all who oppose him, ensure our cultural and, if left unchecked, physical extinction. Cult leaders are driven, at their core, by the death instinct, the instinct to annihilate and destroy rather than nurture and create. . . .  Cult leaders are narcissists. They demand obsequious fawning and total obedience. They prize loyalty above competence. They wield absolute control. They do not tolerate criticism. They are deeply insecure, a trait they attempt to cover up with bombastic grandiosity. They are amoral and emotionally and physically abusive. They see those around them as objects to be manipulated for their own empowerment, enjoyment and often sadistic entertainment. All those outside the cult are branded as forces of evil, prompting an epic battle whose natural expression is violence.
Chauncey DeVega interviewed Steven Hassan, a leading expert on cults, who had this to say:

Donald Trump fits the stereotypical profile of a cult leader. His followers fit the model as well. Many of them, especially the ones that say, “He could do anything and we would still believe him, we would still follow him,” sound like people who have been indoctrinated into a totalistic mindset. Trump's strategies of fear programming, redefining reality and defining independent journalism as "fake news" mirrors a country on the verge of a totalitarian takeover. 

Rebecca Nelson talked with an expert on cults back in 2016.

Like many moderates in the party, [Rick Alan] Ross, the executive director of the Cult Education Institute and a lifelong Republican, had watched Trump’s rise with mounting distaste. But Trump’s rhetoric at the RNC—“I alone can fix it”—clicked the pieces into place. “That kind of pronouncement is typical of many cult leaders, who say that ‘my way is the only way, I am the only one,’” Ross says. “That was a very defining moment.”
When I called Ross, I cut right to the chase, asking, “Is Trump a cult leader?” I didn’t get more than a few words in for the next 20 minutes as he dove into the evidence: the nominee’s deep-rooted narcissism, his lack of transparency, many of his supporters’ blind, full-throttled adoration. . . .
Read the article for Ross's point-by-point analysis of the Trump cult of personality, including this:

“You just can't put that material [about Scientology] in front of a true believer and it has any effect,” [cult expert Tony]Ortega says. “And I think people are seeing the same thing with Trump. Trump creates this sort of field, this bubble, that the people inside of it are just incapable of seeing these things as those on the outside.”

That reality distortion field is in full force with Trump’s supporters. Despite his bankruptcies and spectacular business failings (Trump Vodka, anyone? No?), the notion that he’s a successful businessman who would bring the same acuity to running the country is one of the pillars of his campaign. And though nearly 80 percent of the things he says are outright lies, he manages to pin the blame on the “dishonest” and “biased” media. Many of his followers, already distrustful of mainstream news outlets, accept whatever rationalization he provides, no matter how outlandish.

I don't know how you get through to people who have drunk the KoolAid. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Yes Collusion

It's a bit off topic for this blog, but astonishingly, something like half of all Americans believe that the Mueller investigation found "no collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russia. That is false, and of course they have not read the report. The problem is that Mueller has been rather cryptic in his public statements, the Attorney General misrepresented the report and the corporate media went along with the scam for two weeks before anybody had a chance to actually read even a redacted version,  and the Orange Resident himself keeps screaming "No collusion, No collusion," which his cult takes as truth even though everything he says is a lie.

I'll outsource to Bob Cesca. You need to read the whole thing (it isn't terribly long) and then perhaps actually read the Mueller report. You may end up with a somewhat different point of view. But I'll pull some quotes to give you the general outline.

