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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Some celebrations are almost synonymous with waste. Picture the plastic-bead-strewn streets of New Orleans after Mardi Gras, or the mountains of plastic packaging and wrapping paper after Christmas. For the environmentally conscious, the incredible wastefulness of these occasions is enough to make a Scrooge out of even the most festive individual.

Surprisingly, an environmental hero has arisen from a most unlikely holiday. A celebration that seems to have no other purpose than excessive drinking. No, not St. Patty’s Day (although there are ways to go green then, too!). Friends, we’re talking about Oktoberfest.

Yes. Really.

The Environmental Oscars

Here’s a tidbit that might shock you — it certainly surprised us. Oktoberfest — the real one, that is, held in Munich, Germany, each autumn — is one of the most environmentally friendly events out there. So much so, in fact, that it was awarded the Environmental Oscar in 1997 for its efforts to be as minimally wasteful as possible.

How have Oktoberfest organizers achieved this? Three main aspects contribute to their environmental success:

Disposing of Disposables

In 1991, the city of Munich banned disposable servingware. No more paper plates, no more plastic forks. Instead, food was served on real plates, with real silverware. Drinks were served in glasses, rather than plastic tumblers. This one change reduced waste at the annual festival by over 90 percent. It’s an encouraging statistic for festivals worldwide, especially those that think that waste-free celebrations are beyond their capabilities. After all, Oktoberfest is hardly a small-time operation; it hosts six million visitors each year. If they can go without one-time-use tableware, surely your next backyard barbecue can too!

Organics & Recycling

Gray water from washing all these dishes doesn’t just go down the drain, either. In almost half the festival tents, gray water is reused to flush the toilets (I’ve always wondered why we don’t do this everywhere). Reusing water like this drastically reduces the need for fresh water, and ensures that Oktoberfest gets the most use out of every drop. Much of the food served at Oktoberfest — including the meat — is also organically sourced. And while we could definitely make a strong case for reducing the amount of meat eaten at the bacchanalian beer fest (each year, attendees devour tons of sausages and almost 500,000 chickens), choosing poultry that’s been organically raised does make a huge difference.

Renewable Rejoicing

Since the year 2000, streetlights, toilets and all other public areas of the festival have been powered by renewable energy, making the festival one of the greenest in terms of how it powers its raucous celebrations. This attitude of environmental awareness has filtered through to its vendors, too — approximately 60 percent of them have followed suit and also chosen renewable power sources.

Oktoberfest is one of the purest festivals out there when you look at pure intent. It was originally celebrated to mark the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese on Oct. 12, 1810. These days, it’s a chance to celebrate good beer, great brats and dudes in lederhosen. But the way Munich has focused on creating sustainable Oktoberfest celebrations is an example to all of us that life needn’t be dour and stark to be eco-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite.

Your Own Green Event

So, how can you bring a little of Munich’s environmental sensibilities to your own Oktoberfest celebrations — or any other party, for that matter? It is possible, even if you can’t use gray water to flush your toilet or suddenly switch to renewable energy:

Use e-vite sites like Green Envelope or Paperless Post to create online invites instead of mailing paper ones.
Follow Oktoberfest’s lead and ditch the disposable plates, cups and silverware. If you’re worried about tipsy guests breaking your good dishes, pick up an inexpensive set at Goodwill or Value Village. It’ll likely be the same price as (or cheaper than) disposable stuff, and you can reuse for many parties down the road. Just remember to wash well before use.
Provide bins for compost, recycling and garbage. Often just providing guests options for eco-friendly waste disposal is all you need to do to decrease the amount of waste your party produces.
If you’re going all out for the celebration, rent a costume instead of buying one. Good lederhosen don’t come cheap, and cheap ones won’t last long. Get into the spirit by renting a costume that’ll help you dress the part without taking up space in your closet the rest of the year.
If it’s in your budget, offer your guests organic refreshments and food — organic and/or local chickens, sausage and even beer if you can find it!

We hope you have a fantastic time celebrating good beer, great friends and the crisp arrival of fall. Happy Oktoberfest!

