Why Trumpcare died, Rep. McSally’s warped view of healthcare, and more

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Those of us, those Americans, who walked, sat-in, called, wrote letters, and otherwise pressured our legislators can take some credit for the outcome, Republicans give up on controversial, unpopular health plan, reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

… The American Health Care Act, a.k.a. “Trumpcare,” has apparently died, but it’s unrealistic to think Republicans will simply give up on this issue and accept the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. Health care proponents and their allies should remain vigilant, knowing that there are additional rounds to come.

But in the meantime, progressive activists and their allies can take a bow. They helped derail a dreadful and dangerous piece of legislation.

After Trump was elected, many assumed it was a foregone conclusion that the ACA would be destroyed by the new, dominant Republican majority. But as it turned out, the only thing GOP policymakers agreed on was that they hated “Obamacare” – and they had absolutely no idea what to put in its place.

There was some talk today about the White House demanding a vote anyway, getting members on the record about the bill Trump wanted, but there was ultimately no point to the exercise. Holding a vote on a GOP bill that would be killed by GOP votes would’ve needlessly put House Republicans in an awful position.

There’s no single explanation that captures why this fiasco ended this way, and a variety of factors contributed to this humiliating failure. Paul Ryan, for example, wrote a ridiculous piece of legislation behind closed doors, failed spectacularly to get any buy-in from stakeholders, couldn’t think of any substantive defenses, and had even more trouble leading his party’s factions.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, couldn’t be bothered to learn the basics of the debate, made no real effort to sell the plan’s purported merits to the public, and proved to be an abysmal deal-maker.

Republican divisions – there were never any core agreements within the party about why they were even pursuing a health care bill or the purpose of their legislation – are deeper than GOP leaders understood, and there’s been no meaningful effort to resolve them.

But let’s not overlook one of the more important factors: regular ol’ Americans stepped up in a big way, pressured lawmakers not to take their families’ health benefits away, and it made an enormous difference.

I’ll take these four factors in reverse order.

Republican divisions

One of the effects of the wrangling over Ryan’s Ripoff (aka Trumpcare) was to expose the deep rifts within the House Republicans. A new dynamic may be emerging in the House: A right and left flank within the GOP willing to buck leadership, the Washington Post reports. The net effect in the end was to position Reps, both conservative and moderate, against the bill. For example:

[Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio)] made a simple, binary choice about Obamacare: “The American Health Care Act was not a better solution.”

And it was not as bad as some wanted it to be.

[Trent Franks (R-AZ)] remained upset that conservative proposals were left out of the bill because they would have violated Senate budget rules, meaning that the proposal to replace the ACA was nowhere near to his liking.

The president and his negotiations

Riddle: What’s the difference between a closer and a loser?
Answer: the letter C.

Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker write ‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care in the Washington Post.

Shortly after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled the Republican health-care plan on March 6, President Trump sat in the Oval Office and queried his advisers: “Is this really a good bill?”

And over the next 18 days, until the bill collapsed in the House on Friday afternoon in a humiliating defeat — the sharpest rebuke yet of Trump’s young presidency and his negotiating skills — the question continued to nag at the president.

Even as he thrust himself and the trappings of his office into selling the health-care bill, Trump peppered his aides again and again with the same concern, usually after watching cable news reports chronicling the setbacks, according to two of his advisers: “Is this really a good bill?”

In the end, the answer was no — in part because the president himself seemed to doubt it.

But Trump’s effort was plagued from the beginning. The bill itself would have violated a number of Trump’s campaign promises, driving up premiums for millions of citizens and throwing millions more off health insurance — including many of the working-class voters who gravitated to his call to “make America great again.” Trump was unsure about the American Health Care Act, though he ultimately dug in for the win, as he put it.

But the closer lost.

Von Ryan’s Express

From Wiki: “Von Ryan’s Express is a World War II adventure film, released in 1965, about a group of Allied prisoners of war who conduct a daring escape by hijacking a freight train and fleeing through German-occupied Italy to Switzerland. It stars Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard, and is based on the novel by David Westheimer. It was directed by Mark Robson. The film changes several aspects of the novel, most notably the ending, which is considerably more upbeat in the book. It became one of Frank Sinatra’s most successful films.”

The film ends with Ryan (Sinatra) being gunned down by the Germans as he is running in an attempt to reach the departing train that is full of the soldiers Ryan helped liberate.

