Later On

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

Archive for June 15th, 2009

GOP continues to block, obstruct, and delay

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The Party of No continues its ideological fight. Ian Millhiser in ThinkProgress:

In April, ThinkProgress noted that Republicans were blocking an increasing number of President Obama’s nominees to pursue ideological witch hunts and to facilitate self-interested horse trades. Two months later, a number of key nominees are still waiting and Senate Republicans are bottling up dozens more of Obama’s nominees in order to delay action on key Obama agenda items like health care and climate change legislation by consuming one of the most precious resources in the Senate: floor time. Roll Call explains:

Reid came to the floor three times Wednesday and several more times throughout the week to plead with his Republican colleagues to stop holding up a growing number of President Barack Obama’s appointees. The Majority Leader’s appeal was his most forceful yet, and aides say he has no plans to abandon the effort anytime soon.

“I would hope that people would search their conscience and try to get these done,” Reid said, explaining that procedural motions that he could employ to clear the nominees would eat up too much floor time. “It would take until the summer, until we finish the July recess and beyond, for us to get this done, filing cloture on every one of these. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Absent unanimous consent from all senators, no issue may be considered by the full Senate unless it is given time on the Senate floor for debate. Although such a debate can be cut off by a cloture motion — a vote receiving the support of 60 senators — such a motion itself consumes floor time. Thus, by indiscriminately objecting to President Obama’s nominees, a single senator can effectively force Reid to choose between confirming essential government personnel or advancing health care reform, cap and trade, the federal budget or anything else on the Senate’s agenda. Floor time is limited and Senate conservatives are running out the clock to ensure that nothing gets done.

Among the nominees conservatives are holding hostage are Dawn Johnsen, President Obama’s exceptionally qualified nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, Harold Koh, a leading expert in international law who is nominated to be the chief legal adviser to the State Department, and Judge David Hamilton, a court of appeals nominee currently being blocked because of false claims that he gave preferential treatment to Muslims in favor of Christians.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Why I don’t trust Big Pharma

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From John Cole at Balloon Juice:

And then you have stuff like this:

Eli Lilly & Co. urged doctors to prescribe Zyprexa for elderly patients with dementia, an unapproved use for the antipsychotic, even though the drugmaker had evidence the medicine didn’t work for such patients, according to unsealed internal company documents.

In 1999, four years after Lilly sent study results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration showing Zyprexa didn’t alleviate dementia symptoms in older patients, it began marketing the drug to those very people, according to documents unsealed in insurer suits against the company for overpayment.

Lovely.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Business, Medical

McCain: no grasp of actual facts

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Sort of embarrassing, actually. Ali Frick at ThinkProgress:

Today, President Obama spoke before the American Medical Association about the immediate need for far-reaching health care reform. He insisted that one of the options presented to Americans “needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market so that force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.”

On CNN earlier today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) rejected the public option as “a non-starter.” He admitted that the current “competition” between “1,300 health insurance companies in America today” is not successfully driving down costs — but insisted that a government plan could never be more cost efficient:

MCCAIN: Look, if we have a government option, then sooner or later it will dramatically increase the cost, it will crowd out private health insurance. And if you’re doing it in the name of competition, we have 1,300 health insurance companies in America today. They’re competing but they’re not getting the kinds of health care costs under control that is necessary.

CNN: Yeah. Do you think that is absolutely necessarily so? That if you have a competing government system, that invariably what will happen is that you will drive some of the private health insurers out of the business?

MCCAIN: I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Over time you’ll drive them all out, and the idea that somehow the government can administer health care in a more efficient fashion than the private sector I think flies in the face of examples of other countries that have done so.

Watch it:

McCain is simply wrong. The United States ranked last in terms of efficiency among five other nations with universal health care, according to a Common Wealth study. In fact, the purely government-run Great Britain ranked first:

Compared with five other nations — Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom — the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives.

Efficiency: On indicators of efficiency, the U.S. ranks last among the six countries, with the U.K. and New Zealand ranking first and second, respectively. The U.S. has poor performance on measures of national health expenditures and administrative costs as well as on measures of the use of information technology and multidisciplinary teams. Also, of sicker respondents who visited the emergency room, those in Germany and New Zealand are less likely to have done so for a condition that could have been treated by a regular doctor, had one been available.

One needn’t even look abroad: The government-run Veterans Administration health care system is the most effective health care system available, not just on results but on cost efficiency as well:

Or consider this measure of the VA’s medical efficiency. Veterans enrolled in its health care system are as a group far older, sicker, poorer, and more prone to mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse than the population as a whole. … Yet the VA’s average expenditure per patient in 2004 was $5,562, including prescription drug and longer-term care benefits that have long been available to VA patients. By comparison, Americans as a whole, including children and those who never saw a doctor during the year, consumed an average $6,260 in health care dollars in 2004.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 2:09 pm

Obama speak on healthcare

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Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

In his most forceful comments on health care reform since he arrived at the White House, President Obama today made his case for including a government-backed insurance plan as part of the Democrats’ health reform strategy this year. However, appearing in Chicago before members of the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest doctors’ group, the president also rejected the idea of adopting a single-payer system, arguing that, in effect, it’s un-American. [Well, yeah: we don’t have it. If we did, it would be American. – LG]

From his prepared remarks:

If you don’t like your health coverage or don’t have any insurance, you will have a chance to take part in what we’re calling a Health Insurance Exchange. This Exchange will allow you to one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose a plan that’s best for you and your family — just as federal employees can do, from a postal worker to a member of Congress.

