Archive for March 8th, 2010
Businesses exist (only) to grow profits. Everything else—including their customers—are in a distant second. Here’s the clearest example of how businesses are willing to kill customers so long as they can drain money from them. Anne Landman at PRWatch.org:
In the 1950s, more than half the U.S. population smoked. Now that number is down to just 21 percent of adults. As the domestic cigarette market shrinks, tobacco companies are taking their business to the developing world, where they don’t have to deal with pesky things like advocacy groups that oppose industry activity, smoking bans, and a populace that is aware of the health hazards of smoking.
Now Philip Morris (PM) is playing hardball in lesser-developed countries to try and preserve their ability to market cigarettes however they want. On February 19, PM filed a lawsuit against Uruguay to try and force that country to withdraw a new law requiring 80 percent of each side of cigarette packs show graphic images depicting the health effects of smoking.
Laws requiring large, pictorial graphic warning labels on cigarette packs are not new.Canada was the first to implement them, starting in 2000. Now 32 countries and the European Union require them. Uruguay, in fact, already had a law requiring half of each side of cigarette packs to contain health warnings. They just wanted to make the pictures a little bigger. That was all it took to get Philip Morris to slap them with a law suit.
So why is Philip Morris coming down like a ton of bricks on less developed countries like this? Because as cigarette makers lose their markets in the developed world, they need poorer and less-educated populations to keep expanding their business. That means moving into developing countries, and how they market cigarettes there is often egregiously repugnant.
Cigarette Marketing Strategies in Foreign Countries
Cigarette companies market their products quite differently in foreign countries than they do in the U.S. They’ve also learned lessons from their past experiences in the U.S. that they apply to help create business other countries.
For example, an undated British American Tobacco marketing plan discusses "Project Z," in which the company planned to sell single cigarettes in Central American countries, as a way to keep poverty-stricken smokers addicted to nicotine. The document says that selling cigarettes one by one will help keep poor smokers "within the habit."
Leveraging Fear as a Marketing Tool
Tobacco companies learned that "health scares" tend to generate new markets for brands they can make people believe are safer. They apply this knowledge to actually stimulate health fear among smokers to drive people to buy "low tar" brands. For example, in 1983, Brown & Williamson implemented Project Lodestar in Kuwait, to generate health fears among Kuwaiti smokers to increase sales of their "light" brands in Kuwait. In describing Project Lodestar, B&W lamented that "The lack of growth in [the low tar and nicotine] segment, especially in developing countries, has seriously affected the potential of key BWIT brands…" Project Lodestar’s objective was to "Stimulate concern among less aware consumers…" Another Lodestar tactic involved snookering Kuwaiti anti-tobacco groups into helping B&W "stimulate" this "concern":
"Lobby [the Kuwaiti Anti-Smoking] Society to emphasize low delivery brand alternatives for concerned smokers who do not want to quit smoking…"
Philip Morris held the people of Pakistan in similar regard…
Is the GOP getting stupider and more dishonest (bad combination: the lies are more obvious) day by day? It sure seems that way. Amanda Terkel at ThinkProgress:
The Oklahoma legislature is currently locked in a dispute over whether to tackle the state’s divorce rate, the third-highest in the nation. Although some Republicans are pushing the legislation, other conservatives are outraged at the “government intrusion” into their private lives:
Republican members proposed three pieces of legislation imposing new regulations on marriage and divorce in Oklahoma. Two of the measures were defeated, but another — requiring counseling for those planning to wed, and therapy sessions for couples considering divorce — is awaiting action.
The issue has produced sharp clashes among conservative colleagues who normally find themselves in agreement. The debates have featured charges of hypocrisy and of betraying Republican principles against government intrusion into private lives. [...]
“How far do I want government to come into my home and your home about private personal matters?” asked Rep. Leslie Osborn, a Republican from Tuttle, in a debate. She referred to state government as a “huge monster.”
ThinkProgress spoke with state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel (D), who opposes the divorce bills because one hour of counseling — as proposed by one of the measures — won’t make a major difference in people’s marriages:
We know that one hour of counseling doesn’t do anything. We have counseling programs, especially in Family and Children Services…for families that are going through divorce who have children…and those have proven to be very effective. And they’re paid for by our Department of Human Services; they have grants available. They’ve been in place for over 14 years. They have a very high success rate of good outcomes. …They [participants in the programs] sort of laughed at this and said, “One hour, you’ve got to be kidding?” And it can be by anybody — it can be by your priest, it can be by a faith-based counselor.
