Archive for April 23rd, 2010
A Reuters report yesterday pointed to an insurance company practice that’s so awful, it’s almost hard to believe. Reporter Murray Waas explained that WellPoint, an insurance powerhouse, apparently developed a policy of targeting customers with breast cancer, and then launching fraud investigations against them so their coverage could be dropped.
The practice is just breathtaking. According to government regulators and investigators, the affected customers had paid all their premiums and had no problems with their insurer, but WellPoint decided their breast cancer treatment would be expensive. It was easier to investigate them, rely on "erroneous or flimsy information," and drop the customers before the medical bills started piling up.
It’s "rescission" at its most offensive.
Obama administration officials contacted WellPoint about this today, and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer posted this item:
Just yesterday, we read with great alarm a news report that WellPoint, one of the country’s largest health insurers, is routinely dropping coverage for women that are diagnosed with breast cancer.
These are the kinds of scenarios that motivated the President to work so long and so hard to pass health reform. And because of the health reform legislation passed last month, the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry — including what WellPoint is said to have done — will soon be reined in by new tough consumer protections.
Yesterday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter to WellPoint’s CEO urging her company to immediately end this harmful practice.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was outraged, too.
"WellPoint’s practice of dropping anyone’s coverage when they get sick – whether a woman with breast cancer or any other patient – is exactly the kind of insurance company abuse our new health care law prohibits.
"Soon every American can be secure knowing that their insurance companies cannot cancel their coverage because of an illness.
"And when Republican leaders call for repeal of the health reform law, they are endorsing a return to these abusive policies that have no place in our medical system."
I still occasionally find it hard to believe health care reform was deemed unnecessary by so many.
As you can see, businesses care for nothing more than increasing profits, and if they must do that via morally outrageous actions, so be it. They don’t care. Profit outweighs everything for a business. This is why businesses must be watched, regulated, and slapped down when they break the rules. It is important, I think, that the officers of a business (the board of directors, the CEO and other chief officers) be jailed for serious transgressions. A business will pay a fine with no problem, but when the officers go to the slammer, it makes it real. Just ask Dennis Koslowski of Tyco International.
The New York Times‘ Scott Shane reports today that Dr. Henry Heine, a former U.S. Army microbiologist, testified Thursday before a panel of the National Academy of Sciences examining the FBI’s scientific claims in the anthrax case, and said "it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. [Bruce] Ivins’s laboratory"; that "[a]t the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Maryland, . . . among the senior scientists, no one believes it‘;" and when "[a]sked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, [he] replied, ‘Absolutely not‘." Ivins’ hometown newspaper, the Frederick News Post, has long provided excellent and skeptical coverage of the FBI’s case, and provides more details about Heine’s testimony.
Shane details the reasons for Heine’s emphatic doubts and calls his testimony "a major public challenge to [the Government's] conclusion in one of the largest, most politically delicate and scientifically complex cases in F.B.I. history." It is that, but Heine’s extreme skepticism is hardly unusual. As I documented on Wednesday, equally serious doubts about the case against Ivins are found among countless leading scientists, bioweapons experts, establishment media outlets and political officials in both parties. The NAS panel is "review[ing] the bureau’s scientific work on the case, though not its conclusion on the perpetrator’s identity." There has been, and apparently will be, no real investigation of the FBI’s case against Ivins because President Obama has threatened to veto any such investigation on the ground it "would undermine public confidence" in the FBI’s case. In a rational world, with a President committed to transparency and accountability, that would be a reason to have an investigation, not a reason to obstruct one.
Of course, Obama has already dictated that past crimes should not be investigated (unless the crime was whistleblowing that embarrassed some agency).
Earlier this month, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks released a deeply disturbing video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly machine-gunning a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then opening fire on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. (Here’s my article about it.)
The two Reuters employees were killed. But Reuters, which had been asking to see the video for two and a half years, didn’t have much to say right away.
Today, Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger is out with an opinion column entitled "What I want from the Pentagon". His central point: "What I want from the Pentagon — and from all militaries — is simple: Acknowledgment, transparency, accountability." Here he is on the accountability part:
Let’s dig behind the video. Let’s fully understand the rules the military were operating under. Let’s have a complete picture of what was going through the fliers’ minds. Let’s hear the Pentagon explain its interpretation of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention and how the actions either did or did not accord with them in its view. And importantly, let’s keep in mind that while we focus on this particular tragedy, it is the rare circumstance that when a journalist is injured or killed in a conflict area, there is a video of the death, and even more rare as this case demonstrates, for the public to see such a video.
