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Judge grants ex-NFL cheerleader’s request to delete dozens of online articles


Enlarge (credit: Arizona Cardinals)

In 2013, Megan Welter had a really bad night.

Welter, at that time a cheerleader for the Arizona Cardinals, got into a drunken fight with her boyfriend. It ended with her calling 911 and reporting him for domestic violence. Welter's boyfriend was a professional fighter, who "smashed [her] head into the tile" and put her in a "choke hold with his legs," she told the 911 dispatcher.

When the police showed up, they found out that wasn't true. Welter's boyfriend, Ryan McMahon, showed video on his cell phone verifying that it was Welter who had attacked him. She was arrested and charged with assault.

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Skylake, Kaby Lake chips have a crash bug with hyperthreading enabled

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Enlarge / A Kaby Lake desktop CPU, not that you can tell the difference in a press shot. (credit: Intel)

Under certain conditions, systems with Skylake or Kaby Lake processors can crash due to a bug that occurs when hyperthreading is enabled. Intel has fixed the bug in a microcode update, but until and unless you install the update, the recommendation is that hyperthreading be disabled in the system firmware.

All Skylake and Kaby Lake processors appear to be affected, with one exception. While the brand-new Skylake-X chips still contain the flaw, their Kaby Lake X counterparts are listed by Intel as being fixed and unaffected.

Systems with the bad hardware will need the microcode fix. The fix appears to have been published back in May, but, as is common with such fixes, there was little to no fanfare around the release. The nature of the flaw and the fact that it has been addressed only came to light this weekend courtesy of a notification from the Debian Linux distribution. This lack of publicity is in spite of all the bug reports pointing to the issue—albeit weird, hard-to-pin-down bug reports, with code that doesn't crash every single time.

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“McMansion Hell” used Zillow photos to mock bad design—Zillow may sue

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(credit: McMansionHell)

An architecture blogger has temporarily disabled her website, McMansionHell.com, after receiving a demand letter from Zillow and posting it on Twitter.

On Monday, Zillow threatened to sue Kate Wagner, saying that that she was violating its terms of use, copyright law, and possibly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because she took images from the company's website without permission. However, on each of her posts, she acknowledged that the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as she was providing (often humorous) commentary on various architectural styles. Her website was featured on the design podcast 99% Invisible in October 2016.

Confusingly, Zillow does not even own the images in question. Instead, Zillow licenses them from the rights holders. As such, it remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit against Wagner.

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Zillow woke up and wondered "how can I be shittier than yelp"
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Fired Employee Hacks and Shuts Down Smart Water Readers in Five US Cities

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Smart water grid

A Pennsylvania judge has sentenced Adam Flanagan, 42, of Bala Cynwyd, PA to one year and one day in prison for hacking and damaging the IT networks of several water utility providers across the US East Coast. The sentence was passed down last week for crimes committed in the spring of 2014.

According to court documents obtained by Bleeping Computer, Flanagan worked between November 2007 and November 2013 for an unnamed company that produced smart water, electric, and gas readers.

Flanagan's role with the company was as an engineer tasked with setting up Tower Gateway Basestations (TGB) for the manufacturer's customers, which were mainly water utility networks. In modern water grids, TGBs collect data from smart meters installed at people's homes and relay the information to the water provider's main systems, where it is logged, monitored for incidents, and processed for billing.

Flanagan disabled water reader base stations

Things turned sour when Flanagan's employer fired him on November 16, 2013, for undisclosed reasons. This didn't sit well with Flanagan, who used his knowledge of the TGB stations he installed to access these devices and disable their ability to communicate with their respective water utility providers' upstream equipment. The former employee also changed passwords to offensive words on some TGBs.

According to court documents, the FBI tracked down Flanagan's actions to six incidents in five cities across the US East Coast: Aliquippa (Pennsylvania), Egg Harbor (New Jersey), Kennebec (Maine), New Kensington (Pennsylvania), and Spotswood (New Jersey).