You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package. And one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market so that will force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest.

Republicans have been adamantly opposed to the public option, maintaining that it would encroach on the private insurance market, eventually driving everyone else out of business — a scenario Obama denied outright:

What are not legitimate concerns are those being put forward claiming a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single-payer system. I’ll be honest. There are countries where a single-payer system may be working. But I believe — and I’ve even taken some flak from members of my own party for this belief — that it is important for us to build on our traditions here in the United States.  So, when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government-run health care, know this — they are not telling the truth.

The choice of venues was significant. The AMA will be a major player in this year’s health reform debate, and already the group has come out against the public option (only to scale back that opposition a few days later, saying it would be “willing to consider” some version of the public plan, so long as it doesn’t mandate physician participation).

Meanwhile, supporters of the single-payer model are wondering why lawmakers insist on clinging to the for-profit, private-insurance model that’s left more than 45 million Americans without health coverage.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 2:03 pm

Obama and warrantless wiretapping

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

Responding to the controversial assertion by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair on June 8 that warrantless wiretapping “wasn’t illegal,” Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) today sent a letter to President Obama asking him to make clear that he is not claiming that extraordinary executive authority to disregard the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

“As a United States Senator, you stated clearly and correctly that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal,” writes Feingold. “Your Attorney General expressed the same view, both as a private citizen and at his confirmation hearing.”

Feingold continues:

It is my hope that you will formally confirm this position as president, which is why I sent you a letter on April 29, 2009, urging your administration to withdraw the unclassified and highly flawed January 19, 2006, Department of Justice Legal Authorities Supporting the Activities of the National Security Agency Described by the President (”NSA Legal Authorities WhitePaper “), as well as to withdraw and declassify any other memoranda providing legal justifications for the program. Particularly in light of two recent events, I am concerned that failure to take these steps may be construed by those who work for you as an indication that these justifications were and remain valid.

Feingold notes that in addition to Blair’s comments,

I asked your nominee to be General Counsel for the Director of National Intelligence, whether, based on the “White Paper” and other public sources, he believed that the warrantless wiretapping program was legal. His written response to my question, which was presumably vetted by your administration, indicated that, because the program was classified, he could not offer an opinion. Should he be confirmed, this position, too, risks conveying to the Intelligence Community that there may be classified justifications for not complying with FISA.

In fact, although Barack Obama the Senator and presidential candidate repeatedly spoke against warrantless wiretapping as practiced by the NSA under President George W. Bush, as president, he has not been clear on the issue.  He’s sought to stymie at least one case involving claims of warrantless wiretapping on state secrets grounds, and urged a judge to dismiss a slew of lawsuits against telecom companies who allegedly cooperated with the Bush administration in the warrantless wiretapping program.

Recent reports also reveal that the NSA’s surveillance program “in recent months” exceeded legal limits, and pending lawsuits claim that warrantless wiretapping is continuing under Obama’s watch.

In his letter sent today, Feingold urged President Obama “to formally renounce the legal arguments behind the previous administration’s warrantless wiretapping and to demonstrate again your clear commitment to the rule of law in this area.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 2:00 pm

Liebermann still stirring up trouble

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I think that Kerry’s pick of Lieberman for VP brings Kerry’s judgment into question—at least in hindsight. Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:

Until now, the debate over a government-backed insurance plan has been largely partisan, pitting Democrats who support the concept against Republicans who don’t. Today, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) reminded us that the protection of regional industries will also play a role in this fight, telling MSNBC that private insurance companies are plenty capable of ensuring that all Americans have sound health care. His reasons for opposing the public plan option:

One is I’m fearful that at a time when we’re spending much too much money here in Washington, going much too deeply in debt that a public option on health care, no matter how you structure it, will end up costing the taxpayers money.

Secondly, we don’t need it. There’s more than 350 companies, maybe more than that, selling health insurance. There’s going to be a lot of competition for health insurance once universal health insurance comes.

And the third, and probably the most important, the votes are not there for a public health plan, government-run option. And this can stand in the way of a historic achievement for President Obama and Congress and the American people, which is really to establish a universal access to quality, affordable health care plan in America.

He forgot to mention that Connecticut, the home-base for scores of insurance companies, has the highest concentration of insurance jobs in the country. Not that it isn’t Lieberman’s job to represent his constituents, but at what point does the moral imperative of covering 46 million uninsured Americans trump the protection of insurance industry profits?

