Later On

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Archive for April 4th, 2009

CDC study finds dangerous chemical in baby food

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From the Scientific American:

Perchlorate, a hazardous chemical in rocket fuel, has been found at potentially dangerous levels in powdered infant formula, according to a study (pdf) by a group of Centers for Disease Control scientists. The study, published last month by The Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, has intensified the years-long debate about whether or how the federal government should regulate perchlorate in the nation’s drinking water.

According to the CDC, perchlorate exposure can damage the thyroid, which can hinder brain development among infants. For nearly a decade, Democratic members of Congress, the Department of Defense, the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have been fighting about how much perchlorate in water is too much.

In the new study, CDC scientists tested 15 brands of infant formula and found perchlorate in all of them.  The names of the brands weren’t revealed because the CDC says the study "was not designed to compare brands." But the study does say that the formulas with the highest perchlorate levels are the most popular. The most contaminated brands were lactose-based as opposed to soy-based and accounted for 87% of the infant formulas on the market in 2000, the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The study points out that when perchlorate-contaminated powdered formula is mixed with water that also contains traces of the chemical, as many drinking water sources around the country do, the final concoction can become particularly harmful to babies.

"As this unprecedented study demonstrates, infants fed cow’s milk- based powdered formula could be exposed to perchlorate from two sources – tap water and formula. That suggests that millions of American babies are potentially at risk," said Anila Jacob, a physician and a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that posted the study on its Web site…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 4:00 pm

Private health insurance: nothing like it

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Interesting how the following is more attractive to some than a government-run single-payer plan. This story is John Dorschner:

Trying to buy health insurance on your own and have gallstones? You’ll automatically be denied coverage. Rheumatoid arthritis? Automatic denial. Severe acne? Probably denied. Do you take metformin, a popular drug for diabetes? Denied. Use the anti-clotting drug Plavix or Seroquel, prescribed for anti-psychotic or sleep problems? Forget about it.

This confidential information on some insurers’ practices is available on the Web — if you know where to look.

What’s more, you can discover that if you lie to an insurer about your medical history and drug use, you will be rejected because data-mining companies sell information to insurers about your health, including detailed usage of prescription drugs.

These issues are moving to the forefront as the Obama administration and Congress gear up for discussions about how to reform the healthcare system so that Americans won’t be rejected for insurance.

It’s especially timely because growing numbers are looking for individual health insurance after losing their jobs. On top of that, small businesses, which make up the bulk of South Florida’s economy, are frequently finding health policies too expensive and are dropping coverage, sending even more people shopping for insurance.

The problem is, material available on the Web shows that people who have specific illnesses or use certain drugs can’t buy coverage.

”This is absolutely the standard way of doing business,” said Santiago Leon, a health insurance broker in Miami. Being denied for preexisting conditions is well known, but when a person sees the usually confidential list of automatic denials for himself, “that’s a eureka moment. That shows you how harsh the system is.”

A 50-year-old Broward County man, with two long-standing medical conditions, saw the harshness for himself when surfing the Web trying to learn why insurers kept denying him coverage. He was shocked to find several insurers’ instructions to sales personnel, usually called the Guide to Medical Underwriting and often marked “confidential and proprietary.”

”I think it’s atrocious what’s going on,” he said. “Basically, they’re taking only the healthy so they can get the fattest profits. If you really need insurance, then you can’t get it.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 3:57 pm

Evan Bayh

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Ezra Klein has a couple of interesting posts as he tries to figure out Evan Bayh:

The strange case of Evan Bayh

Why did Evan Bayh vote for Kyl-Lieberman?

Worth clicking through to read if you like politics.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Supreme Court backs power plants over fish

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Interesting story in the Seattle Times that begins:

The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may consider whether protecting fish and other aquatic creatures is worth the cost of the most advanced upgrades for older power plants, a defeat for environmentalists who had challenged the government’s position.

The court ruled 6-3 that such cost-benefit decisions are allowed under the Clean Water Act as the agency moved to require more than 500 older power plants to upgrade the ways they draw water to cool machinery. Water-intake systems kill 3.4 billion fish and shellfish each year, the EPA estimated.

But the technology that could bring the older plants more in line with new plants would cost about $3.5 billion annually, the EPA said.

