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Flint’s mayor, who promised to clean up its water problems, faces a recall election today.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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Flint’s mayor, who promised to clean up its water problems, faces a recall election today.

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Syria is joining the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. alone in rejecting it.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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Syria is joining the Paris Agreement, leaving the U.S. alone in rejecting it.

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EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Link – 

EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

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U.S. withdrawal from Paris will make for an awkward climate summit in Germany.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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U.S. withdrawal from Paris will make for an awkward climate summit in Germany.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 14 April 2017

Mother Jones

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This is Hilbert taking a look at the outside world as Marian and I returned from a walk. He was so thrilled to see us that we couldn’t stop him from jumping down and following us. This is bad, bad, bad, and in the end Marian had to pick him up and carry him the rest of the way home, just to make sure he didn’t start getting any ideas. Backyards good. Outside world bad.

The problem with the outside world is that it’s sort of like heroin: once you get a taste you want more and more, and you end up like this cat. “Terrific stuff by the cat!” says the announcer in the video, and it surely is. Nonetheless, the cat spent the rest of the night cowering behind the center field wall, trying to figure out how to escape. Let this be a lesson to all housecats: There’s no place like home.

Originally posted here – 

Friday Cat Blogging – 14 April 2017

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Inflation Finally Starting to Hit Healthy Levels

Mother Jones

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It’s finally happened. The PCE measure of price inflation has breached the 2 percent barrier:

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Eric Morath comments: “That is a healthy signal for the economy, showing excess capacity and high unemployment that long held inflation near historically low levels have finally abated. Firmer inflation could give Fed policy makers leeway to consider additional interest-rate increases this year.”

That’s a refreshing change from the usual reaction of “ZOMG! Inflation is nearing 2 percent!” Nonetheless, like a broken record, I’ll point out that (a) core inflation is still under 2 percent and barely increasing at all, and (b) 2 percent is not a “target.” Not in the sense of something you should never exceed, anyway. It’s a target for average inflation, and the average since the end of the Great Recession has been 1.5 percent. More recently, the average over the past two years has been 0.8 percent. It’s going to be a while before we make up for so many years of too-low inflation.

Of course, it’s also true that the Fed’s target probably should be 3-4 percent, but that’s a post for another day.

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Inflation Finally Starting to Hit Healthy Levels

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Quote of the Day: Guy Who Passed Classified Information to His Mistress Would Be "Spectacular" Choice for Secretary of State

Mother Jones

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Charles Krauthammer is excited that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulani might not be the only men in the running for Secretary of State:

But I do think we should keep our eye on a third possibility….and that would be David Petraeus, who to the world represents America at its strongest and most decisive. He is the guy who saved the Iraq War, and is a man who has written and thought deeply about the new kind of warfare that we are involved in. And that, I think, would be a spectacular choice.

Krauthammer, of course, was part of the chorus claiming that Hillary Clinton had betrayed the republic as Secretary of State because she occasionally discussed the administration’s drone program over unclassified email. The emails were all carefully worded; there weren’t very many of them; everything in them had almost certainly been widely reported already; there’s no evidence that anyone ever hacked them; and James Comey said clearly that it wasn’t even a close call to determine that Clinton had done nothing illegal. Nonetheless, she had endangered the country and was obviously unfit to hold office.

But David Petraeus—that’s a different story. Petraeus was head of the CIA; he got smitten by an attractive woman; he knowingly and deliberately passed along classified information to her; he tried to hide the email trail; and he was eventually convicted of mishandling classified information as part of a plea deal. For all I know, he may literally be unable to get a security clearance any longer.

But he would be a “spectacular” choice for Hillary Clinton’s old job. Good God.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, Krauthammer was also one of the conservatives who embraced the conspiracy theory that Obama used the affair to blackmail Petraeus into giving favorable testimony on Benghazi. So who knows what really goes through that head of his.

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Quote of the Day: Guy Who Passed Classified Information to His Mistress Would Be "Spectacular" Choice for Secretary of State

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Donald Trump Just Repeated One of His Most Vicious Lies

Mother Jones

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At Sunday’s presidential debate, Donald Trump repeated one of the more pernicious lies of his presidential campaign—that the neighbors of the San Bernardino shooters saw bombs scattered at the couple’s home and said nothing. Trump, who had been asked about his plan to ban Muslims from entering the country, was arguing that American Muslims need to change their behavior and start reporting suspicious activity they see to authorities.

But Trump’s story is false. As the Washington Post’s Glen Kessler points out, there’s no evidence that any neighbors saw anything. Nonetheless, Trump has repeated the claim over and over again over the course of his campaign. “One of the problems we have is the people in the community, the Muslim community are not turning over the sickos,” he said in an interview in June, before falsely describing the situation in San Bernardino.

But that broader premise is false too. The FBI says American Muslims regularly provide valuable tips on possible terrorist activity.

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Donald Trump Just Repeated One of His Most Vicious Lies

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Obamacare Is a Market. Markets Aren’t Perfect.

