Major news a lot of us are missing

There are a lot of major things going on in the world besides Donald Trump. A few examples with links to more information:

  • Famine endangers 20 million people in Africa (Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan) and the Middle East (Syria and Yemen), leading to massive refugee movements. (The Associated Press, ABC News) The food problems are related to global-warming-caused climate change and wars. The wars are partly a result of the food crisis and refugee movements, and the wars in turn cause more famines and more refugees.
  • Conditions are getting desperate in Venezuela, with a political crisis leading among other things to failing hospitals. (The New York Times, The Atlantic)
  • Scandals are putting democracy in danger in Brazil. (Glen Greenwald in The Intercept)
  • Journalists are being jailed by the government in Turkey (probably more than in any other country) and murdered in Mexico by criminal gangs. (Turkish Minute, The New York Review of Books)

To give credit where it's due, I saw links to these articles in an email from Columbia Journalism Review.

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Why can't America have a grown-up healthcare conversation?

Here's another John Green vlog post I like, one March 28 but still very timely, on the subject of health insurance in the U.S. and the dismal level of conversation about it.


Passion tends to far exceed information or common sense on this subject. As I've mentioned before, I still hear people on the left say that we need single payer because that's what all other developed countries have, when in fact not all do. Britain, Australia, Italy, Canada, and Taiwan all have some form of single-payer, for example, but the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel do not.

What other countries do tend to have is universal or near-universal coverage and lower costs, achieved partly through smarter regulation and partly through the fact that they don't have the horrendously complicated and inefficient Rube Goldberg system we have with so many different systems in one country. U.S. Medicare, for example, is a complex mix of insurance systems with public and private components. There's basis Medicare Part A that provides coverage for hospital bills, optional Part B that covers doctor bills and the like, Part D that's subsidized drug coverage through multiple private insurance companies, Part C (Medicare Advantage) that's subsidized private insurance as an alternative to Part A and B and often also Part D, and there's private Medigap insurance, heavily regulated but not subsidized, for paying some of all of what the government part of Medicare doesn't pay, and can't be used with Medicare Part C.

Meanwhile, the main thing people on the right seem to know about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is that it's bad and awful because it has something to do with the government. The number of misconceptions about it is amazing. I just had a discussion with an intelligent person who nonetheless mistakenly thought the out-of-pocket spending limit found on Obamacare policies was a spending limit on what insurance companies paid. In fact it's a limit on what their customers pay. Obamacare certainly has its flaws (see this earlier post for one doctor's ideas on how to improve it), but it's amazing how much worse the Republican alternative passed by the House of Representatives is. Trump had promised insurance with lower premiums and deductibles and better coverage, and he ended up endorsing a House bill that's would be close to the opposite of that for most people.

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In praise of Trump for a change

Everybody, me included, lately seems to be finding fault with President Trump, so in fairness I thought I'd share this video clip courtesy of Late Night with Seth Meyers, in which Meyers and his former (and now slimmer) SNL colleague Horatio Sanz talk about doing a sketch with Trump on Saturday Night Live. It's a shame he didn't stick to comedy.


The line about a red-tailed hawk is a reference to an earlier part of the interview (link) in which among other things Sanz describes playing fetch with his dog Raisin which led to the discovery of a dead red-tailed hawk in his backyard.

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Politics 2017 May 20

Trump administration destabilizing health insurance markets possibly by accident

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that the Trump administration may be (intentionally or not) destabilizing the individual health insurance marketplace. That's based on complaints from the companies and from state regulators of both parties. "The growing frustration with the Trump administration's management -- reflected in letters to state regulators and in interviews with more than two dozen senior industry and government officials nationwide -- undercuts a key White House claim that Obamacare insurance marketplaces are collapsing on their own. Instead, according to many officials, it is the Trump administration that is driving much of the current instability by refusing to commit to steps to keep markets running, such as funding aid for low-income consumers or enforcing penalties for people who go without insurance."

