The Progressive Ensign

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Scientists Discover Plants Can Reduce Ocean Acidity

Image: see.systemsbiology.net

Global ocean acidity has increased by 30 % over the past 200 years and is expected to increase by 150 % by 2099 to the highest level in over 20 million years.  About 25 % of the carbon dioxide in the air is absorbed into the ocean.  For carbon organisms like algae they will grow increasingly prevalent yet for calcifying organisms like oysters, lobsters, clams, sea urchins, corals and others they will lose the ability to grow and reproduce.

Source: WXshift

Three and one half billion people rely on the ocean for food. It is of huge consequence to have the oceans of the world become so acidic that the sea cannot sustain ocean life nourishing billions of people.

So, what is being done to reduce ocean acidification?  Certainly, efforts at reducing global warming are having an impact in the ocean specifically. There are some intelligent solutions being developed that would immediately improve shell organism survival.  The Pacific Northwest has a $200 million shellfish industry for export and shipping to West Coast cities.  Baywater Shellfish, west of Seattle, is having trouble growing geoducks, oysters and clams for market due to increased acidification of the water causing the shellfish to lose nutrients they need to grow and survive.  However, Oregon State University researchers working on an solution have discovered that eelgrass growing near the shell fish farms can lower the acidity in the water through photosynthesis absorbing the carbon, and pulling it from the water. This process allows vital nutrients to become available to the shellfish.  Eelgrasses can be planted in oyster farms or near shellfish hatcheries to provide the necessary lower acidity levels to nourish the shellfish.

The ocean covers 70% of our planet and provides food for 3.5 billion people making it crucial to human existence.  We have a stewardship responsibility to reverse the damage we are causing by human activity to preserve the oceans for future generations.  Cleanup of the ocean is a top priority for all of us and businesses too, as business success in the future assumes access to safe, clean, reliable water supplies and ocean environment.

GOP Administration Panders to Infant Formula Companies

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: elle

Last May, the U.S. attended a multi-lateral World Health Assembly meeting held in Ecuador to finalize the language for promotion of breast feeding to developing countries with poor regions.  The policy recommended mothers breast feed their babies to promote better health than using possibly contaminated water with dry formula.  The risks of mixing infant formula with polluted water outweighed the possibly less breast milk that some mothers give their infants.

Source: Down to Earth – 3/22/18

About 11 % of the world’s population and 19 % of people in India alone do not have access to clean water.  For developing nations developing sources of clean water is crucial for their long term economic, and societal development. People drinking contaminated water suffer from multiple GI diseases, growth deformities and death.

U.S. representatives dropped long time support of over 40 years of research and other investigations in poor regions of the world noting the good health practice of breast feeding. Instead, the administration wanted all language recommending breast milk over infant formula deleted, including language focused on monitoring infant formula companies overly promoting their formula products.

Taking the corporate side is not new. In 1981, during the Reagan Administration  U.S. representatives at a WHO conference took the only position out of 118 countries against promoting the use of the breast milk over infant formula.

Breast milk provides anti-bodies, nutrients and other substances not available in infant formulas which are synthesized.  Obviously, when breast milk is not available infant formula maybe a good substitute temporarily when using clean water.

Next Steps:

The infant formula market is estimated to be $26 billion in 2017 growing to $66 billion by 2027. The industry is adding GMOs to its formula, offering organic versions and other approaches focused particularly on emerging countries where birth rates are much higher offering greater sales opportunities than in developed countries.  It is clear the infant formula industry has successfully lobbied the GOP Administration when it shifts policy that has been settled for decades promoting breast milk is best for babies to promote good health and longevity. Plus, other studies show the nurturing relationship of the mother with her baby during breast feeding is beneficial  to the social, and psychological health of the child.

The infant formula industry ought to understand their products depend on access to clean water to be effective as a compliment to breast feeding. The industry should shift  its resources from blind product promotion and lobbying efforts and instead help to increase access to clean water worldwide.  The infant formula industry needs to recognize their responsibility to support the common good promoting clean water and good health overall.

Farmers First Casualties of Trump Trade War

 

Photo: geneticliteracyproject.org

The financial mainstream media focus on policy declarations from White House policy spin masters like Larry Kudlow, Chief Economic Adviser to the President saying of the trade war, “it is trade dispute among family members.”  Meantime, American farmer family incomes are being sacrificed as the first casualties of the trade war.

Sources: Bloomberg, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/6/18

As Net Farmer Income drops along with the price of soybeans, the Chinese are cancelling their contracts with U.S. farmers and buying soybeans from Brazil and other suppliers like Russia.

