Category: Current Affairs (page 1 of 2)

Current Affairs Discussion Group

Current Affairs: Single Payer for Healthcare, Nov 15, 2018

Discussion leader: Charlie Goodyear

Current Affairs: Global Warming, Dec 13, 2018

Discussion leader:Jack Neafsey

Global Warming
What we probably agree on by Bob Baker:
Atmospheric CO2 levels are now at the highest of the past million years. This has occurred while CO2 emissions have risen since the start of the industrial revolution.

Current atmospheric level of 410 ppm compares to 280 ppm at start of industrial revolution
For the past 4-5 years CO2 emissions have leveled off at about 100 million tons per year.
This compares with about 60 million tons per year in 1990, when temperatures were rising.

Global temperatures have an erratic yr. to yr. change but have risen since 1950 by about .7 degree C at sea level and about 1 degree C at land surface.

In 1990, the temp. increases were at about their midpoint, such that if CO2 emissions were to drop to the 1990 level, we would not expect any decline in the rate of temperature increase.

The growth in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels has resulted from the consumer choice for consuming these fuels vs alternatives. The added cost for alternatives is not known.

What is at issue is the target in the “Paris Accords” to limit global temperature rise to 2.0 degrees C (but with a preferred target of a 1.5degree rise) in some target year. No agreed level of global emissions has been set; any reduction of atmospheric CO2 will need “CO2 capture and containment” which has not been demonstrated as feasible on a large scale. Lowering CO2 emissions does not lower atmospheric CO2 levels.

Estimated costs for meaningful reductions in fossil fuel use are huge, with the assumption that these will offset future costs of higher world temperatures.

About a billion persons do not have access to a reliable supply of electricity. What is the optimum method/cost for meeting this demand?

Several humanitarian uses for large expenditures can be identified which can yield with near-term results. (Between and one and two million persons die each year: lack of clean water, malaria, HIV and malnutrition).

What is the best use of huge mandated expenditures?

What’s with this wild weather? Blame an ‘extreme’ jet stream pattern.
The Washington Post

“Even veteran meteorologists with decades of experience are astounded,” said Capital Weather Gang’s severe weather expert.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2018/07/25/extreme-jet-stream-pattern-has-spurred-a-week-of-wild-weather-in-u-s/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.36353023b7f0

Current Affairs: Immigration Revisited, September 20, 2018

Discussion leaders: David Mace & Charlie Goodyear

Migrants Are on the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes – The New York Times
Migrants Around the World

Key facts about U.S. immigration policies and proposed changes | Pew Research Center
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/02/26/key-facts-about-u-s-immigration-policies-and-proposed-changes/

Companies Say Trump Is Hurting Business by Limiting Legal Immigration – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/02/business/trump-legal-immigration-h1b-visas.html?action=click&module=Top Stories&pgtype=Homepage


https://www.wola.org/analysis/fact-sheet-united-states-immigration-central-american-asylum-seekers/

https://www.epi.org/publication/immigration-facts/

https://theconversation.com/us/topics/immigration-411

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/16/us/immigration-family-chain-migration-foreign-born.html?action=click&module=Top Stories&pgtype=Homepage

Current Affairs: International Trade, October 18, 2018

Discussion leader: Harris Hester

Foreign Affairs.  Three Cheers for Trump’s Foreign Policy: What the establishment misses by Randy Schweller

Foreign Affairs & Trade

China’s Small Share of an iphone

China’s Share of iphone

This is a brief fact check on the relationship between the federal deficit and the trade deficit.

http://www.crfb.org/blogs/did-trade-deficit-cause-20-trillion-debt

This is a more in depth analysis of the same thing.

https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/us-trade-deficit-not-debt-repay

 

 

Current Affairs: Gun Control, June 21, 2018

8:15 Lilian Gade room

Discussion Leader: Charles Salmans

Gun Control

Interpreting The Second Amendment – The Right to Bear Arms

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The historical debate over the language of this amendment, as to whether this is an individual right or a right in conjunction with service in “a well regulated militia”, has antecedents before the amendment was drafted. John Adams wrote that Congress should not prevent peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. James Madison, in Federalist Paper 46, wrote about the right to bear arms within state militias as a means to keep in check a federal army.

In a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, District of Columbia vs. Heller, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, argued that the right to bear arms was a “right of the whole people, an individual right.” Justice Stevens disagreed in a minority opinion, arguing that this was a right in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia.

The following Wikipedia entry summarizes interpretations and rulings over the years:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Legal restrictions on weapons ownership that comply with the Second Amendment

The right to bear arms does not guarantee the right to buy or possess any weapon. Wikipedia on Federal Gun Control Laws

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_law_in_the_United_States

In 1939, in US vs. Miller, the Supreme Court upheld the law banning the right to buy, sell or possess a sawed-off shotgun.

From 1994-2004, there was a Federal ban on assault weapons, but that lapsed when Congress refused to renew it under pressure from the NRA. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban for definition of “assault weapons” under the law.

In the 2008 Heller decision, Justice Scalia wrote that the right to bear arms had boundaries. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” For example he cited laws that prohibit the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or that forbid them in places such as schools and government buildings, or impose conditions on their sale. In other words, gun enthusiasts are wrong when they claim that any limitation on firearms is unconstitutional.

President Trump has called for a ban on “bump stocks” that effectively turn a semi-automatic weapon into a full automatic weapon, but although this has been filed as a proposed rule change by the Justice Department, it has not yet been implemented by the Justice Department and will be challenged.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bump-stock-ban-trump_us_5ab92cf5e4b0decad04cb02a
There are also concerns that it will be hard to enforce, as some 500,000 are in circulation.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposed-bump-stock-ban-would-be-tough-to-enforce-1523185201

The President has also called for the age limit for purchase of a firearm be raised to 21. That proposal is opposed by the NRA and has not been implemented as yet. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-trump-vows-care-bump-stocks-executive-action/story?id=53421961

CDC and other Data on Gun Deaths

Gun death statistics kept by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) counted 38,658 deaths in 2016 (including suicides). Data collected by Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks media and law enforcement reports of shootings estimated that

3,964 children and teenagers were shot in 2017 including fatal and nonfatal shootings (CDC: 6,400 children and teens have been shot each year)
Incidents of defensive gun use were 2,030 in 2017 (the majority of gun owners cite self defense as their primary reason for owning a gun.
Unintentional shootings dropped by 9%. Only four states have some form of law requiring gun owners to safely store their guns when not in use, a practice linked to lower rates of accidental shootings.