Flanagan attacks

Flanagan's attacks resulted in water utility providers not being able to collect user equipment readings remotely. This incurred damage to the utility providers, who had to send out employees at customer premises to collect monthly readings.

Flanagan faced up to 90 years in prison, $3 million fine

After tracing the attacks back to Flanagan, US authorities filed charges on November 22, 2016, and arrested the suspect and seized his computer a day later.

At the time of his arrest, Flanagan faced a maximum sentence of 90 years in prison, plus a $3 million fine. He pleaded guilty on March 7, 2017, before receiving his sentence on June 14, 2017.

Flanagan is not the first employee to sabotage his employer, nor will he be the last. Similar cases include incidents like:

Image credits: Sensus

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California invested heavily in solar power. Now there’s so much that other states are sometimes paid to take it

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On 14 days during March, Arizona utilities got a gift from California: free solar power.

Well, actually better than free. California produced so much solar power on those days that it paid Arizona to take excess electricity its residents weren’t using to avoid overloading its own power lines.

It happened on eight days in January and nine in February as well. All told, those transactions helped save Arizona electricity customers millions of dollars this year, though grid operators declined to say exactly how much. And California also has paid other states to take power.

The number of days that California dumped its unused solar electricity would have been even higher if the state hadn’t ordered some solar plants to reduce production — even as natural gas power plants, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, continued generating electricity.

Solar and wind power production was curtailed a relatively small amount — about 3% in the first quarter of 2017 — but that’s more than double the same period last year. And the surge in solar power could push the number even higher in the future.

Why doesn’t California, a champion of renewable energy, use all the solar power it can generate?

The answer, in part, is that the state has achieved dramatic success in increasing renewable energy production in recent years. But it also reflects sharp conflicts among major energy players in the state over the best way to weave these new electricity sources into a system still dominated by fossil-fuel-generated power.

No single entity is in charge of energy policy in California. This has led to a two-track approach that has created an ever-increasing glut of power and is proving costly for electricity users. Rates have risen faster here than in the rest of the U.S., and Californians now pay about 50% more than the national average.

Perhaps the most glaring example: The California Legislature has mandated that one-half of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2030; today it’s about one-fourth. That goal once was considered wildly optimistic. But solar panels have become much more efficient and less expensive. So solar power is now often the same price or cheaper than most other types of electricity, and production has soared so much that the target now looks laughably easy to achieve.

At the same time, however, state regulators — who act independently of the Legislature — until recently have continued to greenlight utility company proposals to build more natural gas power plants.

These conflicting energy agendas have frustrated state Senate Leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who opposes more fossil fuel plants. He has introduced legislation that would require the state to meet its goal of 50% of its electricity from renewable sources five years earlier, by 2025. Even more ambitiously, he recently proposed legislation to require 100% of the state’s power to come from renewable energy sources by 2045.

“I want to make sure we don’t have two different pathways,” de Leon said. Expanding clean energy production and also building natural gas plants, he added, is “a bad investment.”

Environmental groups are even more critical. They contend that building more fossil fuel plants at the same time that solar production is being curtailed shows that utilities — with the support of regulators — are putting higher profits ahead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“California and others have just been getting it wrong,” said Leia Guccione, an expert in renewable energy at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, a clean power advocate. “The way [utilities] earn revenue is building stuff. When they see a need, they are perversely [incentivized] to come up with a solution like a gas plant.”

California and others have just been getting it wrong.

— Leia Guccione, renewable energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute

Regulators and utility officials dispute this view. They assert that the transition from fossil fuel power to renewable energy is complicated and that overlap is unavoidable.

They note that electricity demand fluctuates — it is higher in summer in California, because of air conditioning, and lower in the winter — so some production capacity inevitably will be underused in the winter. Moreover, the solar power supply fluctuates as well. It peaks at midday, when the sunlight is strongest. Even then it isn’t totally reliable.

