Archive for November 9th, 2009
When you listen to House members talk about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ability to set the legislative calendar and count votes, they speak with a certain reverence. There’s an implicit understanding: the Speaker knows what she’s doing.
Ezra Klein had a good item this afternoon on this point, highlighting the fact that Pelosi oversaw House passage of a cap-and-trade bill back in June.
Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn’t consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote. The House legislation would languish as it waited for the Senate, and angry House Democrats would be less willing to take a second hard vote on health-care reform.
Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn’t yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.
But health-care reform passed the House. And so, too, did cap and trade, all the way back in June, when most eyes were on health care and the Republicans hadn’t yet found their voice in opposition (eight Republicans, in fact, voted for cap and trade). Pelosi’s decision to move on climate change as soon as she had the votes now looks, well, a little bit genius: It’s virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer.
Likewise, it’s hard to imagine the House trying to pass health care reform next year, when nervous lawmakers feeling that much more jittery. But Pelosi put together a plan, stuck to it, and assembled a majority. There have been a lot of House leaders who’ve come and gone over the decades since health care reform became a national priority, but Nancy Pelosi is the first to actually bring a reform bill to the floor and pass it. Getting it and energy reform onto the floor and finished in the span of less than five months is no small task.
In the larger context, it helps to lead a caucus with 258 members. It gives a Speaker some leeway and room for error. Nevertheless, Pelosi doesn’t have the biggest majority ever, and leading a very diverse House Democratic caucus is about as easy as herding cats. Blind, stubborn cats.
Time will tell what future cycles hold, but let no one doubt that Nancy Pelosi wields that Speaker’s gavel as effectively as anyone in quite a long time.
In July 1972, musician Johnny Cash sat opposite President Richard Nixon in the White House’s Blue Room. As a horde of media huddled a few feet away, the country music superstar had come to discuss prison reform with the self-anointed leader of America’s "silent majority." "Johnny, would you be willing to play a few songs for us," Nixon asked Cash. "I like Merle Haggard’s ‘Okie From Muskogee’ and Guy Drake’s ‘Welfare Cadillac.’" The architect of the GOP’s Southern strategy was asking for two famous expressions of white working-class resentment.
"I don’t know those songs," replied Cash, "but I got a few of my own I can play for you." Dressed in his trademark black suit, his jet-black hair a little longer than usual, Cash draped the strap of his Martin guitar over his right shoulder and played three songs, all of them decidedly to the left of "Okie From Muskogee." With the nation still mired in Vietnam, Cash had far more than prison reform on his mind. Nixon listened with a frozen smile to the singer’s rendition of the explicitly antiwar "What Is Truth?" and "Man in Black" ("Each week we lose a hundred fine young men") and to a folk protest song about the plight of Native Americans called "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." It was a daring confrontation with a president who was popular with Cash’s fans and about to sweep to a crushing reelection victory, but a glimpse of how Cash saw himself — a foe of hypocrisy, an ally of the downtrodden. An American protest singer, in short, as much as a country music legend.
Years later, "Man in Black" is remembered as a sartorial statement, and "What Is Truth?" as a period piece, if at all. Of the three songs that Cash played for Nixon, the most enduring, and the truest to his vision, was "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." The song was based on the tragic tale of the Pima Indian war hero who was immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, and in Washington’s Iwo Jima monument, but who died a lonely death brought on by the toxic mixture of alcohol and indifference and alcoholism. The song became part of an album of protest music that his record label didn’t want to promote and that radio stations didn’t want to play, but that Cash would always count among his personal favorites.
The story of Cash and "Ira Hayes" began a decade before the meeting with Nixon. On the night of May 10, 1962, Cash made …
Apparently we’re just about out of multi-year ice at the north pole:
“I would argue that, from a practical perspective, we almost have a seasonally ice-free Arctic now, because multiyear sea ice is the barrier to the use and development of the Arctic,” said Barber [Canada's Research Chair in Arctic System Science at the University of Manitoba].
