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BeckyDem's Journal
BeckyDem's Journal
July 26, 2023

Jeff Berardelli @WeatherProf: Hollywood or reality? Reality.

My poor Sicily is burning. Temperatures have soared to a staggering 49 degrees Celsius. The situation has become extremely dire, with air quality severely compromised, making it difficult to breathe. It's like hell 😨


July 26, 2023

Challenges & Opportunities for Reform of Fossil Fuel Tax Expenditures in Developing & Emerging Econ

Challenges and Opportunities for the Reform of Fossil Fuel Tax Expenditures in Developing and Emerging Economies

Tara Laan and Ronald Steenblik | 13 July 2023
Discussion Notes, Fiscal | Tags: Energy, Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Tax Expenditures, Tax Reform


Fossil fuels provide the vast majority of the world’s primary energy supply, as well as being the main feedstock for plastics. Most governments subsidize some fossil fuels, whether to increase domestic energy supply, support declining mining regions, or make fuels more affordable for industry, motor vehicles, or households. These subsidies can be problematic because, additional to their intended benefits, they impose large costs on society: directly through impacts on government budgets and indirectly by exacerbating the negative impacts of fossil fuels such as climate change and air pollution.

Estimates of the magnitude of fossil fuel subsidies range from USD 500 billion to USD 700 billion a year, depending on the prevailing price of crude oil. The largest category of subsidies is below-market pricing of fossil fuels, or “consumer price support”. The second-largest category is tax subsidies, or “tax expenditures” (TEs) – revenue forgone by governments arising from reductions in, exemptions from, or other deviations from a tax levied on fossil fuels producers or products.

In this discussion note the authors assess the challenges and opportunities for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies, with a particular focus on tax expenditures supporting the production or consumption of fossil fuels in emerging and developing economies.

A shorter version of this discussion note has been published as policy brief.

( Something's got to give and soon.)


July 25, 2023

The Junk Fee Fight Spreads to Rental Housing

Transparency in rental costs and action at the state level are bringing new vigor to attacking landlord rip-offs.


While I was on vacation last week, the second anniversary of the White House executive order on promoting competition in the U.S. economy was marked by the release of several important measures. By far the biggest was the long-awaited rollout of draft merger guidelines, intended to instruct the judiciary on when federal antitrust authorities will challenge proposed mergers. As Matt Stoller explains, this is a reversal of a 40-year elite hijacking of the plain meaning of antitrust law, which has led to damaging concentration of markets. While by themselves, the merger guidelines do not require judges to change their views, they do shape legal opinion. It’s unbelievable that simply writing down what the law says can be even a little controversial, but it’s actually revolutionary.

There were some additional announcements aimed at antitrust enforcement in agriculture. But the measure that most interested me was an expansion of the administration’s junk fee abolition agenda, finally bringing it outside of the more elite considerations of travel and entertainment tickets. Nobody should be ripped off, but I had highlighted in February the areas where corporations have locked in on populations beyond hotel and air travel consumers, starting with the growing incidence of junk fees in rental housing.

Renters must pay application fees to even be considered for housing, which usually far exceed the cost of running a credit and background check. If they succeed in securing an apartment, they face “convenience fees” for paying their rent online or by check, fees for renting month to month, fees for guests, fees for inspections and maintenance, fees for amenities like mail sorting and pest control and utilities and cable and insurance, “valet trash” fees for having someone take the trash from a renter’s front door to a nearby chute, and even “fees that are charged each January because it’s January,” as one advocate told me.

July 25, 2023

Cigna Sued Over Algorithm Allegedly Used To Deny Coverage To Hundreds Of Thousands Of Patients

Jul 24, 2023
03:01 pm EDT

Cigna, the healthcare and insurance giant, was hit with a lawsuit on Monday that alleges the company systematically rejects claims in a matter of seconds, thanks to an algorithmic system put in place to help automate the process—further raising questions about how technology could harm patients as more healthcare organizations look to embrace AI and other new tools.

The suit, which was filed in California and is seeking class action status, was brought forth by a pair of plaintiffs who were denied coverage by Cigna. One plaintiff, Suzanne Kisting-Leung, was referred for an ultrasound because of a suspected risk of ovarian cancer. Another, Ayesha Smiley, had been tested for a vitamin D deficiency at the order of her doctor.