McDaniel noted that some of the strongest debates on the divorce measures are coming from within the Republican Party, many of whom are against the government intervention. However, some of their concern rings a bit hollow; some of these same lawmakers — including Osborn — have had no problem imposing “government intrusion” into women’s “private lives.” Last fall, the Oklahoma passed a law that would have collected personal details about every single abortion performed in the state and posted them on a public website. (The Oklahoma County District Court struck down the law last month because it covered too many topics for one piece of legislation.)
McDaniel noted that Republican lawmakers are now putting forth several anti-choice measures once again, as single bills. Just last week, for example, the state House passed a measure “that would require a woman be given a description of ultrasound images of her unborn child and be offered those images before getting an abortion.” Rep. Dan Sullivan (R), the sponsor of the abortion website legislation, opposed the divorce counseling bill in a Feb. 22 vote.
Oklahoma also bans same-sex couples from marrying — a clear “government intrusion” into private life that many Republican lawmakers seem to find perfectly acceptable.
Tony Perkins, president of the far-right Family Research Council, said that he endorses efforts to lower the divorce rate, as long as the government does not “mandate” them. “I prefer the carrot versus the stick,” said Perkins, who opposes marriage equality.
Apparently the standard practice these days is to open a link in the same tab—if the user wants it to open in a new tab, he can right-click the link and open it in a new tab. In other words, if you open the link in a new tab automatically, you deprive the user of the option of staying in the same tab, but if you open in the same tab, the user can choose whether or not the link actually opens in the same tab or in a new tab.
Until now, I have always made links open in a new tab. But now I think I probably shouldn’t. Just for fun, a poll:
I just started watching To Catch a King on Watch Instantly, and I think the credits are extremely well done. The movie itself is not highly rated, but the credits are excellent. (I’m watching the movie for Terri Garr.)
It’s not the money, and it’s not even the principle of the thing. (On principle, I highly favor a progressive income tax as the most equitable way for the government to get the revenue it needs to operate.) It’s the d—-d forms! Those and the recondite language favored in the tax field, none of which I understand. But I’m just about done collecting the info for our tax preparer.
With the prospect of President Obama’s student loan bill passing through the budget reconciliation bill fast approaching, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) took to the Washington Post op-ed page to tell some lies about the bill. Alexander, who used to be the Secretary of Education and knows better, said:
Starting in July, all 19 million students who want government-backed loans will line up at offices designated by the U.S. Education Department…the government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
That sounds pretty terrible, spending hour upon hour sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs beneath soul-deadening fluorescent lights, waiting for your number to pop up on a screen so you can shuffle up to a window and listen to a surly civil service worker tell you that you won’t be able to take out a student loan because you still haven’t paid a speeding ticket issued on the Tappan Zee Bridge in November 1993. Why, President Obama, why? Can’t humble college students be spared in your diabolical collectivization plan?
In reality, getting a student loan through the Federal Direct Loan Program isn’t going be any different than it is for the millions of students who are already getting loans through the Federal Direct Loan Program, which involves filling out the same forms you use to get loans under the “give-banks-billions-of-free-taxpayer-dollars” program that Alexander is defending.
Alexander also alleges that the administration has been less than forthcoming about what’s really going on here:
Here is what they haven’t told us: The Education Department will borrow money at 2.8 percent from the Treasury, lend it to you at 6.8 percent and spend the difference on new programs. So you’ll work longer to pay off your student loan to help pay for someone else’s education — and to help your U.S. representative’s reelection.
It’s not a secret that the government will be lending money for more than that money costs. All lending programs work this way. The difference is that currently the money left over after paying people to administer the program is used to line the pockets of bank shareholders and executives whereas under Obama’s plan it will be used for Pell grants that benefit low-income students. Alexander’s contention that “you’ll work longer to pay off your student loan to help pay for someone else’s education” ignores the fact that many borrowers also receive Pell grants. Or attend the colleges that will receive grants to improve graduation rates, or have small children who will benefit from new investments in early childhood education. Alexander concedes that most people think such programs are a good idea. Otherwise, they wouldn’t help U.S. representatives get re-elected! He suggests that instead of subsidizing Pell grants, the federal government should use its unique ability to borrow cheaply to lend at extremely low rates, thus undercutting the private market for loans from companies that can’t raise money by issuing Treasury bonds. This, of course, would immediately be denounced as “socialism.”
