Archive

March 18th, 2016

New Delhi's free clinics can teach America about fixing its broken health care system

    Rupandeep Kaur, 20 weeks pregnant, arrived at a medical clinic looking fatigued and ready to collapse. After being asked her name and address, she was taken to see a physician who reviewed her medical history, asked several questions, and ordered a series of tests including blood and urine. These tests revealed that her fetus was healthy but Kaur had dangerously low hemoglobin and blood pressure levels. The physician, Alka Choudhry, ordered an ambulance to take her to a nearby hospital.

    All of this, including the medical tests, happened in 15 minutes at the Peeragarhi Relief Camp in New Delhi, India. The entire process was automated -- from check-in, to retrieval of medical records, to testing and analysis and ambulance dispatch. The hospital also received Kaur's medical records electronically. There was no paperwork filled out, no bills sent to the patient or insurance company, no delay of any kind. Yes, it was all free.

    The hospital treated Kaur for mineral and protein deficiencies and released her the same day. Had she not received timely treatment, she may have had a miscarriage or lost her life.

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Keeping Germany's Trumpist politics at bay

    The outcome of Sunday's elections in three German states wasn't good for Chancellor Angela Merkel, but it also provided an example of how a well-balanced representative political system stops its Donald Trumps.

    As in the U.S., much of the day-to-day life of people and businesses in Germany is governed at the state level. So while general elections matter a lot -- the next one is in 2017 -- the state ones determine how most voters will interact with government. On what the German press dubbed Super Sunday, three states with a combined population of about 13 million voted: Saxony-Anhalt in the former East Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the west.

    Only in Saxony-Anhalt did Merkel's center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, win a plurality. In Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to Daimler, maker of Mercedes cars, the Green Party beat it. In Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany's top winemaking region -- and once home to the ancestors of Donald Trump -- the CDU was defeated by the center-left Social Democratic Party, its partner in the ruling federal coalition.

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Iran's sanctions windfall won't help it much

    The nuclear deal signed with Iran earlier this year will, on paper, shower more than $100 billion of unfrozen assets on the country -- a quarter of its gross domestic product. It's also fighting wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, arming Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and testing its own ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel. So far, so bad; no good can come of even a share of that money winding up with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    But a week spent in Tehran made clear that Iran's one-off sanctions windfall is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to compensate for the annual losses the country is incurring from low oil prices. Indeed, if the goal is to starve the Revolutionary Guard of funds, focusing on the unfrozen assets may be a diversion.

    In the year ahead, the government forecasts oil revenues of just $23 billion, compared to a peak of over $100 billion in 2011. According to Saeed Laylaz, an economist and former adviser to the reformist ex-President Mohammad Khatami, even if exports return to pre-sanctions volumes, at a $40-per-barrel price, they will bring the government half as much revenue as in 2013, at the height of the sanctions.

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Economists are out of touch with climate change

    In the debate over climate change, there is one group you don't hear much from: economists. The failure of climate economics to make a difference in the public discussion about climate policy should be a concern for the profession.

    Climate economists are just as worried as anyone about the prospect of global warming. A recent survey by the Institute for Policy Integrity found that most climate economists believe climate change is a grave threat. Most supported carbon taxes or cap-and-trade programs to limit emissions, even if these actions were taken unilaterally by the U.S. The consensus view was that a catastrophic loss of global gross domestic product -- a 25 percent decline or more -- is possible under a "business as usual" scenario.

    But for all this concern, climate econ research has had little impact on the public debate. The problem, as far as I can tell, is that there is a disconnect between climate science and economics. This goes beyond the out-of-date forecasting models used by policy makers. Even within academia, research often uses bad science.

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ECB efforts paint lipstick on Euro's banking pigs

    Try this thought experiment. You're in the business of lending euros to European companies. But you owe your own creditors $2.3 trillion -- yes, $2.3 trillion -- in loans that all come due by the end of next year. Rolling those loans over is becoming tricky. Out of the blue, your regulator offers you free money and says you won't have to repay it for four years.