Because no one can be sure when clouds might block sunshine during the day, fossil fuel electricity is needed to fill the gaps. Utility officials note that solar production is often cut back first because starting and stopping natural gas plants is costlier and more difficult than shutting down solar panels.

Eventually, unnecessary redundancy of electricity from renewables and fossil fuel will disappear, regulators, utilities and operators of the electric grid say.

“The gas-fired generation overall will show decline,” said Neil Millar, executive director of infrastructure at CAISO, the California Independent System Operator, which runs the electric grid and shares responsibility for preventing blackouts and brownouts. “Right now, as the new generation is coming online and the older generation hasn’t left yet, there is a bit of overlap.”

Utility critics acknowledge these complexities. But they counter that utilities and regulators have been slow to grasp how rapidly technology is transforming the business. A building slowdown is long overdue, they argue.

Despite a growing glut of power, however, authorities only recently agreed to put on hold proposals for some of the new natural gas power plants that utilities want to build to reconsider whether they are needed.

A key question in the debate is when California will be able to rely on renewable power for most or all of its needs and safely phase out fossil fuel plants, which regulators are studying.

The answer depends in large part on how fast battery storage improves, so it is cheaper and can store power closer to customers for use when the sun isn’t shining. Solar proponents say the technology is advancing rapidly, making reliance on renewables possible far sooner than previously predicted, perhaps two decades or even less from now — which means little need for new power plants with a life span of 30 to 40 years.

Calibrating this correctly is crucial to controlling electricity costs.

“It’s not the renewables that’s the problem. It’s the state’s renewable policy that’s the problem,” said Gary Ackerman, president of the Western Power Trading Forum, an association of independent power producers. “We’re curtailing renewable energy in the summertime months. In the spring, we have to give people money to take it off our hands.”

Not long ago, solar was barely a rounding error for California’s energy producers.

In 2010, power plants in the state generated just over 15% of their electricity production from renewable sources. But that was mostly wind and geothermal power, with only a scant 0.5% from solar. Now that overall amount has grown to 27%, with solar power accounting for 10%, or most of the increase. The solar figure doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of rooftop solar systems that produce an additional 4 percentage points, a share that is ever growing.

Behind the rapid expansion of solar power: its plummeting price, which makes it highly competitive with other electricity sources. In part that stems from subsidies, but much of the decline comes from the sharp drop in the cost of making solar panels and their increased efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity.

The average cost of solar power for residential, commercial and utility-scale projects declined 73% between 2010 and 2016. Solar electricity now costs 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour — the amount needed to light a 100-watt bulb for 10 hours — to produce, or about the same as electricity produced by a natural gas plant and half the cost of a nuclear facility, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Fly over the Carrizo Plain in California’s Central Valley near San Luis Obispo and you’ll see that what was once barren land is now a sprawling solar farm, with panels covering more than seven square miles — one of the world’s largest clean-energy projects. When the sun shines over the Topaz Solar Farm, the shimmering panels produce enough electricity to power all of the residential homes in a city the size of Long Beach, population 475,000.

Other large-scale solar operations blanket swaths of the Mojave Desert, which has increasingly become a sun-soaking energy hub. The Beacon solar project covers nearly two square miles and the Ivanpah plant covers about five and a half square miles.

The state’s three big shareholder-owned utilities now count themselves among the biggest solar power producers. Southern California Edison produces or buys more than 7% of its electricity from solar generators, Pacific Gas & Electric 13% and San Diego Gas & Electric 22%.

Similarly, fly over any sizable city and you’ll see warehouses, businesses and parking lots with rooftop solar installations, and many homes as well.

With a glut of solar power at times, CAISO has two main options to avoid a system overload: order some solar and wind farms to temporarily halt operations or divert the excess power to other states.

That’s because too much electricity can overload the transmission system and result in power outages, just as too little can. Complicating matters is that even when CAISO requires large-scale solar plants to shut off panels, it can’t control solar rooftop installations that are churning out electricity.