[L]oyalists continue to repeat the “NO COLLUSION!' lie with very little push-back. The all-caps falsehood gains momentum every time Trump repeats it. Likewise, Bill Barr’s March 24 letter and his subsequent public remarks erroneously confirmed Trump’s lie before anyone, including Congress, was allowed to actually read the report.
The lies were thicker than Trump’s AquaNet during a must-see one-hour interview special with George Stephanopoulos, originally broadcast this past Sunday night. During an awkwardly staged conversation in “The Beast,” Trump’s presidential limousine, the president insisted to Stephanopoulos that Mueller literally reported “no collusion.” Predictably, this is a lie. . . .
 Mueller clearly writes, “In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion.’”
Mueller instead looked for a criminal conspiracy in which the Trump people and the Russian government entered into an agreement, “tacit or express,” to mutually participate in skewing the 2016 election toward Trump. Therefore, “the Office's focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.” . . .

Mueller writes on page 9: “... the evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.” Simply put: there was evidence of conspiracy but not enough evidence to seek a criminal indictment. Mueller added that Trump campaign officials lied to investigators, which “impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.” The lies and the cover-up, drawn from mob tactics, flummoxed Mueller’s work.
On page 9, Mueller also writes that “the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.” These “links” are roughly more than 100 clandestine meetings between Trump officials and Russians listed and described in Mueller’s report — meetings nearly all of these officials repeatedly lied about. . . .

Throughout 2017 and 2018, as we devoured bombshell after bombshell about these meetings, most of us defined what we observed as the non-legal term “collusion.” In fact, it’s a fairly reasonable semantic jump from “links” to “collusion,” especially when we factor in Mueller’s reporting on Paul Manafort’s meetings with reputed former Russian GRU agent Konstantin Kilimnik, during which the men discussed everything from influencing the president to backstop Putin on Ukraine, to delivering proprietary internal polling data on “battleground states” Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to Kilimnik — the latter being one of the most shocking items in the report, given that those three states tipped the Electoral College in Trump's favor. . . .

Finally, there’s a significant portion of the equation entirely missing from the Mueller Report, perhaps the most important element in this entire saga: Whether the president is compromised by Russia, the question at the heart of the mysterious counterintelligence investigation currently underway at the FBI.  . . .

To boil this down: The Russians know where Trump’s money comes from; they know how Trump won the election; they know what Trump’s people said in all those meetings — wouldn't it be a shame if that information was leaked to the Wall Street Journal. A threat like this alone could be enough to keep Trump in line with the Kremlin’s interests. Hence, Trump’s ongoing and impeachable collusion with Russia. ...

Once again, Trump is treating his most faithful disciples like suckers who continue to swallow the lies of a well-documented con man with decades of history. The complexities of the report as well as Bill Barr’s artful preemptive obfuscation aided in this deception, assuring that the “no collusion” lie would travel around the world several times before the truth got its pants on.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Long Emergency: Jet Stream Confusion

One common strategy of denialists is to point to spells of unusually cool weather in some particular place. This has certainly been available to them lately, with notable outbreaks of arctic cold last winter in parts of the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes. This included the beloved home of Cervantes by the way. Trying to explain that is happening because of global warming is very difficult when you are confronting motivated reasoning combined with lack of knowledge and complete disinterest in obtaining any.

The first point people need to get into their heads is that it's a big planet -- well, at least by the standards of us puny beings. Local conditions are what we all notice, but the entire United States takes up less than 2% of the earth's surface and about 6% of the earth's land surface. In other words it can be unusually cold in half of the U.S. and the contribution to the average temperature of the planet will be negligible. There will always be weather, and some days will be colder than average, but weather is not climate, which is the long-term probability of particular weather conditions.

The second point is that the reason it was so cold in parts of the north central and and northeastern U.S. for a brief time last winter is that arctic air was displaced to the south. Meanwhile, the arctic was unusually warm. This happened because the so-called polar vortex weakened, causing the jet stream to become unusually wavy. The jet stream is a river of air that flows west to east and divides colder arctic air from warmer temperate air. With the disappearance of arctic sea ice and the warmer arctic, the jet stream is becoming wavier, with big loops the pull cold air south and warm air north. These also create blocks that keep weather patterns in place for a long time, causing extended heat waves, droughts and raininess. That is why we are seeing both more droughts and more floods, more unusual heat events and more unusual cold events.

