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Bill USA

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Member since: Wed Mar 3, 2010, 05:25 PM
Number of posts: 6,436

About Me

Quotes I like: "Prediction is very difficult, especially concerning the future." "There are some things so serious that you have to laugh at them.” __ Niels Bohr Given his contribution to the establishment of quantum mechanics, I guess it's not surprising he had such a quirky of sense of humor. ......................."Deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation of another's position is a basic technique of (dis)information processing" __ I said that

Journal Archives

Natural gas isn’t the only reason U.S. carbon emissions are falling - Plumer, WaPo


It’s become something of a cliché in energy-policy discussions: The United States is making headway on global warming and slashing its carbon-dioxide emissions all because of a glut of cheap natural gas that’s elbowing out dirtier coal power.

[div class="excerpt" style="width:200px;float:left;"]
These guys also want credit. (AES)
But perhaps that natural-gas story is overly simplistic. A notable new analysis by Trevor Houser and Shashank Mohan of the Rhodium Group suggests that America’s budding renewable-energy sector — particularly wind power and biomass — deserves a big chunk of the credit for driving down U.S. emissions. On the flip side, the report also suggests that coal could soon make a comeback.

Houser and Mohan take a novel approach to analyzing the recent drop in carbon pollution. They start by noting that at the end of 2012, U.S. carbon emissions were about 13 percent below 2005 levels. They then tried to tease out the causes of this drop by constructing a counter-factual — what would have happened if energy trends from the 1990s and early 2000s had continued apace?

That led them to this graph, which separates out the causes of the recent decline in emissions. (On the far left is what emissions were projected to be based on 1990-2005 trends. On the far right is what emissions actually were.)

The recession and financial crisis, obviously, made a big difference. A weaker economy has meant less demand for energy — that was responsible for more than half the drop compared with business as usual.


Which Republican Party are we dealing with?

(emphasis my own)

Anyone wondering why we are facing the mindless prospect of deep and potentially catastrophic cuts in critical government services—thanks to the sequester—and why President Barack Obama has had so much difficulty in dealing with congressional Republicans need only listen to the Republican responses to the president’s State of the Union address last night. The fact that one Republican can no longer speak for the party is telling. While Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was selected to give the Republican Party’s official response, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave the response from the other wing of the party—the Tea Party Republicans.

During his remarks, Sen. Rubio actually blamed the president for sequestration, saying, “And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts—cuts that were his idea in the first place.” As Politico’s fact checkers were quick to point out, Rubio didn’t portray the president’s remarks accurately.[font color="blue"](to put that more accurately: "He misrepresented what the President said" - in other words[font color="red"] "He Lied"[/font]__Bill USA)[/font] The president did criticize Republicans for trying to prevent defense cuts as part of the sequester by making cuts in nondefense programs deeper, but his remarks said nothing about raising taxes to delay military cuts.

Sen. Rubio was even more out of line in asserting that sequestration was the president’s proposal in the first place. Sequestration is a system of automatic across-the-board cuts that were attached at the last minute to the debt ceiling legislation passed in August 2011, just as the United States was about to tumble into default. The final agreement came after months of negotiations in which the White House consistently demanded a “clean” debt ceiling bill with no riders.

In response to demands from the most extreme elements of the House Republican Conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) brought the president’s request for an unamended version of the debt ceiling to the House floor on May 31, 2011, where it was defeated with all Republicans present voting “No.” Comments at the time of the vote from some of the more conservative members of the House were very upfront about their reasoning for wanting to put the United States in the position where it might no longer be able to pay its bills. As former Rep. Allen West (R-FL), a leader of the conservative Republican faction, put it in a press release issued after the vote:

I voted against increasing a debt ceiling absent of spending control measures … I will not vote for this debt increase unless all of the following criteria are met or included in the final bill that would aim to raise the debt limit … A failsafe trigger mechanism must be put in place that would automatically cut spending.


How doctors and hospitals have collected billions in questionable Medicare fees


Thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have steadily billed higher rates for treating elderly patients on Medicare over the last decade — adding $11 billion or more to their fees and signaling a possible rise in medical billing abuse, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found.

Medical groups argue that the fee hikes are justified because treating seniors has grown more complex and time-consuming, both due to new technology and declining health status. The rise in fees may also be a reaction, they say, to years of under-charging, and reflect more accurate billing. The fees are based on a system of billing codes that is structured to make higher payments for treatments that take more time and effort.