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Trump’s proposed cuts to weather research could make it much harder to prepare for storms

This story was originally published by Newsweek and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Hurricane Harvey is strengthening as it approaches the Texas coast, and the massive storm is underscoring another big disturbance on the way: the battle over President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the National Weather Service.

Charged with providing weather forecasts and warnings, the National Weather Service also makes its data available to hundreds of companies that use it for everything from smartphone applications to agricultural equipment. Trump earlier this year proposed cutting its budget by 6 percent and that of its parent agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), by a mammoth 16 percent. It was an unprecedented proposal in the National Weather Service’s storied history, which extends back to 1890, when it was founded as the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Trump also proposed huge subcuts for programs that engage in computer modeling of storms, as well as observation of storms and dissemination of data. Tsunami research and prediction would be cut, along with supercomputing investments and a program to extend more accurate modeling to 30 days from 16, which could have huge benefits for everything from the insurance to the transportation industries.

The Trump proposal “is opposite to the ‘leave it better than you found it’ philosophy. This is take the money while you can, and let someone else in the future put Humpty Dumpty (aka NOAA) together again,” David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State and a retired Navy rear admiral, told Climate Central, a consortium.

Already, the U.S. is behind Europe in its forecast accuracy, and further cuts to research would likely leave the country farther behind in what’s been called “climate intelligence.” The National Weather Service’s main forecasting model, the Global Forecasting System, has seen a major drop-off in accuracy. The White House’s budget proposal would only make it worse. It seeks to cut 26 percent from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which supports data collection, climate and science, as well as research into more accurate weather forecasting models. The budget blueprint also would cut $513 million from NOAA’s satellite division, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, a 22 percent reduction.

Such cuts would cripple NOAA’s ability to keep afloat its satellites and data-gathering activities. That would not only affect the military but any business that relies on data and governments that have to plan how to handle snowstorms and hurricanes.

Scientists and meteorologists have worried that the cuts, and much more devastating reductions in climate change programs at NASA and other agencies, would harm the agency’s ability to forecast storms. In recent decades, the improvement in forecasting technologies has saved hundreds of lives, especially when it comes to tornadoes. The National Weather Service notes that hundreds used to die from pop up tornadoes like the ones that blew through Oklahoma in the mid-1970s, and that deaths are way down due to accurate predictions.

Harvey, which was just upgraded to a Category 3 hurricane, the first of that strength in more than 11 years, illustrates the point. The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, which hit Galveston, Texas, in the year 1900, led to 6,000 to 12,000 deaths. By contrast, 72 deaths were associated with Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and fewer than 2,000 with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

James Franklin, who headed the hurricane forecast team at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, a part of the National Weather Service, laments the budget cuts that are being proposed, including to the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program that was launched in 2009. “It’s hanging on really by a thread in terms of funding,” said Franklin.

Trump has yet to nominate an administrator to lead NOAA. By contrast, President Barack Obama had named his pick before his 2009 swearing in. Speculation has centered on Barry Myers, the CEO of Accuweather — a weather business — but he is not a scientist.

A Senate panel passed smaller cuts to NOAA; the cuts by the House panel were significantly closer to President Trump’s proposed reductions. By the time a new budget is due in October, the country will be deep into hurricane season — as well as the fiscal budget storm.

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Trump’s proposed cuts to weather research could make it much harder to prepare for storms

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Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

Mother Jones

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A federal judge Monday ruled that the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against African American and Hispanic voters when it enacted a draconian voter ID law in 2011. The ruling could pave the way for courts to require Texas to get approval from federal authorities before making future changes to its voting laws.

This is the second time Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has found that state lawmakers purposefully engaged in illegal discrimination when it adopted the photo ID requirement in 2011. In 2014, Ramos found that the law had a discriminatory effect and intent. A finding of discriminatory effect is sufficient to force a voting law to be change, but a discriminatory intent finding can open a state up to more significant punishments. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ramos’ finding of discriminatory effect but asked her to reconsider the question of intent. Her ruling on Monday reaffirmed her previous decision.

Critics of the photo ID law pointed to the fact that Texas lawmakers allowed voters to use concealed gun permits, which are more likely to be held by white voters. But the law disallowed identification cards issued to state employees and public university students, which are more likely to be used by minorities. In her opinion, Ramos pointed out that Republican lawmakers refused to include more forms of acceptable ID, reduce the cost of acquiring an ID, adopt a more lenient policy toward expired documents, or approve voter education about the new requirements. “These efforts revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on nonracial grounds, to suppress minority voting,” Ramos wrote in her opinion.

