Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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

(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


Activism Resources: 

Find a Next System Teach-In near you or register to host one where you live at 

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

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:

Written by BOTL Communications Director Amanda Hoffman 

Produced by Jay! Tomlinson

Thanks for listening!

Visit us at

Check out the BotL iOS/Android App in the App Stores!

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Like at

Contact me directly at

Review the show on iTunes and Stitcher!

Source: Best of the Left

How to get ready for the economic recession coming in 2017

Time to stock up? Canned goods via

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

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

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 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

(2016/09/20) Building momentum, making progress (Money in Politics) (Repost)

Edition #1043

Today we look at some of the structures of money in politics and how the tide is beginning to turn

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Show Notes

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

Ch. 2: Act 1: The Truth About Citizens United – Follow the Money #8 – Represent.Us – Air Date: 1-26-16

Ch. 3: Song 1: Addiction – Medina

Ch. 4: Act 2: @DerekCressman on Free speech vs paid speech with guest host @AngieCoiro – Bradcast from @TheBradBlog – Air Date 5-31-16

Ch. 5: Song 2: Buy My Vote – The Haymarket Squares

Ch. 6: Act 3: How To Destroy The Corrupt Political Establishment – @theyoungturks – Air Date: 04-20-16

Ch. 7: Song 3: Welcome To the Machine – Pink Floyd

Ch. 8: Act 4: @USRepDavidJolly on The STOP Act Part 1 – @RalphNader Radio Hour – Air Date 8-27-16

Ch. 9: Song 4: Moneytalks – Vitamin String Quartet

Ch. 10: Act 5: Steve Israel on Congressional Fundraising – @LastWeekTonight with @iamjohnoliver – Air Date 04-04-16

Ch. 11: Song 5: Money Grabber (Live @ KEXP) – Fitz and The Tantrums

Ch. 12: Act 6: @USRepDavidJolly on The STOP Act Part 2 – @RalphNader Radio Hour – Air Date 8-27-16

Ch. 13: Song 6: Changes – Langhorne Slim & The Law

Ch. 14: Act 7: Rhode Island Demands Money Out Of Politics – @theyoungturks – Air Date: 06-21-16

Produced by Jay! Tomlinson

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Source: Best of the Left

(2016/12/23) The War on Christmas™ Dispatch 2016

Edition #1067

Today we look back on the decade-long War on Christmas™ to understand how we got to now as well as the uphill battle we Christmas Warriors now have in the face of a Trump presidency

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Show Notes

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

Ch. 2: Act 1: Progressives War On Xmas and O’Reilly’s Response – Young Turks Air Date: 2010

Ch. 3: Song 1: War On Christmas – The Enablers & Friends

Ch. 4: Act 2: The War on Christmas: Sam’s Big Chance to Further the Cause – Majority Report – Air Date: 11-25-15

Ch. 5: Song 2: The Holidays Are Here (and We’re Still at War) – Brett Dennen

Ch. 6: Act 3: Genesis of Bill O’Reilly’s War On Christmas – Jimmy Dore Show – Air Date 12-6-13

Ch. 7: Song 3: War Medley: Onward Christian Soldiers / I’m On the Battlefield / Keep On the Firing Line – Sanders Family

Ch. 8: Act 4: Megyn Kelly: Don’t Worry Kids, Jesus and Santa Are White!! – Majority Report – Air Date: 12-13-13

Ch. 9: Song 4: The War On the War On Christmas – Macarone

Ch. 10: Act 5: Sarah Palin ‘War on Christmas’ Book Flops – David Pakman Show – Air Date: 12-06-13

Ch. 11: Song 5: War On Christmas Is Over – Steve Goodie

Ch. 12: Act 6: Right Wing’s Fake War on Christmas Started Nearly 100 Years Ago – Majority Report – Air Date: 12-19-13

Ch. 13: Song 6: Christians and Pagans – Dar Williams

Ch. 14: Act 7: Christians Very Offended By Starbucks Holiday Cups – @theyoungturks – Air Date: 11-10-15

