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Automobile magazine takes a look at the emissions cheating scandal at VW and concludes This Is Going To Hurt, Volkswagen.

I mean, kaboom: VW’s loud proclamation that its new line of turbodiesel engines could be poster children for a magical new era of clean diesel and environmental friendliness—when they were neither—was bad, a page out of George Orwell. But then actually contriving through the use of secret computer code to trick government regulators into thinking for years VW diesels were squeaky clean when they weren’t even close, well, that was something special. In the fickle world of 21st-century media outrage, the outlandish scheme quickly outstripped things like Tom Brady’s footballs and Donald Trump’s hair as fodder to spin into something truly extra horrible. VW won’t find it easy to rebuild its scorched reputation.Image result for Image, VW Diesel exhaust

In months and years to come, there will be acres of headlines that won’t really have to do with VW. The world’s regulatory scheme for emissions control, with thrifty reliance on manufacturers’ computer simulations and self-certifications, is in the process of being revealed as a noncomplier’s dream, with a worrisome tendency to errors that wind up in manufacturers’ favor. I have no trouble predicting makers other than VW will be implicated in scandals to come. None may seem so egregious. For on top of all Volkswagen’s moral lapses, its biggest mistake may have been lying to the wrong people. Not just the planet’s governments but the people who bought its whole, clean diesel spiel: major torque, seriously good gas mileage, and slightly more expense, with significantly reduced greenhouse emissions and low levels of particulate matter. It sounded so good, I must’ve sold VW TDIs to 20 friends myself. These were the types of people you’d want as customers, the upscale, the educated, the hip and concerned early adopters and thinking enthusiasts. These are the people who take global warming as seriously as scientists say we ought to. They’re exactly who you’d want as satisfied customers for your green car.

Unfortunately for VW, save angry gang members, they’re also exactly the type of customer you’d least like to piss off. They are loud, and their media voice is outsized. Imagine the parking lot at your local NPR station. Plenty of VW turbo-diesels, guaranteed. These are the people who’ll worry the most about the extra pollutants they were tricked into emitting. These are the people who most want others to think them green. Their minds are exploding today, and too bad for VW they’re verbose communicators and a pretty litigious bunch. Come to think of it, maybe violating gang members’ trust would’ve been better.
Still, let us not confuse the depth of the antipathy and hurt or the enormous losses facing VW with its death warrant. But it will recover: As Germany’s largest employer and automaker, it is, quite simply, too big to fail; if needed, the German government will step in. You can stake your last souvenir pfennig on it.
Volkswagen has weathered worse. The brainchild of Hitler, its creation story offered the company less to boast about than just about any car company ever, and most of us got over that. So the apparent defeat of clean diesel needn’t mark VW’s devastation. But for now, it looks like its campaign for world domination is on hold.

The annual tradition of a Presidential pardon for a fortunate turkey prior to Thanksgiving occured again this year with PresidentObama turdey pardon Obama issuing the proclamation.  The event was far from somber as the Commander in Chief had more than a couple witicisms appropriate for the occasion.  He did note that for months there has been a spirited contest among turkey’s trying to get to the White House.  For the other laughs check out the video here.

Saturday Night Live takes another shot at the “opinion makers” of Fox and Friends, gotta love that fact checker!

For a little extra holiday fun I have to share billionaire and former mayor of New York City Micahel Bloomberg’s comment regarding a leading GOP Presidential candidate in Ted Cruz “says some of the stupidest things I have ever heard.”Dunce cap

Bloomberg then said that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had said some of the “stupidest” things about climate change despite his intellect. He noted that Cruz’s intelligence had been praised by Alan Dershowitz, a prominent US attorney who was once Cruz’s Harvard professor.

“You’ve got a guy like Ted Cruz — who I think Dershowitz said was the smartest law student he ever had — and he says some of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard,” Bloomberg said. “The only explanation — the only explanation — is he doesn’t believe it; he’s just saying it.”

A recent study reported by GAWKER details how all the Presidential candidates scored on an anonymours comparison of thier climate change statements.  Looks like Mr. Bloomberg may be on to something…

The Associated Press had a panel of experts grade statements made about climate science by the many, many people currently running for president. The results will absolutely not surprise you, but this is fun all the same.

See, the statements were anonymized: each candidate’s name was replaced with a number. This way, the statements could be graded on their merits, unencumbered by the reputations of the candidates or the political leanings of the scientists.

The results say Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders scored well. Duh. These are people who do not deny science, and have no political reason to pretend to deny science. The Republican candidates all scored somewhere between “dunce” and “psychotic truther.” Again, duh.