Op-eds like this are best understood not as actual attempts to influence legislation but rather as strategic contributions to a larger narrative alleging that President Obama is engaged in grand conspiracy to drag unsuspecting Americans down the road to serfdom. It’s not true, but standards of truth are very lax when U.S. Senators write for the op-ed page of the Washington Post.
Interesting column at AOL by Michael Cohen:
This week’s parliamentary election in Iraq — the second since the fall of Saddam Hussein — was the latest sign that America’s ill-fated intervention in Iraq reached a critical turning point, and that perhaps the most controversial legacy of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy stewardship has at long last come to an end.
If only it would be so easy for the Obama administration to fully turn the page on the Bush years.
Even more than a year after his inauguration, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda is still largely devoted to fixing the messes he inherited from Bush. And that’s likely to continue to be the case for quite some time to come, unless Obama makes a more fundamental break with the failed policies of his predecessor.
Iran: During the Bush years, little progress was made in dealing with Iran’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program. Not only is the problem getting worse, but it is also sucking up diplomatic and political energy with key partners in Europe as well as Russia and China. Indeed, repairing relations with these powers has taken up a disproportionate amount of Obama’s time as president.
Multilateral issues: Eight years of inaction on climate change and other multilateral issues has left the world suspicious of U.S. intentions, making agreement that much harder to achieve.
Israel: The same can be said of the Middle East peace process, where Bush’s decision to focus on the Palestinian election brought Hamas to power, contributing to a rightward turn in Israeli politics that has made political reconciliation seemingly impossible.
Budget: Obama inherited a bloated defense budget and a fiscal situation that has spiraled out of control. The situation is even more difficult among civilian agencies, particularly the State Department and USAID, which have seen their influence diminish as their resources and morale have declined.
Intelligence: Worst of all is the damage is the damage to the intelligence community, which became deeply politicized in the Bush years and saw its key focus in the war on terrorism shift from analysis and intelligence gathering to interrogation. Obama will need to spend serious political capital to turn these agencies around.
Budget: Obama inherited a bloated defense budget and a fiscal situation that requires tough and politically bruising choices on military spending. The situation is even more difficult among civilian agencies, particularly the State Department and USAID, which have seen their influence diminish as their resources and morale have declined.
And all of this is to say nothing of the entanglements with Afghanistan and Gitmo, the former of which risks entangling Obama’s presidency in a long-term commitment that will take much-needed energy and resources away from other serious challenges.
But the hardest nut to crack may be …
The next two to three weeks will determine whether the United States gets on a better track toward including all citizens in health coverage and controlling costs in the public interest. This is NOT the moment for Democrats to posture and bargain — remember, this is in part what lost us MA, that mess in the Senate over the Cornhusker Kickback and other unseemly deals. Scott Brown made use of these deals — he pointed to Democratic dysfunctionality. Speed and simplicity are crucial right now, as Obama and the House and Senate leaders put together what they must to get this done. This is a time for the Indians to listen to the Chiefs.
At the risk of irritating people on the left, this is NOT the moment for "progressives" to demand a public option. Nor is it the moment for either pro-choice feminists or pro-life Democrats to derail reform.
PROGRESSIVES need to cut the posturing over a currently unattainable (and in any event already hollowed out version of the) "public option." To get legislation now that includes massive subsidies for the uninsured and a new regulatory framework for the future requires that Nancy Pelosi — the real heroine in all this — persuade shaky conservative Dems in the House. The legislation cannot include a public option if she is to succeed. Yet if this new framework passes through House action and a reconciliation side-car, that will open new political possibilities in the future. Before long, it will become very possible to enact Medicare extensions or a public option through majority budget votes, because they will be deficit-fighters. Especially "Medicare for More" which will be my new slogan. At this juncture, I hate to get emails from so-called progressive advocacy groups pushing for anything other than supporting Obama in the current end-game. Criticizing what is now attainable is the real defeatism, Adam Green! Conservatives are hammering wavering moderate Dems; use your resources to run moderate ads against private insurers in their districts. Praise the President’s plan and help him get the votes. Same for MoveOn.
