2015 Hottest Year on Record and 2011 to 2015 Hottest Period Ever

Eco Watch: “The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced today that 2015 is likely to top the charts as the hottest year in modern observations, with 2011-15 the hottest five-year period on record.”

“With two full months still to add in, the global average surface temperature for January to October in 2015 was 0.73C above the 1961-1990 average. This already puts it a long way above 2014, in which average global temperature reached 0.57C above the 1961-1990 average.”

“To put today’s news another way, global temperature in 2015 is likely to pass the “symbolic and significant” threshold of 1C above preindustrial levels, says the WMO.”

Global annual average temperature relative to 1961-1990 based on the three major global temperature datasets (HadCrut4, NASA GisTEMP and NOAA). Red bars indicate an El Niño year, blue is La Niña and grey is neutral. Margin of error is about 0.1C. Photo credit: WMO

Despite Glitches, Obamacare is Still a Success

Paul Krugman acknowledges that “Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.”

“First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected … That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.”

“Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps.”

“Oh, and official projections now say that fewer people will enroll in those exchanges than previously predicted. But the main reason is that surprisingly few employers are dropping coverage; overall projections for the number of uninsured Americans still look pretty good.”

“Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way.”

The Painkiller Epidemic Grows

The Washington Post got an early look at a Kaiser Family Foundation survey which shows 40% of Americans know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, including 25% who say it was a close friend or family member and 2% who acknowledge their own addiction.

More from the survey:

  • 16% say they know someone who has died from an overdose of prescription painkillers, including 9% who say that person was a family member or close friend.
  • 56% of the public say they have some personal connection to the issue.
  • Prescription painkiller abuse is most common among whites (63%) and the affluent (63% among people with incomes of $90,000 or more).

Who Takes More? Law Enforcement or Burglars?

Christopher Ingraham: “Here’s an interesting factoid about contemporary policing: In 2014, for the first time ever, law enforcement officers took more property from American citizens than burglars did. Martin Armstrong pointed this out at his blog, Armstrong Economics, last week.”

“Officers can take cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with a crime — yes, really! — through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.”

“Boil down all the numbers and caveats above and you arrive at a simple fact: In the United States, in 2014, more cash and property transferred hands via civil asset forfeiture than via burglary. The total value of asset forfeitures was more than one-third of the total value of property stolen by criminals in 2014. That represents something of a sea change in the way police do business — and it’s prompting plenty of scrutiny of the practice.”

Americans Hate Government But They Like What it Does

Washington Post: “The Pew Research Center has just released a fascinating deep-dive on how Americans feel about government … One finding stands out: Even if Americans don’t trust the government, they still want the government to do a whole bunch of stuff.”

“The low level of trust in government is not surprise … Small wonder, then, that only 19 percent of Americans interviewed in this Pew survey said that they trusted the government always or most of the time.”

“But when given along list of issues, most Americans still wanted government to have a ‘major role’ in handling those issues. The vast majority (94 percent) thought government should help keep us safe from terrorism. About three-quarters said that it should have a major role in strengthening the economy, protecting the environment and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure. Majorities also wanted the government to play a major role in helping the poor and seniors.”

“In fact, what’s striking is that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats felt this way on most of these issues. Here’s a graph from Pew:”


A Failing Grade for GOP Candidates’ Climate Science Knowledge

Associated Press: “When it comes to climate science, two of the three Democratic presidential candidates are A students, while most of the Republican contenders are flunking, according to a panel of scientists who reviewed candidates’ comments.”

“At the request of The Associated Press, eight climate and biological scientists graded for scientific accuracy what a dozen top candidates said in debates, interviews and tweets, using a 0 to 100 scale.”

“To try to eliminate possible bias, the candidates’ comments were stripped of names and given randomly generated numbers, so the professors would not know who made each statement they were grading. Also, the scientists who did the grading were chosen by professional scientific societies.”

