Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 24th, 2009

The Seed

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Via The Dynasty of Lao:

more about "The Seed", posted with vodpod

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Daily life

Dedicated to The Son-in-Law

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 2:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Music, Video

EPA halts mountaintop mining

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Good news from Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

Putting a quick halt to an Orwellian Bush administration rule allowing mining companies to kill mountain streams, the Environmental Protection Agency this afternoon announced that it will delay hundreds of mining permits while it takes a closer look at how the operations will affect local waterways.

“EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

Of all the methods used to extract coal, none is so destructive to ecosystems as mountaintop mining — a process in which the tops of mountains are literally blasted away to access the coal seams beneath.

A 25-year-old Interior Department regulation prohibits mining companies from dumping debris into valley streams, but in December the Bush administration eased the rule to allow such dumping if the companies can make a case that it’s unavoidable. Complicating the picture, a Virginia-based federal appeals court last month ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to grant mining permits. With the EPA’s announcement today, the agency has indicated that the Army Corps won’t have the final say.

In a statement issued moments ago, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope cheered the EPA’s decision:

With the bulldozers and dynamite standing by, the Obama administration has taken decisive action to protect the streams, mountains and communities of Appalachia.

Already close to 2,000 miles of streams have been contaminated or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape … Reviewing the permits will stop the bleeding, and now EPA should begin to fix the Bush-era regulatory loopholes that made mountaintop removal possible.

The coal industry’s many friends in Washington won’t like this decision. Stay tuned for a larger battle to come.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 12:45 pm

What is Israel thinking?

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From Haaretz.com:

Israel Defense Forces soldiers did not consider medical teams as entitled to receive the special protection granted to them within the framework of their duties during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, according to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights due to be released on Monday.

PHR quoted figures issued by the World Health Organization, which showed 16 Palestinian medical personnel were killed by Israeli fire during the offensive and that 25 were wounded while performing their duties.

It said Israel attacked 34 medical care facilities, including eight hospitals.

The report also raises questions of whether IDF soldiers violated the IDF’s own ethical code and basic humanitarian values, when they prevented treatment and the evacuation of the wounded and fired at emergency rescue teams and Palestinian medical facilities.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) described alleged incidents that “reveal that not only did the [military] not evacuate besieged and wounded families, it also prevented Palestinian [medical] teams from reaching the wounded.”

PHR’s report followed accusations by other human rights groups and Palestinians that Israel’s actions during the 22-day offensive in the Palestinian coastal enclave, controlled by the Islamist Hamas group, warranted war crimes investigations…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:53 am

Cool hybrid sports car from Toyota

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:42 am

Giant single-celled creature

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Photo at the link. Part of the story:

It’s a single cell, it’s the size of a grape, and it propels itself across the ocean floor: Behold the Bahamian Gromia — one of the strangest beasts yet discovered in the briny deep.

Gromia sphaerica, as the organisms are known, are superbig amoebas, growing up to 1.5 inches in diameter. They were first discovered in 2000 in the Arabian Sea, and have since been found in various locations around the world. Then last year a team of biologists were diving near Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, when they discovered a new form of Gromia — the “Bahamian” Gromia, as they’re calling it.

The weird thing is, the Bahamanian Gromia were all found at the end of a trail — as if they’d been somehow pushed or dragged along the seafloor. This didn’t make sense, because the currents at that depth either weren’t strong enough or were irregular, so they wouldn’t push the Gromia in single, uniform paths, the way the trails lay. That left only one possibility: Somehow, these wee blobs are propelling themselves across the ocean floor, at a pace so slow it cannot be readily observed. In a paper published a recent issue of Current Biology — “Giant Deep-Sea Protist Produces Bilaterian-like Traces” (PDF here)— the scientists argue this is precisely what’s happening.

As they said in a press release:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:39 am

Posted in Science

Hearing loss reroutes sense of touch

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Interesting:

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine researchers have discovered that adult animals with hearing loss actually re-route the sense of touch into the hearing parts of the brain. In the study, published online in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 23, the team reported a phenomenon known as cross-modal plasticity in the auditory system of adult animals. Cross-modal plasticity refers to the replacement of a damaged sensory system by one of the remaining ones. In this case, the sense of hearing is replaced with touch.

