Archive for the ‘Misc.’ Category

Big Oil’s 50-Year Deception Revealed. It Is “Breathtaking.”

Friday, January 13th, 2023

On 4 February 1996, Mike Wallace’s whistleblower interview of Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, former Director of Research for tobacco company Brown & Williamson, aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes. That interview began the destruction of what had been the myth of the invincibility of big tobacco’s power. Out of its fear of the epic lawsuit big tobacco could bring, CBS  refused to air the interview for several months. When it did air in February, the House of Tobacco began to crumble. Three years later, Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer would star in the Academy Award-winning movie that told the tale, The Insider, with Crowe, as Wigand, winning Best Actor.

Wigand suffered mightily  for his outing of big tobacco’s big secret: That nicotine is addictive, and a cigarette is, in his words, “a nicotine delivery device.” Of course, many people were decrying the evils of cigarettes during the 1990s, but they did not have Dr. Wigand’s inside knowledge. At the time of his 60 Minutes interview, 45.8 million Americans, nearly 26% of the US population, smoked, according to the CDC; today, the percentage has dropped to 12.5%.  Between 10% and 20% of smokers develop lung cancer. Jeffrey Wigand’s heroism has saved a lot of lives.

The current big worldwide battle is over Climate Change, and the science is finally winning. But, although scientists have been working in a Herculean effort to educate the countries of the world to get them to move collectively before time runs out on reversing the warming, there’s no Jeffrey Wigand in this fight.  This battle is not with Big Tobacco, but rather with Big Oil, and today, researchers from Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, writing in Science, catalogue in exquisite detail oil giant Exxon Mobile’s monumental 50-year coverup of its knowledge that human-induced climate change has been making the world warmer all along.

The new research has found Exxon privately “predicted global warming correctly and skilfully” only to then spend decades publicly attacking such science in order to protect its core business.

This story comes in three parts. First, in 2015, investigative journalists discovered internal company documents and research papers that established Exxon knew of the dangers of global warming from at least the 1970s. Additional documents then emerged showing that the industry’s largest trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, along with other oil industry companies knew of the risk even earlier, from around the 1950s. However, the industry forcefully and with great skill mobilized to attack the science to prevent action to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

But today’s publication in Science discloses and makes clear that Exxon’s scientists, not only knew about their industry’s contributions to global warming, but also were uncannily accurate in their projections from the 1970s onwards, predicting an upward curve of global temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions that is close to matching what actually occurred as the world heated up at a pace not seen in millions of years.

Lest you doubt the thoroughness of the researchers, here’s how they did it:

We analyzed 32 internal documents produced in-house by ExxonMobil scientists and managers between 1977 and 2002, and 72 peer-reviewed scientific publications authored or coauthored by ExxonMobil scientists between 1982 and 2014. The internal documents were collated from public archives provided by ExxonMobil Corp (28), InsideClimate News (29), and Climate Investigations Center (30). The peer-reviewed publications were obtained by identifying all peer-reviewed documents among ExxonMobil Corp’s lists of “Contributed Publications,” except for three articles discovered independently during our research (31) [see supplementary materials (SM) section S2 for details on the assembly of the corpus]. These constitute all publicly available internal ExxonMobil documents concerning anthropogenic global warming of which we are aware, and all ExxonMobil peer-reviewed publications concerning global warming disclosed by the company.

Lead author Geoffrey Supran, who characterized the team’s findings as “breathtaking,” said, “This really does sum up what Exxon knew, years before many of us were born.”

Chapter three of this saga began relatively recently and is ongoing. In it, the fossil fuel industry acknowledges publicly the now undeniable (even by it) dangers of global warming and vows to do all in its power to reverse what is rapidly becoming irreversible.

Here are three pieces of data to show the depth of the hole we’ve dug:

  • Burning fossil fuels accounted for 74 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
  • The fossil fuel industry receives at least $20 billion in direct federal subsidies.
  • In 2020, renewable energy accounted for about 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation, and that share is expected to continue to grow. Seventy-four percent versus 20%. We have a long way to go.

In a telling irony, a gentleman by the name of Rex Tillerson was Exxon Mobil’s CEO from 2006 until 2017, when he retired to become Donald Trump’s first Secretary of State. I doubt we’ll have an academy award-winning film showing Tillerson’s heroic efforts to unleash the truth of global warming.

But suppose someone had done that, say one of the scientists who correctly predicted the coming debacle. Imagine what would have happened if Big Oils’ Big Lie had been outed a la Wigand 30 years earlier. Imagine if the US and the rest of the world had had a chance to begin reducing fossil fuels and going green so much earlier. Imagine if we heeded Carl Sagan’s warning in his 1985 testimony to the US Congress that climate change and human-induced global warming was a “real phenomenon.” And he had data to prove it.

If that had happened, poor Kermit the Frog would never have had to sing, “It’s not easy being green.” 


For those interested in diving into the weeds, here are three graphs from the Science paper illustrating how closely Exxon’s predictions matched reality. In the third one, global temperatures are charted over the last 150,000 years. I’ve highlighted where we are today.

Historically observed temperature change (red) and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (blue) over time, compared against global warming projections reported by ExxonMobil

(A) “Proprietary” 1982 Exxon-modeled projections.
(B) Summary of projections in seven internal company memos and five peer-reviewed publications between 1977 and 2003 (gray lines).
(C) A 1977 internally reported graph of the global warming “effect of CO2 on an interglacial scale.” (A) and (B) display averaged historical temperature observations, whereas the historical temperature record in (C) is a smoothed-Earth system model simulation of the last 150,000 years.

Once More Unto The Mayhem

Monday, January 9th, 2023

I don’t know how you welcomed in the month of December, 2022, the month ending a year most were happy to put behind them, but I spent the early morning hours of the 1st of December undergoing a total anatomical replacement of my right shoulder. Since then, I’ve been living 24/7 in the Donjoy super-duper Ultra-Pro Sling (except for showering, thank you very much). Tennis did this to me. Specifically, hitting nearly one million various forms of overheads. Serves, put-aways, you name it. Then there’s the Rafael Nadal buggy-whip topspin forehand. That certainly didn’t help. What we sow, we reap.