Ch. 15: Song 7: War on Christmas – Jamie Kilstein and the Agenda

Ch. 16: Act 8: War on Christmas Update: Congressional Resolution Phase – Majority Report (@majorityfm) – Air Date: 12-16-15

Ch. 17: Song 8: War On Christmas Day – Tim Di Pasqua & Tom Anderson

Ch. 18: Act 9: Fox News: Corey Lewandowski Appears On Hannity & Announces War On Christmas Victory! – Majority Report (@MajorityFM) – Air Date: 12-8-16

Ch. 19: Song 9: Tiny Tree Christmas – Guster

Ch. 20: Act 10: Right Wing leaders assume Republican gullibility w _Obama_s War on Christmas_ deception – @AllInWithChris Hayes – Air Date 12-8-16

Ch. 21: Song 10: White Wine in the Sun – Tim Minchin

Ch. 22: Act 11: Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat – Colbert Report – Air Date: 2010

Ch. 23: Final comments on todays activism and preparing for next years war

Closing Music: There’s No War On Christmas When Christmas Is In Your Heart – The Mockers

Produced by Jay! Tomlinson

Thanks for listening!

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Source: Best of the Left

Single-sex schools: Could they harm your child?

Are single-sex schools better? Franklin Park Library, CC BY

Gender-segregated education is making a comeback. Single-sex classrooms, long discouraged under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education, have been gaining prominence in recent years, especially in urban charter schools.

This fall, Los Angeles saw the launch of two all-girls’ schools – the Girls’ Academic Leadership Academy and the Girls’ Athletic Leadership School (known by the perky acronyms, “GALA” and “GALS”) – and Washington, D.C. district opened the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School for boys (or “Young Kings,” as they refer to their students). These schools join growing networks of inner-city single-sex public schools, such as the Urban Prep Academies for boys and the Young Women’s Leadership Academies geared largely toward students of color.

Parents who choose single-sex schools do so for many reasons, but a major one is the belief that “boys and girls learn differently.” Single-sex schools also claim to better tailor instruction to one or the other gender.

But brain and behavioral research does not support such beliefs. I study gender development in the brain, and my research has found no difference in the way boys and girls process information, learn, remember, read or do math. Similarly, in-depth analysis of educational outcomes by Janet Hyde and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin has found scant evidence that single-sex schooling leads to better academic achievement.

On the other hand, research suggests that single-sex schooling may actually be harmful to children – by failing to prepare them for gender-integrated workplaces, shared leadership and equal partnership in families.

Gender segregation vs. racial segregation

Since the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. The Board of Education, the evidence has been clear that integration works for breaking down racial gaps in education.

The Supreme Court asserted that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The court’s decision was based on social science evidence that separating and emphasizing differences between groups of people breeds stereotyping and discrimination.

A class photo of an all boys school.
Nick, CC BY

Research by Rebecca Bigler at the University of Texas and Lynn Liben at Penn State University has further corroborated this. Their work shows that children are especially susceptible to feelings of favoritism about members of their own group, and to prejudice against those in contrasting groups. The effect on children is the same whether adults divide them by race, gender or even t-shirt color.

Similarly, in classroom-based research Valerie Lee at the University of Michigan found the greatest expression of sexism in all-boys’ schools. She found such behavior was not limited to males – all-girls’ campuses could also foster stereotyping and a type of “pernicious sexism,” or dumbing-down of challenging material.

These findings led Lee to drop her initial advocacy for single-sex education and conclude that true gender equity could be achieved only through coeducation.

Harms of gender segregation

Other researchers have found that gender segregation inhibits opportunities for girls and boys to learn from each other.

For example, Carol Martin and her colleagues at Arizona State University have found that boys and girls, who differ only modestly in infancy, grow further apart in their attitudes, abilities and mutual understanding the more their environment distinguishes them from each other. They called this the “gender segregation cycle.”