I mean this little story to elicit metaphors in each of your imaginations. You can imagine that the train is a stand-in for the House and neither Ryan ended up in control. (There was quarreling between the Brits and Americans in the movie.) Or you can imagine that the departing train represents a set of policies that Ryan never mastered. In either, Ryan was brought down by forces beyond his control. Play with it. Have fun. And then go get and watch the movie.

But the most important thing underlying the failure of Ryan’s AHCA was not the divisions in the House or Trump’s naiveté. It was the failure of the underlying philosophy writes New Yorker’s John Cassidy in The health-care debacle was a failure of conservatism that Ryan has for so long embraced.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be more … blame shifting, and, in truth, there is plenty of blame to go around. Ryan failed to unify the House Republican caucus. Trump’s staff allowed him to endorse a bill that made a mockery of his campaign pledge to provide health insurance for everybody. And Trump himself blundered into a political fiasco, apparently believing he could win over recalcitrant Republican members of Congress simply by popping over to Capitol Hill.

But this is just politics. The larger lesson here is that conservatism failed and social democracy won. After seven years of fulminating against the Affordable Care Act and promising to replace it with a more free-market-oriented alternative, the House Republicans—who are in the vanguard of the modern conservative movement—failed to come up with a workable and politically viable proposal. Obamacare survived, and that shouldn’t be so surprising. When it comes to health-care policy, there is no workable or politically viable conservative alternative.

Massive resistance derailed the Republican plan

We have not seen anything like it says Rachel Maddow. If you missed her program check it out at the link below.

Massive, nationwide protest changed course of GOP anti-ACA plan. Rachel Maddow looks at how massive, nationwide protest and resistance attached human stories to the consequences of repealing Obamacare and made the Republican legislative plan much more difficult. Duration: 12:50

Remember in November: A last word about Mean Martha

GV News reprinted this Cronkite News story this morning: Obamacare replacement fails; Arizona lawmakers say fight goes on. CD2 Rep. Martha McSally was on record saying she would vote for Ryan’s Ripoff. She has not changed. The ugliness of the so-called replacement has totally escaped her notice, perhaps because it is so over her head. Here is what she had to say.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who had voiced her support for the American Health Care Act after extracting concessions from Republican leaders on tax credits for the elderly and other issues, said that Obamacare “is still failing families in Arizona, and so the mission has not changed.”

“Whatever the legislative vehicle going forward, I will continue to strive towards better healthcare for my constituents,” McSally said in a statement released by her office.

This last Friday I posted The rich get richer and the poor get poorer under GOP’s unhealthy plan in which I quoted the impact stats should Ryan’s bill pass.

A memo from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry dated March 22 says that if the American Health Care Act is enacted as drafted, it would end Medicaid for 380,000 Arizonans, including 57,000 people in Pima County.

Somehow, I guess, Mean Martha figures that ending health care for 57,000 of her constituents is “better healthcare.”

Remember in November.

ACTION ALERT: Ryan’s war on the safety net condemns the non-rich to poverty and sickness – and McSally is fine with that

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Here’s the call to action in case you are strapped for time. The House vote is scheduled tomorrow (Thursday) after a blitz from President Bully and the Grim Speaker. McSally is on record as voting for ACA repeal and against Planned Parenthood. She is a woman waging war on women. Go figure. So give her a piece of your mind.

For Email: https://mcsally.house.gov/contact/email
DC office phone: 202–225–2542
DC office fax: 202–225–0378
Tucson office phone: 520–881–3588
Tucson office fax: 520–322–9490

The New York Times economist explains What’s at Stake in a Health Bill That Slashes the Safety Net

Voters, pay attention. The House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, will try to sell his plan by leveraging Americans’ atavistic fear of Big Government, offering people the freedom to choose whether to have health insurance. You may want to focus instead on what the United States stands to lose.

The list is long. Examples follow.

The American Health Care Act … is decidedly about cutting people off. David M. Cutler, an expert on the economics of health care at Harvard University, put it like this: “No other Congress or administration has ever put forward a plan with the intention of having fewer people covered.”

Under the House Republican plan, 24 million more Americans will lack health insurance by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Of those, 14 million will lose access to Medicaid and “choose” not to spend money — money they don’t have — on health insurance. Millions more near-poor people in their 50s and early 60s will likewise be left without a policy they can afford.