Environmentalists argued that the Clean Water Act requires remedies that "reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact," and that Congress understood it was nearly impossible to put a monetary value on the loss of wildlife. But Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that even the environmentalists acknowledged there was some limit to whether the most advanced technology was worth it.

"It seems to us, therefore, that the phrase ‘best technology available,’ even with the added specification ‘for minimizing adverse environmental impact,’ does not unambiguously preclude cost-benefit analysis," he wrote.

Power plants draw more than 214 billion gallons of water from U.S. waterways daily to cool power plants, "squashing," in Scalia’s words, billions of fish and other small aquatic creatures against intake screens or sucking them into the cooling systems. In newer plants, closed-cooling systems reduce the rate by 98 percent.

But it is extremely costly to implement such systems at older plants, and the EPA said less expensive plans would reduce the loss by 80 percent to 95 percent…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 3:48 pm

Chocolate-topped bacon

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As a surprise for The Wife, I made her some chocolate-topped bacon. (She had previously made me a batch of chocolate chip cookies with squares of crisp bacon included—divine.) I used thick bacon on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet: 400º oven for 19 minutes was right for me, YMMV. After bacon cooled, I melted some milk chocolate and poured in a strip on the top of the bacon. (Milk chocolate for her; I’m a dark-chocolate fan myself.)

Pretty good, she says.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 1:41 pm

Sleeptracker supposedly awakens you at the right time

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Sleeptracker sounds good:

The Key to Waking Up Refreshed
Why is it so hard to wake up to a normal alarm clock? Because a normal alarm clock can’t detect where you are in your sleep cycle – a continuous cycle from deep sleep, to brief almost-awake moments, and back to deep sleep again. Occasionally, your alarm may catch you at an optimal, almost-awake moment and you wake up feeling refreshed, but usually you grope for the snooze button waking up tired and groggy.

Wake at Your Perfect Time
SLEEPTRACKER® puts an end to that tired feeling. Once you set its alarm window, it monitors your body and continuously looks for your optimal waking times so it can wake you at just the right moment. Imagine not feeling tired in the morning and getting a few extra minutes out of your day.

Has anyone tried this thing?

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 11:08 am

Joe Conason: The French are right (again)

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Very interesting column, which begins:

If the world is no longer enthralled by the “old Washington consensus” of privatization, deregulation and weak government, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proclaimed at the London G-20 summit, then now it is surely time to reconsider what that consensus has meant for us over the past three decades. We could begin by looking across the Atlantic at the “social market” nations of Europe — where support for families and children is less rhetorical and more real than here.

Most coverage of the summit failed to observe the stinging irony of the debate over stimulus spending that brought the United States into conflict with France and Germany. Today’s American demand that the French and Germans (along with the rest of wealthy Europe) should spend much more on government programs and infrastructure contrasts rather starkly with the traditional American criticism of Europeans for spending too much.

Not that the Obama administration’s complaint about the French and the Germans is necessarily wrong; the Europeans and especially France and Germany should overcome their fear of inflation and spend more to help relieve the global recession. But then we almost always have some complaint against the French — and the French often turn out to be right, as they were when they objected to the invasion of Iraq.

So when the French and other Europeans note pointedly that their societies routinely spend much more than ours to protect workers, women, the young, the elderly, and the poor from economic trouble, they’re merely making a factual observation. (France spends as much as 1.5 percent of GDP annually on childcare and maternity benefits alone.) Different as we are in culture and history, we might even learn something from their example, now that the blinding ideology of the past has been swept away.

By now, most Americans ought to know that Europeans treat healthcare as a public good and a human right, which means that they spend billions of tax dollars annually to insure everyone (although they spend less overall on the medical sector than we do). What most Americans probably still don’t know is that those European medical systems are highly varied, with private medicine and insurance playing different roles in different countries. Expensive as universal quality care has inevitably become, as technology improves and populations age, the Europeans broadly believe in their social security systems — because they provide competitive advantage as well as moral superiority.

From Europe’s perspective, the same can be said of the support its governments provide to families, from the entitlements available to pregnant women and new mothers and fathers, to universal child care and tuition-free higher education, to the special benefits that assist single parents. The challenges that working families face in a globalizing world where both parents work are mitigated by policies designed to encourage balance between home and workplace and adequate attention to children.

