Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 2nd, 2018

This cult of cleanliness is a deadly racket

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Full disclosure: For years I have showered each morning using only water. Years ago I read in New Scientist a comment that, unless you have actual grease on your body (e.g., from working on a car), you really need only rinse your body with water, which leaves your skin microbiome unharmed (unlike attacking it with soap). I tried not shampooing, but then my hair got greasy—but after reading Matthew Parris’s article in the Times, I’m going to try dropping the shampoo. He writes:

‘Shampoo,” said our headline yesterday, “as bad a health risk as car fumes”. The Times science editor Tom Whipple explained that shampoo and a range of domestic cleaning products as well as paint, pesticides and perfumes “degrade into particles known as PM2.5 which cause respiratory problems and are implicated in 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK”. His report noted that according to some recent research, professional cleaning staff suffered a decline in lung function comparable to that seen in regular smokers.

Not every health scare story deserves the front page but this one did. Our age has an obsession with washing and cleaning things, starting with our own bodies. This owes more to a mild form of collective mental illness than it does to hard-nosed medical science. That Times report also mentioned personal deodorants. Except in emergencies I have never used these. It always struck me — on the basis of precaution rather than medical expertise — that anything potent enough to block your pores and destroy the body flora that give scent to our perspiration must be pretty strong stuff. We are unlikely to have a perfect knowledge of the possible collateral damage.

It must be about 25 years since I stopped using shampoo. I have a much cleverer brother with a background in the sciences who had explained to me how to the corporate till shampoo is the gift that keeps on giving. Like nicotine it creates its own demand. A liquified, tinted and perfumed version of washing powder, shampoo strips the scalp of its natural oils. These lend heat-insulating and water-resistant properties to creatures’ fur or feathers. Sebaceous glands in a just-shampooed human scalp register the stripping of oils, then panic and pump out emergency supplies; your hair gets greasy faster and you reach for the shampoo again next morning.

My brother pointed out that animals do not use shampoo, yet when did you last see a rabbit with a greasy hair problem? So, on a South American expedition where we didn’t need to look our best, I stopped shampooing. For many days my hair got greasier. Then, washed with warm water alone, it started becoming less greasy. Everything stabilised — and has been stable ever since. After that I hardly ever used shampoo; my hair lost the artificial shine that shampoo does impart but has never been greasy, and I get far less dandruff than before.

The Australian journalist Richard Glover, meanwhile, has attracted a sizeable Antipodean “no ’poo” cult. Shampoo manufacturers became alarmed. I started receiving from claimed experts unsolicited dossiers of photographic evidence (through microscopy) that fewer dust particles lodge in detergent-washed hair than in hair washed only in water. That of course is obvious: if you stripped your body of all natural oils then less dust would stick to it. Your skin would also fall off.

The cleaning and cosmetics industries are worried with good reason. Globally they rake in hundreds of billions of dollars, and a handful of huge companies dominate a notably small field. The UK cosmetics business has a market value of more than £9 billion. Aware that they could be more seriously targeted by environmentalists than has yet happened, their industry body runs a website, thefactsabout.co.uk, encouraging visitors to “sort out which are myths or scares”. The site’s tone is a blend of the helpful and the defensive. They have a lot to protect, employing some 200,000 people within British cosmetics alone.

Most cleaning and cosmetic products are retailed in disposable plastic containers, the rest in disposable glass. And for all of them, the tills just keep on ringing while the plastics are washed out to sea.

The Colman family used to joke that the family fortune rested on the mustard left on the side of the plate after dinner; but the cleaning and cosmetics industries are wise to keep quiet about the comparable boast. Not only do most consumers grotesquely overuse the bleaches, disinfectants, de-greasers, detergent gels, scouring pastes (toothpaste), ammonias, chlorines and chemical-based dyes and perfumes that constitute the house-cleaning, body-washing, disinfecting industry, as well as the creams and cosmetics used (as the 18th-century Spectator editor Joseph Addison put it) “to adorn that part of the head which we generally call the outside” but they discard, wash or wipe away most of the product, unused. Shower gel is the most egregious example. Most of it, perfume, dye, detergent and all, goes straight down the plughole. What genius on the part of the bodywashing industry so to dilute the core product (detergent) that it slips through the consumer’s fingers and is washed away.