What will happen? Millions of Americans — poor ones, mainly — will use much less health care. They will make fewer outpatient visits, have fewer mammograms and cholesterol checks. Access to Medicaid in Oregon increased use of health care services by some 25 percent. Losing Medicaid is likely to reduce use by a similar amount.

I realize this sort of speculation can sound excessively dramatic for what is ultimately a change in health insurance. Yet it is worth remembering that among advanced nations, the United States is a laggard in life expectancy and has one of the highest infant mortality rates. Men and women in the United States die younger than those in other rich countries for all sorts of causes. American teenagers have more babies. American men go to jail more often.

Better health insurance will not solve all of this, of course. But it will help some of it. As noted in a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Americans are more likely than those in other high-income countries “to find their health care inaccessible or unaffordable and to report lapses in the quality and safety of care outside of hospitals.”

So why would our representatives vote to make matters even worse? Here’s a clue. “They might pause to consider the consequences of a strategy that so openly redistributes money from the poor to the rich.”

Americans should want to know: "Why is my doctor a Republican?"

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Back in 1997 the Drs. Scriber moved to another city having accepted faculty appointments at another university. I selected a physician who was in my insurer’s network. I was most happy with my care: my plan, my doctor, his staff. After a couple of years, however, he announced that he was going back to school. He said medicine was increasingly becoming a business and he needed to retrain as an MBA! A couple of years after that, I observed that he had opened a new private practice. I inquired: could I sign up and have him be my doctor again? No, was the answer. He was not accepting medical insurance. In short, if you had the money, you could buy his services.

My doctor’s business decision was a sad commentary on the state of health care in America. It was also a harbinger of what is increasingly coming our way. Below I cover a report on that trend and then cover another op-ed making the case for a better way.

Mayo Clinic prefers patients with private insurance

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported a few days ago that Mayo to give preference to privately insured patients over Medicaid patients. This morning the Daily Star reprinted part of the report, subtitled Pushback on Medicaid, Medicare part of a trend. Here are selected snippets.

Mayo Clinic’s chief executive made a startling announcement in a recent speech to employees: The Rochester-based health system will give preference to patients with private insurance over those with lower-paying Medicaid or Medicare coverage, if they seek care at the same time and have comparable conditions.

The number of patients affected would probably be small, but the selective strategy reveals the financial pressures that Mayo is facing in part due to federal health reforms. For while the Affordable Care Act has reduced the number of uninsured patients, it has increased the share covered by Medicaid, which pays around 50 to 85 cents on the dollar of the actual cost of medical care.

Mayo will always take patients, regardless of payer source, when it has medical expertise that they can’t find elsewhere, said Dr. John Noseworthy, Mayo’s CEO. But when two patients are referred with equivalent conditions, he said the health system should “prioritize” those with private insurance.

More than 300,000 Minnesotans have gained coverage in the last three years from Medicaid and the related MinnesotaCare program for low-income households, a result of federal health reforms under the ACA and shifts in the U.S. economy. That means hospitals now get paid for patients who might previously have received charity care — but at Medicaid’s mandated rates.

In his speech, Noseworthy said a recent 3.7 percent surge in Medicaid patients was a “tipping point” for Mayo.

“If we don’t grow the commercially insured patients, we won’t have income at the end of the year to pay our staff, pay the pensions, and so on,” he said, “so we’re looking for a really mild or modest change of a couple percentage points to shift that balance.”

Mayo reported a sharp increase in the amount of unreimbursed costs related to Medicaid patients, from $321 million in 2012 to $548 million in 2016. The figures include its campuses in Arizona and Florida. Mayo nonetheless remained profitable in 2016, with income of $475 million.

Mayo CEO meets with Trump

The accompanying photo shows “Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, right, left a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, his transition team and Johns Hopkins Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Rothman, left, in December in Florida.” That would be the now president who is siding with the Republican effort to kick 24 million people off of health insurance.

So what should we do?

The case for universal health care

The GOP is fond of spreading fake news about how awful is the health care in other developed countries. However, the truth is far different. What is true of American health care, then, now, and in the GOP’s version of the future is that we are all subject to The Fake Freedom of American Health Care. Here are snippets from the New York Times op-ed by a now American citizen who, originally from Finland, is quite familiar with health care Scandinavian countries. The simple fact is that our spending more does not get us better outcomes than those in other countries. Here are essential snippets.