I totally agree. I want what he wants. And here’s something else I want.
I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit.
So far (and I’ve done a bit of calling around) I haven’t heard any member of Congress express any intention of holding an oversight hearing into the matter — or even asking any questions at all.
They seem utterly uncurious about how exactly it was OK for a bloodthirsty-sounding helicopter crewman to open fire on a group of (apparently) armed men when all they were doing was milling around on a street corner — not to mention how it was OK to target the Good Samaritan van driver who pulled over to help one of the injured men. (He was killed; his two small children were wounded.)
Even more than that, to be perfectly honest, I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit about the gruesome cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan after they massacred five innocent civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant — just this past February. Just not on video (as far as we know).
In case you missed it, the very same morning the WikiLeaks video was released, the New York Times confirmed reports by heroic Times of London correspondent Jerome Starkey that American Special Operations soldiers actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the women as part of a cover-up. NATO headquarters, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then backed them up and repeatedly tried to discredit Starkey and his story.
Is that standard operating procedure? Again, I haven’t heard a peep of interest from the Hill — despite the fact that Starkey himself has argued that it was not an isolated incident, and that U.S. and NATO forces are rarely held to account for the atrocities they commit.
Where’s the outrage? Where’s the responsibility? Where’s the oversight? Hell, where’s the basic curiosity? Has anyone on the Hill even asked any questions of the Pentagon or the White House? Hey, President Obama, are you OK with this?
Does your member of Congress give a shit?
Call them and let me know what you find out.
Recommended by Constant Reader, Pirate Radio is a terrific little movie with a great cast and good story.
I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I did enjoy this:
Anyone who has worked with children with autism knows that, based on symptoms alone, this disorder is comprised of several different types. Yet, surprisingly, no authoritative study exists to validate this supposition. That is about to change.
For the first time ever, a long-term study of boys and girls with and without autism is being conducted. Jam-packed with scientific evaluations of each participant that will provide data scientists can use for decades to come, this study is destined to determine once and for all if there are subtypes of autism, and, if so, exactly what those subtypes are. This ambitious study is taking place at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.
Named the Autism Phenome Project (“phenome” means “all observable characteristics”) it is the largest and most comprehensive assessment of children with autism ever attempted. It aims to distinguish among recognized subgroups, or phenotypes, of autism, linking them with distinct patterns of behavior and biological changes. Ideally, the findings will lead to targeted — and thus more effective — treatments specific to each child’s type of autism.
“Some children have autism symptoms from birth, others not until their second birthday,” explains principal investigator David Amaral, who serves as the M.I.N.D. Institute’s research director. “Which ones have gastrointestinal problems or immune problems? Who is more likely to have seizures? At the moment, we don’t really have the big picture.”
“This project is designed to gather sufficient information about a large enough group of kids to parse them into homogeneous, or similar, subtypes,” he adds. “At that point, researchers can explore the causes of each type of autism.”
As co-principal investigator Sally Rogers puts it, “The M.I.N.D. Institute was created to bring scientists together who had expertise among them in all the aspects of autism so that we could look at the whole of autism in a single study, rather than just one part at a time. That’s what the Autism Phenome Project (APP) is all about: parents, children and researchers forming a team to tackle all of autism, at once.”
Led by Amaral, a multi-disciplinary team of more than 50 M.I.N.D. Institute scientists began a pilot study in 2006 of …
A team of chemical engineers have discovered what may be the "ancestral Eve" crystal that billions of years ago gave life on Earth its curious and exclusive preference for so-called left-handed amino acids. The results are published in Crystal Growth and Design.
Researchers used mixtures of both left- and right-handed aspartic acid (an amino acid) in laboratory experiments to see how temperature and other conditions affected formation of crystals of the material.
They found that under conditions that could have existed on primitive Earth, left-handed aspartic acid crystals could have formed easily and on a large scale. "The aspartic acid crystal would then truly become a single mother crystal: an ancestral Eve for the whole left-handed population," the article notes.
The authors point out that conditions on the primordial Earth held an equal chance of forming the same amounts of left-handed and right-handed amino acids. Nevertheless, when the first forms of life emerged more than 3 billion years ago, all the amino acids in the proteins had the left-handed configuration. That pattern continued right up to modern plants and animals.
Citation: Tu Lee, Yu Kun Lin, ‘The Origin of Life and the Crystallization of Aspartic Acid in Water’, Crystal Growth&Design, 2010; 10(4), 1652; doi: 10.1021/cg901219f
But also note these links, published with the above note:
RELATED ARTICLES HERE ON SCIENTIFIC BLOGGING
Michael Steele is doing his best to help his Republican Confederate Party celebrate Confederate History Month.
