The Health Disaster that is the United States

The US ranks 1st in spending on health and 37th on actual physical health. The reason for this disparity is that capitalism and profit in the health industry consumes so many healthcare dollars. The US is the leader in privatized health care on the planet. The numbers speak for themselves.

Nonetheless, Congress and Pres Obama are tinkering at the edges of this system and the best they can come up with includes mandatory health insurance with financial penalties for families that “flout the requirement.” If its mandatory, it has been nationalized and should be paid by tax dollars instead of being mandated as private industry with highly paid ceo’s reaping benefits and poor families facing fines for choosing groceries over health insurance premiums.

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Proposing a Public Health Option as a ‘Safety Net’

President Obama and many Democrats want to create a government insurance plan to compete with private insurers. They say it would hold down costs. But Republicans say a government plan would have inherent advantages and could drive private insurers from the market, leading to a huge expansion of the federal role.

Mr. Baucus’s bill would require most Americans to carry health insurance, with financial penalties as high as $3,800 a year for a family that flouts the requirement. Ms. Snowe offered two amendments to reduce the penalty or replace it with a “defined minimum contribution,” to help pay for health care.

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Plastic Trash to Fuel Technology?

Yes, sounds good. Greenpeace is quoted in the article essentially saying we need to stop creating plastic trash and that argument has to resonate with anyone familiar with the amount of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean.

There are lots of tradeoffs that have to be made. This sounds like an efficient technological advance for dealing with waste materials, but it certainly relies on the assumption that there will always be plastic waste. Who knows?

Encouraging to know that people are working on these kinds of technological advances. There is certainly a significant amount of plastic waste material on the planet today to feed this technology in the short term.

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Turning Trash Into Fuel

D.C. Start-Up Aims to Pitch Oil Made From Plastic Waste

Plastic soda bottles, Big Gulp cups and empty sour cream containers get fed into the top of the three-story machine. About 10 minutes later, out the other side comes a light-brown synthetic oil that can be converted into fuel for a truck or a jet airplane.

Envion is demonstrating its plastics-to-oil technology at the waste center in Montgomery County.

Environmental experts didn’t immediately know what to make of the company’s claims. A research director with the environmental organization Greenpeace said that he hadn’t heard of this particular technology but that his instinct was to remain skeptical.

While Envion pitches its technology as one that should receive the approval of environmentalists, Davies at Greenpeace was dubious. “To make it big, this company needs people to waste plastic,” he said. “We need to question whether we should be using plastic at all to begin with.”

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Mining Companies Created a Dangerous Wasteland

Read the entire article in the NY Times and consider that nowhere in the article is there discussion that perhaps the mining companies should pay for the cost of rehabilitation, cleanup, relocation of the residents.

And maybe the specific companies who left this mess have been dis-incorporated, the money backers of the industry have moved their activities into a new corporate shells, so maybe you can’t go after the specific companies that created this mess, but you can levy a tax on the industry based on the cost of fixing the mess that the industry leaves behind. That approach would establish some incentive for clean industrial practices. It’s not there today as corporations can avoid responsibility by shifting assets, liabilities, and risks and allow “subsidiary” shell corporations to fold up, dissolve in bankruptcy, while the decision-makers continue this business as usual degradation.

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Welcome to Our Town. Wish We Weren’t Here.

TREECE, Kan. — Mayor Bill Blunk sees no reason for sugar-coating his opinion when asked to describe this town.
For most of the early part of the 20th century, this little city in the southeast corner of Kansas had the feel of a rollicking boom town, its prosperity coming from land rich in lead, zinc and iron ore. Part of a vast mining district where Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma meet, Treece and its twin city across the Oklahoma state line, Picher, became the unofficial capitals of a zone that in its heyday produced more than $20 billion worth of ore — much of it used for weaponry to fight World Wars I and II.
“It’s dead,” he said. “Wasted land.”

For most of the early part of the 20th century, this little city in the southeast corner of Kansas had the feel of a rollicking boom town, its prosperity coming from land rich in lead, zinc and iron ore. Part of a vast mining district where Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma meet, Treece and its twin city across the Oklahoma state line, Picher, became the unofficial capitals of a zone that in its heyday produced more than $20 billion worth of ore — much of it used for weaponry to fight World Wars I and II.

