You are browsing the archive for 2018 January 03.

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America's Health Care System Is an International Disgrace, and It's Only Getting Worse

January 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

Until we confront this reality, we can expect more preventable deaths and unnecessary suffering.

A common talking point among American exceptionalists is that the United States is blessed with one of the best health care systems in the world, and that residents of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand would all trade places with us if they only could. Sadly, their claim couldn't be further from the truth. While the U.S. does have its share of first-rate physicians, nurses, clinics and hospitals, gaining access to them remains an obstacle for millions of Americans. The reality is that the U.S. still lags behind the rest of the developed world—as well as some developing countries—when it comes to providing quality, affordable health care. And thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, approved by Republicans in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the United States' troubled health care system is likely to become that much worse.

When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act of 2010 into law, he realized that the U.S. was facing a brutal health insurance crisis. The ACA, for all its flaws, was a definite improvement over what the country had before. In 2009, a pre-Obamacare Harvard University study found that lack of health insurance was leading to roughly 45,000 preventable deaths annually in the U.S. and that uninsured Americans had a 40 percent higher chance of dying unnecessarily than Americans who had health insurance. Medical bankruptcies were rampant, even among Americans who thought they had comprehensive insurance through their jobs. Meanwhile the self-employed were uninsurable if they had a major preexisting condition, which could be anything from diabetes to asthma to high blood pressure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ACA reduced the number of Americans lacking health insurance from 48.6 million people in 2010 to 28.1 million in 2017. More than 20 million people have gained access to health care, and that number would be even higher if so many Republican-dominated states had not rejected Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

But by eliminating the ACA’s …read more


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Why It's Morally Wrong to Use Other Sentient Beings for Our Purpose—Whether for Food or Research

January 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Maureen Nandini Mitra, Earth Island Journal

The idea that “we were carnivores once” doesn't let us off the hook today.

At one point in her career, Lori Marino worked with NASA astronauts, studying how they respond to being in zero gravity conditions. While that was somewhat exciting, Marino says she “simply didn’t find humans as interesting as other animals.” So the neuroscientist and behavioral biologist went back to her first love – studying nonhumans. Internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins, whales, and primates, Marino is scientist of a rather rare order – one who thinks it’s “morally objectionable” to use other sentient animals for our purposes, whether it be for food, or for captive and invasive research.

In the early 2000s, Marino started a controversial public campaign to end the use of captive dolphins for entertainment and research. In 2010, she founded the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, a Utah-based nonprofit that seeks to transform our troubled relationship with other animals by bridging the gap between the academic research and the animal advocacy movement. She is the former science director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which works for the recognition and protection of fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.

Despite her deep empathy for animals, Marino didn’t always hold such strong views on animal rights. When she started off as a researcher, she euthanized lab rats to study their nervous systems. And she spent nearly two decades at Emory University in Atlanta, observing captive dolphins and measuring the brain-body ratios in dead dolphins and whales. In a free-wheeling conversation, Marino talked with me about everything from the evolution of her thinking about our relationship with other animals to why she believes “scientists make the best advocates.”

Maureen Nandini Mitra: What got you interested in science?

Lori Marino: I was always interested in science. I always had to get in there to find out how something worked or what would happen if I did this or that. But I think the question that always drove me was to find out what it would be like to be another animal. And that’s …read more


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What Is the Nuclear ‘Button’ and Where Did It Come From?

January 3, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Following a press conference, President Harry S. Truman poses for photographers reading the statement in which he grimly warned Communist aggressors that the U. S. is considering using the atomic bomb in the Korean War. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

For the first time since the Cold War, Americans are worried about their president’s ability to handle the nuclear arsenal. Just two days into 2018, President Donald Trump bragged on Twitter that his “Nuclear Button” was “much bigger & more powerful” than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s. For some, this was a troubling reminder of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Since John F. Kennedy, every president has had an officer that follows him around with the so-called “nuclear football,” a briefcase that can be used to launch a nuclear attack (it got its nickname from a nuclear war plan called “dropkick”). This is something the president would do not with a button but with his personal nuclear codes, which he also must carry on him at all times.

It’s a pretty big decision to place in the hands of one person, and an executive power that Congress has challenged under Trump’s administration. So far, no president has ever actually used the football—but still, why does the decision about starting nuclear war come down to the discretion of just one person?

