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Apr 02 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial Board: One Industry’s Hold on the Senate

Ever since Congress included a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices in President Obama’s health care reform law in 2009, there has been a forceful and well-financed campaign to repeal the tax – waged, naturally, by the medical device industry. It has donated generously to lawmakers and candidates, taken them on tours of their plants and spent tens of millions in lobbying. [..]

The tax, which applies to devices like artificial joints, pacemakers, wheelchairs and gloves, is expected to raise about $29 billion over 10 years. It is one of several sources of new revenue in the health care law that will pay for the expansion of health coverage to 30 million uninsured people, many of them poor. The industry claims the tax will hurt demand for its products, but, in fact, sales of these devices, which are not purchased directly by consumers, are unlikely to be affected by price, especially by a small tax increase. As more people receive health coverage that pays for devices, the industry will more than make up the cost of the tax.

Mike Lux: The Greatest Disappointment

There is a new report out this morning once again reminding us of the greatest disappointment progressives have in the Obama administration: the lack of toughness in regards to Wall Street. The report, issued by the Campaign for a Fair Settlement (full disclosure: this is a coalition I have helped in various ways since their founding), is probably the most harshly critical analysis yet by a coalition aligned with traditional progressive Democratic groups. The report opens with this damning list of hard-to-dispute facts, and then just goes on from there: [..]

So there are two questions that Obama loyalists might ask about this report. The first is whether all this negativity is truly deserved. The second is why Wall Street accountability activists are so obsessed with this issue.

Eugene Robinson: The Test Score Racket

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform-requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores-is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket. [..]

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely to cheat than students cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Wendell Potter: Is a High-Deductible Health Plan a Silver Bullet — or Snake Oil?

Those accustomed to obtaining health insurance through the workplace and choosing among different types of policies may be in for a rude surprise.

Increasingly, employers of all sizes are eliminating choice and offering only high-deductible plans — euphemistically referred to in the insurance world as consumer-directed health plans or HDHPs.

The looming shift has nothing to do with Obamacare or even the widely held belief that certain types of health plans will encourage people to give up costly bad habits like smoking. It is about profit.

Bil McKibben: The Methane Beneath Our Feet

Insouciant New Yorkers-here is another pending disaster to shrug off with characteristic brio! There is a huge, ongoing gas leak beneath your very feet. A team of natural gas experts recently commissioned to survey the New York system has found vastly elevated levels of methane in locations all over Manhattan, a clear indication that Con Ed’s 4,320-mile network of pipes, dating back to the 1800s, is corroded, full of holes, and spewing methane into the atmosphere. The main danger here is to planetary, not personal, safety: though it has received relatively little attention, methane, the primary component of natural gas, is second only to carbon dioxide on the list of greenhouse gases that are inducing climate change. [..]

Because of the grave threat methane poses to the climate, the dangers of natural gas leakages go well beyond the immediate risk of exploding manhole covers (though recent measurements in Washington, DC indicate that there is enough leaking gas to cause any cautious pedestrian a certain amount of worry). And given the vastness of the problem, the leaks challenge some of the basic assumptions of current US energy policy, which has aggressively endorsed natural gas as a “clean” and climate-friendly alternative to oil and coal.

James Hansen: Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain

Humanity’s Faustian climate bargain is well known. Humans have been pumping both greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and aerosols (fine particles) into the atmosphere for more than a century. The CO2 accumulates steadily, staying in the climate system for millennia, with a continuously increasing warming effect. Aerosols have a cooling effect (by reducing solar heating of the ground) that depends on the rate that we pump aerosols into the air, because they fall out after about five days. [..]

The tragedy of this science story is that the great uncertainty in interpretations of the climate

forcings did not have to be. Global aerosol properties should be monitored to high precision, similar to the way CO2 is monitored. The capability of measuring detailed aerosol properties has long existed, as demonstrated by observations of Venus. The requirement is measurement of the polarization of reflected sunlight to an accuracy of 0.1 percent, with measurements covering the spectral range from near ultraviolet to the near-infrared at a range of scattering angles, as is possible from an orbiting satellite. Unfortunately, the satellite mission designed for that purpose failed to achieve orbit, suffering precisely the same launch failure as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO). Although a replacement OCO mission is in preparation, no replacement aerosol mission is scheduled.