Interesting post at Crooked Timber by Henry Brighouse:
These immigration prisons constitute the new face of imprisonment in America: the speculative public-private prison, publicly owned by local governments, privately operated by corporations, publicly financed by tax-exempt bonds, and located in depressed communities. Because they rely on project revenue instead of tax revenue, these prisons do not need voter approval. Instead they are marketed by prison consultants to municipal and county governments as economic-development tools promising job creation and new revenue without new taxes. The possibility of riots usually goes unmentioned. … Initially, most speculative prisons were privately owned, a case of the federal government outsourcing its responsibilities. But prison outsourcing is rarely that simple anymore. The private-prison industry increasingly works with local governments to establish and operate speculative prisons. Prison-town officials have a mantra: “If you build a prison the prisoners will come.”
Most of the time, these public-private prisons are speculative ventures only for bondholders and local governments, because agreements signed with federal agencies do not guarantee prisoners. For the privates, risks are low and the rewards large. Usually paid a set fee by local governments to operate prisons, management companies have no capital investment and lose little, other than hefty monthly fees, if inmate flows from the federal government decline or stop.
… Prisons are owned by local governments, but local oversight of finances is rare, and the condition of prisoners is often ignored. Inmates such as those in Pecos are technically in the custody of the federal government, but they are in fact in the custody of corporations with little or no federal supervision. So labyrinthine are the contracting and financing arrangements that there are no clear pathways to determine responsibility and accountability. Yet every contract provides an obvious and unimpeded flow of money to the private industry and consultants…
Continue reading. Putting prisons in private hands is a very bad step, IMHO.
As readers of the blog know, I believe that the US Air Force should be disbanded, with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps taking over airpower in their respective theaters. This is not an unusual position—Thomas Ricks seems to share it. But he got an excellent response from a member of the Air Force:
This speaks for itself, so take it away, Lt. Col. Kelly "K Mart" Martin. She’s a veteran KC-135 pilot who recently commanded the U.S. air base in Baghdad and is now a colleague of mine at CNAS, the little think tank that could:
A short time ago, the host of this blog deemed it appropriate to categorize the Air Force as different from the other military service-"Another of the great things about CNAS is our military fellows program, which brings in smart officers from the military services, as well as the Air Force." As the Air Force Fellow here at CNAS, I found this curious. Upon further conversation with Mr. Ricks, it was clear that he did in fact view the Air Force as not being equal to the other services because of its lack of "military ethos," an assertion based primarily on the fact that Airmen don’t face the same risk as soldiers of being injured or killed and, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, it’s really the Army that are the winners of America’s conflict and defender of its national security.
My first reaction was that the families of the 81 Airmen who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan — not to mention those Airmen lost in the wars of the 20th century — would take great exception to the assertion that their loved one didn’t have a "military ethos" because of the type of uniform he or she was wearing. But it’s the underlying value projection that only by shedding blood makes one truly a ‘brother in arms’ that I find troubling.
There’s no disagreement that the current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is ground-centric and that airpower plays a supporting role. But as retired Army Lieutenant General Barno said in 2004, "While it takes boots on the ground to win a counter-insurgency fight, it takes airpower to move, supply, and protect those boots on the ground." In this capacity, airpower’s combat effectiveness is best measured in the lives saved…
I blogged earlier about how the House passage of Pelosicare was a major step forward, and if the Senate also acts, we are well on the way to healthcare reform. A commenter rejoined that the bill was just a baby step. I think we both are right: the bill that was passed is (I think) the big first step that allows on-going refinement and improvement—so that in looking back, the bill does seem a baby step. Steven Benen has a good post on this topic:
John Judis notes a conversation he had with a friend who’s disappointed with the compromises that have been part of the health care reform debate. The friend, Judis said, has taken to comparing President Obama unfavorably to FDR.
In response, Judis reminded his friend about the original Social Security Act of 1935: "[I]t was a bare shell of what it became in the 1950s after amendment. Benefits were nugatory. And most important, coverage was denied to wide swaths of the workforce, including farm laborers." In particular, farm laborers were excluded from Social Security in order to get racist Southern Democrats to vote for the legislation.
