Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country

ABC News

Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country

By Andrew Demillo, Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — July 17, 2017

In this Tuesday, July 11, 2017, photo, East Arkansas soybean farmer Reed Storey looks at his field in Marvell, Ark. Storey said half of his soybean crop has shown damage from dicamba, an herbicide that has drifted onto unprotected fields and spawned

In this Tuesday, July 11, 2017, photo, East Arkansas soybean farmer Reed Storey looks at his field in Marvell, Ark. Storey said half of his soybean crop has shown damage from dicamba, an herbicide that has drifted onto unprotected fields and spawned hundreds of complaints from farmers. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

A longtime Arkansas soybean farmer, Mike Wallace thought of his neighbors as a community and always was willing to lend a hand if they faced any hardships with their crops.

“Mike would do anything for any farmer,” his wife, Karen, said. “If there was a farmer who got sick in harvest time or planting time or whatever, he would say, ‘What can I do to help? Here’s my equipment. Here’s my guys. Let’s go do it.'”

But across much of farm country, a dispute over a common weed killer is turning neighbor against neighbor. The furor surrounding the herbicide known as dicamba has quickly become the biggest controversy of its kind in U.S. agriculture, and it is even suspected as a factor in Wallace’s death in October, when he was allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed.

Concern about the herbicide drifting onto unprotected crops, especially soybeans, has spawned lawsuits and prompted Arkansas and Missouri to impose temporary bans on dicamba. Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken.

The number of complaints “far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen,” Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles onto neighboring fields. Some farmers illegally sprayed dicamba before federal regulators approved versions that were designed to be less volatile.

The chemical “has made good neighbors look like bad neighbors,” said Reed Storey, an Arkansas farmer who says about half of his soybean crop has shown damage from drifting dicamba.

As the herbicide was put into broader use, complaints began pouring in from farmers in Arkansas and other states. Crops near many dicamba-treated soybean fields turned up with leaves that were cupped and crinkled. The Plant Board has received more than 630 complaints about dicamba so far this year, many more than the 250 or so total complaints normally received in a full year. Complaints have also been registered in Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The issue illustrates the struggle to control agricultural pests as they gradually mutate to render the chemicals used against them less effective. And while some farmers fear damage from their neighbors’ dicamba, others are worried that their fields will be defenseless against weeds without it.

The drifting herbicide has been particularly damaging for soybeans. A group of farmers in Arkansas filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against BASF and Monsanto, which make dicamba.

The chemical has hurt other crops too, including vegetables and peanuts. As the damage piles up, dicamba has also made it more difficult for one company, Ozark Mountain Poultry, to find non-genetically modified soybeans to use as feed for chickens because more farmers are relying on seeds engineered by Monsanto to resist the herbicide. Non-modified soybeans are needed to market chicken as non-GMO.

Dicamba’s makers insist the problem is not with the herbicide but how some farmers apply it. They say the states should focus on other restrictions, such as limiting spraying to daytime hours.

“It is premature at this point to conclude that it is a fault of the product,” Dan Westberg of BASF told lawmakers this month.

Farmers say the herbicide is desperately needed to kill pigweed, which can grow and spread seeds rapidly, threatening a soybean farmer’s yield.

“We cannot lose this technology,” Perry Galloway, an Arkansas farmer who has used dicamba and dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds. “We’ve come too far at this point to just throw it away.”

It’s not clear what states will do about the herbicide after this year. Missouri lifted its sale-and-use ban for three dicamba herbicides after approving new labels and restrictions for its use. The ban on other dicamba products will be in effect until Dec. 1. Arkansas’ ban expires in November. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said a task force needs to study the issue further.

“This debate will continue into future planting seasons, and Arkansas needs a long-term solution,” he wrote in a letter last month to state agriculture officials.

Wallace’s relatives said they are glad the herbicide will be banned for the time being in Arkansas. For them, too much damage has already been done.

Farm worker Allan Curtis Jones, 27, is accused of shooting Wallace, 55, in a confrontation over dicamba, which Wallace believed had drifted from the farm where Jones worked to damage his soybean crop.

Jones told authorities that Wallace called him to talk about the spraying. Jones brought his cousin with him as a witness because he believed Wallace wanted to fight, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in October.

When the two men met, Jones told police, Wallace grabbed him by the arm. Jones said he pulled a handgun from his pocket and fired “until the gun was empty,” Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook told the paper. He is set to go on trial this fall.

Wallace “did not want to hurt his neighbor, and he could not understand why people would spray things that would hurt others,” said Kerin Hawkins, his sister, who has also seen crops damaged by dicamba. “He could not understand because you were supposed to be a good neighbor.”

Sea level rise is overtaking Trump’s favorite vacation spot

Business Insider

Sea level rise is overtaking Trump’s favorite vacation spot

Leanna Garfield, Business Insider UK      July 14, 2017   

mar a lago sea level
mar a lago sea level     Nicolay Lamm/Climate Central

 

President Trump likes to vacation at Mar-a-Lago, an estate and beach resort in South Florida that he purchased in 1985. Since being elected, he has frequently stayed in the private quarters of the property’s 126-room mansion, dubbed his “winter White House.”

But Mar-a-Lago is under threat from climate change. That’s according to a 2017 report by the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which says that rising sea levels are increasingly damaging South Florida’s coasts.

The NOAA predicts that flooding caused by climate change will only worsen in coming years. The organization projects South Florida could see a 10- to 12-foot rise in sea level by 2100.

Since water surrounds most of Florida, sea level rise will affect the state (by total population) more than anywhere else in the US. Other at-risk states include New York, California, Virginia, and New Jersey, the researchers say.