In 2013, the Department of Justice joined civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers, and voters in challenging the law. On the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the department signaled that it might change its position. In February, the department’s lawyers asked the court to allow the US government to withdraw from the case and urged. The DOJ also urged Ramos not to rule on the intent question until the Texas legislature had taken steps this spring to amend the law, which the Fifth Circuit had ordered it to do. Ramos allowed the federal government to withdraw from this part of the case but rejected its request to hold off on the intent ruling. However, Ramos did indicate that she would wait until the legislature recessed to issue any remedy in conjunction with her findings.

The intent finding is a major victory for voting rights advocates because the courts have wide latitude to remedy intentional racial discrimination. Most importantly, a finding of intent allows the courts, if they choose, to put jurisdictions under federal oversight so that future changes to election procedures must be approved by the DOJ. Civil rights groups are requesting such a remedy and feel their argument for putting Texas back under federal supervision—which ended when the Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013—is strong. Last month, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio found, in a separate case, that Republicans had racially gerrymandered congressional districts in order to weaken the growing power of minority voters. Taken together, voting rights attorneys believe the two findings of racially discriminatory intent make a convincing case that Texas should be placed under federal supervision.

“This is a great win for Texas voters, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said in a statement after Ramos’ ruling. “Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters, without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through.”

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Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

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There’s Only One Big Thing That Matters About the Upcoming Republican Health Care Plan

Mother Jones

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Politico has gotten its hands on a leaked copy of a Republican health care plan. It’s a discussion draft of a bill that’s a couple of weeks old, but it still provides a good idea of what Republicans are thinking these days. Here’s my summary of Sarah Kliff’s summary:

Good news: Compared to previous plans, it’s better on pre-existing conditions; more generous in its funding of high-risk pools; generally cheaper for young people; and includes bigger tax credits than earlier Republican plans.
Neutral news: Loosens the list of “essential” benefits for all plans. This is generally better for healthy people and worse for sick people.
Bad news: Eliminates Medicaid expansion; cuts Medicaid funding; is terrible for the poor; and is far more expensive for older workers.

There’s other stuff (all Obamacare taxes are repealed, for example, which is great news for the rich), but I submit to you that these are pesky details. There’s really only one big thing that matters: how much the program costs.

Obamacare spends roughly $100 billion per year on subsidies to make health coverage affordable for the poor, and even at that premiums are too high for many people and deductibles are too high for almost everyone. Handwaving aside, there’s no way to produce a plan that’s even remotely useful with any less funding than Obamacare. That’s just reality.

If the funding is sufficient, we can all have a good time arguing over continuous coverage penalties, age ratios, essential benefits, and all that. If the funding is insufficient, it’s all just whistling in the wind.

Rumor has it that an outline of this plan was already submitted to the Congressional Budget Office, and the score they returned was so horrific that it never saw the light of day. So when Republicans do finally release a bill and a CBO score, just turn immediately to the section that estimates the ten-year cost. If it’s substantially less than a trillion dollars, you can skip the rest.

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There’s Only One Big Thing That Matters About the Upcoming Republican Health Care Plan

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Of Course Trump’s Health Secretary Is a Friend of Big Tobacco

Mother Jones

The man Donald Trump has chosen to direct health policy for the federal government has close ties to the tobacco industry he will soon be charged with regulating. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who will likely be confirmed as health and human services secretary by the end of the week, has repeatedly voted against bills that could harm big tobacco. At the same time, he’s received thousands of dollars in political contributions from the industry and held investments in tobacco companies—investments he says he didn’t know about.

Early in Barack Obama’s presidency, Congress renewed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. In order to pay for the program, lawmakers raised cigarette taxes by 62 cents per pack and cigar taxes by 40 cents per cigar. Price blasted the new fees. “Today’s tax hike serves as a useful reminder that the president is comfortable raising taxes on hard-working Americans to feed his reckless agenda,” Price said in an April 2009 statement. “President Obama has done nothing to demonstrate that he is a responsible steward of taxpayer money. Yet, he is forcing the American people to burn through even more of their income in the name of more government.”