The First Estimate of 2017 Gun Deaths Is In

A trauma surgeon describes high velocity wounds, such as from an AR-15 or an AK-47, that are much more destructive than those from a low velocity weapon. The bullet destroys whole areas of the body and shatters bone into hundreds of microscopic pieces.

When a Bullet Enters a Body: Gun Violence as Seen by a Trauma Surgeon

Correlation between rate of gun ownership and gun violence, effect of Background Checks on gun deaths and suicide rates

Among US states and among countries, there is a correlation between the rate of gun ownership and gun violence.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/2/16399418/us-gun-violence-statistics-maps-charts

Gun ownership correlates with gun deaths. Connecticut and other New England states rank low in gun ownership and gun deaths.

Developed countries with more guns have more gun deaths.

America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, 16 times as many as Germany.

The US has 4.4% of the world’s population, but nearly half of all civilian-owed guns around the world.

There have been more than 1,600 mass shootings since Sandy Hook (defined as four or more people shot in an incident) but these are a tiny percentage of firearm deaths.

States with Universal Background Checks had fewer gun deaths and those with stricter gun provisions had fewer suicide deaths.

https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21739193-washington-dithers-and-argues-some-states-show-way-what-works-reduce-gun-deaths?fsrc=scn/fb/te/bl/ed/whatworkstoreducegundeathsfirearmsandthelaw

Federal law requires background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm through a licensed dealer, but says nothing about private sales or transactions at gun shows. Many buyers slip through this loophole. A survey of 1,613 gun-owners published in 2017 found that 42% had acquired their most recent weapon without a background check. The internet has made sales even harder to police. A probe by private investigators hired by New York City in 2011 found that 62% of online private sellers agreed to sell guns to people who stated they “probably could not pass a background check”.

Proposals to further restrict gun ownership

Constitutional Amendment or Supreme Court ruling that departs from the 2008 District of Columbia vs. Heller ruling and links the “right to bear arms” to militia (National Guard?) membership.

Both these seem unlikely.
Proposals by the Parkland Students.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/mar/23/parkland-students-manifesto-americas-gun-laws?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=268684&subid=13072209&CMP=GT_US_collection
Ban semi-automatic weapons that fire high velocity rounds.

Ban accessories that simulate automatic weapons such as bump stocks.

Establish a database of gun sales and universal background checks paired with data on individuals’ infringement of gun laws, criminal offenses, and mental records.

Change privacy laws to allow healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement.

Close gun show and secondhand sales loopholes.

Allow the CDC to make recommendations for gun reform.

Raise the firearm purchase age to 21.

Dedicate more funds to mental health.

Increase funding for school security.
Other proposals:

“Red Flag Laws” – Extreme risk protection orders allowing the police to take away guns from people deemed by a judge to be dangerous, often after a family member or acquaintance raises concerns. Connecticut was the first state, in 1999, to pass such a law.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/red-flag-laws-guns.html

Require gun-buyers to apply for permits or licenses and to pass safety training. Twelve states and Washington, DC have such laws, several of which require would-be handgun-buyers to pass safety training. Canada has such a requirement. Some require people to turn up at their local sheriff’s office or police department. This may deter so-called “straw purchases”, in which someone stands in for a debarred buyer.

The Australian Solution. Make it illegal to own an unregistered firearm and then have periodic amnesties to allow people to turn over firearms without prosecution. To date, some 700,000 firearms have been surrendered to authorities in Australia.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-43236421
“The good guy with a gun” proposal.

Australia had a serious problem with gun violence. Here’s what happened after the country tried gun control

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-05-31/australia-tried-gun-control-and-here-s-what-happened-video-jhuqhlci?utm_campaign=news&utm_medium=bd&utm_source=applenews 

Allow teachers and officials to carry guns in K-12 schools. Case history of an Ohio school where unnamed teachers have received training and have secured access to firearms.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/01/us/armed-teachers-guns-schools.html

Allow concealed carry without a permit and in more places. Concealed carry reciprocity would allow citizens who live in a state that allows concealed carry to legally carry in states that do not have concealed carry.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concealed_carry_in_the_United_States

Problem of Overhang of Guns already in Private Possession

If new controls were imposed upon the sale and/or possession of firearms of various types, there still would be the problem of the weapons already in circulation. Presuming that the US attitude toward guns is different than in Australia, it’s unlikely that a high percentage of guns in private ownership would be turned in. Arguably, those that remained would command a high price on the black market (and bid on by those with nefarious purposes).

Of the roughly 300 million firearms owned by Americans, an estimated 8.5 million to 15 million are AR-15 and similar assault style rifles according to the NRA
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article201882739.html

Even if the ban on “bump stocks” was imposed today, there are some 500,000 in circulation.

I was unable to find an estimate of the number of high capacity magazines in circulation.

American Gun Violence and Culture

It is not more difficult to buy guns or ammunition in Canada than the US, but the rate of homicide by guns is much less. Homicides in Canada are 5.1 per 100,000 vs 29.7 in the US. Virtually every gun used in an American mass shooting is legally available for purchase in Canada.

One difference: nobody legally buys a gun in Canada without first taking the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. Then they have to submit an application for a license where they are screened for risk factors such as criminal history and mental health. Unlike the US, where gun ownership is closely correlated with self defense, according to surveys most Canadians believe the only reason for owning a gun is to kill animals or to shoot at paper targets.

Most guns in school shootings come from home.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-school-shootings-most-guns-come-from-home-1522920600?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1

 

NYT’s Opinion – How to Reduce Shootings
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/06/opinion/how-to-reduce-shootings.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

 

NBC News: Rural America is mad about proposed gun laws. So they’re creating ‘gun sanctuaries.’

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/rural-america-mad-about-proposed-gun-laws-so-they-re-n877481

Active Shooter Video Game
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/us/parkland-shooter-video-game.html

We don’t have much that discounts the importance of gun control relative to psychology/sociology. I was listening to The New Yorker Radio Hour on NPR this morning and there was an 11 minute segment by Malcolm Gladwell that argued that there are too many guns already in circulation to make gun control an effective way of stopping school shootings. (He also pointed out that there were plenty of guns out there before school shootings became commonplace.

