Category Archives: Governance

Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

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Headline of the day: Another fox in the henhouse


From the New York Times:

Trump’s E.P.A. Pick Backed Industry Donors Over Regulators

  • If confirmed by the Senate, Scott Pruitt could be in charge of policing industries that have long helped advance his political career.
  • His antipathy to federal regulation in many ways defined his tenure as Oklahoma’s chief law enforcement officer.

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Gasolinazo protests continue to rage in Mexico


The gasolinazo, the name Mexicans have given the the government-mandated 20 percent hike in gas prices as a result of the partial privatization of Mexico’s national oil monopoly, continues to inspire massive discontent.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration mandated the price hike. Has watched his poll numbers plummet, with only one in four Mexicans approving of his handling of the office.

And now he’s trying to cool things down.

From the Associated Press:

Mexico’s president tried again on Thursday to calm anger over the big jump in gasoline prices this month amid a historically weak currency and continued threats by Donald Trump to steer manufacturers back to the United States.

In his latest speech, the deeply unpopular President Enrique Pena Nieto outlined measures that he said would help families mitigate the impact of the price hike. Yet steps like notifying more than 3 million Mexicans older than 65 that they have money in government retirement accounts seemed unlikely to dissipate the outrage that led to widespread looting in parts of the country and marches calling for his resignation.

Earlier this week, Pena Nieto promised to police price increases for staple goods and invest in modernizing public transportation. But it was difficult to see how any of that could make up for the overnight 20 percent increase in the price of gasoline when the government ended price controls.

After days of seeking ways to strike a calming chord, Pena Nieto tried taking a more relaxed posture Thursday, leaning casually on the podium, cracking jokes — and telling Mexicans to suck it up.

Protests lead to State Department warning

Just how tense the situation in Mexico has become can be judged by this travel advisory from the State Department:

The U.S. Consulate General Nogales informs U.S. citizens that large demonstrations are expected at Port of Entry DeConcini January 14-15, 2017 to protest the increase in gasoline prices.  U.S. citizens are urged to use the Mariposa Port of Entry until further notice. As always, avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.

Demonstrations in Nogales last Sunday turned violent, with police firing numerous warning shots in an attempt to turn back protesters.

Protests continue, on a reduced scale

A report from Business Insider:

Protests against the gas price hike imposed by the Mexican government at the start of this year have spread across the country, appearing in at least 28 of Mexico’s 32 states.

Many of the protests have been peaceful, but in some areas demonstrators have shut down gas stations and facilities belonging to the state oil company, Pemex.

Elsewhere, protests against the gasolinazo, as the price increase has come to be called, have boiled over into looting and violence.

In Mexico City, one police officer was killed while trying to stop looting at a department store, and elsewhere police officers joined in to ransack stores. At least six people have been killed and more than 1,500 have been arrested.

Looting seen during the first week of the year largely subsided this week, but in Tijuana, which shares the Western Hemisphere’s busiest land-border crossing with San Diego, protesters continue to block traffic and confront authorities. Since the price increase — designed to let prices float in response to supply and demand — Tijuana and Baja California state have seen some of the country’s highest prices.

One protest, a blockade in the city of Rosarita, turned violent earlier this week, with at least seven people hurt when a truck rammed the barricade.

A video via the San Diego Informer:

U.S. gas stations on the border do a booming business

While the gasolinazo had been bad for Mexican businesses, it’s proving a real boon for one kind of business on this side of the border.

From Bloomberg Markets:

Mexico’s fuel market liberalization has done something rarely seen before: make California’s pump prices look cheap.

Drivers are flooding across the border to southern California to fill up on gasoline, after protesters blocking distribution centers near the Baja California capital of Mexicali caused stations to run dry. Antunez’s Shell gas station in Calexico is just five blocks away from the Mexican border and rarely has business been as busy as now. Mexicali drivers wait four to five hours to cross into the U.S. just to fill their fuel tanks and then wait two more hours to cross back into Mexico.

>snip<

Unleaded gasoline in Mexicali was increased in January to 16.17 pesos a liter, or $2.815 a gallon. Seventeen miles north across the border in El Centro, California, pump prices jumped 5.3 cents a gallon to average $2.718 as of 5 p.m. New York time Wednesday, according to GasBuddy, a price tracking company.