Girls who grow up with brothers tend to be more interested in sports and building toys than girls without brothers. For their part, boys have been found to develop better verbal ability and relational skills, and especially, achieve greater academic growth the more time and space they shared with girls.

Girls who grow up with boys are more interested in sports.
Lighttruth, CC BY-NC

Single-sex education eliminates such colearning opportunities and simultaneously increases discrimination and stereotyping. For example, the ASU research team found that the more single-sex academic classes middle school students were enrolled in each day, the stronger was the belief of students that “boys are better in math” and “girls are better in language arts.”

Some researchers even argue that gender segregation of children’s sports has suppressed female athletic achievement.

The real reason for the STEM gender gap

In spite of such findings, schools like GALS and GALA are often promoted as good at preparing girls for predominantly male STEM fields such as engineering and computer science.

But there is no evidence for this. In fact, research finds that women who attend single-sex colleges or enroll in all-female science classes are not likelier to pursue and persist in STEM careers.

That’s because the problem is not girls’ academic ability or even their confidence in STEM subjects. It’s the culture of gender segregation: Young women turn away from careers in engineering and computer science because they feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in overly male environments.

On the flip side, it is also cultural separation that inhibits many men from entering careers like nursing and teaching. In other words, gender segregation is the problem, not the solution for getting more women to advance in STEM and for more men to enter the HEAL professions –health, education, administration and literacy.

The question now is whether single-sex schooling will grow even more rapidly with the increasing support for charter schools and vouchers. Both are avenues of the “choice” movement that is deeply embraced by single-sex advocates.

Rather than separating boys and girls, many scholars argue schools should be moving in the opposite direction: fostering greater gender inclusion. Public education could do more to teach boys and girls to work together, preparing them to better respect and support each other in their future jobs, families and civic lives.

The Conversation

Lise Eliot is affiliated with the American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES), a network of researchers who study the role of gender in development and education.

Source: The Conversation

Why academics consulting with industry on health care may be an idea whose time has come

The case for academic-industry collaboration. Teamwork image via

Perhaps ironically, the advent of the Trump presidency could signal an even greater role for academics in shaping public policy. The president-elect has set out an ambitious agenda, but with many details left to fill in, and congressional Democrats are preparing their opposition.

The likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act and continued angst over drug prices mean health economists like us will be asked to provide answers to inform policy debates. For example, a majority of American voters believe pharmaceutical prices are too high. Less clear is what to do about it. It is here academics play an important role, helping to evaluate the impact of policies ranging from federal negotiation of drug prices to finding alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

So it is a good time to ask: How do we know what we say we know, and can we be trusted to steer through hyper-partisanship and corporate self-interest? Research in many areas, including health economics, features partnership and collaboration between industry and academics like us. Private firms face a range of difficult questions that need answers. Does a drug work? For whom is it most valuable? Academics are trained to answer important policy questions like these.

How do academic researchers collaborate with industry?

First and foremost, we – like all professors – are bound by university and academic standards. These include making sure we continue to effectively discharge our academic responsibilities for teaching, administration and publication of findings in the scientific press. And, we’ve realized that our efforts to improve health care become more relevant when we collaborate with the private sector. The ivory tower is not always the best place to understand the social benefits of treatments, the incentives for medical innovation and how aligning prices with value can aid consumers.

To be sure, collaboration with industry supplements our income through consulting fees. But no matter who funds our research – foundations, government or companies – we apply the same template to our work. We seek to publish our results; our findings are subject to peer review; and industry sponsorships are disclosed.

Generic over-the-counter medicines are seen in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, 2008.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

How do collaborations between university and industry work?

The goal is to reframe the policy debate and raise questions not only about government action, but also the private sector. Here is an example.

In 2004, health plans were starting to raise copayments on commonly used drugs for asthma, diabetes and hypertension.