At a friend’s house recently, and with the slightest of colds giving me a slightly raw throat, I emerged from the bathroom as from a First World War trench, choking on chlorine gas. “It’s my husband,” said my friend. “He puts half a bottle of household bleach down the loo every day, ‘to kill germs’ he says.” This is the gas, but in lower concentrations, that exterminated troops in 1914-1918.

Freudian theory may be all over the place, but at its core lie some vast intuitive truths. Since long before Lady Macbeth’s compulsive sleepwalking hand-washing movements we have half-sensed the unconscious connection between guilt and dirt. Germ theory, and its monstrous commercialisation by the post-war American “hygiene” industry, has put a booster rocket under the cleaning, sterilising and disinfecting sector. For a while Americans (turning their attention to what Addison might have called “that part of the head which we generally call the inside”) even called mental health “mental hygiene”.

Postwar concepts of hygiene distorted our notions about the relationship between cleanliness and health. I defy any medical expert to give me the scientific justification for dousing the whole body, every day, in hot water and detergent. Spaniards commonly do this twice a day. Many Japanese people have gone completely crazy, spending much of their lives immersed naked in thermal springs, showering and soaping themselves twice before, and once after, every immersion. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 5:15 pm

“We Wouldn’t Need the Suicide Hotline If Dairy Farmers Were Getting Paid What They Deserve”

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Rowan Walrath writes in Mother Jones:

Brenda Cochran was a self-described “city girl” before she married her husband in 1973. He was a dairy farmer, so she joined him on a small farm in Pennsylvania. They’ve been working together since 1975. Cochran says that if she’d known how difficult dairy farming would be today, she never would have done it.  “We have rampant corruption in the agricultural and food policies of this country,” she says. “So corrupt that until we get everybody who eats up in arms, more and more farmers are going to go out of business. They’re going to be the ones who take their own lives.”

Farmers, fishermen, and forestry workers, who are lumped together by government statisticians, have the highest suicide rate of any occupational cluster: 84.5 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 workers, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis—that would have amounted to almost 900 suicides in 2016. (The CDC does not break out data for farmers specifically.) Cochran says she personally knows of two dairy farmers who have killed themselves since February.

In general, farmers—at the whims of large agribusinesses, supply and demand, and the weather—always face some degree of uncertainty, with some worries exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s brewing trade war with China. Members of a coalition of agricultural interests, including the National Farmers Union, co-signed a letter in April asking Congress to provide funding for helplines and mental health support groups for agricultural workers. But in dairy circles, the stress is coming to a head as a result of long-standing policies that have nothing to do with Trump.

Dairy farmers in the United States are paid by the hundredweight—that’s 100 pounds of milk, about 12 gallons. Milk prices, after peaking in 2014, have plummeted to roughly $15 per hundredweight, forcing many dairy farmers to operate in the red. Tina Carlin, executive director of Farm Women United and a Pennsylvania farmer herself, says the cost of production ranges from $22 to $25 per hundredweight. “We wouldn’t need the suicide hotline, we wouldn’t need the mental health services, if dairy farmers were getting paid what they deserve to be paid,” Carlin says. She and her husband quit dairy farming in 2012, switching to beef and vegetable crops.

As president of Farm Women United, Cochran is lobbying Congress alongside Carlin to institute a $20 emergency floor price on every hundredweight of milk. The women have also advocated public hearings, but with little progress so far. Since February, Carlin has written three letters to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.). An aide responded after the third one, but she has not heard anything since: “His agricultural aide said that he would circle around, and he has not circled around,” she says. Casey’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lorraine Lewandrowski, a lawyer and dairy farmer in Herkimer County, New York, agrees that a $20 emergency floor price would help in the short term. Long term, though, the dairy pricing system isn’t necessarily designed to benefit family farmers

Here’s how it works: Class I milk—the kind you buy off the shelf—brings farmers the most money. Then come three other classes, ranging from powdered milk to cheese and yogurt. “I would say the milk pricing formula is by and away the most important thing in terms of what we end up with,” Lewandrowski says. “When the government has the formula and you go by that formula, it can work for you, or it can work against you.”

As it stands, she says, the system incentivizes farmers to produce more and more milk as prices drop in reaction to oversupply. She would prefer a system more like Canada’s, where farmers are not allowed to sell more than quotas set for them by the federal government.

