Later On

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

Archive for April 13th, 2009

Cost containment for healthcare

leave a comment »

From a post by Ezra Klein:

Theodore Marmor, Jonathan Oberlander, and Joseph White are pretty big names in health care policy, and they have a depressingly realistic editorial in the latest Annals of Internal Medicine.

Claims of savings from health information technology, prevention, P4P, and comparative effectiveness research are politically attractive. Their political appeal lies largely in the embrace of widely supported goals, including better health and improved quality of medical care. In theory, these reforms—more research, more preventive screenings, and better organized patient data—sound like benign devices to moderate medical spending. For many purposes, such reforms are substantively very desirable. But these reforms are ineffective as cost-control measures. If the United States is to control health care costs, it will have to follow the lead of other industrialized nations and embrace price restraint, spending targets, and insurance regulation. Such credible cost controls are, in the language of politics, a tough sell because they threaten the medical industry’s income. The illusion of painless savings, however, confuses our national debate on health reform and makes the acceptance of cost control’s realities all the more difficult.

Full paper here.

Also read Klein’s comment on the paper.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 12:22 pm

Interesting article on taxation

leave a comment »

The article by David Leonhardt in the NY Times Sunday Magazine observes that Obama is being extremely timid about the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest Americans:

… It’s well known that tax rates on top incomes used to be far higher than they are today. The top marginal rate hovered around 90 percent in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s. Reagan ultimately reduced it to 28 percent, and it is now 35 percent. Obama would raise it to 39.6 percent, where it was under Bill Clinton.

What’s much less known is that those old confiscatory rates were not as sweeping as they sound. They applied to only the richest of the rich, because yesterday’s tax code, unlike today’s, had separate marginal tax rates for the truly wealthy and the merely affluent. For a married couple in 1960, for example, the 38 percent tax bracket started at $20,000, which is about $145,000 in today’s terms. The top bracket of 91 percent began at $400,000, which is the equivalent of nearly $3 million now. Some of the old brackets are truly stunning: in 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt raised the top rate to 79 percent, from 63 percent, and raised the income level that qualified for that rate to $5 million (about $75 million today) from $1 million. As the economist Bruce Bartlett has noted, that 79 percent rate apparently applied to only one person in the entire country, John D. Rockefeller.

Today, by contrast, the very well off and the superwealthy are lumped together. The top bracket last year started at $357,700. Any income above that — whether it was the 400,000th dollar earned by a surgeon or the 40 millionth earned by a Wall Street titan — was taxed the same, at 35 percent. This change is especially striking, because there is so much more income at the top of the distribution now than there was in the past. Today a tax rate for the very top earners would apply to a far larger portion of the nation’s income than it would have years ago…

Read the entire article—very interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Tagged with

The ROI on lobbying

leave a comment »

The Washington Post’s Dan Eggen:

In a remarkable illustration of the power of lobbying in Washington, a study released last week found that a single tax break in 2004 earned companies $220 for every dollar they spent on the issue — a 22,000 percent rate of return on their investment.

The study by researchers at the University of Kansas underscores the central reason that lobbying has become a $3 billion-a-year industry in Washington: It pays. The $787 billion stimulus act and major spending proposals have ratcheted up the lobbying frenzy further this year, even as President Obama and public-interest groups press for sharper restrictions on the practice.

The paper by three Kansas professors examined the impact of a one-time tax break approved by Congress in 2004 that allowed multinational corporations to “repatriate” profits earned overseas, effectively reducing their tax rate on the money from 35 percent to 5.25 percent. More than 800 companies took advantage of the legislation, saving an estimated $100 billion in the process, according to the study.

The largest recipients of tax breaks were concentrated in the pharmaceutical and technology fields, including Pfizer, Merck, Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson and IBM. Pfizer alone repatriated $37 billion, representing 70 percent of its revenue in 2004, the study found. The now-beleaguered financial industry also benefited from the provision, including Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, all of which have since received tens of billions of dollars in federal bailout money.

The researchers calculated an average rate of return of 22,000 percent for those companies that helped lobby for the tax break. Eli Lilly, for example, reported in disclosure documents that it spent $8.5 million in 2003 and 2004 to lobby for the provision — and eventually gained tax savings of more than $2 billion…

Continue reading. Via Kevin Drum, you can download a PDF of the study report at the link (which is to a Web page).

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 11:58 am

The world’s most interesting bookstores

leave a comment »

Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 11:40 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Jared Diamond on the evolution of religion

leave a comment »

From the YouTube "more info:

Jared Diamond, professor of geography at UCLA, received the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1998 for Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In 1999, he received the National Medal of Science. His most recent book is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004).