The segment cites a study that showed that incidents once regarded as so rare as to be almost unique motivate copycats as the second, then third, then fourth…incidents take place. In effect, school shooters have become part of a self-perpetuating subculture.
https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/the-new-yorker-radio-hour/malcolm-gladwell-on-school-shootings-and-the-return-of-paul-schrader

Women Should Be at Vanguard of the Gun-Control Movement –
Murders by firearms by husbands, boyfriends and other male partners surpass the number of victims of mass shootings.
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-30/women-should-be-leading-the-fight-for-stricter-gun-laws

Current Affairs: End of Life Care – Issues and Policies, May 17, 2018

Discussion leader: Jim Phillips
Just because we can extend life, should we? The U.S. is expected to spend $2.8 trillion on health care in 2012. Medicare alone will cost taxpayers $590 billion, with over 25% going toward patients in their last year of life. If health care is a scarce resource, limited by its availability and our ability to pay for it, should government step in to ration care, deciding whose life is worth saving? In other words, how much is an extra month of life worth?

For The Motion
The U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrial nation—in 2012 we are expected to spend $2.8 trillion. We cannot afford our health care system and expensive end-of-life care costs are a major contributor to this problem.
Rationing means getting better value for the trillions we spend every year.
Rationing already happens. Medicare decides what it will reimburse, private insurance decides what they will cover, and individuals go without care and medicine every day when they can’t afford it.
We must ration based on cost-effectiveness, not on an individual’s ability to pay.
If we spent less on those who, with or without treatment, have only a few months left to live, we would be better able to help those who may have decades.
Against The Motion
The government should not have the power to determine who lives, who dies, and who gets treatment based on calculations of quality and quantity of life.
Health care costs can be reined in without rationing care.
Targeting “end-of-life” care specifically would result in very little cost savings.
Rationing care will lead us down a moral slippery slope. How many years of life is enough? Who is productive and worthy, and who is not?

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/ration-end-life-care

In 1994, Oregon voters passed the Death with Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Since then, it has become legal in 4 more states, including New Mexico, where the state court ruling that it is constitutional is under appeal. Is it, in the words of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer”? Will these laws lead to a slippery slope, where the vulnerable are pressured to choose death and human life is devalued? Or do we need to recognize everyone’s basic right to autonomy, the right to end pain and suffering, and the right to choose to die with dignity?

For The Motion
The right to die as one chooses—and to decide when life is no longer worth living—is integral to human freedom, liberty, and personal autonomy. Neither the government, nor religious institutions, should impose their own conceptions of morality upon individuals who are not harming others.
As an option in end-of-life care, aid in dying would allow terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to retain dignity and bodily integrity in the face of insurmountable pain and suffering.
In places where assisted suicide is legal—namely, Oregon and the Netherlands—there is no evidence that the law is being abused, that vulnerable populations are being targeted, or that patients are being coerced by doctors and/or their families to choose death.
If physician-assisted suicide remains illegal, lesser and more dangerous alternatives—shooting oneself, enlisting doctors or family to break the law, DIY suicide—will spread in its place.
Against The Motion
If assisted suicide is legalized, we will be led down a slippery slope towards pervasive medical killing, endangering vulnerable populations—disabled, elderly, minority, or poor—whose lives are seen as a burden on society.
If pain is treated effectively, there is no need to treat the patient as if the patient were the “problem to be eliminated.”
Starting with the Hippocratic Oath, medical professional codes prohibit killing, holding the intrinsic value of human life and dignity above all other ethical principles. Assisted suicide erodes the doctor-patient relationship and has grave potential for misuse and abuse.
Many physicians do not want to have God-like power over others, and they should not be pressured, against their own convictions, to assist in a patient’s suicide.
https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/legalize-assisted-suicide

 

As people approach the end of their lives, they and their families commonly face tasks and decisions that include a broad array of choices ranging from simple to extremely complex. They may be practical, psychosocial, spiritual, legal, existential, or medical in nature.

http://www.apa.org/topics/death/end-of-life.aspx

End-Of-Life Policy Solutions: A Cautionary Note
https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20170710.060992/full/

Ethical Issues Surrounding End-of-Life Care: A Narrative Review
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934577/

How to Curb the High Cost of Caregiving
https://www.barrons.com/articles/how-to-curb-the-high-cost-of-caregiving-1521253021

HOW TO ENROLL IN VETERANS HEALTH INSURANCE (TRICARE)
http://www.dummies.com/personal-finance/veterans-benefits/how-to-enroll-in-veterans-health-insurance-tricare/

How to grow old in your own home
https://www.fidelity.com/insights/retirement/aging-in-place

Paying for Care
https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/paying-care

Problems and Solutions in End-of-Life Healthcare
http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/leadership/problems-and-solutions-end-life-healthcare#

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-talk-with-your-dying-loved-one-1523891127

Current Affairs: Refugees, April 19, 2018

Discussion leader: David Mace

 

Here is a good overview piece from the Pew Research Center on refugees

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/30/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/

IQ2  Debate:

Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Most have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but many have risked death to reach Europe and the possibility of a better life. Unlike Europe and Syria’s neighbors, the United States has had the advantage of picking and choosing from afar, taking in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees since the war’s start. The Obama administration has pledged to take another 10,000 in 2016, but there are some who suggest that we are falling well below the number that we can and should accept. What are our moral obligations, and what are the cultural, economic, and security issues that must be taken into account? Should the U.S. let in 100,000 Syrian refugees?

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/us-should-let-100000-syrian-refugees

Fact sheet supporting the debate:

http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Refugee-Facts-Oct-2015-FINAL.pdf

And a rebuttal to the fact sheet:

https://cis.org/Report/FactChecking-Fact-Sheet-Refugee-Resettlement

 

 

Current Affairs: Inequality and increasing job automation, March 15, 2018

Discussion leader: Bryan Hooper

The American Dream is still alive, but it has been fading into the distance with the growth of inequality of income and wealth distribution over the past few decades. There are some good research guides to help us understand the current situation and provide a basis for discussion of how changes in automation might affect the situation in future. In particular, the economists Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Raj Chetty of Stanford University specialize in the study of inequality and its causes and possible cures, and the reading items suggested in these notes draw on their work.