This certainly isn’t the first time milk producers have been hit by hard times. In 2009, prices were down around $11 per hundredweight—but this time, small farmers aren’t optimistic about a rebound. “We are seeing a number of very large farms coming on line and also expanding that we didn’t see nine years ago,” Lewandrowski says—and that makes the smaller players “very, very anxious.”

Legislation introduced in March by Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) would make mental health treatment accessible to farmers, but that bill remains with an agriculture subcommittee. “Last Sunday, my neighbor just collapsed crying in the barn,” Lewandrowski says. “Her family called, and my sister and I went over there. She just sat there sobbing and said she couldn’t cope with the debt anymore. She couldn’t take it.”

“Small and medium-size dairy farmers are really attached to their cows,” she adds. “They really don’t want to just send their cows to be slaughtered. A truck would come and take everybody, and everybody would be killed.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 5:00 pm

Baltimore to Pay Largest Settlement in City History — $9 Million — to Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder

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Maybe this settlement will cause Baltimore to finally reform its police department, but I am not optimistic. Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

Baltimore officials today approved a $9 million settlement — the largest in city history — to James “J.J.” Owens, who spent two decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

Owens’ case, and that of another man prosecuted for the same crime, was the subject of an investigation by ProPublica and The Atlantic last September that examined how defendants are pressured into controversial plea deals despite proof of their innocence.

Owens’ payout adds to Baltimore’s growing tab for decades of misconduct by its police force. In November, a jury awarded another wrongfully convicted Baltimore man, Sabein Burgess, $15 million. Like Owens, Burgess had sued, alleging civil rights violations by detectives.

Because Baltimore is self-insured, city taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for these payouts, which total $24 million in the last six months alone.

Now the city is girding itself for more costly lawsuits in the aftermath of a massive police corruption scandal that led to the conviction of eight officers earlier this year.

Owens’ saga began in 1988 when he was convicted of the murder of 24-year-old Colleen Williar based almost exclusively on the ever-changing story of James Thompson, his neighbor and former friend. Thompson became wrapped up in the case when he lied about finding the murder weapon in a foolish attempt to get a $1,000 police reward. When detectives questioned his story, Thompson pointed the finger at Owens, telling them multiple false versions of events about Williar’s rape and murder.

Detectives had pressured Thompson in the interrogation room until they had “enough to get James Owens,” as one of the detectives later put it. Owens’ lawsuit alleged that the detectives purposefully didn’t tell his attorneys about Thompson’s waffling, as is required by law.

Thompson was subsequently tried and convicted in Williar’s rape and murder, and both he and Owens were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

But in 2006, semen found in the victim was tested, and the DNA didn’t match Owens or Thompson. Other key forensic evidence proved to be unrelated to the men or wrongly analyzed. Instead of letting the men go free, the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office doubled down. After Owens was granted a new trial, the prosecutors refused to concede his innocence and instead tried to force him into a troubling deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it, Owens would be quickly released from prison and allowed to maintain his innocence on the record, but he’d still be a convicted murderer. And, significantly for cities with checkered histories, the deal would have prevented him from suing. For their part, prosecutors would keep a win on the books and avoid admitting a mistake.

Owens refused, and prosecutors left him languishing in prison for 16 months before admitting there wasn’t enough evidence to re-try him. On the day his new trial was set to begin in October 2008, the prosecutor dropped the charges, and Owens walked out fully exonerated. Thompson, however, took the Alford plea and was left with no recourse to sue for his own wrongful incarceration.

Owens filed his lawsuit in 2011, but it was dismissed from federal court and his lawyers dropped out of the case. In federal lawsuits like Owens’, it’s not enough to show that an innocent man was put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit; the defendant must also prove there was official misconduct that violated his constitutional rights. Winning on such civil rights claims is notoriously difficult.

In late 2012, lawyer Charles Curlett and the local Baltimore law firm Brown Goldstein Levy picked up the longshot case and appealed the dismissal.

“My view was it was a fight worth fighting, and if there was a way to navigate the litigation and achieve justice we would try and find it,” Curlett said.