And he is so very helpful. Last Tuesday night he was asked why African-Americans should vote Republican he told his audience of students at DePaul University:
“You really don’t have a reason to, to be honest—we haven’t done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True”…
And then he explained why.
Back in the day, pundit Michael Kinsley defined a ‘gaffe’ as a statement where a politician accidentally tells the truth. By this definition Michael Steele is a Gaffe machine. To explain why blacks do not have a reason to vote Republican Steele admitted that his Party had intentionally turned its back on folks of color as part of their “Southern Strategy“:
“We have lost sight of the historic, integral link between the party and African-Americans,” Steele said. “This party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass. The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP, and yet we have mistreated that relationship. People don’t walk away from parties, Their parties walk away from them.
“For the last 40-plus years we had a ‘Southern Strategy’ that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South. Well, guess what happened in 1992, folks, ‘Bubba’ went back home to the Democratic Party and voted for Bill Clinton.”
Disclosing that the ‘Southern Strategy’ was and is a real policy of the Republican Confederate Party has landed Mr. Steele into more hot water with the old white guard of the party.
As usual, the real masters of the Republican Confederate Party wasted no time trying to deny the existence of a ‘Southern Strategy’ and discount Steele’s latest bit of truth telling gaffe. David Weigel lays out some the ongoing denial by the usual suspects. Bruce Bartlett chastised Steele:
I think it’s too bad that Steele gave Democrats reason to believe that their distorted vision of how Republicans came to dominate the South is correct. It may be his biggest gaffe so far.
Remember, in Washington a gaffe is when you accidentally speak the truth and when you tell your ‘biggest gaffe’ it is because you are telling a truth that some wish to keep in the shadows.
The “Southern Strategy” is one of those truths.
It was Lee Atwater who described how the SS worked is a 1981 interview published in the 1990 book, The Two-Party South by Alexander P. Lamis. In 2005, NYTs columnist Bob Herbert quoted the interview in his column:
Listen to the late Lee Atwater in a 1981 interview explaining the evolution of the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy:
‘’You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.
‘’And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’‘’ [snip]
The payoff has been huge. Just as the Democratic Party would have been crippled in the old days without the support of the segregationist South, today’s Republicans would have only a fraction of their current political power without the near-solid support of voters who are hostile to blacks.
When Democrats revolted against racism, the G.O.P. rallied to its banner.
It was Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” that moved the Confederate party from the Democrats to the Republicans. And this was done by exploiting racism overtly with actions and covertly with coded talking points and dog whistles.
These days Kevin Phillips is known as somebody who has broken with the Republican Party, but back in 1970 he was in the Nixon White House working with future felon Attorney General Mitchell to develop the ‘Southern Strategy’. Phillips was profiled in a 1970 NYTs article (here is a link to a pdf). It is long piece, but worth the read. Here are some excerpts that shed a light on how the Republican Party started to date the Confederate Party (emphasis added):
[Kevin Phillips] On Negroes and the G.O.P.:
“All the talk about Republicans making inroads into the Negro vote is persiflage. Even ‘Jake the Snake’ [Senator Jacob K. Javits] only gets 20 percent. From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that . . . but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.” [snip]
“My argument was this: Your outer Southerners who live in the Ozark and Appalachian mountain ranges and in the Piedmont upcountry-and now in urban-suburban Florida and Texas-have always had different interests than the Negrophobe plantation owners of the Black Belt. This is a less extreme conservative group. It adheres with other Republican constituencies across the country and can be appealed to without fragmenting the coalition. When you are after political converts, start with the less extreme and wait for the extremists to come into line when their alternatives collapse.” [snip]
A new ethnic disturbance-the emergence of the Negro-Latino—finally shattered it [the Democratic coalition]. The Democratic party, veteran accumulator of minorities that it was, tried to accumulate by rote the Negro minority and trumpeted its cause through the tried formulae of patronage for its spokesmen, government aid, social planning and bureaucratic intervention. But since the grievances of the colored minorities were caused in part by the exploitation and exclusion practiced against them by older Democratic constituencies, something had to give, and did. The two bulwarks of the old coalition, working-class Catholics and the descendants of the Confederacy, began to defect from the Democratic party because of its identification with the newcomers.
