GOP or Dems in charge — Americans still get less healthcare, shorter lifespan, for our dollar$

❝ “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care—you watch,” President Donald Trump declared in March. “We’re coming up with plans.” Alas, like many of Mr Trump’s claims, this one proved untrue…

Republican reluctance to embrace health care, despite the president’s best efforts, is understandable. On the one hand, America’s health-care system is woefully dysfunctional: the country spends about twice as much on health care as other rich countries but has the highest infant-mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy (see chart). Some 30m people, including 6m non-citizens, remain uninsured. And yet, though costs remain a major concern—out-of-pocket spending on insurance continues to rise—Americans say they are generally satisfied with their own health care. Eight in ten rate the quality of their care as “good” or “excellent”. Few are in favour of dramatic reform.

Yes, Americans are as ignorant about disposition of their tax dollars as they are about, say, healthful living in general. I doubt that most have any idea about how US healthcare stacks up against our peers. Poisonally, both topics are important to me. They will count towards how I vote in 2020.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Chimps or Humans…Who Has The Cleaner Bed?


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❝ By swabbing abandoned chimpanzee nests in Tanzania’s Issa Valley, scientists learned that just 3.5 percent of the bacteria species present came from the chimps’ own skin, saliva, or feces. In human beds sampled in a previous study in North Carolina, the number was a whopping 35 percent.

Parasites, such as ticks and fleas, were also scarce in chimp beds.

❝ Now, before you burn your linens and start building a bed out of leaves, there are a few things you need to know.

Here’s where you go to learn the answers

Life expectancy vs. health expenditure in the Greatest Land on Earth – or so we are told


Click to enlargeThe visual capitalist

Understand and appreciate one thing: our politicians, liberal, conservative and populist nutball all prate about the wonders of American-style capitalism. When, frankly, there’s a lot going on where we suck. On the largest scale – being the leading economy no matter the decay – means that we can bring down most of the world when we get caught out as in the recent Great Recession. The inanities of reactionary and racist history dear to the hearts of the class warriors running the show distort every aspect of our lives – from the dream of equal opportunity to classifying healthcare as a privilege not a right.

Our healthcare system and crap results are an outlier on the face of global political economy. Someday, somehow, the broad populace of this nation will wake up, stand up and shake off this foolishness and the pimps selling it to us.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

China’s “One Belt, One Road” project will profit most of Asia – and probably Europe


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China’s ambition to revive an ancient trading route stretching from Asia to Europe could leave an economic legacy bigger than the Marshall Plan or the European Union’s enlargement, according to a new analysis.

Dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road,’ the plan to build rail, highways and ports will embolden China’s soft power status by spreading economic prosperity during a time of heightened political uncertainty in both the U.S. and EU, according to Stephen L. Jen, the chief executive officer at Eurizon SLJ Capital Ltd., who estimates a value of $1.4 trillion for the project.

It will also boost trading links and help internationalize the yuan as banks open branches along the route…

“This is a quintessential example of a geopolitical event that will likely be consequential for the global economy and the balance of political power in the long run,” said Jen, a former International Monetary Fund economist.

Reaching from east to west, the Silk Road Economic Belt will extend to Europe through Central Asia and the Maritime Silk Road will link sea lanes to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa [and, eventually, to The Netherlands].

While China’s authorities aren’t calling their Silk Road a new Marshall Plan, that’s not stopping comparisons with the U.S. effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

With the potential to touch on 64 countries, 4.4 billion people and around 40 percent of the global economy, Jen estimates that the One Belt One Road project will be 12 times bigger in absolute dollar terms than the Marshall Plan. China may spend as much as 9 percent of gross domestic product — about double the U.S.’s boost to post-war Europe in those terms.

…There’s no guarantee that potential recipient nations will put their hand up for the aid…Still, at least China has a plan.

“The fact that this is a 30-40 year plan is remarkable as China is the only country with any long-term development plan, and this underscores the policy long-termism in China, in contrast to the dominance of policy short-termism in much of the West,” said Jen.

Sitting in a state – in a country – politically incapable of repairing crumbling infrastructure much less building new, I can only sit and wonder what it might feel like to watch any level of government demonstrate sufficient care and willingness to plan decades ahead.

Monster stars with 100 x our sun’s mass


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Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date. The results, which will be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, raise many new questions about the formation of massive stars.

Astronomical photography is such a delight. Thanks to WIRED for a weekly post.

Will taxing the quantity of calories in sugary drinks help reduce obesity?