Interestingly, the only president in history to approve a nuclear attack—Harry S. Truman—wasn’t actually very involved in the decision. Although he knew an attack was planned, military officials executed it on their own. Truman was on a ship when the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. He didn’t hear about the actual bombing until roughly 16 hours later, after he’d already spent some time relaxing on deck while a band played.

Following a press conference, President Harry S. Truman poses for photographers reading the statement in which he grimly warned Communist aggressors that the U. S. is considering using the atomic bomb in the Korean War. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Alex Wellerstein, a professor of science and technology studies at Stevens Institute of Technology, says Truman might not have known about the August 9 bombing of Nagasaki in advance. “I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that he realized that they had two bombs ready to use so quickly,” says …read more


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Mises's Élan Vital

January 3, 2018 in Economics

By Jeff Deist

Margit and Ludwig von Mises_1.jpg

By: Jeff Deist

Readers of Ludwig von Mises appreciate not only the depth and breadth of his insights, but also the elegance of his language. Even writing in English, a language he adopted in middle age, Mises conveyed dense conceptual theories and big ideas with a vigorous style not normally associated with economists. Nothing in his writing is dry or technical. This is why, for example, opening Human Action to any random page can yield immediate benefits. To use an analogy from the days when music came on vinyl and compact discs, with songs in a particular order, there are no throwaway songs in Mises’s work.

Mises did not hesitate to borrow heavily from other fields in his writing, including history, sociology, and philosophy (especially epistemology and logic), always in service of presenting economics holistically. His drive to understand the broader implications of human action and reason saved him from the kind of tunnel vision we see in academia today, where “intersectionality”— far from what its trendy name suggests— serves a narrow political purpose rather than the broader cause of advancing knowledge.

In this sense he demonstrated a characteristic humility, contrasted with the hubris displayed by so many brilliant academics: he understood his chosen profession as part of a larger human experience, rather than a self-serving body of knowledge with rigid boundaries to be guarded even as they continually bump up against other disciplines.

One great example of Mises’s wonderful use of language comes at the end of Human Action, in a typically ambitious chapter titled “Economics and the Essential Problems of Human Existence.” Here he uses the wonderful term “élan vital,” originated by the French philosopher Henri Bergson, to describe the innate and noble impulse that drives us to improve our condition. It is this “ineradicable craving” that compels us to seek happiness, minimize discontent, and spend our lives “purposively struggling against the forces adverse to (us).”

As usual, Mises’s syntax and diction hardly bring to mind a boring economics text:

Civilization, it is said, makes people poorer, because it multiplies their wishes and does not soothe, but kindles, desires. All the busy doings and dealings of hard-working men, their hurrying, pushing, and bustling are nonsensical, for they provide neither happiness nor quiet. Peace of mind and serenity cannot be won by action and secular ambition, but only by renunciation and resignation. The only kind of conduct proper to the sage …read more


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New Book Reveals Toxic Tech 'Bro' Culture and Sex Parties in Silicon Valley

January 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Emily C. Bell, AlterNet

For women hoping to make it in tech, it's a lose-lose situation.

While issues of sexual harassment and the gender pay gap are widely discussed in relation to Silicon Valley, a new article adapted from a forthcoming book is putting the spotlight on another side of gender and tech: sex parties. Emily Chang’s “Brotopia“ details the exploits of the men in Silicon Valley, while also looking at the origins and impact of the sex-and-drug fueled culture.

For the book, Chang spoke with almost 24 people about the parties. While there were many differing opinions on how problematic they actually are, the double standard applied to women in Silicon Valley, who must decide whether or not to attend, is clear.

Here are a few of the ways this double standard operates, featuring excerpts from Chang’s adaptation in Vanity Fair.

Not attending the parties can shut women out of deal-making and business opportunities

As one female entrepreneur told Chang, not attending parties led to the perception that absence was abnormal, with the consequence of missing shop talk: “They talk business at these parties. They do business,” she said. “They decide things.” Ultimately, this person moved herself and her business to New York.

Chang writes of the “unfair power dynamic” this creates, interviewing one woman who said, “If you do participate in these sex parties, don’t ever think about starting a company or having someone invest in you. Those doors get shut. But if you don’t participate, you’re shut out. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Attending the parties can bring women into the inner circle, but can lead to slut-shaming or damage to a career

While not attending can appear odd to men in tech, or leave women out of the loop, even if women do attend there’s no guarantee it will actually help their careers.

