Pope Francis versus climate change

The Pope Francis awesomeness continues.  Now he is looking to take the environmental stewardship aspect of Catholic social teaching seriously and use his position to fight against climate change.  Go Francis!  Favorite part?  Conservatives are freaking out!  How dare Pope Francis rely on “science” and concern for how climate change affects the world’s poor?  Doesn’t he know that institutes sponsored by the Koch brothers have determined human-caused climate change to be a liberal hoax?

Washington — Since his first homily in 2013,Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, topVatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared by a committee of Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.

“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of the Heartland Institute, said in an interview. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”

Oh, those so-called “experts”!  Damn them and their “science”!  Clearly, we should ignore the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and put our trusts in political flacks who ultimately make money off of fossil fuels.  Silly Pope.

Honestly, I really don’t think this will have much impact in the alternate reality that is Republican politics, but it would be nice if it could make some squirm just a little bit:

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming?’”

In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.

Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George of Princeton University, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.

It really is kind of amazing (and wonderful) that the contemporary Catholic church could actually produce a leader who is so focused on making a positive difference in the world based– especially for the poor– rather than fighting, narrow, small ideological battles over a right-wing social agenda.

The pope I don’t like

Pope Francis– awesome.  Art Pope– not so much.  Anyway, nice story about the latter in the Post recently.  I had a great conversation with the new NYT reporter on “the South” beat today (hopefully, that should result in my expertise in the NYT sometime in the future) and we discussed Pope, among many other things.  It is quite clear that this one man has a hugely disproporationate influence in NC politics.  That said, when one looks at the rather substantial intra-party squabble going on over the budget right now, it’s also clear that Pope is not quite the puppetmaster many of his detractors believe him to be.  Safe to say if he really was the all-powerful wizard behind the curtain, the Republican party would not be acting as it currently is (unless this is some super-smart devious plan to fool journalists and people like me).  Anyway, here’s some good stuff from the Post story:

There is no one in North Carolina, or likely in all of American politics, quite like Art Pope. He is not just a wealthy donor seeking to influence politics from the outside, nor just a government official shaping it from within. He is doing both at the same time — the culmination of a quarter-
century spent building a sphere of influence that has put him at the epicenter of North Carolina government and moved his state closer to the conservative vision he has long imagined.

“There are not many people as influential, because few people have invested the time and the money that he has on behalf of his state,” said Republican former governor James G. Martin, who tapped Pope, then 28, to be a lawyer in his administration in the 1980s.

From the outside, Pope’s family foundation has put more than $55 million into a robust network of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, building a state version of what his friends Charles and David Koch have helped create on a national level.

They even have the whole thing in graphic form:

Art Pope’s influence on North Carolina

 

The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.

Today in Pope Francis awesomeness

From Huffpo:

Mothersnon-mothersand celebrities alike have come to arms in the support of public breastfeeding, and now, so has the Pope.

In an interview with La Stompa, Pope Francis was asked about the state of hungry children in the world. In response, he suggested that people should recycle food and be less wasteful, and then told a story that was both a reminder of the resources we have, and a declaration that breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to feed their babies when they’re hungry. He explained:

At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few month s old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! …

Although one could argue that the Pope’s statement was just explaining world hunger — not breastfeeding liberation — it does appear that all he wants is for babies to get fed. And he doesn’t care where. Judging by this photo taken last March, breastfeeding doesn’t look like it’s bothering His Holiness one bit.

New blog category needed? “Pope Francis is awesome”

Okay, I’m not actually going to start this category.  But, even though I shouldn’t be by now, I’m still amazed at how awesome this pope is.  The idea that such a true man of God could actually make it to the top of the hierarchy in today’s Catholic church is (depressingly) shocking.  His pronouncements today on the excesses of capitalism– in no uncertain terms– were just awesome.  Here’s some excerpts from Yglesias‘ post:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system…

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.

This is not just taking on the excesses of capitalism, but a specific rhetoric of capitalism as espoused by right-wing parties in the US (and elsewhere).