Sources: China National Grain and Otis Information Center – 7/5/18

Sources: Bloomberg, China Customs – 5/18/18

It is a basic business reality that when customers go to other suppliers and secure contracts if the customer is pleased with the quality of new products they will stay with the new supplier.  Our farmers are being cut out of business they have been building for decades, and now their livelihoods are being sacrificed to charge on in a lose-lose Trump Trade War (TTW).  In the future, it will be difficult to impossible to get back much of the business farmers are losing as new suppliers become the incumbent.

Next Steps:

We need to stop being complacent about the costs and sacrifices of TTW, there are real costs being borne by farmers, businessmen and their families.  We agree with 1100 economists who sent a letter to POTUS imploring him not to use tariffs as a mechanism for trade dispute negotiation and resolution.  There is no evidence of trade wars solving trade issues, except for damaging the economies of all those countries involved, and in the case of the Depression setting the stage for WWII. The fact that the GOP Administration is minimizing the damage from their no strategy tariff program, is alarming and needs to stop.  Farmers did not ask to be sacrificed for the TTW, and all the other businesses and families being hurt by this disastrous trade policy. They need our support by making our concerns known to the White House and Congress.  We agree with Prime Minister Merkel who stated last week in regard to auto tariffs being renegotiated that any discussions should be pursued via the World Trade Organization in fairness to all parties.  For over 40 years the United States has supported building the WTO and using trade treaties to open doors for American businesses, now is not the time to use bullying, intimidation and threats as tactics for solving economic issues.

We Have A Duty to Provide, Protect and Promote the Common Good

 

Image: Your Little Planet

Today’s discussion of the Common Good is focused on a point that arose this week from a court case where the parents of children in Detroit sued the city school district for better teachers, classroom conditions and funding.  The basis of the suit was that it was a ‘constitutional right’ that all children should have a fair and equal education regardless of income.

Unfortunately, as much as we would like to see education as a ‘right’ it is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The judge held that there was no ‘right’ to a quality education. The 14th Amendment does require states when they provide public education to offer equal access to all students – equal quality is not specifically defined.  We see education as Madison and Jefferson did as a key pillar of the government where a well-informed citizenry will make wise choices about who would lead their government.  We have outlined in an earlier post that we see Education as the Fifth Estate, after the Fourth Estate, The Press and the three main branches of federal government – The Executive, Congress and The Supreme Court.  Then, it follows that as a country we have a duty and responsibility to ensure that all children have a equal opportunity for a high quality education and access to learning institutions.

We do not really talk much in our society anymore about duty to country – or duty at all.  We are indoctrinated constantly about ‘my right’ to this and that.  While it is important that we have key rights ensured by our Constitution and courts, duties need to be in balance and in many ways ensure that rights can be sustained.

What do we ask of our young people graduating from high school in regard to supporting the freedoms and rights they enjoy?  Universal service for every 18 year old as they do in Switzerland, or universal military service as Israel requires?  What sacrifices do we expect our people to take on at any age?

In WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Middle East Wars, American men and women fought alongside each other to ensure the freedoms we enjoy and to protect the freedom and welfare of others.  The wealthy fought along with the poor as a team, to survive in a hostile environment against a common enemy. They shared this life changing experience, learned how to depend on each other to survive and discovered what they had in common. Today, young people serving in the armed forces are making sacrifices and sometimes putting their lives on the line, yet the vast majority of our forces are comprised of poor or working class men and women from rural regions of the country.  We are not all sharing the duty of defense across classes.

Everyday there are citizens across classes serving our country, as many people do volunteer work in all types of ‘duty’ based work at churches, non- profits and relief groups.  Some sacrifice themselves and time in environmental protection efforts that support good stewardship of the earth that we all live in and enjoy.

So, when we look to ‘get our rights’ in court, we may need to look to how to make duty more of a core value in our culture and in particular business culture.  As we have observed our country is essentially run by Corporate Nation States, they must change their attitude, behavior and operating practices focused on their duty to all the people not just their executives and customers. Everything a corporation does in some way impacts the Common Good. We are the people these corporations serve, and we should expect nothing less than socially responsible behavior from the executives running these huge Corporate Nation States.