These defectors have not yet lodged permanently in the suspect G.O.P. Many of them are in way stations-the Conservative party of New York, the Wallace movement. But they have left the Democrats and Phillips feels they have no place to go in the end but the Republican party. Hence, the emerging Republican majority that will dominate American politics until the year 2004. [snip]
Sterilized and scientific as are the terms by which Kevin Phillips plots the emerging Republican majority, its common denominator is hostility to blacks and browns among slipping Democrats and abandonment of the Democratic party because of its identification with the colored minorities.In the Northeast. the slippage is among blue-collar Catholics who find their jobs threatened and their neighborhoods and political clubhouses overrun by invading Negroes, while their erstwhile party seems to cluck approval. In the Outer South, the national Democratic party has begun to replace the G.O.P. as the symbol of alien causes-the Negro politicians and Federal interference with local autonomy. Hence, the shift to Republicanism, a trend which for the same reasons has engulfed the milder border states and will, Phillips insists, capture the perfervid Deep South when events force the abandonment of the more extreme Wallace alternative. [snip]
In the “Latin crescent “lower Florida, Louisiana, Texas-the political emergence of the Cuban and Mexican- American minorities, joined with Negroes and white radicals in a Democratic alliance, will drive the majority constituency of traditional white Democrats into the G.O.P. Phillips sees California and “the heartland.” the 25 interior states, many of which are dominated by Southern immigration patterns, as the great electoral bastion of a Republicanism that is against aid to blacks, against aid to big cities and against the liberal life style it sees typified by purple glasses, beards, long hair, bralessness, pornography, coddling of criminals and moral permissiveness run riot.
This may also be the source of the DFH meme, but I digress.
Phillips helped to create this monster and it may be why he has turned on it. He predicted a Republican majority through 2004 with the embrace of this strategy and he was right. His error was that he (and others) thought that the Republicans could and would be able to control the racism they were embracing for political expediency. They could not. And now the Republican Party has been taken over by the Confederate Party. Phillips is horrified and he should be.
Michael Steele blurted this out to the students at DePaul University and in that moment joined the effort to help celebrate CHM with the light of truth. Thanks dude, you da man. I hope they let you keep your job forever.
UPDATE: Post corrected by removing parenthetical remark that characterized Bruce Bartlett as a longtime crony and friend of Jack Abramoff. Bartlett emailed to inform me that he doesn’t even know Jack Abramoff.
The Wife particularly detests the ads that show someone fumbling a simple everyday task—like pouring milk—to improve the credibility of the "solution" being advertised. The fumbling is important, because the solutions are generally useless—mainly because the tasks do NOT cause problems for most people, only for the awkward incompetents in the ads. Someone has done a great service by collecting all the "before" parts of those ads:
Just as we all suspected, it was a deliberate obstruction of justice. Of course, they’re covered by the Obama decree that crimes committed in the past will not be prosecuted, except for the whistleblower who embarrassed NSA. That person will feel the full weight of the law. But torture, illegal imprisonment, murder, destroying evidence—that’s all okay with Obama and Holder. No problem.
The ACLU released documents last week gained through a FOIA request the other that show clearly that the CIA deliberately destroyed interrogation tapes because they knew what the tapes showed was illegal and would cause great damage to the agency if released. The memos released show CIA officials discussing that fact and talking about how the tapes should be destroyed.
Marcy Wheeler, as always, has an incredibly thorough look at the documents released and has been analyzing them.
The situation in Lower Merion schools outside Philadelphia is even more absurd than anyone imagined. The school’s own investigation has concluded that more than 56,000 pictures of students were snapped through laptop webcams.
Lower Merion School District employees activated the web cameras and tracking software on laptops they gave to high school students about 80 times in the past two school years, snapping nearly 56,000 images that included photos of students, pictures inside their homes and copies of the programs or files running on their screens, district investigators have concluded.
In most of the cases, technicians turned on the system after a student or staffer reported a laptop missing and turned it off when the machine was found, the investigators determined.
And there’s more:
But in at least five instances, school employees let the Web cams keep clicking for days or weeks after students found their missing laptops, according to the review. Those computers – programmed to snap a photo and capture a screen shot every 15 minutes when the machine was on – fired nearly 13,000 images back to the school district servers.
The data, given to The Inquirer on Monday by a school district lawyer, represents the most detailed account yet of how and when Lower Merion used the remote tracking system, a practice that has sparked a civil rights lawsuit, an FBI investigation and new federal legislation.
The district’s attorney, Henry Hockeimer, declined to describe in detail any of the recovered Web cam photos, or identify the people in them or their surroundings. He said none appeared to show "salacious or inappropriate" images but said that in no way justified the use of the program.
