The Lingering Challenge of Universal Health Coverage

Drew Altman: “Both Democratic presidential candidates are calling for universal health coverage, though they disagree sharply on how to get there. Here’s the bottom line: There is no single program or policy likely to achieve full coverage of the complex collection of subgroups who make up the remaining uninsured in the U.S. except for a single-payer strategy. But Sen. Bernie Sanders has acknowledged that single-payer health care is not politically feasible in the foreseeable future and has said that it is unlikely without, among other things, campaign finance reform first.”

 

Kaiser Family Foundation chart of eligibility for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act among non-elderly uninsured Americans in 2015.

“More than 17 million people who previously did not have insurance have been covered so far by the Affordable Care Act. That’s enormous progress on one of health care’s biggest problems. But as the chart above shows, slightly more than 30 million people in the U.S. remained uninsured as of last year.”

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have staked out strong positions on universal coverage. The makeup of the uninsured population and political realities suggest that the most likely path to universal coverage is a series of incremental steps–implemented in combination or sequentially– that build on the progress made by the ACA and chip away at the remaining uninsured in the U.S. group by group.”

Economic Growth Decouples From Energy Consumption

Think Progress: “In a stunning trend with broad implications, the U.S. economy has grown significantly since 2007, while electricity consumption has been flat, and total energy demand actually dropped.

“The U.S. economy has now grown by 10% since 2007, while primary energy consumption has fallen by 2.4%,” reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in its newly-released 2016 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.”

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“The decoupling of GDP growth from energy and electricity consumption has been a key reason the United States has been able to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions since 2005. In particular, flat electricity demand has meant that the explosive growth in renewables and natural gas power has come directly at the expense of dirty coal.”

“The key driver of the decoupling of electricity use and GDP growth is energy efficiency policy and investment. BNEF notes that in 2014 (the most recent year we have data for), ‘Natural gas and electric utility spending on efficiency reached $6.7bn, up 8.1% from the $6.2bn seen in 2013; Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) investment topped $6.4bn.’ The ESPC funding is generally distinct from the utility funding and ‘mainly focused on public buildings.’”

“Largely unheralded, ‘The key policy story of the past decade has been the uptake of EERS [Energy Efficiency Resource Standards] in US state targets and decoupling legislation among US states.'”

Colorado’s Legal Marijuana Industry Soars to $1 Billion

Quartz: “The 2015 figures are in, and the number is huge—legal marijuana sales in Colorado were $996 million in 2015, according to Colorado Department of Revenue figures, the Denver Post’s marijuana website the Cannabist reports.”

“Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes from marijuana sales in 2015. Of that, about $35 million will be put to school construction projects, the Cannabist reports. Since Colorado made it legal to use marijuana for recreational purposes state-wide in early 2014, taxes collected from marijuana sales have increased rapidly, and now far surpass taxes from alcohol.”

“To put the 2015 overall sales figure in some sort of perspective, in 2014—in the entire US—mustard sales hit about $430 million (paywall), and Advil sales were below $500 million.”

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The Upcoming Primary Race: More Like Iowa Than New Hampshire

Aaron Blake in The Washington Post: “The next few weeks of the GOP race look a whole lot more like Iowa than New Hampshire. And that is fantastic for Ted Cruz …. The most evangelical states are pretty heavily front-loaded in this process — thanks in large part to the “SEC Primary” on March 1.”

The below chart, from The Post’s graphics team (more here!) is in order of nominating contests.

Does the Future of the Climate Depend on the Supreme Court?

Zoe Carpenter in The Nation: Here’s the bad news about the Supreme Court’s decision to issue a stay ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan: “Although the justices did not explain their order, the 5-4 decision indicates that the majority think the challengers have a decent chance of winning their case.”

What’s remarkable about the stay is that the Supreme Court chose to step in even before lower courts had a chance to review the case … Just a few weeks ago a federal appeals court refused to block the plan, a move that was interpreted as a victory for the Obama administration. That court will hear oral arguments in early June, though it’s likely the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the plan. Until it does, states won’t be required to comply.”

Joe Romm in Think Progress: “If the Roberts court ultimately decides to kill the rule 5-4 then that decision will immediately become the leading contender for the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history. After all, if the nations of the world ultimately don’t avoid catastrophic warming and if the U.S. is seen as bearing a significant portion of the blame — two entirely plausible outcomes — then future generations and historians will be judging the Court’s decision while suffering in a world with a climate that has been irreversibly ruined for centuries.”