But now, nearly six weeks later, although I’m still not allowed to lift even a coffee cup, I do seem able to traverse a computer keyboard (as long as it’s in my lap). So, time to return to the fray.

And what a fray it’s been, culminating in House Republicans sending white smoke up the chimney early Saturday morning after 15 Freedom Caucus-driven votes over four tumultuous days to elect a Speaker for the 118th Congress. Let’s begin there.

Habemus Ducem! Sed infirmus est.
We have a Leader, but he’s wounded.

Throughout history, Populist political movements have appeared with regularity, most often in times of economic hardship when, at the instigation of fire and brimstone rabble rousers, people perceive their government working against them rather than for them.  America has been no exception. Consider the proto-populist Greenback and Granger movements in the 1860s and ’70s, William Jennings Bryan’s Populist Party in the 1890s and Louisiana politician Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth program during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then there were the Anarchist and Socialist movements of the late 19th and early 20th century. Historically, there’s nothing new about the Freedom Caucus; it’s just new to us.

That said, how did we get to this political moment, the ascendency of the Republican Party’s Freedom Caucus, a 54-member disruptive group within the House of Representatives? Did it begin in the early 1970s with the corruption of the Nixon Administration’s Watergate scandal? Or maybe it began in 1992 with Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America? Or perhaps they spawned on 19 February 2009, when Rick Santelli, a commentator on the business-news network CNBC, referenced the Boston Tea Party (1773) in his response to President Barack Obama’s mortgage relief plan during the Great Recession?

More likely, the Freedom Caucus gradually grew out of all those things and found its apotheosis in the bile falling from the mouth of Donald Trump, who continues to cling, as skin clings to a grape, to his hatred for anything or anyone not sufficiently worshipful.

However it began, they’re here now, and 20 of them held government hostage last week while they extorted concession after concession from now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who ultimately prevailed when he had nothing more to give. After it was all over, one of their ringleaders, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, told the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for.”

Speaker McCarthy, after he had finished selling what remained of his soul, took the gavel from Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffreys, and proudly announced to the world he had proven he would “never give up.” Maybe not give up, but sure as shootin’ give in. He’s now the quintessential hollow man.

And what about these House Disruptors? What they seem to want, crave even, is power, but to what end? They’re long on cutting spending, but short on good governance.  It looks as if they’ve come to Washington, a place they deride, for the sole purpose of feeding red meat to their base back in Wherever, USA. The Republican Party created the Freedom Caucus, an animal with four back feet, each pointed in a different direction. What we sow, we reap.

Look closely at the Freedom Caucus. Try to find one coherent, let alone intelligent, proposal to do anything vaguely related to public service. You’ll be looking a long time. Every one of these characters is a one-trick pony, and the pony limps. They deftly avoid offering up their own proposals, as a helmsman avoids rocks. Why? Because if they did, they’d have to defend them.

They’re Kevin McCarthy’s problem now. Will he still wield the gavel six months from now? Or will the US House more closely resemble Animal House, food fights and all? Tonight’s vote on the Rules Package McCarthy and this Mephistopheles agreed to will provide the first opportunity to see whether adults have entered the room.

Government will certainly be difficult for a while, but, as has happened so many times in our nation’s journey, these people and their corrosive vitriol will someday fade into history’s dust when better people with good ideas emerge, as surely they will.

However, it’s hard to imagine that happening in this 118th Congress.

What we sow, we reap.


For Something Different, “What Are They Breeding In Snohomish, Washington”?

Friday, October 21st, 2022

Recently, I had a bit of time on my hands, so I did what so many others do when they find themselves in that situation. I went online  devouring dumb and dumber stories from the internet. I found a doozy, the weirdest of the weird, and I’m going to pass it on to you as we enter what promises to be a wonderful weekend here in the Berkshires. You can thank me later.

I came away from my internet surfing asking, “What are they breeding in Snohomish, Washington?” For reference, Snohomish is a lovely town of about 9,000 residents and is known as “the antique capital of the Northwest.” Now you know all you need to know. Except for this: Danny Calhon lives there.

Danny Calhon is a 19-year-old, who achieved his 15 minutes of fame in a way I defy you to imagine in your wildest of wild dreams.

Regardless of Danny’s story, for some reason it made me think of my own when I was his age. So, please permit me a small digression of history, which I promise will segue into the tale of Danny, his thumb, and the 1990 Toyota Camry.

I grew up in Massachusetts in the idyllic Leave It To Beaver and Dobie Gillis era. Maynard G. Krebs was the closest thing to weird one could encounter, and he was tame fiction. True, we had our share of “Geez, Billy and Betsy have to get married” moments, but that was about as far as anyone my friends and I knew strayed from the beaten path, and that wasn’t often. Just often enough to make you sincerely grateful you weren’t Billy.

In those days, 1963, the closest one came to technology was the party line rotary dial phone sitting on the bench near the kitchen and the black and white, 15-inch television resting in the living room, gathered around which, every night at 6:30, the entire family would take in The CBS Evening News, with Walter Cronkite. Thirty minutes of all the news in the world ending with Walter’s iconic sign-off, “And that’s the way it was.”

There was no internet. There weren’t even area codes. Calculators were “adding machines,” and they were hand-cranked. People hand-wrote letters. The postal service was a marvel of efficiency (No Louis Dejoy back then). If someone mailed you a letter, within three days it would be delivered by hand through the mail slot in your front door by your own, personal, smiling, friendly (except when there were dogs around—no leash laws then) mailman. Sorry, no women. Feminism and women’s rights hadn’t hit the post office yet, or anywhere else for that matter. But it was in that year of 1963 that Gloria Steinem went undercover for about a month as a Playboy Bunny in Hugh Heffner’s New York Playboy Club. She later published a two-part exposé detailing her sordid experience in Show Magazine.