Below is a satellite photo from Climate Central of what Miami could look like by 2100 if the worst climate change predictions come true. Though Miami is about 70 miles south of Mar-a-Lago, researchers say flood risks are similar since they are both coastal cities in South Florida.

miami beach florida flooding miami beach florida flooding        Google Earth/Climate Central

In 2016, the Guardian reported that water is already overflowing into the Mar-a-Lago property, as well as the bridges and roads needed to access it. And as Vox recently noted, another 2016 paper found that, since 2006, the average rate of sea-level rise had tripled from 3 millimeters annually to 9 millimeters in South Florida.

If sea levels rise just two feet, the estate’s western lawns would completely flood, according to the Associated Press. South Florida roads also already flood periodically during storms or high tides, and in recent years, cities like Miami and Titusville have installed expensive pumping systems to drain the water.

Later this year, Miami Beach will begin a $100 million flood prevention project, which includes raising roads, installing pumps and water mains, and re-building sewer connections. Many scientists say that a combination of polar melting, carbon emissions, and ice-sheet collapses could cause severe flooding that overwhelms the city by 2100.

“If the beaches are gone or the streets are flooded, it’s going to affect the value of his property,” Jim Cason, the Republican mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, told the AP. “So as a prudent businessman, he ought to conclude that the science is right and we need to prepare and plan.”

Scientists say that climate change will greatly contribute to future sea-level rise. As the planet warms, land ice melts, which contributes to the expansion of oceans.

In June, the Trump administration announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change by 2019. Established in 2015, the accord sets greenhouse-gas emission goals that signatory countries vow to meet.

After Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement, White House officials refused to answer if Trump believed in the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change.

These Are The Places In The U.S. That Will Be Soaked By Climate Change First

Fast Company

These Are The Places In The U.S. That Will Be Soaked By Climate Change First

Low-lying coastal areas are going to start seeing flooding every couple of weeks–even though there is no rain or extreme weather. Get ready to get wet.

By Ben Schiller     July 14, 2017

They call it “sunny day” or “nuisance” flooding: days when it doesn’t rain and there’s no extreme weather, but streets in coastal areas become impassable all the same because an extra high tide comes on top of an already rising ocean. Across the country, more and more cities are experiencing these high tidal events and–if nothing is done to avert climate change–hundreds more could join the ranks of Miami Beach, Charleston, and Annapolis in the coming years.

A newly published report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which campaigns for action on global warming, calculates just how many. By 2035, it says 170 communities could see “chronic flooding” every two weeks, or more frequently, under an “intermediate” climate scenario. By 2060, it forecasts the same for 270 communities, with at least 40% of their land under water 26 or more times a year.

“The analysis shows the sheer number of communities up and down our coasts that will be coping with chronic inundation,” Shana Udvardy, one of the authors of the study, tells Fast Company. “It’s a clarion call for responses to sea level rise within local, state, and federal governments and particularly for a federal response to this ballooning challenge.”

Former Obama official: We never needed lawyers ‘just thought I’d point that out’

Business Insider Politics

Former Obama official: We never needed lawyers ‘just thought I’d point that out’

Bryan Logan, Business Insider UK    July 15, 2017

As the White House ends another week engulfed in controversy, a former aide who served under President Barack Obama threw a rhetorical jab at the Trump administration on Friday.

Chris Lu, a former White House cabinet secretary and former deputy secretary of the US Labor Department, wrote on Twitter: “I served 4 years in the Obama White House. I never hired a lawyer, and I don’t know anyone who did.”

Lu appeared to be referring to the Trump administration, which has been buried in negative headlines for much of the last seven months.

Several members of the Trump administration, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner have hired outside counsel to represent them during the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Jamie Gorelick, one of Kushner’s attorney’s, announced on Friday that she would no longer represent him.

Tweet Embed: https://twitter.com/mims/statuses/885669938094067713 I served 4 years in the Obama White House. I never hired a lawyer, and I don’t know anyone who did. Just thought I’d point that out.

Conversations surrounding Russia’s meddling shifted to President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Trump Jr. this week. He is now facing scrutiny over a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who offered him damaging information on Hillary Clinton at the height of the contentious 2016 campaign.

Dark Money Review: Nazi oil, the Koch brothers and a rightwing revolution

The Guardian

Dark Money Review: Nazi oil, the Koch brothers and a right-wing revolution

New Yorker writer Jane Mayer examines the origins, rise and dominance of a billionaire class to whom money is no object when it comes to buying power

David Koch listens to speakers at the Defending the American Dream Summit, in Washington DC in November 2011. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Charles Kaiser     July 14, 2017

Lots of American industrialists have skeletons in the family closet. Charles and David Koch, however, are in a league of their own.

The father of these famous rightwing billionaires was Fred Koch, who started his fortune with $500,000 received from Stalin for his assistance constructing 15 oil refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. A couple of years later, his company, Winkler-Koch, helped the Nazis complete their third-largest oil refinery. The facility produced hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-octane fuel for the Luftwaffe, until it was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944.

In 1938, the patriarch wrote that “the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy and Japan”. To make sure his children got the right ideas, he hired a German nanny. The nanny was such a fervent Nazi that when France fell in 1940, she resigned and returned to Germany. After that, Fred became the main disciplinarian, whipping his children with belts and tree branches.

These are just a handful of the many bombshells exploded in the pages of Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s indispensable new history “of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right” in the US.