“That means the future of the climate will depend on the future shape of the Supreme Court and whoever wins the presidency this year. Yes, once again, this is the most important election ever for the climate.”

 

It’s About the Issues, Stupid

Gallup: Americans are about twice as likely to prefer that their party nominate a candidate who agrees with them on almost all the issues they care about but does not have the best chance of winning, rather than one who has the best chance of winning but doesn’t agree with them on the issues they care about. Republicans and Democrats have similar preferences.

Americans' Preferences for Their Party's Nomination, by Subgroup

“While Americans of all age groups prefer a candidate who largely agrees with them on the issues they care about, the percentage who have this preference is much higher among voters younger than 30. Between 46% and 59% of adults aged 30 or older are focused on issue agreement, compared with 82% of younger adults — those 18 to 29.”

“The preference for a nominee with greater issue agreement can prove challenging for ‘establishment’ candidates like Clinton, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio. Each walks a shaky political tightrope on myriad issues in an effort not to alienate key voting blocs — compared with some of their competitors who don’t seem to shy away from divisive positions that could complicate their chances in a general election.”

Oil Industry’s Trade Group Knew Early on About Global Warming

Inside Climate News: “A Columbia University report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute in 1982 cautioned that global warming ‘can have serious consequences for man’s comfort and survival.’ It is the latest indication that the oil industry learned of the possible threat it posed to the climate far earlier than previously known.”

“The report, ‘Climate Models and CO2 Warming, A Selective Review and Summary,’ was written by Alan Oppenheim and William L.  Donn of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory for API’s Climate and Energy task force, said James J. Nelson, the task force’s former director. From 1979 to 1983, API and the nation’s largest oil companies convened the task force to monitor and share climate research, including their in-house efforts. Exxon ran the most ambitious of the corporate programs, but other oil companies had their own projects, smaller than Exxon’s and focused largely on climate modeling.”

“The report did not focus on the forces behind the increase in CO2 concentrations, but it linked the phenomenon plainly to fossil fuel use. Atmospheric CO2, it said, ‘is expected to double some time in the next century. Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels.'”

“A year after the task force circulated the report to API’s members, the organization disbanded the committee and shifted its work on climate change from the environment directorate to its lobbying arm.”

Young Americans: Socialism is Fine, But Don’t Take My Money

Nate Silver: “Bernie Sanders proudly describes himself as a ‘socialist’ (or more commonly, as a “democratic socialist”) … Views of socialism are highly correlated with a voter’s age. According to a May 2015 YouGov poll, conducted just before Sanders launched his campaign, a plurality of voters aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of socialism. But among voters 65 and older, just 15 percent viewed socialism favorably, to 70 percent unfavorably.”

“That doesn’t mean America is undergoing a leftist or revolutionary awakening, however. The biennial General Social Survey has a long-standing question about wealth redistribution, asking Americans whether the ‘government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor … perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor.'”

“I’ve translated [the General Social Survey] responses to a 100-point scale, where 0 represents the most conservative/right-wing position (no redistribution!), and 100 the most liberal/left-wing position (hell yes, redistribution!). The chart below summarizes how both Americans overall and Americans aged 18-29 have responded to the question over time.”

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“In part, then, the “revolutions” that both Sanders and Paul speak of are revolutions of rising expectations.”

Bernie’s Brand is the Future of the Democratic Party

Matthew Yglesias: “Whether or not Bernie Sanders wins in New Hampshire, or wins the Democratic nomination outright, he’s already won in another, perhaps more important way: His brand of politics is the future of the Democratic Party.”

“There are racial and demographic gaps between Clinton and Sanders supporters, but the overwhelming reality is that for all groups, the young people are feeling the Bern.”

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“What’s clear is that there’s robust demand among Democrats — especially the next generation of Democrats — to remake the party along more ideological, more social democratic lines, and party leaders are going to have to answer that demand or get steamrolled.”

“Though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties … they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community.”

“The Sanders contention is that if liberals want to change America in fundamental ways, they need to start by creating an ideologically liberal political party. Once you have control of a party, the chance that your Reagan-in-1980 moment may arrive is always lurking out there in the mysterious world of unpredictable events.”

 

 

Arctic Sea Ice Levels Hit Record Low

EcoWatch: “January Arctic sea ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, attended by unusually high air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) for the first three weeks of the month. Meanwhile in the Antarctic, this year’s extent was lower than average for January, in contrast to the record high extents in January 2015.”