About 15 percent of American adults suffer from some form of hearing impairment, which can significantly impact quality of life, especially in the elderly.

"One often learns, anecdotally, that ‘grandpa’ simply turned off his hearing aid because it was confusing and no longer helped. Our study indicates that hearing deficits in adult animals result in a conversion of their brain’s sound processing centers to respond to another sensory modality, making the interpretation of residual hearing even more difficult," said principal investigator Alex Meredith, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

"Whether this becomes a positive feedback cycle of increasing hearing difficulty is currently under investigation, but these findings raise the possibility that even mild hearing loss in adult humans can have serious and perhaps progressive consequences," Meredith said.

The findings provide researchers and clinicians with insight into how the adult brain retains the ability to re-wire itself on a large scale, as well as the factors that may complicate treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:31 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Decline of Great Britain

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It’s sad to see Great Britain toss away daily freedoms. Cory Doctorow comments in Boing Boing:

The London police have bested their own impressive record for insane and stupid anti-terrorism posters with a new range of signs advising Londoners to go through each others’ trash-bins looking for "suspicious" chemical bottles, and to report on one another for "studying CCTV cameras."

It’s hard to imagine a worse, more socially corrosive campaign. Telling people to rummage in one another’s trash and report on anything they don’t understand is a recipe for flooding the police with bad reports from ignorant people who end up bringing down anti-terror cops on their neighbors who keep tropical fish, paint in oils, are amateur chemists, or who just do something outside of the narrow experience of the least adventurous person on their street. Essentially, this redefines "suspicious" as anything outside of the direct experience of the most frightened, ignorant and foolish people in any neighborhood.

Even worse, though, is the idea that you should report your neighbors to the police for looking at the creepy surveillance technology around them. This is the first step in making it illegal to debate whether the surveillance state is a good or bad thing. It’s the extension of the ridiculous airport rule that prohibits discussing the security measures ("Exactly how does 101 ml of liquid endanger a plane?"), conflating it with "making jokes about bombs."

The British authorities are bent on driving fear into the hearts of Britons: fear of terrorists, immigrants, pedophiles, children, knives… And once people are afraid enough, they’ll write government a blank check to expand its authority without sense or limit.

What an embarrassment from the country whose level-headed response to the Blitz was "Keep Calm and Carry On" — how has that sensible motto been replaced with "When in trouble or in doubt/Run in circles scream and shout"?

New campaign to urge Londoners to report suspicious activity

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:29 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Ywriter for creative writing

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Excellent review of free writing software at MakeUseOf.com, with many screen shots. Take a look. The post there begins:

The tools used in the creative writing process differ as wildly as the authors; some perform best when using old school pen and paper, while others prefer top-notch text processors.

I, for one, used to put my words down in Microsoft Word, although I never quite thought it to be the ultimate tool for the job.

These days, where programs can be found for every thinkable task, a dedicated creative writing application ought to exist, whether for writing out a script for the local play, or your next novel.

When I went looking for these applications, several candidates popped up, but there’s only one that I still use today…

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 10:00 am

Academic Earth: Free academic lectures

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Take a look at this review from Lifehacker.com:

Web site Academic Earth is like Hulu for academic lectures, pulling free lectures from Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale into one attractive, easy to navigate site. It’s incredible.

The site clearly takes its cues from Hulu and iTunes on its design, but it’s ten times better than either, because it’s open. The videos can be embedded anywhere or downloaded and enjoyed wherever you want to take them. It’s easy to use, has tons of great content, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

We’ve highlighted these free courses before individually, like MIT’s OpenCourseWare or Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere, and we rounded up even more of them when we showed you how to get a free college education online, but Academic Earth takes the idea to an even better place. We love it.

Academic Earth [via TechCrunch]

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:58 am

What function does a chile’s spiciness serve?

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Interesting:

Seated in the bed of a pickup truck, Joshua Tewksbury cringes with every curve and pothole as we bounce along the edge of Amboró National Park in central Bolivia. After 2,000 miles on some of the worst roads in South America, the truck’s suspension is failing. In the past hour, two leaf springs—metal bands that prevent the axle from crashing into the wheel well—jangled onto the road behind us. At any moment, Tewksbury’s extraordinary hunting expedition could come to an abrupt end.