That world blew up, and this may surprise you, in 1975 with the appearance of the Texas Instruments hand-held calculator, which added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. That was it. In that year, I bought one for our office. It cost $479, which, in today’s dollars would be  $2,642.58. For those four functions.

After that, there was no stopping the communications bullet train (which didn’t exist back then, either). Pretty soon, Al Gore invented the internet, and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and, eventually, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey dragged everyone kicking and screaming into the galaxy we now inhabit. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, you name it. Everyone’s a reporter and everything gets reported.

If a Bumble Bee burps in Boston,
In a minute they know it in Austin.

One of the fun games my friends and I used to play when we were 11 or 12 was to take a deep breath and hold it while blowing really hard on our thumb, which we had stuck in our mouth. We’d then pass out for a few seconds, and a friend would catch us before we hit the ground. Seems childish, but, well, we were children.

Which brings me back to Danny Calhon. Remember him? Danny—he’s going to put Snohomish on the map—Calhon? Danny made it into the local newspaper, and eventually all over the country, maybe the world, for—get ready now—causing a three-car crash after fainting due to intentionally holding his breath with his thumb in his mouth while driving through the 772 foot long Dennis L. Edwards Sunset Tunnel near Manning, Oregon.

You can be forgiven right about now for asking yourself if you read that last bit correctly. Trust me. You did.

There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news (my wife always wants the bad news first—seems counterintuitive, but there you are) is that after he fainted, Danny’s 1990 Toyota Camry, which was carrying him and his friend, 19-year-old Bradley Meyring, drifted across the center line and crashed, head-on, into a Ford Explorer being driven without a care in the world just before the roof caved in—literally—by 67-year-old Thomas Hatch. His wife Candace, 61, was in the front passenger seat. The good news is there were no life-threatening injuries and both Hatches are still with us.

Young Mister Calhon faced a laundry list of charges. We don’t know why in the world he was holding his breath enough to faint while driving through the tunnel. Neither does Lt. Gregg Hastings, with the Oregon State Police, who drew the short straw to investigate. Maybe Danny doesn’t even know, himself.

Back in Leave It To Beaver country, we would never have known about this. Think of all we were missing.

A Potpourri To Begin Your Week

Monday, September 12th, 2022

Ukraine changing history on the move.

It is 15 December 1937. Today’s international news section of the New York Times is dripping with stories that, nineteen years after World War I, are lighting the way to the next global conflagration. In two years it will begin and happen all over again. On this day we see reports of marches, riots, assassinations, street brawls, and arson. Political warfare. An overture to the real war coming.

In Spain, political warfare has flared into civil war, and, the Times reported, the Army of the Republic has attacked General Franco’s fascist forces at the Aragonese town of Teruel. In three months, Franco will counterattack, rout the Republican forces and capture most of Catalonia and the Levante. He will succeed with troops and warplanes provided by Germany and Italy.

Turn the page and find Hitler’s Nazi Germany issuing new  restrictions on the Jews, slowly squeezing the life out of them. On the facing page, a photograph of Benito Mussolini in his personal railcar giving  the stiff-armed fascist salute. Beneath, a photo of Stalin reviewing a parade of tank columns.

Is there anything that could be done, could have been done, to avert the coming catastrophe? Of course there was, but nobody did it. Mussolini? The Italians loved him; he resurrected the former glory of Rome, and Franco showed Spaniards what nationalistic power looked like. Hitler’s hate fueled the country’s hate. The Jews? Germany, with Hitler’s face, wanted them gone—forever. And Stalin, the man who killed millions of Ukrainians by intentionally starving them with a smile on his face? The Russians never blinked. Neither did the Americans. The Times’s Walter Durante defended him and won a Pulitzer for his efforts.

And so it went. The world stumbled into six years of hell, with millions dead.

Today, in 2022, although it has taken much time, we have made progress. Inhumanity, still glowing bright in many places, is, nonetheless, dimmer than 80 years ago. Today, the Ukraine that Stalin starved is squeezing the Stalin wannabe Vladimir Putin into a box of his own making. The Ukrainian Army is moving ahead and, with tremendous help from a unified NATO, is forcing the Russian Army to retreat, although the Russians call it “regrouping.”

No one knows where this ends, or how, but it seems to me that at some point the people of Russian are going to wake up and see all the body bags coming home. What then?

The race to curb racism in the American Century: The mission of W. E. B. Du Bois.

This month’s edition of the journal Foreign Affairs contains a fascinating and illuminating essay on the charismatic and complicated life of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Written by Zachariah Mampilly, the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, this long-form piece details Du Bois’s lifelong, uncompromising mission to eradicate racism.

A sociologist by training, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. During the Jim Crow era, he became known for an uncompromising stance, demanding equal rights for Black Americans through his journalism and advocacy work while also making seminal contributions to various academic debates.

Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, about 20 miles from where I sit, and his lifespan overlaps almost exactly with the Jim Crow era, a period of persecution during which Black Americans faced severe restrictions on their ability to participate in political, economic, and social life.

Between the two World Wars, he focused more and more on international affairs, arguing that the colonial projects  European countries were pursuing in Asia and Africa had galvanized an envious United States to carve out its own colonies. In 1898, a year before Du Bois published his first major sociological study, The Philadelphia Negro, the United States’ imperial ambitions produced the annexation of Hawaii and the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as spoils of the Spanish-American War. Du Bois thought America’s imperialistic ambitions and actions fed into and enhanced the country’s racism at home. Consequently, his writings and lectures veered increasingly to the left.

In observing anticolonial struggles in India and elsewhere, Du Bois saw clearly how occupation of foreign lands would breed resistance in the colonized people. From this he concluded that colonial domination abroad often required the sacrifice of democracy at home. In his eyes, Zampilly writes:

Imperialism inevitably led to increased racial and economic inequality at home: military adventures and opportunities for extracting natural resources empowered the capitalist class (and its favored segments of the underclass) and stoked racial prejudice that justified further interventions in foreign lands.