A veteran investigative reporter and a staff writer for the New Yorker, Mayer has combined her own research with the work of scores of other investigators, to describe how the Kochs and fellow billionaires like Richard Scaife have spent hundreds of millions to “move their political ideas from the fringe to the center of American political life”.

Twenty years after collaborating with the Nazis, Fred Koch had lost none of his taste for extremism. In 1958, he was one of the 11 original members of the John Birch Society, an organization which accused scores of prominent Americans, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of communist sympathies.

In 1960, Koch wrote: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.” He strongly supported the movement to impeach chief justice Earl Warren, after the supreme court voted to desegregate public schools in Brown v Board of Education. His sons became Birchers too, although Charles was more enamored of “antigovernment economic writers” than communist conspiracies.

After their father died, Charles and David bought out their brothers’ shares in the family company, then built it into the second largest privately held corporation in America.

“As their fortunes grew, Charles and David Koch became the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America,” Mayer writes. Charles’s goal was to “tear the government out ‘at the root’.”

Another man who studied Charles thought “he was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him: the government”.

Much of what the American right has accomplished can be seen as a reaction to the upheavals of the 1960s, when big corporations like Dow Chemical (which manufactured napalm for the Vietnam War) reached the nadir of their popularity.

In 1971, corporate lawyer (and future supreme court justice) Lewis Powell wrote a 5,000-word memo that was a blueprint for a broad attack on the liberal establishment. The real enemies, Powell wrote, “were the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences”, and “politicians”.

He argued that conservatives should control the political debate at its source by demanding “balance” in textbooks, television shows and news coverage – themes that were echoed in inflammatory speeches by Richard Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew.

The war on liberals was so effective that practically everyone reacted to it: from the New York Times, which hired ex-Nixon speechwriter Bill Safire to “balance” its op-ed page, to the Ford Foundation, which gave $300,000 to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in 1972. The impact was cumulative: almost four decades later, Barack Obama was astonished by one of the first questions asked to him, by a New York Times reporter, after he became president: “Are you a socialist?”

The AEI was one of dozens of the new think-tanks bankrolled by hundreds of millions from the Kochs and their allies. Sold to the public as quasi-scholarly organizations, their real function was to legitimize the right to pollute for oil, gas and coal companies, and to argue for ever more tax cuts for the people who created them. Richard Scaife, an heir to the Mellon fortune, gave $23m over 23 years to the Heritage Foundation, after having been the largest single donor to AEI.

Next, the right turned its sights on American campuses. John M Olin founded the Olin Foundation, and spent nearly $200m promoting “free-market ideology and other conservative ideas on the country’s campuses”. It bankrolled a whole new approach to jurisprudence called “law and economics”, Mayer writes, giving $10m to Harvard, $7m to Yale and Chicago, and over $2m to Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown and the University of Virginia.

The amount of spent money has been staggering. Between 2005 and 2008, the Kochs alone spent nearly $25m on organizations fighting climate reform. One study by a Drexel University professor found 140 conservative foundations had spent $558m over seven years for the same purpose.

The next step for the radical right was to support the creation of the Tea Party movement, through organizations like Americans for Prosperity, which was funded by the Kochs.

“The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity provided speakers, talking points, press releases, transportation, and other logistical support,” Mayer writes. As the writer Thomas Frank has pointed out, the genius of this strategy was to “turn corporate self-interest into a movement among people on the streets”.

The last element of this multi-pronged campaign saw the direct investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in political campaigns at every level, from president to city councilor. In 1996, a last-minute $3m campaign of attack ads against Democrats in 29 races, a campaign which may have been financed by the Kochs, was considered outrageous and extravagant. But after the disappearance of virtually all restrictions on campaign contributions – another result of rightwing lobbying and the supreme court’s Citizens United decision – $3m is now a tiny number.

In the 2016 elections, the goal of the Koch network of contributors is to spend $889m, more than twice what they spent in 2012.

Four years ago, because Obama had the most sophisticated vote-pulling operation in the history of American politics, and a rather lackluster opponent, a Democratic president was able to withstand such a gigantic financial onslaught. This time around, it’s not clear that any Democrat will be so fortunate.

  • Charles Kaiser is a writer based in New York. He is the author of 1968 in America, The Gay Metropolis and The Cost of Courage.
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The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick

Vox

The new Senate health bill is terrible for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or will be sick

The revised Senate bill turns Obamacare into a high-risk pool.

by Ezra Klein       July 13, 2017

The revised Better Care Reconciliation Act was released today, and here’s the bottom line: It returns individual insurance markets to the bad old days when insurers competed on insuring the healthy and finding ways to avoid covering the sick.

There are a host of changes in the new BCRA, most of which leave the fundamental thrust of the legislation intact. But there’s one addition that genuinely changes everything.

Included in the new bill is a version of Ted Cruz’s amendment allowing insurers to offer plans that don’t comply with Obamacare’s insurance regulations so long as they also offer plans that do comply with Obamacare’s insurance regulations.

So imagine you’re an insurer. As long as you offer some Obamacare compliant plans, you can also offer plans that deny people coverage for preexisting conditions, that don’t cover mental health benefits or pregnancy.

What will happen here is clear: The plans that have to offer decent coverage to anyone who wants it, no matter their health care history, will become a magnet for the old and the sick or the soon-to-be-sick, as they can’t afford, or perhaps can’t even buy, the other plans. That will drive premiums in those plans up, pulling younger, healthier people into the non-compliant plans.

The Senate bill thinks it has a fix: a roughly $200 billion fund to offset the costs of sick enrollees. So, in short, what the GOP bill attempts to do is to rebrand high-risk pools as Obamacare plans and make them subsidized dumping grounds for the sick and the old, while everyone else buys insurance in a basically unregulated market.