These “socialist” measures to protect families are far more effective, of course, than all of the Sunday shouting from American pulpits about the Biblical way of life. Perhaps the leadership of the religious right, still obsessed with stigmatizing gay couples, should take note…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 10:24 am

David Sirota, on drug-policy honesty

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interesting column in Salon.com, which begins:

Finally, a little honesty.

Finally, after America has frittered away billions of taxpayer dollars arming Latin American death squads, air-dropping toxic herbicides on equatorial farmland, and incarcerating more of its own citizens on nonviolent drug charges than any other industrialized nation, two political leaders last week tried to begin taming the most wildly out-of-control beast in the government zoo: federal narcotics policy.

It started with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating an embarrassingly obvious truth that politicians almost never discuss. In a speech about rising violence in Mexico, she said, "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," and then added that "we have co-responsibility" for the cartel-driven carnage plaguing our southern border.

She’s right, of course. For all the Rambo-ish talk about waging a war on drugs that interdicts the supply of narcotics, we have not diminished demand — specifically, demand for marijuana that cartels base their business on.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Americans spend about $9 billion a year on Mexican pot.

Add that to the roughly $36 billion worth of domestically produced weed, and cannabis has become one of the continent’s biggest cash crops. As any mob movie illustrates, mixing such "insatiable" demand for a product with statutes outlawing said product guarantees the emergence of a violent black market — in this case, one in which Mexican drug cartels reap 62 percent of their profits from U.S. marijuana sales.

That last stat, provided by the White House drug czar, is the silver lining. Every American concerned about Mexico’s security problems should be thankful that the cartels are so dependent on marijuana and not a genuinely hazardous substance like heroin. Why? Because that means through pot legalization, we can bring the marijuana trade out of the shadows and into the safety of the regulated economy, consequently eliminating the black market that the cartels rely on. And here’s the best part: We can do so without fearing any more negative consequences than we already tolerate in our keg-party culture.

Though President Barack Obama childishly laughed at a question about legalization during his recent town hall meeting, his government implicitly admits that marijuana is safer than light beer. Indeed, as federal agencies acknowledge alcohol’s key role in deadly illnesses and domestic violence, their latest anti-pot fear mongering is an ad campaign insisting — I kid you not — that marijuana is dangerous because it makes people zone out on their couches and diminishes video-gaming skills.

(This is your government on drugs: Cirrhosis and angry tank-topped lushes beating their wives are more acceptable risks than stoners sitting in their basements ineptly playing "Halo." … Any questions?)

Despite this idiocy, …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 10:19 am

Goldman Vet Sparks Conflict On Hill

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Interesting video from this site, which also notes:

Barack Obama’s plan to name yet another Goldman Sachs alum to his economic team is proving too much for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders put a hold on the nomination of Gary Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, effectively stopping the nomination process in its tracks. Sanders says Gensler, who spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs and then joined the Treasury Department under Bill Clinton, played too big a role in deregulating derivatives in the ’90s to be trusted to reregulate the market now.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), however, has told ANP that he plans “move forward” with Gensler’s nomination despite Sanders’ hold. To Christopher Hayes, Washington editor of The Nation Magazine, the Majority Leader’s defense of Gensler and Goldman is a disturbing indication that it may be business as usual on the Hill when it comes to meaningful regulation on Wall Street.

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4 April 2009 at 10:12 am

Posted in Daily life

The Larry Summers problem

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The problem is that it’s hard to trust his judgment. Two recent reports:

NY Times: Financial Industry Paid Millions to Obama Aide

Glenn Greenwald: Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street’s ownership of government

Here’s the beginning of Greenwald’s column:

White House officials yesterday released their personal financial disclosure forms, and included in the millions of dollars which top Obama economics adviser Larry Summers made from Wall Street in 2008 is this detail:

Lawrence H. Summers, one of President Obama’s top economic advisers, collected roughly $5.2 million in compensation from hedge fund D.E. Shaw over the past year and was paid more than $2.7 million in speaking fees by several troubled Wall Street firms and other organizations. . . .

Financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch paid Summers for speaking appearances in 2008. Fees ranged from $45,000 for a Nov. 12 Merrill Lynch appearance to $135,000 for an April 16 visit to Goldman Sachs, according to his disclosure form.

That’s $135,000 paid by Goldman Sachs to Summers — for a one-day visit.  And the payment was made at a time — in April, 2008 — when everyone assumed that the next President would either be Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton and that Larry Summers would therefore become exactly what he now is:  the most influential financial official in the U.S. Government (and the $45,000 Merrill Lynch payment came 8 days after Obama’s election). Goldman would not be able to make a one-day $135,000 payment to Summers now that he is Obama’s top economics adviser, but doing so a few months beforehand was obviously something about which neither parties felt any compunction.  It’s basically an advanced bribe.  And it’s paying off in spades.  And none of it seemed to bother Obama in the slightest when he first strongly considered naming Summers as Treasury Secretary and then named him his top economics adviser instead (thereby avoiding the need for Senate confirmation), knowing that Summers would exert great influence in determining who benefited from the government’s response to the financial crisis.

Last night, former Reagan-era S&L regulator and current University of Missouri Professor Bill Black was on Bill Moyers’ Journal and detailed the magnitude of what he called the on-going massive fraud, the role Tim Geithner played in it before being promoted to Treasury Secretary (where he continues to abet it), and — most amazingly of all — the crusade led by Alan Greenspan, former Goldman CEO Robert Rubin (Geithner’s mentor) and Larry Summers in the late 1990s to block the efforts of top regulators (especially Brooksley Born, head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission) to regulate the exact financial derivatives market that became the principal cause of the global financial crisis.  To get a sense for how deep and massive is the on-going fraud and the key role played in it by key Obama officials, I highly recommend watching that Black interview (it can be seen here and the transcript is here).

This article from Stanford Magazine — an absolutely amazing read — details how Summers, Rubin and Greenspan led the way in blocking any regulatory efforts of the derivatives market whatsoever on the ground that the financial industry and its lobbyists were objecting: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:58 am

The Party of No works to undermine Obama

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The GOP not only wants Obama to fail, they’re working to achieve that end. For example, Ryan Powers reports in ThinkProgress:

Conservatives in Congress and in the media are attempting to block or delay a growing number of critical nominees for what amount to ideological witch hunts and self-interested horse-trading. As the President attempts to deal with the significant legal and logistical questions surrounding two wars, closing Guantanamo Bay, and caring for our nation’s veterans, the people Obama has picked to assist him with such issues are being forced to wait in the wings.

In the last week alone, at least four separate nominees who thought they were on track to be approved will have to wait at least a few more weeks:

Department of Defense: Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) announced today that “they are blocking President Barack Obama’s nomination of Ashton Carter as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.” The senators want assurances that Carter will not “change the criteria” on which the Pentagon considers a refueling tanker contract that could benefit defense contractors in their state.

Department of Veterans Affairs: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) asked the Senate Veterans Affairs committee to delay voting on the “nomination of Tammy Duckworth, an injured Iraq war helicopter pilot, to be an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Contacted by ThinkProgress, Burr’s Press Secretary, David Ward said that Burr is waiting for the answers to several questions he’s put to the White House and Duckworth, but would not disclose what those questions were.

White House Office of Legal Council: Dawn Johnsen’s nomination as head of the OLC has been delayed in part because Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has ideological differences with her. As the Legal Times explained, “citing Johnsen’s criticisms of Bush national security policies, [Cornyn] accused her of lacking ‘the seriousness and necessary resolve’ to fight terrorism,” while “other Republicans have targeted her work as legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America from 1988 to 1993.”

Department of State: Right wing commentators are working to block the appointment of Harold Koh to the State Department’s top legal adviser, smearing him as a “threat to democracy” for his being an international law expert. As the Century Foundation notes, “The fervent opponents of Harold Koh turn out to be enthusiastic defenders of John Yoo.”