Out of about 800 civil rights suits filed nationwide, only slightly more than half prevailed, according to Jeffrey Gutman, a law professor at George Washington University. Gutman examined the cases of 1,900 exonerees who had been convicted in a state court as recorded by National Registry of Exonerations from 1989 to about March 2017. In Maryland, the ratio was worse. Only six of the 24 people on the registry received payouts from the state, Gutman’s data showed. Owens is only the third Maryland exoneree from the national registry to receive compensation for a civil rights claims. Three others have been awarded money under the state statute, with payouts ranging from $300,000 to $1.4 million.

But during the last six years, views of law enforcement have changed drastically. In 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a local police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, set off nationwide protests and debates about law enforcement accountability and racism. Baltimore saw its own mass protests a year later when Freddie Gray died in police custody. Though prosecutions against the officers involved were unsuccessful, the city agreed to pay Gray’s family $6.4 million.

Owens won his appeal, and during settlement negotiations, which had stalled on and off for the last year, a series of decisions made it clear that jurors were fed up. First, last fall, a federal jury awarded Burgess $15 million, more than three quarters of a million dollars for each year he was wrongly behind bars.

Then, this year, six members of an elite police gun task force pleaded guilty and two others were convicted for systematically robbing citizens for years.

“It may not be as difficult now for plaintiffs like Owens to persuade federal jurors that the police did actually engage in misconduct,” said Michele Nethercott, head of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic.

Curlett agreed, noting that “the public view concerning the infallibility of law enforcement has changed, and juries across the country are becoming far more willing to recognize police misconduct.”

So as Owens’ case headed to a federal jury this month, Baltimore city officials had learned their lesson.

“That jury verdict certainly was one of the factors that I considered,” Dana Moore, Baltimore’s deputy city solicitor, said about settling with Owens.

“I think they correctly analyzed the risk to the city,” said Steven Mercer, the former public defender who represented by Owens and Thompson in their innocence claims. “The facts of each case really drive it and the facts for J.J. are quite compelling.”

The city noted in its summary of the case that the police department and the officers involved “dispute virtually all of the material facts alleged by Mr. Owens.” Moore also said the settlement wasn’t an admittance of wrongdoing. . .

Continue reading.

And two other reports on the same events can be found in a sidebar at the link:

What Does an Innocent Man Have to Do to Go Free? Plead Guilty. 

A Dubious Arrest, a Compromised Prosecutor, a Tainted Plea: How One Murder Case Exposes a Broken System

And later in the article, one reason for my pessimism:

On average, exonerees nationwide have received $295,000 for each year spent in prison, Gutman said his data showed. Owens received nearly half a million for each of the more than 20 years he spent behind bars.

Still, nationwide experts see little deterrent effect in these types of payouts on police or prosecutorial misconduct or incompetence.

“I’m always astonished still how little impact they seem to have on police procedures and criminal investigations going forward,” said Sam Gross, law professor at University of Michigan and cofounder of the National Registry of Exonerations. City officials “approve payments and life goes on and the same things happen again year after year and decade after decade.”

In Baltimore, city officials are preparing for more lawsuits. The new city solicitor, Andre Davis, who took the position in September, has recognized the city needs to get ahead of them and is looking to be more proactive in identifying and settling cases earlier — particularly suits potentially arising out of the “verdicts and all the evidence that came out” the corruption scandal, Moore said. “Those trials do inform us of potential issues.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 3:31 pm

Back to drinking 2 oz pomegranate juice a day

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For some years I drank pomegranate juice (pure, unsweetened) at the rate of 2 oz/day, following a report I read from a study by Israeli scientists who found that it significantly improved arterial health. See my earlier post. This morning I picked up a bottle of pure pomegranate juice not from concentrate. I’m updating my current diet advice (see: Useful posts).

Update: I just realized that the effective amount is 2 oz (1/4 cup) per day. That’s good, since 2 oz is just 2 WW points. (I of course updated my current diet advice so that it stays current.) I also corrected the post title and the amount above.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Cells talk in a language that looks like viruses

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Carrie Arnold writes in Quanta:

For cells, communication is a matter of life and death. The ability to tell other members of your species — or other parts of the body — that food supplies are running low or that an invading pathogen is near can be the difference between survival and extinction. Scientists have known for decades that cells can secrete chemicals into their surroundings, releasing a free-floating message for all to read. More recently, however, scientists discovered that cells could package their molecular information in what are known as extracellular vesicles. Like notes passed by children in class, the information packaged in an extracellular vesicle is folded and delivered to the recipient.