Eight years ago I moved to the United States from Finland, which like all the Nordic nations is a wealthy capitalist economy, despite the stereotypes you may have heard. And like all those countries, Finland has invested in a universal, taxpayer-funded and publicly managed health care system. Finns constantly debate the shortcomings of their system and are working to improve it, but in Finland I never worried about where my medical care came from or whether I could afford it. I paid my income taxes — which, again despite the stereotypes, were about the same as what I pay in federal, state and local income taxes in New York City — and if I needed to see a doctor, I had several options.

For minor medical matters, I could visit a private physician who was provided as a perk by my employer. Or I could call the public clinic closest to my home. If I saw the private doctor, my employer picked up the tab, with the help of public subsidies. If I went to the public clinic, it might cost me a small co-payment, usually around $20. Had I been pregnant, most care would have been free.

If I had wanted to, I also could have easily paid to see a private doctor on my own, again with the help of public subsidies. All of this works without anyone ever having to sign up for or buy health insurance unless he wants additional coverage. I never had to worry whether I was covered. All Finns are covered for all essential medical care automatically, regardless of employment or income.

Republicans are fond of criticizing this sort of European-style health care. President Trump has called Canada’s national health care system “catastrophic.” On CNN recently, Senator Ted Cruz gave multiple examples of how patients in countries with universal, government-managed health care get less care than Americans.

In Europe, he said, elderly people facing life-threatening diseases are often placed in palliative care and essentially told it’s their time to go. According to the Republican orthodoxy, government always takes away not only people’s freedom to choose their doctor, but also their doctor’s ability to choose the correct care for patients. People are at the mercy of bureaucrats. Waiting times are long. Quality of care is dismal.

But are Republicans right about this? Practically every wealthy capitalist democracy in the world has decided that some form of government-managed universal health care is the most sensible and effective option. According to the latest report of the O.E.C.D. — an organization of mostly wealthy nations — the United States as a whole does not actually outshine other countries in the quality of care.

I’m skipping the outcomes cited that show that American health care is not #1, among them survival rates following some diseases, for example, breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers. You should read the op-ed for the rest of the evidence.

What passes for an American health care system today certainly has not made me feel freer. Having to arrange so many aspects of care myself, while also having to navigate the ever-changing maze of plans, prices and the scarcity of appointments available with good doctors in my network, has thrown me, along with huge numbers of Americans, into a state of constant stress. And I haven’t even been seriously sick or injured yet.

As a United States citizen now, I wish Americans could experience the freedom of knowing that the health care system will always be there for us regardless of our employment status. I wish we were free to assume that our doctors get paid a salary to look after our best interests, not to profit by generating billable tests and procedures. I want the freedom to know that the system will automatically take me and my family in, without my having to battle for care in my moment of weakness and need. That is real freedom.

So is the freedom of knowing that none of it will bankrupt us. That is the freedom I had back in Finland.

Here is my appeal to Republicans: If you really want to free Americans and unburden American employers, why not try, or at least seriously consider, some form of government-managed health care, like almost every other capitalist democracy? There are many ways of giving people choice and excellent care under government management. Universal publicly managed health coverage would even free America’s corporations and businesses to streamline their operations, releasing them from bureaucratic obligations that to me, coming from Finland, I have to say look weirdly socialist. …

In wealthy capitalist democracies all around the world the government itself also has an essential kind of freedom. It’s a freedom that enables the government to do work on behalf of the citizens who elect it, including negotiating the prices of health care with providers and pharmaceutical companies — a policy that has led to lower drug prices in those countries.

But here is the thing. As long as Republicans believe that health care is a commodity, subject to the so-called “free market”, then all they have to offer America is the fake freedom of health care for profit.

The trouble with a free-market approach is that health care is an immensely complicated and expensive industry, in which the individual rarely has much actual market power. It is not like buying a consumer product, where choosing not to buy will not endanger one’s life. It’s also not like buying some other service tailored to individual demands, because for the most part we can’t predict our future health care needs.

So I return to my headline question. Given that we can manage health care better – as the Nordic countries do – why would any doctor be a Republican?