Thus, Du Bois saw domestic racism as the tail of the internationally racist dog.

It was natural that as time went on Du Bois’s views evolved. He became more radical in his writings. He saw international capitalism as the cause of black exploitation. In his middle years he went from believing in “democratic socialism” to embracing communism.  As a result, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI began investigating him in 1942 and, despite concluding  there was “no evidence of subversive activity,” continued to investigate him for the rest of his life. In 1952, the State Department revoked his passport. The next year, the Supreme Court declared the policy of denying passports to suspected communists unconstitutional.

His wholehearted support of Joseph Stalin, while inconsistent with his lifelong support for democracy, demonstrated his belief that democracy and Western liberalism were incompatible with racial and economic equality.

Zampilly concludes his essay about Du Bois with this insightful observation:

His work upends the liberal fantasy of the United States’ inevitable progress toward a “more perfect union” that would inspire a just global order and gives the lie to the realist fantasy that how the country behaves internationally can be separated from domestic politics.

My own conclusion is this: During his life, Du Bois made seminal contributions to academia, which, over time, cost him dearly. He was arguably black America’s leading intellectual of the 20th century. If that is at least close to being true, then here is a question for today: Why are so many people, for example governors of red states, fearful of allowing his story and teachings, as well as those of other Black intellectuals, to be taught in America’s classrooms?

The US Open Tennis Championship: In a word, Glorious.

Speaking of Race, I cannot end this Letter without a shout out to this year’s championship.

The three-week US Open is played at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. The main events happen at the Arthur Ashe Center Court Stadium. Ashe, an inspirational Black American, and King, an inspirational Lesbian American, embody inclusive diversity and are the best kind of examples we have for sincere and devoted yearnings for equality. It is more than fitting that Friday night Frances Tiafoe, a young 24 year old Black American, played 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling five-set, five-hour semi-final match on the Arthur Ashe Center Court. Tiafoe is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone and spent much of his childhood at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., where his father worked as a custodian. Sometimes he spent the night there, because his mother worked nights in a hospital. The stadium was full and loud, and, although he lost, Tiafoe had the crowd, had all of us, in the palm of his hand. He’ll be back.

Yes, we have a long way to go. But the US Open shows us how far we’ve come. Tennis now looks like America looks.


A Remembrance

Sunday, September 11th, 2022

We should never forget.

Today is the 21st anniversary of the attack on our country known as 9/11. To mark the occasion I offer the tribute song I wrote shortly after the monstrous event to help raise funds for New York’s firefighters. I recorded the song at Worcester’s famed Mechanics Hall with Peter Clemente on guitar.

I hope it brings you comfort.

The Grinding Wheels Of Justice

Friday, August 12th, 2022


To paraphrase 2nd century philosopher Sextus Empiricus, the wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind fine.

This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post all reported gaining access to the search warrant the FBI executed on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Monday. Shortly afterwards, the Trump team agreed to the release of the search warrant. Following that, the warrant was officially unsealed.  According to the Times:

A list of documents removed from former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, includes materials marked as top secret and meant to be viewed only in secure government facilities, according to a copy of the warrant reviewed by The New York Times.

Federal agents who executed the warrant did so to investigate potential crimes associated with violations of the Espionage Act, which outlaws the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary; a federal law that makes it a crime to destroy or conceal a document to obstruct a government investigation; and another statute associated with unlawful removal of government materials.

What can we now expect from Donald Trump, Republican leaders, rank and file legislators and the rest of the MAGA universe? For one thing, we can hope Republican influencers will do their best to tamp down the heat, because up till now language has been pizza oven hot and dangerous.

Extremism researcher Caroline Orr Bueno, PhD, has compiled a collage of vituperation, tweets from MAGA extremists calling for violence following the FBI search.  Trump’s supporters (a kind word) call it a “raid,” with its implied breaking-down-the-door routine, sort of like what happened to Breonna Taylor.

Yesterday, the irresponsible and incendiary reactions of the Trump cultists claimed a life. Forty-two-year-old Ricky Walter Shiffer, who is reported to have been at the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, shot into the FBI field office in Cincinnati with a nail gun yesterday morning while brandishing an AR-15-style weapon and wearing body armor. After the attack, he fled, chased by law enforcement, and lost his life in a shootout in an Ohio cornfield. Don’t spend a lot of time waiting for those who egged him on with their rants about the end of life as we know it to apologize, or even utter a word of remorse.

We have come to the point where anyone who criticizes Donald Trump, or anything MAGA, can expect a tsunami of threats to life and limb. As Paul Miller reported in The Dispatch:

Death threats have surged across the country. As terrorists realize death threats work, they are using them more often—including against Republicans who voted for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. Death threats to congressmen doubled by May of last year, compared to the year before. “These are not one-off incidents,” according to Vox, “Surveys have found that 17 percent of America’s local election officials and nearly 12 percent of its public health workforce have been threatened due to their jobs during the 2020 election cycle and Covid-19 pandemic.” Reuters tracked more than 850 individual threats against local election workers by Trump supporters last year, up from essentially zero in previous elections.

The Mar-a-Lago search put an arc light on violent and dehumanizing political speech, but, as Miller notes, it has been lurking in the background all along. Examples in the past year include Jarome Bell, a Republican running for Congress in Virginia, who tweeted a call to put to death anyone convicted of voter fraud: “Arrest all involved. Try all involved. Convict all involved. Execute all involved.” Wendy Rogers, a far-right state senator in Arizona, told a white nationalist convention in Florida that “we need to build more gallows” to handle “traitors.” Ms. Rogers, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, was still at it last night, sending emails around America calling for the defunding of the FBI, the IRS and the DOJ. And she ended by asking people to send more money vitally necessary for her to carry on the fight.