“There is a very important commercial exchange happening in the border region,” said Jose Angel Garcia, the president of Mexico gasoline retailer association Onexpo. “There are trucks with large tanks being used to bring fuel into Mexico from the U.S.”

More from CSP News, a trade publication for gasoline retailers in the U.S.:

In Calexico, Calif., gas stations reported a tripling in fuel sales and waits of an hour or more for fill-ups, according to The Desert Sun. The town of 40,000 sits across the border from Mexicali, where protesters had earlier blocked the road into the central fuel distribution center, causing local gas stations to run out of fuel. Federal police cleared the blockade, but waits for fuel in Mexicali were still more than an hour that same day.

“It’s great for us,” Juan Arce, the manager of two SoCo Express gas stations in Calexico, told the newspaper. “I do feel bad for the people to the south.”

Several retailers in Calexico reported similar spikes in business. “It’s been more than double,” said Carlos Vera, manager of a Shell-branded site. On a high-volume day, the gas station typically sells 5,000 gallons of gas; the weekend of Jan. 7, it sold nearly 10,000. Its supplier has had to refill its underground storage tanks each day, Vera said.

Motorists were filling up gallon gasoline containers, empty laundry soap containers and even metal barrels to bring back into Mexico for family and friends.

Cartels add gas to their drug business

And in Mexico, there’s one organization already doing business in a highly valued commodity where the demand is great and the market is eager to buy.

So it should come as no surprise that they, too, are getting into the gasolinazo.

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

The black market is booming. Several states experienced gasoline shortages at the end of last year as more thieves tapped into state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipelines. The pilfered fuel was sold to drivers hoping to save money. Pipeline theft in 2015 increased sevenfold, to more than 5,500 taps, from just 710 in 2010. Pemex attributes the company’s 12-year slide in crude production in part to the growth in illegal taps.

The drug cartels have turned to fuel theft as a side business worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and crime groups focused solely on gasoline robbery have sprung up, says Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Empra, a political-risk consulting firm in Mexico City. “You only need to invest $5,000 or $8,000 to buy some specific equipment, and the outcome of that is huge earnings.”

Fuel theft creates a vicious cycle: The theft increases costs for Pemex and makes the official gasoline supply more scarce, contributing to higher prices for legal consumers. Theft amounts to about $1 billion a year, says Luis Miguel Labardini, an energy consultant at Marcos y Asociados and senior adviser to Pemex’s chief financial officer in the 1990s. “If Pemex were a public company, they would be in financial trouble just because of the theft of fuel,” he says. “It’s that bad.”

And while on the subject of funny business. . .

Consider this from teleSUR English:

An anti-corruption group in Mexico revealed Tuesday that the energy minister, as well as relatives of President Enrique Peña Nieto, had financial interests in the recent gas hikes that have sparked protests across the country for the second week in a row.

Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell is a shareholder of four of the five gas stations on the Caribbean island of Cozumel in partnership with his sister and two sons.

One of the gas stations was closed down in April 2016 over alleged manipulations of prices, as the station was not providing the amount of diesel customers were paying for, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity exposed in the official reports by Profeco, the oil watchdog in Mexico. The ruling was appealed.

The investigative paper Aristegui Noticias denounced a conflict of interests even more problematic in the context of the contested gas price hike. “Coldwell is the head of the energy sector in Mexico. As the energy minister, he could access privileged information on the oil business,” said the article.

Coldwell denied any interference in the administration of the four gas stations in an interview with the anti-corruption group, adding he will pass over his shares to a trustee in order to avoid conflicts of interests.

Nicotine-based pesticides, bees, and the deniers


Nicotine, as we all know by now, is a powerful poison.

blog-black-leafSo powerful that on 22 November 1963 [yes, that day] the Central Intelligence Agency once sent an agent to kill Fidel Castro with a syringe disguised as a fountain pen and filled  Black Leaf 40, a powerful nicotine-based insecticide that our father used the stuff to kill mites on his roses.

Black Leaf 40 is no longer with us, following a 1992 ban on its use by the Environmental Protection Agency — you know, the department Trump wanted to eliminate — because of its widespread long-term environmental hazards as well as it’s propensity to poison people.

