All posts by Tom Aquinas

(2017/01/03) New congress, old war, scandals and the dawn of the climate movement (The best of 2007)

Edition #1068
Today we take a look back to 2007 in our second annual 10-years-hence retrospective spectacular!
Be part of the show! Leave a message at 202-999-3991

Show Notes

Ch. 1: Opening Theme: A Fond Farewell – From a Basement On the Hill

Ch. 2: Act 1: First female Speaker of the House – Countdown – Aired on BotL 1-9-07

Ch. 3: Song 1: Color in Your Cheeks – The Mountain Goats


Ch. 4: Act 2: First muslim in congress and first female Speaker – The Young Turks – Aired on BotL 1-9-07

Continue reading (2017/01/03) New congress, old war, scandals and the dawn of the climate movement (The best of 2007)

House Republicans Ditch Plan to Weaken Congressional Ethics Office

Following intense backlash, House Republicans on Tuesday voted to abandon a plan to significantly curtail the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The reversal comes less than a day after news that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was introducing the ethics amendment.

Shortly before the amendment was officially dropped, President-elect Donald Trump criticized the timing of the effort, saying there were more important priorities to consider. He did not, however, say he opposed the amendment’s intention to gut the independent office.

This is a breaking news post. We will update when more news becomes available.

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Will Obama’s offshore drilling ban be Trumped?

Activists in Seattle practice for demonstrations against Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic, April 17, 2015. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

President Obama gave environmental advocates a Christmas present when he announced in late December that he was banning oil and gas drilling in huge swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This action “indefinitely” protects almost 120 million acres of ecologically important and highly sensitive marine environments from the risks of oil spills and other industrial impacts.

President Obama acted boldly to conserve important ecological resources and solidify his environmental legacy. But by making creative use of an obscure provision of a 1953 law, Obama ignited a legal and political firestorm.

Republicans and oil industry trade groups are threatening to challenge the ban in court or through legislation. They also contend that the Trump administration can act directly to reverse it. But a close reading of the law suggests that it could be difficult to undo Obama’s sweeping act.

The power to withdraw

Congress passed the law now known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953 to assert federal control over submerged lands that lie more then three miles offshore, beyond state coastal waters. Section 12(a) of the law authorizes the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Starting in 1960 with the Eisenhower administration, six presidents from both parties have used this power. Most withdrawals were time-limited, but some were long-term. For example, in 1990 President George H. W. Bush permanently banned oil and gas development in California’s Monterey Bay, which later became a national marine sanctuary.

Kelp forests in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary support many marine species.
Chad King, NOAA/Flickr

President Obama used section 12(a) in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world. In 2015 he took the same step for approximately 9.8 million acres in the biologically rich Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Obama’s latest action bars energy production in 115 million more acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas – an area known as the “Arctic Ring of Life” because of its importance to Inupiat Peoples who have lived there for millennia. The order also withdraws 3.8 million acres off the Atlantic Coast from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada, including several unique and largely unexplored coral canyons.

Why Obama acted

In a Presidential Memorandum on the Arctic withdrawals, Obama provided three reasons for his action. First, he asserted, these areas have irreplaceable value for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research and Alaska Native subsistence use. Second, they are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. Finally, drilling for oil and responding to spills in Arctic waters poses unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges.

In ordering the Atlantic withdrawals, Obama cited his responsibility to “ensure that the unique resources associated with these canyons remain available for future generations.”

Market forces support Obama’s action. Royal Dutch Shell stopped drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2015 after spending US$7 billion and drilling in what proved to be a dry hole. Since 2008 the Interior Department has canceled or withdrawn a number of sales in Alaskan waters due to low demand. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Exxon have all to some degree abandoned offshore Arctic drilling.

The Beaufort and Chukchi seas are zones of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of northern Alaska.
Mohonu/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Low oil prices coupled with high drilling costs make business success in the region a risky prospect. Lloyd’s of London forecast this scenario in a 2012 report that called offshore drilling in the Arctic “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”

What happens next?

Critics of President Obama’s action, including the state of Alaska and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they may challenge Obama’s order in court, in hopes that the Trump administration will opt not to defend it. But environmental groups, which hailed Obama’s action, will seek to intervene in any such lawsuit.

Moreover, to demonstrate that they have standing to sue, plaintiffs would have to show that they have suffered or face imminent injury; that this harm was caused by Obama’s action; and that it can be redressed by the court. Market conditions will make this very difficult.

The Energy Information Administration currently projects that crude oil prices, which averaged about $43 per barrel through 2016, will rise to only about $52 per barrel in 2017. Whether these areas will ever be commercially viable is an open question, especially since rapid changes are taking place in the electricity and transportation sectors, and other coastal areas are open for leasing in Alaska’s near-shore waters and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk broke loose and ran aground near Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska as it was being towed to Seattle for winter maintenance in December 2012. This Coast Guard overflight video shows the harsh conditions along Alaska’s coast in winter.

Alternatively, Donald Trump could issue his own memorandum in office seeking to cancel Obama’s. However, section 12(a) does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it.

This issue has never been litigated. Opponents can be expected to argue that Obama’s use of section 12(a) in this manner is unconstitutional because it violates the so-called “nondelegation doctrine,” which basically holds that Congress cannot delegate legislative functions to the executive branch without articulating some “intelligible principles.”

However, one could argue that Obama’s action was based on an articulation of intelligible principles gleaned from the stated policies of the OCSLA, which recognizes that the “the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public.” The law expressly recognizes both the energy and environmental values of the OCS. Thus President Obama’s decision reflects a considered judgment that the national interest is best served by protecting the unique natural resources of these areas, while at the same time weaning the nation from its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2012 after signing an agreement with Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. The companies’ joint venture to develop energy resources in Russia’s Arctic waters has been blocked by U.S. sanctions on Russia since 2014.
AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service

The section 12(a) authority is similar in some respects to the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to “reserve parcels of land as a part of [a] national monument.” Like the OCSLA, the Antiquities Act does not authorize subsequent presidents to undo the designations of their predecessors. Obama has also used this power extensively – most recently, last week when he designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada totaling 1.65 million acres.

Some laws do include language that allows such actions to be revoked. Examples include the Forest Service Organic Administration Act, under which most national forests were established, and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which sets out policies for managing multiple-use public lands. The fact that Congress chose not to include revocation language in the OCSLA indicates that it did not intend to provide such power.

What can the new Congress do?

Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has plenary authority to dispose of federal property as it sees fit. This would include the authority to open these areas to leasing for energy development. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are considering introducing legislation to override Obama’s drilling ban. But Democrats could filibuster to block any such move, and Republicans – who will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate – would need 60 votes to stop them.

On the other hand, Congress may be content to let President-elect Trump make the first move and see how it goes in court. If Trump attempts to reverse the withdrawal, environmental groups contesting his decision would face some of the same obstacles as an industry challenge to Obama’s action. It could be especially challenging for environmental groups to show that the claim is “ripe” for judicial review, at least until a post-Obama administration acts to actually open up these areas for leasing. That may not occur for some time, given the weak market for the oil in these regions.