As for PRO-CHOICE versus PRO-LIFE advocates, give us all a break from your extremist posturings, please. Health care for all is probably the single most important issue for women and families and actual babies and children.
"FEMINISTS" who are pushing on abortion-funding limits rather than supporting American women …
In November of 2009, Sarah Palin — who is always suggesting that health care reform will lead to socialism— insisted that Canada needs to reform its health care system to “let the private sector take over.” But this past Saturday in Calgary, Canada — at “her first Canadian appearance since stepping down as governor of Alaska last summer” — Palin seemed to deviate from her fear of socialized Canadian medicine when she revealed that her family may have benefited from the Canadian system:
PALIN: We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada. And I think now, isn’t that ironic?
This isn’t the first time Palin highlighted the difficulty of obtaining affordable health care in America. During the presidential campaign, Palin discussed how her and husband Todd had “gone though periods of our life here with paying out-of-pocket for health coverage until Todd and I both landed a couple of good union jobs.” At the Vice Presidential debate, Palin recalled times in her marriage “in our past where we didn’t have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care?”
Palin’s experience also highlights the fact that American medical-tourism to Canada is common, despite conservatives’ claims that Canada’s health care system drives Canadians into the states. “Every year, thousands of Americans undergo surgery in other countries” where they can receive the same care “at half the price.” “In 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care; this number is anticipated to increase to six million by 2010″ — far outpacing the number of Canadians coming into the United States for medical treatment. It’s good to know that Palin was once one of them.
UPDATE: Steve Benen:
Maybe she was kidding. Perhaps there’s some elusive context that makes the remarks seem less remarkable. But at face value, it seems pretty amusing that Sarah Palin’s family used to rely on Canada’s health care system.
“My first five years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse. Believe it or not — this was in the ’60s — we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn’t that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada.”
Actually, yes, it is rather ironic. Palin now believes President Obama is trying to impose socialized-medicine, which would be dangerous for Americans in need of care. But Palin’s wrong on both counts — the White House plan isn’t socialized-medicine, and the concept couldn’t be too dangerous if it helped meet her own family’s needs.
Universal health care: good enough for Palin’s family, but not for yours?
Markos added, “Palin should reimburse Canada for the health care she stole without paying into their system.”
From Mark Bittman:
Spare Ribs With Olives, Lemon and Rosemary
Yield 4 servings Time About 1 hour
Start with a decent olive, which is not that hard to find as long as you skip the cans and bottles arrayed on supermarket shelves. While olives sold in bulk are not altogether reliable — there are bad ones — it’s in this arena you need to shop. You can use the near-standard calamata olives — glossy, oval and black — that are now sold in almost every supermarket. A little riskier, because most people don’t favor them for nibbling, are the shriveled, glossy black oil-cured olives (which keep nearly forever in the refrigerator). I like to cook with the oil-cured olives because they swell beautifully and explode with flavor.
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
- 2 or 3 sprigs rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 dried red chili
- 2 pounds pork spare ribs, cut into small pieces if possible, into individual ribs if not
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine or water
- 1 lemon, washed and sliced as thinly as possible
- cup oil-cured olives
1. Put oil in a deep skillet or casserole over medium-high heat. Add garlic, rosemary, and chili. When they begin to sizzle, add ribs. Brown ribs on both sides, for a total of about 10 minutes, sprinkling lightly with salt and pepper as they cook. Add wine or water and allow it to bubble away for a few seconds, then add lemon and olives.
2. Cover and adjust heat so mixture simmers as gently as possible. Cook, turning ribs every 10 minutes or so (if mixture threatens to dry out, add a little more liquid). When ribs are tender, after about 30 to 40 minutes of cooking, serve them, with olives, lemon and sauce spooned over them.
Very visible evidence of the source of funding used to fight global warming legislation: it’s coming from energy companies. Climate Progress:
For those still operating under the
delusionmisimpression that the main opposition to climate action is not funded by the polluters:
The companies, Valero Energy Corp. and Tesoro Corp., own refineries in California that would be forced under the law to slash emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Campaign workers began collecting signatures Tuesday for the initiative, which would delay regulations to implement the nation’s most comprehensive climate legislation until California’s unemployment level drops to 5.5% for at least a year. The current jobless rate is more than 12%.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a strong supporter of AB 32, the global warming law, had asked businesses not to support the ballot measure, which was launched by a coalition of Republican politicians and conservative activists.