A few months later, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which empowered the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products. (The Supreme Court had ruled in 2000 that the FDA did not have that authority under existing law.) The legislation has enabled the agency to ban certain flavored cigarettes that might entice young people to begin smoking. It also allows the FDA to require additional warnings on packages.

Price joined most Republicans in voting against the FDA legislation. But thanks to that bill, as health secretary, he will now have immense influence over how the tobacco industry operates. (The FDA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.) In 2011, the Obama administration proposed adding graphic warning labels—including images of diseased mouths and lungs—to the top half of cigarette packs. That regulation was tied up in legal challenges but was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013. After several years of inaction by the administration, a collection of medical and public health groups, including the American Cancer Society, sued the government last fall in an attempt to force it to finalize the new label requirements. Once he’s in place at HHS, Price can ask the FDA to move forward with the new rules, weaken them, or abandon them altogether.

The conservative website Hot Air celebrated the latter possibility when Price’s nomination was announced in November. “Fortunately for all of us, most of the sore spots on the HHS and FDA regulatory front don’t require cooperation from Congress or the courts,” the site said, pointing to regulations on cigars and electronic cigarettes. “These are things which can essentially be tidied up with a stroke of the pen once Trump and Price are in office.”

Price has benefited from numerous tobacco industry donations during his political career. Back when he was a state legislator in Georgia in 1998, Philip Morris gave Price’s campaign $300. More recently, the PAC for Altria Group, parent company to Philip Morris, donated $18,000 to Price’s congressional campaigns. From 2008 to 2012, Price also received $19,000 from the PAC of RJ Reynolds, the company behind Camel and other cigarette brands.

Price’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) raised concerns about Price’s personal investments in tobacco companies during his confirmation hearing last month. According to Price’s financial disclosure forms, he sold off 768 shares in Altria and Philip Morris International for $37,000 in 2012. (Altria owns the American Phillip Morris brand. Phillip Morris International has been a separate company since 2008.) Franken started by asking Price to identify the “leading cause of preventable death” and then informed him that it was smoking.

“That hits home,” Price replied. “I lost my dad, who was a Lucky Strike smoker from World War II, to emphysema. He prided himself on the fact that he never smoked a cigarette with a filter for years and years.”

Franken expressed surprise that Price, a physician, would invest in products that lead to the deaths of about 480,000 people in the country each year. “Congressman Price, you’re a physician, which means you took the Hippocratic oath, a pledge to do no harm,” Franken said. “How do you square reaping personal financial gain from the sales of an addictive product that kills millions of Americans every decade with also voting against measures to reduce the death toll inflicted by tobacco?”

“It’s a curious observation,” Price responded, claiming that he had “no idea” about the stocks he owned; he suggested that they were purchased by a mutual fund or pension plan he had invested in. The tobacco investments were publicly disclosed in his financial report, and at other points in his hearing he acknowledged that he had the ability to direct his stock broker on other investments he held.

“I find it very hard to believe that you did not know that you had tobacco stocks,” Franken responded.

Watch the full exchange above.

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Of Course Trump’s Health Secretary Is a Friend of Big Tobacco

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Judge Grants National Stay Preventing Removal of Green Card Holders and Others Being Detained at Airports

Mother Jones

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Earlier today the ACLU filed a motion for an emergency stay against President Trump’s immigration order. The hearing was held in New York in front of federal judge Ann Donnelly:

This is a very partial victory. It applies to green card holders and others with legal residence status who are on US soil but are being detained in airports. They do not have to be allowed entry into the country, but they cannot now be sent back to their home country. Their eventual status will be determined in subsequent hearings. However, the overall refugee ban stays in place, and the overall entry ban for those from seven Muslim countries also stays in place. Those who are overseas are—for now, anyway—still banned from entering the US, even if they are green card holders.

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of Donnelly’s order. It applies to “individuals with refugee applications approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen legally authorized to enter the United States.”

