By any other name: “Much of what we accept as legal in medical billing would be regarded as fraud in any other sector,” Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in a scathing piece in The New York Times’ Sunday Review. After her husband was injured in a bicycling accident, Rosenthal became intimately familiar with unsavory billing practices that are routine in the medical industry. “I will not even complain here about some of the crazy high charges: $182 for a basic blood test, $9,289 for two days in a room in intensive care, $20 for a pill that costs pennies at a pharmacy,” she writes. “What I’m talking about here were the bills for things that simply didn’t happen, or only kind-of, sort-of happened, or were mislabeled as things they were not.” Such creative billing  may be legal, Rosenthal writes, but it must be stopped if we’re to rein in the costs of our $3 trillion health system.

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Record-high emissions: Global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to reach another record high this year, rising by 0.6 percent over the previous record set in 2018, according to The Washington Post.  Emissions have continued to increase year after year—with a 1.5 percent increase in 2017 and a 2.1 percent rise in 2018—although scientists say carbon emissions need to decline each year before the end of the century if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, including increasingly violent storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts, and food and water shortages. “Every year that emissions go up, even if it’s just a small amount, makes the task of bringing them back down that much harder,” Glen Peters, who helped compile the data as research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, told The New York Times. A recent report by the U.N. Environment Programme stated that global emissions need to fall by approximately 8 percent each year over the next decade to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

  • Also: A new study published in the journal Science Advances shows that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, Eric Niiler writes in Wired. According to the study, the Earth as a whole has warmed by approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past 137 years; the Arctic has warmed 0.75 degrees Celsius in the last decade alone. At that rate, the authors warn, the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in 20 years, an existential threat to many animals, including polar bears, walruses, and seals, that rely on sea ice to hunt, rest, or give birth.

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Not guilty: A New York state judge has cleared ExxonMobil of charges that it defrauded investors by failing to disclose how future regulations to fight  climate change would impact the company, Corinne Ramey reports for The Wall Street Journal.  In rejecting the claims of the New York state attorney general’s office, State Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager stressed that he was only ruling on the securities fraud allegations. “Nothing in this opinion is intended to absolve ExxonMobil from responsibility for contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases in the production of its fossil fuel products,” Ostrager wrote. The verdict, which followed a three week civil trial, could presage similar decisions in a  handful of similar cases pending cases in other state and federal courts.

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Autopilot fails: A Tesla operating in Autopilot mode crashed into a police cruiser while a Connecticut state trooper assisted a disabled vehicle in the middle of Interstate 95 this weekend, and then hit the disabled vehicle, Peter Marteka reports for The Hartford Courant. The driver said he had the car on Autopilot while he checked on his dog in the back seat. He was issued a misdemeanor summons for reckless driving and reckless endangerment. “Fortunately, no one involved was seriously injured, but it is apparent that this incident could have been more severe,” the state police said in a press release. Regardless of a vehicle’s capabilities, “when operating a vehicle, your full attention is required at all times to ensure safe driving.”

  • Also: Tesla CEO Elon Musk took his new Tesla “Cybertruck” prototype out to an expensive Japanese restaurant in Malibu on Saturday night. As he was leaving, he was filmed running over a traffic pylon in the middle of the street, Gizmodo writes  “The Cybertruck doesn’t appear to have basic safety features yet like side mirrors and window wipers, which presumably hampered Musk’s ability to drive without hitting things. The vehicle’s strange shape leaves some bizarre blindspots, to say the least.”

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School shooting or terrorism? Three people were killed and eight injured after a member of  the Saudi Air Force used a handgun to shoot fellow students at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. Talal Ansari and Nancy A. Youssef report for The Wall Street Journal. The shooter, Mohammed Alshamrani, was killed by sheriff deputies. The FBI is investigating the Friday attack as an act of terrorism  The New York Times reported that Alshamrani had filed a complaint earlier this year after being ”infuriated” when an instructor called him by a derogatory nickname. The shootings occurred just two days after a 22-year-old active-duty sailor shot three civilian personnel at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, before turning his service pistol on himself, Luis Martinez, Justin Doom, and Mark Osborne report for ABC News. Two of the shooting victims died and a third is in stable condition. The two incidents continue a trend of increasing violence on military bases, reports The New York Times’ Manny Fernandez, and underscore the challenges of preventing such violence. “In different ways, the many shootings reflect both the complications of banning private weapons from places where military personnel train to fight the nation’s wars and the difficulties of monitoring a population whose members are often dealing with extraordinary levels of stress,” Fernandez writes. “To ensure that no unauthorized weapon ends up on a base, military installations would need to be outfitted with T.S.A.-style screening — a level of security and added expense that military officials are unlikely to embrace.”

  • Also: A pair of armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck and took its driver hostage in Florida last week. Nineteen law enforcement officers from four different agencies pursued the truck through rush hour traffic, surrounded the vehicle, and eventually shot and killed the armed robbers, as well as the UPS driver and another innocent civilian, Paolo Zialcita reports for NPR. Thirteen officers from the Miami-Dade police department have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting, Ty Russell reports for CBS Miami. The police department is waiting for the medical examiner to determine whether the two civilians were killed by the suspects or law enforcement.

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States weaken environmental agencies: A study by the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy group, showed that 40 states have cut staffing at environmental agencies and about 30 have reduced funding for pollution control programs since 2008, Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. During the same period, the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and work force have been reduced by 16 percent, and the Trump administration wants to slash funding even more and shift responsibilities to the states.

  • Also: The same study found that Wisconsin, where Republicans control both houses of the state legislature, reduced funding for environmental protections by more than any other of the contiguous 48 states, Kevin Passon reports for The Herald-Independent. After Wisconsin, Texas is among the states that reduced funding the most, Riane Roldan reports for the Statesman. Funding for pollution control programs at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been cut by 35 percent since 2008.

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Mystery of prison deaths: In August 2018, a spike in deaths in the Mississippi prison system prompted family and civil rights activists to demand answers. But relatives of the 16 inmates who passed away that month are still waiting for explanations, Michelle Liu writes for Mississippi Today. In the aftermath of the deaths, state corrections officials said they would call on the FBI to assist in investigating the causes. But officials have not provided additional information, and the head of the state corrections agency, Pelicia Hall, has refused requests for an interview. “These aren’t prominent, powerful families that can keep these issues in front of people and get answers out of a government agency,” Cliff Johnson, director of the nonprofit MacArthur Justice Center in Mississippi, told Liu.

 

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.