In the meantime, this decision is a fitting capstone for a president who has done everything within his power to confront the existential threat of climate change and rationally move the nation and the world onto a safer and more sustainable path.

The Conversation

Patrick Parenteau does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Trump’s immigration policies will pick up where Obama’s left off

In 2017, the Trump administration will likely continue and expand the Obama administration’s focus on removing immigrants convicted of crimes. Whether Trump will break ground for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico is far less certain.

Ramping up immigration enforcement by focusing on the criminal justice pipeline for removals has proven to be an efficient strategy. Immigrants in jail are not hard to find. And, removing criminals raises far fewer civil rights concerns than, for example, locating and removing laborers through the use of workplace raids.

Immigrants with criminal arrest records and convictions have few political allies and defenders. Resistance to their removal has not been as great as resistance to removing other groups of immigrants, such as undocumented college students.

That may explain why Donald Trump began his presidential campaign by claiming that Mexico was sending criminals to the United States, and promising to deport them en masse.

To increase crime-based removals, the Trump administration will probably seek greater state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. Under President Obama, these efforts led to the removal of a disproportionate number of Latino immigrants. My scholarship sheds light on how Trump’s immigration proposals may similarly affect Latinos.

‘Latino removal system’

President Obama’s administration prioritized removing immigrants who had been convicted of crimes. However, the U.S. criminal justice system is notorious for producing racially disparate results. African-Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated as they have throughout U.S. history, as described in Michelle Alexander’s powerful book “The New Jim Crow.”

As a result, the U.S. immigrant removal system yields similarly unequal results.

The Obama administration created programs that allowed state criminal justice systems to directly feed immigrants into the federal immigration removal system. That, in turn, made it possible for his administration to set removal records. In some years as many as 400,000 people were removed. During the eight years of his presidency, more than 2.5 million noncitizens were deported – more than during any other U.S. presidency.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement data show that, in fiscal year 2016, crime-based removals represented more than 90 percent of the noncitizens removed from the interior of the United States.

Under a program called Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement agencies shared arrest information with federal immigration authorities, and detained immigrant criminal offenders. Criminal offenders were then taken into custody by federal immigration authorities. In November 2014, the Obama administration replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program, which was somewhat narrower in scope.

Today, more than 95 percent of removals in the United States are of Latino noncitizens, despite the fact that the total immigrant population in the United States is much more diverse. Latino immigrants comprise only about 50 percent of lawful immigrants, and around 70 percent of undocumented ones. Because removals are so heavily skewed toward Latinos, some refer to the modern U.S. removal system as the “Latino removal system.”

Mandating state and local assistance

Trump is likely to encounter the same resistance that Obama did in working with state and local governments on immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration may seek to mandate state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. To do so, it might challenge “sanctuary cities,” as Donald Trump has done rhetorically. However, there is no firm definition of what sanctuary cities are – only the suggestion that they are not fully cooperating in enforcing immigration laws. Trump has threatened to defund such cities, a step that would seemingly require congressional authorization.

If Congress were to pass such legislation, state and local governments may be able to challenge it as infringing on the constitutionally protected authority of the states.

Needless to say, any challenge to sanctuary cities is likely to meet formidable resistance from some quarters. The California legislature already has been preparing a game plan for a showdown with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement. For example, legislators have proposed legislation that would limit information sharing with the federal government about immigrants.

Some state and local law enforcement leaders worry that immigrants lose trust in local police when they are perceived to be deeply involved in federal immigration enforcement. Loss of trust, in turn, can reduce the willingness of immigrants to help authorities combat crime. This concerns local police who say they need the cooperation of all people in the community, including lawful and undocumented immigrants, in reporting crime and aiding criminal prosecutions.

To that end, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 40 limits police inquiry into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and suspects. The idea is to separate criminal law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. Such separation is consistent with the Supreme Court’s finding in Arizona v. United States in 2012 that the federal government has the authority to admit and remove immigrants. And, ordinary law enforcement primarily is handled by local law enforcement agencies.

The new administration will also need to grapple with how local police involvement in immigration enforcement impacts the civil rights of Latinos. Such impacts are real. This year, a federal court found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona, in the guise of assisting federal immigration enforcement, had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination.

These civil rights abuses show the potential costs of state and local law enforcement assistance in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The same risks will exist for the new Trump administration in 2017.

The Conversation

Kevin Johnson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Instead of Trashing Homeless Camps, This City is Providing Them With Trash Pickup

It’s cleaning time at one of the several encampments set up in the shadow of the elevated MacArthur Freeway in West Oakland, California. More than two dozen tents in various states of repair sit in the musty space beneath the stark overpass. Axel, a black man in his late 40s who lives along the camp’s outskirts, pushes a broom across the sidewalk that serves as a front porch for his tarp-draped tent. After a few minutes of sweeping, the trash he has arranged into a neat pile is collected by Abby Harrison, who places it into one of the five shiny Waste Management trash cans circulating in the camp. In a little while, the cans will be arranged on the street bordering the camp’s southern edge, where they will wait to be emptied by a garbage truck.

The cleanup continues by the camp’s two portable toilets, where a man is gathering used toiletries for disposal and clearing the path for a pumper truck to back in. The truck arrives a few minutes ahead of schedule, and the driver hops out to quickly clean and service the porta-potties. The driver is gone after a few minutes of pumping and wiping, much to the relief of another man patiently waiting to use the facilities.

In many respects, this homeless encampment is like hundreds of other camps that have mushroomed in cities across America, especially in the West. But what distinguishes the camp beneath the 580 freeway is that rather than being targeted for removal, it’s receiving public services from the city of Oakland. Instead of razing the encampment, Oakland and Alameda County policymakers set up a pilot program that offers basic services to some unsheltered residents. This includes not just waste pickup and porta-potties, but a mobile health clinic and the placement of large concrete barriers to protect the camp from traffic. Oakland has also directed its social services and relief employees to work with the residents of the MacArthur Freeway camp to help them find permanent housing. Since the pilot started in October, city officials report that 17 of the camp’s 42 original residents have moved into stable living situations.

Garbage cans sit by an encampment beneath the MacArthur Freeway in Oakland. Matt Tinoco

This approach is unique, especially as many cities double down on anti-camping laws and controversial “sweeps”, often conducted under the guise of protecting public health. The process is familiar: Homeless people set up a camp, bringing with it trash, human waste, and sometimes crime. Neighbors complain, and, before long, the local government serves the camp’s residents with a notice to vacate. The camp is cleared, but it either moves or returns after a few weeks.

San Francisco’s municipal authorities cleared out a large camp of 250 people from beneath one of the city’s freeways earlier this year. In November, the city’s voters passed Proposition Q, which prohibits assembling a tent on a public sidewalk. As Supervisor David Campos explained in a September statement, “encampments are not a solution to homelessness. They are unhealthy for homeless people, and they are unhealthy for residents and businesses around them.” Yet homelessness advocates note that clearing out camps is often little more than a cosmetic solution.