The past five years have seen an explosion of research into extracellular vesicles. As scientists uncovered the secrets about how the vesicles are made, how they package their information and how they’re released, it became clear that there are powerful similarities between vesicles and viruses.

A small group of researchers, led by Leonid Margolis, a Russian-born virologist at the National Institutes of Health, and Robert Gallo, the HIV pioneer at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has proposed that this similarity is more than mere coincidence. It’s not just that viruses appear to hijack the cellular pathways used to make extracellular vesicles for their own production — or that cells have also taken on some viral components to use in their vesicles. Extracellular vesicles and viruses, Margolis argues, are part of a continuum of membranous particles produced by cells. Between these two extremes are lipid-lined sacs filled with a variety of genetic material and proteins — some from hosts, some from viruses — that cells can use to send messages to one another.

“There are fundamental differences between viruses and vesicles: Viruses can replicate and vesicles cannot,” Margolis said. “But there are many variants in between. Where do viruses start, and where do extracellular vesicles start?”

Whether cells started using vesicles for communication first and viruses copied them, or cells stole the idea from viruses, or both evolved the strategy in tandem is currently impossible to determine: Sending information in extracellular vesicles must have first appeared billions of years ago because even bacteria do it. “This idea of using a membrane-bound sac of information to transport between cells has been around a long time,” said David Meckes, Jr., a virologist at Florida State University.

One of the most striking pieces of evidence supporting Margolis and Gallo’s hypothesis is the recent discovery, widely reported in January, that a mammalian protein called Arc, which is implicated in learning and memory, is actually a repurposed retroviral protein. More important, Arc appears to be secreted from the synapses of neurons in extracellular vesicles. “These vesicles may be acting like a viral envelope,” said Cedric Feschotte, a retrotransposon expert at Cornell University.

Now that humans are aware of this shared membranous medium for transporting information between cells, the idea is paving the way for new discoveries and the development of new therapeutics for cancer and viral diseases.

Bad News Wrapped in Protein Coats

When scientists first started gazing at cells under powerful light microscopes, they noticed a “dust” of minuscule particles surrounding the otherwise crisp edges of the cell’s plasma membrane. Researchers generally chalked up the debris to the cellular equivalent of dandruff and didn’t pay much attention. Over time, scientists noticed that these membranous flakes appeared in a wide range of cell cultures and body fluids, such as plasma and blood. Some formed by budding directly from the cell membrane itself and were first dubbed microvesicles, and later, extracellular vesicles. Other, typically smaller ones were assembled within the cell before being released through the plasma membrane and became known as exosomes. Extracellular vesicles and exosomes range tremendously in size, from 30 nanometers — approximately the diameter of a small virus — to as large as one micron.

The quantity of these vesicles is extraordinary: Every day, a cell produces the equivalent of its own plasma membrane in extracellular vesicles and exosomes, according to D. Michiel Pegtel, a vesicle expert at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.

The field took off in 2006–2007 when a Swedish teamand a joint American-European group independently discovered that exosomes and extracellular vesicles could carry several types of RNA. These included the messenger RNAs (mRNAs) that are intermediaries in the translation of DNA into proteins, as well as the small molecules called microRNAs that affect gene expression. After the initial discovery of extracellular vesicles and exosomes in blood, scientists found them in nearly every type of body fluid they tested, including saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, breast milk and seminal fluid. Although researchers have begun to classify extracellular vesicles and exosomes into different subtypes, they struggle with finding ways to sort and identify those categories.

The realization that vesicles can carry RNAs also invites comparisons to viruses. Some of the vesicles that cells shed are similar in size to viruses, but their molecular cargo and their capabilities are of course different. “What inherently separates vesicles and exosomes from viruses is that exosomes are not infectious,” Pegtel said. Even so, the reasons for the similarities are significant.

The pioneering immunologist Peter Medawar once asserted that viruses are “bad news wrapped in a protein coat” — but retroviruses also drape a second layer over their protein shell by wrapping themselves in pieces of their host’s cell membrane. The host-derived membrane protects the virus from discovery by the immune system. When virologists probed the cellular pathways hijacked by these minuscule pathogens, they discovered that viruses get their envelopes by tapping into cells’ preexisting pathway for making exosomes and extracellular vesicles.