California companies, according to a source close to the administration, “are more tolerant of California’s environmental leadership. But these Texans don’t want to pay to cut their emissions in California if the federal government is not going to pass climate legislation. They can throw a few million dollars into” fighting the law.
A federal climate bill, passed by the U.S. House last June, has stalled in the Senate in the wake of intense lobbying by coal and oil companies, which would be forced to cap their emissions. Scientists say carbon dioxide and other gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the planet’s climate.
Darn you, scientists, for saying that!
How about “Scientists explain carbon dioxide and other gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the planet’s climate.” Or since we’re fighting the same disinformation campaign begun by the tobacco companies, how about emulating the surgeon General: “Scientists warn carbon dioxide and other gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the planet’s climate.”
Memo to media: This is much more than what scientists “say.” It’s about what the evidence and research shows.
Steve Benen talks about a particular category: the unemployed. But in fact, in terms of policies and actions, the GOP doesn’t like anyone who’s poor. Steve Benen:
It’s astounding, but in the midst of an unemployment crisis, prominent Republicans continue to castigate those struggling to find jobs.
Yesterday, for example, disgraced former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) argued that unemployment benefits are a bad idea, because, as he sees it, they discourage people from entering the work force.
“You know,” DeLay said, “there is an argument to be made that these extensions of these unemployment benefits keeps people from going and finding jobs.” When CNN’s Candy Crowley described his argument as “a hard sell” to the public, DeLay replied, “It’s the truth.”
Crowley followed up, asking, “People are unemployed because they want to be?” DeLay again said, “Well, it is the truth.”
When it comes to Republicans condemning the unemployed, there seems to be something of a trend of late. Two weeks ago, Rep. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada expressed concern that the government is “creating hobos” by extending unemployment benefits. Around the same time, Rep. Steve King, a right-wing Republican from Iowa, explained his opposition to extended unemployment benefits: “We shouldn’t turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock.”
Last week, Senate Minority Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s #2 Republican, argued that unemployment benefits dissuade people from job-hunting “because people are being paid even though they’re not working.” And this, of course, coincided with Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) crusade against extending benefits.
As a matter of economics, the GOP argument is absurd: “[W]hen the economy is deeply depressed, extending unemployment benefits not only helps those in need, it also reduces unemployment. That’s because the economy’s problem right now is lack of sufficient demand, and cash-strapped unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says that aid to the unemployed is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, as measured by jobs created per dollar of outlay.”
As a matter of conscience, having prominent Republicans chastise those struggling to find work during an unemployment crisis is just callous and cruel.
And as a matter of politics, who, exactly, is going to be impressed by Republicans attacking the unemployed as lazy? Since when is “screw struggling families, let’s worry about corporate tax cuts and the estate tax” an effective election-year message during difficult economic times?
You can watch DeLay here: 3 minutes of bilge about how the unemployed just don’t want a job because they can get unemployment benefits. What planet is this guy from?
Jonathan Chait tries hard to make the idea clear:
Jesus Christ, Mike Allen, Reconciliation Is NOT THAT COMPLICATED
There are a lot of thorny issues in American politics that require a great deal of concentrated attention to grasp. The controversy over budget reconciliation and health care is not one of them. It’s pretty simple, and can be explained in thirty seconds or so. And yet large chunks of the political class seem unable to grasp it.
Before we turn to the principal subject of my latest condescending lecture on this topic, let’s briefly review the situation here. Last year, some Democrats considered passing health care reform through budget reconciliation, which would only need a Senate majority. Other Democrats objected, arguing that, since reconciliation bills can only change taxes or spending, it would be very hard to pass a whole health care bill this way. All the features related to regulating insurance companies and setting up exchanges would be stricken out, and the result, as Kent Conrad put it, “would look like Swiss cheese.” So Democrats pursued health care reform through the regular process, passing slightly different bills through the House and Senate.
Since a bill can’t become a law until the exact same bill passes through each chamber of Congress, and Democrats now lack the ability to break a Republican filibuster, they have a different plan. They’ll pass the Senate bill through the House. Then, to appease House members who disapprove of certain Senate features, they’ll pass a second bill through reconciliation. This will only address budgetary issues — some taxes will be raised, others lowered, some spending will be rejiggered. In the grand scheme of things, the changes in the reconciliation bill will be minor. As National Review’s Rich Lowry has noted, “Only the House vote matters.”