Now, with the release of the search warrant, perhaps the adults in the room, presuming there are any, will exercise the control needed to cool the ridiculous rhetoric, if that is even possible. It is apparent Attorney General Garland and the Department he leads will continue to follow the evidence in the matter of Donald Trump like a red rope in the snow, wherever it leads.

There can be no doubt any longer that, regardless of what Trump’s cult-like followers say, do, scream, or suggest, the wheels of justice are grinding fine, as the US Constitution means them to.

My only questions today are: When will we we see the rats deserting the ship, and what kind of life preservers will they be wearing?

On Health, History And The Fine Art Of Fudging Data

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022

The cost of insulin, or, half a loaf is better than none

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), passed this past Sunday in the Senate and now sitting for certain passage in the House this week, will cap the cost of an insulin vial at $35 for Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes. However, for those not on Medicare, insulin costs will remain unchanged.

Of the 30 million Americans who have diabetes, more than 7 million of them require daily insulin. A Kaiser Family Foundation study released in July, 2022, found 3.3 million of the 7 million are Medicare beneficiaries  and documented the rise in insulin’s cost since 2007.

Aggregate out-of-pocket spending by people with Medicare Part D for insulin products quadrupled between 2007 to 2020, increasing from $236 million to $1.03 billion. The number of Medicare Part D enrollees using insulin doubled over these years, from 1.6 million to 3.3 million beneficiaries, which indicates that the increase in aggregate out-of-pocket spending was not solely a function of more Medicare beneficiaries using insulin.

The IRA is great news for the Medicare beneficiaries who make up nearly half of the population needing daily injections of insulin to live, but a provision in the original bill that would have capped the cost at $35 for all diabetics, not just those on Medicare, never made it to the final bill. Left out in the cold are the 3.7 million diabetics requiring insulin to keep living who are privately insured or not insured at all. That was an expense bridge too far for Republicans.

Will you permit a bit of cynicism here? Needing 60 votes to pass, 57 senators voted in favor of capping insulin at $35 per vial for all diabetics, 50 Democrats, seven Republicans.  Americans overwhelmingly support this as is shown in this Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken recently:

Eighty-nine percent consider this a priority, 53% a top priority. I suggest Republican leadership, never intending to allow this to pass, permitted those seven, standing for reelection this fall, to vote for the bill to give them cover in the upcoming election. Is that too cynical?

If that’s not bad enough, a study by Yale University researchers, published in Health Affairs, also in July, concluded that “Among Americans who use insulin, 14.1 percent reached catastrophic spending over the course of one year, representing almost 1.2 million people.” The researchers defined “catastrophic spending” as spending more than 40 percent of postsubsistence family income on insulin alone. Postsubsistence income is what’s left over after the cost of housing and food.

Nearly two-thirds of patients who experience catastrophic spending on insulin, about 792 thousand people, are Medicare beneficiaries. The IRA will help these people immensely. However, as it stands now it will do nothing to assist the non-Medicare diabetics who annually face catastrophic spending due to the cost of insulin. This group numbers about 408 thousand who need insulin just to go on living, and, yes, these are poor people with few resources.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we should not forget that insulin isn’t the only medical resource diabetics use and need. There are also the syringes used to inject the stuff, not to mention the testing strips and glucose monitors that analyze the levels of blood glucose, which diabetics have to track religiously. Diabetes is an expensive disease, and insulin is only one part of the expense.

Every time I and others write about the cost and quality of health care in the US, it almost seems as if we’re all standing on the shore throwing strawberries at a battleship expecting some sort of damage. The Inflation Reduction Act contains the first significant health care move forward since the Affordable Care Act of 12 years ago. It’s progress at last, but so much more is needed.

A great historian and better American is now history himself

David McCullough has died. We have lost a giant.

McCullough had that special gift of telling stories of our past in ways that made us think we were there when they happened. He put us solidly in the shoes of the people he was writing about. For him, history is not about a was; it is about the is of the time. Like us, his subjects lived in a present, not a past. He never judged the choices made in the past; he just told the truth through stories meticulously researched and empathically written. That’s how he could win two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I first met McCullough in the 1980s through his first book, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968. I could not put it down. Read it through in one sitting. It was the start of his brilliant career, and its success gave him  hope he could actually devote himself to history and do well at it. But he never wrote for the money. What drove him was his love for and curiosity about understanding from whence we came.

In a 2018 interview for Boston Magazine with Thomas Stackpole, he was discussing his latest, and last, historical work, The Pioneers, about a group of New Englanders in the 19th century who picked themselves up, headed west,  settled Ohio, and courageously kept it an anti-slavery state. During the interview, he said:

There are an infinite number of benefits to history. It isn’t just that we learn about what happened and it isn’t just about politics and war. History is human. It’s about people. They have their problems and the shadow sides of their lives, just as we do, and they made mistakes, as we do. But they also have a different outlook that we need to understand. One of the most important qualities that history generates is empathy—to have the capacity to put yourself in the other person’s place, to put yourself, for example, in the place of these people who accomplished what they did despite sudden setbacks, deaths, blizzards, floods, earthquakes, epidemic disease. The second important thing is gratitude. Every day, we’re all enjoying freedoms and aspects of life that we never would have had if it weren’t for those who figure importantly in history.

Today’s Americans seem to think history begins about ten years ago. It is a modern day tragedy, and we own it.  Consequently, humanity keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, never learning from those who showed us where the land mines were lying, hidden underfoot. McCullough did that for 50 years. He leaves a large hole in our American universe.

Fudging data with style

Heading back to diabetes for a moment. You may recall the old adage, “Figures lie, and liars figure.” Well, this is not about that. The fudging I’m going to show has not a lie in it. What it does have is deception on a grand scale, and it comes from our CDC, which, usually, I greatly admire. But not this time.

As we’ve all learned throughout the COVID pandemic, the CDC tracks and reports data — a lot of it.

One of the things the CDC  reports about is Diabetes Mortality By State. It’s been doing it since 2005, and it’s in the last six years that we see, if we look, deception.