CAISO is being forced to juggle this surplus more and more.

In 2015, solar and wind production were curtailed about 15% of the time on average during a 24-hour period. That rose to 21% in 2016 and 31% in the first few months of this year. The surge in solar production accounts for most of this, though heavy rainfall has increased hydroelectric power production in the state this year, adding to the surplus of renewables.

Even when solar production is curtailed, the state can produce more than it uses, because it is difficult to calibrate supply and demand precisely. As more homeowners install rooftop solar, for example, their panels can send more electricity to the grid than anticipated on some days, while the state’s overall power usage might fall below what was expected.

This means that CAISO increasingly has excess solar and wind power it can send to Arizona, Nevada and other states.

When those states need more electricity than they are producing, they pay California for the power. But California has excess power on a growing number of days when neighboring states don’t need it, so California has to pay them to take it. CAISO calls that “negative pricing.”

Why does California have to pay rather than simply give the power away free?

When there isn’t demand for all the power the state is producing, CAISO needs to quickly sell the excess to avoid overloading the electricity grid, which can cause blackouts. Basic economics kick in. Oversupply causes prices to fall, even below zero. That’s because Arizona has to curtail its own sources of electricity to take California’s power when it doesn’t really need it, which can cost money. So Arizona will use power from California at times like this only if it has an economic incentive — which means being paid.

In the first two months of this year, CAISO paid to send excess power to other states seven times more often than same period in 2014. “Negative pricing” happened in an average of 18% of all sales, versus about 2.5% in the same period in 2014.

Most “negative pricing” typically has occurred for relatively short periods at midday, when solar production is highest.

But what happened in March shows how the growing supply of solar power could have a much greater impact in the future. The periods of “negative pricing” lasted longer than in the past — often for six hours at a time, and once for eight hours, according to a CAISO report.

The excess power problem will ease somewhat in the summer, when electricity usage is about 50% higher in California than in the winter.

But CAISO concedes that curtailments and “negative pricing” is likely to happen even more often in the future as solar power production continues to grow, unless action is taken to better manage the excess electricity.

Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of California’s largesse because it is next door and the power can easily be sent there on transmission lines.

On days that Arizona is paid to take California’s excess solar power, Arizona Public Service says it has cut its own solar generation rather than fossil fuel power. So California’s excess solar isn’t reducing greenhouse gases when that happens.

CAISO says it does not calculate how much it has paid others so far this year to take excess electricity. But its recent oversupply report indicated that it frequently paid buyers as much as $25 per megawatt-hour to get them to take excess power, according to the Energy Information Administration.

That’s a good deal for Arizona, which uses what it is paid by California to reduce its own customers’ electricity bills. Utility buyers typically pay an average of $14 to $45 per megawatt-hour for electricity when there isn’t a surplus from high solar power production.

With solar power surging so much that it is sometimes curtailed, does California need to spend $6 billion to $8 billion to build or refurbish eight natural gas power plants that have received preliminary approval from regulators, especially as legislative leaders want to accelerate the move away from fossil fuel energy?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

Utilities have repeatedly said yes. State regulators have agreed until now, approving almost all proposals for new power plants. But this month, citing the growing electricity surplus, regulators announced plans to put on hold the earlier approvals of four of the eight plants to determine if they really are needed.

Big utilities continue to push for all of the plants, maintaining that building natural gas plants doesn’t conflict with expanding solar power. They say both paths are necessary to ensure that California has reliable sources of power — wherever and whenever it is needed.

The biggest industrial solar power plants, they note, produce electricity in the desert, in some cases hundreds of miles from population centers where most power is used.

At times of peak demand, transmission lines can get congested, like Los Angeles highways. That’s why CAISO, utilities and regulators argue that new natural gas plants are needed closer to big cities. In addition, they say, the state needs ample electricity sources when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing enough.

Utility critics agree that some redundancy is needed to guarantee reliability, but they contend that the state already has more than enough.