Right now Greenland is exceptionally warm causing unprecedented ice melting. We don't yet know whether this will continue for the rest of the season, but the current melting is a month ahead of schedule. I don't have to remind you of the midwestern floods this spring, which are still going on. Farmers have suffered many billions of dollars in losses and many will never recover. Flooding on the Mississippi halted barge traffic for several weeks, making it impossible for farmers with stored crops to get them to market. And the unprecedented fires in the far west and recent record high temperatures are the consequence of a northern excursion of the jet stream.

These same phenomena are affecting Europe and Siberia. Outbreaks of unusually cold winter weather, unusually warm weather, drought and flood. Now, the global average temperature continues to increase while all this is going on, which means that the cold outbreaks won't be quite as cold and the hot outbreaks will be even hotter. But it's the hot side that is most worrisome because it harms agriculture -- in fact will make some land no longer usable, either because of insufficient water or too frequent flooding. It is also making some already hot parts of the planet essentially uninhabitable. It is a major contributor to the crisis of international migration.

The only way to slow this down is to quickly reduce and then eliminate carbon emissions. But whatever we do, it will continue and get worse.  So be prepared.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Hard, hard heart

I forgot to index last week's entry, it was Exodus 9. Here's Exodus 10, which makes very clear what is really going on here.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”
Let's review, because this is important. Earlier we learned that God would harden Pharaoh's heart. Pharaoh was inclined  to let the Hebrews go early on in this story, but God made sure that he did not because God wanted to inflict all these horrors on the Egyptians. The reason God wanted to do that is to prove his own power. And the only reason he wants the Hebrews to be freed in the first place is so they can worship him. God is a malignant narcissist and a psychopath.

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. [emphasis added] 4 If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your parents nor your ancestors have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.’” Then Moses turned and left Pharaoh.
Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God. Do you not yet realize that Egypt is ruined?”
Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he said. “But tell me who will be going.”
Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, with our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.”
10 Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil.[a] 11 No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.
12 And the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.”
Again, it seems God can't perform this particular miracle without the help of Moses's magic wand. 
13 So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt.
This particular plague is fairly realistic. The account claims it was the worst ever, but real plagues of locusts do pretty much devour everything. Of course they were a pretty common occurrence in the region so no miracle here.As with the cattle, God has already killed every plant in Egypt with the hail, but now he kills them again.
16 Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. 17 Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the Lord your God to take this deadly plague away from me.”
18 Moses then left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 And the Lord changed the wind to a very strong west wind, which caught up the locusts and carried them into the Red Sea.[b] Not a locust was left anywhere in Egypt. 20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.
Yep, Pharaoh really did intend to let the people go but the Lord once again hardened his heart. God doesn't want the Israelites to be freed nearly as much as he wants to murder all the first-born Egyptian males. That's his true objective, as explicitly declared here.
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. 23 No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.
Why couldn't the Egyptians light their oil pots? Don't ask.
24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Even your women and children may go with you; only leave your flocks and herds behind.”
25 But Moses said, “You must allow us to have sacrifices and burnt offerings to present to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind. We have to use some of them in worshiping the Lord our God, and until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the Lord.”
27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.
And again.
28 Pharaoh said to Moses, “Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.”
29 “Just as you say,” Moses replied. “I will never appear before you again.”


  1. Exodus 10:10 Or Be careful, trouble is in store for you!
  2. Exodus 10:19 Or the Sea of Reeds

Friday, June 14, 2019

Health Insurance 101 -- yet again

I just cannot understand why it is so difficult to get people to grasp what seems to me a simple idea. Let's try one more time.

The purpose of insurance is to spread risk. That's the essence of the concept. Health insurance (or health care insurance as some prefer to say) is different from other kinds of insurance in some ways, so let's just talk about health insurance.