Mother Jones

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The withdrawal of Aetna from many of its Obamacare markets has unleashed a torrent of commentary about how Obamacare is now well and truly doomed. From Republicans, this is the usual hot air. From Democrats, it’s a little different. It’s also way overblown, and I’m happy to see Jonathan Chait make the case for Obamacare’s basic solvency here. Go read it.

For myself, I just want to focus on one of Chait’s points: The reason Aetna withdrew is that they weren’t making money. The reason they weren’t making money is because their premiums were too low. The reason their premiums were too low is because they were competing with other insurers for business. In other words, competing on a level playing field, they couldn’t succeed. That’s life in a free market.

So what happened? For some reason, insurers underpriced their policies substantially when Obamacare was introduced. It’s possible that their actuaries all badly miscalculated the makeup of the market. Or it’s possible that they were underpricing deliberately as a way of building market share. Or maybe a combination of both.

My own guess is that the underpricing was mostly deliberate. After all, even the Congressional Budget Office had a pretty good idea of what average premiums ought to be, and it’s hard to believe that a bunch of experienced insurance companies couldn’t do the same math as the CBO. Either way, though, this is, once again, life in a free market. Some vendors make mistakes and fail. Some can’t compete and fail. Some just decide to focus on other markets.

The flip side of this is that free markets usually stabilize eventually. In the case of Obamacare, this means premiums have to go up. Sorry. However, as that happens, new insurers are likely to enter. Eventually supply will more or less equal demand, and the market will find an equilibrium. This is why I’m much less panicked over Obamacare’s immediate problems than most people.

Obamacare is an artificial market in many ways, but that’s true of health care in general, which is highly regulated and has well-known eccentricities. Nonetheless, Obamacare is a market, and right now it’s operating like one. Prices are looking for an equilibrium, consumers are deciding whether to participate, and vendors are jockeying for position. That’s not painless, but then, nobody ever said capitalism was painless.

Of course, if you do want painless, we know how to do that too: true national health care funded through taxes. Dozens of countries do this, and it works fine.

Short of that, we could still reduce the pain considerably. Is Obamacare too expensive for many people? Yes. That could be fixed by increasing subsidies. Are insurers losing money in the early years? Yes. That could be largely fixed by funding the risk corridors. Are the poor still underserved? Yes. That could be addressed by adopting the Medicaid expansion in all states. Are there plenty of details here and there that ought to be cleaned up? Yes. That could be fixed via legislation.

If Republicans actually cared about providing health care to people, all of this would be trivial. But they don’t. To the extent that Obamacare has problems, this is why. There’s nothing inherent in the design that prevents it from operating successfully. In fact, as the chart on the right shows, even now, with all its problems, Obamacare is operating more successfully than anybody thought it would when it was first passed. 20 million newly insured people is nothing to sniff at.

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Obamacare Is a Market. Markets Aren’t Perfect.

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A Closer Look Behind the "Obamacare Surprise"

Mother Jones

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Helaine Olen writes in Slate that Democrats might be in for a nasty surprise just before the election:

A few weeks ago Politico warned of “Obamacare’s November surprise”: Many consumers enrolling in the health care marketplace on Nov. 1, just one week before the election, can expect increased rates.

Given the current disparity in the polls, it’s unlikely that alone could change the outcome of the election. But it is quite possible it will cause a bit of turmoil in the last week of the campaign. It’s beginning to look likely than many shoppers aren’t going to like what they find.

A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation released earlier this month estimated that the average weighted premium increase for the benchmark second lowest cost silver plan will come in at 10 percent. Last year? It was 5 percent.

This is quite possible. As the Obamacare market shakes out and insurers get a better handle on their actual costs, premiums were always bound to go up. But it’s worth pointing out what’s really happening here: insurers lowballed their premiums at first in order to win market share, coming in at rates far below the CBO’s initial estimates. So even if we do see a 10 percent increase in 2017, premiums will still be well under CBO’s initial projections1:

I’m under no illusion that this will change the politics of a premium increase, of course. Someone, somewhere, will have a 30 percent increase, and that’s undoubtedly what Donald Trump will blather on about. Nonetheless, it’s nice to at least be prepared with the truth. And the truth is that even if there’s a sizeable increase next year, premiums will still be about 15 percent less than CBO projected back when Obamacare was first passed.


1It was surprisingly hard to collect these numbers. You’d think CBO would have them all collected in one place somewhere, but if they do, I couldn’t find them. If anyone can point me to something better, let me know. In the meantime, here are my sources:

Projections:

2014: https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/76701/ib_premiums_update.pdf, p.6.
2015: Interpolation of 2014 and 2016 numbers.
2016: http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/107xx/doc10781/11-30-premiums.pdf, p. 7.
2017: Projection based on CBO projection of 8 percent increases between 2016-18. https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/51130-Health_Insurance_Premiums_OneCol.pdf, p. 12.

Actual:

2014: http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45231-ACA_Estimates.pdf, p. 6.
2015: https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/49892/49892-breakout-AppendixB.pdf, p. 120.
2016: https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/114th-congress-2015-2016/reports/51130-Health_Insurance_Premiums_OneCol.pdf, p. 12.
2017: Estimate based on 10 percent increase from 2016.

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A Closer Look Behind the "Obamacare Surprise"

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