Chang spoke with one man, a married venture capitalist. Chang writes, “Married V.C. admits he might decline to hire or fund a woman he’s come across within his sex-partying tribe.” As he put it, “If it’s a friend of a friend or you’ve seen them half-naked at …read more


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Why It's Impossible to Keep Judge Nominations Non-Political

January 3, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

The year just past was a big one for judges. I don’t mean the
decisions they reached or the big cases argued at the Supreme
Court, but how our black-robed arbiters were picked and who they
are. Few would’ve predicted the record number of circuit court
confirmations (12) or total nominees (68), or their quality (a few
overly publicized weak spots notwithstanding). This presidential
administration has surpassed even George W. Bush’s well-oiled
machine for selecting committed and youthful originalists and
textualists, and getting them through the Senate.

A year ago, we were still getting over the surprise that the
next resident of the White House would be Donald J. Trump. It was
just sinking in that one of the new president’s first orders of
business would be to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat.
Republican senators’ refusal to take up any nominee until after the
election, of course, preserved the vacancy.

People lost their minds over this maneuver, labeling it a
constitutional crisis, or a dereliction of duty, or the GOP’s
denial of President Obama’s legitimacy. It wasn’t any
of those things, but just good ol’-fashioned hardball
politics. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a risky
gamble that paid off, in significant part because voters decided
that Trump’s list of Supreme Court potentials was better than
what they could expect from Hillary Clinton.

We have divergent
interpretive theories that map onto ideologically sorted parties,
so is it any surprise that elections are high-stakes for

So all the harping about Neil Gorsuch being an
“illegitimate” justice is sour grapes, tied into
general complaints about the election—such as that the
Russians prevented Clinton from campaigning in Wisconsin and wrote
her “basket of deplorables” speech—as much as
anything else. Trump recognized that this was a winning issue and
exploited it.

But What about the Lower Courts?

Lower-court judges, meanwhile, were real wildcards. If a
constitutional lawyer who had been editor-in-chief of the
Harvard Law Review deprioritized judicial
nominations—Obama made relatively few his first term, and
especially his first year—how much would a celebrity
real-estate developer care? Would Trump see these as patronage
posts for his casino lawyers and other JDs he encountered in the
entertainment world? Would he just focus on immigration and trade
and let the judiciary erode away?

As it turns out, the president took door number three: defer
entirely to his counsel, Don McGahn, a libertarian-minded political
lawyer who has been taking advice from the Federalist Society (of
which he and most of his team are members) and other conservative
legal elites.

The result has been the biggest success of Trump’s first
year, and judges of the same kind and caliber as those
conservative-constitutionalist …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Is Inflation Driven more by "Expectations" than by the Money Supply?

January 3, 2018 in Economics

By Frank Shostak


By: Frank Shostak

For most economic commentators the underlying driving force of inflation is inflationary expectations1. For instance, if there is a sharp increase in the price of oil, individuals may form higher inflationary expectations that could set in motion spiraling price inflation. Or so it is held.

If expectations could somehow be made less responsive to various price shocks, then over time this would mitigate the effect of a price shock on price inflation, it is argued.

Once we accept that inflation expectations are the driving force of the inflationary process, the next step is to discover a way — using central-bank policies — to make these expectations less sensitive to various price shocks. Once this happens, then expectations have become “anchored,” and various price shocks such as sharp increases in oil or food prices are likely to be of a transitory nature. This means that over time price shocks are unlikely to have much effect on the rate of inflation.

How To “Anchor” Inflation Expectations: Inflation Targeting

To make inflation expectations well-anchored individuals must be clear about the monetary policy of central bank policy makers. If central bankers make it clear they plan to pursue a specific level of price inflation, they believe they can manage present and future expectations for inflation. On the other hand, as long as individuals are unclear about the precise goal policymakers are aiming at with respect to inflation, it will be difficult to bring inflationary expectations to a state of equilibrium.

It's Not Really About Expectations

This is all an interesting theory, but the key factor behind inflation is not expectations — it's growth in the money supply.

After all, without a preceding increase in money supply there cannot be general increase in prices, which is what most mainstream commentators mean when they speak of “inflation.”

A price of a good is the amount of dollars paid per unit of a good. For a given amount of goods, if the stock of money remains unchanged the amount of dollars spent per unit of a good will stay unchanged, all other things being equal.