Trump’s budget cuts: Anti-science, anti-America, anti-human

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com

Here is a sample of headlines from the March 17th Daily Kos Recommended
* Another Trumpian monster: Tom Price blows off a cancer patient’s concern about losing Medicaid
* Trump budget director: Feeding elderly and children has to end, it’s not ‘showing any results’
* Trump’s budget director: Coal miners’ kids need bombs, not Sesame Street
* Ignorant, unskilled, sick, hungry, cruel and violent—what Trump’s budget would do for America
* Trump’s reward to ’coal country’—kill jobs, training, communities, and education—you’re welcome
* Trump budget slashes heat assistance for struggling families, saying it’s a ‘lower-impact program’
* Gutting the Meals on Wheels program would devastate millions, including 500,000 vets who rely on it
* Trump, Ryan budgets will kill more Americans per year than all Muslim extremist attacks combined

So much for humanism in the Trump administration. But as bad as all those headlines are, my Trumpism4Today is the wholesale slaughter of our agencies that do science and engineering.

The Trump administration thinks research on climate change is a waste of taxpayers’ money. The NY Times reports that Scientists Bristle at Trump Budget’s Cuts to Research and lists the other cuts to basic and applied research and development in medicine and other areas. It is impossible for any reasonable person to view these cuts as reflecting anything but a profound ignorance of the importance of research – or a malicious antipathy toward anything factual.

Wired.com, today, is even more blunt in its assessment: Trump’s budget would break American science, today and tomorrow.

YOU CAN GO ahead and assume President Trump’s proposed federal budget will never be the actual federal budget. Members of Congress from every political persuasion will find a lot to hate about it, and they’re the ones who have to approve it—assuming they can sort out the arcane, procrustean rules for getting any budget passed in Washington.

It’s still worth looking at the budget, though—not as a blueprint for governing but as a map of a government, a philosophy of a state. From that angle it’s a singularly terrifying document, fundamentally nihilistic, that assumes a violent present instead of attempting to build a future of peace, security, and absence of want. By eviscerating federal funding of science, this budget pays for a world where the only infrastructure is megacities connected by Fury Roads.

Here is a short list of some things on the block from the Times.

Climate science

The White House is also proposing to eliminate climate science programs throughout the federal government, including at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said at a White House briefing on Thursday. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

Cancer research

The American Society of Clinical Oncology, the leading professional society for cancer specialists, issued a statement warning that the proposed budget “will devastate our nation’s already fragile federal research infrastructure.”

“Now is not the time to slow progress in finding new treatments and cures for patients with cancer,” the group said.

Global health

… The proposed budget would eliminate the Fogarty International Center, an N.I.H. program focused on global health. The center, founded in the 1960s, has worked on H.I.V./AIDS, Ebola, diabetes, dengue, maternal mortality and numerous other health problems, and trains American and foreign doctors and researchers in developing countries.

“The Fogarty Center advances United States national interests in a multitude of ways, and it would be terribly unfortunate for the institution to cease to exist,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the Fogarty Center’s advisory board.

“It has a high reputation outside our borders,” Dr. Morrison said of the center, which has had annual appropriations of about $70 million. “It’s a very tiny institution,” he added, in terms of the overall budget.

Energy technologies

The budget also calls for eliminating some programs that help bridge the divide between basic research and commercialization. Among the most prominent of these is the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, known as ARPA-E, the Energy Department office that funds research in innovative energy technologies with a goal of getting products to market. Its annual appropriation of about $300 million would be eliminated.

James J. Greenberger, the executive director of NAATBatt International, a trade group for the advanced battery industry, said ARPA-E had been of enormous benefit to the industry.

“We’re absolutely stunned by it,” Mr. Greenberger said of the agency’s potential elimination, which he announced to industry leaders gathered at his group’s annual conference in Arizona. “I don’t know what’s going through the administration’s head. It’s almost surreal.”

The head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) said this:

“Do they not think that there are advances to be made, improvements to be made, in the human condition?” said Rush D. Holt, a physicist and the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “The record of scientific research is so good, for so many years — who would want to sell it short? What are they thinking?”

As best as I can determine, they [the crafters of the budget] are following their leader’s know-nothing approach to everything. (Back to the wired.com article …)

By radically reducing the amount of scientific research US scientists can do, the president’s budget willfully ignores 400 years of thinking about innovation and knowledge—and seven decades of the US’ advantage in the world. “It’s like we’ve forgotten we went through a scientific revolution,” says Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study. “Facts can be shown with experiments. There’s a systematic way you can learn about the world.”