Like Oakland, other cities have also experimented with an approach that moves away from simply removing homeless people. Though sweeps still occur in Seattle, the city has set up a partnership with religious organizations that allows some homeless people to live on the organizations’ property. (Nevertheless, 2015 motion that would have authorized city services like waste pickup at encampments died after Seattle residents objected.) Santa Barbara, California, has a “safe-parking” program that allows people who live in vehicles to park in public parking lots without threat of citation.

The Oakland pilot project is based on the understanding that if unsheltered residents have, at the very least, a reliable and sanitary place to pitch their tents, they can devote more time and energy to finding a more stable place to live. “Breaking camps apart takes them farther away from permanent housing,” says Alex Marqusee, a legislative analyst for City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the chief sponsor of the project in Oakland. “It’s opposite of the direction we want to go.”

“It’s like, where am I going to go?'” says Harrison, a black woman in her early 40s who lives under the MacArthur Freeway. “When I have to move it messes everything up. I get them people up in their nice houses not wanting to see any of this. I don’t want to see this. But I need to live, and it’s not like I want to live here.”

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Trump's Treasury Pick Excelled at Kicking Elderly People Out of Their Homes

This story originally appeared on ProPublica.

In 2015, OneWest Bank moved to foreclose on John Yang, an 80-year-old Korean immigrant living in Orange Park, Florida, a small suburb of Jacksonville. The bank believed he wasn’t living in his home, violating the terms of its loan. It dispatched an agent to give him legal notification of the foreclosure.

Where did the bank find him? At the same single-story home the bank had said in court papers he did not occupy.

Still OneWest pressed on, forcing Yang, a former Christian missionary, to seek help from legal aid attorneys. This year, during a deposition, an employee of OneWest’s servicing division was asked the obvious question: Why would the bank pursue a foreclosure that seemed so clearly unjustified by the facts?

The employee’s response was blunt: “You’re trying to make logic out of an illogical situation.”

Yang was lucky. The bank eventually dropped its efforts against him. But others were not so fortunate. In recent years, OneWest has foreclosed on at least 50,000 people, often in circumstances that consumer advocates say run counter to federal rules and, as in Yang’s case, common sense.

President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Steven Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary has prompted new scrutiny of OneWest’s foreclosure practices. Mnuchin was the lead investor and chairman of the company during the years it ramped up its foreclosure efforts. Representatives from the company and the Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Records show the attempt to push Mr. Yang out of his home was not an unusual one for OneWest’s Financial Freedom unit, which focused on controversial home loans known as reverse mortgages. Regulators and consumer advocates have long worried that these loans, popular during the height of the housing bubble, exploit elderly homeowners.

The loans allow people to benefit from the equity they have built up over many years without selling their houses. The money is paid in a variety of ways, from lump sums to a stream of monthly checks. Borrowers are allowed to stay in their homes for as long as they live.

The loans are guaranteed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning the agency pays lenders like Freedom Financial the difference between the ultimate sale price of the home and the size of the reverse mortgage.

But the fees are often high and the interest charges mount up quickly because the homeowner isn’t paying down any of the principal on the loan. Homeowners remain on the hook for property taxes and insurance and can lose their homes if they miss those payments.

A 2012 report to Congress by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said that “vigorous enforcement is necessary to ensure that older homeowners are not defrauded of a lifetime of home equity.”

ProPublica found numerous examples where Financial Freedom had foreclosed for legally questionable reasons. The company served several other homeowners at their homes to let them know they were being sued for not occupying their homes. In Florida, a shortfall of only $0.27 led to a foreclosure attempt. In Atlanta, the company sought to foreclose on a widow after her husband’s death, but backed down when a legal aid attorney sued, citing federal law that allowed the surviving spouse to remain in the home.

“It appears their business approach is scorched earth, in a way that doesn’t serve communities, homeowners or the taxpayer,” said Alys Cohen, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Washington D.C.

Since the financial crisis, OneWest, through Financial Freedom, has conducted a disproportionate number of the nation’s reverse mortgage foreclosures. It was responsible for 16,200 foreclosures on government-backed reverse mortgages, or 39 percent of all foreclosures nationwide, from 2009 through late 2014, even though it only serviced about 17 percent of the loans, according to government data analyzed by the California Reinvestment Coalition, an advocacy group for low-income consumers. While some foreclosures were justified, legal aid attorneys say Financial Freedom has refused to work with borrowers in foreclosure to establish payment plans, in contrast with other servicers of reverse mortgages.

Experts say the companies are not entirely to blame for the wave of foreclosures. HUD oversees standards on most reverse mortgages. In the years after the housing crash, HUD’s rules evolved, creating a miasma of confusion for mortgage servicers. Companies say the new federal rules required them to foreclose when borrowers fell far behind on property and insurance costs, rather than work out payment plans.

OneWest’s rough treatment of homeowners extended to its behavior toward borrowers with standard mortgages in the aftermath of the housing crash. In 2009, the Obama administration launched a program to encourage mortgage servicers to work out affordable mortgage modifications with borrowers. OneWest, weighed down by several hundred thousand souring mortgages, signed up.

It didn’t go well. About three-quarters of homeowners who sought a modification from OneWest through the program were denied, according to the latest figures from the Treasury Department. OneWest was among the worst performing large servicers in the program by that measure. In 2011, activists protested OneWest’s indifference at Mnuchin’s Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles.

“We’re in a difficult economic environment and very sympathetic to the problems many homeowners face, but under the government’s program there’s not a solution in every case,” Mnuchin told the Wall Street Journal in that year.

Despite the controversy, Mnuchin and the other investors in OneWest made a killing on their purchase. In 2009, Mnuchin’s investment group bought the failed mortgage bank IndyMac, which had been taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation after the financial crisis, changing the name to OneWest. They paid about $1.5 billion, with the FDIC sharing the ongoing mortgage losses. George Soros, a Clinton backer at whose hedge fund Mnuchin had worked, and John Paulson, a hedge fund manager who also supported Trump, invested alongside Mnuchin in IndyMac.

In 2015, CIT, a lender to small and medium-sized businesses, bought OneWest for $3.4 billion, more than doubling the Mnuchin group’s initial investment. Mnuchin personally made about $380 million on the sale, according to Bloomberg estimates. He retains around a 1 percent stake in CIT, worth around $100 million, which he may have to divest if confirmed.

CIT has found the reverse mortgage business to be a headache. Recently, CIT took a $230 million pretax charge after it discovered that OneWest had mistakenly charged the government for payments that the company should have shouldered itself. An investigation of Financial Freedom’s practices by HUD’s inspector general is ongoing.

Yang’s lawyers at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid fought his foreclosure for a year. Though Yang had run a dry cleaning business in Florida and roamed the world as a missionary, working in North Korea, China, and Afghanistan, the bank’s torrent of paperwork had overwhelmed him. Yang didn’t speak English well. OneWest claimed it had sent him forms to verify he was living at his home, but that he never sent them back.