The health insurer’s digital claims system, called PXDX, is an “improper scheme designed to systematically, wrongfully, and automatically deny its insureds medical payments owed to them under Cigna’s insurance policies,” the complaint alleges.

The suit follows a Propublica investigation in March that detailed Cigna’s software system for approving and denying claims in batches. The algorithm works by flagging discrepancies between a diagnosis and what Cigna considers “acceptable tests and procedures for those ailments,” according to the lawsuit.

( Come on, tell me how shocked you are. )

July 25, 2023

'The Earth is screaming at us': Gov. Inslee calls for climate action amid record heat

Washington state's leader said voters must reject "climate deniers" like Trump.

ByCaleigh Bartash
July 23, 2023, 12:32 PM

The record-high temperatures recorded around the world show "the climate change bomb has gone off" and Americans must push "further and faster" for solutions -- including voting against "climate deniers" like former President Donald Trump -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday.

"What the scientific community is telling us now is that the Earth is screaming at us," Inslee said.

In an interview with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, Inslee, one of the Democratic Party's loudest voices on addressing climate, spoke gravely about the threat of a changing world: "The fuse has been burning for decades, and now the climate change bomb has gone off. The scientists are telling us that this is the new age. This is the age of consequences."

Earth's 20 hottest days ever recorded have all occurred this July, amid scorching heat impacting hundreds of millions of people around the world. In the United States, cities in the South and Southwest have experienced record streaks of high temperatures, including Phoenix, which has had 23 consecutive days when the temperature reached at least 110 degrees.

( The thing about the cons, they have children and grandchildren. It is delusional to imagine money will insulate them from climate change. )

July 24, 2023

Democrats Pursue a Plan B on Power Lines

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to rewrite transmission rules, signaling a new front in the war over permitting reform.


JULY 24, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked the federal government’s energy regulator to write aggressive new rules that would let America build more long-distance power lines, a move that would accomplish one of Democrats’ most important climate goals.

In a letter sent on Thursday, Schumer asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a bipartisan panel known as FERC, to “strengthen and finalize” rules governing where power lines can be built and who will pay for them. Those rules will be essential to “[delivering] reliable, affordable, and clean power to Americans,” Schumer wrote.

The letter, which has not been previously reported, suggests that Democrats are tiring of bipartisan negotiations over reforming the country’s environmental-permitting laws and will now seek agency action to secure most of their climate goals.

The effort to reform how and where America builds new power lines is one of Democrats’ biggest priorities for any permitting-reform bill — and one of the biggest sticking points for Republicans. Long-distance transmission is essential to increasing the power grid’s share of wind and solar power, because they allow for clean electricity to be moved from the windiest, sunniest parts of the country to power-hungry cities and towns.


July 24, 2023

Black man says he was elected mayor of Alabama town alleges White leaders keeping him from position


UPDATED ON: JULY 22, 2023 / 1:06 PM / CBS NEWS

A Black man who says he was elected mayor of a rural Alabama town but has been kept from taking office by White leaders of the town has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Patrick Braxton, 57, is one of several plaintiffs named in Braxton et al v. Stokes et al. The other plaintiffs — James Ballard, Barbara Patrick, Janice Quarles and Wanda Scott — are people that Braxton hoped to name to the city council of Newburn after he was elected to office in 2020. However, Braxton said that the "minority White residents of (Newburn), long accustomed to exercising total control over the government, refused to accept this outcome." Haywood Stokes III, the acting mayor of Newburn, instead allegedly worked with acting town council members to hold a special election where he was re-appointed to the mayoral seat and keeping Braxton from taking office and carrying out mayoral duties.

Braxton said in the lawsuit, which CBS News reviewed, that Newbern had not held an election "for decades." Instead, "the office of mayor was 'inherited' by a hand-picked successor," and that mayor then chose town council members, again without an election. All prior mayors have been White residents, the lawsuit said, even though about 85% of Newbern's population is Black. Only one Black person has ever served on the town council.