Professor Diamond argues that religion has encompassed at least four independent components that have arisen or disappeared at different stages of development of human societies over the last 10,000 years.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 11:36 am

Five excellent To-Do apps for Linux

leave a comment »

I know I have some Linux fans among my readers. They should check out this post.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 11:27 am

Posted in Software

Extremely cool stove for camping

leave a comment »

This little guy looks great. Uses only wood, and not much of that. Click and read.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 11:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Movie report

leave a comment »

First, some movies I’ve enjoyed recently:

The Day the Earth Stood Still, the new version with Keanu Reeves: quite enjoyable, I thought. A little heavy on the message pedal at times, but overall good entertainment.

Quantum of Solace, the new 007 movie: Spectacular stunts, but I had occasional plot problems. One novelty: a new, transnational evil organization clearly designed to spawn new villains and movies indefinitely.

Transporter 3, which was exceptionally good for a movie whose title ends with a number—in fact, it could be the best of the Transporter movies, perhaps because Luc Besson contributed to writing the script.

The Appaloosa, which is shaping up as a retelling of the King Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot story. So far, very good.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 10:59 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Pesticides problem

leave a comment »

Reported in the Ethicurean:

An Australian researcher studying fish with developmental abnormalities follows a trail that leads to the pesticides being used on nearby macadamia nut plantations. Unlike their marine neighbors, human residents living near the farms are not growing multiple heads – but they are getting cancer, and the same pesticides are suspected to be the cause. (The Australian)

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 10:53 am

Marion Nestle in two columns

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Government

Pot roast meal: recipes

leave a comment »

The recipes are from this interesting article by Katy McLaughlin.

Jar Pot Roast

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Active Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours

Call a butcher to pre-order a denuded short rib, explaining it is a single piece without bones or exterior fat. Alternatively, Costco and some other stores sell boneless short ribs.

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
1 denuded short rib or boneless short ribs (see note), 3 to 5 pounds
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 leek, white and light-green parts coarsely chopped
1/2 bulb of garlic, cloves smashed but unpeeled
1 bay leaf
1 cup sherry
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Set rack to the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dry beef with paper towels, season with salt and pepper. Set a Dutch oven on high heat until it is very hot; add oil and heat until just smoking. Sear beef until it is a deep, rich brown, about 3 to 5 minutes a side. Remove beef from pot; discard all but a teaspoon of fat. Add sherry to pot and reduce by half, about 4 minutes, while scraping up flavorful brown bits with a wooden spoon. Put all vegetables into pot and cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add bay leaf and beef, with any accumulated juices, then pour on chicken stock until the beef is three-quarters covered. Cover pot with tin foil or a tight-fitting lid and place in oven. Check after 15 minutes to make sure liquid is simmering lightly; adjust heat as needed. Continue cooking for a total of three hours. Allow the meat to cool in the liquid. When cool, degrease, either by using a degreasing pitcher or by chilling in the refrigerator and removing most of the hardened fat from the surface of the liquid.

To serve, place a colander over a large bowl. Remove meat from liquid. Strain the liquid, pressing down on vegetables to remove all the juice. Discard vegetables. Return the meat to the liquid and reheat. Cut meat into portions and place each in a pasta dish; spoon a generous portion of the braising liquid around the beef. Top with a spoonful of caramelized onions and a roasted carrot. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with Horseradish Cream.

Caramelized Onions

Yield: 8 servings
Active Time: 12 minutes

4 tablespoons canola oil
2 large onions, cut into medium-sized rings
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste

Heat a fry pan until very hot; add oil, then the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and, using tongs, toss occasionally. Cook for about 10 minutes until onions are golden brown and very soft. If onions begin to burn, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, reduce heat and continue cooking.

Roasted Carrots

Yield: 8 servings
Active Time: 2 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

3 tablespoons canola oil
8 medium carrots, trimmed and peeled
Pinch fresh thyme leaves (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a fry pan until very hot; add oil, then the carrots. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Agitate the pan to allow the carrots to brown slightly on all sides, about 2 minutes. Move pan to oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until carrots are tender.