A wiry 40-year-old ecologist at the University of Washington, Tewksbury is risking his sacroiliac in this fly-infested forest looking for a wild chili with a juicy red berry and a tiny flower: Capsicum minutiflorum. He hopes it’ll help answer the hottest question in botany: Why are chilies spicy?

Bolivia is believed to be the chili’s motherland, home to dozens of wild species that may be the ancestors of all the world’s chili varieties—from the mild bell pepper to the medium jalapeño to the rough-skinned naga jolokia, the hottest pepper ever tested. The heat-generating compound in chilies, capsaicin, has long been known to affect taste buds, nerve cells and nasal membranes (it puts the sting in pepper spray). But its function in wild chili plants has been mysterious.

Which is why Tewksbury and his colleagues have made multiple trips to Bolivia over the past four years. They’re most interested in mild chilies, especially those growing near hot ones of the same species—the idea being that a wild chili lacking capsaicin might serve as a kind of exception that proves the rule, betraying the secret purpose of this curiously beloved spice.

Bounding along in the truck, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:31 am

New greenhouse gasses quickly increasing

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Not good:

Two new greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere, according to an international research team led by scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the US and CSIRO scientist, Dr Paul Fraser, from the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research. Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2) are powerful greenhouse gases that have recently been discovered to be growing quickly in the global background atmosphere.

These gases are used in industrial processes, partly as alternatives to other harmful greenhouse and ozone depleting gases.

NF3 is used in the electronics industry – often as a replacement for perfluorocarbons (PFCs) – particularly in the manufacture of liquid-crystal flat-panel screens. SO2F2 is used as a replacement for methyl bromide, largely in structural fumigation applications. The new measurements of SO2F2 appear in a paper co-authored by Dr Fraser in the 12 March 2009 edition of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

"Information about the abundance of these gases in the atmosphere, their growth rates, lifetimes, and emissions is just emerging," Dr Fraser says. "Currently the level of these gases in the atmosphere is low, but their concentration is growing. In addition, these gases have significant global-warming potential."

The first atmospheric observations of these gases from data collected around the world – particularly at Trinidad Head and La Jolla, California, and Cape Grim, Tasmania – will be presented at the GREENHOUSE 2009 conference.

"This research is likely to affect the revision of the Kyoto Protocol later this year," Dr Fraser says. "New emissions targets for the existing ‘basket’ of gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, PFCs, hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride) are likely, as well as inclusion of the new greenhouse gases. A number of new signatories from the developed and developing world are also included in the revised Protocol."

Source: CSIRO Australia

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:27 am

Collapse of energy grid from solar storm?

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From the New Scientist:

It is midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived. Within a few seconds, electric bulbs dim and flicker, then become unusually bright for a fleeting moment. Then all the lights in the state go out. Within 90 seconds, the entire eastern half of the US is without power.

A year later and millions of Americans are dead and the nation’s infrastructure lies in tatters. The World Bank declares America a developing nation. Europe, Scandinavia, China and Japan are also struggling to recover from the same fateful event – a violent storm, 150 million kilometres away on the surface of the sun.

It sounds ridiculous. Surely the sun couldn’t create so profound a disaster on Earth. Yet an extraordinary report funded by NASA and issued by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in January this year claims it could do just that.

Over the last few decades, western civilisations have busily sown the seeds of their own destruction. Our modern way of life, with its reliance on technology, has unwittingly exposed us to an extraordinary danger: plasma balls spewed from the surface of the sun could wipe out our power grids, with catastrophic consequences…

Continue reading. There’s also a video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:25 am

Government rescue of ailing industry

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Philip Longman reminds us that the government rescued the railroad industry a couple of times:

The massive corporate bailouts that Washington is undertaking as a result of the economic crisis have left most of us feeling deeply nervous. It’s not just the price tag, measured in incomprehensible trillions. It’s also the fear that the problems of the financial and auto industries may be so deep and so tangled that no one can fix them—and certainly not a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.