"The taking of these pictures without student consent in their homes was obviously wrong," Hockeimer said.
A federal magistrate judge is expected this week to begin the process of arranging for parents whose children were photographed to privately view the photos.
The fact that the school is admitting this publicly now after its own investigation and admitting it was wrong suggests to me that none of this happened intentionally or systematically. Now I imagine the school will reach some sort of consent decree and settlement with the families affected and hopefully fix the whole system.
Senate Republicans recently struggled to explain the propriety of GOP leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) huddling with hedge fund managers and Wall Street elites, strategizing on how best to kill financial regulatory reform. But as bad as that looked, yesterday was arguably even uglier.
[Yesterday afternoon], President Obama traveled to New York to tell the nation’s most influential bankers to call off their "battalions of financial industry lobbyists" and embrace a new regulatory structure meant to avert another economic crisis. But around the same time back in Washington, D.C., bank lobbyists hosted a fundraiser for Senate Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who has become the Republican liaison for Wall Street fundraising.
The invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by the Party Time blog of the Sunlight Foundation, shows that the it was hosted by lobbyists Wendy Grubb, Kirsten Chadwick, Scott Reed, and a variety of corporate PACs. Grubb is a top lobbyist for Citigroup, a bank that took taxpayer TARP funds and has yet to repay them. Chadwick, a former staffer to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), is a lobbyist for Zurich Financial Group, a financial services conglomerate.
The event was held at the headquarters of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), and was ostensibly a fundraiser for Florida Sen. George LeMieux (R) — who isn’t seeking another term, and doesn’t really need to be raising money.
After the Sunlight Foundation obtained and posted the invitation to the gathering, a few outlets sent folks to cover the event. But senators, lobbyists, and assorted elites were not in a chatty mood — attendees refused to answer questions, and all but one of the senators decided to not even use the front door.
Evan McMorris-Santoro explained why they might have been embarrassed: "There’s nothing new about politicians in Washington having closed-press meetings with lobbyists. There’s not anything new about politicians fundraising at those meetings. But this event came at the exact moment Obama was taking on one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies — the financial industry — on its home turf…. [W]hile Obama took on lobbyists, the GOP fed them."
It’s not exactly surprising, but there is an impressive shameless quality to the whole thing.
From the Center for American Progress in an email:
The military has rescinded its invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham for its upcoming National Day of Prayer, saying his past remarks about Islam were "not appropriate."
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization dedicated to "ensuring that all members" of the Armed Forces have their religious rights respected, called on the Pentagon to cancel the speech, citing his anti-Islamic remarks.
Appearing on Fox News yesterday, Graham affirmed the concerns of his critics, urging those "enslaved under Islam" to convert to Christianity because "they can be free by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone." "They don’t have to die in a car bomb they don’t have to die in some kind of a holy war to be accepted by God," Graham added.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn, Graham stood by his "evil religion" remarks, saying, "I never backed down from that. I never retracted from that."
The military "feared that if Graham spoke at the Pentagon, Islamic militants would publicize his comments, potentially fueling tensions in Muslim nations like Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are deployed."
There are also an estimated that 3,409 Muslims actively serving in the U.S. military.
The bigots never seem to get that the US is a secular nation that welcomes all religions.
From the Center for American Progress in an email:
With national elections approaching on May 6, the United Kingdom hosted its first-ever prime ministerial TV debate last week, featuring Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. Heading into the debate, the election was "considered too close to call" and "likely to be a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives." But Clegg, who offered himself "up as the fresh and honest alternative to two tired old parties," was the clear winner in the post-debate polls, instantly altering the dynamics of the race. Clegg’s debate performance and the subsequent surge in the polls for the Liberal Democrats has led some observers to compare him to President Obama and his rise in the 2008 campaign. The three leaders engaged in a second debate yesterday, in which Cameron and Brown both engaged Clegg more aggressively in an effort to stop what some have dubbed "Cleggmania." Though the Liberal Democrats are often labeled the "centrist party" in Britain, much of Clegg’s surge has been attributed to his steadfast advocacy for progressive policy positions.
Kent shaving soap is Mitchell’s Wool Fat soap rebranded. The puck above is pretty dried out—I got this a few years ago as a spare, but haven’t used it. Still, I had no trouble at all in getting a very nice lather indeed, using the Lucretia Borgia synthetic bristle brush. The Mikron, with a Swedish Gillette blade that’s still going strong, did a fine job, and a splash of Stetson Classic was a fine finish.