  • The first recommendation is the World Inequality Report, which was part-authored by Thomas Piketty, and released in December, 2017. Download the executive summary from their website below and you will see in pages 4 through 16 a comprehensive review of the global situation, including an analysis of reasons for the rise in inequality and some suggestions to change the situation into a more equitable distribution. The use of well-designed charts is outstanding, and Figure E3 that illustrates the comparison between the USA and Western Europe is a good example. It shows that in the USA over a period of 36 years the share of national income of the top 1% doubled to 20% through 2016, while the bottom 50% saw its share decline from 20% to 13%. In Western Europe, in contrast, the top 1% share grew from 10% to 12%, and the bottom 50% declined from 24% to 22%. Figure E8 shows that the share of wealth (as opposed to income) rose for the top 1% in the USA from 22% in 1980 to 39% in 2014. The report is on:
    http://wir2018.wid.world/

    For those of you with really limited time go to the review of key findings from the report in a New York Times article from 12/14/2017:
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/14/business/world-inequality.html

    • The second major recommendation is to pull up The Equality of Opportunity Project website, and look at the second chart on the home page that provides the support for the first sentence of these notes. To quote, “Our work shows that children’s prospects of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90% to 50% over the past half century.” One of the Project Directors is Raj Chetty and a podcast on Freakonomics Radio expands on his research on the American Dream: there is a link to the podcast in the second paragraph of the item on Project Motivation next to the chart. You can either listen to the 40 minutes of the broadcast, or for the time-challenged, try reading the on-screen transcript instead. To save even more time read a summary of his key points below:
    Young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on in life because of several factors:
    – Residential integration.
    – Income inequality.
    – Family influence.
    – Social capital.
    – School quality.
    The investment in moving these children is repaid to society by the income taxes they pay back on the higher earnings they eventually make as adults.
    The website is:
    http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/

    Chetty is also working on a project using Facebook data to help understand better the causes of inequality:
    https://www.politico.com/story/2018/02/19/facebook-inequality-stanford-417093

    The Brookings Institution has Chetty in 14 Charts on this site:
    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2018/01/11/raj-chetty-in-14-charts-big-findings-on-opportunity-and-mobility-we-should-know/

    • A third suggestion is to read the key points from the IPPR report titled Managing Automation which is mainly about the UK economic outlook in this area, but contains on page 17 chart 1.6 using data from the McKinsey study cited below indicating that 60% of occupations in the USA consist of activities that are 30% automatable. (Does that mean that 18% of those jobs will disappear?) It also states that occupations with zero chance of being automated include psychiatrists and legislators! The executive summary on pages 2 to 5 is a quick read, but section 2 on pages 24 to 30 covers their forecast for the growth of inequality due to automation. The potential loss of wages associated with automating activities is estimated as $1.1 trillion in the USA.
    https://www.ippr.org/files/2018-01/cej-managing-automation-december2017.pdf

    • The fourth recommendation is to review the key findings of a McKinsey Global Institute study titled A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity. Pages ii to iii provide a quick summary. The subsequent executive summary is on pages 1 to 3, and for those with perseverance the full report covers an additional 16 pages of analysis and opinion.
    https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Global Themes/Digital Disruption/Harnessing automation for a future that works/MGI-A-future-that-works-Executive-summary.ashx

    • For the fifth reference point, if you still have the time and energy, have a look at the debate on Intelligence Squared from October, 2014, Income Inequality impairs the American Dream of Upward Mobility. Again, you can download a transcript to read in a shorter time than listening takes – 1:44 hours – and it will also save you having to listen to the self-centered moderator. Note that the motion was judged to have failed by their scoring system, but a majority of the audience ended up supporting it.
    https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/income-inequality-impairs-american-dream-upward-mobility

    • And for those with even more stamina here is a selection of newspaper articles to browse on this subject:
    From the New York Times 2/28/18: The Unmet Promise of Equality:
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/28/opinion/the-unmet-promise-of-equality.html

    As the World Economic Forum convenes in Davos, the powerful are feeling optimistic because of waning worries about populism and global economic growth.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/22/business/davos-world-economic-forum-populism.html

    From The New York Times: Open Societies Under Siege. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. That is why he will be hard to dislodge.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/26/opinion/open-societies-under-siege.html

    Hidden in the middle of this article is McKinsey’s estimate that “roughly half of all jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.” Increased expenditures on training and development of people is suggested as the answer to the problem.
    From The New York Times: How C.E.O.s Should Spend Their Tax Cuts. Bonuses are nice, but the best investment is in training your employees.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/opinion/ceo-tax-cuts.html

    From The New York Times:The Redemption of Chris Hughes. The Facebook co-founder’s rise was meteoric. He argues that the same forces that helped him succeed have made it harder for others. In a new book, “Fair Shot,” he proposes a bold solution.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/books/review/chris-hughes-facebook-fair-shot.html

Current Affairs Discussion – GMO’s – February 15, 2018

Discussion Leader: Gary Banks

The IQ2 Debate is an excellent introduction to the subject. (One debater is Rob Fraley from Monsanto – I used to work with him)  Spoiler alert – the Pro GMO side won by 28%.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for decades. Created by modifying the DNA of one organism through the introduction of genes from another, they are developed for a number of different reasons—to fight disease, enhance flavor, resist pests, improve nutrition, survive drought—and are mainly found in our food supply in processed foods using corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, and as feed for farm animals. Across the country and around the world, communities are fighting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Are they safe? How do they impact the environment? Can they improve food security? Is the world better off with or without GM food?

For The Motion
  • GM crops have been safely in our food system for nearly 20 years. There are currently no known harms or risks to human health.
  • GM crops benefit farmers and the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing the use of pesticides, and reducing the need for tillage.
  • Food security will be improved through the development of crops that can fight disease, resist pests, improve nutrition, and survive drought.
Against The Motion
  • The current regulatory system does not adequately assess the safety of GM crops and we cannot be sure of what the long-term effects of consumption will be.
  • The environmental threats include the possibility of cross-breeding with other plants, harm to non-target organisms, and decreased biodiversity.
  • The world already grows enough food to feed everyone, but it doesn’t get to the people that are hungry. Genetic engineering moves focus away from public policy solutions.