This didn’t make sense to us, since drugs for these conditions are among the most important tools to control chronic disease. Higher copayments often discourage consumers from taking their medication, and this can lead to more emergency room visits, hospitalizations or even death, from uncontrolled illness. We tried and failed to persuade the Healthcare Financing Administration – then the agency that ran Medicare – to support an intervention that encouraged the appropriate use of important medications.

Ultimately, we published a paper, funded by Merck, which showed that raising prescription drug copayments – even by as little as US$5 – could significantly reduce how often chronically ill people take medications. This paper helped elevate the issue of high drug costs into the national debate and helped stimulate a health policy discussion about how best to design the drug “formularies” that set rules for copayments, prior authorization and other processes that insurers use to influence the use of prescription drugs. It also influenced other research, with more than 500 citations, according to Google Scholar.

Pharmacist Karen Kalies at a Wal-Mart pharmacy in Oklahoma City, Nov. 16, 2006.
AP Photo

But more important than having other academics cite our work is the impact on policy. When Wal-Mart introduced its $4 copay for generic drugs, they cited only our article in the program announcement. The largest retailer in the country had – with one bold move – revolutionized pharmaceutical benefit design. It wasn’t long before drug copayments were coming down again for generics and other chronic disease medications across the health insurance industry.

Other researchers have also found success by collaborating with industry on research. Work by academic health economists with Pitney Bowes, for example, demonstrated similar results to ours, and has helped us understand issues as diverse as the effects of depression in the workplace. And, many new medications have been studied and tested in collaborations between pharmaceutical firms and academic researchers.

The lesson is clear: If you want to have lasting impact, private sector engagement is often one of the best ways.

This research matters, but funding lags

The importance of health economics has multiplied in recent years, as prices have risen and new – but expensive – therapies come to market.

Unfortunately, Congress has scaled back public funding for health economics research. The founding legislation for the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) expressly prohibits this agency from thinking about cost at all, because it is not considered to be of direct importance to patients.

Last year, NIH issued guidance narrowing the types of health economics research that would be funded. In keeping with PCORI’s approach, the NIH excluded research focused on the financing of health care, cost-containment strategies, the effect of prices on health care and other topics within the purview of economics.

The National Institutes of Health has narrowed what types of health economics research are funded.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Private nonprofit philanthropic foundations can help by providing funding for research on health care costs, but they lack the scale to solve this problem on their own. Funding from the for-profit sector – life sciences companies, health insurers, health care delivery systems, medical device and diagnostics companies, and the like – is needed to fill the gap.

We need to hold the work up to public scrutiny

The biggest concern with academic consulting is that the industry favors projects that may portray them in a positive light. This is why publication, and further scrutiny, of research results and methods is needed.

We have always welcomed that type of debate and provide a platform for it through our academic and publishing affiliations. Full disclosure of methods encourages researchers – even those funded by for-profit firms – to “get it right,” because their work will remain subject to public review and criticism long after publication. This is precisely why we have published our methods and findings in dozens of academic articles over the years.

One way to judge the success of consulting work is to see whether it opens up new areas for future investigation and debate.

Over the years, our consulting research has demonstrated how to quantify the value cancer patients place on hope of a big increase in life expectancy and the social returns to the federal government’s longstanding “war on cancer.”

We have presented evidence that private health insurers do a better job of containing fluctuations in health care costs than public insurers.

We have documented an empirical link between Medicaid’s policies towards treating serious mental illness and rates of incarceration. These studies influenced and ignited health policy debates around the world.

Academic collaboration is fed by a desire to learn from peers and colleagues, not a desire to remain in lockstep on every point. Indeed, we do not always agree with our colleagues in academia, government or the private sector. For instance, our recent proposals to step up antitrust enforcement and reduce patent protections on the pharmaceutical industry have triggered spirited debate with industry.

At a time of deep political division, an academic approach to policymaking has never been more important. We need to question each others’ positions based on the strength of the evidence. If we hold to that principle, the result is better policy for all of us.