Judis concluded, "[T]he bill that the House passed last Saturday is considerably more robust that the original Social Security bill. But don’t tell my friend that."
Paul Begala raised a similar point in August.
No self-respecting liberal today would support Franklin Roosevelt’s original Social Security Act. It excluded agricultural workers — a huge part of the economy in 1935, and one in which Latinos have traditionally worked. It excluded domestic workers, which included countless African Americans and immigrants. It did not cover the self-employed, or state and local government employees, or railroad employees, or federal employees or employees of nonprofits. It didn’t even cover the clergy. FDR’s Social Security Act did not have benefits for dependents or survivors. It did not have a cost-of-living increase. If you became disabled and couldn’t work, you got nothing from Social Security.
If that version of Social Security were introduced today, progressives like me would call it cramped, parsimonious, mean-spirited and even racist. Perhaps it was all those things. But it was also a start. And for 74 years we have built on that start. We added more people to the winner’s circle: farmworkers and domestic workers and government workers. We extended benefits to the children of working men and women who died. We granted benefits to the disabled. We mandated annual cost-of-living adjustments. And today Social Security is the bedrock of our progressive vision of the common good.
Roosevelt, the towering political figure of the 20th century, with an electoral mandate, a Democratic Congress, and the stench of a failed Republican president fresh on the nation’s mind, had to take what he could get on Social Security, which was far less than what he wanted.
This is not to say health care reform advocates should accept every abhorrent conservative demand, just to get something done. Democratic policymakers have a rare opportunity in front of them, and there’s no reason in the world they can’t pass a strong bill, with a public option, and without measures like the Stupak amendment.
Indeed, let’s be clear. There may be some Dems who say, "Well, the reform bill could be better, so could the original Social Security bill have been, so let’s not fight too hard for progressive goals." This attitude is entirely wrong and self-defeating.
That said, the Social Security example is illustrative — even after historic policy milestones, the work will continue. Where reform advocates come up short this year — if they come up short — it’s not the end of the fight.
And, BTW, for those who say the government cannot run an operation efficiently: Social Security is amazingly efficient, productive, and important.
In the New Yorker Elizabeth Kolbert takes Dubner and Levitt to task for their sloppy work. Her article begins:
In the eighteen-sixties, the quickest, or at least the most popular, way to get around New York was in a horse-drawn streetcar. The horsecars, which operated on iron rails, offered a smoother ride than the horse-drawn omnibuses they replaced. (The Herald described the experience of travelling by omnibus as a form of “modern martyrdom.”) New Yorkers made some thirty-five million horsecar trips a year at the start of the decade. By 1870, that figure had tripled.
The standard horsecar, which seated twenty, was drawn by a pair of roans and ran sixteen hours a day. Each horse could work only a four-hour shift, so operating a single car required at least eight animals. Additional horses were needed if the route ran up a grade, or if the weather was hot. Horses were also employed to transport goods; as the amount of freight arriving at the city’s railroad terminals increased, so, too, did the number of horses needed to distribute it along local streets. By 1880, there were at least a hundred and fifty thousand horses living in New York, and probably a great many more. Each one relieved itself of, on average, twenty-two pounds of manure a day, meaning that the city’s production of horse droppings ran to at least forty-five thousand tons a month. George Waring, Jr., who served as the city’s Street Cleaning Commissioner, described Manhattan as stinking “with the emanations of putrefying organic matter.” Another observer wrote that the streets were “literally carpeted with a warm, brown matting . . . smelling to heaven.” In the early part of the century, farmers in the surrounding counties had been happy to pay for the city’s manure, which could be converted into rich fertilizer, but by the later part the market was so glutted that stable owners had to pay to have the stuff removed, with the result that it often accumulated in vacant lots, providing breeding grounds for flies.