Under HUD rules, OneWest was required to verify that each borrower continued to use the property as a principal residence. It is a condition of all the HUD-backed loans in order to help ensure the government subsidy goes to those who need it.

But Yang can be forgiven for thinking that OneWest could not have doubted that he was still in his home. During the same period that OneWest was moving to foreclose on Yang for not living in his home, another arm of the bank regularly spoke and corresponded with him at his home about a delinquent insurance payment, according to court documents.

A Financial Freedom employee testified in the case that the department that handled delinquent insurance payments and the department that handled occupancy did not communicate with each other in those circumstances.

Source: Mother Jones Politics

Can’t keep your New Year’s resolutions – try being kind to yourself

Making New Year resolutions? Kalyan Kanuri, CC BY-SA

Many of us will start out the New Year by making a list of resolutions – changes we want to make to be happier such as eating better, volunteering more often, being a more attentive spouse, and so on. But, as we know, we will often fail. After a few failures we will typically give up and go back to our old habits.

Why is it so hard to stick to resolutions that require us to make effective or lasting changes?

I would argue the problem isn’t that we try and we fail –– the problem is how we treat ourselves when we fail. I study self-compassion, and my research and that of others show that how we relate to personal failure – with kindness or harsh self-judgment – is incredibly important for building resilience.

From early childhood, we are taught how we must succeed at all costs. What most of us aren’t taught is how to fail successfully so we can change and grow.

One of the best ways to deal with failure is to have self-compassion.

What exactly is self-compassion?

I define self-compassion as having three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring, understanding, and supportive toward ourselves when we fail or make mistakes rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.

Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, and connecting our own flawed condition to the shared human condition so we can have greater perspective on our shortcomings.

Mindfulness involves being aware of the pain associated with failure in a clear and balanced manner so that we neither ignore nor obsess about our faults. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.

Mindfulness is one component of self compassion.
Jack Ricchiuto, CC BY

A large body of research shows that self-compassion results in greater emotional wellbeing. One of the most consistent findings in this research is that greater self-compassion is linked to less depression, anxiety and stress.

In addition to reducing such negative mind states, self-compassion appears to enhance positive mind states such as optimism, gratitude, and curiosity. By meeting one’s suffering with the warm embrace of self-compassion, positive feelings such as happiness are generated at the same time that negative emotions are alleviated.

Self-compassion has been found to be an important source of coping and resilience in the face of various life stressors such as divorce, chronic health conditions, or military combat. It also reduces body dissatisfaction and even leads to healthier eating behavior (relevant to many New Year’s resolutions!)

Misgivings about self-compassion

If self-compassion is so good for us, why aren’t we kinder to ourselves?

Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it will undermine our motivation. In parenting circles we no longer hold to the adage “spare the rod spoil the child.” When it comes to our own selves, however, many of us think that sparing the rod of harsh self-criticism will turn us into lazy, self-indulgent ne’er-do-wells. This theme constantly comes up in the workshops I teach.

Of course, the dynamics that go into motivating our children and motivating ourselves are quite similar. Let’s say your teenage son were to come home with a failing English grade. You have two ways to motivate him to try harder and do better next time.

You could admonish him and tell him how stupid he is and that you are ashamed of him. The other is, knowing how upset he is, you could give him a hug and gently ask him how you could support him in doing better next time. This type of caring, encouraging response would help your son maintain his self-confidence and feel emotionally supported. The same goes for how we respond to ourselves when we fail.

How does self-compassion increase motivation?

A growing body of research indicates that self-compassion is linked to greater motivation. Self-compassion has been associated with increased personal initiative –– the desire to reach one’s full potential.

Self-compassionate people are also more likely to adopt “mastery goals”, which focus on learning and mastering material to increase competence, and less likely to adopt “performance goals,” which are primarily concerned with succeeding to make a favorable impression on others.

While self-compassionate people have performance standards that are as high as those who are harshly self-critical, they don’t get as upset when they don’t reach their goals. As a result, self-compassionate people have less performance anxiety and engage in fewer self-defeating behaviors such as procrastination.

Not only are self-compassionate people less likely to fear failure, when they do fail they’re more likely to pick themselves up and try again.

A series of experiments by psychologists Juliana Breines and Serena Chen from the University of California at Berkeley examined whether helping undergraduate students to be more self-compassionate would impact their motivation to change.

In one study, participants were asked to recall a recent action they felt guilty about – cheating on an exam, lying to a romantic partner, saying something harmful, etc. –– something that still made them feel bad when they thought about it.

Next, they were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the self-compassion condition, participants were instructed to write to themselves for three minutes from the perspective of a compassionate and understanding friend.

The second condition had people write about all their positive qualities, and the third about a hobby they enjoyed. These two control conditions helped to differentiate self-compassion from positive self-talk and positive mood in general.

The researchers found that participants who were helped to be self-compassionate about their recent transgressions reported being more motivated to apologize for the harm done and more committed to not repeating the behavior than those in the control conditions.

Sustaining motivation through kindness

Another study in this same series of experiments explored whether self-compassion would directly translate into greater efforts to learn after failure. Students were given a difficult vocabulary test they all did poorly on.

This new year, try being kind to yourself.
Gexydaf, CC BY-NC

One group of students were given an instruction to be self-compassionate about their failure. The instruction said,

“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, you’re not alone. It’s common for students to have difficulty with tests like this. If you feel bad about how you did, try not to be too hard on yourself.”

Another group was given a self-esteem boost, which said,

“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, try not to feel bad about yourself — you must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley!”

A third group of participants were given no additional instructions.

The students were next told that they would receive a second vocabulary test, and were given a list of words and definitions they could study for as long as they wanted before taking it. Study time was used as a measure of improvement motivation.

The students who were told to be self-compassionate after failing the first test spent more time studying than those in the other two conditions. Study time was linked to how well participants actually performed on the test. These findings suggest that being kind to yourself when you fail or make mistakes gives you the emotional support needed to try your best, and to keep trying even when discouraged.

Kindness is the engine that drives us to keep trying even after we fall flat on our face. So this New Year, when you make and inevitably break your resolutions, instead of beating yourself up and then giving up, try being kind to yourself. In the long run you’ll be more likely to succeed.

The Conversation

Kristin Neff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

This Bible Belt Abortion Provider Is Looking Beyond Trump

Abortion providers have had a rollercoaster year. On the one hand, a landmark abortion rights case in Texas saw an affirmative ruling from the Supreme Court, overturning restrictions that aimed to put clinics out of business across the United States. At the same time, conservative statehouses pushed through legislation that aimed to decrease abortion access and defund Planned Parenthood, the largest women’s health provider in the country. Months after the Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that the restrictions in Texas qualified as undue burdens and were therefore unconstitutional, Donald Trump was elected president, assuring voters of his staunch support for anti-choice legislation and deflecting allegations of sexual assault.