But the Center’s analysis of Medicare claims from 2001 through 2010 shows that over time, thousands of providers turned to more expensive Medicare billing codes, while spurning use of cheaper ones. They did so despite little evidence that Medicare patients as a whole are older or sicker than in past years, or that the amount of time doctors spent treating them on average was rising.

While it’s impossible to know precisely why doctors and hospitals moved to better-paying codes in recent years, it’s likely that the trend in part reflects “upcoding,” — the practice of charging for more extensive and costly services than delivered, according to Medicare experts, analysis of the data and a review of government audits.

Congress Can Avert Dangerous Automatic Cuts & Protect Investments in Jobs by Closing Tax Loopholes

Congress Can Avert Dangerous Automatic Cuts and Protect Investments in Jobs and Education by Closing Tax Loopholes


Washington, D.C. — Unless Congress acts, on March 1 automatic and indiscriminate spending cuts will hit key programs, costing our economy more than 1 million jobs and cutting essential services for millions of low- and middle-income families. But a new infographic released today by the Center for American Progress explains how Congress can act to avert these dangerous cuts and protect investments. The infographic, “Tax Loopholes for Corporate Jets or Investments in Jobs and Education?”, illustrates how through a balanced approach to deficit reduction—an approach that eliminates wasteful tax loopholes that only benefit a wealthy few—Congress can protect critical investments that create jobs and lift up the most vulnerable Americans.

“Congress has a choice to make. They can ensure that 600,000 women and children don’t go hungry, that 125,000 American families don’t lose their homes, and that 7,400 teachers and staff who support students with disabilities don’t lose their jobs, or they can protect an irresponsible tax loophole,” said Melissa Boteach, Director of CAP’s Poverty to Prosperity program. “This choice should be easy.”

Just by eliminating a loophole that gives special treatment to corporate jets, for example—at a cost to taxpayers of $3.2 billion over 10 years—Congress could avert cuts that would cost thousands of jobs, hurt millions of disadvantaged students, and force hundreds of thousands of vulnerable families to lose critical nutrition and housing supports this year. Here’s the math:

The Ignorance Caucus - Paul Krugman


Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.

To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)

Marco Rubio has learned nothing - Paul Krugman


Because his party has learned nothing.

OK, back up: this morning the papers and the web are full of nuance-sniffing, as people try to find omens in the SOTU and the GOP response. I don’t think I can add anything useful to all that. But there was one important point in Marco Rubio’s remarks that I don’t think has been highlighted. It’s true, as Andy Rosenthal says, that Rubio mainly reminded us that Republicans don’t like government or taxes; surprise! But he also reminded us that Republicans don’t like reality.

Here’s the passage:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

OK, leave on one side the caricature of Obama, with the usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does); there we go with the “Barney Frank did it” story. Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made, had nothing to do with it — it was all the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie, and Freddie.

Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.

$1.5 Trillion in Deficit Savings Would Stabilize the Debt Over the Coming Decade


Policymakers could stabilize the public debt over the coming decade with $1.5 trillion in additional deficit savings, according to the Center’s updated calculations, which are based on the new budget projections that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released this week. Policymakers could achieve these savings with $1.3 trillion in policy savings (that is, spending cuts and tax increases), which would generate about $200 billion in savings in interest payments. The $1.5 trillion in total savings would stabilize the debt at 73 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the latter part of the decade (see Figure 1).[1]

CBO’s newest budget projections reflect its current economic forecast, the effects of the recently enacted “fiscal cliff” budget law (the American Taxpayer Relief Act, or ATRA), and the shift from a ten-year budget period that covers fiscal years 2013-2022 to one covering 2014-2023. In calculating the savings needed to stabilize the debt over the coming decade, the Center used CBO’s new projections and made several adjustments, which most other budget analysts also make, to better reflect the costs that would accrue if policymakers continue current policies.

The fact that $1.5 trillion in deficit savings, rather than a much larger amount, would stabilize the debt over the coming decade[2] is due primarily to two factors. First, the President and Congress have enacted substantial deficit reduction over the two-plus years since the Bowles-Simpson report and Rivlin-Domenici task force outlined deficit-reduction proposals; policymakers have enacted nearly $1.5 trillion in spending cuts for appropriated programs (mainly through the annual caps enacted in the 2011 Budget Control Act) and nearly $600 billion in revenue increases in ATRA. Including the related savings in interest payments, policymakers have achieved about $2.35 trillion in deficit reduction so far. These estimates cover the ten-year budget window of 2013-2022. Over the new budget window of 2014-2023, the same policies will produce estimated savings of $2.75 trillion (see Table 1).


