National / International News
A high level, international panel has done the numbers that it says show it makes economic sense to fight climate change. The new report comes from the Global Commision on the Economy and Climate. In a sense, tugging the other way, is this: A year ago today, the head of the American Automobile Association said sub-3 dollar a gallon gasoline in America "may be history." Well don't look now, but a global glut of oil has pushed down the average price to $3.39 and falling. Plus, some private insurance companies reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations. Now, Medicare is considering paying for these. How some technology companies that are coming up with organized ways for people to spell out their medical wishes when the end comes.
This Thursday, the people of Scotland vote in a crucial referendum. They will decide whether or not they want their country to separate from the rest of the UK and become independent again, dissolving the union forged with England 307 years ago.
Yes campaigners claim that a kind of nirvana beckons. They argue that the Scots will each be at least $1600 better off if they secede. The country will be wealthy enough to afford all its existing state-funded benefits like free university tuition and free social care for the elderly and much more besides.
But this rosy scenario is partly based on a key assumption: The separatists take it for granted that an independent Scotland would inherit the vast bulk of the oil and natural gas that lies off the Scottish coast in the North Sea. Is this a safe assumption?
“Absolutely not,” claims Oxford University economist Professor Sir Paul Collier. “This is a greedy resource grab. The Scots have every right to secede but they cannot run off with all the oil. They have to share it.” Collier points out that when oil was discovered in the North Sea in the 1960’s, the British parliament passed an Act establishing that the resource belonged equally to every part of the UK.
“The Scots represent about 8% of the UK population,” says Collier. “Therefore they should only be entitled to about 8% of the oil.”
The pro-independence campaigners are banking on more like 90%; they’ve dismissed Collier’s claim. Scottish entrepreneur Ivan McKee maintains that an independent Scotland will own everything that lies in its territorial waters regardless of any British Act of parliament.
“After independence, whatever laws were passed by the Westminster Parliament won’t actually be in effect in Scotland any more than a law that was passed in Westminster would have any jurisdiction in the USA,” McKee says.
But the Yes campaign’s reliance on North Sea oil is shaky for another reason: production has sharply declined. There’s still plenty of fossil fuel there, but it’s in deeper and rougher waters than before; costs are rising; and a number of studies and forecasts indicate that tax revenues from North Sea oil are likely to shrink in the years ahead.
“That’s bad news for the separatists” says retired executive Anthony Rush, who lives in Scotland and campaigns against independence. “This puts this idea that we’re going to have free healthcare, free education, free this that and the other, funded by oil. That puts that in severe doubt.”
Dying isn’t what most people want to talk about when they visit the doctor. But it could soon become a standard part of a check-up. Some private insurance companies already reimburse doctors for end-of-life conversations, and Medicare is considering joining the club.
When people over 65 end up in the hospital, about half of them eventually need someone else in the family to make decisions for them—End of life decisions.
Still, only a small percentage of people—under 30 percent in the U.S.—have written advanced directives.
Tech entrepreneurs are trying to change that by creating apps and online databases to store and edit end-of-life wishes.
Scott Brown and Jeff Zucker started one such company, called My Directives. It’s a web-based system they hope will become a sort of Facebook of advance directives.
Jeff Zucker and Scott Brown are co-founders of My Directives.Lauren Silverman
Right now, Brown says, end-of-life wishes are still stuck in the era of file folders.
“That document, once it’s created,” Brown says, “it’s placed in a shoe box or file cabinet or safety deposit box, and it’s not available when it’s needed. People can’t plan their emergencies Monday through Friday 9-to-5.”
Cutting Out The Legal Jargon
Online sites and apps for living wills make it possible to upload and edit the medical procedures you do and don’t want in your final days. They’re also a way to personalize end-of-life wishes.
The "My Directives" site, for example, allows you to upload video messages to loved ones.
Christine White, 62, is a social worker in Salem Oregon who uses My Directives.
Christine White, with her husband Daniel in Oregon.Christine White
In a note to her husband, she wrote the following:
“If I precede my husband, I want him to know that his incessant whistling was the joy of my life. In fact, every day with him was a gift I cherished.”
“I felt so much better he would know how much he meant to me,” she says.
Costs, Savings, And Criticism
In addition to emotional relief, proponents of advance directives say they can save money.
Still, there are plenty of advance directives critics.
Dr. Henry Perkins has been researching advance directives for 35 years, and he still doesn’t find them very useful.
“They promise more control over future care than is possible, they are hard to implement, and some doctors don’t follow them,” says Perkins.
He recommends patients choose one or two people whom they trust a great deal to be their surrogate decision makers in a time of crisis. “The best we can do is ask people to be there for us,” he says.
Control Through Technology
Dr. Molly Coye, chief innovation officer at the University of California, Los Angeles, envisions a world where talking about the end of life is normal; Perhaps part of signing up for health insurance, getting a driver’s license or applying for a mortgage.
“People are ready to hear this I think,” she says. “It’s just so far there are not a lot of people who have been approached about it.” Coye says new tools and technologies make end of life documents more accessible and easier for doctors to follow in emergencies.
As for patients, moving the advance directive from the shoebox to a smartphone means making updates is less dusty, and a lot faster.
A global glut of oil has pushed the national price of gasoline to $3.39 and plunging. In certain places, such as Greene County, Missouri, unleaded already goes for under $3.
“At this moment today, we are at $2.95,” says James Orr, manager of Casey’s General Store on South Grant Avenue in Springfield, the county seat. As for his competitors, “most of them are at $2.98, $2.99.”
A few factors are at play here: As of this week, gas stations in many states can sell a cheaper gasoline product called winter blend. Summer blend gas is held to a stricter standard, for warm-weather pollution reasons.
In world oil markets, where pump prices are mostly set, there is ample supply. A big factor in that is rising U.S. production, now at a 28-year high. Finally, global demand has softened in places like China.
Houston-area oil industry consultant Andy Lipow thinks the national gas price will fall another seven percent to $3.15 by Halloween.
“And $3 a gallon is in the cards if we can see crude oil prices decline to $85 a barrel,” Lipow says.
A year ago, the president and CEO of the auto club AAA, Robert Darbelnet, predicted $3 a gallon gas would never return.
“Paying less than $3 per gallon for gasoline may be automotive history for most Americans, like using 8-track tapes or going to a drive-in movie,” Darbelnet said in September 2013. “The reality is that expensive gas is here to stay, which is tough on millions of people who need a car to live their lives.”
A spokesman for AAA said Darbelnet was unavailable for an interview. The group’s current gas price prediction is that winter prices will dip to $3.10.Los Angeles Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.comClick here to add this map to your website.
According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, between 2004 and 2010 the number of seniors with student loan debt quadrupled to 706,000 households.
Betsy Mayotte is the director of regulatory compliance with American Student Assistance, a non-profit that helps families manage education debt. She says she's starting to see a fairly significant increase in older borrowers reaching out for help.
Take one borrower she heard from recently: "He's 77, his wife 82," says Mayotte. "They both have age typical health concerns, they’re not going to work again and they owe a significant amount in student debt — both their own and debt they took on for their children — and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for it."
It's not what many expect, says Persis Yu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center's student loan borrower assistance project.
“Older Americans have a lot more student loan debt than people realize,” she says.
Federal student loans, notes Yu, never go away. They have no statute of limitations.
“So, if a borrower doesn’t finish paying off a loan, they could be on the hook for the rest of their life,” she says.
Yu says if a senior defaults on a loan, their social security benefits could be garnished. The GAO says when that happens, additional fees can be involved making it even harder to pay off the loan.