For example, let us say that because of a sudden sharp increase in the price of oil people have formed higher inflation expectations. If the money stock remains unchanged, then no general increase in prices …read more


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How TV Killed Hollywood’s Golden Age

January 3, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch and Judy Garland as Dorothy in a scene from 'The Wizard Of Oz', 1939. (Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

If you consider films like Rebecca, Citizen Kane or All About Eve to be cinematic masterpieces, you’re not alone. All three were born during Hollywood’s Golden Age, a wildly creative era in which movies dominated mass entertainment and their glamorous stars entranced the public.

But during the 1940s and 1950s, that success suddenly evaporated. Movie palaces shuttered, once mighty studios closed down and some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, directors and screenwriters stopped making films. It was the end of an era and television was to blame: the new technology effectively killed Hollywood’s Golden Age.

These days, you’re much more likely to turn on your television than to head to a movie theater. Here’s how TV captivated American audiences—and upended just about everything about the movie business along the way.

Though historians can’t agree on the exact years of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, the years 1930 through 1945 were particularly good for moviemaking. Hollywood glittered not just with profit, but with popular stars and brilliant filmmakers. In those 15 years, more than 7,500 features were released and the number of Americans who watched at least one movie in a theater per week swelled to more than 80 million. It was the best of times—and beloved movies like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca, King Kong and Gone With the Wind are proof of the creative genius unleashed by those stable years.

Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch and Judy Garland as Dorothy in a scene from ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, 1939. (Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

Part of the winning formula had to do with the studio system. On the lots of the “big eight” studios (20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, United Artists, Universal Studios and Warner Bros.), pools of incomparable acting talent on long-term contracts and hordes of talented artisans helped turn screenplays into vivid films. Since studios were so profitable (in part due to their iron grip on movie distribution), they could afford to gamble on creative writing and art direction. And their careful management of actors’ personal and professional lives meant they had plenty of beloved movie stars.

But as the good years wore on, movies developed a potentially destructive rival: TV. By the 1930s, technological leaps and a series of high-profile experimental broadcasts made it clear that one day television would be broadcast directly into people’s homes. Though …read more


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Dred Scott

January 3, 2018 in Economics

By Chris Calton

Historical Controversies Podcast: Season 2

By: Chris Calton

What is now considered the worst Supreme Court ruling of all time, Dred Scott v. Sandford, was a decision that sought to end the controversy over slavery that had raged since the Compromise of 1850. By ruling that Congress had no legal power to prohibit slavery in the territories, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney poured gasoline on the fire that was dividing the nation.

…read more


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The European Union Must Think Local To Address Global Challenges

January 3, 2018 in Economics

By Daniel Lacalle


By: Daniel Lacalle

The recent elections in the Eurozone have shown that the risks to the European project remain. In Germany, an insufficient victory from Merkel, the collapse of the social democrats and the rise of the alternative right and extreme left have surprised many.

However, it was predictable. The relief rally in the Euro versus its trading currencies and the bullish tone of equity and bond markets after the French elections and the victory of Macron were, in many ways, based on a very optimistic view of strengthening of the current European model. Markets quickly forgot that almost 40% of the voters in France decided to support radical anti-EU parties at both sides of the political spectrum. The German elections showed that this bullish perception was a mirage. In Germany, almost 30% of the vote went to radicals.

The European Union is ignoring this trend and soldiering on with what Brussels calls “more Europe”, which often means more interventionism and central planning. And citizens are not happy with this. Instead of seeing Brexit as a warning sign and an opportunity to improve the European Union strengthening freedom, openness and diversity, the separation of the UK has been taken as an opportunity to advance in an incorrect model that mirrors the French “dirigisme”, a central-planned, heavily intervened model.

The European Commission published in September a surprisingly euphoric docu- ment declaring the end of the crisis thanks to “the decisive action of the European Union”. However, that positive tone contrasts with a growing discontent among European citizens. There is no denying that the European Union is in recovery mode, and that is a positive. Business confidence is rising, and manufacturing indices are in expansion. However, the pace of said expansion has moderated in the past months, and challenges remain. The European economy is not “in shape”, as the European Commission boosts, and this explains a significant part of the rising populist and radical vote.

According to the Bank of International Settlements and Merrill Lynch, Europe has more zombie companies today than before the crisis, i.e. companies that generate operating profits that do not cover their financial costs, despite all-time low-interest rates and an unprecedented monetary stimulus. European banks, at the end of 2016, had more than 1 trillion in non-performing loans, a figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan. Europe has gone from financial crisis to …read more