But here’s the funny thing: any honest reading of history suggests that the federal government has quite an impressive record of rescuing institutions considered too big to fail. In addition to almost routine workouts of failed banks conducted in good and bad times by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other regulators, the list includes many large industrial companies as well. In 1971, for example, Congress extended emergency loans to failing aircraft builder Lockheed and wound up not only saving a company vital to America’s national defense and export manufacturing base, but earning a net income for the Treasury of $5.4 million in loan fees.

In 1980 it did the same for Chrysler, this time extending loan guarantees in exchange for stock warrants that, after the company returned to health and paid back its loans, yielded the government a cool $311 million in capital gains. More recently, in the aftermath of 9/11, Congress granted airlines $5 billion in direct compensation for lost business and up to $10 billion in loan guarantees, again in exchange for stock warrants. That wasn’t enough to save many individual airlines from having to undergo restructuring plans imposed by bankruptcy judges, but when Americans took to the air again they found the industry intact and offering plenty of flights. Moreover, by February 2007, airline stocks had recovered enough that the Treasury was able to sell its warrants for a net profit of $119 million, with no loans left outstanding.

Now, however, comes the prospect of something much larger. Government has already thrown billions at the gigantic mess that is the American auto industry. With Detroit continuing to hemorrhage jobs and cash in a deeply troubled economy, it looks as if government will have to take a much more hands-on approach to reengineering the industry, if not through the bankruptcy courts then through direct executive supervision. Should we be worried that government will make a hash of it? Of course. But there is a bright shining example from not so long ago of government bureaucrats engineering the revival of an industry easily as troubled as today’s automakers and, if anything, more central to the economy. And it all turned out better than anyone dared hope, with a dazzling return to profitability. It is the story of the railroad industry, and while the parallels with today’s auto industry are not exact, they are close enough to provide many useful lessons. Its example suggests that, as the automakers return to Washington for a second round of assistance, the greatest danger may well be not that government will intervene too much, but that it won’t intervene enough.

The Wreck of Penn Central

If you think General Motors has a big problem with ineffective management, truculent unions, and declining market share, consider the Penn Central Company of the late 1960s.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:07 am

Posted in Business, Government

The McCarthyism

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DHS is out of control, particularly the ICE. Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

In January 2004, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor of Muslim studies and visiting fellow at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, was offered a tenured position as a professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. He applied for and received a visa to come to the United States that May. But just nine days before the 44-year-old academic and his family were to move to Indiana, Ramadan was informed by the United States Embassy in Switzerland that his visa had been revoked.

At a press conference on August 25, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security said that Ramadan’s visa had been revoked based on a part of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to exclude those who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism.

Ramadan and his supporters insist in a lawsuit that the scholar and writer “does not endorse, espouse, or persuade others to support terrorism.” On the contrary, they say, Ramadan, who has published 20 books and more than 700 articles on such topics as Muslim identity, democracy, human rights and Islam, “has been a consistent and vocal critic both of terrorism and those who use it.” What’s more, the ACLU, The Pen American Center, American Academy of Religion and others that filed suit on Ramadan’s behalf claim that the “endorse or espouse” provision of the Patriot Act is unconstitutional because it is vague and easily manipulated, effectively excluding foreigners from visiting the United States based purely on their politics. They cite a State Department Foreign Affairs manual says the provision is aimed at those who have voiced “irresponsible expressions of opinion.”

After the groups filed their lawsuit, the government changed its explanation of why it was denying Ramadan entry. Beginning in September 2006, the official explanation was that Ramadan, a devout Muslim, was excluded because between 1998 and 2002 he had made donations totalling just over $1,300 to a Swiss charity that provides aid to Palestinians. Although considered a legitimate charity in Europe, since Ramadan made his donations the group has been deemed “a designated terrorist organization” by the United States because it supposedly gave money to Hamas. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, modified in 2005 by the REAL ID Act, the U.S. government may exclude anyone who has given money to a terrorist organization.

Ramadan, for his part, insists that when he made the donations to the Association de Secours Palestinien he had no idea the group was supporting Hamas. After all, the United States had not yet blacklisted the organization. He even submitted to the court an affidavit of an expert testifying that someone in his position would have had no reason to know that the group supported Hamas before the United States determined that it did in 2005.