The problem just kept piling up until, in the eighteen-nineties, it seemed virtually insurmountable…
An interesting article by Darshak Sanghavi at Slate. From that article:
… But there’s a major problem with seeing malpractice reform as a quest to reduce bogus lawsuits: Doctors make huge, negligent mistakes quite regularly—and they usually get away with it. In a landmark 1991 study, Harvard researchers reviewed the hospital records of tens of thousands of New Yorkers and estimated that almost 27,000 patients were harmed by negligent medical care—yet only 3,500 actually filed claims. The system, the report concluded, "rarely holds providers accountable for substandard care." In 2006,another Harvard study concluded that only about 15 percent of malpractice litigation costs involved claims without errors—and only 3 percent of all claims involved no patient injury. Further, about four in five claims were adjudicated properly. In 2006, a study in Health Affairs concluded there was no crisis in doctors’ malpractice costs, since inflation-adjusted premiums were lower in 2000 than in 1986; another study last year found most doctors in Massachusetts (declared a "crisis state" by the American Medical Association) paid lower premiums in 2005 than in 1990.
And while doctors hate to admit it, lawsuits can save lives. Motivated in part by liability suits, anesthesiologists dropped the risk of death in surgery from one in 5,000 to one in 250,000 over two decades, and their premiums have dropped from being the highest among doctors to some of the lowest. At the hospital where I trained in pediatric cardiology, a publicized malpractice case in which a child died led quickly to critical improvements in patient safety throughout the hospital.
So here’s the dilemma: On one hand, doctors believe—despite some evidence to the contrary—that there are too many frivolous lawsuits, and they respond by ordering a lot of unnecessary testing and treatment. It’s probably impossible to change their perception, which arises from some well-publicized, if uncommon, bad decisions. As a result, their solution is to make it harder for patients to sue. (That’s the general position taken by Republicans.) On the other hand, patients often get harmed by negligent medical care, and lawsuits are their only way to fight back. Doctors are already getting away with lots of negligence, so making it harder to sue seems unfair. (That’s the Democrats’ view.)
There’s a more constructive way to frame the debate about medical liability: How can we design a system in which more patients harmed by negligence get timely, reasonable compensation, but in a manner that also protects doctors and encourages them to learn from their mistakes? In this regard, the current system fails miserably and is best compared to a casino. A tiny number of injured patients win huge jackpots while the majority gets nothing, in a gaming process rife with outrageous overhead costs (roughly half of all malpractice costs go to lawyers, experts, and the court system).
Damage caps may protect doctors from lawsuits, but they do little to help patients. There are other, much better, ideas out there, and they deserve bipartisan support since they allow everyone—doctors, patients, and taxpayers—to win. Michelle Mello, a health law professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a leading researcher on medical liability, outlines three examples: promoting "disclosure-and-offer" programs in which health providers are incentivized to fess up quickly to mistakes and offer prompt compensation; creating neutral tribunals that evaluate evidence and recommend damages; and proclaiming federal "safe harbors" where doctors are immunized from lawsuits if they adhere to evidence-based practices, as Dr. Merenstein did…
I have now switched totally to Chrome—my final "critical need" was satisfied by installing TabSearch Version 0.2. Still, Firefox was a critical help during the early years, and this little history at Lifehacker.com is well worth reading. It begins:
Five years ago, an open-source browser called Firefox—one that didn’t ship with your computer—was available as a 1.0 download. To say it’s changed the world’s web experience is understatement. Here’s a look back at five years of the ‘fox.
Read on for an overview of the life of Firefox, including its journey from from its Netscape ancestry to the modern browser we’ve come to know and love-and a quick peek at what’s around the corner…
Interesting note at WebMD by Jennifer Warner:
Long-term use of a neti pot to clear stuffy noses and blocked nasal passages may actually encourage more sinus problems rather than keep them away.
A new study shows people who used nasal saline irrigation for a year and then discontinued use the following year had 62% fewer cases of sinusitis in the year that they didn’t use the device.