The week after the election, we called Dr. Willie Parker—a Harvard-educated OB-GYN from Alabama in his 50s who has been providing abortions full time since 2009. He practices in clinics in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, has confronted demonstrators blocking his access, and sued the state of Mississippi to keep the sole clinic in that state open. We wanted to hear how abortion providers are preparing for the next chapter of the battle against reproductive rights. As board chair for Physicians for Reproductive Health, Parker has been at the forefront of the national fight to preserve a woman’s right to choose. Here’s what he had to say about the likely new realities in women’s health during the future Trump administration.

What’s the conversation like among providers right now?
Most people can’t even talk. We’re still figuring it out. But I think people are trying to think beyond and say, “OK, given the inability to overturn the election, and given our ability to prognosticate based on how he’s operated politically, most of us have to think worst-case scenario.” But there’s also really no way of knowing what he’s going to do—he’s been sufficiently vague in his policy positions. We can take some prognostic indication from some of the things that he’s said, like in his 60 Minutes interview where he talked about his intention to appoint a pro-life justice to align the court to overturn Roe. I think [of it] as a low-hanging fruit. He has every intention to repeal the Affordable Care Act, as much because it’s known as Obamacare [as because he wants] to try and deconstruct the legacy of President Obama. But that has implications that mean women who were accessing family planning and contraception as a preventative service with no co-pay will lose access to that coverage. We [will] only see an exacerbation of the things we were engaged in trying to prevent—like unplanned pregnancy and the need for abortion, which creates a societal dilemma. If you’re making abortion illegal and undermining the various things that will allow the prevention of that need, it can only be a situation that goes from bad to worse.

There are a lot of misconceptions around contraception and abortion care, not only in the general public, but also among our lawmakers. Do you think there will be an uptick in anti-science attitudes?
There’s a saying that you can’t awaken somebody who’s pretending to be asleep. I’m full of clichés—I was raised by a Southern black woman, and they had a saying for everything.

I get you, I’m from Tennessee and Mississippi, I grew up on those sayings too.
Oh, so you’re my homegirl! [laughs]

There’s a willful ignorance. We indulge people who are willfully misrepresenting the facts. I don’t think those [anti-choice] congress people are as much benignly misguided as they are intentionally and willfully ignorant of the facts of reproduction. That lends itself very well to them being ideologically driven and carrying out agendas that, if they were to be really be honest about the facts, would be a tougher sell. But I think anti-intellectualism can be rewarded by the outcome of the election that’s going to result in people being appointed who can reinforce that agenda. We’re going to see more of that willful ignorance if we don’t push back and fight. The worst thing we can do is to assume that the electoral college [votes] resulting in the election of Donald Trump represents a mandate. It does not. He did not get the majority of the popular vote; that went to Hillary Clinton. That means those votes represent the consciousness of the nation, which is that abortion should be legal, that contraception and family planning are health issues and prevention, that a woman’s right to reproductive privacy is the law of the land and should remain such.

Have any of your patients expressed any fear since the election?
I’ve seen patients once since the election, and then, it was only abortion patients. But certainly, my friends and the common narrative is people are trying to shore up their own lives with regards to family planning and reproduction. I know people who were previously considering IUDs are considering them again. I know the requests for those kind of visits are up. People are concerned about how much control over their reproductive lives they’re going to lose as a result of this election outcome.

Do you think this puts states that are down to one clinic, such as Mississippi, in even more danger?
The fight in Mississippi will be more protracted. I’m the physician plaintiff in the lawsuit that keeps the Mississippi clinic open, and we prevailed twice in the Fifth Circuit—once with just the three-judge panel and once with the full Fifth Circuit panel. Despite that, the state tried to push it up to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court did not take that in lieu of the Texas case. So the definitive nature of the Texas case should have made things OK in Mississippi, but the state of Mississippi has decided to go forward. Now, I think their hope will be rekindled and renewed around the fact that potentially there will be an overturning of Roe, and there will be the appointment of a conservative justice who alters the balance of the court. There now will be a political hope based on the change in the presidential administration—hope that maybe wasn’t there before the election. But I don’t think anything will change immediately. President Obama, in his first remarks since the election, in order to reassure people and help them understand how government works, said the US government is like an ocean liner, not like a speed boat. It’s harder to turn around than people might think. Hopefully, many of the decisions have been structured in a way to make them resilient, so they’re not as vulnerable to the capricious whim of political administrations.

So what would you say to women who are worried about what a Trump administration could do to their reproductive health?

I just want to remind people that the task of those who support reproductive rights and reproductive justice didn’t change based on who is in the White House. We have leadership that is not supportive of what we’re trying to do, but the demand for justice shouldn’t be modulated. We can take that as a notion that we don’t know exactly what [President-elect Trump] is going to do, but we can’t afford to take a position of waiting around to see. We have to work under the assumption that the things that we fought hard for to protect women will be under assault, and we have to bring all our creativity and our energy to bear to preserve those things. No matter who is in the White House.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Source: Mother Jones Politics

(2016/04/01) The battle to reorganize the economy (Sharing Economy vs. Coops) (Repost)

Edition #1003
Today we take a look at the raging battle for the soul of the new economy. The age of working at the factory for decades before retiring with a pension and gold watch is well behind us but what’s coming next? A world where everyone is completely on their own, scraping together work one gig at a time? Or an economy of worker-owners who are compensated fully for their labor and have a voice in the direction of their companies?
Be part of the show! Leave a message at 202-999-3991

Show Notes

Ch. 1: Opening Theme: A Fond Farewell – From a Basement On the Hill

Ch. 2: Act 1: How Good is the Sharing Economy at Sharing? – KQED News – Air Date: 2-4-16

Ch. 3: Song 1: The Sharing Song – Jack Johnson


Ch. 4: Act 2: Chris Mackin: Creating Economic Democracy – @theLFshow w/ @GRITlaura Flanders – Air Date: 7-22-14

Ch. 5: Song 2: RazorWire-Remastered – Chris Priest


Ch. 6: Act 3: Uber isn’t nearly as new of an idea as you think – Economic Update w/ @profwolff – Air Date: 3-22-15

Ch. 7: Song 3: Capitalism Is Tearing Us Apart – sole


Ch. 8: Act 4: Uber Wants to Reorganize the Economy? Workers, too Can Play at that Game – The F Word w/ @GRITlaura Flanders – Air Date: 2-17-15

Ch. 9: Song 4: Working Poor – Horse Feathers


Ch. 10: Act 5: David J. Thompson on the superiority of cooperatives – @RalphNader Radio Hour – Air Date: 8-1-15

Ch. 11: Song 5: Cooperation – Jim Valley


Ch. 12: Act 6: Nationwide Next System Teach-Ins via @TheNextSystem – Best of the Left Activism

Ch. 13: Song 6: Right to Complain – Trombone Shorty & Marc Broussard


Ch. 14: Act 7: Paul Mason – Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future – Majority Report (@MajorityFM) – Air Date: 3-3-16



TAKE ACTION:

Activism Resources: 

Find a Next System Teach-In near you or register to host one where you live at http://teachins.thenextsystem.org 

Learn more about the The Next System Project and sign their statement.

Follow The Next System Project on Twitter @TheNextSystem for the latest updates and use ‘#NextSystem’ to join the conversation.