And that does not square with what Donald the Destroyer has in store for America. For example, again from the Times: ‘Before he became president, Donald J. Trump called climate change a hoax, questioned the safety of vaccines and mocked renewable energy as a plaything of “tree-huggers.”’ In the world dominated by Trumpiness, facts are “so called”, the reports of them are “dishonest”, and we are left to answer the call to enter a realm in which reality is what Donald Trump says it is. You see, facts are a perceived threat to Donald Trump because they show the volumes of falsehoods he speaks. Therefore, in Trump’s scheme eliminating the experiments stops the flow of those inconvenient facts.

If we want to make America truly great again, we would invest more on scientific research, not less.

Wired.com will have the last word for now.

… In 1945 Vannevar Bush wrote a report for President Franklin Roosevelt called Science: The Endless Frontier. In it, Bush laid out the logic and structure for the modern National Science Foundation, and justified the need for federal funding of science. Bush understood that it was science that won World War II—not just atomic bombs but radar and penicillin and synthetic textiles. And he understood that new science meant new technology, which meant new jobs and a bigger economy. “Without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world,” Bush wrote.

[But] Instead of propelling the country toward that gleaming tomorrow, this budget invests in the grimmest possible present. Pollution? Double down; corporations gonna corporation. Climate change? If it was real, the market would be taking care of it. Same for cancer. But guns? Yeah, we only spend as much on that as the next seven countries on the list combined; we better goose that a little because, oh yeah I forgot to mention, we’re cutting diplomacy by 29 percent, too.

Federal spending on research and development has never beat its Cold War peak. In 1976 Federal R&D was just over 1 percent of GDP; today it’s under 0.8 percent, and most of that is defense spending. Cuts of the kind the president is proposing go past the bone and into marrow. Broad research cuts will narrow the pipeline of trained scientists who depend on grants to fund their graduate work. They’ll terminate multi-year studies, reduce the output of university labs with fewer incoming students. You don’t come back from that for a generation. And the worst part is, that’s the only future anyone can predict with confidence. The country won’t be ready for anything—except war.

Great Barrier Reef example of coral reef die-off as oceans heat up

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com.

Back in August of 2016 I blogged about Planetary change: What we are doing to the oceans.

Direct experience drives human perception and cognition. We react to what we see and hear. What we think about the world is shaped by those aspects of our planet that can be observed. We note volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. We see and hear and are touched by more and more violent weather. We indirectly experience, via the media, the loss of wildlife to gruesome acts of poaching for profit. Some of us even experience the rising seas. But we do not normally experience or think about what lies beneath the planetary surface.

Most people don’t have any direct contact with what lies beneath the surface of our oceans even though oceans take up 71% of the earth’s surface. A few people, though, oceanographers and sport divers, are sounding alarms about what we are doing to our oceans. …

As a sport diver, I had occasion to experience directly “what we are doing to our oceans.”

… For 35 years my wife and I took our vacations in parts of the world renowned for the quality of their SCUBA diving. We rarely repeated visits, but the island of Little Cayman (in the Cayman Islands) was an exception. We first dove the Little Cayman walls and reefs in 1987 and repeated the diving there in 2001 and then again over the Christmas/New Year holidays in 2006. In 1987 coral reefs were majestic: huge mushroom corals and gigantic sponges were abundant. We noted some damage in 2001, but the visit in 2006 was depressing. We witnessed a lot of destruction and coral “bleaching”. I would be more cautious of our anecdotes were it not for confirmatory observations from another group who we met in 2006 and who had been diving that island every New Years for 25 years. They all were sickened by what they had been observing over the years – “in tears.”

We concluded “As the oceans warm and chemically change due to CO2 absorption, the coral reefs are under serious threat. We don’t see that damage but it is there – beneath the surface, out of sight, and all too often out of mind. We are killing the water planet.”

Coral bleached

An update

The New York Times features research showing that Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find.

SYDNEY, Australia — The Great Barrier Reef in Australia has long been one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders, so enormous it can be seen from space, so beautiful it can move visitors to tears.

But the reef, and the profusion of sea creatures living near it, are in profound trouble.