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Judge Grants National Stay Preventing Removal of Green Card Holders and Others Being Detained at Airports

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Report: Trump Team Wants to Slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Everything Else Except Defense

Mother Jones

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Here’s the latest news on squeezing our bloated government down to size:

Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending. Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned….Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

This is terrifying, of course, but it’s also puzzling. $10.5 trillion over ten years? That’s a trillion dollars a year. If you eliminated the domestic discretionary budget entirely, you’d only save half a trillion bucks. So how do they do it?

Well, we’re told that the proposed budget cuts “hew closely” to a recent Heritage Foundation report, so I went and took a look. The answer, of course, is that the only way to cut that kind of money is to take a meat axe to everything, including Social Security and Medicare. Here’s a chart:

Let’s break this down. How does Heritage manage these whopping cuts? According to a modest little footnote in the appendix on page 165, here’s the answer:

Medicaid: No details. There will be a spending cap, and all mandatory spending will somehow be cut to fit.

Medicare: Increase eligibility age, add a “temporary” premium for Part A, increase premiums for Parts B and D, phase out subsidies for seniors with “significant” income, “reform” cost-sharing arrangements, transition to vouchers premium support starting in 2021.

Domestic Discretionary: Magic spending cap.

Social Security: Increase retirement age, index retirement age so it keeps going up, reduce benefits by adopting chained CPI for inflation adjustments, and “transition the payment to a flat, anti-poverty benefit focused on individuals who need it most,” whatever that means.

In fairness, there’s a bit more detail on the domestic discretionary side. Actually, a mountain of detail: over the course of 140 pages, Heritage recommends cuts to over a hundred programs. These include catfish programs, the Ex-Im bank, climate programs, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc. etc. Cutting all this stuff might be harder than they expect, since some senator somewhere probably thinks very highly of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program, but I guess they can try. In any case, about 80 percent of the savings come from a small number of programs:

Energy subsidies: $28 billion
Land and Water Conservation Fund: $20 billion
Various HHS/HUD jobs program: $10 billion
Davis-Bacon: $9 billion
Federal Transit Administration: $4 billion
Nine climate programs: $4 billion
Military health care: $4 billion

So there you have it. Slash a bunch of hippy-dippy stuff (clean energy, water conservation, transit, climate); some employment stuff (jobs programs, Davis-Bacon); and military health care spending. Then take a meat axe to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else, and you’re done! Piece of cake.

Perhaps someone should start asking our president-elect if he’s on board with this stuff.

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Report: Trump Team Wants to Slash Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Everything Else Except Defense

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S&P Says Obamacare Isn’t Failing

Mother Jones

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S&P says that Obamacare isn’t failing at all:

With better data supported by actual individual market experience, most insurers put in for increased premium pricing for 2016. Also, several insurers introduced narrower network products to control medical costs. Regulatory changes such as tightening the SEP rules also helped this year-over-year improvement. We expect the full-year 2016 underwriting losses to be lower than in 2015 and 2014.

….Insurers have put in meaningful premium rate increases for 2017…but we view 2017 as a one-time pricing correction….For 2017, we believe the continued pricing correction and network design changes, along with regulatory fine-tuning of ACA rules, will result in closer to break-even results, in aggregate, for the individual market, and more insurers reporting profits in this segment.

Hey, how about that! Now that insurers are pricing their coverage about where the CBO expected it to be, they’re starting to move toward profitability. Who could have guessed that?

This reminds me of something. A lot of lefties were unhappy with Obamacare because, in the end, it didn’t include a public option. Thanks, Joe Lieberman! But the truth is that although a public option would have been nice, it’s not really what Obamacare needed. What Obamacare needed was two things:

About twice as much funding.
A higher tax penalty for not buying insurance.

That’s it. But Democrats were fixated on Obamacare costing under $1 trillion (over ten years), and that prevented them from creating a program that people truly would have loved. If, instead, they had supported funding of, say, $2 trillion, generous subsidies would have continued into the working and middle classes; maximum deductibles could have been set much lower; and more insurers would have entered each local market. Combine that with stiffer penalties to back up the individual mandate and a lot more young people would have joined the insurance pools—and would have done so without resentment since the cost would truly be affordable. All of this together would have made Obamacare far more popular with the public and much easier to manage for insurers.