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had the highest average score at 94. Three scientists did not assign former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley a score, saying his statements mostly were about policy, which they could not grade, instead of checkable science.”

The Case for High Gas Prices: Safety

City Lab: “In a sharp post on the topic, Joe Cortright at City Observatory points us to a very instructive study that sheds new light on how safety suffers when pump prices plunge. Or, if you prefer rosier goggles, how higher gas prices lead to fewer crashes.”

“During hard times, or when gas prices surge, people drive less: some shift to cheaper travel modes, some just stay home.”

“For the recent study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers gathered Mississippi crash data from April 2004 to December 2012 on a month-by-month basis. Then they collected gas prices over this period as well to see when safety connections emerged … For every 10 percent increase in gas prices, the lagged effect produced a 1.5 percent decrease in traffic crashes per capita.”

“The researchers extrapolate the findings to estimate what the broader safety impacts would be at either end of the gas price spectrum. If fuel costs had been at their lowest point ($1.81) over the entire study period, the researchers would expect 57,461 more crashes to have occurred—a 5.7 percent rise. But if fuel costs had been at their highest ($4.17) during this time, the expectation would be for 70,655 fewer crashes, or a 7 percent decline.”

John Bel Edwards Victory is Victory for Medicaid Expansion

Times Picayune: “Governor-elect John Bel Edwards called expanding Medicaid ‘among the highest priorities’ of his new administration, though he said Sunday (Nov. 22) he may not be able to approve an expanded program on Day One.”

Edwards: “‘The expansion of health care coverage for working families is among the highest priorities. It’s something I’ve been working on for three years, and I never once during this campaign shied away from that particular issue,’ Edwards said during a news conference with reporters in New Orleans. ‘So we are going to expand the Medicaid program in Louisiana. We’re going to do it as soon as we possibly can and as responsibly as we possibly can.'”

With Edwards’ victory, “supporters of ObamaCare are increasingly hopeful that Medicaid expansion could sweep through the deep-red South,” according to The Hill.

“More recently, there was surprising news out of Alabama, as a commission appointed by Republican governor Robert Bentley recommended expansion. Bentley said earlier this month that he is ‘looking’ at the possibility of broadening Medicaid.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell: “What is going to happen is that support for Medicaid expansion will continue to build … You hear the Alabama governor. You’ve heard conversations in Louisiana.”

“Supporters of Medicaid expansion hope that if they can get a foothold in the South, other states will follow … One option is the Arkansas model, where the expansion enrolls people in private health insurance plans instead of government-run Medicaid.”

Most Americans Say Government Should Ensure Healthcare Coverage

Politico: The government should ensure the health care coverage of all Americans, 51 percent of adults said in a new Gallup survey released Monday. That is slightly more than the 47 percent of Americans who said it is not the government’s responsibility, though the difference is still within the poll’s margin of error.


The 51 percent is the highest share of American sentiment in that direction since 2006, when nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) said government is responsible and just 28 percent did not. In the years following, only in 2011 did Americans have a more positive view of the role in government in health care than negative.

Though at its lowest level in recent years, 55 percent to 41 percent expressed support for a health care system based on private insurance rather than one run by the government. In 2014, 61 percent to 35 percent felt the same way.

Americans Concerned About Health Care Costs

Gallup: Americans continue to name the cost of (22%) and access to (20%) healthcare as the most urgent health problems facing the U.S. Obesity and cancer are next on the list, cited by 15% and 14%, respectively. No other issue receives more than 2% of mentions from Americans.

Trend: Cost and Access Remain Most Commonly Named as Urgent Health Problems

The Obama administration has made a major effort to address healthcare cost and access by passing the Affordable Care Act. Since its major provisions went into effect, there has been a drop in the percentage of Americans who lack health insurance. But the law probably did not affect the healthcare situation for the large majority of Americans, most of whom get health insurance through an employer or Medicare. The percentages mentioning both cost and access are down from the later years of George W. Bush’s administration, even though they remain the top overall issues.