Here is how the CDC reported this data in 2015:

The redder things are, the worse they are, so this looks bad, and it is.  The scale above shows the distribution of the colors for the states, starting at 13.4 in Colorado and Nevada and ending at 32.4 in West Virginia. Those are deaths per 100,000 people.

Now, here is how the CDC reported diabetic mortality six years later in 2020:

In 2015 there were three dark red states, eight almost dark red states, and 20 almost almost dark red. But now we have only two dark red, three almost dark red, and those 20 semi dark states have turned to light tan. Wow! What an improvement.

One could be forgiven for going away happy….if one did not look at the actual numbers.

In 2015, Mississippi and West Virginia were the highest mortality states, 32.4 and 31.7 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. Their numbers in 2020 soared about 30% to 41.0 and 43.1. The states with the lowest mortality in 2015, Nevada and Colorado (13.4 and 15.9), in 2020 are 18.0 and 24.2 deaths per 100,000. Wyoming now comes in with the second lowest mortality at 20.7.

But things look so much better. The distribution scale is different, but who looks at that?

The CDC has done something shameful; it has moved the goalposts and didn’t tell anyone. In reality, diabetic mortality has gotten much worse over the last six years, but unless you dug deep, not only would you not know that, you’d think there was an actual big improvement.

This is another reason why the insulin provision in the Inflation Reduction Act is a big deal.



Two Months Worth Of News In Ten Days

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022

I’ve been away from the magic keyboard for the last ten days. Why?

Well, I don’t know whether you’ve ever had the urge to take a bouncy tumble down a flight of stairs in the middle of the night, but for those of you who might be considering such an appealing leap of faith, my counsel is to abandon that notion. Rock climbing will provide the same degree of terror and has the potential to be a lot more fun.

What could have been really bad was only mildly bad. A bit of blood, some bruised ribs and a torn medial collateral ligament that will heal without surgery in about four weeks. My tennis buddies can expect me back on the court in early September a little worse for wear, but just as energetic.

A couple of months of news has happened in the last ten days, some stories entirely predictable, some infuriating, and a couple quite sad, yet uplifting.

The entirely predictable

Entirely predictable was Mr. Sophistication, the loathsome Florida Representative Matt Gaetz once again going out of his way to insult women of all stripes. Currently under investigation for allegedly paying women for sex and, separately, sleeping with a minor and transporting her across state lines, Gaetz, whose standard of ethics would take about as much strain as a newly formed cobweb, distinguished himself in May by tweeting: “How many of the women rallying against overturning Roe are over-educated, under-loved millennials who sadly return from protests to a lonely microwave dinner with their cats, and no bumble matches?”

However, that was not good enough for this cretin who somehow is permitted to cast a vote during lawmaking. Speaking before a group of students at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, the Trump wannabe told them people who are upset about the devastation of abortion rights across the country needn’t worry about a lack of access to medical care because no one in his cohort would want to get them pregnant anyway.

Gaetz, who’s been elected three times now in what must be an “interesting” congressional district, asked the young conservatives, “Have you ever watched these pro-abortion, pro-murder people? The people are just disgusting. But why is it is that the women with the least likelihood of getting pregnant are the ones most worried about having abortions? Nobody wants to impregnate you if you look like a thumb. These people are odious on the inside and out. They’re like 5’2”, 350 pounds…”

Have I mentioned that Mr. Gaetz, whose morality seems as hard to find as a condom in the Vatican, is currently under investigation for allegedly paying women for sex and, separately, sleeping with a minor and transporting her across state lines? I did? Sorry.

But the Congressman, whose mind is about as deep as a pool table’s side pocket, may not only have met his match this time, but been seriously outgunned by one of the “odious” and “disgusting” women he viciously insulted.

Nineteen-year-old college student Olivia Julianna, who goes by her first and middle name due to safety concerns, took to Twitter to respond to the conservative Republican, calling him “alleged pedophile.”

“It (has) come to my attention that Matt Gaetz — alleged pedophile — has said that it’s always the “odious, 5’2, 350 pound” women that “nobody wants to impregnate” who rally for abortion,” the Houston resident said. “I’m actually 5’11, 6’4 in heels. I wear them so the small men like you are reminded of your place.” Gaetz, although he tries to appear taller for the camera, is actually 5’7.

Over five days, Olivia started a fundraiser for the Gen Z For Choice Abortion Fund, and raised more than $1.3 million, in the process gaining more than 250,000 new followers on social media platforms.

Gaetz, who is 20 years older (chronologically) than Olivia, still appears to have no idea his clock has just been thoroughly cleaned.

The infuriating

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, 2 August, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has just announced he is scheduling a vote tonight on the PACT Act, a bill enhancing health care and disability benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. This bill was personal for President Biden, because his late son, Beau, was one of those exposed.

By now, everyone knows Republicans overwhelmingly supported this bill when it was first before the Senate in June. Everyone also knows that because of an administrative error the bill was corrected in the House and sent back to the Senate for a final vote, where it was defeated when Republicans no longer supported it, after which they fist-bumped and high-fived each other for their courageous stand.

This entire shoot-yourself-in-the-head idiocy came about because of the Constitution’s Originations Clause, which says all revenue raising must originate in the House. The PACT Act, as originally voted in the Senate flipped that on its head. Consequently, the one sentence in the Bill that violated the Originations Clause was taken out in the House and the bill returned to the Senate for what everyone thought would be a simple approval vote. Ah, but such was not to be. Complaining about what Senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz called a “budgetary gimmick,” Republicans threw down their gantlet, which veterans groups, President Biden, and, most tellingly, John Stewart, picked up and beat them senseless with.

Tonight, the PACT Act will overwhelmingly pass, as it did in June, and Senate Republicans will take credit for making it better.

The sad, but uplifting

In the last few days, we’ve lost two giants, Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols, who are being celebrated as Black America’s Greatest Generation.I cannot disagree with this more strongly. Yes, Nichols and Russell were Black, and yes, they were Great. And, yes, they were monumental leaders in the civil rights movement. But, more than all of that, they were Great Americans. Both of them would have preferred to be remembered for that, rather than being pigeonholed into a racial silo.