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/genetically-modify-food

 

Set of Short Articles from Harvard University These are terrific.
Introduction:Words from the editors:
We all have strong opinions about what we eat and how it affects our health, and with such a large portion of land dedicated to growing our food, many are also concerned about the environmental impacts of feeding billions of people. For this reason, the discussion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food is a highly politicized topic. When we started this project, we had heard a lot about GMO foods, but much of it seemed to come from people with a mission: the agrotech companies and food safety advocates. As scientists, we believe that the best way to really understand an issue is to go back to the primary sources. So we started with a list of questions we had about GMOs, and we asked members of our scientific community to do just that. This Special Edition is a presentation of what we found.

The articles here start from the basics: what foods are genetically modified, and how long have we been doing this? We next look at the GMO foods available now: how does eating GMOs affect organ toxicity and allergies? And what’s the health impact of the pesticides that we use on GMO crops? We also asked about the environmental effects of growing Roundup Ready and Bt crops, and the potential for GMOs to have an unintentional effect on genetic diversity. We looked at legal and policy issues—how does the patenting process affect companies and farmers? How are GMOs regulated in the US and in Europe? How have GMOs changed farming culture? And finally, we took a look at the future of GMOs: How can GMOs help us to fight world hunger and nutritional deficits in the developing world? And what technologies will we see in the next wave of genetically engineered crops?

So, did we find that GMOs are good or bad? The answer is complicated. The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence suggests that eating food with genetically modified DNA has no effect on human health, but there is also ample evidence that some GMOs have negative environmental impacts, such as the creation of superweeds. And while GMOs have not yet been wildly successful in providing solutions to an ever-growing global population and changing climate, there are certainly promising technologies in the works. It seems to us that GMOs have the potential to do great good, but in order for this to happen, research must proceed conscientiously, with consideration of the environmental risks of introducing engineered plants into our farms. But that’s just our opinion—we encourage you to put aside what you think you know about GMOs and read on to develop your own.

August 10, 2015.

GMO’s and our Food – Table of Contents

How to Make a GMO

The Long History of GMO Technology

Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity

Insecticidal Plants

Why Round-Up Ready Crops Have Lost Their Allure

Nothing to Sneeze at: the Allergenicity of GMOs

GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?

Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them

The Patent Landscape of Genetically Modified Organisms

GMOS IN MY LIFETIME: HOW GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS HAVE TRANSFORMED RURAL AMERICA

Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Not Your Grandfather’s GMOs: An Interview with Dr. Dan Voytas

Epigenetics in Plant Breeding: Hard Science, Soft Tool

Feeding the World One Genetically Modified Tomato at a Time: A Scientific Perspective

Good as Gold: Can Golden Rice and Other Biofortified Crops Prevent Malnutrition?

Glyphosate,
aka Roundup,  Wikipedia article about its history and chemistry.  Key point – It has low toxicity because glyphosate inhibits the EPSPS enzymes of different species of plants and microbes at different rates.  EPSPS is produced only by plants and microbes; the gene coding for it is not in the mammalian genome.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate

Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt. A naturally occurring soil bacterium used in organic farming. Some GMO’s, specifically corn, have been engineered to contain specific Bt proteins. Hence, they have built-in insect resistance. It was news to me that only certain strains of Bt have insecticidal properties. Further, that specific proteins can target specific insects. The article describes how they contain a crystalline protein that destroys the digestive tract of the insect.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis

We aren’t as genetically pure human as we’d like to think. Genes move between species both naturally (e.g. virus’s and bacteria to animals) and by targeted genetic engineering. The reason genes can be moved is, at the genetic level, all life has a lot in common.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgene

No-Till Farming and Herbicide Resistant Crops
Widely practiced by farmers and highly recommended by the USDA, no till farming is enabled by GMO’s.
In the spring, weeds will begin to grow on any field. The farmer plows to turn the weeds under –
not to loosen the soil for seeds.  There is an undeserved romance about plowing.  In fact, it is really bad thing to do to land.  Plowing:

  • disturbs the remaining roots of last year’s crop holding soil which leads to wind and water erosion.
  • destroys the habitat provided by the stubble from last year’s crop.
  • disturbs the biome essential to healthy soil.
  • takes capital (specifically a powerful tractor), fuel and labor.
  • the heavy tractor compacts the soil.
  • releases stored carbon into the atmosphere

The farmer then plants the crop.  But

  • weeds will immediately start to regrow.  Some from natural distribution, others from last year’s seeds turned up by the plowing.
  • weeds are more aggressive and will choke out the crop.
  • at least once, and maybe more, the farmer uses another set of equipment for inter-row harrowing.   this works best for fields with deep seeded crops and shallow seeded weeds.

Once the crop is established it will choke out the weeds.

Practicing no-till:

  • in the spring, at precisely (remember that word) the right time and in precisely the right quantity the farmer sprays the field with a herbicide – usually glyphosate.  Weeds are killed, not just turned under.
  • the equipment is much less expensive than that required for plowing.
  • stubble residue, stubble roots, and biome are not disturbed.
  • the crop is planted using a seed drill.  The Indians at Plymouth had it right – a seed drill punches a hole in the ground and drops in the seeds.

But as with a plowed field, weeds will regrow and eventually choke out the crop.  The framer can’t use glyphosate again as it will kill both the weeds and the crop.  However, if the crop is genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate the field can be sprayed with glyphosate and only the weeds will be killed.   Like with inter-row plowing, once the crop is established, it will choke out the weeds.

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/11/30/saving-money-time-and-soil-economics-no-till-farming

 

Regulation

It is important that government regulators thoughtfully oversee GMO’s.  They must be scientifically capable as the technology is complex and ever changing.   One hopes they are data driven and not pro or con GMO zealots.  That isn’t always the case as the European laws were written without the input of their scientists.