And, yes, the Church has always been quite liberal on issues of economic justice, but the Atlantic’s Emma Green explains how this is genuinely a major break with the past:

In light of this long-standing tension between the Church and communism, Pope Francis’s aggressively anti-capitalist posture seems all the more remarkable.  The bishop of Rome hasn’t just condemned what he sees as a failed free-market—he’a condemned the ethic and ideology that underlie free-market economies. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” Francis writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

This is more than just a lecture about ethics; it’s a statement about who should control financial markets. At least right now, Francis says, the global economy needs more government control—an argument that would have been unthinkable for the pope just 50 years ago.

But, I’m going to go back to Yglesias on just why I think this is so important:

I remember very clearly having been an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office and attending with the senator, some of his staff, and a wide swathe of New York City political elites an event at St Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Archbishop John O’Connor. His successor, Archbishop Egan, delivered an address that went on at length about O’Connor’s charitable work, but on a public policy level addressed almost exclusively the Church’s support for banning abortion, for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, and for school vouchers. That was a choice he made about what he thought it was important for people to hear about. Pope Francis is making a different kind of choice.

Exactly.  And Amen.  This continues Francis’ direct rebuke to those who think the mission of the church should be more to worry about the sexual behavior of others than for the care for the poor and oppresses, about which Jesus constantly preached.  Pope Francis’ Catholic church is one to which I am proud to belong.

I heart Pope Francis

I was optimistic when Pope Francis became pope, but damn has he far exceeded my wildest expectations.  I’m totally fine that I disagree with him on matters of contraception, abortion, and gay marriage because– unlike the vast majority of the Catholic hierarchy in recent years– he totally gets that these things are not at the core of the Christian faith, but peripheral issues (if you doubt that, just see what Jesus actually talks about in the gospels– it’s called social justice).  Here’s the NYT story on his latest interview:

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics…

Francis told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit: “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

“We have to find a new balance,” the pope continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

The pope’s interview did not change church doctrine or policies, but it instantly changed its tone…

The new pope’s words are likely to have repercussions in a church whose bishops and priests in many countries, including the United States, have often seemed to make combating abortion, gay marriage and contraception their top public policy priorities. Francis said that these teachings have to be presented in a larger context.

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle,” Francis said. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

Yep.  With all the poverty, suffering, and injustice still in the world today, it is truly unconscionable to focus so much attention on homosexuality as somehow the paramount moral issue of our times.

Meanwhile, I love this quote a formerly Catholic friend (formerly modifying the Catholic, :-) ) posted from the interview.

“If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. “

How did such a genuinely thoughtful, spiritual, and wise man ever get elected Pope from today’s Catholic hierarchy?  I have no idea, but I’ll take it.

Go Pope!

I cannot say I pay all that much attention to what Pope Francis has been up to, but most every time I hear something, it is heartening.  Clearly, a sharp break from his predecessor.  Here’s the latest:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE— Pope Francis opened the door Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.

Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder,” and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVIformally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood.

Pope Francis “is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,” said Alberto Melloni, a church historian.

No, he’s not going to argue for the ordination of women any time soon or overturn the ban on “artificial” contraception, but he clearly has a strong and passionate commitment to social justice and helping the poor.  Given the pool of Catholic Cardinals at the time of his selection, this seems to be about as good a Pope as we could have hoped for.

More Pope

A few more thoughts on the Art Pope piece, which I still haven’t read in full, but did listen to Jane Mayer’s NPR interview.

1) There’s some real straw men in here.  Mayer focuses a lot on the case of conservative Democrat John Snow, who was brought down with the help of Pope’s money.   Of course, conservative Democrats were exactly those most vulnerable in 2010 because of their districts.  She gives several examples of the nasty and highly distorted mailers funded in part by Pope money.  Thing is, I’ve looked at a lot of campaign mail in my day, and these flyers– though appalling in their disregard for the truth– were simply politics as usual.   On a related note, a correspondent from the Locke foundation points out that almost none of Pope’s spending has anything to do with Citizens United.  I’m thinking that just makes a better journalistic hook.

2) The N&O’s Rob Christensen uses numbers to point out how the Mayer article really overstates the impact of Pope’s money (and in the interview, Mayer kept saying things like, “Pope and the foundations he’s associated with spent…”), which was quite useful, but Rob C ends with this:

Does Pope have the state in his back pocket as the cartoon caricature accompanying The New Yorker article suggests?

