Vermont Won’t Enact Single-Payer Health Care

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) “dropped his plan to enact a single-payer health care system in his state — a plan that had won praise from liberals but never really got much past the framework stage,” Politico reports.

Said Shumlin: “This is not the right time.”

“Shumlin faced deep skepticism that lawmakers could agree on a way to pay for his ambitious goal and that the feds would agree to everything he needed to create the first state-based single-payer system in 2017.”

“And that was all before Shumlin, a Democrat, almost lost reelection last month in one of the country’s most liberal states. And it was before MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, the now notorious Obamacare consultant who also advised Vermont until his $400,000 contract was killed amid the controversy, became political poison.”

New York Moves to Ban Fracking

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that the state will not lift its ban on fracking, National Journal reports.

“The long-awaited decision marks a decisive turn in the years-long battle over fracking in New York State. Energy companies are eager to unlock potentially vast reserves of natural gas in rock underlying the state in the Marcellus Shale. But environmentalists have put strong pressure on the Democratic governor to keep fracking out of the state.”

“The Democratic governor’s decision followed the release of a highly-anticipated health and environmental study on the impacts of fracking. The study, conducted by the Cuomo administration, concluded that while data is limited and risks surrounding fracking are not fully known, the potential adverse impacts appear significant enough for the Health Department to recommend that fracking should not be allowed.”

So Can You Buy a Cuban Cigar Now?

Bloomberg: “The news that the U.S. will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba dropped like a bombshell this morning. But let’s be frank: unless you’re Henry Kissinger, your first question isn’t about the geostrategic implications of this development. It’s about how soon you’ll be able to buy legendary Cuban cigars, so coveted that John F. Kennedy sent his aide Pierre Salinger to acquire a supply of 1200 just before he imposed the embargo in 1962. At W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist, a favorite lobbyist hangout down the block from the White House, the atmosphere was palpably excited (and smoky).”

“A White House briefing for reporters suggests that, at least initially, obtaining a Cuban Cohiba won’t be quite as simple as visiting your local tobacconist. “Authorized travelers to Cuba will be allowed to return with $400 of general goods and up to $100 for tobacco/alcohol for personal consumption,” said a senior administration official. Visitors to Cuba will be able to bring back cigars. But Cuban cigar makers apparently won’t be able to export their wares to the U.S.”

“At least not right away. The embargo will be around indefinitely—Obama called for ‘an honest and serious debate about lifting it.’ Eventually, though, the warming of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will almost certainly change this–and perhaps soon. That would alter the $13 billion U.S. cigar market, where there’s expected to be an intense demand for Cuban cigars.”

Obamacare Enrollment Surges Ahead of Deadline

Nearly 2.5 million consumers selected plans since the beginning of Obamacare open enrollment – more than one million in just the last week.

A new analysis by Avalere Health “estimates that exchange enrollment will total 10.5 million people by the end of 2015, though enrollment could fluctuate up or down by approximately 1 million individuals.”

“As of late 2014, 6.7 million individuals enrolled in coverage through state and federal exchanges. In the first three weeks of open enrollment for 2015, 664,000 new consumers applied for coverage and selected a plan through healthcare.gov. Since the federally facilitated exchange has generally represented 68 percent of total exchange enrollment, Avalere estimates that roughly 977,000 individuals signed up for coverage across all exchanges between November 15 and December 5.”

As Financial Industry Grows, the Economy Suffers

“Wall Street is bigger and richer than ever, the research shows, and the economy and the middle class are worse off for it,” the Washington Post reports.

“There’s a prominent theory among some economists and policymakers that says the big problem with the American economy is that a lot of Americans don’t have the talent to compete in today’s global marketplace. While it’s true that the country would be better off if more workers had more training — particularly low-skilled, low-income workers — that theory misses a crucial, damaging development of the past several decades.”

“It misses how much the economy has suffered at the hands of some of its most skilled, most talented workers, who followed escalating pay onto Wall Street — and away from more economically and socially valuable uses of their talents.”

“The financial industry has doubled in size as a share of the economy in the past 50 years, but it hasn’t gotten any better at its core job: getting money from investors who have it to companies that will use it to generate growth, profit and jobs. There are many ways to quantify how that financial growth-without-improvement hurts the economy.”

The Daily Cal asked author Michael Lewis why he went to work on Wall Street: “I couldn’t figure out what else to do.”

Congress Quietly Ends Ban on Medical Marijuana

“Tucked deep inside the 1,603-page federal spending measure is a provision that effectively ends the federal government’s prohibition on medical marijuana and signals a major shift in drug policy,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“The bill’s passage over the weekend marks the first time Congress has approved nationally significant legislation backed by legalization advocates. It brings almost to a close two decades of tension between the states and Washington over medical use of marijuana.”

“Under the provision, states where medical pot is legal would no longer need to worry about federal drug agents raiding retail operations. Agents would be prohibited from doing so.”