But where would that extra trillion dollars have come from? This is where the hack gap comes into play once again. If this were a Republican plan, and it were something they really wanted, they wouldn’t have bothered with funding. They would have just made up a story about medical inflation coming down (which it is) and broader health coverage leading to improved economic growth blah blah blah. Democrats weren’t willing to do that. Alternatively, they could have just funded a $2 trillion program. That would have meant even higher taxes on the rich and maybe some higher taxes all the way down into the upper middle class. Or maybe a small increase in the payroll tax. Who knows? There are plenty of possibilities.

But Democrats weren’t willing to be hacks and they weren’t willing to raise taxes more than they did. This is despite the fact that the public plainly doesn’t care much about deficits no matter how much they may say so, and the public is positively delighted with higher taxes on the rich. Multiple polls repeatedly show this by a wide margin.

This would have solved virtually every problem Obamacare has had. Higher taxes on the rich would have been a populist winner. Higher funding would have made the program genuinely affordable and far more popular. And the increase in both funding and the mandate penalty would have made the eventual insurance pool closer to what insurers expected, which would have kept them nearer to profitability and truly duking it out to gain market share against their competitors. It was a missed opportunity.

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S&P Says Obamacare Isn’t Failing

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Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

Mother Jones

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Here’s a funny thing. Conservatives have spent the past five years pointing to a long litany of alleged problems with Obamacare and gleefully predicting that each of them would lead to its downfall. They never did, either because the problems weren’t even problems, or because they were pretty small beer and didn’t really have any effect. Nonetheless, every month or two brought yet another harbinger of doom for Obamacare.

So you’d think they’d be over the moon at the moment, now that Obamacare really does appear to be facing a serious problem. Even liberals are worried about large insurers like Aetna and United Healthcare abandoning the exchanges, leaving some regions with only a single monopoly insurer. But conservatives aren’t really saying much about this. It’s kind of odd.

Maybe it’s because they’re all too freaked out by Donald Trump. I don’t know. Still, there are some who are noticing the problem and predicting the eventual demise of Obamacare. Here’s Megan McArdle:

Unfortunately, while basically everyone in the country thought that the U.S. health care system was as messed up as a party-school group house on graduation day, most people actually liked whatever coverage they had. That created a political bind: No reform could pass if it seemed to shrink any of the existing major markets in any significant way. Expanding everything would cost a boatload of money and make taxpayers freak out, so the architects of Obamacare finessed this problem with a combination of:

Opaque rules.
Disingenuously optimistic promises such as, “If you like your plan you can keep it.”
Weak versions of unpopular measures needed to make the law work, such as paltry penalties for failing to buy health insurance.
Not touching the wildly inefficient profusion of programs.

All that stuff is what has left Obamacare where it is. The dishonesty was exposed. The weak versions of European measures failed to encourage the behavior changes needed to make the system work. And the fact that every other program was left in existence, largely untouched, created new ways for patients and consumers to game the rules to get maximum reimbursements for minimum expenditure.

None of these are actually operational problems with Obamacare except for the third one. But here’s the thing: last year was the first time people actually got hit in the face with the prospect of a penalty for not having insurance. And McArdle is right: it was too small to motivate people to change their behavior—especially all those young healthy folks that insurers want. $325 for a single adult just wasn’t enough.

But this year the penalty was $695. Next year, it will be either $695 (plus a bit for inflation) or 2.5 percent of your income. For someone making, say, $30,000, that’s $750.

Is that enough? Hard to say. If your income is low, it’s more than the cost of insurance, so you might as well just get the insurance. If your income is a little higher, then it’s true that you can save money by just paying the penalty. But the net cost of insurance is probably only about $1,000 more than the penalty. Once this starts to sink in, a lot of young folks are probably going to conclude that for a hundred bucks a month they might as well sign up.

It will be a few years before we know for sure. In the meantime, it’s clear that insurers screwed up pretty badly in their initial estimates of how much it would cost to insure the typical Obamacare pool. They shoulda listened to the CBO. Still, here’s the thing I don’t get: the obvious response to insurers losing money is twofold. First, some insurers will abandon the market. Second, the surviving insurers will probably raise their prices. This is how competitive markets work. It’s messy and inconvenient, but in the end it all settles down.