Still with me? Okay. Last weekend, Conrad appeared on Face the Nation to explain this process:
On the question of reconciliation, I have said all year as chairman of the Budget Committee, reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform. It won’t work. It won’t work because it was never designed for that kind of significant legislation. It was designed for deficit reduction. So let’s be clear.
On the major Medicare or health care reform legislation, that can’t move through reconciliation. The role for reconciliation would be very limited. It would be on side-car issues designed to improve what passed the Senate and what would have to pass the House for health care reform to move forward. So using reconciliation would not be for the main package at all.
It would be for certain side-car issues like how much does the federal government put up to pay for the Medicaid expansion? What is done to improve the affordability of the package that’s come out of the Senate?
Host Bob Schieffer was totally befuddled:
Let me just throw this in because I’m not sure the White House has the same understanding of this that you do. Because the woman, Nancy DeParle, who is, kind of, in charge of Medicare over there at the White House — I mean, health care, over there at the White House, said this morning on “Meet the Press” she thought that an up-or-down vote would be the way to go on this.
So, obviously, she’s talking about trying to do it through reconciliation, Senator.
And Politico, likewise confused, reported that Conrad “threw cold water on the idea of using the reconciliation process.”In fact, Conrad was endorsing the Democratic approach, which is to use reconciliation to make small budget-related changes to a health care bill, but not to pass a whole health care bill.
An irked Conrad commented in an interview with Ezra Klein, “I’ve never seen so much misreporting. It’s like they heard the first three sentences of what I said and not the next three.” He proceeded to explain it again:
A very valuable post at Climate Progress. Part of the post:
WWF’s Nick Sundt notes, “Oreskes read a passage from her book, including the following (starting at 38:10 in the video)”:
“Imagine a gigantic, colossal banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content, eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens, or Rome or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then one day a man arrives wearing a white dinner jacket.”
That would be the waiter with the bill for this feast:
Not surprisingly the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away. This is where we stand today on the question of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels and the bill has now come due. Yet we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.
The great economist John Maynard Keynes famously summarized all of economic theory in a single phrase: “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” And he was right. We have experienced prosperity unmatched in human history. We have feasted to our hearts’ content. But the lunch was not free.
So it is not surprising that many of us are in denial. After all we didn’t know that it was a banquet — and we didn’t know that there would be a bill. But now we do know. The bill includes acid rain, and the ozone hole and the damaged produced by DDT. These are the environmental costs of living the way citizens of wealthy developed nations have lived since the industrial revolution. Now we either have to pay the price, change the way we do business, or both.
No wonder the merchants of doubt have been successful. They’ve permitted us to think we could ignore the waiter, while we haggled about the bill. The failure of the United States to act on global warming as well as the long delays between when the science was settled and when we acted on tobacco, acid rain and the ozone hole are prima facie empirical evidence that doubt-mongering works.”
Read the whole post, which includes this video:
We’ve talked a few times about the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which really should be an easy call. The student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. The Obama administration has asked Congress to remove the middleman, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.
The House already approved the plan, and the Senate may follow suit through reconciliation. So, Republicans — who prefer the more expensive, less efficient status quo because bank lobbyists tell them to — are doing what they always do. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former Secretary of Education, had an op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post complaining of the Obama administration’s attempted "Washington takeover … of the student loan system."
…Starting in July, all 19 million students who want government-backed loans will line up at offices designated by the U.S. Education Department. Gone will be the days when students and their colleges picked the lender that best fit their needs; instead, a federal bureaucrat will make that choice for every student in America based on still-unclear guidelines. [...]
[T]he government should disclose that getting your student loan will become about as enjoyable as going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Kevin Carey explained that Alexander’s warning "sounds pretty terrible," but is easily dismissed — the conservative Tennessee senator "is making things up."
In reality, getting a student loan through the Federal Direct Loan Program isn’t going be any different than it is for the millions of students who are already getting loans through the Federal Direct Loan Program, which involves filling out the same forms you use to get loans under the "give-banks-billions-of-free-taxpayer-dollars" program that Alexander is defending. [...]