Health care costs are unpredictable. It is true that there are risk factors associated with some conditions, most notably smoking tobacco. Nevertheless, no matter how healthful your lifestyle, you still just might need expensive health care. You might be hit by a bus. You might get breast cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or Type 1 diabetes or some other autoimmune disease. Most lung cancer is associated with smoking but some people who have never smoked get lung cancer. Your son might develop a substance use disorder, no matter how regularly your family attends church and how fervently you pray. It happens.

So-called Health Sharing Ministries are not insurance. They are unregulated and they do not guarantee payment. What is more, they explicitly cap annual and lifetime costs at a fairly low level. That's why they are cheap!* Yes, they are also cheap because they enroll only people who are healthy and don't need expensive health care, and they explicitly exclude certain risk behaviors. But even if you scrupulously obey your religious prohibition against tobacco and having unprotected sex with various people, you might eat a lot of red meat, be physically inactive, and be obese.

Not that any of that matters, because you may still be diagnosed with diabetes or MS or cancer, or get hit by a bus, whereupon you will go to the exchange and enroll in real health insurance, because now you need it and your health sharing ministry won't cover your costs. You can do that because the ACA requires the insurance companies to sell you insurance regardless of any pre-existing conditions, and they can't charge you more for it. Thanks Obama!

The only problem is that you weren't paying in like everybody else when you were healthy and didn't need a lot of expensive health care. That means real insurance is more expensive for everybody, because you are a freeloader, and you are stealing from everybody who isn't a member of your hypocritical, sanctimonious cult.

There is a commandment about stealing, I believe. Funny thing though, the Ten Commandments that "Christians" like Roy Moore want to post in courtrooms and classrooms are heavily redacted. Yep, that's the word. They are edited to omit all the embarrassing parts. You also have to pick which of the three different versions of the Ten Commandments you want to show in edited form. We'll get to that in the Sunday Sermonette series in a few weeks, but you may be very surprised by what we find.

* I made an error in the comments. HSM membership did provide exemption from the individual mandate in the original version of the ACA. Of course now with no more individual mandate it really doesn't matter.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A couple of thoughts about fairness and justice

Item One: You don't hear anybody say "Why should I be forced to buy car insurance? I haven't crashed my car or injured anybody with it." And you don't hear people say "Why should I be forced to buy homeowner's insurance? [Which is required if you have a mortgage]. My house isn't on fire."

So why is health insurance any different? It isn't just about whether you have a right to take a chance on not being able to pay for medical care if you do end up needing it. If you're hit by a bus the ambulance will take you to the Emergency Department and they will do whatever they must to save your life. That will cost a lot of money and somebody has to pay for it. Furthermore if you become disabled because of a condition that could have been prevented by appropriate medical care, you will not be able to support your dependents and you will become a ward of society. If you have an untreated or preventable communicable disease, you may infect others.

There are more arguments to be made here but I'll finish with this. You will get older and sicker some day and you will definitely need medical care and decide that it's in your interest to buy insurance, if you can afford it. But if there are a whole lot of people like you who decided not to buy it when they were young and healthy, it will be expensive; and you'll still  be freeloading on those young and healthy people who did buy it. These are among the reasons why every country on earth that can afford it requires that every citizen (and generally speaking non-citizen residents as well) has what amounts to health insurance, and that everybody with an income contributes to paying for it one way or another. For me, the more progressive the payment mechanism the better, and it is always somewhat progressive, but that's a matter of degree and it's arguable.

So the Affordable Care Act, in its original form, had a mandate to buy health insurance if you didn't get it through employment, Medicare or Medicaid. Like required automobile and homeowner's insurance, it also established minimal standards for what had to be covered. Finally, it included subsidies to make it affordable, which means that for most low and middle income people it was a very good deal.