Neither Russell nor Nichols let profound racism dissuade them from their quest to be the best at what they did. They both broke solid, well-manned barriers, vanquishing those ignorant bigots who had nothing better to do than to persecute them.

Today, the New York Times reprinted a 1987 essay written by Bill Russell’s daughter Karen, who had just graduated from Harvard Law School. Ms. Russell described in searing detail the racism her family faced in Massachusetts, even though her father was the toast of the town in Boston every time he stepped on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. But off the court? Life wasn’t such a bowl of cherries back in their home in Reading, Massachusetts. You should read Karen’s essay for one reason above all others—when you reach the end you will know she could have written it yesterday. So much still resonates.

Rest in peace, Nichelle and Bill. You’ve earned it.

. A Resource-Rich Site For People Serious About Understanding The Problems We Face

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

In 2017, Michael Klein had an idea. Klein is the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He has an impressive Resumé. In the Treasury Department during the Obama years, he was the Chief Economist in the Office of International Affairs. He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and has been a Visiting Scholar at the IMF, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Boston, Dallas, and San Francisco.

He’s also a tennis buddy of mine.

Michael’s big idea was to build a network of economists and public policy specialists from all over the country to contribute to a new non-partisan publication designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies. He convinced Tufts University to sponsor his idea and now the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at The Fletcher School publishes the enterprise, which is free to anyone. Thus was born

I have no connection with, financial or otherwise, but I am a subscriber, and have found it more than helpful as I research issues I hope readers will find interesting. I strongly urge you to consider subscribing. In addition to the concise, never too dense articles (thank you very much), offers frequent podcasts, Econofact Chats, during which Michael interviews leading economists and public policy experts.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I asked Michael if I could occasionally republish articles I thought readers would find interesting and helpful in their own work. He very graciously granted permission for which I am grateful.

The following seemed a logical beginning. My last column addressed the insanity of our gun violence epidemic and concluded, “It’s the guns, stupid.” This column from February, 2021, digs into what happens afterwards to children attending a school where a shooting occurred or living near it. The unfortunate bottom line: It is not good.

Lasting Effects of Exposure to School Shootings

By  and ·February 10, 2021
Wellesley College

The Issue:

Over the past two decades, 143 American public schools have experienced shootings during school hours that resulted in at least one fatality. More than 300 people have died in these incidents. This loss of life is a national tragedy. And there is growing evidence that the impact of these incidents reaches far beyond the direct victims and their immediate families. Over 180,000 students attended schools where these shootings occurred. Each of these students suffered trauma that could generate life-long consequences.

Students exposed to a school shooting suffer trauma that could generate life-long consequences, including negative educational and health impacts.

The Facts:

  • While media attention tends to focus on high-victimization, indiscriminate school shootings – such as those that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – many other school shootings have also taken place over the past 20 years under a variety of different circumstances. Between 1995 and 2019, 302 people have died in 176 shooting incidents that occurred in public schools during school hours and caused at least one death (see chart). Suicides are the most common type of school shooting, which means that more students are exposed to them. Indiscriminate shootings lead to the most fatalities, but they are less common. Other types of school shootings include personally targeted attacks, where the shooting is directed at a particular individual, and shootings that are related to criminal activity, such as robberies or drug sales.
  • Schools that experience shootings have similar characteristics, on average, to a typical public school, but different types of shootings tend to affect different types of schools. Urban schools are more likely to experience personal attacks and crime-related shootings, while rural schools are more likely to experience suicides and indiscriminate shootings. Suicides and indiscriminate shootings tend to occur in regions with higher gun sales rates and less restrictive gun laws, while crime-related shootings tend to occur in locations with more restrictive gun laws (see here).
  • Students exposed to a school shooting suffer adverse educational outcomes. These impacts are especially salient in school districts that have experienced indiscriminate shootings with more than one fatality. In our recent analysis, we find that test scores in both math and English fell substantially, both at Sandy Hook and at the other schools in Sandy Hook’s district in the years following the 2012 attack. Math scores, in particular, fell by roughly 30 percentile points. But, the finding of measurable negative impacts on educational performance from school shootings is not limited to mass-fatality events. Recent research, conducted by Marika Cabral, Bokyung Kim, Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell and Hannes Schwandt, shows that lower fatality school shootings also have a substantive negative impact on educational attainment. Their analysis of shootings in Texas public schools between 1995 and 2016 (none of which resulted in more than one fatality) shows that exposure to a school shooting increased grade repetition and reduced graduation rates.
  • School shootings also cause increased school absenteeism. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, we find that chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10 percent of school days) rose by 3 percentage points at Sandy Hook Elementary School and by 1 percentage point at other elementary schools in the district. Cabral and co-authors also find increases in overall absence rates as well as in chronic absenteeism after the lower-victimization school shooting incidents that they study in Texas.
  • Evidence suggests there are negative health consequences associated with all types of school shootings. According to research by Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell, Hannes Schwandt, Sam Trejo and Lindsey Uniat, anti-depressant prescriptions for young adults in the vicinity of school shootings tend to rise after they occur. It may take many years to definitively determine the long-term health impacts of these events. However, we find evidence of a long-term increase in mortality rates, particularly suicides and accidental deaths (including accidental poisonings, like overdoses) among boys, for students who were exposed to the Columbine High School shooting.
  • School shootings generate substantial financial costs for the school districts where they occur. Following a shooting, schools often increase their investment in support services for students and overall school security. Across all districts that were affected by school shootings, our analysis finds a 3.5 percent increase in spending on support services, a category of spending that includes a wide range of non-instructional services such as school nurses, psychologists, and school security. For schools that were affected by a high-victimization, indiscriminate shooting, overall per-student expenditures increased by 10 percent on average, with instructional spending increasing by 3 percent and support services spending increasing by 33 percent. Yet, even this substantive increase in spending and services is not sufficient to preclude the adverse educational and health consequences of these events.