States Move Ahead of Fed To Reduce New Drug Prices

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: healtheconomics.com

Several states including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and California have begun initiatives to take on drug companies for the their exorbitant prices of new drugs.  New York is taking a price versus effectiveness approach with a new drug called Orkambi for cystic fibrosis.  The New York state Medicaid department is demanding a lower price as it is not clear the drug helps patients with the disease better than existing treatments. Vertex,  the manufacturer of Orkambi made $1.3 billion in sales from the drug which is a high sales level for a drug that is marketed to only 26,000 eligible patients.  Vertex prices Orkambi at $272,000 for one year of doses. The drug costs so much that some insurers pass on the high costs to patients in some cases $3000 per month.

Dr. Steven D. Pearson, President of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review is working with New York officials on a state board case against Vertex to bring the price down.  The state board found that Orkambi did not meet the effectiveness claims by the manufacturer so New York should receive a 77 % discount.  Dr. Pearson said his evaluation of the costs indicated that the drug could be discounted by 77 %.

Major states like New York and California are taking on the drug companies with renewed interest as their Medicaid costs soar in part from new drugs where companies like Vertex price the medication at extreme multiples of a fair cost. While the GOP Administration has promoted some ideas to bring the cost of new drugs down, nothing to date has been done.

The U.S. is alone of all major developed countries in not directly regulating drug prices.  In Europe health services officials do not accept high prices for drug with marginal value and negotiate using their purchasing power to bring the price down.  Congress has consistently bowed to the drug lobby by not speeding generic drugs to the market and not including in any drug bill the power for Health and Human Services to directly negotiate the price of all the medications it covers for U.S. patients.

Source: Bloomberg – 5/11/18

In 2014, U.S. patients paid the most of ten developed countries at $1,100 per year out of pocket and for many patients with difficult treatment diseases the costs per year are significantly more.

Next Steps:

Time is up for the drug companies and insurers gouging patients with soaring prices while they make hefty profits and executives pocket huge compensation packages.  Drug companies need to stop buying back their stock, wasting the money that could be used to bring the price of their drugs by billions of dollars.  Congress needs to give HHS the power to negotiate prices and effectiveness limits on drugs of dubious value the way most developed countries in the world do today.  Over the past decade pharmaceutical companies have found that their exorbitant prices have not stuck in Europe or other developed country market, so they jack up the price of the medication in the U.S. where there is little regulatory constraint.

Corporations Are Taking Worker Wages To Increase Profits

 

Image: csmonitor.com

Eight-three percent of all workers are ‘non-supervisory’ workers in the Federal Reserve classification of types of workers, yet they have not seen a fair cut of the profits since 2000.  Corporations have used financial engineering techniques like stock buybacks where funds are used to buy corporate stock and goose the price up. J.P. Morgan estimates that with dollars repatriated from the tax cut bill, that stock buybacks will hit a new record of $800 billion for 2018.  This $800 billion is absolutely wasted on driving stock prices up while not investing in employee wages, capital expenditures, research and development, instead stock buy backs increase executive compensation tied to stock price.

Source; Real Investment Advice – 6/29/18

Since before the Great Recession wages have been stagnant for working class people, the 80 % of the workforce that make corporations prosper.  The wages to profits ratio arc shows a continuing decline since the 1980s – interestingly when the GOP was telling us that ‘trickle down’ economics would bring economic prosperity to all.  Instead working class families are having to take two or three jobs and borrow on their credit cards just to keep their household finances afloat.

Next Steps:

The country is run by Corporate Nation States who make the contributions, fund the campaigns and essentially buy off the legislative influence that counts in the U.S.  Each year corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington DC lobbying alone, i.e. Amazon has 94 lobbyists keeping DOJ anti-trust lawyers distracted, the FCC at bay on drones and lobby other interests to keep its juggernaut growing.

It is time we wake up to what is happening from Supreme Court decisions that favor American Express over merchants, to the GOP tax cut bill, to relaxing the Dodd-Frank rules on banking Corporate Nation States are running this country.  The basic economic trends in America are not going to change unless we have corporate reform.  Will this reform come in the form of legislation like Sen. Booker’s Dividend Reform Act or letters from investment banks to corporate CEOs like Blackrock CEO Larry Fink sent recently.  We are not sure, but we need to take a path that takes on the dominant power of Corporate Nation States or we are going to see the middle class wiped out and our economy with it. After all, as we pointed out in a recent post on the Common Good, when the working class has little money to spend the rich will lose too.  The working class has earned a fair share of the profits. Fair share means when profits go up by 5 % wages go up by at least 5 % otherwise the economy deteriorates like it is today deeply in public and corporate debt.

in the end the rich will need to see that it is in their interest to build the Common Good, by contributing to our institutions of government and common people or they will lose what they already have and probably a lot more.”