There were problems for people in states that chose not to expand Medicaid, who fell into the resulting gap. That is of course the fault of Republican legislators and governors, along with the Supreme Court. There is one more category of people who felt they were harmed by the ACA, which is people with incomes too high to qualify for subsidies, and who previously had chosen to buy crappy insurance that didn't meet ACA standards. Now their insurance became more expensive. Boo hoo. If you have a behavioral health need, you're covered. And you can afford it. So stop whining.

Item Two: It is baffling to me why some people are offended, or feel that their rights are violated, because rights are extended to other people who -- for wholly irrational reasons -- they don't like. If people of the same sex are allowed to get married, how on earth does it hurt anybody else? You can still marry whoever you want to. People make the bizarre claim that  by opposing same sex marriage, they are defending "traditional marriage." That is idiotic. Traditional marriage is still available. It is completely unaffected.

Likewise, what possible harm can it do to you if transgendered or otherwise non-typically gendered people are protected from discrimination? They exist, okay? Your God made them, Pope Francis. Why do you care if they are in your workplace or your school or your favorite restaurant? That doesn't harm you, and it doesn't prevent you from practicing your religion and thinking they will go to hell. It doesn't stop your preacher from saying that in church, as a matter of fact. You can believe whatever you want, however asinine it may be, and you can pray and preach however you want as well. Why is this even an issue?

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Long Emergency: Politics Vs. Reality

Administrative note: I'll probably do these posts on Tuesdays or Wednesdays going forward, not Mondays.

Anyway, the United States is the only country in the OECD in which one of the major political parties -- in fact the current ruling party -- denies the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Now they are even going so far as to organize a fake "scientific" panel to discredit the established, incontrovertible scientific truth of what humans are doing to the planet, including themselves. The Resident has appointed a crank named William Happer to the National Security Panel with the specific responsibility of discrediting the scientific consensus. Now the administration is even calling LNG "molecules of freedom." This is completely insane of course.

While the Democratic candidates for president all recognize the urgency of humanity's situation, to varying degrees and with varying emphasis, the Democratic National Committee is trying to downplay the issue, whether because they think it isn't a winner with the voters or they don't want to alienate donors. I would have to say the latter is the correct explanation.

What you need to do is take action. Extinction Rebellion U.S. has arrived. This is their manifesto:

We Demand:

These demands only represent XR US. They are still in the process of development.


That the Government must tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, it must reverse all policies not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change including what individuals, communities and businesses need to do.


The Government must enact legally-binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet’s worth of resources per year.


We do not trust our Government to make the bold, swift and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage, creating a democracy fit for purpose.


We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.

Creating a democracy fit for purpose. Now there's an idea.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Get your story straight

You can run into problems when  you start adding plagues . . .

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” If you refuse to let them go and continue to hold them back, the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field—on your horses, donkeys and camels and on your cattle, sheep and goats. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and that of Egypt, so that no animal belonging to the Israelites will die.’”
You may recall that in Genesis, keeping cattle is described as an "abomination"to the Egyptians, which is why the Hebrews had to be isolated in Goshen so the Egyptians wouldn't be offended. Evidently they've gotten over it. Also, it seems a bit surprising that the Israelites, who are now slaves, are allowed to keep their cattle, but whatever.

The Lord set a time and said, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this in the land.” And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. Pharaoh investigated and found that not even one of the animals of the Israelites had died. Yet his heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go.
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”
Sometimes God just does the miracle himself, and sometimes he need Moses or Aaron to perform some mumbo jumbo to make it happen.  Presumably the animals that get the festering boils do not include cattle, because the cattle are all dead, right?
10 So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on people and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and on all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, 14 or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. 15 For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. 16 But I have raised you up[a] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 
As I said last time, the point of all this is for God to strut his stuff and show that he's the awesomest God around, since he could have just softened Pharaoh's heart instead of hardening it, and the Israelites would have been free a long time ago.
You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. 19 Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every person and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die.’”
Oh, so the livestock aren't dead after all.  I quote from verse 6, at the top of this very page. "And the next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, . . ."
20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt—on people and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23 When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. 25 Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields—both people and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26 The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.
27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. “This time I have sinned,” he said to them. “The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the Lord, for we have had enough thunder and hail. I will let you go; you don’t have to stay any longer.”
29 Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the Lord. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But I know that you and your officials still do not fear the Lord God.”
31 (The flax and barley were destroyed, since the barley had headed and the flax was in bloom. 32 The wheat and spelt, however, were not destroyed, because they ripen later.)
This detail seems oddly gratuitous. 
33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. 34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts. 35 So Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had said through Moses.