The only thing that would prevent this is some kind of death spiral, as rising prices cause even more healthy people to stop buying insurance and instead just pay the penalty. This isn’t impossible. But prices won’t rise at all for low-income buyers, and are capped at 9.5 percent of income for most others. So there’s a limit to just how far this can go, even in theory.

Maybe I’m letting partisan views blind me to the scope of this problem. But I think this is a problem that Obamacare will survive. Prices will go up over the next couple of years. My guess is a rise of around 20-25 percent or so. As the penalties sink in, more young people will sign up. The most efficient insurers will remain in the market and become profitable. And yes, there will probably be individual counties here and there that have only one insurer, or even no insurers in a handful of cases.

In other words, it won’t be health care nirvana. But it will work. The end is still not nigh.

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Obamacare’s Latest Problem is Real, But Not Fatal

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How Do You Stop an Attack Like the One in Nice? You Can’t.

Mother Jones

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One day after a terrorist attack killed at least 84 people in Nice, France, French authorities announced that the man who carried out the attacks had never been suspected of terrorist sympathies. So do intelligence agencies have any effective way to stop such isolated acts of terrorism?

“No,” says Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. “I wish there was a better answer than that, but there frankly isn’t.”

Prosecutors in Nice told the media on Friday that Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the 31-year-old French citizen originally from Tunisia who carried out the attack, was “completely unknown to both France’s domestic and foreign intelligence officials.” That bucked the trend of recent terrorist strikes in Europe, including the Paris attacks last year and the Brussels bombings in March. The perpetrators of those attacks were connected to known jihadist networks, and intelligence officials were criticized in those cases for failing to pursue leads or carry out surveillance that may have caught the attackers before they struck.

But in the case of isolated individuals, Hughes says there’s little to be done. “At the end of the day, this really comes down to human intelligence,” he says. “You try to understand the group of people that are drawn to this and then you try to infiltrate as best you can.” If there isn’t anywhere to infiltrate, or the attacker has no previous signs of radicalization to alert authorities, attackers can simply pop up at any point with little warning.

The only real way to slow down such attacks may be to target propaganda from ISIS and other jihadi groups. ISIS is notoriously adept at churning out propaganda videos and flooding social media with sympathizers and recruiters. “Is that actually an important effect on would-be recruits?” Hughes asks. “Are they more likely to go mobilize to action than they have been in the past?”

He believes the answer is yes. “If you’re constantly being told to do what you can where you are, you’re constantly told in three different platforms on a daily, almost minute-by-minute basis, it’s going to have some level of effect on individuals who are already drawn to this,” he says. The more propaganda that’s available, he argues, the more people like Lahouaiej-Bouhlel may carry out “ISIS-inspired” attacks, deciding in the spur of the moment to act on their private thoughts.

That’s not only potentially harder to stop, but also psychologically harmful. Freelance attackers may use whatever methods or targets are at hand, and that seeming randomness, Hughes says, “shocks the system. We’re not just talking about airports. We’re also not just talking about small arms, which means you get more media coverage, which means inspiring the next individuals who want be copycats or who want to do more.”

The US government has made attempts to cut down on the flow of jihadi propaganda online. National security officials met with tech industry executives in January, and the White House held a summit in Washington a month later to try to generate cooperation between tech companies and security agencies. But efforts so far haven’t yielded much—one State Department anti-extremism program on Twitter called “Think Again, Turn Away” is a notorious punchline among terrorism experts—especially given ongoing tension between the two sides over encryption and other privacy issues. “It’s like you’ve been asked to partner up and dance with the bully at school who keeps trying to trip you in the hallways,” one of the White House summit participants told BuzzFeed.

Hughes is certain about one thing: Aggressive anti-Muslim responses only increase the likelihood of more attacks. Other terrorism analysts agree. “Unfortunately, the most likely reaction after the Nice attack is also the worst one: more vitriol and hostility toward French and European Muslims,” wrote Georgetown professor Daniel Byman for Slate on Friday. “That makes it harder for European security services to gain the cooperation of local communities and easier for ISIS to gain recruits and score victories.”

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How Do You Stop an Attack Like the One in Nice? You Can’t.

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