This is a very bad idea for anyone who is sick, has been sick, or is likely to get sick. It attacks the core changes Obamacare made to build insurance markets that serve the sick, the well, and, crucially, everyone in between.

Prior to the Affordable Care Act, insurers in the individual market worked to sign up healthier people and avoid sicker people. They did this in ways that were crude, like simply refusing to insure people with preexisting conditions, and ways that were subtler, like designing plans that made sense for the healthy but didn’t cover key services needed by the sick.

The Affordable Care Act ended all that. It standardized the benefits insurers had to offer, so they couldn’t design plans that didn’t work for the sick, and barred them from turning the sick away, or charging them more.

The BCRA reverts individual health insurance markets to their pre-Obamacare days. Under this legislation, an insurer who had some Obamacare-compliant plans could also craft plans that were, say, great for 30-year-olds with a low risk of cardiovascular disease, but terrible for 53-year-olds with high blood pressure and cholesterol, or that simply denied coverage to anyone over age 60 with a history of health problems.

The GOP’s answer to this problem is to try to quarantine sicker people off to the side in subsidized plans. But sickness is not a binary state. Yes, the sickest people, the ones who need health insurance most, will do whatever is necessary to get insurance, and the high-risk plans might work for them. But what about young women who insurers consider demographically likely to be pregnant in a few years? They’re not sick enough to be willing to pay the exorbitant premiums of the high-risk plans, but they’re also going to be up-charged by insurers scared of their future costs.

Or how about the 42-year-olds who aren’t sick now, but had health scares in the past? To insurers, they might be basically uninsurable outside a high-risk pool. But to the healthy-feeling 42-year-old, the cost of the high-risk pool may be exorbitant. And so they go uninsured, and then disaster hits.

Nor is there any detail in the bill of how these high-risk pools will work. There are funds states can use to subsidize them, but will they use them? And how will they use them? And will the subsidies make the insurance worthwhile for people who are hard to insure but not yet truly ill?

And what kinds of insurance will actually be subsidized? Will people with serious illnesses and low enough incomes to qualify for Medicaid now be looking at plans with $5,000 deductibles?

Back in May, President Donald Trump said protections for “preexisting conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

Well, now the protections for preexisting conditions are gone. The GOP vision is of health markets where the very sick can buy unaffordable Obamacare-compliant plans that are, maybe, made affordable by subsidies, but most people are back in an insurance market where past allergies or future pregnancy or a history of knee problems will leave you basically uninsurable.

The new Senate health care bill — and the return of preexisting conditions — explained

Vox

The new Senate health care bill — and the return of preexisting conditions — explained

by Sarah Kliff       July 13, 2017

Senate Republicans introduced a revised version of their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, one that would allow insurers to once again deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, and to charge higher rates to sick people.

The bill would keep most of the Affordable Care Act’s tax increases but repeal one aimed specifically at medical device manufacturers. It would deeply cut the Medicaid program, making few changes to the bill’s first draft.

Even with these new changes, the general structure of the bill stays the same from its original draft, which was itself largely similar to the bill that passed the House in the spring.

Healthier and higher-income Americans would benefit from the changes in the new Republican plan, while low-income and sick Americans would be disadvantaged. It would create a two-track system for health coverage on the individual market. One would offer cheaper, deregulated health plans, which healthy people would likely flock to. The other would include comprehensive plans governed by Obamacare’s regulations, which would cost more and mostly be used by less healthy people and those with preexisting conditions — a system experts expect would function like a poorly funded high-risk pool.

Deductibles would almost certainly rise under the Republican plan, as would overall costs for low- and middle-income Americans. Individual market participants would have more options to purchase catastrophic coverage, an option likely to appeal to those with few health care costs.

Experts expect the changes will do little to change the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates that 22 million Americans would lose coverage under the proposal.

You can see a full explainer on the Senate bill here, which will be updated shortly with the latest information. This post focuses on the changes made in the July 13 revision.

Health insurers could bring back preexisting conditions, offer skimpy health plans

Perhaps the biggest policy change in this revision is an amendment to allow health insurers to deny coverage based on preexisting conditions and cover few benefits, so long as they offer a comprehensive plan that covers the Affordable Care Act’s mandated benefits.

These deregulated health plans would be allowed to charge sick people higher premiums or simply deny them coverage. They would not have to pay by the rules of the preexisting condition ban that the Affordable Care Act sets up (Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner has a summary of the rules they’d be exempted from here). Instead, they would operate much like health plans in the pre-Affordable Care Act market, offering cheap rates to consumers they believe would have low medical bills.

Health policy experts know exactly how this would play out: Healthy people would pick the skimpier plan, while the comprehensive plan would essentially become a high-risk pool for sicker Americans.

Individual market enrollees would likely game the system too. A couple expecting a baby, for example, would be expected to upgrade to the plan that covers maternity care for one year before returning to the cheaper plan they had before.

“Someone with chronic illness, they’re going to end up wanting to buy the more comprehensive coverage,” says Joe Antos, a health policy expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “This means that people with those kinds of illnesses will end up paying more. Even if they receive a federal subsidy, they will likely see higher cost sharing.”

As Antos notes, individuals who want to buy the comprehensive plan would receive federal tax credits to do so. They could not use the tax credits for the deregulated plans.

But even after that financial help, these people would still face significant out-of-pocket costs, including high deductibles and premiums. The Congressional Budget Office estimates, for example, that a 64-year-old individual earning $11,500 and receiving tax credits would still need to pay $4,800 to purchase that plan.