Creamy Horseradish Sauce

Yield: 8 servings
Active Time: 5 minutes

2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1/4 lemon

In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Taste; add more fresh and prepared horseradish, lemon and Tabasco to taste. Refrigerate.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 10:42 am

Give EFF funds to fight against domestic surveillance

leave a comment »

An email from the EFF:

In a stunning reversal, the Obama Administration has decided to continue the cover-up of the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. EFF has been fighting to hold the government and telcos accountable for this illegal surveillance since 2005. Now, the Obama Administration is asking a court to throw out our latest lawsuit challenging the NSA’s dragnet spying, this one against the government directly. This attempt to shield the surveillance program from court scrutiny is a stark reminder that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, no matter who is sitting in the Oval Office.

Please help EFF in the ongoing fight for accountability.

The Obama Administration is arguing that the wiretapping program is a "state secret" and that the courts are barred from ever judging its legality. Even worse, they’re arguing that under the PATRIOT Act, the United States government possesses complete "sovereign immunity" against lawsuits for spying that violates federal privacy laws. It’s a shocking argument that even the Bush Administration never made.

EFF cannot fight this alone. Over 70% of EFF’s funding comes from individuals like you. Please lend your support to our ongoing efforts to secure accountability from the government, end the warrantless surveillance, and deliver justice to the countless ordinary Americans caught in the NSA’s surveillance net!

I donated. You should, too.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 10:19 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Two short stories on bank problems

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:59 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Tagged with

Obama silent on "state secrets" legislation being developed

leave a comment »

Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Funny how,  as Greg Sargent at The Plum Line notes today, the Obama administration hasn’t yet taken a position on pending legislation that would curtail its ability to rely on the “state secrets privilege.”

As I’ve been reporting here, the Justice Department has been relying heavily on the privilege to try to dismiss cases that could reveal embarrassing information about government actions — much to the dismay of supporters of civil liberties and open government, many of whom also strongly supported Obama.

But refusing to support the State Secrets Protection Act could also prove embarrassing, observes Sargent. This is because when the bill was first introduced last year, its co-sponsors included then-Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), now both senior members of the Obama administration.

As I’ve written before, the bill — which would limit the executive’s ability to use the evidentiary privilege to dismiss outright legal challenges to government conduct — was reintroduced this year by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), as well as Reps. Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and others in the House.  The bill was reintroduced in February, just as the Obama administration stepped into the Bush administration’s shoes — and began arguing that “state secrets privilege” required the dismissal of several sensitive cases alleging torture, warrantless wiretapping and other illegal activity by the Bush administration.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:56 am

Good news on the stimulus, bad news for the GOP

leave a comment »

ThinkProgress’s Faiz Shakir:

Today, President Obama and Vice President Biden will be speaking at the Transportation Department along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to celebrate the 2,000th transportation project funded by the stimulus package. “Just 41 days ago we announced funding for the first transportation project,” Obama said, according to his prepared remarks. “I am proud to utter the two rarest phrases in the English language — projects are being approved ahead of schedule, and they are coming in under budget.” Administration officials say that billions in road and bridge money is going “farther” and being used “faster” than expected.

Unfortunately for the GOP, its Representatives and Senators and some Governors put all their chips on fighting the stimulus: voting against it, saying that it would not create jobs, and (for the Governors) trying to turn down the money.

Since it is beginning to work, the people who have jobs as a result are likely to become Democrats if they are not already, and people on the sidelines are going to notice that the GOP strongly opposed something that is a Godsend for many families.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:38 am

Amazon caught in a lie

leave a comment »

ThinkProgress’s Amanda Terkel reports:

Yesterday, author Mark R. Probst noticed that Amazon has been pulling the sales rank numbers from many LGBT books. When Probst wrote to Amazon about the issue, he received this response:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Jezebel has a long list of the books that have been delisted, which fall into a wide range of categories. However, the LGBT books excluded include Nathan Frank’s “well-reviewed empirical analysis of military policy,” “Unfriendly Fire,” and a biography of Ellen DeGeneres. Books remaining include the biography of straight porn star Ron Jeremy and “A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality.” Jessica Valenti, whose book “Full Frontal Feminism” has also been delisted, has more here.

Update:  An Amazon spokesperson told Publishers and Weekly that "a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy."