North Carolinians are a notoriously independent lot. I don’t believe the state is for sale, and I don’t think even a very rich man can buy it.

Really?  That’s sure a lot more faith in democracy than I’ve got.  North Carolinians are really independent so they can just ignore millions and millions spent to influence their political views?

3) I remembered that every spring when we head to the Brooks Avenue  Church of Christ spring carnival for Children with Special Needs and their Families the fabulous Easter Baskets they provide to all the kids, stuffed with toys, say “courtesy of Art Pope.”  Awesome. Good for him.  Thing is, though, he just helped elect a Republican legislature that dramatically cut funds to state programs that really help out these families.  Well, at least we’ve got our Easter baskets.

Quick hits

1) David Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl “lean in” Sandberg, suffered an untimely death last week.  Nice article on his life and how he made it possible for Sandberg to lean in.

2) Private prisons are so wrong.  Among other things, they are incentivized to allow more human suffering to earn greater profits.  They can also sue states if they don’t stay full.

3) The Cleveland Indians have an awesome recycling program that runs on massive garbage disposals.

4) These photography tips are pretty cool; I’m going to have to try some.

5) This point doesn’t get old– inequality is a policy choice.  Nice column on the matter from Kristof.

6) Really enjoyed Ross Douthat’s essay on Pope Francis.

7) The head of the Federal Elections Commission has to sadly admit the FEC will be largely unable to prevent widespread campaign finance abuse in 2016.  Why?  The Republicans on the commission basically believe in widespread campaign finance abuse.

8) John Cassidy on the Republican field for president:

If your head is spinning, join the club. Nobody should be expected, or forced, to keep up with every detail of the G.O.P. primary, especially when, Lord help us, we still have more than eight months to go until the Iowa caucuses. At this stage, the important thing to remember is that there are really two spectacles taking place: a high-stakes horse race for the Republican nomination, and a circus held on the infield of the track. Although the events run concurrently, and are ostensibly geared toward the same end, they shouldn’t be confused with one another. One is a serious political contest. The other is a sideshow, designed to amuse the spectators, give the media something to cover, and further the ambitions, varied as they are, of the participants.

9) This article about an Ebola survivor who discovered later he had tons of the virus in his eyeball was fascinating.  Among other things, I had not known about “immune privilege” of that your eyeball benefits from being immune privileged.

10) It’s really kind of amazing that a local television station– local news generally being the province of fires, crime, and 15 minute weather reports– does a terrific job covering state and local politics.  Fortunately for me, it’s my very own local station.  The great work of Raleigh’s WRAL is recognized in CJR.

11) A future without chocolate?  Perish the thought.  But we’ll have to work at it and that’s what the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre is doing.

12) On the taboo of sharing how much money you make and why we should break it.  I won’t share mine, but it is public record if you really want to know.

13) Mitt Romney literally does not even understand what “mass incarceration” is.  Scary to think he could’ve been president.  And this is so pathetic.  Chait’s on it, so you know it’s a good read.

14) Cut the cord to your cable and think you are done with unwanted bundles?  Not so fast; bundling is coming to internet TV.

15) Congressional Republicans are no fans of making it easier for people to afford a college education.

16) Based on my experience, it always struck me that people would blame their infant’s fussiness on “teething” when there was really no particular reason to think that was the case (among other things, you never feel it all when your permanent teeth come in).  Looks like I’ve got science on my side.

17) Loved the new documentary on Kurt Cobain.  Damn if Kurt Cobain isn’t just the prototype of the tortured artist.  And I remember quite distinctly where I was when I found out he died (I was on a pre grad school visit to Ohio State and there were some guys driving around in a car yelling “Kurt Cobain is dead!”)  I’ve been listening to Nirvana a ton this week as a result (In Utero is playing as a type this post).  Also enjoyed showing my oldest the Smells Like Teen Spirit video which he had never seen.