California has so much surplus electricity that existing power plants run, on average, at slightly less than one-third of capacity. And some plants are being closed decades earlier than planned.

As for congestion, critics note that the state already is crisscrossed with an extensive network of transmission lines. Building more plants and transmission lines wouldn’t make the power system much more reliable, but would mean higher profits for utilities, critics say.

That is what the debate is about, said Jaleh Firooz, a power industry consultant who previously worked as an engineer for San Diego Gas & Electric for 24 years and helped in the formation of CAISO.

“They have the lopsided incentive of building more,” she said.

The reason: Once state regulators approve new plants or transmission lines, the cost is now built into the amount that the utility can charge electricity users — no matter how much or how little it is used.

Given that technology is rapidly tilting the competitive advantage toward solar power, there are less expensive and cleaner ways to make the transition toward renewable energy, she said.

To buttress her argument, Firooz pointed to a battle in recent years over a natural gas plant in Redondo Beach.

Independent power producer AES Southland in 2012 proposed replacing an aging facility there with a new one. The estimated cost: $250 million to $275 million, an amount that customers would pay off with higher electricity bills.

CAISO and Southern California Edison, which was going to buy power from the new plant, supported it as necessary to protect against potential power interruptions. Though solar and wind power production was increasing, they said those sources couldn’t be counted on because their production is variable, not constant.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved the project, agreeing that it was needed to meet the long-term electricity needs in the L.A. area.

But the California Coastal Conservancy, a conservation group opposed to the plant, commissioned an analysis by Firooz to determine how vital it was. Her conclusion: not at all.

Firooz calculated that the L.A. region already had excess power production capacity — even without the new plant — at least through 2020.

Along with the cushion, her report found, a combination of improved energy efficiency, local solar production, storage and other planning strategies would be more than sufficient to handle the area’s power needs even as the population grew.

She questioned utility arguments.

“In their assumptions, the amount of capacity they give to the solar is way, way undercut because they have to say, ‘What if it’s cloudy? What if the wind is not blowing?’ ” Firooz explained. “That’s how the game is played. You build these scenarios so that it basically justifies what you want.”

In their assumptions, the amount of capacity they give to the solar is way, way undercut because they have to say, ‘What if it’s cloudy?’

— Jaleh Firooz, power-industry consultant

Undeterred, AES Southland pressed forward with its proposal. In 2013, Firooz updated her analysis at the request of the city of Redondo Beach, which was skeptical that a new plant was needed. Her findings remained the same.

Nonetheless, the state Public Utilities Commission approved the project in March 2014 on the grounds that it was needed. But the California Energy Commission, another regulatory agency whose approval for new plants is required along with the PUC’s, sided with the critics. In November 2015 it suspended the project, effectively killing it.

Asked about the plant, AES said it followed the appropriate processes in seeking approval. It declined to say whether it still thinks that a new plant is needed.

The existing facility is expected to close in 2020.

A March 2017 state report showed why critics are confident that the area will be fine without a new plant: The need for power from Redondo Beach’s existing four natural gas units has been so low, the state found, that the units have operated at less than 5% of their capacity during the last four years.

Contact the reporter. For more coverage follow @ivanlpenn

Credits: Times data editor Ben Welsh and staff writer Ryan Menezes contributed to this report. Illustrations by Eben McCue. Graphics by Priya Krishnakumar and Thomas Suh Lauder. Produced by Sean Greene

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Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Health Care Measure, And Progressives Lose Again

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As Republican lawmakers grapple with their unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare, Democrats have tried to present a united front on health care. But for all their populist rhetoric against insurance and drug companies, Democratic powerbrokers and their allies remain deeply divided on the issue — to the point where a political civil war has spilled into the open in America’s largest state.

In California last week, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped his and his party’s corporate donors block a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a universal health care program in which the government would be the single payer.

Rendon’s decision shows how progressives’ ideal of universal health care remains elusive — even in a liberal state where government already foots 70 percent of the total health care bill. 