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the most widespread and damaging.

The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.

Kim M. Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in the writing of the new paper, described it and the more recent findings as accurate, and depressing. She said she saw extensive coral devastation last year off Kiritimati Island, part of the Republic of Kiribati several thousand miles from Australia and a place she visits regularly in her research.

With the international effort to fight climate change at risk of losing momentum, “ocean temperatures continue to march upward,” Dr. Cobb said. “The idea that we’re going to have 20 or 30 years before we reach the next bleaching and mortality event for the corals is basically a fantasy.”

Costs of coral bleaching

If most of the world’s coral reefs die, as scientists fear is increasingly likely, some of the richest and most colorful life in the ocean could be lost, along with huge sums from reef tourism. …

Australia relies on the Great Barrier Reef for about 70,000 jobs and billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue, and it is not yet clear how that economy will be affected by the reef’s deterioration. …

… In poorer countries, lives are at stake: Hundreds of millions of people get their protein primarily from reef fish, and the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.

Conservatism is not conservationism

And what are we humans doing about damage we bring to our oceans? The answers range from nothing to making the problem worse.

With the election of Donald J. Trump as the American president, a recent global deal to tackle the problem, known as the Paris Agreement, seems to be in peril. Australia’s conservative government also continues to support fossil fuel development, including what many scientists and conservationists see as the reef’s most immediate threat — a proposed coal mine, expected to be among the world’s largest, to be built inland from the reef by the Adani Group, a conglomerate based in India.

Trump announced his budget and in it a 31% cut to EPA as the Times also reported yesterday: Donald Trump Budget Slashes Funds for E.P.A. and State Department

"AZ spends less in classrooms" awarded prize for best misleading headline

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

The prize was awarded this morning by your Scriber. The headline was on the lead front page article in the paper version of the Daily Star. The on-line version had a similar title: Arizona spending in classrooms declines year over year. Both come from the report by Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required): K–12 classroom spending reaches all-time low. All those headlines are correct. And all are misleading.

The short of it is that schools have two pots of money. One pot goes to cover costs of classroom instruction. The other pot goes to cover fixed costs of running a school: bus maintenance, physical facility upkeep, social workers, counselors, and, yes, administrators responsible for keeping all that from coming apart. If you cut the school’s budget, or let it functionally be cut by not keeping up with inflation, then the fixed costs consume a larger part of the budget and the classroom costs take a hit.

To be fair, Fischer explained this and more in his report. For example, he cites data showing that AZ schools are not particularly inefficient when compared to national averages. But that is not the take-away message from the headlines.

My beef is with the folks who write the headlines that are only partly correct. The voucher vultures are bound to swoop down to pick at the carcass of public schools while screeching about supposed inefficiencies and citing the misleading headlines.

The Presidential Poisoner

Cross-posted from skyislandscriber.com.

Alexander George, writing for the NY Times column The Stone, characterizes President Trump as Our Forger-in-Chief. Trump’s continual assault on the tools of rational thought and civil deliberation undermines our ability to distinguish fact from fiction and thus is a clear and present danger of the sort seen before only in authoritarian regimes such as Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s.

“Alexander George (@AlexanderGeorge) teaches philosophy at Amherst College. He runs Ask Philosophers, a website where anyone can pose questions to philosophers.” As such, he makes philosophical arguments about Trump’s “poisoning the well” of our sources of knowledge: science and the news media. I want to make the case differently. Please indulge my one-time, teen-age aspiration to be the Great American Novelist as I outline my crime thriller The Presidential Poisoner.

I would begin by researching what is known about the psychology of poisoners. A Psychological Profile of a Poisoner appeared in Psychology Today in 2012 with the subtitle Serial Murder By Subterfuge. Here are excerpts.

Killing someone with poison, by it’s very nature, requires careful planning and subterfuge, so it comes as no surprise that poisoners tend to be cunning, sneaky, and creative (they can design the murder plan in as much detail as if they were writing the script for a play). Male or female, they tend to avoid physical confrontation and, instead, rely on verbal and emotional manipulation to get what they want from others.