The updated Senate bill also allows individuals to use tax credits to purchase catastrophic coverage

There is a quieter way the Senate bill lets people buy skimpier plans: by using their tax credits to purchase catastrophic plans.

This is a practice the Affordable Care Act barred, as the law’s drafters wanted to encourage enrollment in more generous options. But the Senate bill would allow the tax credits to be used for these high-deductible plans. These plans would only include three primary care visits before individuals hit their deductibles and have to pay their medical bills out of pocket. The plans could cover a wide array of health benefits, including maternity and mental health, but, again, coverage would only kick in after paying a large deductible.

The updated bill would let individuals use pre-tax dollars to pay for their premiums

An estimated 29 percent of American workers are enrolled in tax-advantaged health savings accounts (HSA), that allow them to use pre-tax dollars to cover things like co-payments and coinsurance.

The Senate bill would allow HSA dollars to go toward premiums as well, meaning someone in the individual market could use pre-tax dollars to pay their monthly bill. This practice was not allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Liberals have typically opposed this provision, which they argue would mainly benefit wealthy Americans who have the money to contribute to an HSA in the first place. This provision would have fewer benefits for low-income Americans, who rely on tax credits to finance the lion’s share of their premium.

The Senate bill gets rid of most Obamacare tax cuts — but keeps two on high earners in place

 

The Senate’s revised health care bill still includes an estimated $657 billion in tax cuts by eliminating the health law’s taxes on the medical industry and its individual mandate penalty for not carrying coverage, among other changes.

It does continue two taxes aimed at wealthy Americans: a 0.9 percent investment tax and a 3.8 percent Medicare payroll surtax. Keeping these two taxes in place would net the government an estimated $231 billion in revenue over the next decade, and eliminate some of the benefits high-income Americans would have received under the first draft.

These new taxes, however, do not seem to be fully spent on enhancing the law’s benefits. The new bill includes a $45 billion program to combat opioid abuse as well as $70 billion to offset the costs of expensive patients (this is in addition to the $112 billion already appropriated for that purpose in the first version of the bill). The inclusion of these taxes does not appear to lead to any additional funding of the Medicaid program or offset any of the cuts to the tax credits in the individual market.

The Senate bill still makes very deep cuts to Medicaid

The Senate bill is notable in what it doesn’t change: namely, significant cuts to the Medicaid program. While moderate senators have protested these cuts (particularly those who represent Medicaid expansion states), these provisions of the Senate bill remain largely intact.

One of the main ways Obamacare increased insurance coverage was by expanding the Medicaid program to cover millions more low-income Americans. Prior to the health law, the entitlement was restricted to specific groups of low-income Americans (pregnant women, for example, and the blind and disabled).

Obamacare opened up the program to anyone below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual) in the 31 states (plus the District of Columbia) that opted to participate.

The Medicaid expansion gave states generous funding to cover this particular population. Typically, the federal government picks up about half the cost of the Medicaid program and states cover the rest.

For Medicaid expansion, however, the federal government currently pays 95 percent of the costs — an especially good deal for states meant to assuage their budget concerns during the original Obamacare debate.

The Senate bill would begin ratcheting down that Medicaid expansion funding in 2021. By 2024, states would get that same match rate they typically get to cover other populations. In 2021, for example, the match rate would fall to 90 percent, then decline in steps to 75 percent by 2023.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected in a separate analysis that this policy change would mean no additional states expand Medicaid — and that some current expansion states would drop out of the program, resulting in millions losing coverage.

“CBO anticipates some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would no longer offer that coverage,” the agency wrote in its analysis of the House bill, which makes a similar change.

The Senate bill would cut the rest of the Medicaid program too

There are significant changes to Medicaid in the Senate bill outside of the expansion too. This bill would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” system, where states would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. Or states would have the opportunity of a block grant — a sum of money untethered from the number of people involved.

This is very different from current Medicaid funding. Right now the federal government has an open-ended commitment to paying all of a Medicaid enrollee’s bills, regardless of how high they go.

The Senate bill would set different amounts for different groups of people. It envisions, for example, higher payments to cover Medicaid enrollees who are disabled (and tend to have higher costs) than for Medicaid enrollees who are kids (generally healthy with lower costs).

The rate at which these payments grow is also important. The Senate bill would have the funding growth tethered to the Medical Consumer Price Index plus 1 percentage point through 2025, and then switch to the urban Consumer Price Index. Analysis of this type of proposal suggests this change would amount to funding cuts for Medicaid, as the program’s spending typically goes up faster than these growth rates.

Home care workers have our lives in their hands. They’re paid only $10 an hour

the guardian

Inequality…Inequality and Opportunity in America

This series is supported by The Rockefeller Foundation

Home care workers have our lives in their hands. They’re paid only $10 an hour

Home care is expected to add more jobs than any other field in the coming years. Caregivers will look after us in old age – but do we care enough about them?

By Sarah Jaffe     July 13, 2017

June Barrett’s day as a home care worker starts at 5pm and lasts for 16 hours, overnight. All night long, she checks on her elderly clients, a married couple both in their 90s. They sleep in different parts of their Miami home, and much of Barrett’s job is spent trekking through the corridors, back and forth, to make sure husband nor wife has suddenly taken a turn for the worse. “I’m constantly on my feet,” she says.

Two million workers across the US do the kind of home care that Barrett does – the workforce has doubled in size over the past 10 years, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the field will add more jobs than any other occupation by 2024.