Neti pots have become increasingly popular in recent years for the treatment of sinus infections and other forms of sinus disease. The pots deliver a stream of sterile saline solution to the nasal passages to loosen and clear nasal congestion.
Researchers say despite the common use of nasal saline irrigation to treat sinusitis, there has been little scientific research to confirm its effectiveness. Sinusitis is an inflammation or infection of the sinuses and nasal passages that can cause headache or pressure in the eyes, nose, and cheek area as well as nasal congestion, cough, and fever.
The study, presented this week at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Meeting in Miami, followed 68 people who used nasal saline irrigation for 12 months and then discontinued use for another 12 months.
The results showed that the number of cases of sinusitis decreased by 62.5% during the discontinuation phase. Researchers also compared the rates of sinusitis among those who stopped using nasal saline irrigation and another group of 24 adults who used daily nasal saline irrigation for 12 months. Again, they found sinusitis among daily users was significantly higher (50%) than among nonusers.
Researchers say nasal mucus acts as a first line of defense against infections, and long-term nasal saline irrigation may interfere with this natural immune function.
Although use of a neti pot for nasal saline irrigation may temporarily improve sinus infection symptoms, they say "its daily long-term use may result in an increased frequency of acute [sinusitis] by potentially depleting the nose of its immune blanket of mucus," write researcher Talal M. Nzouli, MD, of Washington, D.C., and colleagues in their study.
Here’s an idea we haven’t seen before. We were a skeptical at first but after a short time we can say we like what Newsy is up to. The current version of the service has been available since April, 2009 when it was relaunched. The Newsy iPhone app launched a couple of weeks ago.
The idea is as simple and and fresh. We’ve not seen anything similar available for free. Basically, take stories in the news and then bring together multiple video (and sometimes text-based) news reports from a number of sources and place them all on a single location. It’s not only a great way to see how a news story is reported but viewing the same story from different news organizations can potentially turn up facts from one source that the other source does not report on. By the way, the company likes to think to think of themselves as “news analyzer” and not a news aggregator. We think both phrases can work together Whatever you call Newsy there is plenty of value here.
Newsy can be useful in many situations. One potential use is helping to teach critical information skills by reviewing what is and is not reported on in a news story and how it’s reported. For example, how much time does each source give to the story.
But wait, there’s more. In addition to aggregating news reports on the same story, Newsy produces their OWN original video content summarizing the material from each source into a single report. For those who don’t want to view each source video one at a time, here’s a way to learn what each one is reporting in just a minute or two.
You can keyword search Newsy (you’re searching metadata) or browse by one of seven categories: …
Veterans and their supporters called on U.S. Sen.Tom Coburn, R-Okla., on Friday to drop his hold and allow a vote to be held on a bill to offer assistance and improve benefits to wounded veterans and their caregivers.
Without identifying Coburn by name, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said a single senator is denying veterans improved benefits.
The White House and the Senate Democratic leadership definitely need to start doing more to turn up the heat on the rampant minoritarian obstruction. Step one, I think, would be to stop abiding by the rule of decorum that leads Akaka to not identify Coburn by name. The anonymous hold business is not a sacred element of parliamentary procedure, it’s an absurd procedural defect that there’s no reason to respect, especially now that it’s become a subject of routine abuse. At some point, senators are going to need to start putting their substantive policy objectives ahead of their narrow self-interest in preserving the senate’s idiosyncratic ways.
UPDATE: Apparently Mark Begich called Coburn out by name on Friday and the Senate Democrats’ blog is highlighting this.
Her name is Elizabeth Lambert and I would bar her from the game.
Well worth looking at. I use ESET NOD on the mainframe, Norton’s Internet Security on the laptop.
David Hamilton of Indiana, President Obama’s first appeals court nominee, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee 158 days ago. Care to guess how many George W. Bush nominees were held in limbo this long in the last Congress? Zero.
And yet, Hamilton’s nomination hasn’t been brought to the floor due to unprecedented Senate Republican obstructionism. This week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to force the issue, bring Hamilton to the floor and seeking a cloture vote.