18) I’ll leave you with this awesome, awesome Amy Schumer video on birth control.  It’s short and brilliant, so watch it already.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Republicans have even alienated Robert Samuelson for their true dedication to helping America’s richest citizens at all costs (in this case by trying to eliminate the estate tax).

2) I’ve always found fonts rather fascinating.  But I don’t think I’d ever be in the running for a job where I looked upon poorly for using Times New Roman.

3) Loved David Simon’s marxist- based analysis (no, he’s not a communist) analysis of the situation in Baltimore.

4) I’ve always much preferred Diet Coke (and especially Coke Zero) to Diet Pepsi.  Now I’ll have even more reason to as Pepsi has decided to pander to science deniers and remove aspartame from Diet Pepsi.

But the problem with appeasing customers at the expense of science is that it sets a poor precedent. And in this case it’s also unlikely to reverse Diet Pepsi’s waning appeal.

What Pepsi’s move will likely accomplish, more than anything else, is give credence to unfounded fears that aspartame is somehow more harmful or artificial than a lot of other sweeteners being used in products on supermarket shelves. That myth doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to dying.

5) Interestingly, we probably need to make it easier for kids to skip grades.

6) Nice summary of social science on the persistence of racism in America.

7) If you want to help the earthquake victims in Nepal, send money.  Not stuff and not yourself.  And that goes for pretty much any disaster.

8) Just one more unarmed teenager killed by police who thought he had a gun.  Make no mistake, this is absolutely a necessary consequence of America’s gun culture.  Yes, we need better policing, but the police in America are uniquely deathly afraid because there really are guns everywhere.

9) The smartest students (as judged by LSAT scores) are increasingly deciding against law school.  Good for them.  Especially because the job market is really, really tough for law school grads.

10) Sometimes the Onion headline nails it better than anybody:

Nation On Edge As Court Votes Whether To Legalize Gay Marriage Now Or In A Few Years

11) Wonkblog with 7 “facts” about healthy food that aren’t actually true (I’ve probably written about each of these at some point).  On a related note, a Vox post nails it with the headline, “The real side effect of a gluten-free diet: scientific illiteracy.”

12) And sticking with food, OSHA knows we should do more to keep workers safe in meat production (and really, we’re horrible at this), but just doesn’t have the budget for it.

13) The attempt to turn climate change into a moral issue and how that could change everything if it succeeds (and it’s got Pope Francis on its side).

14) Speaking of threats to the earth, how about that good old-fashioned problem of too many people (okay, guilty of the fact of helping create more than my fair share).

15) Good to know that I know far more about Premier League Football than UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who totally embarrassed himself on the matter.  For the record, I’m an Arsenal fan.

16) Jamelle Bouie’s post placing the problems in Baltimore into deep historical context.  Is excellent.  I’ve left it for last so that you actually read it.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Rick Hasen on Hillary Clinton and campaign finance reform (short version: a Constitutional amendment is not a serious proposal but “red meat” for Democratic activists).

2) Experimental proof of the power of peer pressure— for good and ill– in schools.

3) I buy this argument that the bar exam is basically about keeping lawyering a cartel to protect the earnings of attorneys, rather than anything meaningful to protect legal consumers.

4) So, now I know that Art Pope’s people are the “intellectual” push behind the ludicrous idea that all public college professors in NC should teach 8 courses a year.

5) Focusing on early childhood programs is great and lead to life-long benefits.  But here’s some interesting evidence that counseling and teaching self-control to young adult males can actually still make a meaningful difference.

6) NYT magazine on just how crazy the new era of campaign finance is getting.

7) Enjoyed this Nicholas Lehman take on the challenges Hillary Clinton faces in uniting Democratic voters:

The announcement video indicates that the Clinton campaign believes that in this cycle, the core appeal to Democratic and potentially Democratic voters has to be based on economics. Voters want to hear that the generation-long stall-out of the American working and middle classes’ fortunes is somehow going to end. The problem is that, right now, the Democratic coalition seems to be in agreement on the formerly radioactive social issues—ethnicity, sexuality, values—but not on the economic issues that will define the election. In the video you can detect the hope that it will be possible to declare that the campaign is all about economics, and then to spend it talking mainly about other things. Does Hillary Clinton want to raise taxes on the rich? More heavily regulate financial institutions? Make unions more politically powerful? Throw some sand in the gears of globalization by restricting free trade? These are the kinds of questions that have historically gone along with an overriding concern with the welfare of “everyday Americans,” but they are not pleasant ones for the campaign, because in each case, a clear answer would alienate an element of the Democratic Party.