Barrett, a tall woman with short dark hair with a bright red streak and a Jamaican accent, started in the field in 2003, and has worked for her current clients for nearly four years. They require round-the-clock care and so she gets to her clients’ home when the day-shift carer is still there, ready for the handover. She then prepares dinner, helps them eat, and makes sure they get their medication. The wife, Barrett says, doesn’t like to take her pills, so this part of her day requires some finesse.

The husband is able to walk by himself, but the wife needs Barrett to bring her to the bathroom, to wash her and brush her teeth, and to bring her to bed. While her clients sleep, Barrett cleans the kitchen, prepares supplies for the next day, and checks to make sure they have everything they need.

When one of them is ill, the process gets more complicated. “When you do this work, you are responsible for people’s lives,” she says. “One mistake can cost your client his or her life.” Balancing two clients is challenging: when she has to help one bathe, she is worrying about the other’s safety. When things are difficult right now – the wife has slight dementia – she reminds herself that her client was a strong advocate for schools and students when she was younger. “I look at her, I see a warrior woman,” Barrett says.

All things considered, Barrett’s current situation is good. But in the past, she has worked with violent children, people in advanced stages of dementia, and clients who abused her verbally and sexually harassed her.

“Remember now, you and I, we are not sure what is going to happen to us when we become ill,” she says. “We don’t know. So with this work I do, I do it from a place of empathy and from a place of love. I am 53 now. I am giving that care the way that I, June Barrett, would like to get that care when I am old.”

Barrett first came to the US via New York in 2001 and then moved to Miami to join her sister, going straight to her first job interview from a 20-hour Greyhound bus ride. Stepping in to greet her new client, she was met with a racial slur. “I worked my magic and I ended up staying with her for about four months,” she says.

Shortly thereafter, she settled into a live-in job with another elderly couple. At first, she moved her things into the only spare bedroom in the house. But when her client asked where she was sleeping, and Barrett told her, “she said: ‘You must be out of your cotton-picking mind.’ That was the first time I was hearing those words, ‘cotton-picking’. She took everything out from that room. And for five and a half years, I spent those nights sleeping in the study – and I am a tall girl – on a sofa with my feet hanging over.”

She’s also faced sexual harassment on the job – one client demanded she come to bed, groped her and kissed her. “The humiliating part about it was that I wasn’t able to leave right away,” she says. She’d been out of work for a while, and could not afford to leave the job immediately.

Modern home care has its roots in the New Deal era as a way to give work to poor women, explains Eileen Boris, distinguished professor in the department of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and co-author of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State.

Home care exploded in the 1970s, she says, with the birth of the independent living movement among disability rights activists, combined with older people’s desire to avoid nursing homes, which were seen as underfunded warehouses.

“What had been a way to relieve the crisis of public hospitals and to give employment to poor women on public assistance became an integral part of the limited healthcare rights that Americans developed with the Great Society,” Boris says.

The Obama administration was a high point for the rights of home care workers, many of whom were still locked out of basic labor protections. In 2013, the labor department extended federal minimum wage and overtime protections to them. Elly Kugler, who leads federal policy work at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, says it was meaningful because it recognized them as workers, and afforded them additional pay. Wages for home care have been largely stagnant, hovering just above $10 an hour on average.

Low wages had often driven people out of the field who otherwise found the work meaningful, Kugler notes. “Though many of our members care deeply for the work they do … they had to go and work in other kinds of jobs. Meaning fast food, other sectors, making a little bit more money.”

I am giving that care the way that I, June Barrett, would like to get that care when I am old

“I think one of the interesting things about home care is that it forces all these different worlds to connect,” Kugler adds. “The world of state funded home care and and healthcare and also worker rights and disability rights and senior rights and racial justice – all these different worlds are connected in home care.”

Nowhere is that more clear than in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, now under fire from the Trump administration and a Republican Congress.

The expansion of Medicaid, which took effect in 2014, meant more funding for home care and more jobs for care workers. The bill also expanded healthcare for the workers themselves – Barrett had never had chicken pox as a child, and when she contracted it as an adult from a client with shingles, it aggravated her asthma.

The Inequality Project: the Guardian’s in-depth look at our unequal world

“Before the Affordable Care Act passed, one in three home care workers was uninsured,” says Josephine Kalipeni, director of policy and partnerships at Caring Across Generations. After its passage, that rate dropped by 26%.

Because of the general forward trajectory, Kugler says, the Obama years had meant that the movement for care workers had gained more public traction with bigger issues, such as immigrants’ rights (many home care workers are immigrants like Barrett), racial justice, and the value of women’s work. Home care workers had joined the Fight for $15, initiated in part by the Service Employees International Union, which represents tens of thousands of home care workers around the country.

Workers who liked their care jobs, like Barrett, could begin to think about their work as a career.

And then came Trump.

“When I think about how work is being talked about right now and by Trump [when he was] on the campaign trail, it is almost like he colors some jobs pink and some jobs blue, even though there are women in the manufacturing sector and men in the care sector,” Kugler says.

Despite the fact that home health care is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country, “it has colored the tenor of the debate ever since. We still have this very pink and blue tenor to the debate and only the blue ‘boy’ jobs are really getting talked about.”

It would be bad enough if the Trump administration was merely ignoring the efforts of Barrett and others like her. But the administration’s policies seem designed, Kalipeni says, to uphold a “myth around creating jobs” that returns to the values that created entrenched inequality between rich and poor, black and white, men and women.

Discussions about infrastructure tend to focus on bridges and roads – which are important, certainly, but ignore the equally necessary infrastructure of care that allows a workforce to exist in the first place.