FDA
https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GEPlants/default.htm

USDA
https://www.usda.gov/topics/biotechnology/biotechnology-frequently-asked-questions-faqs

EPA
https://www.epa.gov/regulation-biotechnology-under-tsca-and-fifra/epas-regulation-biotechnology-use-pest-management

WHO
http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/

National Academy of Sciences
New technologies in genetic engineering and conventional breeding
are blurring the once clear distinctions between these two cropimprovement
approaches. While recognizing the inherent difficulty
of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment, the
study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks
to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered
(GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive
cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.
GE crops have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers
in early years of adoption, but enduring and widespread gains will depend
on institutional support and access to profitable local and global markets,
especially for resource-poor farmers.
https://www.nap.edu/resource/23395/GE-crops-report-brief.pdf

Cornell Alliance for Science – the GMO debate is over
https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/mark-lynas/gmo-safety-debate-over

 

GMO’s Globally

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/eu.php

https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/where-are-gmos-grown-and-banned/

Also see article in the Harvard series above: Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Some African countries have barred GMO food aid based, I think, on the notion that if it’s too dangerous for Europeans it must be too dangerous for Africans and African lives are just as valuable as European ones. Set against that is malnutrition in many of these countries and the availability not only of US-raised food aid but also better harvests in Africa. It’s a lively debate:
GMO’s in Africa

 

Retail

Here’s a report from the buyer at Whole Foods, which is committed to labeling but discusses how difficult it is to ensure transparency. Clearly their Millennial customer base wants to avoid GMO products as noted below.
https://www.aphis.usda.gov/stakeholders/downloads/2015/coexistence/Errol-Schweizer.pdf

Why I don’t buy organic – Forbes
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensavage/2016/03/19/why-i-dont-buy-organic-and-why-you-might-want-to-either/#50ac5c5969c3

Why organic food costs more:
https://www.thebalance.com/reasons-organic-food-costs-more-2538165

Organic does not mean healthy:

So Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is good but not necessarily good for you. It non-GMO and uses eggs from cage free chickens. But a half cup contains 160 calories, 45 from fat, and not much else.
https://www.benjerry.com/flavors/pb-dough-moophoria

Retained Identity 

Retained Identity (RI) is a system where an agricultural product is tracked from field to the consumer at a detailed level.  It supersedes labelling. Already, food must state the country of origin may say “Organic”, “Non-GMO” and “Free Range” though those terms can be fuzzy.  Food must state its ingredients but not where those ingredients came from. (Think of the scandals in China.) Food must also state nutritional information. Better than nothing but still superficial.

Already, organic farming requires detailed record keeping of all inputs (fertilizers, pesticides), land maps, and supply chain records.

Food does not have to specify the seed variety or the pesticides that were used to grow it.

Many restaurants, markets and groceries promote “know your local farmer” with pictures of kindly farmers you want to grow your food. At the Stone Barn you can meet the pig or lamb you are about to eat (no thanks). All good.

But some food processing is better done at industrial sites where sanitation, testing and handling is controlled. Even organic farms cannot slaughter their own animals and I worry about local food trucks. And of course not all food can be sourced locally.

Block Chain (Jim – note I finally worked block chain into Current Affairs) is a promising technology to implement Retained Identity – essentially a rigorous lot control system.

Food Security in the Supply Chain

 

 

Organic vs. GMO

From the USDA:

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/organic-market-overview.aspx

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/

NPR Story – Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/06/18/137249264/organic-pesticides-not-an-oxymoron

From Scientific American:
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/

From Genetic Literacy:

GMO’s Globally https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/where-are-gmos-grown-and-banned/ 

 

Using GMO’s to produce drugs and other products

From the FDA:

What is a biological product?

Biological products include a wide range of products such as vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, gene therapy, tissues, and recombinant therapeutic proteins. Biologics can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids or complex combinations of these substances, or may be living entities such as cells and tissues. Biologics are isolated from a variety of natural sources – human, animal, or microorganism – and may be produced by biotechnology methods and other cutting-edge technologies. Gene-based and cellular biologics, for example, often are at the forefront of biomedical research, and may be used to treat a variety of medical conditions for which no other treatments are available.

How do biological products differ from conventional drugs?

In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized and their structure is known, most biologics are complex mixtures that are not easily identified or characterized. Biological products, including those manufactured by biotechnology, tend to be heat sensitive and susceptible to microbial contamination. Therefore, it is necessary to use aseptic principles from initial manufacturing steps, which is also in contrast to most conventional drugs.

Biological products often represent the cutting-edge of biomedical research and, in time, may offer the most effective means to treat a variety of medical illnesses and conditions that presently have no other treatments available.

Below is an article from the NYT’s 1/2/18. A Danish company Novozymes, has discovered enzymes that clean clothes in cold water, in less water, using less chemicals and removes stains better. All good.

To make commercial quantities of the enzyme economically researchers started with an enzyme from soil bacteria in Turkey, and modified it through genetic engineering to make it more closely resemble a substance found in cool seawater.

Next, they found a way to mass produce the enzyme. Novozymes implanted the newly developed product’s DNA into a batch of microbial hosts used to cultivate large volumes of enzymes quickly and at low cost. The enzymes were then “brewed” in large, closely monitored tanks before being sold.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/business/energy-environment/climate-change-enzymes-laundry.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fbusiness&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

 

Politics, Fake News, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

A question from the audience in the IQ2 debate referenced above was wicked.  She asked the Con team ” If the the scientific consensus and the regulators say GMO’s are safe, what would it take to change your mind?”  Implied answer is they will nver change their mind.  The irony is, many of the anti GMO people are exasperated by people who deny human caused climate change in the face of equally strong scientific consensus.

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/

With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
General article on agriculture:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/3-big-myths-about-modern-agriculture1/

 

Precision Agriculture – It might be the best way forward

Precision Ag is farming every square meter optimally.

  • First the farm is digitally mapped.  The soil is tested for nutrients and composition.  Streams and lakes are  noted.
  • When planting season nears weather, temperature, moisture and weeds are monitored.
  • On precisely the right day, the farmer begins field management.  A Terragator Sprayer has on-board GPS and the capability to distribute 8 channels of product continuously over a field.  Digital instructions are downloaded.  The mix of pesticides and nutrient can vary so each square meter of land get just what it needs – no more, no less.  This helps  prevent overuse and pesticide resistance.
  • Some products may be restricted to avoid lakes and streams.  The sprayer will automatically turn off near those areas and keep a digital record to prove compliance.
  • For corn, a Deere seed drill can continuously vary the number and spacing of seed plantings based on digital maps.
  • As the crop grows, specific treatments are applied.
  • At harvest, a GPS enabled Deere Harvester can continuously measure yield and quality of the harvest.  Of course, the results are digitally recorded and added to the farmer’s field database.

Organic farming requires this already though records are not available to consumers.