Federal Judge Strikes Down Medicaid Work Rule

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Photo: gcgi.com

Last Friday, a federal judge struck down a policy shift by the state of Kentucky approved by the GOP Administration to require all Medicaid patients to work, or volunteer to receive benefits.  Judge James E. Boasberg of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, an appointee of President Obama, handed down a ruling that the Trump administration’s approval of the plan had been “arbitrary and capricious” because the plan had not provided for state support of medical insurance for all citizens “ a central objective of Medicaid.

We noted in our blog on the topic last January:

“The White House announced approval of a work requirement for Medicaid  recipients, yet most already work.  Why?  The Kaiser Family Family found in 2016 that 59 % of  Medicaid patients already work:

Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation – 2016

So of the 41 % not working who is going to work?  The Administration said those that are disabled, ill, in school or caregiving will not be required to work or provide community service. Does that mean that those that are retired will be required to find work? Only 8 % said they could not find work.  We view this as the beginning  of an effort to cut down the rolls and thus the costs of Medicaid.  Instead of being viewed as a welfare program, Medicaid should be viewed as medical insurance.  We don’t ask Medicare enrollees to work, and private insurers don’t ask for patients to work.”

We are pleased to see that Judge Boasberg agreed with us that Medicaid should be viewed as medical insurance not a benefit for work program.

The view that if people don’t work they don’t need health insurance is patently false. People need health insurance from the day they are born, whether they are working or not, married or not, being a volunteer or caregiver or not. What happens today is we all pay in increased premiums and health provider pricing for those that do not have insurance when health they use medical services.  Often, these uninsured patients are charged an exorbitant price which is not usually what the cost is of he service or test, they patient can’t pay it because they have no insurance, then the hospital writes off the loss.  Finally, to recover these unfunded losses the hospital charges more to other patients because the uninsured patient is an overhead cost.

Next Steps 

Our recommendation is for a national medical insurance program for all which is inclusive of employer based plans for those that are working.  We detailed our plan in our blog – The Free Ride Is Over: Time for Single Payer Insurance. As we noted in our call for a single payer plan:

The idea of insurance is that we establish a large pool of 360 million people, to spread the costs of the sick along with the well, so that when the well get sick they will have services that don’t cost an unreasonable amount.  The health insurers have somehow talked the American public into the idea that they get to cream off the well pool from the sick one (which is more expensive) and then sock it to people that are sick.  That is just plan wrong.”

Building An Economy for the Common Good

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Image: Your Little Planet

In the past week, American Express won a gag order over merchants when the Supreme Court handed down a decision that allowed the huge financial services company to require all their merchants not to tell their consumers other cards had cheaper swipe fees.  Amazon announced the acquisition of Pill Pack a mail order pharmacy company, which sent financial shock waves through the drug store industry. So, it goes on, a Corporate Nation State (CNS) like American Express  or Amazon have their way limiting consumers choices to reduce costs and to take over the drug marketplace with no fair market rules in place.

Are these two companies focused on building the common good, fair play rules in the marketplace, doing what is right for consumers and taking social responsibility for the impact of their decisions?  No.  There is no countervailing power when Congress, The Supreme Court and the Executive branch are all doing the bidding of CNS organizations.

Corporations run our federal government by donating hundreds of millions of dollars (they have no campaign donation limits) each year to congressional campaigns through super PACs. Some CNS entities have large lobbying offices in Washington, like Amazon with 94 lobbyists knocking on Representative and Senator doors every day!  Do we have an army of lobbyists twisting arms for our interests?  No.

Where can we look for corporate reform to build the common good?  Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, a $6.3 trillion institutional investment corporation, sent a letter to 1000 CEOs of companies they invest in telling them that beyond profits they would be evaluated on how well they are taking care of the environment, responding to climate change, having a diverse workforce, and fairness with their employees. We applaud Mr. Fink’s move, and look to more investors to call upon corporate management to be held accountable for their social responsibilities.

There are corporate accountability frameworks that have been receiving widespread acceptance and government support. In the European Union a group called the Economy for the Common Good (ECG), has over 2400 corporate endorsers and almost 10,000 individuals support their effort to require corporations report on a Common Good Balance Sheet their social responsibility activities. The EU has adopted a non-binding directive requiring companies of 500 employees and ‘public interest’ to report on human rights, diversity, labor rights, the environment, health and anti-corruption measures. The report is not included with the corporate annual report and is therefore not audited.