Unfortunately for the lie, the actual reason had already been sent out. (Other people in addition to Mark Probst received the message about the exclusion of "adult" material, which contradicts directly the reason Amazon later proposed.) When a company starts lying, it’s a bad sign.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:34 am

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Tagged with

Suppressed VA interview released

leave a comment »

The VA backed down. ThinkProgress’s Amanda Terkel reports:

Last week, WAMU reporter Eric Schultz attempted to interview Tommie Canady about the poor treatment he said veterans were receiving from the VA. In the middle of the interview, however, VA communications specialist named Gloria Hairston “stopped Schultz and wouldn’t let him leave until he handed over his [recording] equipment.” After significant public outcry, the VA returned Schultz’s equipment. Today, WAMU aired Schultz’s interview with Canady that the VA didn’t want the public to hear:

SCHULTZ: Canady recounted how, in his words, he was forced out of the military by a racist captain, and how after being discharged, he and his family were homeless for three years. … Canady described the conditions veterans encounter at DC’s VA hospital.

CANADY: They don’t get the proper care they’re supposed to by the nurses. I spent months in here. These guys — some of these guys spend years in here. We know exactly what goes on in this hospital, and they hide it. And it’s time for it to come out to the public. This is sad.

Schultz noted that Canady became “visibly upset” when Hairston came up and told him he couldn’t “talk anymore.” Listen here: …

Continue reading. At the link, you can listen to the interview or read a transcript.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:30 am

Where we are in Obama’s Bush impersonation

leave a comment »

Glenn Greenwald provides a quick summary of the way Eric Holder and Barack Obama are carrying forward the Bush-Cheney policies on illegal imprisonment.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:23 am

Washington Post reporter admits he simply does stenography

leave a comment »

By Jamison Foser in Media Matters:

Reporters tend to bristle when media critics refer to them as “stenographers.” But Paul Kane of the Washington Post provides a pretty clear illustration of where that criticism comes from. Here’s something Kane said during an online discussion Kane participated in today (the discussion carries tomorrow’s date, but tomorrow hasn’t occurred yet, so please believe me when I say it took place today):

Paul Kane: We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That’s what she said. That’s what Republicans are saying. I really don’t know what you want of us.

Got that? Olympia Snowe said something, Paul Kane wrote it down, and he doesn’t know what more anyone could want from him.

Well, it isn’t very complicated: Context. That’s what people want. Like the fact that Olympia Snowe had previously voted to do exactly what Kane quotes her criticizing — that’s useful context.

And that’s the difference between “journalism” and “stenography.”

Here’s the full question-and-answer:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:07 am

Joe Conason on Obama’s Cuba policy

leave a comment »

Interesting column in Salon by Joe Conason. It begins:

Whenever a Democratic president takes office, hopes arise for a more rational approach to our relationship with Cuba, object of an embargo that has lasted for nearly half a century without improving the behavior of that country’s authoritarian leaders. Such hopes are encouraged by the Obama administration, which has signaled its intention to lift restrictions on travel to the island and cash remittances to family members by Cuban-Americans and — as members of the Organization of American States prepare for their upcoming summit in Trinidad — offered a few tantalizing hints that this tentative new opening is merely a beginning.

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, the president’s principal adviser in preparing for Trinidad, recently said that he "would not be surprised" if the White House announced the new regulations before the summit opens. He noted that the president is considering Congressional proposals for further opening to the island, may well appoint a special envoy to promote engagement, and could conceivably end U.S. opposition to Cuban membership in the OAS. "We are engaged in a continual evaluation of our policy and how that policy could help result in a change in Cuba that could bring about a democratic society," Davidow said.

Aside from Davidow’s remarks, the most suggestive sign of a new approach to Cuba came last week when federal prosecutors announced a new indictment of Luis Posada Carriles, the notorious exile militant who has long boasted of his role in terror bombings aimed at overturning the Castro regime. The indictment handed up by a grand jury in El Paso, Texas, accused him of deceiving immigration authorities about his role in several terrorist attacks on tourist destinations in Cuba in 1997. Praised by the Cuban government, the new charges against Posada Carriles marked a sharp departure from the coddling he enjoyed when the Bush administration ran the Justice Department.

Relaxing the restrictions imposed by the Bush administration would fulfill a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, whose own policy toward Cuba has changed over time. When he ran for the Senate five years ago, he bluntly favored ending the embargo; as a presidential candidate, he dropped that position and assured Cuban-Americans that he would maintain the embargo while engaging in direct diplomacy with the Cuban government.

While Obama’s shifting position provoked angry blasts from the Republican right and its traditional allies in the exile community during the campaign, he understood that American views of Cuba have been changing gradually for at least a decade, across partisan lines and even in the second and third generations of Cuban-Americans. The question he must eventually face is whether to pursue the logic of his own policy of engagement, leading to the eventual normalization of relations and lifting of the embargo.

Indeed, he will have to …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2009 at 9:01 am

%d bloggers like this: