Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Incrementalism Advocacy

I haven’t written on this topic in a long time, but read something today that inspired me to do so. From a DailyKos article written yesterday (emphasis mine):

In that light, while Obamacare is not the best option, it is the best option that was attainable given a corrupt Congress and a corrupt political process. It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges. It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.

While it is not spoken about much, Obamacare is the first step on a path toward a single-payer system. Those on the left that are upset that it isn’t a single payer system already must stay in the game. They must continue to fight for single payer. That said, they should not be fighting against this law because it was not their ideal or because in the initial stages of this law private insurance companies will still reap an unearned profit from skimming. Battles are won either incrementally or revolutionarily. The second option is simply not in the current American DNA. As such all must play the long game. HR 676 will be a closer reality if Obamacare is effected.

This is a false choice.  It it not an either or situation.  The situation is whatever we make it.  Reducing health care work to an either/or choice creates an absurdly simple view to a very complex problem.

I characterize people who advocate this position “incrementalists”.  And here is my biggest problem with them: what is the strategy in this amorphous “long game”?  What steps take us from our current position to single payer health care, which every other industrialized nation on earth except the U.S. implements?  There are never any steps, strategies, or tactics that take us from here to there.  I adapt a common argument used on DKos:

1. Obamacare

2. ???

3. Single payer! Yay!

Incrementalists make excuse after excuse after excuse, all the while apologizing for all the people who are immersed in the aforementioned corrupt system, but then lecture folks who oppose Obamacare because it was written by industry and not by other health policy entities.  Futhermore, Obamacare doesn’t ensure health care to all people, just health insurance to some more people.  It took 18 months for the incrementalists to capitulate to industry and the political establishment, after which the Democratic base sat out the 2010 elections.  Historically, we address health care legislation once per generation.  In 25 years, what steps will we take toward single payer, if that is really the goal of the incrementalists?  How many generations need wait until we implement a 20th century health care system?  In the meantime, what improvements to today’s system will the rest of the industrialized world implement?

Going back to that first paragraph, let’s highlight the following.  “It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges.”  If this were true, why didn’t the Obama administration work to make sure Americans were ready to enroll come tomorrow?  They’ve only had three years to figure out an enrollment strategy that is absolutely critical to the entire program’s success and implement it.  What were they doing?  Incremental work, I suppose.  Which is why 60+% of Americas have no idea what tomorrow’s open enrollment consists of.

“It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.”

Really?  18 months of negotiation, three years of shoddy implementation, and the best the author can come up with is it’s imperative Obamacare is only marginally successful?!  The insurance companies get 30 million new customers (read: profits) and the best we can do is marginal success?  Millions of Americans are shut out from Obamacare because they have the misfortune of Teabagger governorship, but marginal success is incrementally better than no success, right?  It is this blind acceptance of sub-par results that lays the foundation for incrementalists.  I expect more from my country and fellow Americans.  Unfortunately, I am part of a minority.  The majority accepts mediocrity as the best they can achieve.



July 2013 CO2 Concentrations: 397.23 ppm

During July 2013, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography measured an average of 397.23 ppm CO2 concentration at their Mauna Loa, Hawai’i Observatory.

This value is important because 397.23 ppm is the largest CO2 concentration value for any July in recorded history.  This year’s July value is 2.90 ppm higher than July 2012′s!  Month-to-month differences typically range between 1 and 2 ppm.  This year-to-year jump is clearly well outside of that range.  This change is in line with other months this year: February’s year-over-year change was +3.37 ppm and May’s change was +3.02 ppm.  Of course, the unending trend toward higher concentrations with time, no matter the month or specific year-over-year value, as seen in the graphs below, is more significant.

The yearly maximum monthly value normally occurs during May. This year was no different: the 399.89ppm concentration in May 2013 was the highest value reported this year and, prior to the last five months, in recorded history (neglecting proxy data).  I expected May of this year to produce another all-time record value and it clearly did that.  May 2013′s value will hold onto first place all-time until February 2014.

 photo co2_widget_brundtland_600_graph_201307_zpsd45c57a3.gif

Figure 1 – Time series of CO2 concentrations measured at Scripp’s Mauna Loa Observatory in July from 1958 through 2013. added the `350s` and `400s` to the past few month’s graphics.  I suppose they’re meant to imply concentrations shattered 350 ppm back in the 1980s and are pushing up against 400 ppm now in the 2010s.  I’m not sure that they add much value to this graph, but perhaps they make an impact on most people’s perception of milestones within the trend.

How do concentration measurements change in calendar years?  The following two graphs demonstrate this.

 photo CO2_concentration_5y_trend_NOAA_201308_zpsbad76774.png

Figure 2 – Monthly CO2 concentration values (red) from 2009 through 2013 (NOAA). Monthly CO2 concentration values with seasonal cycle removed (black). Note the yearly minimum observation occurred nine months ago and the yearly maximum value occurred two months ago. CO2 concentrations will decrease through October 2013, as they do every year after May.

 photo CO2_concentration_50y_trend_NOAA_201308_zps7d6fee6b.png

Figure 3 – 50 year time series of CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory (NOAA).  The red curve represents the seasonal cycle based on monthly average values.  The black curve represents the data with the seasonal cycle removed to show the long-term trend.  This graph shows the recent and ongoing increase in CO2 concentrations.  Remember that as a greenhouse gas, CO2 increases the radiative forcing of the Earth, which increases the amount of energy in our climate system.

CO2 concentrations are increasing at an increasing rate – not a good trend with respect to minimizing future warming.  Natural systems are not equipped to remove CO2 emissions quickly from the atmosphere.  Indeed, natural systems will take tens of thousands of years to remove the CO2 we emitted in the course of a couple short centuries.  Human systems do not yet exist that remove CO2 from any medium (air or water).  They are not likely to exist for some time.  So NOAA will extend the right side of the above graphs for years and decades to come.

This month, I will return to some graphs I’ve presented before.  Here is a 10,000 year view of CO2 concentrations from ice cores to compare to the recent Mauna Loa observations:


Figure 4 – Historical CO2 concentrations from ice core proxies (blue and green curves) and direct observations made at Mauna Loa, Hawai’i (red curve).

Or we could take a really, really long view:


Figure 5 – Historical record of CO2 concentrations from ice core proxy data, 2008 observed CO2 concentration value, and 2 potential future concentration values resulting from lower and higher emissions scenarios used in the IPCC’s AR4.

Note that this graph includes values from the past 800,000 years, 2008 observed values (8-10ppm less than this year’s average value will be) as well as the projected concentrations for 2100 derived from a lower emissions and higher emissions scenarios used by the 2007 IPCC report.  If our current emissions rate continues unabated, it looks like a tripling of average pre-industrial concentrations will be our future reality (278 *3 = 834).  This graph also clearly demonstrates how anomalous today’s CO2 concentration values are.  It further shows how significant projected emission pathways are when we compare them to the past 800,000 years.  It is important to realize that we are currently on the higher emissions pathway (towards 800+ppm).

The rise in CO2 concentrations will slow down, stop, and reverse when we decide it will.  It depends primarily on the rate at which we emit CO2 into the atmosphere.  We can choose 400 ppm or 450 ppm or almost any other target (realistically, 350 ppm seems out of reach within the next couple hundred years).  That choice is dependent on the type of policies we decide to implement.  It is our current policy to burn fossil fuels because we think doing so is cheap, although current practices are massively inefficient and done without proper market signals.  We will widely deploy clean sources of energy when they are cheap; we control that timing.  We will remove CO2 from the atmosphere if we have cheap and effective technologies and mechanisms to do so, which we also control to some degree.  These future trends depend on today’s innovation and investment in research, development, and deployment.  Today’s carbon markets are not the correct mechanism, as they are aptly demonstrating.  But the bottom line remains: We will limit future warming and climate effects when we choose to do so.

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Obamacare’s ‘Cadillac Tax’ Exposes Policy Weaknesses

In 2009 and 2010, I had many discussions with people about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  At the outset let me explain that health care reform would have been expanding Medicare to every American.  It has the lowest overhead of any service and would have resulted in providing health care to everybody regardless of income or any other metric.  My fallback position was a Medicare opt-in as part of state-based or national-based health exchanges.  Let the private for-profit corporations compete against Medicare in the free market.  As conservatives usually say (but ran away from in this instance), let the market decide.  Well, we all know how non-free the market is.  Conservatives and Libertarians love to pick winners: as long as they’re winning.

Instead, President Obama spent two years’ worth of political capital on a search for his First Grand Bargain.  And make no mistake: he got exactly what he wanted.  Instead of health care reform, Americans were saddled with a health insurance giveaway.  Millions of Americans won’t be allowed to make a choice in the market; they will be forced to buy something.  That is a disgusting development in our country’s history.

Here is an anecdote that demonstrates the fundamental weakness of the “reform”: “While it might reduce health care spending, for many people it doesn’t reduce the cost of care.”  If you’re healthy, things will be great because you’ll receive free or cheap preventative care.  If you’re really sick, things will get worse because you’ll pay more and more for the same care you’ve been receiving.  Oops.  As Joan says, “if you have a serious health issue and were previously uninsured because of your pre-existing condition, you can at least get insurance now.”  Note the critical missing piece in that sentence: you won’t get quality care; you’ll get insurance.  Which, depending on your socioeconomic status, means you could get good care or crappy care.  That is the big reform as part of the President’s Grand Bargain.

Joan goes on to say, “The actual health care they receive needs to be made less expensive. That’s where the next steps in reform have to be made.”

Um, duh.  But just when we make those next reform steps?  That was the elephant in the room in my 2009-2010 discussions with Obamacare zealots.  Nobody was willing to say how they would make those next steps … or when.  The only thing they would say was it would eventually happen because incrementalism was the proper strategic political choice.  It became clear to me later that incrementalism works for folks in the establishment.  It keeps them employed for years and decades as tiny steps are taken every decade or two.  Meanwhile, Abbey and Casey Bruce’s bills will double in cost.  How many millions of Americans face higher medical bills in 2014 because the establishment folks decided incremental steps are the best?  President Obama and a bunch of other folks were reelected in 2012.  Are they pushing additional health care reform?  No and they won’t either.  They did health care reform.  We’ll have to wait until some undetermined point in the future to try for true health care reform again.

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Health Insurance Law (ACA) Upheld By Supreme Court

First things first: it’s not a health care bill, it’s a health insurance bill.  Tens of millions of people will be made to buy insurance from private corporations.  Whether those folks actually receive quality health care is another problem altogether, having mostly to do with socio-economic status.  Do you think a child in the poorest part of Alabama will have access to the same level of care as Mitt Romney’s sons or Barack Obama’s daughters?

Onto the main topic this day: the Supreme Court of the US has upheld the Affordable Health Care Act.

This is not the result that I predicted beforehand.  I did not think the anti-consumer, anti-citizen, anti-Constitution right-wingers on the Court would do anything that might help President Obama.  My initial reaction is that Chief Justice Roberts realized the profits the health insurance industry would reap if the law remained in place and that overwhelmed his tendency to stick it to the American people.

Furthermore, I do not think this helps Americans get closer to a universal health care system. in the short to medium term.  I think that is the direction most activists are pushing and therefore we will implement such a system sometime in the more distant future.  I would like to see individual states offer some version of universal health coverage by themselves and then join cooperatives to expand their population pools.

This gives candidate Romney something to talk about for a while, but there is no way he will actually remove the ACA if he were elected: the industry has already changed too much in preparation for 2014, when the law takes full effect.

Some of the media struggled with reporting this as the following screenshots demonstrate.

MSNBC at 10:20EDT:

CNN at 10:11EDT:

CNN at 10:18EDT


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Americans Don’t Think Employer Belief Should Impede Their Access To Insurance Coverage

A solid nominee for the “Duh!” moment of the day: polling shows that Americans think they should have unfettered access to insurance coverage – that procedures and treatments should be available to those who are insured.

Put another way – why should employers get to decide what insured Americans get access to?  The Teabaggers didn’t think that the government should have that ability (not that the recent health insurance legislation ever proposed doing so), so why should it be okay for employers to restrict access, as Republican politicians are advocating?

All that said, this whole thing wouldn’t even be an issue if universal health care was enacted instead of forcing millions of Americans into the for-profit insurance industry.

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Health Law “Casualty”: Excessive Timeline Requirement

Any long-time reader of this blog will know how bitterly disappointed I was with the health care law insurance giveaway that the Obama administration bungled last year.  Part of that law was dropped by the White House because of an insane requirement: a 75-year solvency clause for the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program.  Much like what will happen with the Postal Service, which was recently saddled with the same requirement, this negotiated capitulated requirement ensured the program’s demise.

How pathetic is this?  Where was the 75-year solvency clause for the mega-banks which have received $14 Trillion in taxpayer dollars?  Where was the 75-year solvency clause for war and occupation activities?  Oh, that’s right, our republic has been all too happy to transform itself into an imperialist oligarchy.

Quality health care for everybody?  We’re too busy destroying countries and cultures while ensuring the largest upward transfer of wealth in history continues unchecked.

Forget the crazies on the right and ask yourself this: is this the change you voted for?  How many more decades have to pass before this ludicrous incrementalist approach is ditched?  The Republican Teabaggers are playing to win while Democrats want to play nice.  Brilliant!

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Update To Obama’s Bad EPA-Ozone Decision

President Obama has become the epitome of a primary negative for Democrats: he’s too concerned with being called nasty names and not concerned enough with enacting good policies.  Policies such as the recently killed ozone regulation, which is painful on many fronts as more people weigh in on the latest capitulation.

Enter Paul Krugman, a person who won the Nobel Prize in economics (perhaps someone Obama might want to listen to…):

Let’s talk about the economics. Because the ozone decision is definitely a mistake on that front.

As some of us keep trying to point out, the United States is in a liquidity trap: private spending is inadequate to achieve full employment, and with short-term interest rates close to zero, conventional monetary policy is exhausted.

What might this have to do with ozone regulations?

And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.

U.S. corporations are sitting on Trillions of dollars they got for basically nothing from sources like the Treasury.  Do you want to know why too many Americans don’t have jobs, and of those Americans that do have jobs don’t make any more in real terms than they did in 1970?  Because of those Trillions of dollars sitting on the economic sideline.  Money that doesn’t move through the economy means the economy falters, then fails.  That’s what today’s Republican Teabaggers want for America: a failed economy so the black President also fails.

It’s too bad President Obama is more worried about being called bad names by those Teabaggers.  There are good jobs that could have been created by implementing and enforcing ozone regulations.  Instead, no Americans will get new jobs, money will stay out of the economy, Americans’ health will continue to be worse than it should, and President Obama will still get called bad names!  Bad politics, all around.  Better Democrats, please.