8) Was fascinated by this visual analysis of how the studio ruined the color palette of the most reason Superman movie.

9) It’s pretty clear that aspartame is essentially harmless.  But enough people are scared of it that Pepsi is eliminating it from Diet Pepsi.  All the more reason to stick with my preference for Diet Coke (and especially Coke Zero).  The Vox post also does a nice job running through the non-evidence for aspartame being harmful.

10) Nice Lee Drutman Op-Ed on how to (partially) counter-balance the huge influence of corporate lobbyists by investing in Congressional staff:

It doesn’t need to be this way. We can give the House and Senate (which account for a minuscule 0.06 percent of the federal budget) the resources to hire and keep enough of the best people, especially in key committee positions. We can bolster independent capacity for technical analysis by giving a boost to the research arms of Congress, like the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office.

While congressional salaries can’t possibly equal lobbying salaries, they don’t have to. The thrill of being on the inside is enough of a draw that congressional offices have little trouble filling openings. The problem is that staffers burn out quickly. More money, shorter hours and better working conditions wouldn’t keep everyone, but they’d keep enough good people.

11) Apparently they’ve finally changed the presidential physical fitness test as it never actually made any sense.  That said, I spent most of my 4th grade year practicing my broad jump and gained almost a foot to earn the presidential award.  One of the proudest moments of my childhood.

12) I find the concept of a bucket list somewhat silly, but if I were to start one, this place would go right to the top.  Also a nice article on it in Smithsonian.

The health care “villains”? It’s the hospitals, not the insurers

Everybody loves to hate health insurance companies.  There are endless anecdotes about denying needed coverage and they aren’t the ones actually making us healthy– that’s the hospitals.  Thing is, it’s the hospitals that are the relative “villains” in our health care drama as they are the ones very much responsible for driving up the super-high prices that bedevil health care in this country.  Thus, a very nice piece from Reihan Salam that explains how it is that hospitals are able to so effectively drive up prices (for which we all pay one way or another):

As for why hospitals charge such high prices, it’s fairly simple: They do it because they can. In a competitive market, a provider who jacks up prices risks losing customers to competitors who charge less. But what if incumbent providers have the political muscle to keep competitors out of the market? What if regulators look the other way when incumbent providers buy up the competition, or even help the process along? That, in a nutshell, is the situation with America’s hospitals, as Chris Pope outlines in a recent Heritage Foundation paper onconsolidation in the health care market. Because most medical care is purchased not by consumers but by third parties, like Medicare and Medicaid or your insurance company, and because consumers rarely get access to reliable data on quality, they place an extremely high value on convenience. If you’re not saving money by shopping around for a better deal, and if you have no idea if you’re getting better care, you might as well go to the hospital closest to you. Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals thus have a huge amount of power in their local markets. If a private insurer refuses to pay a hospital’s exorbitant prices, a hospital can just walk and wait for the insurer’s customers to scream bloody murder over the fact that they can’t use their local hospital.

Bummer.  And if you are counting on politicians to save us, think again:

Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.
You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.  [emphasis mine]
Hmmmm.  How do you break government monopolies.  Can you say, “government regulation”?  Of course, Salam is actually a “reform conservative” so he’s not about to openly admit government is the solution:

Curbing the power of the big hospitals isn’t a left-wing or a right-wing issue. Getting this right will make solving all of our health care woes much easier, regardless of where you fall on the wisdom of Obamacare. Let’s get to it.

Of course this is a left vs. right issue.  Who does Salam think will curb the power of the big hospitals?  A groundswell of populist revolt?  No.  Government.  When you look at all those modern democracy health systems that out-perform us, every last one does so, in part, by relying upon government to help keep prices down.  Until we make a serious effort at doing the same (the ACA is a partial effort) we are going to continue to be bankrupted by health care prices.

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