Our Common Good

Consumers saved nearly $1.5 billion in 2011 as a result of rules in President Obama's healthcare law that limit what insurance companies can spend on expenses unrelated to medical care, including profit, a new analysis shows.

Much of those savings — an estimated $1.1 billion — came in rebates to consumers required because insurers had exceeded the required limits.

The study by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund also suggests that the Affordable Care Act forced insurers to become more efficient by limiting their administrative expenses, a key goal of the 2010 law.

In some cases, insurers passed savings on to consumers in the form of lower premiums and higher spending on medical care, the researchers found. This was primarily true in the individual market, where consumers buy health insurance on their own.

The rules “appear to be producing important consumer benefits,” concluded the report’s authors, Michael McCue, a professor of health administration at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Mark Hall, a healthcare law professor at Wake Forest University.

Gay and lesbian couples in Washington state can start picking up their wedding certificates and licenses tomorrow. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Wednesday a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in the state. Last month, voters in Washington, Maine and Maryland voted to approve same-sex marriage, making them the first states where gay marriage has passed through popular vote. “This is a very important and historic day in the great state of Washington,” Gregoire said before signing the measure. “For many years now, we’ve said one more step, one more step. And this is our last step for marriage equality in the state of Washington.”

thepeoplesrecord:

School in New Delhi offers free education to India’s poor children
December 5, 2012

One Indian man has become a hero after he began educating New Delhi’s poorest children — and even went as far as creating a free school for them under a metro bridge.

According to NBC News, Rajesh Kumar Sharma teaches at least 30 children every day. Most of the children come from neighboring poor villages.

For two hours every weekday, Sharma leaves his day-job at a general store in Shakarpur — his brother fills in for him — so that he can teach the children, reported Yahoo News.

Sharma, a 40-year-old father of three from Aligarh, was forced to drop out of college in his third year due to financial difficulties. When he decided to start the free school, he didn’t want other children to face the same difficulties he had.

“Whenever I passed by this area, I would notice that children were spending all their time in the fields or playing around,” he told the Indian Express.

He eventually persuaded local laborers and farmers to allow their children to attend his school instead of working to add to the family income. He hopes to equip these children with the tools necessary to overcome their poverty.

“They come here everyday. I manage to keep them ahead of the school curriculum,” Sharma told the Indian Express.

He even allows children technically too young to attend the government school to sit in the classroom.

Sharma starts at the basics and helps prepare the children for admission to government schools. When he started the school a year ago, he had 140 students. Now 70 of them are in government schools, reported Yahoo News.

“Our teacher has told us that when poverty strikes, you should open your mind, and that can be done only through education,” Abhishek, 15, a student of Sharma’s told the Indian Express.

His work isn’t limited to the school under the bridge, though. Sharma has been teaching underprivileged children in other parts of the city as well.

“I mostly taught laborers’ children. As they moved from site to site, it got difficult to follow them everywhere,” he said.

Laxmi Chandra, a postgraduate in science, also helps out at the school.

“I don’t take attendance. They love coming here because there are no school-like boundaries. In fact, I want to keep it like that,” Chandra told the Indian Express.

Sharma says his greatest achievement is changing the attitude of his students’ parents. Many of them now encourage their children to study.

“They understand that if children in the villages in the interiors of the country can go to schools, why not in the national capital.”

Source

Good sense from… wait, from the IMF?

shiracoffee:

IMF: Budget cuts hurt growth a lot. But tax increases barely matter.

Africa For Norway - New charity single out now! Official christmas video (by SAIH Norway)

This is excellent! Makes a great point.

You too can donate your radiator and spread some warmth!

http://www.africafornorway.com/ Twitter http://bit.ly/Y4NWPH On Spotify http://spoti.fi/Y4NMb8 and iTunes http://bit.ly/Ubik4A

Be sure and read the video description if you don’t ‘get it’.

newshour:

Here’s one for the history buffs: Forty years ago this month, Lyndon Johnson was agonized to know that Americans thought of him as the architect not of equal rights and Medicare but the hated Vietnam War. In what would become his final interview just 10 days before his death, Johnson spoke to CBS’s Walter Cronkite about his accomplishments. Listen here.

newshour:

Here’s one for the history buffs: Forty years ago this month, Lyndon Johnson was agonized to know that Americans thought of him as the architect not of equal rights and Medicare but the hated Vietnam War. In what would become his final interview just 10 days before his death, Johnson spoke to CBS’s Walter Cronkite about his accomplishments. Listen here.

Yes, please.