Those priorities are clearly demonstrated in the Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the ACA, currently moving through the Senate. Estimates compiled by the National Domestic Workers Alliance range from 1.8 to 3 million jobs lost in just a few years if “Trumpcare” passes; between 305,000 and 713,000 of those will be home care workers.

The latest version of the bill to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office predicts that 22 million people would lose their health insurance by 2026 if the bill were passed as is. Premiums would spike for elderly people like Barrett’s clients, as Medicaid spending would be slashed by $772 billion over 10 years. Changes to Medicaid could include a “per capita cap,” or a limit to how much the federal government pays states per enrollee in the program.

“It is basically saying, ‘Your state can only get so sick. You can only have so much of a disability and then you are just going to have to pay,’” Kugler says. These cuts, Kalipeni notes, will fall squarely on the shoulders of women – the women of color and immigrant women who do the paid home care work, the women who still do most of the unpaid care work that will pick up the slack when the budgets for paid care are cut.

Until such cuts directly affect people’s lives, she says, people often don’t realize the importance of these systems – and by then it is frequently too late.

When Ana Ramirez came to the US from the Dominican Republic, she got a job at the airport, but the work was grueling and the schedule made it difficult for her to take care of her child. She decided to go through training to become a home care worker.

That was 10 years ago. “I am very good at taking care of people,” she says through a translator. “You get very close to them. When I go and take care of people, they want me to come back. There are people who don’t have a family, and the home care attendant becomes their family.”

Ramirez – a warm, motherly woman with reddish-black hair in a ponytail, who greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek – works through an agency in Queens that sends her to different clients. She works 10-hour shifts four days a week, but there have been plenty of times when her hours run beyond that.

Sometimes, her clients’ family members demand things that are not in her job description. “There are people whose family believes that the home attendant is their own domestic worker,” she says.

Some of her clients are bedridden, meaning she must bathe and change them, as well as bring food and water. But she says that the thing that many of them value the most is when she sits with them and listens to them talk about their lives. For Ramirez, it is meaningful work.

Still, the low wages (she is paid $11 an hour) and the sometimes harsh conditions led her to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her listening skills from years of care work have made her a natural organizer, a role in which she listens to the complaints of other home care workers and brings them into the organization.

One of those complaints in New York, she says, is that many home care workers moved into the field from other low-wage service work, hoping that it would be an improvement. But then Andrew Cuomo, the state governor, increased the minimum wage specifically for fast-food workers, pushing some care workers to consider returning to fast food.

Barrett first heard about domestic worker organizing when the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed, in 2010. Then, a year ago, she got a phone call from the Miami Workers Center, and they told her that they were organizing workers like her. When she went to the first assembly, she saw women wearing T-shirts that read “National Domestic Workers Alliance”.

“I can’t explain to you the joy that came to me,” she says of that first meeting. “I’ve always been involved with activism, but I didn’t want it to get involved with work, so I’ve kept my politics, including my queerness, quiet.”

But after the assembly, she says, “I was on fire”. She called her current clients’ daughter, technically her boss, and asked to meet her and her father. In that meeting, she says, she told them that she was going to be a part of the domestic workers’ movement. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but if this movement needs me then I’m going to be there. If you want, you can fire me, but please give me two weeks’ notice so I can get another job.”

To her surprise, they not only did not fire her, but they gave her a check to donate to the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They have supported her membership in the organization, and have even given her paid time off to travel to speak – she has just returned from a trip to Nicaragua. They said they didn’t want Barrett to fight the fight without taking part themselves. They’ve also given her and the other care workers in the household paid sick days and paid vacation time.

Other clients weren’t so supportive. “They didn’t see me as a human being,” Barrett says. Organizing, she says, is the way to change those conditions. “My self-esteem was stripped from me, horrible stuff was said to me,” she says. “Some women just do [home care] because there’s a check at the end of the month. But if they can regain their own self-worth, their own dignity, they can do this work with pride.”

Three weeks ago, Barrett was one of the speakers at a press conference at Senator Marco Rubio’s office, testifying to the positive changes the Affordable Care Act brought to her life. She is angry, as many of her colleagues are, that once again she has to fight for her work to be seen, to be recognized, for her efforts to be counted as real work and not just a budget line to be slashed.

“People look down on you when you do this work,” she says. “They have to remember that they too are going to get old and this work will continue until the end of the world. There is always going to be somebody needing care.”

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This is no ‘rookie mistake.’ The Trump team shouldn’t even be on the field.

Washington Post Opinions

This is no ‘rookie mistake.’ The Trump team shouldn’t even be on the field.


Donald Trump Jr. gives a thumbs up. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

By Dana Milbank, Opinion writer        July 11, 2017

“I love it.”

That’s how Donald Trump Jr. responded, we now know, to an email last year offering dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

What I love is the defense of this attempt by senior Trump campaign officials to receive Russian help in the election. As my colleagues John Wagner and Rosalind Helderman report, presidential advisers are explaining away the meeting with the Russian lawyer as a “rookie mistake” by an “unsophisticated” campaign.

“Rookie mistake”: the all-purpose defense of the Trump White House.

When President Trump failed to support NATO’s collective-defense promise, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “a rookie mistake.” After revelations of Trump’s meddling in the FBI’s Russia probe, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) explained that Trump is “new at this.” The rookie-error explanation has been employed to describe Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, his handling of health care and his legislative approach.

There have been enough rookie errors to send this whole team back to Double-A ball. The longer this goes on — we’re now six months into Trump’s term — the less it looks like growing pains than incompetence and mismanagement aggravated by nepotism and dishonesty.