Precision Agriculture

 

The genetic genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

  • Since life began 3 billion years ago it has depended on natural mutations and selection of the fittest to evolve.
  • About 30,000 years ago there were still only natural mutations but man started to influence selection by selecting that goat or barley plant that seemed more desirable.
  • For the last 150 years man has found ways to increase the number of mutations through x-Rays, chemicals, and the like.  These were random mutations.
  • In the last few decades scientists have used more direct techniques to add genes to a cell.   These include a shotgun blast of DNA coated gold dust and using viruses to a carry a gene into a cell.
  • Very recently CRISPR technology allows the direct editing of DNA without introducing material from other organisms.
  • It appears inevitable that genetic engineering will eventually lead to creating  new or highly altered life from base molecules.    It’s “just” chemistry.

Knowing precise genetic vulnerabilities of disease, weeds and insects enable highly targeted solution with less collateral damage.

Meanwhile natural mutations and selection continues.  Bacterial and viruses are evolving rapidly.  They aren’t malevolent but the results can be an existential threat to human survival.  Consider the Spanish flu, small pox,  HIV, bubonic plague, …  Since antibiotics were discovered in the 1930’s many bacteria have become resistant.  We don’t have good drugs for viruses.  It’s an arms race and genetic engineering is a powerful weapon.

Specific to agriculture, there are threats to our food supply.  Population growth is straining the agricultural system to produce more and better food.  Arable land is limited – and possibly declining due to erosion, climate change and mismanagement.   Creating more farm land by clearing forests creates major problems.  Disease and pests are an evolving threat.

We would hope that the universities and companies doing genetic engineering will be responsible.  In case they aren’t we need even smarter regulators to help them be responsible.   The public has an obligation to understand genetic engineering to make informed choices and set thoughtful policy.  This is a global issue.

 

Agriculture – An Integrated Solution

Agriculture is an industry that is ripe for big data. In fact, some companies and organizations are already big data repositories. With onboard GPS and sensors, satellites and sampling data from every square meter of farm land, every day can be captured.

  • Soil type, nutrients, and microbiome
  • Weed and insect insect problems
  • Seed varieties and planting method
  • Fertilizer, herbicide and insecticides applied – rate and date
  • Plowing, mowing, harrowing and other mechanical treatments
  • Irrigation
  • Weather – moisture and temperature
  • Harvest date(s)
  • Yield and attributes of the crop

Collect this data over time to show the effects of crop rotation.

Applying analytics this data will optimize the output of the farm with the least amount of treatment.  The data would show certain seed varieties are recommended for this year for this land.  The may or may not be genetic engineered.

We recently heard from a speaker that it makes no sense to take drugs for a problem until diet and lifestyle solutions have been fully implemented.  Farmers can first attempt to farm using minimally intrusive pest control.

These data sharing programs have all been voluntary to date.  However, a case can be made to treat pesticides as pharmaceuticals.  That is, even though it is your body you can’t go the drug store and buy an antibiotic.  Most wouldn’t know what to buy or the dose.  Do-it-yourself medicine is unthinkable.   Why is it any different for farm land – even if you own it?

For agriculture a farmer who had a problem would call a crop consultant (doctor) and they would prescribe a certain treatment (drug) and application (dosage).  The farmer would take the prescription to the ag supplier (drug store) for fulfillment.    There might be a followup to make sure the problem has been solved.

The crop consultant would also police abuse.  Pest resistance is caused by overuse.  Wrong treatment, wrong rate, wrong timing is wasteful economically and damaging to the environment.

As a homeowner most of us are a county mile from scientific management of our yards.  We wouldn’t dream of polluting the Sound but yard run off is a problem.  Have you had your soil tested?  Exactly what type of fertilizer does your yard need?  When you put down crab grass preventer or broadleaf weedkiller do you really need it?  Was it done at the right time?  Is setting the dial on your spreader at “4” for the whole yard correct?    Or was it because Scott’s Turf Builder Plus 2 was on sale at Home Depot and it is “recommended” to apply in early spring?  So you have brown spots.  Might be grubs so you buy Grub Ex.   Despite the label it only works at a certain time and there are many reasons for brow spots.

An article by Robert Fraley whom you saw in the IQ2 debate.
https://monsanto.com/innovations/research-development/articles/farm-innovations/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read this last year.  Great book.   You’ll need that college biology course to fully understand it.  But to truly be informed about GMO’s you need to understand genetics.  Gary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies–a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family–with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness–cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation–from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome. As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

 

 

 

 

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Current Affairs Discussion – Affordable Housing – January 18, 2018

Discussion Leader: Bob Baker

Factors in developing initiatives for affordable housing- DMA discussion Thursday are:

1. Economics
2. Politics
3. Welfare
4. Efficiency
5. Legal Issues
6. Fairness

Darien

Application to the Heights in Darien:
http://theheightsdarien.com/apply/

National

HUD Rental Assistance:
https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance

National Affordable Housing:
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/apply-section-8-housing-state/?utm_source=EE-1&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing

https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/?utm_source=BB-Desktop&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing&utm_medium=All&utm_content=Ad-4&utm_term=Text-12

Typical Percentages for Household Budgets – Budgeting Money
https://budgeting.thenest.com/typical-percentages-household-budgets-3299.html

Connecticut
Our own Evonne Klein is CT Commissioner of Housing:
http://www.ct.gov/doh/site/default.asp

Section 8-30g has been used in town to override local zoning rules to add affordable housing.

https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/rpt/pdf/2017-R-0013.pdf

https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance/phprog

Section 8 Housing In Connecticut And HUD Low Income House Rentals
https://section-8-apartments.org/states/connecticut-state.html?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Search_CT_Geo_Section%208%20Apartments&utm_term=%2Bsection%20%2B8%20%2Bincome%20%2Blimits&utm_content=Income%20Limits%20-%20BM

NY Times Magazine, Jan 27, page 53
“New York is facing an affordable-housing crisis.”
“Of the roughly 2300 apartments in…the project, about 700 will be reserved for lower-income tenants. The first 105 affordable units were recently made available at monthly rents ranging from$590 to $964: 87,000 people entered the lottery for them.

NY Times Jan. 8. Business section. “Homeowners want a Say Past Their Lot Lines” [ zoning regulations raise home prices]
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/upshot/zoning-housing-property-rights-nimby-us.html?_r=0

Denver Has a Plan for Its Many Luxury Apartments: Housing Subsidies – WSJ

https://www.wsj.com/articles/denver-has-a-plan-for-its-many-luxury-apartments-housing-subsidies-1515412800

Affordable Housing Resources | Texas Health and Human Services
https://hhs.texas.gov/doing-business-hhs/provider-portals/resources/promoting-independence/affordable-housing-resources

This posting on “food stamps” in CT. is in contrast to how assistance for housing is administered.
http://portal.ct.gov/DSS/SNAP/Supplemental-Nutrition-Assistance-Program—SNAP/Eligibility

National Affordable Housing – Section 8 Help and Resources
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/?utm_source=BB-Desktop-Spy&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing&utm_medium=All&utm_content=Ad-1&utm_term=Text-1

How to Apply for Section 8 Housing in Connecticut
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/apply-section-8-housing-state/how-to-apply-for-section-8-housing-in-connecticut/

Connecticut Section 8 Housing | Section-8-Housing.org
https://section-8-housing.org/Connecticut?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Search_CT_Kwd_Section%208&utm_term=section%208%20housing%20connecticut&utm_content=Housing%20-%20EX

Learn about Homeownership Vouchers (Section 8 Homeownership Vouchers)
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/homeownership/

Web Notes – HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
https://www.hud.gov/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8

http://www.aei.org/publication/americas-affordable-housing-crisis-challenges-and-solutions/

http://theweek.com/articles/733689/how-fix-affordable-housing-crisis-big-governmentstyle

Gary here. I just read this in preparation for our discussion. Gates and Obama have it on their suggested reading list. It is about people at the very bottom. Depressing – extremely difficult to find solutions.

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality–and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

December 14, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion
Drug Prices

Leader: Sunil Saksena
Drug Pricing–Tentative Discussion Outline for Dec 14, 2017

1.What is the evidence that drug prices in the US are too high?
2.Why are they high and how are prices set ?  ( a brief case study to be presented by Charles Goodyear)
3.Pharmaceutical companies justify their prices as necessary to fund their high R and D expenses.—-the case for and against this argument.
4.what can be done to lower prices?  What do other countries do? What can the US do?
5. What is an appropriate price for a drug? Is value based pricing appropriate and who decides?

The Problem Document that drug prices are higher in the US than anywhere else
Why are they higher and how are prices set ? Compare US with foreign countries
Pharmaceutical Cos justify high prices needed to support high R&D expenditure- the case for and against
What can be done to lower them? What do other countries do? In the US it seems a combination of modifying patent law, FDA approval process,some regulatory changes, allowing certain imports, and allowing Govt negotiated Medicare drug prices, could hel lower prices.
What is an “appropriate “ price for a drug? A value based approach. Who decides?

The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States
Origins and Prospects for Reform
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Drug-Prices.pdf

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-drug-prices/

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html?_r=0

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pharmaceuticals-usa-comparison/exclusive-transatlantic-divide-how-u-s-pays-three-times-more-for-drugs-idUSKCN0S61KU20151012

https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/09/economist-explains-2

https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/pay-delay-how-drug-company-pay-offs-cost-consumers-billions-federal-trade-commission-staff-study/100112payfordelayrpt.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/OfficeofMedicalProductsandTobacco/CDER/ucm129385.htm

https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/agreements-filed-federal-trade-commission-under-medicare-prescription-drug-improvement-and/130117mmareport.pdf

http://www.newsweek.com/prescription-drug-pricing-569444

IQ2US: Health care costs in the U.S. are some 18 percent of GNP, nearly double what other rich countries spend. We read of drug therapies that cost $100,000 a year or more, and of drug price increases that are 6 times the rate of inflation, on average, and often much more when mergers reduce competition in the industry. Is this a major driver of excessive health care costs? Or is it a by-product of the huge costs of getting new drugs approved? Has big pharma delivered drugs that reduce the need for costly surgeries, which extend life and improve its quality? Or do they deserve the blame that has been leveled against them?

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/blame-big-pharma-out-control-health-care-costs

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/six-tips-for-fighting-rising-prescription-drug-costs-2015-09-15

http://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.2012.1252

http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2506848/stemming-escalating-cost-prescription-drugs-position-paper-american-college-physicians

http://www.csrxp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CSRxP-Policy-Platform-Summary.pdf

https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/healthy-living/2017/04/drug-prices-download-final.pdf

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20140214.037238/full/

https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194904.htm

An article about how and why some drugs are less expensive paying cash vs through insurance:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/health/drug-prices-generics-insurance.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-12-20/the-loopholes-drug-companies-use-to-keep-prices-high

November 16, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion
Corporate Tax Reform Policy

Leader: Harvey Mogenson

 

Discussion outline:

Part I – Brief example/ discussion of the current corporate tax system as a basis to compare the Tax Reform Proposals.  This would include the concepts of a) tax rules applicable to a US corporation vs a foreign corporation/subsidiary; b) what does “effective tax rate” mean; c) the historical trend away from corporations to pass-throughs.  (We only need this last item if we want to touch upon why there are proposals for special business rates for individuals.)
Part II – Discuss the proposals for a lower corporate tax rate and the major “offsets”.  (We could even compare the “offsets” with the current list of tax expenditures to see where the offsets came from.)
Part III – Discuss the proposals for a “territorial system” applicable to dividends from foreign subsidiaries.  This would focus on “deferral” vs “exemption” and probably some discussion of global competition.

ESTIMATES OF FEDERAL TAX EXPENDITURES FOR FISCAL YEARS 2016-2020
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-1.pdf

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act H.R. 1 Section-by-Section Summary
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-2.pdf

Corporate Income Tax Rates around the World, 2017
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-3.pdf

Labor Bears Much of the Cost of the Corporate Tax
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-4.pdf

An Overview of Pass-through Businesses in the United States
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-5.pdf

International Comparision of Effective Corporate Tax Rates
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-6.pdf

Policy Perspectives
Ernst & Young LLP’s rapid response to the House Ways and Means Committee’s tax reform
draft bill, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-7.pdf

A Turnabout on Corporate Taxes
https://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-turnabout-on-corporate-taxes-1508883600-lMyQjAxMTE3MzA1NjgwNTY4Wj/

Republican Plan: Tax People, Not Companies
https://www.wsj.com/article_email/gop-goes-with-the-global-flow-tax-people-not-companies-1509554364-lMyQjAxMTI3MzA2NjIwNjY0Wj/

Historical background and European VAT taxes.
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-11-09/how-to-break-out-of-our-long-national-tax-nightmare

Senate Tax Reform Bill
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/11.9.17-Chairmans-Mark.pdf

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