Further Reading:

Not Cool Uber (via Dave Craige on Medium.com)

Sharing Economy Isn’t About Sharing – The Dark Reality Behind This Major Workplace Shift (via Alternet) 

Uber on the Road to Nowhere – Uber Drivers are getting creative in their fight for basic workplace rights (via American Prospect)  

Latest News/Actions: 

Seattle Passes Law Letting Uber, Lyft Drivers Unionize (via Reuters) 

Fed up Uber Drivers Aim to Disrupt Super Bowl 50 – With their Own Mobile App (via Mother Jones)

Jakarta Taxi Drivers Protest Against Uber and Grab  (via BBC)

Hear the segment in context:

Episode #1003: http://www.bestoftheleft.com/_1003_capitalism

Written by BOTL Communications Director Amanda Hoffman 


Produced by Jay! Tomlinson

Thanks for listening!

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Source: Best of the Left

How to get ready for the economic recession coming in 2017

Time to stock up? Canned goods via www.shutterstock.com

My outlook for 2017 and beyond is that the U.S. economy will likely see another recession.

Yes, the economic picture currently looks wonderful. The Dow and S&P 500 are at record levels. Unemployment is well below 5 percent of the labor force. Inflation is still tame. The U.S. dollar is strong.

The U.S. economy has grown dramatically over the long run. GDP has increased by one-third since the beginning of the 21st century, even after adjusting for inflation.

However, capitalist economies do not simply grow steadily larger. Instead, their long-term growth is periodically punctured by downturns.

The record of all economic ups and downs over the last century and a half shows the U.S. economy has experienced 33 recessions. This means recessions occur roughly once every five years.

Our present economic expansion has lasted far longer than five years. The Great Recession ended in June 2009, about seven and half years ago. Even though many indicators look amazing today, if history is any guide, we are due for another economic downturn.

In which case, it’s a good time for a primer on recessions and how to prepare for them.

Recession, explained.

Who calls a recession?

The dates of when recessions in the U.S. begin and end are declared by a nonpartisan organization called the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER. Within the NBER, a small committee, currently comprising nine professors, officially decides when a recession has occurred usually months after the fact.

The group does not use two quarters of falling GDP as their guide, a common rule of thumb journalists and others employ to describe recessions. That’s in part because GDP figures are often revised by the U.S. government. Deciding when a country is or is not in a recession based on numbers that are constantly moving is not sensible.

Instead the committee uses many factors beyond GDP such as employment, income, industrial production and retail sales.

How long are the longest expansions?

In U.S. economic history, no economic expansion has lasted more than a decade.

The current economic expansion is the fourth-longest on record. This record stretches all the way back to the 1850s.

The three longer booms all occurred since John Glenn orbited the Earth. The third-longest expansion started in 1982 and lasted close to eight years. The second-longest began in 1961 and lasted a bit less than nine years. The longest expansion we’ve experienced started in 1991 and lasted a decade, until the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.

This means that the current period of growth is entering the economic history books as something special. In just a few months it will overtake the 1982 boom and become the third-longest U.S. expansion on record.

How much longer can it continue?

No one knows why economic expansions end. It could be a sudden trigger like the collapse of Lehman Brothers in late 2008 or just a general loss of confidence.

Economic theories, such as works by economist Hyman Minsky, explain that the longer an expansion continues, the more likely a recession becomes.

The length of an expansion matters because banks lower their lending standards over time. At the end of very long expansions, banks and finance companies are willing to lend to almost anyone because they become overly optimistic. Some of this willingness to lend carelessly is currently seen in U.S. car loans.

In Minsky models the economy is like a game of musical chairs at a party. Everyone has a wonderful time until the music stops and everyone wants to sit down simultaneously. Then suddenly “the euphoria becomes a panic, the boom becomes a slump.”

Whatever the reasons that expansions end, the fact that the U.S. has never had an expansion that lasted longer than a decade does not bode well for the current one lasting much longer.

Keep it well stuffed.
Piggie bank via www.shutterstock.com

What should you do?

No individual has the power to stop a recession. However, by planning you can mitigate the impact an economic downturn has on you and your family.

Right now most people are enjoying good economic times. They will not last forever. Save some money now. Pay down credit card debt and other loans. Give yourself a financial cushion that will protect you in the event of an economic downturn.

How much you need to save depends on your risk tolerance. One guide is that over the past century and a half, the typical recession has lasted less than 1.5 years.

Recessions do not come like clockwork, however. The data suggest no clear pattern of how long expansions last. But since only three expansions since the 1850s have beaten the one we are currently living through, it’s best not to be overconfident that the current one will continue forever.

Instead, make some plans now to mitigate the next downturn. Even if I am wrong, the worst thing that will happen is that you will have less debt and more money saved. Is that so bad?

The Conversation

Jay L. Zagorsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Finding trust and understanding in autonomous technologies

In 2016, self-driving cars went mainstream. Uber’s autonomous vehicles became ubiquitous in neighborhoods where I live in Pittsburgh, and briefly in San Francisco. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued new regulatory guidance for them. Countless papers and columns discussed how self-driving cars should solve ethical quandaries when things go wrong. And, unfortunately, 2016 also saw the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle.

Autonomous technologies are rapidly spreading beyond the transportation sector, into health care, advanced cyberdefense and even autonomous weapons. In 2017, we’ll have to decide whether we can trust these technologies. That’s going to be much harder than we might expect.

Trust is complex and varied, but also a key part of our lives. We often trust technology based on predictability: I trust something if I know what it will do in a particular situation, even if I don’t know why. For example, I trust my computer because I know how it will function, including when it will break down. I stop trusting if it starts to behave differently or surprisingly.

In contrast, my trust in my wife is based on understanding her beliefs, values and personality. More generally, interpersonal trust does not involve knowing exactly what the other person will do – my wife certainly surprises me sometimes! – but rather why they act as they do. And of course, we can trust someone (or something) in both ways, if we know both what they will do and why.

I have been exploring possible bases for our trust in self-driving cars and other autonomous technology from both ethical and psychological perspectives. These are devices, so predictability might seem like the key. Because of their autonomy, however, we need to consider the importance and value – and the challenge – of learning to trust them in the way we trust other human beings.

Autonomy and predictability

We want our technologies, including self-driving cars, to behave in ways we can predict and expect. Of course, these systems can be quite sensitive to the context, including other vehicles, pedestrians, weather conditions and so forth. In general, though, we might expect that a self-driving car that is repeatedly placed in the same environment should presumably behave similarly each time. But in what sense would these highly predictable cars be autonomous, rather than merely automatic?

There have been many different attempts to define autonomy, but they all have this in common: Autonomous systems can make their own (substantive) decisions and plans, and thereby can act differently than expected.

In fact, one reason to employ autonomy (as distinct from automation) is precisely that those systems can pursue unexpected and surprising, though justifiable, courses of action. For example, DeepMind’s AlphaGo won the second game of its recent Go series against Lee Sedol in part because of a move that no human player would ever make, but was nonetheless the right move. But those same surprises make it difficult to establish predictability-based trust. Strong trust based solely on predictability is arguably possible only for automated or automatic systems, precisely because they are predictable (assuming the system functions normally).