But when the last of the mines closed in the 1970s, Treece was left sitting in a toxic waste dump of lead-tinged dust, contaminated soil and sinkholes. On a hot summer day, children can be seen riding their bikes around enormous mounds of chat — pulverized rock laced with lead and iron. It is the waste product left over from mining that is the cause of so many problems here. Uncontrolled, it blows in the wind.

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It would be nice to have more propane filling stations.

With our 3 car fleet (4th car is not finished yet) running on propane keeping the tanks filled is the one drawback. Propane filling is not self service, so there is waiting involved with getting tanks filled. I don’t see self service as a possibility, there is too much potential for a careless splash of propane and liquid propane is very cold, it will immediately freeze damage tissue, a freezer burn.

I am a little surprised that they expect only a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. I am under the impression that the reduction is greater than that. I am planning to have an emission test someday on one of my conversions to see what the emission levels are.

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Grant to Launch a Thousand Cabs, Build Fueling Stations for Propane

By Yamiche Alcindor

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nearly $9 million of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus funds will go toward converting a thousand Washington area taxicabs into propane-fueled vehicles as well as building several propane fueling stations.

McCoy said the Alliance plan is expected to reduce each vehicle’s greenhouse emissions by 20 percent, save up to 3.9 million gallons of gas annually and save companies up to $5,000 a year in fuel costs for each converted vehicle.

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Bad News for Geothermal Power

This article suggests that there is a problem with extracting energy from deep below the surface of the small blue planet. I guess it can’t really be a surprise, but I think it was a question of scale. It’s an application of Boyle’s Law that pressure and heat are equivalents. So as you increase pressure, you produce heat, as you release pressure, you reduce heat. So, as a geothermal plant withdraws heat from deep below the earth, the pressure at the source is reduced. If the pressure falls enough, it is logical to expect that the surrounding strata will shift. We call that an earthquake. Are these always going to be small, low damage earthquakes? Could the pressure reduction and triggered earthquakes trigger a larger earthquake? Who knows.

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German Geothermal Project Leads to Second Thoughts After the Earth Rumbles
LANDAU IN DER PFALZ, Germany — Government officials here are reviewing the safety of a geothermal energy project that scientists say set off an earthquake in mid-August, shaking buildings and frightening many residents of this small city.The geothermal plant, built by Geox, a German energy company, extracts heat by drilling deep into the earth. Advocates of the method say that it could greatly reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels by providing a vast supply of renewable energy.

Seismologists at the geological survey said that the larger Aug. 15 quake was also caused by the project. The epicenter was roughly 500 yards from a drill site at the plant and at about the same depth — 1.5 miles — as a steam bed that the plant was extracting heat from. “We are sure it’s from the geothermal plant,” said Harald Ehses, chairman of the geological survey.


If Accumulation of Wealth in the Top 1% of the Citizens is Good, Then Things Should be Great

I recommend jumping to this website and reviewing the entire presentation. It’s well organized and presented. Nice use of graphs and text to tell the story effectively.

A simple solution to this problem (if you think it’s a problem) is to restructure the tax rates to include a steeply progressive top end. The simple fact that is shown by economic growth analysis is that steep top tax rates encourage growth and investment in infrastructure and industry that are good for all of us. An economy built on consumption and service jobs instead of an economy built on production of useful goods using sustainable methods is what we have today. We can do better.

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Top 1 Percent of Americans Reaped Two-Thirds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion

Income Concentration in 2007 Was at Highest Level Since 1928, New Analysis Shows

Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928, according to an analysis of newly released IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.[1]
During those years, the Piketty-Saez data also show, the inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90 percent of households.

  • 2007 marked the fifth straight year in which income gains at the top outpaced those among the rest of the population. From 2002 to 2007, the average inflation-adjusted income of the top 1 percent of households rose 62 percent, compared to 4 percent for the bottom 90 percent of households (see Table 1).
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    A Ruling On Corporate Power is Coming – Citizens United?

    Double-speak, the group and individuals behind Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission would be more accurately described as Money United.

    If the Supreme Court rules 5 to 4, as it very well may, to unleash the power of corporate money in US politics, we will be facing a very different political environment. This will not be just a demonstration of a shift to the right by the Court, it would be a huge lurch into corporatism. I think there is every reason to believe that Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas will vote for their corporate masters. Anthony Kennedy gets to decide this matter.