Kevin Drum has some excellent (and rather pissed-off) commentary on that LA Times article here.

More negative polling news for Trump

Meanwhile, as previously noted, a recent Public Policy Polling survey found that nearly 2/3 of U.S. voters favor keeping and fixing Obamacare rather than repealing and replacing it. In keeping with other parts of PPP's survey, the latest poll from Monmouth University finds President Trump's job approval rating at 39-53 approve-disapprove, down from 43-46 two months before. Among residents of "swing counties," those where Trump and Clinton were within single digits of each other, Trump's approval rating plummeted to 34-54 last week from 41-46 in March. Meanwhile, 73 percent of those surveyed want the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the election to continue.

Trump expected to name non-scientist to top USDA science post

According to a May 12 article at ProPublica, President Trump's likely pick for undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics is likely to be Sam Clovis. By statute the position is supposed to be filled "from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics." Clovis has a doctorate in public administration and is a professor of business and public policy at Morningside College, but he appears to have no credentials or publications as a scientist, doesn't accept the scientific consensus on climate change, and is probably best known as a political activist and conservative talk radio host in Iowa.

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Where you live in the U.S. predicts how long you'll live

This three-and-a-half minute video from John Green discusses something a bit surprising: Your neighborhood, specifically your zip code, is strongly correlated with your life expectancy. Even a distance of a few miles can make a big difference, and the difference can be drastic, as much as 20 years.

Despite how Green makes it sound in the first part of the video, it's unlikely that location by itself directly causes all the difference in life expectancy. Some neighborhoods do have higher levels of pollution or violence, so living there can be dangerous. It's also true that some neighborhoods have less access to fresh food and places to exercise safely. So there probably is some geographical cause and effect.

But the U.S. also tends to be segregated by wealth, and it may be the difference in wealth rather than the difference in geography per se that explains the difference in average age of death. There are many other complications as well.

Anyway, it's interesting, not to mention troubling and surprising that the difference is so large:


Research into this has been going on for years. Doing a web search for "zip code life expectancy" will turn up links to many articles and videos. Here's an article from my public radio station's website in 2015 showing large differences in life expectancy even with a narrow area of the North Carolina Research Triangle.

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Glove and Boots

Glove and Boots is a YouTube channel that you ought to check out. It specializes in comedy starring puppets, but it's not a kid's show. I don't mean to suggest it's especially inappropriate for children (it's no worse than prime-time television), only that they're not its target audience. The main characters are a groundhog named Fafa and a non-groundhog named Mario. There are also multiple gorillas and a tough frog named Johnny T who might be mobbed up and sometimes uses indelicate language, which gets bleeped.

In this recent video Mario goes on location to conduct a series of experiments to evaluate the relative talents of a two-year-old dog and a two-year-old human.


(Take a look at that link above, by the way. It looks like what somebody mumbles while falling asleep.)

There's also a Glove & Boots gaming channel. I don't have the time to play video games myself, let alone watch somebody else play them, but the abbreviated example below is just the highlights and fairly funny (but again, I'm easily amused).


If you want to see more of these guys, here are links to the YouTube channels in question:

Main channel:

Gaming channel:

There are few other posts on this blog featuring Glove & Boots. Try this link.

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Net neutrality

Net neutrality is a policy that requires Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. ISPs would prefer to be able to make free money by letting giant corporations pay to slow down access to competitors' websites (or refrain from slowing down access to their own, a form of extortion that has actually happened). They of course claim that net neutrality somehow "stifles innovation," which people in the tech industry realize is meaningless nonsense. Other countries, where ISPs are regulated more tightly, actually tend to be ahead of the U.S. in terms of both pricing and data speeds.

(Incidentally, this has nothing to do with charging more money for more bandwidth. That's legitimate, at least provided there's no misrepresentation.)