The Conversation

Darius Lakdawalla is a co-founder, Chief Scientific Officer, and holds equity in, Precision Health Economics, an economic consultancy that works with the life sciences industry.

Dana Goldman is a co-founder, and holds equity in, Precision Health Economics, an economic consultancy that works with the life sciences industry.

Source: The Conversation

Assassination of the Russian ambassador a big loss for Turkey

The latest victim of Turkey’s climate of insecurity is Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

Karlov was assassinated Dec. 19 by a 22-year-old police officer. Disguised as a security guard in a black suit, the gunman stood behind Karlov as the ambassador was speaking in an art gallery just yards from the U.S. embassy.

“Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” he shouted as he pulled the trigger.

Karlov’s death will have consequences reaching far beyond Ankara.

Following the terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport in June 2016, I explained Turkey’s foreign policy sins and argued that Turkey’s row with Russia over Syria was one of them.

Let’s consider what the ambassador’s assassination could mean for ongoing efforts by Turkey and Russia to repair that strained relationship.

What happens in Syria

To understand the latest tensions between Turkey and Russia, look to war-torn Syria, where the two countries have clashed.

Since the start of the Syrian unrest in 2011, Turkey has supported a gamut of rebel elements ranging from the Free Syrian Army to Jabhat al-Nusra to – allegedly – the Islamic State to topple Bashar al-Assad. At that time, the Syrian president was on good terms with then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their relations soured when Assad began to brutally repress civilian demonstrators inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere.

Russia, on the other hand, still supports the Assad regime. So do Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah. The conflict is a sectarian clash, but it is also an opportunity for regional powerhouse Russia to assert control. With the help of Iran, Syria and the lack of a U.S. presence, Russia is exploiting the power vacuum in the neighborhood.

When Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015, it was not only an attempt to make space for the rebels on the ground but also a show of force to undercut Russian influence in Turkey’s backyard.

Predictably, Turkey’s belligerence backfired. Imposing bans on trade and tourism, Putin delivered a powerful punch to Turkey’s economy. Paralyzed in Syria and constrained by the economic situation at home, President Erdogan formally apologized to the Russian leader in June.

The thawing of the crisis continued in July. When factions in the Turkish military staged a coup to remove Erdogan, the Russian leader was the first to condemn the failed takeover attempt and stand beside his counterpart. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe were urging restraint and respect for the rights of those involved in the coup attempt. Not the best way to support Turkish democracy, Erdogan scolded. Putin did not have to lift a finger to pull Turkey closer.

The apology also cleared the way for Turkey’s ground offensive, Operation Euphrates Shield, which began in August. The operation has removed IS from Turkey’s border region with Syria. It also seeks to stop the Syrian Kurds from expanding their presence in northern Syria, where Turkey’s security interests lie.

Russia’s shadow on the operation remains undeniable, however. Erdogan said on Nov. 29 that Turkey entered Syria to “end Assad’s rule.” He revised his remarks two days later, stressing that “the aim of the Euphrates Shield operation is against terror, not against anyone or any country.” Reports suggest that it was the Kremlin’s reaction that caused the change in rhetoric.

Russia continues to tip the balance in favor of Assad. Aleppo, which was once Syria’s biggest city, has long been a haven for the rebels. The ongoing battle for the city took a new turn in November when the Russian-backed Syrian offensive began to purge the rebel forces. Turkey, a long-time supporter of the rebels, is currently part of a triad with Russia and Iran to bring the conflict to an end. Yet its role is currently limited to assisting efforts to evacuate civilians and rebels from the devastated city.

The gunman’s final words before he was shot on the scene suggest he was outraged by this Russian devastation in Syria. We may never know if he was a lone wolf influenced by the recent public outcry in Turkey regarding the carnage in Aleppo.

