Monday, September 25, 2023

Bits n’ pieces from east, west and beyond

by Compiled by Lorraine H. Marie
| January 20, 2023 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact.

A recent sampling:

“The evidence that the U.S. economy may skirt a recession is mounting,” according to Daleep Singh, a former Fed staffer, now chief global economist at PGIM Fixed Income. Inflation appears to be “trending downward,” he said.

AP noted that inflation has also been dropping in Europe and the U.K.

The national and global economy may be jeopardized due to House Republicans’ efforts to renege on paying the nation’s already-incurred federal debt. Various media claim Republicans say they refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless cuts are made to social programs and regulatory agencies.

Failure to meet debt obligations includes a Great Depression; the U.S. Treasury Department says that could span “more than a decade.”

A South Korean solar panel maker plans to invest over $2.5 billion in factories in Georgia, which are expected to supply about 30% of U.S. solar power demand by 2027, ABC News reported.

With renewed attention to risks from cooking with gas (dementia and asthma for some) the Consumer Product Safety Commission is exploring ways to make gas stoves safer, CBS says. advises running an overhead fan and/or open windows while cooking with gas, to lower pollution risks.

Pollutants can include formaldehyde, methane and nitrogen oxide.

New Republican-instigated House rules appear poised to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent non-partisan watchdog separate from the House Ethics Committee.

In an NPR interview the former chair of the office, David Skaggs, said the new rules will be “terribly destructive” of the OCE’s ability to perform, and “One has to assume that was the intention.”

Continual atmospheric river events in California show no sign of letting up this month, Axios reported.

Torrential rains have closed roads and schools and caused deaths, flooding and landslides. The weather extremes are in line with climate scientists’ predictions.

Contrary to what many think, Medicare Advantage is not Medicare. Rather, it’s private health insurance paid for by Medicare, and can be difficult to disengage from, says author and historian Thom Hartmann. He sees it as a potential avenue for privatizing Medicare. Advantage plans may refuse paying for tests and refuse to authorize life-saving procedures. Hartmann points out, “The more they can deny care and claims, the more profit they make.”

New York City employees recently protested, objecting to the city’s plan to put municipal retirees into private Medicare Advantage plans. That would save the city $600 million a year. But for the retirees, choice of doctors is restricted under the Advantage plans.

As well, referrals are typically required by Advantage plans, as opposed to traditional Medicare. The Center for Health and Democracy says “insurers are now on the hot seat, and the heat is just beginning to be cranked up.”

Recently lawyers for President Joe Biden found “a small number” of classified documents from his vice president years in a locked closet at a former Biden office.

The New York Times says the Dept. of Justice is “scrutinizing” the Biden findings.

As his first act in U.S. Congress, Georgia’s Rep. Buddy Carter proposed the Fair Tax Act (132 pages), which would abolish the IRS and create a flat 29.8% tax on all purchases, except for used items.

Example: a $77 purchase would have $23 in tax added. The “abolish” language is misleading, since the IRS would be replaced by an “Excise Tax Bureau,” a Forbes article said. With no taxes on, say land or a used vehicle, the Forbes author speculated that price tags on those could rise.

One way the proposal favors the rich: there is no sales tax on what is earned in the U.S. and “consumed elsewhere.”

With the planet’s protective ozone layer healing due to a phase-out of ozone-eating chemicals, two million people annually will be saved from skin cancer, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

Political and business elites meeting in Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, heard a pointed message from Oxfam, the anti-poverty organization: during challenges like climate change, a pandemic, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and surges in living costs, the ultra-rich 1% have gained twice as much wealth as the other 99%.

And, billionaire fortunes are rising by $2.7 billion daily. Oxfam says large food and energy companies are engaging in crisis profiteering, and that can be addressed by windfall taxes, as well as higher tax rates on the wealthy; they pointed out that Elon Musk paid a “just over” 3% tax rate from 2014 to 2018.

In their analysis of 95 companies, Oxfam found 84% of their profits were paid to shareholders; higher prices were laid on consumers. To address the issue, Oxfam cited Portugal: this January the country’s windfall tax was activated on pertinent food and energy companies.

They now pay a 33% tax on profits that are at least 20% higher than the average of the last four years. The new federal revenue will help small food retailers and welfare programs.

Blast from the past: “The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.” French author and philosopher Voltaire (the pen name of Francois Marie Arouet); 1694-1778.