Convicted poisoners also tend to have a sense of inadequacy, for which they compensate through a scorn for authority, a strong need for control, wish-fulfillment fantasies, and a self-centered, exploitive interpersonal style. Often either spoiled as a child or raised in an unhappy home, some experts liken the poisoner’s personality to an incorrigible child whose immature desire for his/her own way leads him/her to try to control and manipulate the world. It’s as if the poisoner never grew up and is determined to take what s/he wants just as a child would from a candy store. Developmentally stunted, other people are viewed without empathy and the poisoner’s internal compass is guided instead by greed or lust rather than morals. And, because poison is often not detected initially, the power and control poisoners experience with success tends to increase his or her confidence in future endeavors.

Given that 1 out of 5 verified murders by poisoning is never solved, it’s hard to draw a definitive psychological profile of the typical poisoner. Those who’ve been caught and convicted give us some clues – clever, sneaky, emotionally immature, methodical, and self-centered. Many of them are amazingly skilled at pretending to be something they’re not – a doting husband, caring nurse, or devoted friend. Behind the mask, though, lies a psyche that is propelled by childish needs and unencumbered by moral restraints.

Then the task as novelist is to imagine a poisoner operating on a national and even international scale. Because the poisoner in this piece of fiction has a “psyche that is propelled by childish needs and unencumbered by moral restraints”, it is easy to imagine how such an individual would crave adulation and approval of the masses. It is just as easy to imagine how such an individual would be easily manipulated by some foreign power with motives inimical to our national security.

What could actually be poisoned on a national scale that could bring down our country? Try the food supply. We live almost day to day in dependence on the integrity of our production and distribution of food via grocery stores big and small, general and special. What if we collectively came to believe that all our food stuffs were no longer safe to consume? What nation-wide mayhem would ensue? You think lines at the gas pump were disturbing? Try hundreds of millions of people fighting for the last scrap of safe food on nearly empty shelves. And all this could be done just by an authority figure claiming that the food supply was unsafe – with no credible supporting evidence. You don’t have to poison a well in order to get people to avoid it.

And that brings us back to the present. Trump and his advisors and supporters are in the process of poisoning the well of our knowledge. If that well cannot be trusted, then the people will no longer drink from it. The foreign power, as in my novel, does not have to directly confront us to do us profound damage. That hideous strength just needs to make us believe that our well of knowledge is poison.

Alexander George, after his philosophical analysis, explains.

There is a lesson here about the lurking dangers of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and that of his minions. Citizens in a technologically advanced liberal democracy must rely on its scientific community to deliver disinterested information upon which to base their decisions about the policies they would have their elected representatives enact. Citizens are also highly dependent on a probing press to help them judge the performance of their elected representatives. Trump, first as a national candidate and now from the pulpit of the presidency, has not ceased to deny and denigrate the findings of scientific bodies concerning the rate and causes of climate change. In addition, he regularly calumnies individual members of the press and vilifies entire news organizations. They are dismissed as purveyors of “fake news” — a label Descartes’s skeptic might have been delighted to apply to the allegedly untrustworthy deliverances of our sense organs.

This behavior is not merely offensive and outrageous. The real problem is that it is dangerous: It poses an existential threat to our democracy. These attacks poison the wells of reasoned public discourse, a prerequisite for a functioning democracy. The problem is not merely that we are being fed a falsehood here, a lie there, though that would be problem enough. The issue is rather that by destroying the citizenry’s confidence in the institutions of science and the press, we risk being deprived of the tools needed to assess what to believe and want. If we cannot trust what vetted scientists or professional journalists tell us, then we will have been rendered rationally impotent. It is damaging to be fed falsehoods or to be outright lied to, but it is utterly debilitating to be deprived of the resources by which to sort fact from fiction.

Descartes’s skeptic is a traitor to knowledge: His threats are not directed piecemeal but instead to the entire enterprise of coming to know how things are. The assaults on science and the press by Trump and his followers are not local eruptions of deceit and mendacity but a well-poisoning assault on public rational discourse, a prerequisite for a healthy democracy.

Perhaps I should retitle my novel Putin’s Presidential Poisoner.

Notes and credits

New York Times: The Stone
A forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless. The series moderator is Simon Critchley, who teaches philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

From Wikipedia
That Hideous Strength “(subtitled A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups) is a 1945 novel by C. S. Lewis, the final book in Lewis’s theological science fiction Space Trilogy. … The story involves an ostensibly scientific institute, the N.I.C.E., which is a front for sinister supernatural forces.” I recommend it as being still relevant 72 years later.