Recently HBO's Last Week Tonight did a segment on net neutrality updating its original one from 2014. In it host John Oliver urged people to comment in favor of net neutrality on the FCC's public comment page, and since the FCC didn't make it easy to find the page in question, Oliver and company created a URL that would link directly to it and gave it the memorable name The FCC site attracted lots of comments partly as a result, but anti-neutrality messages flooded in as well, apparently sent automatically in high volume and with fake names attached. If you haven't expressed yourself yet, click on the link above. Comments were not being taken for a while for procedural reasons, but they should be open to them again now.

Following the original 2014 segment for reference. You don't need to watch it to understand Oliver's major points, since he goes into them again in the second video below. If you're really pressed for time, the third video is the shortest and covers the major points.


Here's the newer one that aired May 7:


Here's his update published on line May 14. Those in a hurry can watch just this clip and get the gist:


Finally, if you think John Oliver is too dang liberal and you don't want to listen to no dang liberals, here's what The Wall Street Journal, which ain't no dang liberal, had to say before the FCC's ruling in favor of Net Neutrality in early 2015:


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Politics 2017 May 18

Trump administration likely to propose massive cuts to education funding

The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration plans drastic cuts to education in the next fiscal year. Among other things, college work-study funds would be cut in half, and a program that reduces college loan debt for new teachers would end entirely.

Conservative urges fellows not to assume news they don't like is fake

Kevin D Williamson reminds fellow conservatives via National Review that the mainstream media, for all their flaws, aren't "fake news." He gives the example of Sean Hannity reading with approval an article from the mainstream Associated Press and then weirdly declaring, "The mainstream media won't tell you about that!" Increasingly, he says, he encounters people who believe false Internet rumors (e.g., that Hillary Clinton was disbarred) and instead dismiss valid corrections as false. "The irony is that they have fallen for fake news, and retreat into 'fake news!' when their gullibility is shown."

Erick Erickson on why Trump's White House loyalists talk to the press

Another conservative, blogger and radio host Erick Erickson, said Tuesday that he personally knows a White House staffer who has leaked to the press despite being a staunch Trump loyalist. The reason, according to Erickson, is that "the President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack." But Trump does pay attention to the news, so leaking to the press is a way to get Trump to pay attention.

Erickson adds something particularly troubling: "I am told that what the President did is actually far worse than what is being reported. The President does not seem to realize or appreciate that his bragging can undermine relationships with our allies and with human intelligence sources. He also does not seem to appreciate that his loose lips can get valuable assets in the field killed."

Early warnings of Trump admin's carelessness with classified information

There are signs the problem isn't just with President Trump. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recently quoted a January article in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth saying that American intelligence officers had warned their Israeli colleagues to be cautious about revealing sensitive sources to the new administration for fear it would reach Iran via Russia. More recently the Associated Press reported on breaches of security protocol by Trump's team during the transition period. On the snark front, The Guardian quoted a tweet, from Jeb Bush campaign strategist (and frequent Trump critic) David Kochel: "John McCain probably revealed less to the KGB in 5+ years of torture at the Hanoi Hilton than Trump did in 5 minutes in the Oval."

Kevin Drum disputes NYT on rising household debt

Yesterday The New York Times reported that "Americans have now borrowed more money than they had at the height of the credit bubble in 2008, just as the global financial system began to collapse." But Kevin Drum responded that this number is misleading in that it overlooks inflation, population growth, the larger economy, and lower interest rates. A better measure of household debt load is the percentage of disposable income going to loan repayment. That, it turns out, has been around 10 percent for the past five years, the lowest level in decades. I'd add that interest rates are rising so household debt bears watching, but Drum's clearly right that total debt is in itself a misleading statistic.

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The Gunfighter, a very entertaining short film

My thanks to my friend Derek Roff for pointing out this short film, which turns out to have won a whole series of audience awards at film festivals. It's rated "Mature" on Vimeo for dialog (language and comic references to naughtiness), but there's no on-screen sex. The narrator is Nick Offerman.

The Gunfighter from Eric Kissack on Vimeo. Link:

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