No matter. The United States government maintains that Ramadan is still excludable.

In December 2007, a federal district court agreed. Although acknowledging that the law imposes a “heavy burden” by requiring Ramadan to prove a negative, Ramadan still has no grounds to complain, for the power to grant entry to a foreign national lies exclusively with Congress and the Immigration authorities. “It is the Court’s role to interpret the language of the statute as written by Congress, not to question Congress’ wisdom in drawing the line where it did. Congress has decided to make the alien’s burden a high one, and it was well within its power to do so.”

On Tuesday, the ACLU will argue otherwise to a federal appeals court in New York…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 9:01 am

Interesting GOP-Dem difference

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Glenn Greenwald comments:

One of the linchpins of the Bush presidency, especially during the first term (and well into the second, until he became a major political liability), was the lock-step uncritical reverence – often bordering on cult-like glorification – which the “conservative” movement devoted to the "Commander-in-Chief."  An entire creepy cottage industry arose – led not by fringe elements but by right-wing opinion-making leaders – with cringe-inducing products paying homage to Bush as "The First Great Leader of the 21st Century" (John Podhoretz); our "Rebel-in-Chief" (Fred Barnes); "The Right Man" (David Frum); the New Reagan (Jonah Goldberg); "a man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius" who is our "Big Brother" (John Hinderaker); and "the triumph of the seemingly average American man," the supremely "responsible" leader who, when there’s a fire, will "help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, ‘Where’s Sally’?" (Peggy Noonan).

Even as Bush implemented one massive expansion of government power after the next — the very "un-conservative" policies they long claimed to oppose — there was nothing but (at best) the most token and muted objections from them.  The handful of conservatives who did object were cast aside as traitors to the cause, and criticisms of the President became equated with an overt lack of patriotism.  Uncritical support for the Leader was the overarching, defining attribute of conservatism, so much so that even Bill Kristol, in The New York Times, acknowledged: "Bush was the movement and the cause."

Whenever I would speak at events over the last couple of years and criticize the Bush administration’s expansions of government power, extreme secrecy and other forms of corruption, one of the most frequent questions I would be asked was whether "the Left" — meaning liberals and progressives — would continue to embrace these principles with a Democrat in the White House, or whether they would instead replicate the behavior of the Right and uncritically support whatever the Democratic President decided.  Though I could only speculate, I always answered — because I believed — that the events of the last eight years had so powerfully demonstrated and ingrained the dangers of uncritical support for political leaders that most liberals would be critical of and oppositional to a Democratic President when that President undertook actions in tension with progressive views.

Two months into Obama’s presidency, one can clearly conclude that this is true.  Even though Obama unsurprisingly and understandably remains generally popular with Democrats and liberals alike, there is ample progressive criticism of Obama in a way that is quite healthy and that reflects a meaningful difference between the “conservative movement” and many progressives.

Over the last month, the Obama administration has made numerous decisions in the civil liberties area that are replicas of some of the most controversial and radical actions taken by the Bush administration, and the most vocal critics of those decisions by far were the very same people – ostensibly on "the Left" — who spent the last several years objecting to the same policies as part of the Bush administration’s radicalism.  Identically, many of Obama’s most consequential foreign policy decisions — in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan — have been criticized by many on the Left.  Opposition to Obama’s bank bailout plan is clearly being driven by liberal economists, pundits and bloggers, and much of the criticism over the AIG debacle came from liberals as well.  There was pervasive liberal criticism over some of Obama’s key appointments, including Tom Daschle, John Brennan and Tim Geithner.  That’s more independent progressive thinking in two months than the "conservative movement" exhibited with regard to Bush in six years.