Braxton, a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, decided to run for mayor in 2020 because he "had concerns that the Town Council and Mayor were not responding to the needs of the majority Black community," particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When he approached Stokes for information about running for mayor, Stokes allegedly gave Braxton "wrong information about how to qualify" for the election, and did not provide public notice to residents about the election. Despite these hurdles, Braxton allegedly gave then-city clerk Lynn Williams his statement of candidacy and qualifying money order.

In a response to Braxton's lawsuit, reviewed by CBS News, Stokes and his council "admit that Plaintiff Patrick Braxton is Black and is the former Mayor of the Town of Newbern," and denied many of the allegations. The defendants did admit that Braxton was the only person to qualify for mayor, and that no other candidates qualified for mayor or council membership. They admitted that a special election was held to put themselves in town council positions, and "admit that Defendant Stokes became Mayor of the Town of Newbern after Plaintiff Braxton lost the position by operation of law."


( America! )

July 22, 2023

The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis's Vaccine Turnabout

Once a vaccine advocate, the Florida governor lost his enthusiasm for the shot before the Delta wave sent Covid hospitalizations and deaths soaring. It’s a grim chapter he now leaves out of his rosy retelling of his pandemic response.

By Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei and Albert Sun
Sharon LaFraniere and Albert Sun, who spent weeks analyzing Covid data for this article, have reported on the pandemic for three years. Patricia Mazzei reported from Miami, where she has covered Florida politics for more than eight years.

July 22, 2023

On a Saturday in September 2020, with Covid-19 killing more than 600 Americans daily and hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, heard her cellphone ring. It was Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. He was distraught.

“‘You won’t believe what happened,’” she said he told her. Months before Covid vaccines would become available, Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided that the worst was over for Florida, he said. Mr. DeSantis had begun listening to doctors who believed the virus’s threat was overstated, and he no longer supported preventive measures like limiting indoor dining.

Excerpt: Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.


( Florida is a failed state in my view. The intensity of the failures fall at the feet of a man racing to become top demagogue. )

July 21, 2023

Tracking the Deaths in New York City's Jail System

A sixth man has died in 2023 after being held on Rikers Island. The previous year was the deadliest in nearly a decade.

By Jan Ransom and Jonah E. Bromwich
July 18, 2023

A city jails detainee died on July 15, the third death this month and the sixth incarcerated person to die in city custody in 2023.

The detainee, William Johnstone, 47, was found unresponsive in his cell on Saturday afternoon and died at a hospital about two hours later, according to New York City’s Department of Correction.

Long besieged by a multitude of problems, Rikers Island and the city’s other jail facilities have been engulfed in violence and disorder since 2020, when an outbreak of Covid among correction officers hurt morale and led to chronic staff absenteeism. With so few guards showing up for work, some detainees have been forced to go without food or medical care.

Nineteen people died in city jails in 2022 even as officials rushed to implement reforms to stave off the threat of a federal court takeover.

( It's about time. )

July 21, 2023

'This Is a Really Big Deal': How College Towns Are Decimating the GOP


07/21/2023 04:30 AM EDT

MADISON, Wisconsin — Spring elections in Wisconsin are typically low turnout affairs, but in April, with the nation watching the state’s bitterly contested Supreme Court race, voters turned out in record-breaking numbers.

No place was more energized to vote than Dane County, the state’s second-most populous county after Milwaukee. It’s long been a progressive stronghold thanks to the double influence of Madison, the state capital, and the University of Wisconsin, but this was something else. Turnout in Dane was higher than anywhere else in the state. And the Democratic margin of victory that delivered control of the nonpartisan court to liberals was even more lopsided than usual — and bigger than in any of the state’s other 71 counties.

The margin was so big it that it changed the state’s electoral formula. Under the state’s traditional political math, Milwaukee and Dane — Wisconsin’s two Democratic strongholds — are counterbalanced by the populous Republican suburbs surrounding Milwaukee. The rest of the state typically delivers the decisive margin in statewide races. The Supreme Court results blew up that model. Dane County alone is now so dominant that it overwhelms the Milwaukee suburbs (which have begun trending leftward anyway). In effect, Dane has become a Republican-killing Death Star.

“This is a really big deal,” said Mark Graul, a Republican strategist who ran George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign in Wisconsin. “What Democrats are doing in Dane County is truly making it impossible for Republicans to win a statewide race.”


( I love good news. Happy Friday, everyone. )

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