Leading the charge against Hamilton will be Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama. Perhaps now would be a good time to point out what Jeff Sessions had to say about blocking judicial nominees as recently as four years ago:
"I have stated over and over again on this floor that I would refuse to put an anonymous hold on a judge; that I would object and fight against any filibuster on a judge, whether it is somebody I opposed or supported; that I felt the Senate should do its duty. If we don’t like somebody the President nominates, vote him or her up or down. But don’t hold them in this anonymous unconscionable limbo…."
At the time, Sessions added that denying a judicial nominee an up-or-down vote was inconsistent with a process that has been in place "since the founding of the republic."
I guess he’s changed his mind. How convenient.
It’s worth emphasizing that when the president nominated Judge Hamilton for the 7th Circuit seven months ago, Obama did so specifically because Hamilton has a record of moderation. The nomination was intended to send a signal that the process of filling judicial vacancies need not be contentious. "We would like to put the history of the confirmation wars behind us," one White House aide said back in March.
Obama can’t win for trying. No matter how moderate his nominees, no matter how qualified they are, no matter how much support they may garner, Senate Republicans are going to do what no Senate minority has ever done — try to block them all, just a few years after arguing that any attempts to filibuster a judicial nominee tears at the very fabric of our republic.
With a 60-member caucus, Reid can hopefully make some quick progress on this. And if there are any Republicans left who are willing to concede that these tactics are ridiculous, now would be the ideal time for him or her to step up.
The Fake Steve Jobs has an excellent post titled “Why the mainstream media are dying“. It begins:
Every once in a while you get to see a mainstream outlet cover a story right alongside a blog, so you can put them up against each other and see why one was so much better than the other. This week TechCrunch and the New York Times (photo) provided just such a lesson.
The issue was a company called Zynga, which makes online games, like FarmVille, that have become incredibly popular on Facebook among people who are missing parts of their brains. On Oct. 31 TechCrunch broke a big story called “Scamville: The Social Gaming Ecosystem of Hell” about how Zynga was making money by selling scam ads — the kind that trick kids and other frigtards into signing up for useless subscriptions to stuff they don’t want.
Arrington packaged his story with a video of himself taking on Anu Shukla, CEO of one of the scam-ad distributors, at a conference. He also ran an “insider’s confession” piece by a former scammer explaining how these guys operate. He followed with a story about how Zynga CEO Mark Pincus had acknowledged the problem and said Zynga would stop running those ads, and another story about how Anu Shukla had been pushed out of her company, and another story about Shukla’s replacement admitting that the company had, indeed, been running scammy ads. On Friday Arrington capped it off with a coup: he dug up a video clip from earlier this year in which Pincus, the CEO of Zynga, told a laughing audience of scumbag developers about all the scumbaggy things he had done to generate revenue with his games.
After all this, we woke up Saturday to find a story in the New York Times, also about Zynga (and other Facebook game companies) with the headline, “Virtual Goods Start Bringing Real Paydays.” The Times put two reporters on the knob-polisher, and somehow they managed to interview Pincus, and to quote him — and yet they included not a single word about the scammy ads. Not. A. Fucking. Word. The piece could not have been nicer if it had been written by Zynga’s PR people themselves. Gist: Virtual goods, stupid idea, people play, some spend money, VCs love it, isn’t this great.
The "why" is pretty easy: I went to Toasties for breakfast, since it is Monday, and since then I’ve been reading things I might blog.
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is extremely good, so far—I’m more than half through. It’s an Americanized Harry Potter, more or less, with a noticeable absence of twee and a more mature outlook. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.
Megs continues to love her Evo 95% Duck canned food. She eats half a small (5.5 oz) can in the morning, the other half in the evening, and each half seems to serve for two snacks. I notice that the first snack is followed by a nap. I imagine that the second snack is around noon or early afternoon—in any event, her bowl is empty by dinner time, when she gets the other half can with one wild-salmon-oil capsule squeezed over the top.