Op-eds like this are best understood not as actual attempts to influence legislation but rather as strategic contributions to a larger narrative alleging that President Obama is engaged in grand conspiracy to drag unsuspecting Americans down the road to serfdom. It’s not true, but standards of truth are very lax when U.S. Senators write for the op-ed page of the Washington Post.
It’s eerily similar to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) op-ed in the Washington Post last week on health care reform — I know why conservative Republican senators are lying; I don’t know why the paper’s editors publish deceptive claims and fairly obvious errors.
For what it’s worth, the WaPo also recently published an accurate piece on the same legislation from current Education Secretary Arne Duncan. As far as the paper’s editors are concerned, the "balance" may make all of this acceptable — readers got to read "one side" on one week, "another side" the next week. It’s a celebration of diversity of perspectives.
Except, again, it’s not. The paper published one piece with blatant falsehoods, and another piece with the truth. Both were presented as opinion pieces, leaving the reader to ponder which of the two is accurate.
It’s not the job of a newspaper’s editorial section to publish lies and facts separately, leaving the public to figure it out.
Interesting article by Laura Miller at Salon:
David Shenk’s new book, "The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong," is 300 pages long, and more than half of those pages are endnotes. You need to offer up a lot of evidence when your goal is to overturn a concept as commonplace as the idea that genes are the "blueprints" for both our physical bodies and our personalities. Above all, what Shenk wants to communicate is that "the whole concept of genetic giftedness turns out to be wildly off the mark — tragically kept afloat for decades by a cascade of misunderstandings and misleading metaphors." Instead of acquiescing to the belief that talent is a quality we’re either born with or not, he wants us to understand that anyone can aspire to superlative achievement. Hard, persistent and focused work is responsible for greatness, rather than innate ability.
Shenk does have a lot of evidence for this assertion, most of it coming from geneticists and other biological researchers who are perplexed at the way their disciplines get depicted in the media. "Today’s popular understanding of genes, heredity and evolution is not just crude, it’s profoundly misleading," Shenk writes. While most scientists long ago rejected the idea that nature and nurture are two separate factors competing in a zero-sum game to dominate human behavior, laypeople still cling to the idea that whatever aspect of ourselves isn’t caused by our environment must be caused by our genes, and vice versa. In recent decades, heredity has gotten most of the credit; the host of the brainiest NPR talk show in my area inevitably prompts every expert to confirm that whatever they’re discussing — mathematical ability, wanderlust, ambition, mental illness — is genetically determined.
According to Shenk, and he is persuasive, none of this stuff is genetically determined, if by "determined" you mean exclusively or largely dictated by genes. Instead, "one large group of scientists," a "vanguard" that Shenk has labeled "the interactionists," insists that the old genes-plus-environment model (G+E) must be jettisoned and replaced by a model they call GxE, emphasizing "the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment." They don’t discount heredity, as the old blank-slate hypothesis of human nature once did. Instead, they assert that "genes powerfully influence the formation of all traits, from eye color to intelligence, but rarely dictate precisely what those traits will be."
Shenk’s particular interest is talent, genius and other instances of extraordinary ability, whether the skills be athletic, artistic or scientific. Musicians and athletes most often get held up as examples of the triumph of innate gifts. According to Shenk, we are erroneously led to believe that stars like Tiger Woods and cellist Yo-yo Ma were born to climb to the top of their fields, when in fact the environments they grew up in are just as responsible (if not more so) for their spectacular feats. To prove this point, he methodically debunks several widely cited examples that supposedly prove the reality of inherited gifts: child prodigies, twin studies and geographical pockets of excellence at particular sports. In all of these cases, he demonstrates, observers have ignored and downplayed the enormous role of environment (especially in early childhood) in favor of touting the preeminence of genetics.
"The Genius in All of Us" strives for clarity — a difficult standard when you’re trying to describe such things as the role of environmental factors in controlling the expression of genes that are in turn susceptible to far more influence from environment than most of us realize in the first place. Or when you’re explaining that "heritability" — a "dreadfully irresponsible" word coined by researchers studying identical twins raised apart from each other — refers to statistical probabilities in large populations, not to the qualities of particular individuals. A lot of the misunderstandings that Shenk laments seem to arise from the fact that genetics often involves statistical reasoning, while most nonspecialists have a pretty weak grasp of how probability, averages and means work.
With this in mind, Shenk states …