Workers locked out of the Capitol are on the way to the MI Chamber of Commerce.
Michiganders: Call Your State Senator Today to Oppose the ‘Right to Work’ for Less Bill

The “right to work” for less bill is now “on the table” in Michigan. 
If you’re in Michigan, please call your state representative at 888-979-7280 to save the rights of Michigan’s workers. Tell your senator to vote NO on Michigan’s “right to work” bill.
Follow the Michigan State AFL-CIO Twitter account for live updates.
. @aftmichigan Pres. Hecker: “They have Devos, they have the Koch brothers, but we have each other. #NoRTWMI #1u #p2


Background Story: New union fight erupts in Michigan over “right-to-work” law

Workers locked out of the Capitol are on the way to the MI Chamber of Commerce.

Michiganders: Call Your State Senator Today to Oppose the ‘Right to Work’ for Less Bill

The “right to work” for less bill is now “on the table” in Michigan. 

If you’re in Michigan, please call your state representative at 888-979-7280 to save the rights of Michigan’s workers. Tell your senator to vote NO on Michigan’s “right to work” bill.

Follow the Michigan State AFL-CIO Twitter account for live updates.

. @aftmichigan Pres. Hecker: “They have Devos, they have the Koch brothers, but we have each other. #NoRTWMI #1u #p2

Background Story: New union fight erupts in Michigan over “right-to-work” law

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

[…]

Several organizations have been working on some version of a divestment campaign, initially focusing on coal, for more than a year. But the recent escalation has largely been the handiwork of a grass-roots organization, 350.org, that focuses on climate change, and its leader, Bill McKibben, a writer turned advocate. The group’s name is a reference to what some scientists see as a maximum safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. The level is now about 390, an increase of 41 percent since before the Industrial Revolution.

Mr. McKibben is touring the country by bus, speaking at sold-out halls and urging students to begin local divestment initiatives focusing on 200 energy companies. Many of the students attending said they were inspired to do so by an article he wrote over the summer in Rolling Stone magazine, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

Speaking recently to an audience at the University of Vermont, Mr. McKibben painted the fossil fuel industry as an enemy that must be defeated, arguing that it had used money and political influence to block climate action in Washington. “This is no different than the tobacco industry — for years, they lied about the dangers of their industry,” Mr. McKibben said.

[…]

In an interview, Mr. McKibben said he recognized that a rapid transition away from fossil fuels would be exceedingly difficult. But he said strong government policies to limit emissions were long overdue, and were being blocked in part by the political power of the incumbent industry.

Mr. McKibben’s goal is to make owning the stocks of these companies disreputable, in the way that owning tobacco stocks has become disreputable in many quarters. Many colleges will not buy them, for instance.

Mr. McKibben has laid out a series of demands that would get the fuel companies off 350.org’s blacklist. He wants them to stop exploring for new fossil fuels, given that they have already booked reserves about five times as large as scientists say society can afford to burn. He wants them to stop lobbying against emission policies in Washington. And he wants them to help devise a transition plan that will leave most of their reserves in the ground while encouraging lower-carbon energy sources.

“They need more incentive to make the transition that they must know they need to make, from fossil fuel companies to energy companies,” Mr. McKibben said.

Most college administrations, at the urging of their students, have been taking global warming seriously for years, spending money on steps like cutting energy consumption and installing solar panels.

The divestment demand is so new that most administrators are just beginning to grapple with it. Several of them, in interviews, said that even though they tended to agree with students on the seriousness of the problem, they feared divisive boardroom debates on divestment.

That was certainly the case in the 1980s, when the South African divestment campaign caused bitter arguments across the nation.

The issue then was whether divestment, potentially costly, would have much real effect on companies doing business in South Africa. Even today, historians differ on whether it did. But the campaign required prominent people to grapple with the morality of apartheid, altering the politics of the issue. Economic pressure from many countries ultimately helped to force the whites-only South African government to the bargaining table.

Mr. Lawrence, the Swarthmore senior, said that many of today’s students found that campaign inspirational because it “transformed what was seemingly an intractable problem.”

I admire these students, but with there already being so much heat on tuition costs, I doubt they will be successful in getting universities to remove petroleum companies from their portfolios.  I doubt many could really afford to do so.  That said, I am in favor of the action and hope that it takes off all over the country - because students speaking out in union has power beyond the university walls.  And apparently, our leaders need to see and hear more of that.

Who are the real “job creators”?  Contrary to conventional wisdom, the answer seems to be: People who have jobs – particularly those which pay well.  Well-paid employees buy things, and that creates jobs for other people.

And what creates those kinds of jobs? A healthy union movement.  Unions are also a bulwark against income inequality, an economic distortion which even conservative Forbes magazine acknowledges is bad for the economy.