The fun is in the details, and what those details say about American conservatives. The three leading Republican candidates in recent polls—Trump, Carson, and Rubio—all scored in the bottom four on climate science. The only person who scored lower (and is therefore presumably the safe bet to be the eventual Republican nominee) was Ted Cruz, who scored an appalling six out of a possible 100.
So is the candidate stupid or is he playing his supporters as dunces?


The  polling firm Ipsos has just completed a poll asking Americans about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TPP).  Here are some highlights…

  • Large majorities (75% important) think TPP should support manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and have penalties for currency manipulation (79% important).
    • Democrats (77%) and Republicans (76%) alike say that supporting American manufacturing jobs is important.
  • About 2/3 (66% important) say the TPP should require components to come from member countries.
  • Fewer than 1/5 think Congress should pass the deal (17%). About 1/3 think it should be renegotiated (32%), 1/5 voted down (20%) and 1/3 have no idea (31%).
    • Democrats are more likely to support passing the deal (23%) or renegotiating it (30%).
    • Republicans are more likely to support voting the deal down (25%) and renegotiating (32%

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer voted to give President Obama “Fast Track” authority last summer.  This bill did not include enforceable currency manipulation language.  Without such language removing tariffs, a very small part of this bill, makes no difference as other countries simply weaken their currency to gain an advantage.

Evidently many folks have this figured out as 79% of Americans favor strong penalities to deal with trade prtners trying to cheat the system by manipulating their currency.  More worrisome for Congressman Luetkemeyer  is the number of Repubicans opposing this deal.

Josh Bivins of the Economic Policy Institute has updated his article from last year on how to discuss economic isues with right-wing relatives at Thanksgiving.  Here are a couple of my favorite right-wing myths and how to keep the conversation realtiy based…Turkey

MYTH: Raising the minimum wage will just make everything cost more and do other associated bad things

It used to be that arguments against raising the minimum wage centered on job loss for precisely the workers that minimum wage increases were supposed to help. One was supposed to be stunned by the sad irony of it, I guess. But researchers have looked hard to see if minimum wage increases really do cause job-loss in the real-world (and not just in introductory economics textbooks). And they don’t.

So now that the job loss argument has been largely defanged, one often hears claims that raising minimum wages will just boost prices, thereby hurting the living standards of precisely the workers that minimum wage increases were supposed to help. Ah, the sad irony again.

There are two responses to this “it will just cause inflation” argument against raising minimum wages.

First, it is actually true that raising the wage of any group of workers will likely put upward pressure on the stuff that these workers produce. So, an increase in the minimum wage could raise prices in, say, the fast food sector. But it’s odd how this same logic doesn’t make people decide that we should push back on policy decisions that raise wages for highly-paid workers. When the people who argue that minimum wage increases will just raise prices see CEO pay exploding because of poor corporate governance and tax policy, do they generally argue that that will raise prices? Or when they see the warnings at the beginning of DVDs against making copies for commercial resale under penalty of criminal prosecution, do they say “hey, that increases prices?”

They should, because these policies do raise prices and hurt the purchasing power of non-CEOs and those who don’t earn income from copyrights. And yet CEOs and owners of entertainment companies still seem to think these are good policies from their point of view. So, low wage workers should absolutely see efforts to raise the minimum wage as useful even if they do put upward pressure on prices.

This reasoning leads to our second point: the wage increase spurred by a higher minimum wage will absolutely dwarf any potential impact on prices for the living standards of affected workers. Take the increase in wage income estimated to be generated by an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016—roughly $35 billion. Divide this by the total amount spent on consumption goods in the U.S. economy (about $12 trillion) to get a sense of how much this will raise prices in the economy—0.3 percent. To be clear, this does not mean a 0.3 percent increase in inflation, it means a one-time 0.3 percent increase in prices. So, basically a 0.1 percent increase in inflation for 3 years and then dropping back to zero.

Meanwhile, the typical worker affected by the proposed $10.10 increase would see (roughly) a 20 percent raise in hourly pay. And even if the entirety of the minimum wage increase was financed simply by higher prices (it won’t be), then this worker is still much, much better off.

John Schmitt from the Center for Economic and Policy Research has a great paper the sums up lots of this—showing why lots of things (not just prices or jobs) can change in response to a minimum wage increase, including productivity and profit margins.

MYTH: The real problem with today’s economy is workers don’t have the right skills to keep pace with technology

This one is very widespread and very hard to address seriously in just a few sentences. But, some observations.

First, an appeal to authority. People who have looked very carefully at the evidence here find very little to suggest that demand for high-skilled workers has outpaced their supply and that this gap has driven inequality in wage growth in recent years.