Additionally, Chris Hill’s nomination as ambassador to Iraq is still being held up by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) at the behest of the right wing. This despite the fact that Secretary of State Robert Gates recently issued a rare statement on a diplomatic appointment saying, it is “vital that we get an ambassador in Baghdad as soon as possible.” These delays are just the latest in a long string of delays. The nominations of Attorney General Eric Holder, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren were also held up for largely partisan reasons.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:45 am

Simple steps to prevent childhood obesity

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Marion Nestle writes in her blog Food Politics:

I can hardly believe it but just having drinking fountains in schools (and no sugary drinks) seems to be enough to reduce the risk of obesity in kids by 31%.  This astonishing result is reported in the latest issue of Pediatrics. Investigators arranged to have drinking fountains installed in about half of 32 elementary schools in “socially deprived” areas of Germany.  They also prepared lesson plans encouraging water consumption.  Kids in the intervention schools drank more water and reported consuming less juice.

Could we try this here?  The barriers are formidable.  First, the water fountain problem.  Water fountains must (a) be present, (b) be usable, (c) be clean and sanitary, and (d) produce water that is free of harmful chemicals and bacteria.  All of these are problematic.  I once tried to find out whether the water in school drinking fountains in New York City had been tested and was known to be safe to drink.  I had to file a FOIA (freedom of information act) request to get testing data.  This came from only a few schools and from water going into the fountains, not coming out of them.

And then there is the soda problem.  Schools in Germany do not have vending machines all over the place and kids do not have access to sodas, juice drinks, and other such things all day long.  Ours do.

But doesn’t this study suggest that if we got rid of vending machines and junk foods in schools – and made sure water fountains worked, were clean, and distributed clean water – that we could make a little progress on preventing childhood obesity?  Worth a try, no?

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:37 am

El Bulli

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Constant Reader draws our attention to this fantastic restaurant. You can find lots of videos about the restaurant. Here’s one:

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:35 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food, Video

Weird-movie report

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I have recently seen a couple of weird movies and I thought I should report.

The Final Countdown (1980) stars Kirk Douglas, James Farentino, Katharine Ross, and Martin Sheen in a sci-fi Navy drama. The idea is that a modern (1980) aircraft carrier encounters a time-storm and finds itself in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941. Not a very good movie, I fear, since the writers avoided all the interesting stuff—namely, a 1980 carrier attacking a 1941 battle fleet. But the weird part is that it’s so clearly a recruiting film for the Navy—and for carrier service in particular—that I looked to see whether the US Navy bankrolled the film and had creative input. Almost every aspect of life on a carrier—and all the tricks it can do—are on display, and the sailors are on their toes giving it their all, doing their best job. Obviously, the carrier was able to incorporate a lot of training exercises into the filming, but the overall fragrance is of recruitment. It’s entertaining for that.

Wrong is Right (1982) stars Sean Connery, and if you watch the film you understand why this title doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of Connery’s oeuvre. The film is based on the novel The Better Angels, by Charles McCarry, and is one of the novels in the Paul Christopher series. The movie has many strikes against it. First is simply the complexity of the plot: a lot was left out, but even with what is left the movie is squeezed with various groups and actors going this way and that—confusing. Even worse is that the movie is played as a heavy-handed satire.

As I watched, though, I figured out why: the plot is preposterous and the various coincidences and shenanigans make little sense—but in reading the novel, this didn’t strike me because I was charmed by the writing. Something in McCarry’s style and tone make the plot absorbing, and I felt I was getting somehow inside the complex events and watching from a privileged position. But in making a movie, you don’t have the author’s voice and descriptions (and charm): you have to show what happens, and once you simply see it happening, you realize that it’s ridiculous. So heavy-handed satire is probably the best you can do in a movie. Once the person who was a reader of the author’s account becomes an eye-witness, as it were, to the actual (fictional) happenings, then the framework is starkly revealed.

Others who participated in this thing were Katharine Ross, Henry Silva, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Conrad, John Saxon, Dean Stockwell, and, in a bit part, Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:31 am

Sandalwood Saturday

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A reader suggested Sandalwood, and Sandalwood it is: QED’s excellent Sandalwood, brought to fine lather by the Rooney Style 3 Size 1 Super, then the Progress with a Swedish Gillette smoothly removed the stubble. A splash of TOBS Sandalwood, a cup of coffee, and here I am.

Written by Leisureguy

4 April 2009 at 9:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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