What this Means:

School shootings carry vast social costs, beginning with the injuries and loss of life that accompany them and extending far beyond. These costs include reduced educational performance and adverse health outcomes for students from the affected and surrounding schools, as well as higher financial costs for districts in which these events occur. Following such an event, even greater spending would be warranted to help alleviate the harmful after-effects on exposed students. A better solution would be to undertake policies that reduce the incidence of such horrific events in the first place. This is a topic that deserves more attention.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Monday, May 9th, 2022


We end this opinion where we began. Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives. ‘The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Thus ends the 1st Draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion for the court majority overturning Roe and Casey, the two Supreme Court rulings that made abortion legal in America.

Alito’s ruling lays bare what happens when courts are forced to decide on the constitutionality of laws that intersect with morality, societal culture, religion, historical and legal precedent, privacy, and control—specifically, a woman’s right of control over her own body.

Regardless of what you feel about abortion, you will not find even a hint of what Alito feels about it in his 67-page ruling, followed by Appendices in which he lists, in chronological order, the laws that every state passed prohibiting abortion, going back to Missouri’s in 1827, and ending with Mississippi’s in 1952. What you will find is the utter destruction of the arguments behind the Roe and Casey rulings. I think Justice Alito resents what he believes to be the inadequacies, the just plain wrong thinking he finds in Roe and Casey. One could be forgiven for believing he thinks those decisions were less like Supreme Court deliberations and more like a couple of the weekly meetings of the Mickey Mouse Club. Frankly, I cannot wait to read the dissents I know are coming.

The coming fight

The official ruling won’t appear for a month or two, and it may differ from Alito’s draft in minor or major ways, but we are already seeing the beginnings of the warfare to come, the torching of an anti-abortion organization’s office and the picketing and protests outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices, for example. This is a galvanizing issue that only exacerbates the political divide in our country. There will be protests and marches and the probability of violence is not remote. Anger sits in the air. Moreover, there are deep psychological wounds. The women I have talked with who support abortion’s legality are emotionally crushed. Their sense of devastation and betrayal is palpable and profound.

What is all the more galling for these and other women is discovering that the fight they thought they had won 49 years ago, is now lost. Women who were in their 20s in January, 1973, breathed then a collective sigh of relief. Now, those women and their daughters feel gut-punched.

And that ain’t all.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23 states already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion. That includes the 13 states with Trigger Laws that will drop like the Hammer of Thor when the official ruling arrives.

There are no two ways about it: we are in for a bumpy ride. This will likely be a major issue in the upcoming midterm elections, and if Republicans win and take control of both houses of Congress, it is probable they will move to pass  legislation outlawing abortion nation-wide (and some say contraception and gay marriage, too—Alito’s ruling leaves the door open for those, even though he says the Supremes are only ruling on abortion. Still…). President Biden will veto that, and there will not be enough votes to override his veto. But if all this happens followed by a Republican victory in 2024’s presidential election, the Biden guardrail will be removed. Emigration to Canada will soar.

Going back to the future of the pre-1973s will bring some dire consequences.

Current research demonstrates:

  • By the second year after a nation-wide ban on abortions, pregnancy-related deaths, known as maternal mortality, would increase by 21% overall:
  • Among non-Hispanic Black woman, this percentage would increase by 33%;
  • In a 1976 article, researchers from the Center for Disease Control examined national abortion data from the three years surrounding the Roe ruling and estimated that the number of illegal procedures in the country plummeted from around 130,000 to 17,000 between 1972 and 1974. That will change;
  • On the other hand, a 2020 study published in The Lancet found that in countries where abortion was restricted, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion had increased, and the unintended pregnancy rates were higher than in countries where abortion was broadly legal.

I have total certainty the abortion debate, peaceful or otherwise, will not end anytime soon. Feelings about abortion are deeply held beliefs for most people, and, as has been demonstrated since humanity first stood upright, deeply held beliefs seldom, if ever, change.

An admittedly naive suggestion

First, let me state the obvious. Abortion happens when an unintended pregnancy occurs. Unintended pregnancies occur when education is lacking, wrong, or just plain non-existent, and when contraceptives are not used by either the man or the woman. Both of these—education and contraceptive use, which are two sides of the same coin—are hit-or-miss issues throughout American culture.

But they don’t have to be.

It is unfortunate, indeed, that, in many areas well-intentioned, but misguided, parents, officials, and legislators seek to eliminate, or at least dumb-down, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in our public and private school systems. A 2018 UNESCO study “identified 22 relevant systematic reviews, more than 70 potentially relevant randomized controlled trials and a significant amount of non-trial information from 65 publications and online resources,” and found that “sexuality education —in or out of schools —does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour or STI/HIV infection rates.” And it “reduces unintended pregnancy.”

Education works, and it can significantly reduce the need for abortions if coupled with a systemic nation-wide program that provides easy—even free—access to contraceptives. To succeed, this must not be a one-off, public affairs program. It’s too important for that. The states, as well as the federal government, would need to advocate, and do so forcefully, to change current behavior. Yes, there would still be unintended pregnancies, but shouldn’t everyone’s goal be to reduce those to a minimum? This would result in fewer illegal abortions and less maternal mortality.

For example, today, only 65% of women and a third of men regularly employ contraception. The vast majority of women prefer the pill, with LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives) following behind. The point is, there is a 35% opportunity among women, the people who become pregnant and sometimes must resort to abortions.

If, as now seems nearly certain, Roe is overruled, what are our options? We can do nothing, and revisit back alleys and coat-hangers, or we can do everything in our power to reverse that course through Comprehensive Sex Education and universal contraception.

The bleak future is not reality, not yet, anyway. Given our society, there may be little chance of changing the future that now seems ordained, but there are things we can do to mitigate the potentially terrible results of the Alito ruling if we have the strength to fully embrace them.

Women, and women alone, should have the right to decide when, and if, they have children.