Embracing surprises

Of course, other people frequently surprise us, and yet we can trust them to a remarkable degree, even giving them life-and-death power over ourselves. Soldiers trust their comrades in complex, hostile environments; a patient trusts her surgeon to excise a tumor; and in a more mundane vein, my wife trusts me to drive safely. This interpersonal trust enables us to embrace the surprises, so perhaps we could develop something like interpersonal trust in self-driving cars?

In general, interpersonal trust requires an understanding of why someone acted in a particular way, even if you can’t predict the exact decision. My wife might not know exactly how I will drive, but she knows the kinds of reasoning I use when I’m driving. And it is actually relatively easy to understand why someone else does something, precisely because we all think and reason roughly similarly, though with different “raw ingredients” – our beliefs, desires and experiences.

In fact, we continually and unconsciously make inferences about other people’s beliefs and desires based on their actions, in large part by assuming that they think, reason and decide roughly as we do. All of these inferences and reasoning based on our shared (human) cognition enable us to understand someone else’s reasons, and thereby build interpersonal trust over time.

Thinking like people?

Autonomous technologies – self-driving cars, in particular – do not think and decide like people. There have been efforts, both past and recent, to develop computer systems that think and reason like humans. However, one consistent theme of machine learning over the past two decades has been the enormous gains made precisely by not requiring our artificial intelligence systems to operate in human-like ways. Instead, machine learning algorithms and systems such as AlphaGo have often been able to outperform human experts by focusing on specific, localized problems, and then solving them quite differently than humans do.

As a result, attempts to interpret an autonomous technology in terms of human-like beliefs and desires can go spectacularly awry. When a human driver sees a ball in the road, most of us automatically slow down significantly, to avoid hitting a child who might be chasing after it. If we are riding in an autonomous car and see a ball roll into the street, we expect the car to recognize it, and to be prepared to stop for running children. The car might, however, see only an obstacle to be avoided. If it swerves without slowing, the humans on board might be alarmed – and a kid might be in danger.

Our inferences about the “beliefs” and “desires” of a self-driving car will almost surely be erroneous in important ways, precisely because the car doesn’t have any human-like beliefs or desires. We cannot develop interpersonal trust in a self-driving car simply by watching it drive, as we will not correctly infer the whys behind its actions.

Of course, society or marketplace customers could insist en masse that self-driving cars have human-like (psychological) features, precisely so we could understand and develop interpersonal trust in them. This strategy would give a whole new meaning to “human-centered design,” since the systems would be designed specifically so their actions are interpretable by humans. But it would also require including novel algorithms and techniques in the self-driving car, all of which would represent a massive change from current research and development strategies for self-driving cars and other autonomous technologies.

Self-driving cars have the potential to radically reshape our transportation infrastructure in many beneficial ways, but only if we can trust them enough to actually use them. And ironically, the very feature that makes self-driving cars valuable – their flexible, autonomous decision-making across diverse situations – is exactly what makes it hard to trust them.

The Conversation

David Danks does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Trump Is Desperately Seeking A Latino For His Cabinet

Donald Trump triumphed in politics after a long stint as a reality TV star. And now, as he scrambles to fill his final cabinet slots, the pesident-elect is taking a close look at a Republican who tried his best to move in the opposite direction.

Meet Abel Maldonado, who runs a large farm and a small vineyard on California’s Central Coast and is suddenly in the running for agriculture secretary. Maldonado, the son of Mexican immigrants, has seen his star rise amid speculation that Trump (who constantly lashed out at Mexican and other immigrants during his campaign) “is scrambling to appoint a Hispanic official to serve in his Cabinet,” Politico reports. If Trump fails to include a Latino in his cabinet, he’ll be the first president since Jimmy Carter to do so. There are only four slots left, and Politico adds that “Trump has narrowed his focus to agriculture secretary as the best possibility” for choosing a Latino. 

Maldonado is is the latest in a parade of names Team Trump has floated for USDA, a chaotic process that I last updated here. In California politics, Maldonado is seen as a fallen prodigy. His political career peaked in 2009, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed the then-state senator as lieutenant governor. Less then a year later, Maldonado’s campaign to retain that office failed miserably. Since then, he has made unsuccessful bids for a seat in the US House and governor.

In 2016, Maldonado reportedly pitched himself as a potential reality TV star. Here’s The Sacramento Bee:

A video compilation that has rocketed around the Internet recently opens with an apparent working title: Meet the Maldonados. In it, the former state legislator and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate can be seen drinking wine with his daughter, asking his son about having a condom and laughing after his wife informs their daughter that “we watched porn when you were conceived.

At one point, a horse starts relieving itself in Maldonado’s house. “Yeah, Sacramento’s better than this,” a flustered Maldonado mutters as he cleans up.

The Bee reports that the show wasn’t picked up, and I failed to find the video compilation that “rocketed around the Internet,” despite an exhaustive search.

Maldonado met with the president-elect on Wednesday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. On the surface, Abel would bring a compelling back story. The son of immigrant farm workers from Mexico, he built his family’s plot from “a half acre of strawberries into a farm that now works over 6,000 acres and employs over 250 people and ships produce all over the world,” according to one bio. With his daughter, he runs a winery called Runway Vineyards.

But his ag businesses have had their own troubles. Agro-Jal, Maldanado’s produce farm, “has accumulated dozens of violations from Cal/OSHA since 1990, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens, and multiple citations for exposing workers to toxic pesticides and skirting clean water regulations, government records show,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010. Maldonado he was a victim of overzealous regulators, the Times added.

In 2015, the operation was hit with a class-action suit from former workers alleging unpaid minimum and overtime wages, as well as denial of sufficient breaks and meal periods. The suit is ongoing and now in the discovery phase, Allen Hutkin, the San Luis Obispo lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the workers, told me.

And as Ed Kilgore notes at New York Magazine, Maldonado is generally seen as a moderate Republican—which would put him out of step with the Senate Republicans who will vet the USDA pick.

Meanwhile, Elsa Murano, a former high USDA official and now director of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M, also is under consideration for USDA. Born in Cuba to parents who soon migrated to the United States, she too would qualify as Trump’s only cabinet pick with Hispanic heritage.

As I reported last week, Murano is also a classic example of the revolving door between industry and regulatory agencies. In 2004, Murano stepped down from her post as chief of the USDA division that oversees food safety at the nation’s slaughterhouses. Two years later, she joined the board of directors of pork giant Hormel, a company that runs some of the nation’s largest slaughterhouses. She has held that post ever since, with annual compensation of $237,980 and stock holdings worth $2,484,262 as of 2015.
 

Source: Mother Jones Politics

As Republicans ready to dismantle ACA, insurers likely to bolt

The Capitol Building as seen in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

There’s a joke among insurers that there are two things that health insurance companies hate to do – take risks and pay claims. But, of course, these are the essence of their business!