The Common Good Balance Sheet is divided into four key accountability areas: human dignity, solidarity and social justice, environmental sustainability, and transparency and co-determination:

Source: Economy for the Common Good – 6/29/18

The ECG is now working to make actual changes in corporate behavior by focusing on gaining support for these eight issues:

  • universal (all values and relevant issues)
  • legally binding
  • measurable and comparable (e. g. using points)
  • externally audited
  • generally understandable (for the public)
  • public (on all products, websites, shop doors)
  • developed in a participatory process
  • linked to legal incentives (taxes, tariffs, …)

The first phase has been completed of their initiative to gain EU nonbinding support next they look for a binding EU directive by 2020 followed by integration financial reporting.

We need to find corporate leaders in the US that see the vision of an Economy for the Common Good, embrace it and implement its ideas in their day to day operations – while measuring the results to show it is a better way to run a business.  A business can build an economy that works for all and still be a thriving profitable enterprise.

Startup Creates Executive Tracks For Women With Innovative Job Definitions

 

Image: vnnc.org

Women often face job flexibility issues in managing their job.  Time to be a caregiver, take care of children, or just needing to take care of kids when they get sick and can’t be in daycare. Werk co-founder, Anna Auerbach found in the workplace there was just not enough jobs that offered flexible hours, location or time agility to put women on an executive track.  Werk offers products to help companies change their thinking about full time W-2 jobs but with some unique flexible characteristics.

Source: Werk.com

The Werk team has identified 6 different types of flexible work through their research that companies need to be more inclusive, hire more women and accommodate men with flex time needs. The options range from Desk Plus – with different company locations for an employee’s desk, to MicroAgility where the worker can step out of the office for 1 – 3 hours to take care of an emergency. The firm trains their client company executives on how to re frame their jobs and how to recruit for more women and men who need flexible schedules.

We have seen the need for more women executives starting new businesses, in venture capital, angel funding and mature companies.  It has been difficult to bring more women into the job market due to the fact their needs for jobs with greater flexibility have not been met by standard HR job definition practices.  It is time these practices change to hire more women into management roles and assist men that may have caregiver or family needs.

EPA Abdicates Common Good Responsibility to Ensure Clean Water

 

Photo: commonfloor.com

The Wall Street Journal yesterday disclosed that Scott Pruitt, EPA Director, is working to limit the veto power of the agency over large projects impacting water quality. The agency has used the veto power sparingly – only 13 times since it was given the authority in the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Pruit believes the veto authority has gone too far impeding economic development, “I am concerned that the mere potential of EPA’s use of its… authority before or after the permitting process could influence investment decisions and chill economic growth by short-circuiting the permitting process,”, in a 4 page memo to regional staff.

Why is this clean water common good responsibility so hard to execute?   If a person dumped all his waste water and sewage in the street in front of his neighbors’  house, the neighbor would be upset and rightfully so. So, why do we treat mines, real estate developments, or port development any differently?  Is it because they are trying to make a profit while desecrating the land so it is ok?

Chromium-6 a known carcinogen made famous in the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ has been found in the drinking water of millions of Americans. The non-profit Environmental Working Group has been monitoring the status of chromium-6  found in 2017 the substance in the drinking water of over 200 million people.  So, there are dangerous substances that still need to be monitoring in our drinking water.

The EPA has not taken in its public stewardship responsibility to the level of other countries, there are thousands of chemicals that can cause pollution and possible health hazards – none have been added to the pollutants list since 2000.  The list is small only 90 are covered in the Clean Water Act out of about ten thousand.  In the European Union they closely track over 2,500 different chemicals.

While the EPA is not as diligent as it needs to be, President Trump a year ago weakened the Clean Water Act requirement that mining companies ensure that water dumped into streams be cleaned to safe water standards.  The policy shift impacts the drinking water of over 117 million people.

Source: Scientific American, – 3/10/17

The GOP Administration continues to undermine protections in place for 40 years to ensure clean water is available to all citizens.  The lead levels found in Flint, Michigan water show that in some areas around the country the job is not getting done. Weakening the Clean Water Act in regard to mining dross and limiting the use of EPA veto on projects are just two examples of an indifferent and dangerous attitude by the agency.

Next steps:

In a Gallup poll 57 %  of the people said they favor ensuring environmental quality over economic growth when a decision needs to be made.

Source: Gallup – 4/2/18

When are we going to get a government that represents the will of the people on issues of our very survival like the environment?  The EPA Director worked as attorney general in Oklahoma relaxing environmental laws and now he is plowing ahead not protecting the public and not steadfastly defending the common good. Congress needs to act to update the Clean Water Act from updates in the 1980s, give the EPA a clear message that protecting the public is the first priority over economic costs.

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