    Would you (a) fill your pockets with the money and make as many new loans as your processing department can cope with? Or (b) fill your pockets with the money, repay your debts and, after reflecting upon the unhealthy proportion of customer debts already filed under the category "non-performing" because they're not being repaid, retire to your office, close the door and try as hard as possible not to make any new loans.

    That, unfortunately, summarizes the situation in Europe's banks. And that's why the European Central Bank's announcement last week that it is expanding its Targeted Longer-Term Refinancing Operations, known as TLTROs, will paper over the cracks in the finance industry's balance sheets without funneling extra money into the real economy.

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Donald Trump tries giving peace a chance

    For months, Donald Trump started his events with a 20-minute rundown of the polls. On Sunday, he led off with something different.

    He reminisced about the violence at his rallies, and said he hoped that peace would be restored. "We had some, let's be nice, let's call them protesters," he said, recalling the rally in Chicago on March 11 that was canceled as a protest erupted. "And we had had a decision to make. We had to make this decision. We want peace, we want happiness, we want everyone to go home really happy, really peaceful, so we said, `you know what we'll do, we'll postpone it,' and it was a really wise decision."

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March 16th

Trump Is No Accident

    Establishment Republicans who are horrified by the rise of Donald Trump might want to take a minute to remember the glitch heard round the world — the talking point Marco Rubio couldn’t stop repeating in a crucial debate, exposing him to devastating ridicule and sending his campaign into a death spiral.

    It went like this: “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.” The clear, if ungrammatical, implication was that all the bad things Republicans claim have happened under President Obama — in particular, America’s allegedly reduced stature in the world — are the result of a deliberate effort to weaken the nation.

    In other words, the establishment favorite for the GOP nomination, the man Time magazine once put on its cover with the headline “The Republican Savior,” was deliberately channeling the paranoid style in U.S. politics. He was suggesting, albeit coyly, that a sitting president is a traitor.

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The real Donald Trump

    If he consolidates his front-runner standing in Tuesday's primaries, you can expect more and more Republicans to begin trying to persuade you, and themselves, that there is nothing to fear from the real Donald Trump.

    Trump is showing that he can appear reasonable, conciliatory, even tolerant when he wants. Red-faced and strutting, he fantasizes aloud about punching a protester in the face. Later, he can calmly deplore (while still sympathizing with) his supporters' violence.

    Some Republicans have been fine with either version from the start. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, is emblematic of the amoral functionary for whom Trump's bigotry and demagoguery are irrelevant. "Winning is the antidote to a lot of things," Priebus has observed.

    But others have had misgivings.

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March 15th

Women who inspire

    The accomplishments of four leaders recognized this week at the Women in the World salon in Washington - a Tina Brown- sponsored platform for women on the front lines of change around the world - are awe-inspiring. The honorees' compelling and inspirational stories put to shame, by comparison, the puerile behavior of the top Republicans seeking to occupy the world's most powerful office.

    When GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are not extolling their own virtues, they are, for the world to see, indulging in locker-room gibes about genitalia. Said Rubio recently, joking about the size of Trump's hands, "You know what they say about men with small hands."

    To which Trump responded in a nationally televised debate: "Look at those hands. Are they small hands?" raising them for viewers to see. "And, he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee."

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Donald Trump can't keep blaming other people for the anger of his campaign

    Know that old cliche "Where there's smoke, there's fire?"

    That has been running through my head for the past couple of days, watching violence flare on the campaign trail in and around Donald Trump's rallies. Trump, for his part, insists that he is blameless. "I don't accept responsibility," he told NBC's Chuck Todd Sunday morning when asked about the tenor of his rallies and the skirmishes between protesters and supporters that have become increasingly commonplace.

    In Trump's version of events, the recent upswing in confrontation is to be blamed on professional "disrupters" who come to his rallies looking for fights. As for the vitriol coming from his supporters? "The reason there's tension at my rallies is that these people are sick and tired of this country being run by incompetent people that don't know what they're doing on trade deals," with U.S. jobs being shipped out to other countries, Trump told Todd on Sunday.

    Don't blame Trump, Trump says.

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