Second, CBO’s economic and technical projections have improved over the past few years. Not counting the reductions in discretionary funding and the savings from ATRA discussed above, the new projections reduce estimated deficits under current policies by about $750 billion over the coming decade, relative to CBO’s forecast of March 2012. Relative to CBO’s August 2010 forecast, which the Bowles-Simpson and Rivlin-Domenici panels relied upon for their reports, the new economic and technical projections reduce estimated deficits by about $1.3 trillion.

Groundbreaking Project Shows Drop in Hospitalizations & Rehospitalizations 4 Medicare Beneficiaries


ANN ARBOR, Mich. and ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A new report suggests that communities where hospitals, other health care providers, and community services work together to coordinate evidence-based hospital discharges and provide better support in the community, can see a [font size="+1" color="blue"] 6 percent drop in hospitalizations and rehospitalizations[/font], per 1,000 beneficiaries, [font size="+1" color="blue"]in just the first two years[/font]. This project relied upon Medicare’s Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) to anchor and guide the work, and the average community netted about $3 million dollars in annual savings for Medicare.

These findings were released today by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in “Associations between quality improvement for care transitions in communities and rehospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries.”

For this project, 14 QIOs, led by the Colorado Foundation for Medical Care (CFMC) as a national coordinator, participated in a three-year project in which the QIOs convened medical, community, and social service providers and facilitated community-wide quality improvement activities to implement evidence-based improvements in patient care transitions. The QIOs’ efforts included community organizing, technical assistance in implementing best practices, and monitoring of participation, implementation, effectiveness, and adverse effects.

QIOs in each state and territory, funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), help achieve national quality goals through focused efforts at the community and provider level. The QIO Program focuses on three aims: better patient care, better population health, and lower health care costs through improvement.


Slower Growth of Health Costs Eases Budget Deficit -


WASHINGTON — A sharp and surprisingly persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs is helping to narrow the federal deficit, leaving budget experts trying to figure out whether the trend will last and how much the slower growth could help alleviate the country’s long-term fiscal problems.

In figures released last week, the Congressional Budget Office said it had erased hundreds of billions of dollars in projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid. The budget office now projects that spending on those two programs in 2020 will be about $200 billion, or 15 percent, less than it projected [font size="+1"]three years ago[/font]. New data also show overall health care spending growth continuing at the lowest rate in decades for a fourth consecutive year.

Health experts say they do not yet fully understand what is driving the lower spending trajectory. But there is a growing consensus that changes in how doctors and hospitals deliver health care — as opposed to merely a weak economy — are playing a role. Still, experts sharply disagree on where spending might be in future years, a question with major ramifications for the federal deficit, family budgets and the overall economy.

Part of the slowdown stems from “the recession and the loss of income and wealth” causing people to cut back on health care, Douglas W. Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, said last week. But he added that a “significant part” of the slowdown “probably arises from structural changes in the health care system.”

Corporate-backed 'Fix the Debt' Campaign Only Wants to Protect Wall Street


Funny how they don't seem to want a financial transaction tax.

At this point everyone knows about Fix the Debt. It is a collection of corporate CEOs put together by Peter Peterson, the Wall Street private equity mogul. Ostensibly they want to reduce budget deficits and the national debt, but for some reason their attention always seems focused on cutting Social Security and Medicare. While some in this group will allow for minor tax increases, budget cuts are explicitly a priority, with these two programs firmly in their crosshairs.

Given that the stated goal of this group is to reduce budget deficits, it is worth asking why taxes don’t figure more prominently on their agenda. After all, the United States ranks near the bottom of wealthy countries in its tax take as a share of GDP. It is also worth asking why one tax in particular, a financial transactions tax, never seems to get mentioned in anything the group or its members do.

This omission is striking because so many others in budget debates in the United States and around the world regularly suggest such a tax. There is a long list of highly respected economists who have advocated such taxes, starting with John Maynard Keynes. The list includes many Nobel Prize winners, most notably James Tobin who wrote several papers arguing for such a tax as a way to both raise revenue and slow speculative trading.

Financial transactions taxes are hardly new. The United Kingdom has had a tax on stock trades in place since 1694. It still imposes a tax of 0.5 percent on trades. Relative to the size of its economy the tax raises the equivalent of $30-40 billion a year in the United States. Many other countries, including India and China, have financial transactions taxes. The United States used to have a tax of 0.04 percent on stock trades until 1966 and still has a very small tax that is used to finance the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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