    I think it is clear that the US is at best a center-right country, if not a right-far right country. Need confirmation? Look at how centrist dems like the Clintons and now apparently Obama get cast as far left, wildly liberal, socialist political leaders. But look at how little concern there is in the country when the republicans dismantle important federal functions. Need examples: ok, Katrina? anybody remember the FEMA performance in that case? Madoff? How is the SEC doing at regulation and investigation. Oh well, there is nothing to do in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission but wait for a 5-4 decision and see which way Justice Kennedy rules.

    The natural balance against a corporate Supreme Court would have to be a populist Congress. We don’t have that today and I don’t know how a populist Congress could get elected given the current influence of corporate money in Congress.

    It will part of the continuing orwellian political nightmare if Citizens United overturns a century of legislation and precedent. It will be a moment when centrists in the Congress will have to ask themselves if they should have opposed the Alito and Roberts nominations. This could be the real legacy of the Bush-Cheney era.

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    A Test Case for Roberts

    Judged by the standard of an event’s potential long-term impact on our public life, the most important will be the argument before the Supreme Court (on the same day, as it happens) about a case that, if decided wrongly, could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests.

    This sounds melodramatic. It’s not. The court is considering eviscerating laws that have been on the books since 1907 and 1947 — in two separate cases — banning direct contributions and spending by corporations in federal election campaigns. Doing so would obliterate precedents that go back two and three decades.

    President Obama’s health-care speech on Wednesday will be only the second most consequential political moment of the week.

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    Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

    If you read this article it’s very hard not to conclude that Texas executed an innocent man when it put Cameron Todd Willingham to death for the arson deaths of his children.

    This is a horrible story on several levels. The basic event of a housefire with fatalities is awful. The agony of the parents who have lost their children in this way is terrible to consider. Finally, there is the awful matter that the father never should have stood trial in the matter and certainly should not have been put to death.

    At this late date I even feel bad for the fire investigators, whose work was describes as more mystic work than science. There’s a good chance that in this case, as in so many where it becomes apparent that the justice system has failed, the prosecutors and experts who pushed prosecution and guilt may deny the facts for the rest of their lives. Who can blame them. Consider their alternative – they could review the facts and say, I made a mistake and I feel terrible about it.

    Well, read it if you can stand it. And think about how important it is to have good forensic evidence before we jail and/or execute somebody. Jail house snitches are not to be relied on. Their information is about as reliable as Chalabi’s intelligence on Iraq, and it’s poor evidence for the same reason. The system allows, encourages, rewards folks who will swear to what people in power want to hear.

    On a personal note, I got rousted by Texas Public Safety outside Corsicana a few decades  ago.  I had on a pony tail, a cowboy hat, and cutoff jeans and I was cruising though in my TR3 with the top down and I think I must have looked too much like the Austin hippie I was.  Scary hour before the skunks decided not to throw me through a nearby barb wire fence and let me go.  Corsicana is famous for its fruitcakes.  You can look it up.

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    Cameron Todd Willingham in his cell on death row, in 1994. He insisted upon his innocence in the deaths of his children and refused an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. Photograph by Ken Light.

    Trial by Fire

    The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.

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    Justice Comes Knocking

    The rule of law is not going to be kind to the Bush administration, nor is the historical review. As various cases appear in courts, judges are going to find over and over again that the Bush administration violated constitutional protections over and over again. The US was a rogue nation under Bush-Cheney. We wait to see if Obama will pull the country back. So far, the indications are that the dictatorial powers seized by Bush-Cheney are proving too tempting to the successors.

    If and when these cases find their way to the Supreme Court, we can easily predict a 5-4 decision to throw away our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy gets to make that decision all by himself. The other eight votes are already counted. Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas need to be voted down in important cases for the next few decades. Will it happen? Time will tell. For now, Justice Anthony Kennedy calls the shots.

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    Panel Rules Against Ashcroft in Detention Case
    Former Attorney General John Ashcroft may face personal liability for the decisions that led to the detention of an American citizen as a material witness after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal appeals court panel ruled on Friday.
    In the decision, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was sharply critical of the Bush administration’s practice of holding people it suspected of terrorism without charges, as material witnesses.

    “We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history,” said the opinion, written by Judge Milan D. Smith Jr.
    Unless Mr. Ashcroft appeals the decision, the case will go back to federal district court for further hearings, which could involve extensive investigation of the former administration’s antiterrorism policies.

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