Worldwide, an estimated 1.9 billion adults are overweight, and of these 600 million are obese. Obesity increases the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes; in the US alone, obesity-related healthcare costs around $200 billion a year. Due to their high sugar content and low nutritional value, there is growing concern that sugary drinks are a significant contributor to obesity. Consumption has increased drastically in recent decades, leading policy makers to look for ways of reducing the amount of sugary drinks in our diets.

In January 2014 Mexico became the first country to do a nationwide sugar-sweetened drink tax when it introduced a tax of one peso…per liter — around 10% of the price. The tax includes all drinks that have been sweetened using sugar, not just carbonated drinks. Mexico consumes more sugar-sweetened drinks than any other country: looking at Coca-Cola products alone, Mexico consumes 745 servings per person per year, compared to the worldwide average of 94.

Early results indicate that the tax is having an impact and reducing consumption of sugary drinks. However, the new study suggests that basing the tax on the dose of calories or sugar in a product, rather than applying a flat tax across the board, could make it even more effective…

In his new study, Dr. Evan Blecher at the American Cancer Society drew comparisons between taxing tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks, using South Africa as a case study. While a flat tax is a good approach to tobacco, it may not be the best way to encourage different habits when it comes to the consumption of alcohol and sugary drinks..

So far, the results of tobacco tax suggest that taxing by the number of cigarettes is the best approach. Translated to alcohol and sugary drinks, this would mean taxing by volume. However, taxing the dose of a particular ingredient — the alcohol in alcoholic beverages or the sugar or calories in sugar-sweetened drinks — could be a more effective way to reduce consumption. This may also incentivize drinks companies to offer healthier alternatives.

This dose approach to taxation has been effective at reducing the consumption of alcohol in South Africa, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed in beer by 12% since 1998. As well as being a possible approach for sugar-sweetened drinks, it could also be effective at controlling unhealthy food consumption, and even fuel consumption.

Not a bad idea. I’d be willing to support almost anything that works for reducing smoking and alcohol consumption. If the same approach works on sugar consumption – uniformly understood as contributing nothing but illness to modern society – it would be another positive for public health.

Real data about same-sex couples instead of homophobe ideology

The US Census Bureau just released information on same-sex couples as part of its release of the 2013 American Community Survey data. Here are some of the highlights from the release.

Same-sex couples are a bit more educated than straight couples. While both married and unmarried gay and lesbian couples are about equally likely to have both partners holding at least a bachelor’s degree, unmarried heterosexual couples are half as likely for this to be the case as married straight couples…

Same sex couples tend to have higher incomes than straight couples….Unmarried straight couples had the lowest average income…

Interracial marriages are more common among same-sex couples than among heterosexual couples…and we know who that pisses off.

RTFA for more demographics. To read the whole report from the Census Bureau – go here.

World’s top bird killers beat out windmills big time

As if cats weren’t bad enough, humans have invented all sorts of torture devices for our winged friends. We’ve paved over their nesting sites to make room for Olive Gardens and have broken up their skyscapes with glass buildings and radio towers.

Then came the most infamous bird killer of all: the wind turbine. As you can see in the chart…these sky blenders top the list.

Just kidding. Windmills aren’t the biggest serial killer, but are instead the smallest threat to birds worthy of mention, on par with airplanes. Turbines are responsible for as little as one percent of the deaths caused by the next smallest killer, communications towers.

You would hardly know this by reading Twitter or scanning the comments on any news article about wind power…

The estimates above are used in promotional videos by Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s biggest turbine maker. However, they originally came from a study by the U.S. Forest Service and are similar to numbers used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Society — earnest defenders of birds and bats.

No matter whose estimates you use, deaths by turbine don’t compare to cats, cars, power lines or buildings. It’s almost as if there’s been a concerted effort to make people think wind turbines are more menacing than they actually are…

It’s nice for wind-farm planners to take migration patterns and endangered habitats into account. But even if wind turbines were to double in size and provide 100 percent of our energy needs (both of which defy the laws of physics as we currently understand them), they still wouldn’t compare to the modern scourges of high-tension power lines or buildings with glass windows. Not even close.

The alternative to renewable energy sources like wind and solar is to burn ever more fossil fuels. Animals are threatened by those, too, including North America’s most common hairless mammal: the human. Roughly 20,000 of these moderately-intelligent animals die prematurely each year from air pollution from coal and oil, according to a study ordered by Congress.

And, of course, ignored by Congress.