The fallout

Andrey Karlov’s death is more than a glaring display of Turkey’s incapacitated security and intelligence apparatus. It is a diplomatic fiasco that the Russian administration will make sure to milk to the fullest. This does not mean that Putin will publicly shame and denigrate Turkey. Rather, Russia will use this fiasco to diminish Turkey’s influence in Syria, especially in the context of post-war transition. For all intents and purposes, the sun has set on Turkey’s Syria policy.

Both leaders agree that this was an act of “provocation” by forces upset about their warm relationship. Whether words are as powerful as deeds is yet to be seen.

Russia has already sent a group to Turkey to investigate Karlov’s assassination. Turkey suspects that the assailant was a Gulenist – a follower of the U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is also believed to have orchestrated the July coup. Incidentally, Turkey has also claimed since July that it was a Gulenist officer who downed the Russian jet in November 2015.

Russia could not care less who’s who. Turkey, on the other hand, does.

If the Turkish investigation concludes that the assailant had ties to Gulen, this would be the government’s golden ticket. Since the July coup, Turkish officials have been asking the U.S. to extradite the cleric. Finding a link between Gulen and the gunman could provide Turkey with the much-needed impetus to make it happen. Considering the Putin-friendly actors in the incoming Trump administration like secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, we might be closer to seeing Gulen on an Ankara-bound flight than we have ever been.

The Conversation

Sibel Oktay 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

(2016/12/20) The economics of the greater good (Culture)

Edition #1066

Today we look at the economics of our society through fresh eyes and make the case for a smarter way to work that taps into the things that really matter

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: A history of happiness – Backstory – Air Date 7-17-15

Ch. 3: Song 1: Mirage – Sabrina Carpenter

Ch. 4: Act 2: How Does the Commons Work? – @TheNextSystem Project – Air Date 6-21-16

Ch. 5: Song 2: N/A

Ch. 6: Act 3: The case for the 32-hour workweek – The Atlantic – Air Date 7-9-15

Ch. 7: Song 3: This Moment (Live @ KEXP) – Led To Sea

Ch. 8: Act 4: Courtney E. Martin: The new American Dream – TEDTalks – Air Date: 9-7-16

Ch. 9: Song 4: Struggle – Ringside

Ch. 10: Act 5: The Pluralist Commonwealth – @TheNextSystem Project- Air Date 9-6-16 

Ch. 11: Song 5: Common Good – David Andrews

Ch. 12: Act 6: Get Community Activism Skills with Citizen Muscle Boot Camp via @storyofstuff – Best of the Left Activism

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

Ch. 14: Act 7: The Economics of Externalities – Progressive Faith Sermons w/ @RevDrRay – Air Date 12-4-16


Ch. 15: A few thoughts from a conservative perspective – Bill from Michigan

Ch. 16: They’re against it because we’re in favor of it – Eric from San Francisco

Voicemail Music: Loud Pipes – Classics

Ch. 17: Final comments in response to todays voicemails

Closing Music: Here We Are – Everyone’s in Everyone



Register for the free, online Citizen Muscle Boot Camp


After the Election: We Keep Pushing Forward (Story of Stuff Project Blog)

She Was Just One Person…Until She Joined Up with Her Neighbors to Take on Nestlé (Story of Stuff Project Blog)

All Hands on Deck! How We’ll Move Forward in 2017 (Story of Stuff Project Blog)

Written by BOTL Communications Director Amanda Hoffman

Produced by Jay! Tomlinson

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Source: Best of the Left

Prima Donnie, the Russian POTUS

Unfolding like a high school play written by the class bullies, the pre-prez era of the nasty pervert Trump couldn’t be more stupider.

It won’t be a surprise when the Russian press starts showing photos of the orgies that Trump and his buddies would put on and attend. Frankly, I don’t want to see any more of his wife in any less.

The wrinkle is that this might wake up the sheeple and in the long run benefit us all. The way that the Republican thugs had manipulated the demographics of voting so that they had 1.5 votes for every one of us non-haters, it was going to take decades for that to unravel. Now, it will be obvious…a vote for a republican is a vote for an anti-social.