Returning from three weeks abroad, I’ve been catching up on developments at home. These weeks, though highly abnormal by usual standards, were fairly typical of the Trump presidency. Mistakes and outrages are so common that we become numb to them. But stack three weeks of the embarrassments together and the cumulative effect makes it plain that this is amateur hour for the greatest nation on Earth:

The president, representing the United States at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, tweets that “everyone” at the world conference is talking about why Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta wouldn’t give DNC servers to law enforcement. Trump erroneously claims the CIA sought the server. Podesta, who had no authority over the DNC, urges “our whack job” president to “get a grip.”

Trump gives a speech in Warsaw contradicting an earlier speech he gave in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in Poland, he publicly disparages U.S. intelligence agencies.

The president meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the White House press release identifies his country as “the Republic of China” — that is, China’s foe Taiwan.

Trump meets with Vladimir Putin and tweets that he “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” with Putin. Twelve hours later, Trump tweets that such a “Cyber Security unit” can’t happen.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tells reporters that Trump discussed sanctions with Putin. Trump tweets the next day: “Sanctions were not discussed.” (The previous month, Tillerson called for the end to a blockade of Qatar; hours later, Trump touted the Qatar blockade.)

Trump’s voter-fraud commission requests voter files and is roundly rejected by Democratic and Republican state officials alike; the Mississippi secretary of state, a Republican, tells the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

In spite of Trump’s vow that a North Korean missile capable of reaching the United States “won’t happen,” North Korea tests an ICBM. Trump calls this “very, very bad behavior.” After the missile test, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, complains on Twitter on Independence Day: “Spending my 4th in meetings all day. #ThanksNorthKorea.”

Trump gives a speech at the Kennedy Center, in July, vowing, “We’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

The president tweets that a cable-news host, Mika Brzezinski, was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he met her. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responds: “Please just stop.”

Trump follows this by tweeting a mock professional wrestling video of him pummeling “Fraud News CNN.”

The Post’s David Fahrenthold reports that fake Time magazine covers featuring Trump were on display in at least five of Trump’s clubs.

The president, who had implied he had tapes of his talks with Comey, tweets that there are no such tapes. Lawmakers, calling the president’s word insufficient, threaten to subpoena the tapes.

Former CIA director David Petraeus, asked in a panel discussion whether Trump is fit to serve, replies: “It’s immaterial.”

Trump claims the Senate health-care bill “is working along very well.” Republican leaders soon abandon plans to have a vote on the bill.

The White House issues a statement threatening to bomb the Syrian regime. Both the intelligence community and the Pentagon appear to be caught off guard.

Eight months after the election, Trump tweets: “Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders.”

Now, after months of Trump denials of Russia contacts, comes proof of a Russia meeting with Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort during the campaign. Among Junior’s conflicting explanations: It was okay because the Russian didn’t produce good dirt on Clinton.

And these are just some of the misfires.

They aren’t rookie mistakes. This is a team that never should have taken the field.

Twitter: @Milbank

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New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Newswise    Doe Science news source

The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.   Article ID: 677700

Scientists Design Solar Cell That Captures Nearly All Energy of Solar Spectrum

New Technology Creates Highly Efficient New Type of Solar Cell

Credit: Matthew Lumb

Stacked solar cell

WASHINGTON (July 11, 2017)—Scientists have designed and constructed a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum. The new design converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, giving it the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world.

The approach is different from the solar panels one might commonly see on rooftops or in fields. The new device uses concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) panels that employ lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, micro-scale solar cells. Because of their small size—less than one millimeter square—solar cells utilizing more sophisticated materials can be developed cost effectively.

The stacked cell acts almost like a sieve for sunlight, with the specialized materials in each layer absorbing the energy of a specific set of wavelengths. By the time the light is funneled through the stack, just under half of the available energy has been converted into electricity. By comparison, the most common solar cell today converts only a quarter of the available energy into electricity.

“Around 99 percent of the power contained in direct sunlight reaching the surface of Earth falls between wavelengths of 250 nm and 2500 nm, but conventional materials for high-efficiency multi-junction solar cells cannot capture this entire spectral range,” said Matthew Lumb, lead author of the study and a research scientist at the GW School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Our new device is able to unlock the energy stored in the long-wavelength photons, which are lost in conventional solar cells, and therefore provides a pathway to realizing the ultimate multi-junction solar cell.”

While scientists have worked towards more efficient solar cells for years, this approach has two novel aspects. First, it uses a family of materials based on gallium antimonide (GaSb) substrates, which are usually found in applications for infra-red lasers and photodetectors. The novel GaSb-based solar cells are assembled into a stacked structure along with high efficiency solar cells grown on conventional substrates that capture shorter wavelength solar photons. In addition, the stacking procedure uses a technique known as transfer-printing, which enables three dimensional assembly of these tiny devices with a high degree of precision.

This particular solar cell is very expensive, however researchers believe it was important to show the upper limit of what is possible in terms of efficiency. Despite the current costs of the materials involved, the technique used to create the cells shows much promise. Eventually a similar product may be brought to market, enabled by cost reductions from very high solar concentration levels and technology to recycle the expensive growth substrates.

The research builds off of the advancements made by the MOSAIC Program, a $24 million research project funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) that funds 11 separate teams across the U.S., each seeking to develop technologies and concepts to revolutionize photovoltaic performance and reduce costs. The researchers note that funding for this type of research is essential for developing viable commercial technology in the future.

The study, “GaSb-based Solar Cells for Full Solar Spectrum Energy Harvesting,” was published in Advanced Energy Materials on Monday.

-GW-