But the ban on Black Leaf 40 didn’t stop the widespread current use of nicotine-based insecticides, using nicotine-based chemicals called neonicotinoids.

How widespread is their use here in the U.S.?

Consider this chart from How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees — The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees, a very informative new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

More from the report’s Executive Summary:

Neonicotinoids have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as ornamental landscape plants. They are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and have been for a decade. Developed as alternatives for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals. Although less acutely toxic to mammals and other vertebrates than older insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including beneficial insects such as bees.

The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects such as honey bees and native bees is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period. In addition, depending on the compound, rate, and method of application, neonicotinoids can persist in the soil and be continually taken in by plants for a very long periods of time.

Across Europe and North America, a possible link to honey bee die-offs has made neonicotinoids controversial. In December 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of clothianidin, imiadcloprid, and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops. In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, local, state, and federal decision makers are also taking steps to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges lands starting in January 2016.

The European Union has banned the used of three neonicotinoids —  clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — and restricted the use of a fourth, fipronil.

Given that bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat, impacts on apians is a cause for deep concern.

A Colorado city bans nicotine-derivative insecticides

More on the good reasons for concern, as summarized in the following, taken from  Boulder, Colorado city government website section on protecting pollinators:

One group of pesticides, the neonicotinoid insecticides (also called neonics), stand out as a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are extremely toxic to pollinators at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An  analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.

The city was so concerned that in May 2015, the city banned use of the chemicals on city land and urged similar actions by individuals, corporations, and state and federal government as well.

Canada to ban a popular neonicotnoid

One of the most widely used neonicitinoids in imidacloprid, and back in November CBC News reported that the Canadian government’s health agency is proposing a nationwide band on the substance based on its impacts on bees:

“Based on currently available information, the continued high-volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable,” the assessment states.

It proposes phasing out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid, and a majority of other uses, over the next three to five years.

“I’m really surprised,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the university’s Centre for Dialogue.

“To take an action to phase out a chemical that is so ubiquitous, and for which there is so much lobbying pressure from industry, I think that’s a really bold move.”

After the jump, impacts from use on one crop, the industry denial machine, and bee behavioral impacts. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: U.S. poor hit as water bills soar


Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

While lead-tainted water in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods has garnered a lot of attention in recent months, another water water is plaguing the nation’s poor: Soaring home water bills.

The problem is a direct result of the ruthless waves of government downsizing and privatization of public resources, and it’s bound to get much worse as cash-strapped cities finding themselves unable to repair aging infrastructure.

Consider this from the abstract of a sobering review in the open access scientific journal PLOS One:

If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

More on the study from Michigan State University:

If water rates continue rising at projected amounts, the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent, finds new research by a Michigan State University scholar.

Elizabeth Mack said a variety of factors, ranging from aging infrastructure to climate change to population decline in urban areas, are making residents’ ability to afford water and wastewater services a burgeoning crisis.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and published online in the journal PLOS ONE, her study is one of the first nationwide investigations of water affordability.

“In cities across the United States, water affordability is becoming an increasingly critical issue,” said Mack, an assistant geography professor who analyzed water consumption, pricing and demographic and socioeconomic data for the study.

Spending on water and wastewater services combined should make up no more than 4.5 percent of household income, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Based on that criteria, some 13.8 million U.S. households (or 11.9 percent of all households) may find water bills unaffordable – a hardship that hits poor families particularly hard, Mack said.

Water rates have increased 41 percent since 2010, and if they continue at that pace over the next five years the number of households that cannot afford water and wastewater services could soar to an estimated 40.9 million, or 35.6 percent of all households.

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Headline of the day II: All in the TrumpFamily™


Call it the nepotism loophole.

From the London Daily Mail:

Donald Trump appoints ‘incredibly successful’ son-in-law Jared Kushner to White House as ‘Senior Advisor’ – but he won’t be paid a penny to avoid nepotism laws

  • Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was named ‘senior advisor to the president’ on Monday
  • Kushner was instrumental in Trump’s campaign and had signaled that he planned to move to Washington and work for the president-elect 
  • He has been separating himself from his global real estate business, while he and Ivanka Trump have settled on a Washington, D.C., home