Monthly January ice extent for 1979 to 2016 shows a decline of 3.2 percent per decade. Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

“The monthly average January 2016 sea ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, 110,000 square kilometers (42,500 square miles) less than the previous record low in 2011. The next lowest extent was in 2006. Interestingly, while 2006 and 2011 did not reach record summer lows, they both preceded years that did, though this may well be simply coincidence.”

“The trend for January is now -3.2% per decade. January 2016 continues a streak that began in 2005 where every January monthly extent has been less than 14.25 million square kilometers (5.50 million square miles). In contrast, before 2005 (1979 through 2004), every January extent was above 14.25 million square kilometers.”

How 2016 Will Differ from 2012

Philip Bump: “Last week, Pew Research released data showing that 2016’s electorate would likely be more diverse [than 2008.] They arrived at that conclusion thanks to some relatively simple math. Take the voting-eligible population in 2012, add the number of people turning 18 and become citizens, subtract the number of people who have died, and see the result.”

“Overall, the number of eligible voters will grow by about 5 percent — but the number of eligible white voters will grow only 2 percent, compared to a 6 percent jump in the number of black eligible voters and a 17 percent jump in the number of eligible Hispanic voters.”

“As a raw total, the 2016 election will see more eligible Hispanic voters added than eligible white voters, 4 million to 3.2 million. That’s despite whites outnumbering Hispanics by a wide margin nationally.”

“Given how demographics are shifting, this will probably also be the least diverse electorate for every presidential election here on-out. The ballyhooed 2008 election will likely, in a few decades’ time, be seen as stunningly white.”

Significant Decline in Uninsured in Eight States Attributed to Obamacare

Associated Press: “Eight states saw a significant drop last year in the number of residents going without health insurance, according to a government report out Tuesday that has implications for the presidential campaign.”

“All but Florida had accepted a Medicaid expansion that is one of two major pathways to coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law. The law’s other coverage route is subsidized private insurance, available in all 50 states.”

“Politically, the eight states with statistically significant coverage gains in the National Health Interview Survey are a mix of red, blue and purple. They are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, and New York. Five have GOP governors.”

“The federal report does not analyze the reasons for the coverage gains, but independent experts say the trend is due to the Obama health care law, boosted by economic recovery.”

“Kentucky led the way among the states with statistically significant reductions in the share of residents uninsured, with a drop of 6.5 percentage points … Another Republican-led state, Arizona, had the second-biggest reduction, a drop of 5.9 percentage points. New York followed, with a reduction of 5.6 percentage points.”

‘Structural’ Unemployment Debunked

Paul Krugman exposes the fallacy behind “structural unemployment.”

“When the Great Recession struck … it took no time at all for a strange consensus to develop in elite opinion, to the effect that a large part of the rise in unemployment was ‘structural,’ and could not be reversed simply by a recovery in demand. Workers just didn’t have the right skills, you see. Many of us argued at length that this was foolish. If skills were the problem, where were the occupations with rapidly rising wages? I pointed out that people said the same thing during the Great Depression, only to see it disproved when we finally got a big fiscal stimulus called World War II.”

“But the doctrine somehow just got stronger and stronger in elite circles, because it sounded serious and judicious, unlike the seemingly flighty proposition that all we needed was more spending. In fact, the notion that our unemployment problem was mainly structural began to be presented as a simple fact rather than as a hypothesis most professional economists rejected. And here we are.”

An Uneven Economic Recovery Among the States

Washington Post: “For most states in the U.S., last year ended on a strong note. But there are a few places in the U.S. that are struggling. Recently released data from the Philadelphia Fed indicates that seven states — North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alaska — likely saw their economies contract during the last three months of 2015.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

“The country is clearly doing far better in 2015 than it was in 2009, when most states were struggling. Yet in the years after 2009, the picture looks more mixed. The economy in Dec. 2015 doesn’t look as strong as it did in Dec. 2014, when all states were seeing economic growth.”

“In total, 41 states saw their economies grow. The states with the strongest growth — over 1 percent in the three-month period, according to the estimates — include Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Georgia, West Virginia, New Jersey and Maine. Michigan and Oklahoma weren’t fairing too well either at the end of 2015 — the Philadelphia Fed’s data shows that their economic growth was unchanged from three months before.”