Climate Change Denial Turns Absurd

“For years, the fossil-fuel industries have been telling us that global warming is a hoax based on junk science,” Dana Millbank writes.

“But now these industries are floating an intriguing new argument: They’re admitting that human use of coal, oil and gas is causing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise — but they’re saying this is a good thing. We need more CO2 in our lives, not less.”

“This was some creative thinking, and it took a page from the gun lobby, which argues that the way to curb firearm violence is for more people to be armed.”

Top Global Hot Spots to Watch

The Atlantic: “Foreign policy often involves making difficult and debatable choices about which parts of the world matter more to a given country—and which, by extension, matter less. It’s about defining national interests and determining where those interests are most evident and endangered. This is why the United States has done far more to stop ISIS in Syria and Iraq than, say, sectarian war in the Central African Republic.”

“In short, it’s about priorities. And according to a new survey of U.S. foreign-policy experts and practitioners, those priorities could look a lot like the map above in 2015, at least from America’s point of view. The map sorts potential conflicts around the world into three tiers of risk: red for high-priority threats, orange for moderate-priority threats, and yellow for low-priority threats. According to Paul Stares, the report’s lead author, it’s a color-coded snapshot of “where the balance of U.S. attention and resources should be devoted” in the coming year. As such, it’s also a guide to the places and conflicts that are likely to receive relatively little attention from America’s national-security apparatus in the months ahead.”

Same Sex Couples Divorce at Lower Rates

A new UCLA research report from M.V. Lee Badgett and Christy Mallory finds that same-sex couples are divorcing at lower rates than traditional couples.

“Now that same-sex couples have the ability to marry or enter some other form of legal relationship in many states, we also see that couples sometimes dissolved those legal relationships. Administrative data from two states shows that same-sex couples end their marriages at a rate of 1.1% annually, on average, and an average of 1.6% of couples dissolve their legal relationships if a broader set of states is included. This rate is slightly lower than the annual rate of divorce among married different-sex couples.”

Andrew Gelman: “The other thing I wonder is how this will play out over time. The first wave of same-sex marriage is not necessarily typical of what will happen in future years, and in other states. So it will be interesting to see this go forward. It would also be interesting to see the age distribution of the newlyweds. I’d expect that in the first years of same-sex marriage we’d see a lot of older couples and then the average age of marriage would settle down to a lower level, comparable to that of traditional wives and husbands.”

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Another GOP Governor Backs Medicaid Expansion

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) “became the latest Republican governor to announce support of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion — and the third in the nation since Republicans gained more power at the state and federal levels in the November midterm elections,” the Washington Post reports.

“Like most other Republican governors who want to take the health-care law’s generous federal funding, Haslam is now offering a plan that deviates from the Medicaid expansion envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Haslam, who made the announcement almost a month after his re-election, said the Obama administration has verbally approved the approach… These moves have somewhat been telegraphed over the past year. These governors had said they wouldn’t accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion as written, but they were exploring other ways to take federal funds while crafting a plan that worked best for their states.”

“Nine Republican governors have expanded Medicaid so far, while Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is still negotiating with the feds on leveraging an existing state program to expand coverage.”

If Supreme Court Breaks Obamacare Will GOP Fix It?

National Journal: “There’s a very real chance the high court will invalidate Obamacare’s insurance subsidies in most of the country, which would be devastating for the health care law. It would become almost entirely unworkable in most states, and the cost of coverage would skyrocket.”

“That loss for the Affordable Care Act might seem like a clear-cut political win for the GOP, but the reality would be far messier. The law would still require people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, leaving people on the hook for a product that—sans subsidies—they could not afford. And as many of those people live in Republican-run states or 2016 battlegrounds, they’ll be asking for a solution.”

“That would leave Republicans with a difficult choice: Do they continue to push for an all-out repeal of the law—creating a standoff with Democrats who will dig in in the hopes of legislation undoing the Supreme Court’s decision—or do they seek a deal that alleviates the law’s burden on those who’ve lost their subsidies? Such a deal would likely include pullbacks of major parts of the law, but it would also require Republicans to give up on a full ‘root-and-branch’ repeal.”

Distributed Generation Like Solar Will Double By 2023

A new report by Navigant Research projects that distributed generation will roughly double in the next nine years.

Navigant-1

Think Progress: “Distributed generation (DG) is the decentralized production of electricity by small-scale systems — most often in the form of rooftop solar, but it can include biomass, wind, and other forms of renewable power as well. Navigant Research’s analysis also included natural gas and diesel generators of 6 megawatts or less, along with solar arrays of one megawatt or less and small wind turbines of 500 kilowatts or less.”

“According to their forecast (unfortunately behind a paywall) the total capacity for DG installed around the world will grow from 87.3 gigawatts in 2014 to 165.5 gigawatts in 2023. Most of the growth is anticipated to come from the deployment of solar. Geographically, the biggest increase in the projection was in Western Europe, with North America and the Asian Pacific not too far behind.”