Not all the viruses encased in cell-derived envelopes are fully intact and functional. Many are the equivalent of lemons in a used car lot: secondhand and not operational. These viral trash heaps covered in membrane can’t infect other cells or perpetuate disease outbreaks. Yet in some cases, on the surface, these vesicles carrying viral junk look nearly identical to those carrying cellular RNA.

The similarity was so striking that Margolis realized that some viruses — like HIV and other small RNA viruses — and exosomes and extracellular vesicles fall on two different extremes of the same continuum. The defective viruses and viruslike particles extruded from infected cells form the vast middle ground on this field, Margolis says. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

A Couple of Republican Elites Just Admitted Their Agenda Is Built on Lies

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

Virtually no one in the United States approves of the Republican Party’s fiscal priorities (beyond the donors and interest groups who dictate them).

The notion that the federal government should not intervene in the health-care market to guarantee universal affordability — which is to say, that it should not make the healthy and rich subsidize care for the sick and the poor — is deeply unpopular. Most Americans would rather violate the tenets of Ayn Rand’s philosophy than allow insurance companies to condemn working-class cancer patients to preventable deaths.

Similarly, most Americans did not look at their nation’s economy last year — with its record-high corporate profits, stagnant wage growth, and steadily growing population of retirees dependent on Social Security benefits — and think: “Congress’s top priority should be to increase the net worth of corporate shareholders and business owners by awarding them hundreds of billions in deficit-financed tax cuts.”

For these reasons, when Republicans tried to sell the public on their “make health care less affordable for the many, so as to make equities more valuable for the few” agenda last year, they did not describe it in those terms. Rather, most opted to grossly misrepresent what their policy goals actually were.

Take Trump’s first Health Secretary Tom Price. In advocating for the president’s health-care bill last June, Price insisted that the goal of the legislation was to bring down health-care costs for all Americans (as opposed to clearing budget space for supply-side tax cuts). As an example of how the bill would accomplish this, Price cited its repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

“Well, the individual mandate is one of those things that actually is driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage,” Price told ABC News. “So what we’re trying to do is make it so Obamacare is no longer harming the patients of this land. No longer driving up costs. No longer making it so they’ve got coverage, but no care. And the individual mandate is one of those things.”

Now, the individual mandate was one of the few genuinely unpopularparts of Obamacare. But there is broad public support for the policy’s core function: By imposing a tax penalty on adults who went without insurance, the mandate encouraged healthy Americans to enter the insurance marketplace, and thus, helped bring down premiums for the sick.

Price didn’t claim that the individual mandate actually worked to increase premiums because he was confused about the facts; he did so because it was politically inadvisable to share those facts with the public. But don’t take my word for it — take his:

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price used to say that Obamacare’s individual mandate increased health-care costs. Now he’s saying Congress’ decision to repeal it could actually increase costs.

… “There are many, and I am one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market,” he said. “And, consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks in that market.”

As Vox’s Dylan Scott notes, in this instance, the Price is right:

Right now, Dave Dillon with the Society of Actuaries is projecting a 2.5 to 7.5 percent increase for 2019 rates because of the mandate’s repeal. The Urban Institute, combining the mandate’s repeal with President Trump’s expansion of skimpier short-term plans, estimates that premiums will rise by nearly 20 percent on average nationwide.

And Republicans were no more forthright in their arguments for the Trump tax cuts. The president and his party insisted that their number-one priority on tax reform was to help the American worker.To reconcile their “middle-class tax cut” branding with their bill’s regressive substance, Republicans insisted that showering cash on corporations was the most efficient way to stimulate job creation and wage growth. Marco Rubio voted for a bill that was sold on these terms — after campaigning for the presidency on a plan that was broadly similar.

In an interview with The Economist last week, Rubio confessed that the official rationale for his party’s corporate tax cut was bogus.

“There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers,” Rubio said in. “In fact they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.”