Second, even seven years after the start of the Great Recession, there remain two unemployed workers (and more if you count “missing workers”) for each job opening. Today’s excessively high unemployment (and too-low labor force participation) remains mostly a general job availability problem and not a reflection of any “skills mismatch.”

Third, inflation-adjusted wages—even for workers with a four year college degree—have been flat for over a decade. This doesn’t look like an economy rewarding skill per se. Instead it seems to be rewarding a very narrow slice at the top.

Fourth, since the start of the recession at the end of 2007, more than half of all income gains in the corporate sector have gone to capital owners instead of workers (capital owners have generally claimed well under a quarter of total income gains over the past six decades). Unless one is changing the definition of “skilled” to mean “already owning lots of wealth,” it’s hard to see what skills have to do with this.

Finally, many people point to the recent decade’s obvious technological advances as evidence that the economy has been changed in a way that can’t provide decent living standards to many workers. This is far from clear. After all, technology changes all the time. In fact, the way economists measure technological change, the amount of goods and services that can be produced in an hour of work, actually shows more rapid technological change in the 30 years after World War II—a period of much more egalitarian economic growth.

Explanations for economic changes based on technological change always sound convincing, for a simple reason: At any point over the past century you could have walked into a factory and been told about the big technological improvements that had been made over the past decade. If you’re a business writer who walks into a factory today looking for a root cause of the labor market’s doldrums, guess what? You’ll be told about the big technological improvements made over the past few years, and then you might think, “Hey, that’s why the jobs aren’t here and why wages are flat!” But, if you had walked into a factory in 2000—when the unemployment rate reached 3.8 percent—you also would’ve been told about an amazing decade of technological advancements. And you might think “hey, that’s why things are going so well!”

Technology is always advancing, but it does not have to consistently damage most American’s living standards. The reason American workers haven’t been doing well for most of the past three decades is rooted in policy, not technology.

Enable images to see our Thanksgiving cheat sheet!

U.S. News and World Report details how Seniors Are Facing Higher Prescription Drug Prices.

“Premiums are going up. Deductibles are going up,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “There is some potential to save a lot of money by switching plans.”

Government spending on the program also has risen significantly, driven by pricey new drugs, notably for hepatitis C infection. The cost for the hepatitis drugs in the Medicare program is expected to be $9.2 billion this year, nearly doubling from 2014. Because of the prescription program’s financial structure, taxpayers cover most of the cost for expensive medications. Three out of four adults infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers, the group now entering Medicare.

Also known as “Part D,” Medicare’s prescription plan serves about 40 million older and disabled people. Benefits are provided through a variety of insurance arrangements. Stand-alone drug plans that work with traditional Medicare are the most popular, accounting for more than half of beneficiaries — about 24 million people.

Sal Natale, a retired dentist who lives near Tampa, Florida, said prescription premiums for him and his wife are going up about 30 percent next year, and he doesn’t see a good alternative.

“I’m just going to grin and bear and hope it starts moderating,” Natale said. The couple is signed up in the Humana Enhanced plan, one of the top 10. Nationally, premiums for that plan are going up by about $13 a month, according to the Kaiser foundation.

The pharmaceutical industry is also grin and bearing but for a different reason.  The largest grin belongs to a man named Billy Tauzin…

Central to this effort was PhRMA president, CEO and top lobbyist Billy Tauzin, a longtime Democratic member of Congress who switched party affiliations after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994. By switching parties Tauzin was able to maintain his influence and even rose to be Chairman of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Tauzin became the poster child of Washington’s mercenary culture. He crafted a bill to provide prescription drug access to Medicare recipients, one that provided major concessions to the pharmaceutical industry. Medicare would not be able to negotiate for lower prescription drug costs and reimportation of drugs from first world countries would not be allowed. A few months after the bill passed, Tauzin announced that he was retiring from Congress and would be taking a job helming PhRMA for a salary of $2 million.

Tauzin’s job change became fodder for a campaign ad that then presidential candidate Barack Obama ran in the spring of 2008 simply titled “Billy.” It featured the candidate, sleeves rolled up, talking to a salon of gasping Americans about the ways of Washington. “The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee, who pushed the law through, went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year.”

The gang at Pharma aren’t done grinning yet as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership explicitly protects brand name drugs from money-saving generics, costing consumers as they pay more for the same drugs without the brand name profits.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would provide large pharmaceutical firms new rights and powers to increase medicine prices and limit consumers’ access to cheaper generic drugs. This would include extensions of monopoly drug patents that would allow drug companies to raise prices for more medicines and even allow monopoly rights over surgical procedures. For people in developing countries involved in the TPP, these rules could be deadly – denying consumers access to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer drugs.