Yet, if they do too much of either, they will go broke, and if they do too little, their customers will find a better policy. This balancing act isn’t too hard if they have a pool sufficient to average out the highs and lows. I speak with some experience as the former CEO of one of these firms.

Employee-sponsored insurance has fit this model fairly well, providing good stability and reasonable predictability. Unfortunately, the market for individuals has never worked well.

Generally, this model forces insurers to take fewer risks so that they can still make money. They do this by excluding preexisting conditions and paying fewer claims. In such a market, fewer people are helped, and when they are able to get insurance, they pay a lot more for it than if they were part of an employee-sponsored plan.

The Affordable Care Act changed all of this. Companies were required to stop doing these bad things. In exchange for taking on substantially more risk of less healthy patients, they were promised more business by getting access to more potential customers.

The federal government offers subsidies to help pay the premiums for consumers whose income falls below a certain level. The law also stipulates that all people must be covered, or they face a penalty. This so-called individual mandate also guaranteed business for the insurance companies, because it led healthy people into the risk pool.

To entice insurers into the market, the ACA also offered well-established methods to reduce risk. For example, it built in protections for insurers who enrolled especially sick people. It also provided back-up payments for very high-cost cases and protected against big losses and limited big gains in the first three years.

These steps worked well in establishing a stable market for Medicare drug plans when this program started under President Bush in 2006. Competition there is vigorous, rates are lower than estimated and enrollees are satisfied. In other words, the market works well.

President Bush speaks on his Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit plan at the Asociacion Borinquena de Florida Central, Wednesday, May 10, 2006, in Orlando, Florida.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Congress did not honor the deal

But when the time came to pay up for risk reduction in the Obamacare exchanges, Congress reneged and paid only 12 percent of what was owed to the insurers. So, on top of the fact that the companies had to bear the risk of unknown costs and utilization in the start-up years, which turned out to be higher than they expected, insurers had to absorb legislative uncertainty of whether the rules would be rewritten.

It is no wonder that this year they have dramatically increased premiums, averaging 20 percent, to compensate for the extra risk they didn’t factor into the original lower rates. In contrast, underlying health costs are rising at about 5 percent.

Is the ACA here to stay? In this June 25, 2015 file photo, demonstrators cheers after the Supreme Court decided that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may provide nationwide tax subsidies.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

Repeal and replace?

And now comes the reality of the “repeal and replace” initiatives from the Republicans. If the uncertainty of this market was large before with the ACA, it is almost unknowable under whatever comes next. Thus the initial exit of some latecomers, including United Healthcare, and undercapitalized minor entrants, such as nonprofit co-ops, is almost certain to become a flood of firms leaving the exchanges. They have little choice since the risks are too large and the actuarially appropriate rates are still not obvious given the political turmoil and changing rules.

Some in Congress seem to think that passing the “repeal” part immediately but delaying its implementation for two or three years will somehow leave everything as it is now. But this naïve notion misses the fact that the riskiness of the Obamacare individual insurance exchange markets will have been ramped up to such a level that continuing makes no sense.

Even if a company reaches break-even in the “delay” years, it will lose when the repeal is effective. If the premium subsidies now available to lower-income enrollees go away immediately and the mandate to sign up for an insurance plan disappears, then the number of people purchasing individual policies on the exchanges will drop like a rock. In fact, it is clear that even debating this scenario is likely to be self-fulfilling, since insurers must decide on their participation for 2018 by the late spring of 2017. Look for many to leave then.

But what will happen in 2018? The homepage for healthcare.gov as seen in October 2016.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

When risks are too high, just exit

It is easy to leave a market when things look bad. The health plan I oversaw, although top-rated by JD Powers, was losing huge amounts when I took over. Part of the turnaround we put into place was to withdraw from a number of counties where most of the losses were occurring. The same will be the case in the ACA exchanges.

It is easy to predict that this induced uncertainty from Congress will effectively kill the exchanges even if it delays the implementation of repeal. As a result, all of the individuals who have benefited from coverage and subsidies will lose out. They will either not be able to gain insurance because of a preexisting condition, or they will not be able to afford the higher premiums.

When they leave the market, it is also easy to guess that the political and economic price will be substantial in terms of patient access, provider uncompensated care costs and employment in the health sector – a major job creator. It is hard to predict these costs, but they could be into the billions of dollars. And, the health of millions could be jeopardized.

Is there any way out of this dilemma for those who don’t like Obamacare? Clearly the first principle, since all of the solutions suggested rely on private insurers, is to reduce the level of risk for them – the opposite of what we are doing now! Even House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposals rely on private firms which will be loath to trust the game they are asked to play because of the dramatic changes to the rules.

If we want them to continue to do the good things required by the ACA, we can’t make it so uncertain. What this means is that the mechanisms designed to reduce risk and a stable set of operating arrangements must be reaffirmed as core principles of all reform and replace efforts. This shouldn’t be hard for market-oriented Republicans, if they can leave behind their political baggage. Blind talk of repeal with no clear way to build confidence among the private insurers, which will be needed in the replace phase, leads to market failure.

Like the dog that finally caught the car it had been chasing and doesn’t know what to do, what comes next for the administration and Congress is not clear. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves to think it will be easy or painless. Otherwise, it may be that the great experiment trying to establish a viable market for individual insurance – ironically long a conservative objective – will end in the chaos of what came before.

The Conversation

J.B. Silvers does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Obama Administration Expels Russian Officials, Sends Warning to Trump

President Barack Obama issued an executive order Thursday sanctioning Russia for its malicious cyber activity, ejecting 35 Russian intelligence officials from the United States, and barring Russian officials from entering two Russian-owned compounds in New York and Maryland.

The Obama administration’s actions come after revelations that Russia interfered in the November presidential election, although senior administration officials cautioned on a call with reporters Thursday that there is no evidence suggesting Russia was able to interfere with the actual vote. Once it became evident that Russia had hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s email server, senior administration officials said they worked to make sure voting would not be compromised, and they said were successful in those efforts.

The executive order is also a response to an increase in harassment toward US diplomats in Russia. Senior administration officials cited the assault of a US diplomat by a Russian police officer that was broadcast on Russian television in July. Officials also said the safety of US diplomats was compromised when some diplomats’ personal information was broadcast on Russian television. Russia has accused Washington of similar harassment toward its diplomats.

“We see this as: There are facts, and then there are the things Russia says,” an official said when asked about Russia’s denial of its involvement in the cyberattacks.

Another official said that the “pattern of Russian harassment is unprecedented for the post-Cold War era” and that it’s been steadily increasing for about two years now.

Officials acknowledged that not all the actions being taken are made public, and their efforts will continue in the coming months. They also acknowledged that when the Trump administration takes over in January, the new president could walk back this effort, but that such an action would be ill-advised. “It wouldn’t make much sense to invite back in Russian intelligence agents,” one senior administration official said.

Read the report issued Thursday by the intelligence community on Russian cyber activity:

 

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Source: Mother Jones Politics