  1. Exodus 9:16 Or have spared you

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Speaking of Faux News . . .

Holy crap, this has got to be the stupidest goddamn thing I have ever read in my life. From Tucker Carlson. whose bow tie is evidently choking off the oxygen supply to his tiny brain:

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny -- the metric system. From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds.
JAMES PANERO: I am joining you tonight as an anti-metrite. I'm taking a stand against the metric system -- the original system of global revolution and new world orders.
CARLSON: God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant creepy system that we alone have resisted.
I fear that even to comment on this is degrading. Satire is obviously obsolete, because this would be great satire but it's real. These clowns think they are serious.

The metric system was  first created in France after the revolution of 1789, which was not global and did not have any relationship to a new world order. But it did not gain formal international status until an international conference in 1875, which involved 17 nations, none of them revolutionary, including the United States. As a matter of fact the units of the British Imperial System, which is commonly used in the U.S., are defined in terms of the metric system. It is now formally called the International System of Units.

Americans who haven't already done so should familiarize themselves with the metric system, as it is the international standard of commerce and science. The system we use is indeed weird and inelegant, but the whole point of the metric system is that it is not. As the Wikipedia article says,

The metric system was designed to have properties that make it easy to use and widely applicable, including units based on the natural world, decimal ratios, prefixes for multiples and sub-multiples, and a structure of base and derived units. It is also a coherent system, which means that its units do not introduce conversion factors not already present in equations relating quantities. It has a property called rationalisation that eliminates certain constants of proportionality in equations of physics.
It makes calculations and conversions easy. One cubic centimeter of water weighs one gram. A thousand grams are a kilogram and that's also 10 X 10 X 10 centimeters of water. A thousand kilograms is a metric ton which is one cubic meter of water. Since all the relationships are multiples of ten, conversions and calculations are easy! Twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, 5,280 feet in mile, 16 ounces in a pound, these are all a pain in the ass when it comes to computation. So go metric! 

B. Hussein Obama saved you a bundle

There seems to have been some question about whether the ACA actually reduced health care costs. The answer, from the Office of the Actuary of the Department of Health and Human Services, is that it cumulatively from 2010 to 2017 the ACA reduced health care spending a total of $2.3 trillion. Savings in 2017 alone were $650 billion.

No doubt this will be a headline story at Fox News.

Update: A reader has drawn my attention to certain mendacious comments by industrial shills on Dr. Emanuel's article. So let me make a couple of things clear:

In some of the state exchanges, premiums increased after the first year of the ACA. This is because insurance companies competed for customers in the first year, and to some extent underestimated what their costs would be in part because previously uninsured people tend to be expensive when they finally do get insurance. This is not to be confused with total spending on health care in the U.S. (Thanks to the subsidies in the ACA, consumers do not actually pay for these increases out of pocket, BTW.)