Read: The Big Corporate Money That’s Fighting Single-Payer

Until Rendon’s move, things seemed to be looking up for Democratic single-payer proponents in deep blue California, which has been hammered by insurance premium increases. There, the Democratic Party — which originally created Medicare — just added a legislative supermajority to a Democratic-controlled state government that oversees the world’s sixth largest economy. That 2016 election victory came as a poll showed nearly two-thirds of Californians support the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system in a state whose population is roughly the size of Canada — which already has such a system.

California’s highest-profile federal Democratic lawmaker recently endorsed state efforts to create single-payer systems, and 25 members of its congressional delegation had signed on to sponsor a federal single-payer bill.

Meanwhile, after Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had twice vetoed state single-payer legislation, California in 2010 elected a governor who had previously campaigned for president on a pledge to support such a system. Other statewide elected officials had also declared their support for single-payer, including the current lieutenant governor, who promised to enact a universal health care program if he is wins the governorship in 2018.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, pictured here in Los Angeles, April 4, 2016, had previously endorsed the concept of single-payer healthcare. But he has not supported legislation in his state to create a single-payer healthcare system. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

None of that, though, made the difference: Late Friday, Rendon announced that even though a single-payer bill had passed the Democratic-controlled state senate, he would not permit the bill to be voted on by the Assembly this year.

“As someone who has long been a supporter of single payer, I am encouraged by the conversation begun by Senate Bill 562,” Rendon said. But “senators who voted for SB 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump Administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation.”

Since 2012, Rendon has taken in more than $82,000 from business groups and healthcare corporations that are listed in state documents opposed the measure, according to an International Business Times review of data amassed by the National Institute on Money In State Politics. In all, he has received more than $101,000 from pharmaceutical companies and another $50,000 from major health insurers.

In the same time, the California Democratic Party has received more than $1.2 million from the specific groups opposing the bill, and more than $2.2 million from pharmaceutical and health insurance industry donors. That includes a $100,000 infusion of cash from Blue Shield of California in the waning days of the 2016 election — just before state records show the insurer began lobbying against the single-payer bill.

While Rendon oversees a supermajority, it had never been clear that Assembly Democrats would muster the two-thirds vote needed under the state constitution to add the new taxes needed to fund the single-payer system proposed by the senate-passed bill. That is because the Democratic Assembly caucus includes progressive legislators but also more conservative members who are closer to business interests.

In addition to the money given to Rendon, the groups opposing the single-payer measure have delivered more than $1.5 million to Democratic assembly members since the 2012 election cycle. In all, the 55 Democratic members of the 80-seat Assembly have received more than $2.7 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries in just the last three election cycles.

Complicating matters for this year’s single-payer bill was the fact that the pharmaceutical industry had just spent more than $100 million to defeat a 2016 ballot measure in California aimed at lowering drug prices. That wave of money was a powerful reminder that major industries opposed to single-payer have virtually unlimited resources to spend against California’s Democratic incumbents in the next election if those Democrats ultimately try to pass a bill.

“Subject To Enormous Uncertainty”

The episode in California was the latest defeat for single-payer health care advocates, who have faced a string of losses at the hands of Democrats whose party has continued to attract significant cash from the health care industries that benefit from the current  system.

In the last decade, Barack Obama raised millions of dollars from health care industry donors and then backed off his previous support for single-payer. He and other administration officials explicitly declared that the Affordable Care Act would not become a Medicare-for-all system. The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate then failed to pass a proposal to create a publicly run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

More recently, Vermont’s Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned his state’s high-profile push for single-payer in 2014 — just as he was serving as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, a group whose top donors included UnitedHealthcare, Blue Cross, AstraZeneca and the pharmaceutical industry’s trade association.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign was boosted by millions of dollars from health care industry donors, and she derided Bernie Sanders for pushing single payer, saying such an idea would “never, ever come to pass.” In the same 2106 election, prominent Democratic Party consultants helped lead an insurer-funded campaign — backed by prominent Democratic lawmakers — to kill a single-payer ballot measure in Colorado.