The TPP would also establish new rules that could undermine government efforts to contain rising medicine prices in developed countries like the United States. A leaked TPP text could expose taxpayer-funded public health programs to pharmaceutical company attacks and constrain future policy reforms to reduce prescription drug costs for Americans. The text explicitly binds Medicare to TPP rules that would limit proposed policy changes to tamp down healthcare costs for seniors.

The passage of the TPP would transform the pharmaceutical industry grin into a cackling laugh while seniors and the rest of America anguishes over their empty wallets and purses.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  University of Massachussetts-Amherst Economics Professor Gerald Friedman has conducted a study that show how Medicare for All would save billions while improving the nations health care...

Upgrading the nation’s Medicare program and expanding it to cover people of all ages would yield more than a half-trillion dollars in efficiency savings in its first year of operation, enough to pay for high-quality, comprehensive health benefits for all residents of the United States at a lower cost to most individuals, families and businesses.

That’s the chief finding of a new fiscal study by Gerald Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. There would even be money left over to help pay down the national debt, he said.

Friedman says his analysis shows that a nonprofit single-payer system based on the principles of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, H.R. 676, introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and co-sponsored by 45 other lawmakers, would save an estimated $592 billion in 2014. That would be more than enough to cover all 44 million people the government estimates will be uninsured in that year and to upgrade benefits for everyone else.

“No other plan can achieve this magnitude of savings on health care,” Friedman said.

Friedman said the savings would come from slashing the administrative waste associated with today’s private health insurance industry ($476 billion) and using the new, public system’s bargaining muscle to negotiate pharmaceutical drug prices down to European levels ($116 billion).

“These savings would be more than enough to fund $343 billion in improvements to our health system, including the achievement of truly universal coverage, improved benefits, and the elimination of premiums, co-payments and deductibles, which are major barriers to people seeking care,” he said.

Friedman said the savings would also fund $51 billion in transition costs such as retraining displaced workers from the insurance industry and phasing out investor-owned, for-profit delivery systems.

Over the next decade, the system’s savings from reduced health inflation (“bending the cost curve”), thanks to cost-control methods such as negotiated fees, lump-sum payments to hospitals, and capital planning, would amount to an estimated $1.8 trillion.

“Paradoxically, by expanding Medicare to everyone we’d end up saving billions of dollars annually,” he said. “We’d be safeguarding Medicare’s fiscal integrity while enhancing the nation’s health for the long term.”

Friedman said the plan would be funded by maintaining current federal revenues for health care and imposing new, modest tax increases on very high income earners. It would also be funded by a small increase in payroll taxes on employers, who would no longer pay health insurance premiums, and a new, very small tax on stock and bond transactions.

“Such a financing scheme would vastly simplify how the nation pays for care, restore free choice of physician, guarantee all necessary medical care, improve patient health and, because it would be financed by a program of progressive taxation, result in 95 percent of all U.S. households saving money,” Friedman said.

Democratic candidates for President, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’ Malley all have comprehensive plans to make healthcare more affordable while addressing the issues that put seniors at risk of losing their savings and lifestyle to the profits of a bloated industry.

The Republicans also have a plan which you can learn more about here.Cricket



This week’s edition of Forward Thinking Radio focuses on integrity and ethics in D.C.  I know I know but it is a good listen!

Our guests tonight:Forward Thinking

Alec MacGillis, reporter, ProPublica

Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science

Kathleen DeLaski, Founder & President, Education Design Lab

Dave Levinthal, reporter, Center for Public Integrity



This story has to do with hunting grounds in the western U.S. but highlights a problem with many consevatives undying loyalty to the lobbying group known at the NRA.  For your consideration, Conservatives Taking Hunters For Granted...No Hunting

“A lot of politicians are making the claim that these lands are worthless, when in reality these are the lands that matter the most to the average sportsman,” Joel Webster of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a group of environmental-minded hunters and anglers, told me.

In a doubled double cross to hunters, the National Rifle Association backs the politicians wanting to close off the land to public sportsmen.

 Some hunters have told me that they refuse to be NRA members.

The Wilks brothers can play hardball. Their N Bar Ranch surrounds the Durfee Hills, so hunters must fly in, and they do. The brothers put a fence around the BLM land, depriving hunters of the elk that graze on their ranch property.

And they posted armed guards on the old road leading to the Missouri River, a road that was open until 2011. (They’re now allowing temporary public access, perhaps to ease local anger.)

“If the BLM caves in,” said Don Thomas, a Montana-based outdoors writer, “it will establish a dangerous precedent that could eventually spell the end to public land hunting and fishing throughout the West.

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