Second, health care spending in the U.S. has historically increased at greater than the rate of inflation, i.e. health care spending takes a growing share of GDP year after year. The ACA did not reverse this trend, but substantially reduced it. Here is a more detailed discussion:

In 2010, the government predicted that Medicare costs would rise 20 percent in just five years. That’s from $12,376 per beneficiary in 2014 to $14,913 by 2019. Instead, analysts were shocked to find out spending had dropped by $1,000 per person, to $11,328 by 2014. It happened due to four specific reasons:
  1. The ACA reduced payments to Medicare Advantage providers. The providers' costs for administering Parts A and B were rising much faster than the government’s costs. The providers' couldn't justify the higher prices. Instead, it appeared as though they were overcharging the government. 
  2. Medicare began rolling out accountable care organizations, bundled payments , and value-based payments. [Editors note: All components of the ACA.] Spending on hospital care has stayed the same since 2011. Part of the reason for this is that hospital readmissions dropped by 150,000 a year in 2012 and 2013. That’s one of the areas hospitals get penalized if they exceed standards. It resulted in increased efficiency and quality of patient care. [Also a provision of the ACA.]
  1. High-income earners paid more in Medicare payroll taxes and Part B and D premiums. For more, see Obamacare taxes.
  2. In 2013, sequestration lowered Medicare payments by 2 percent to providers and plans.
Based on these new trends, Medicare spending was projected to grow just 5.3 percent a year between 2014 and 2024. 

BTW, Ezekiel Emanuel "is the current Vice Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Previously, Emanuel served as the Diane and Robert Levy University Professor at Penn. He holds a joint appointment at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School and was formerly an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School until 1998 when he joined the National Institutes of Health" So obviously he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Long Emergency: Transportation

Many people who consider themselves to be environmentalists have a romantic vision of people living in rural communities in some form of harmony with nature. That sort of worked, or could have worked, before the demographic transition and the population explosion we looked at in the first installment of this series. But it doesn't work with 7 billion people or even 1 billion.

Remember that half of the earth's habitable surface is already dedicated to agriculture. Rural places aren't generally natural at all. And as affluent granola crunchers build their houses along the wilderness interface, they degrade what's left of the wilderness and consume resources commuting. In low income countries, rural villagers do not live in harmony with nature, they despoil it.

While we ultimately need to reduce the human population, we must understand that the most sustainable way for people to live now is for most of them to be concentrated in cities. That gets them out of what's left of the wild and has many benefits for individuals and humanity as a whole. Benefits include:

  • Better access to health care and to public health amenities is possible.
  • Shorter distance to transport goods and people saves energy and time.
  • Increase in labor productivity because you have a critical mass of people.
  • People who live in urban areas earn more.
  • Better sanitary services are possible: potable water, sanitation, transport and recycling of waste.
  • Tight grouping of people allows social and cultural integration at a level not available to people in rural areas.
  • Economic opportunities for people who would otherwise be destined to subsist without hope of economic improvement.
  • Faster technological improvement, creation and dissemination of knowledge is facilitated.
  • Reduced pressure on forest and wilderness areas from human population. 
But, if government doesn't make the necessary investments to make urban living socially and environmentally sustainable, all these good things won't happen. 

A new WRI working paper finds that though cities are hotspots for jobs and other opportunities, many urbanites are finding it increasingly difficult to access these benefits. Analysis of Mexico City and Johannesburg found that 56% and 42% of people, respectively, cannot easily get to jobs because of their location, limited transport options, or both. Many residents in these cities experience long and expensive commutes in often uncomfortable and unsafe vehicles through heavy traffic. Others have so few travel options or nearby opportunities they are essentially stranded.
The same patterns that restrict access in Mexico City and Johannesburg are present around the world. Access to jobs, healthcare, education and other opportunities are increasingly out of reach for millions of people like Emmanuel.

Okay. Take a look at this:

Most European cities feature wide sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and excellent mass transit that gets you everywhere quickly and cheaply. The Dutch have a culture of bicycling, and that's how people get to work, and to school. In those two photos from Amsterdam, there is a single car. In Basel, there are hardly any stop lights because they aren't necessary. People just don't use cars to get around town.

Here's a conception of a redevelopment proposal for New Haven. Note the transit station in the back, the mixed uses, and the food environment. If you live in this kind of a neighborhood, you can walk to get to most of what you need and take the train if you need  to go far.