Fellow Democrats say it's time for Hillary Clinton to end the blame tour and step out of the limelight. Above, Clinton at the Women for Women International Luncheon in New York, May 2, 2017. Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

And yet despite those defeats, single-payer advocates were thinking big at the beginning of 2017. Heading into the new legislative sessions, Democrats controlled both governorships and legislatures in six states — and another Democratic-leaning state with a Democratic governor, New York, appeared to have legislative support for single-payer. With its Democratic supermajority, California was the biggest focus of attention among progressive healthcare advocates.

According to a June report by California senate analysts, the single-payer legislation that was introduced in Sacramento this year would have created a government agency called Healthy California that would be “required to provide comprehensive universal single-payer health care coverage system for all California residents.” The program would have been prohibited from charging participants premiums and co-pays and would have covered “all medical care determined to be medically appropriate by the members’ health care provider,” according to the Senate report.

While the report said fiscal estimates “are subject to enormous uncertainty,” it projected that $200 billion worth of existing federal, state and local health care spending would offset about half of the estimated $400 billion annual cost. Shifting that money, though, could require California to secure waivers from the federal government that would allow it to redirect the federal money into the new program.

The original bill did not include a specific tax proposal to raise the rest of the needed revenue. However, the report estimated that the other $200 billion could be funded by moving state payroll taxes up to 15 percent , a levy the report said “would be offset to a large degree by reduced spending on health care coverage by employers and employees.”

“The Only Health Care System That Makes Any Sense”

At the start of California’s legislative session, bill proponents pitched the sweeping measure as a way to protect the state from Trump administration health care policy. They may have been banking on support from California’s top Democrat, Gov. Jerry Brown, who endorsed single payer during his 1992 presidential campaign.

“I believe the only health care system that makes any sense is a single-payer system,” Brown said during a March 1992 Democratic presidential forum. “I don't see any way, after having worked on this problem in the largest state in the union, which, after all, has the highest medical costs, to really contain costs without establishing a single payer for all basic services.”

But as the the California legislation began moving forward, Brown cast doubts on it in comments to reporters in March.

“Where do you get the extra money?...This is the whole question. I don’t even get ... how do you do that?” said Brown, who has collected more than a quarter-million dollars of campaign contributions from groups opposing the bill.

Supporters of the legislation tried to answer the governor’s question with a detailed economic analysis asserting that the legislation could save the state money through lower administrative costs and drug prices.

“Providing full universal coverage would increase overall system costs by about 10 percent, but ... single payer system could produce savings of about 18 percent,” concluded a May 2017 study led by University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Robert Pollin. “The proposed single-payer system could provide decent health care for all California residents while still reducing net overall costs by about 8 percent relative to the existing system.”

That same month, U.S. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi — California’s highest-ranking federal official -— seemed to give the idea a boost. At a Capitol Hill press conference, she said “the comfort level with a broader base of the American people is not there yet” for a federal Medicare-for-all bill, but she promoted state efforts.

“I say to people, if you want that, do it in your states. States are laboratories. It can work out. It is the least expensive, least administrative way to go about this,” she said. “States are a good place to start.”

Economist Pollin echoed that argument, telling IBT that the California situation is fundamentally different than Vermont, which in 2014 abandoned its high-profile effort to create the nation’s first state-based single-payer system. While single-payer could still be feasible in small states, he said, the concept was particularly well suited to a very large state like California.

“The issue of bargaining power is important relative to pharmaceutical companies, and that’s one big area of savings,” he told IBT. “If the pharmaceutical companies say we’re not interested in selling to Vermont, they can walk away from Vermont. But they can’t do the same thing with California because it’s too large a market. It’s the same thing with doctors — they are not going to run away from a market of 33 million people just because their reimbursement rates will be at Medicare levels. And the state of California is already used to running big operations, so it has the administrative power to do this kind of thing.”