It’s certainly true that one has no difficulty finding …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 8:46 am

Pertinent observation by David Kurtz

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David Kurtz:

Everyone keeps quoting a certain Wall Street honcho on how great Geithner’s bank plan is — without mentioning that said honcho was one of the originators of the idea.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 8:36 am

GOP terrified of a public healthcare option

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Although the GOP gives a lot of lip-service to the idea that the government cannot competently administer services—and when in power makes sure that comes true by sabotaging government agencies—they don’t really believe it. See how terrified they are of offering a government-run health plan option. If they really believed what they say, they would have no objection, since (in their view) a government-run program could never compete successfully against private programs. But in their hearts (or whatever occupies that space in Republicans) they know that a public program would be the first choice for many. From the Center for American Progress:

The Wall Street Journal reports today that "Congress is poised for a battle over whether an ambitious health-care overhaul should include a new government-run health plan to compete with private companies in the effort to cover the uninsured." President Obama and top Democrats on the relevant House and Senate committees all favor a public plan,  ideas for which have ranged from a Medicare-like system to one "managed by a private contractor but in which government assumes the risk." However, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Finance Committee ranking member, has said that he is "adamantly opposed" to any provision that includes a public plan, even though he indicated last week that he that might be willing to compromise with advocates of a new public health care plan. "At this point, everything is on the table," he said. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said that reform with a public plan has no GOP support in the Senate. "Having talked to a lot of senators, I wouldn’t have any Republicans on the Healthy Americans Act as cosponsors if we had a public option," he said. The House is expected to include a public provision in its version of a health care reform bill and the American public appears to be on board. A new poll released today by Lake Research found that 73 percent of voters "want everyone to have a choice of private health insurance or a public health insurance plan while only 15% want everyone to have private insurance."

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 8:29 am

The law and the rights of children

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Interesting FindLaw article by Michael C. Dorf, a FindLaw columnist and the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University:

Two 2008 federal appeals court rulings—one that may be on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and another that is already there—raise thorny questions of the extent to which schoolchildren enjoy the protections afforded by the Constitution to adults.

In Frazier v. Alexandre, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected a constitutional challenge to a Florida law requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance unless they have previously received written permission from their parents excusing them from doing so. Yet the Supreme Court had appeared to hold in 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Educ. v. Barnette,that schoolchildren themselves have the right to decide whether to recite the Pledge, quite apart from their parents’ wishes. Accordingly, there is a reasonable prospect that the Court will grant review of the Eleventh Circuit’s decision if the plaintiff seeks it.

Meanwhile, in Redding v. Safford Unified School District,an en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit allowed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona middle school’s strip search of "a thirteen-year-old girl accused by an unreliable student informant of possessing ibuprofen in violation of school rules" to proceed to trial. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Safford Unified next month.

These two cases, involving alleged violations of rights under the First and Fourth Amendments, respectively, highlight a potential source of confusion in our constitutional law of children’s rights. Although it has long been accepted that children have constitutional rights, the law also acknowledges that, contrary to their sometimes creepy depiction in medieval art, children are not simply miniature adults. Rather, children differ from adults along multiple dimensions, and thus children’s constitutional rights should not simply be a "lesser" version of adults’ rights. The fact that a case involves schoolchildren thus can be a ground for granting children different rights from those we would grant to adults, but it should not automatically be a ground for granting children fewer rights than adults enjoy.

The Recent Flag Salute Case

In recent years, litigation challenging the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance has sometimes focused on its inclusion of the words "under God." Finding a defect in the plaintiff’s standing, …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 7:59 am

Bad news about beef

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I’ve mentioned that I haven’t been able to eat any beef since seeing the documentary King Corn. It’s just as well:

Eating red meat increases the chances of dying prematurely, according to the first large study to examine whether regularly eating beef or pork increases mortality.

The study of more than 500,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans found that those who consumed about four ounces of red meat a day (the equivalent of about a small hamburger) were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Sausage, cold cuts and other processed meats also increased the risk.

Previous research had found a link between red meat and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, but the new study is the first large examination of the relationship between eating meat and overall risk of death, and is by far the most detailed.

"The bottom line is we found an association between red meat and processed meat and an increased risk of mortality," said Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute, who led the study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In contrast, routine consumption of fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death by a small amount.

"The uniqueness of this study is its size and length of follow-up," said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "This is a slam-dunk to say that, ‘Yes, indeed, if people want to be healthy and live longer, consume less red and processed meat.’ "  …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2009 at 7:43 am

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