[…]

It looks to all the world as if there’s a correlation here: Union membership goes down – deficits go up.  Perhaps the correlation isn’t as strong as it looks, but the idea isn’t crazy. Higher-paid employees pay more in taxes, which is good for the government’s bottom line. They require fewer government services. The same is true of their families, neighborhoods, and communities. And their contribution to economic growth means everybody’s better off.

The lesson for all those deficit-obsessed policymakers might be, to paraphrase the late Joe Hill: Don’t “austerize,” organize.

Maybe that’s why the 1956 Republican Party platform boasted that under the leadership of President Eisenhower “unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions.”  They knew what was good for the economy … and good for business.

shiracoffee:

How the Territorial Tax Cut Destroys Jobs

There is a little-discussed proposal that was introduced into the “fiscal cliff” discussions by the CEOs of the “Fix the Debt” campaign. This is for a “Territorial Tax System” idea that lets multinational companies off the hook for taxes on offshore profits. This plan is particularly dangerous to American wages and jobs — YOUR wages and job — as well as any American companies that don’t export their profit centers. This threat is not limited to the blue-collar jobs that have been disappearing, it also threatens the professionals, “knowledge workers,” designers, innovators and others who contribute to corporate profits here in the US.

The Territorial Tax proposal asks for no taxes on foreign profits of American corporations. This system would encourage and practically force companies to move profit generation (innovation, intellectual property, etc.) out of the US. This gives corporations an incentive to move everything that makes them money out of the country — every profit center, every job, every factory, every designer, inventor, etc.

This plan only benefits the giant multinational corporations — and helps them kill off even more American jobs and smaller businesses. And without those wages and taxes our infrastructure, schools, police and fire protections, and everything else here will decline even more.

If the United States has entered an era in which mega-storms, perhaps related to climate change, are becoming the “new normal,” it will create new spending pressures at a time when federal revenues every year are falling roughly $1 trillion short of outlays. If you factor in a growing population and development in coastal areas, then storm damage is likely to become even more expensive over time.
NBC boldly takes on the reality of balancing disaster planning with perpetual growth. Let’s embrace mainstream coverage that questions our growth patterns. (via climateadaptation)

Just discovered this site:

UNEARTH News is a 501 (c) (3), independent news agency based in the United Nations in New York City and is a new initiative of the award-winning MediaGlobal News. Through a multi-media communications platform, UNEARTH News seeks to make visible the narratives, news and community networks around the globe that are underreported and vital for understanding the impact of climate change on developing countries.  Relying on stories from our own team as well as emerging and established journalists, other news outlets, and through strategic partners in the field, UNEARTH News provides a unique perspective on the impacts of climate change from the countries and communities that are nearly invisible to mainstream media. Featuring news stories, photo essays, documentaries, exclusive interviews, articles and resources, UNEARTH News will reveal the human dimensions of climate change to the global media, parliamentarians, environmental companies, institutions, policymakers and civil society in the United Nations member states — and to all people concerned about the state of the planet.

 Graph of the day: Americans buying more fuel- efficient cars, polluting less

New cars bought in the fall of 2012 are using about 15 percent less fuel per mile than cars purchased in 2007. But they’re also logging slightly fewer miles overall — a sign that Americans aren’t just negating the fuel savings by driving more. Add it all up, and there’s been a 20 percent drop in greenhouse-gas emissions from new vehicles in the past five years.
How much of a difference does this make in the grand scheme of things? Brand-new vehicles, after all, are only a small portion of the overall U.S. fleet. Yet in a recent paper, Sivak and Brandon Schoettle estimated that recent efficiency upgrades have already reduced carbon-dioxide emissions from all U.S. light-duty vehicles by about 2.9 percent.
Combine that with the fact that Americans have been driving fewer miles overall, and that’s a small but real improvement as far as oil use and climate change are concerned.

Graph of the day: Americans buying more fuel- efficient cars, polluting less

New cars bought in the fall of 2012 are using about 15 percent less fuel per mile than cars purchased in 2007. But they’re also logging slightly fewer miles overall — a sign that Americans aren’t just negating the fuel savings by driving more. Add it all up, and there’s been a 20 percent drop in greenhouse-gas emissions from new vehicles in the past five years.

How much of a difference does this make in the grand scheme of things? Brand-new vehicles, after all, are only a small portion of the overall U.S. fleet. Yet in a recent paper, Sivak and Brandon Schoettle estimated that recent efficiency upgrades have already reduced carbon-dioxide emissions from all U.S. light-duty vehicles by about 2.9 percent.

Combine that with the fact that Americans have been driving fewer miles overall, and that’s a small but real improvement as far as oil use and climate change are concerned.

 Multiple observations provide strong evidence of widespread, sustained change driving Arctic environmental system into new state.

Arctic Report Card at NOAA.gov