“Woefully Incomplete”

Despite Brown’s lack of support, and opposition from Republican lawmakers and health insurers, the California senate passed the single-payer bill in June. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed the Democratic governor and California lawmakers to enact the bill.

“As we sit here tonight, the California state senate has passed single-payer,” Sanders told a gathering of thousands of activists in Chicago. “Now it’s up to the California House and the governor to do the right thing and help us transform health care in this country by leading the way.”

Senator Bernie Sanders in June called on California lawmakers to pass a single-payer healthcare bill. In this photo, Sanders is shown speaking at a rally to stop Trumpcare at the Charleston Municipal Auditorium on June 25, 2017 in Charleston, West Virginia. Photo: Maddie McGarvey/Getty Images

All of the pressure, however, was not enough to persuade Rendon. Calling the legislation “woefully incomplete,” he announced that “SB 562 will remain in the Assembly Rules Committee until further notice.”

The move was instantly polarizing. Inside the labor movement,  the California branch of the Service Employees International Union — which has long supported single-payer health care — issued a statement supporting Rendon’s decision, saying the organization wants changes to the legislation. SEIU’s affiliates have previously negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with insurer Kaiser Permanente, which would be “dismantled” under the single-payer bill, according to Kaiser’s lobbyist.

By contrast, the California Nurses Association, which represents 100,000 unionized nurses in the state, slammed Rendon, asserting that he had acted “in secret in the interests of the profiteering insurance companies” and that he had “destroy[ed] the aspirations of millions of Californians for guaranteed health care.”

The internecine attacks were equally fierce within the Democratic Party.

“Today’s announcement that the Assembly will not be moving forward on single-payer, Medicare-for-All healthcare for California at this time is an unambiguous disappointment for all of us who believe that healthcare is a right for every Californian,” said newly elected California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman, who until the middle of June had worked in the Assembly speaker’s office under Rendon, and ran his Southern California office. “We understand that SB 562 is a work in progress, but we believe it should keep moving forward, especially in light of the widespread suffering that will occur if Trump and Congressional Republicans succeed in passing their cold-blooded, morally bankrupt so-called healthcare legislation.”

Perhaps seeking to bridge the divide, Rendon left open the possibility that the bill will come up next year.

“Because this is the first year of a two-year session, this action does not mean SB 562 is dead,” he said. “In fact, it leaves open the exact deep discussion and debate the senators who voted for SB 562 repeatedly said is needed. The Senate can use that time to fill the holes in SB 562 and pass and send to the Assembly workable legislation that addresses financing, delivery of care, and cost control.”

Rendon’s focus on financing underscored the fact that passing tax increases to generate hundreds of billions of dollars of new revenue is generally no easy political task — and such initiatives can be particularly tricky in California. There, a 1988-passed measure called Proposition 98 typically requires that a significant amount of any new tax revenue must go to education. Another 1979 measure known as the Gann limit also aims to restrict spending increases. Funding a single-payer system could require complex legislation or even a separate ballot measure.

Bill proponents, though, say those potential roadblocks are navigable within the scope of the bill they are pushing. In an interview with IBT, Michael Lighty of the California Nurses Association noted that the Senate version of the legislation included language to make sure that the new health care system would not launch unless state officials certified that adequate funding was available.

“The speaker says the bill is ‘woefully incomplete’ but he stopped the process that would have completed it,” Lighty said. “We have a failsafe mechanism in the legislation. In the event anticipated monies are not available from whatever source for whatever reason, we can address it before full program operation. There are all sorts of options, but you can’t do any of it if the bill doesn’t move forward.”

Bauman told IBT that despite the opposition within his own party, he expects progressive Democrats to continue pushing for single payer.  

“What Democratic activists need to be doing every day is educating our elected officials and the public on just how important the fight for health care is, and on why this is the moral and ethical fight of the day,” he said.

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1 day ago
Dallas, Texas
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