Rubio is right. As Vox’s Emily Stewart notes:

Bloomberg analysis found that about 60 percent of tax cut gains will go to shareholders, compared to 15 percent for employees. A Morgan Stanley survey found that analysts estimate 43 percent of tax cut savings will go to stock buybacks and dividends, while 13 percent will go to pay raises, bonuses, and employee benefits. Just Capital’s analysis of 121 Russell 1000 companies found that 57 percent of tax savings will go to shareholders, compared to 20 percent directed to job creation and capital investment and 6 percent to workers. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 2:35 pm

Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Understand Journalism. Either that, or he doesn’t care.

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Adrienne LaFrance writes in the Atlantic:

Mark Zuckerberg wants you to know that he cares, really cares, about journalism.

“I view our responsibility in news as two things,” he said in a wide-ranging conversation with a small group of news editors and executives assembled in Palo Alto for a journalism gathering known as Off the Record on Tuesday afternoon. “One is making sure people can get trustworthy news.”

The other, he said, “is building common ground in society.” It turns out that “common ground” is suddenly Zuckerberg’s preferred euphemism. (That, and “community.”)

“You’re not going to be able to bridge common ground,” he said, unless you have a “common set of facts so that you can at least have a coherent debate.”

And here’s where the contradictions flood in.

Zuckerberg runs a media company that distributes news, but doesn’t have a proper newsroom. He runs a media company that has—with Google’s help—dominated the vast majority of digital ad dollars and eviscerated the journalism industry’s business model, all while preaching about the importance of journalism. He runs a media company that, he says, believes deeply in the need to sustain independent journalism, but won’t pay publishers to license journalistic content. And he runs a media company that has decided to show its users less news from professional outlets—it’s really not what people want to see, he says—in favor of more individual opinions.

According to Zuckerberg, the way you find common ground—a common set of facts—is not through professional news outlets, but via individuals. And Facebook, with its 2 billion or so users, has plenty of them. But while Zuckerberg said Facebook is now ranking news outlets by trustworthiness—in person, he didn’t seem to distinguish among the quality of opinions.

“I do think that in general, within a news organization, there is an opinion,” he said. “I do think that a lot of what you all do, is have an opinion and have a view.”

And Facebook, he says, simply “has more opinions.” Show users more opinions, and you give them more options. “It’s not about saying here’s one view; here’s the other side,” Zuckerberg said when I asked him to reconcile the contradiction. “You should decide where you want to be.”

Deciding what to believe based on other people’s opinions is not only not journalistic, it’s arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution. The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward. As any journalist can tell you, the best answer to the question “what happened?” is not why don’t you ask a bunch of your friends what they think, organize their views along a spectrum, and then decide where to plant yourself.

I was, apparently, not the only journalist in the room who took issue with Zuckerberg’s reasoning. His view isn’t just reductionist but outright Trumpian, argued Joseph Kahn, the managing editor of The New York Times, and particularly harmful to journalistic institutions at a time when the president of the United States has made an argument not unlike Zuckerberg’s to attack the free press. “The institutional values of most really good media companies should transcend any individual opinion,” Kahn said. And to say that journalism can be categorized the way Zuckerberg suggests is “part and parcel of the polarization of society.”

There was a pause.

“I think that’s fair,” Zuckerberg said. In a newspaper, he continued, publishing opinions in close proximity to the news is “pretty dangerous.” Facebook, on the other hand, is surveying readers to determine which professional news organizations are broadly trustworthy.

Facebook wants its users to see less news on its platform these days, and most publishers are feeling the pain. The latest algorithm tweaks were meant to prioritize information posted by users’ friends and family—community! common ground!—rather than by professional news outlets. The average decline in Facebook-referred traffic to top publishers in recent months, Zuckerberg said, is something like 20 percent.

At one point, Zuckerberg hinted at the need for government subsidy of American journalism—alluding to the public-television licensing model that supports the BBC. Couldn’t Facebook pay publishers directly by licensing their stories or programming? “Yeah,” Zuckerberg said, “I’m not sure that makes sense.”

“I think news is incredibly important to society and democracy,” he added. “It’s just that it’s a pretty small minority” of what people are reading on Facebook.

And besides, unlike the journalists in the room, he’s not worried about the ad-based revenue model falling apart on Facebook. “In our case,” he said, very slowly, surely aware of the perspective of the assembled group, “I think it’s okay.” . . .

Continue reading.

I have to say that my opinion of Zuckerberg is steadily dropping.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2018 at 1:03 pm

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