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 1:57 pm

Monsanto struggles to understand

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From The Ethicurean:

The blog Monsanto According to Monsanto writes that “Food, Inc.,” like all movies, represents the intellectual property of the people who spent their time, effort, and money into the production of the film. Monsanto’s patented seeds are the equivalent of the film, it says: its investigators and legal teams who pursue IP-stealing farmers are no different than movie-theater workers who confiscate video cameras, and studio lawyers will be on the lookout for bootleg copies. The analogy almost works. But the makers of “Food Inc” actually have control over their IP: frames from the documentary don’t blow around and cross-pollinate other documentaries (although that would be cool). And we have yet to see any movie industry personnel granted the right to come into the average citizen’s house and scan their computer looking for illegal downloads. (Monsanto According to Monsanto)

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Movies & TV

St. Augustine on torture

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Good post by William Michael Hanks:

Over 1,500 years ago Augustine of Hippo reflected on the practice of torture –- a topic in the public conversation today. His observations lead me to believe that the villains are not as small as Dubya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but may indeed be immersed in human nature itself. He frames the internal conflict as discernment between the perceived imperatives of worldly duty and the higher values of justice rendered to the dignity of mankind.

Even when a city is enjoying the profoundest peace, some men must be sitting in judgment on their fellow men. Even at their best, what misery and grief they cause! No human judge can read the conscience of the man before him. That is why so many innocent witnesses are tortured to find what truth there is in the alleged guilt of other men. It is even worse when the accused man himself is tortured to find out if he be guilty. Here a man still unconvicted must undergo certain suffering for an uncertain crime –- not because his guilt is known, but because his innocence is unproved. Thus it often happens that the ignorance of the judge turns into tragedy for the innocent party.

There is something still more insufferable –- deplorable beyond all cleansing with our tears. Often enough, when a judge tries to avoid putting a man to death whose innocence is not manifest, he has him put to torture, and so it happens, because of woeful lack of evidence, that he both tortures and kills the blameless man whom he tortured lest he kill him without cause. And if, on Stoic principles, the innocent man chooses to escape from life rather than endure such tortures any longer, he will confess to a crime he never committed.

St. Augustine, City of God, 426 AD — Book XIX, Chapter 6.
(English translation, Gerald G. Walsh, S.J.,
Demetrius B. Zema, S.J., Grace Monahan, O.S.U.,
Daniel J. Honan.)

If indeed the enemies of the brighter angels of human nature are more deeply rooted than the visible leaves and branches, then our effort is wasted in merely pruning them –- we must lay an axe to the root.

When we elect our representatives we have accomplished about 20% of the job. The remaining 80% is in seeing to it that they reflect our values. So many words through the centuries call our attention to the struggle between right and wrong.

But Perhaps Willie Nelson, Poet-Philosopher, put it best for us today in Turk Pipkin’s documentary, One Peace at a Time: “Right and wrong is not that hard, it’s just what we choose to do.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 11:44 am

Posted in Government, Torture

Firefox add-ons for the movie buff

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Check ’em out.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 11:39 am

An Iranian student speaks out

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in the Independent, “Maryam”, a 24-year-old student in Iran, writes:

I cannot put my feeling into words. I can only express my sorrow for my country. The result is unbelievable. It is a blatant lie. And now we have this kid, this stupid child who claims that his re-election is a victory of the people.

How can we withstand this man ruling us for four more years? Of course Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, our supreme leader, supported him in stealing this election. He is the “father” of this kid. I didn’t want to vote on Thursday but this election was totally different from previous votes.

And my city, Tehran, these last few weeks, felt like a different place. I know people, entire families, who had not participated in any elections since the revolution but this time our mood and our outlook was transformed.

Opponents of Ahmadinejad used blogs and websites to highlight his lies. We were bombarded with text messages and we followed the news on satellite television although it is forbidden by the law.

I abhor Ahmadinejad and everything he stands for. He is not a true Muslim, he is a cheat and a fraud and an enemy of any kind of true religion. He is not driven by money but he craves only one thing: power. And our spiritual leader endorses him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 11:28 am

Following what’s happening in Iran

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Andrew Sullivan’s twitter feed gives quick updates.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 11:20 am

Shrink those half-dead cities

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Mary Kane in the Washington Independent:

For a while now at TWI, we’ve been keeping and eye on developments in the shrinking cities movement. It’s a new idea for urban development, aimed at saving cities by making them smaller: Cordoning off the sections that are abandoned and marred by blight, urging the few people left to move, and letting the land return to nature. It’s an idea borne of desperation in places like Flint, Mich., which have been hit hard both by job losses and by foreclosures.

But it also may be an idea that’s going to pick up steam elsewhere. The Obama administration is seriously considering supporting the shrinking cities movement as a way to address economic decline,  reports the British newspaper, The Telegraph.

The Telegraph dubbed the idea a “shrink to survive” approach, and said it is being headed by a familiar name to TWI readers: Dan Kildee, founder and chairman of the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint. TWI profiled Kildee and his land bank last year. Land banks allow cities to acquire and reuse vacant and abandoned properties.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

The Telegraph has few other details on how this all is going to work. It’s also not clear how aggressively the Obama administration will embrace the idea. It’s true that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:28 am

Bye bye, oysters

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More bad news from global warming—while Congress dithers. Craig Welch writing in the Seattle Times:

The collapse began rather unspectacularly.

In 2005, when most of the millions of Pacific oysters in this tree-lined estuary failed to reproduce, Washington’s shellfish growers largely shrugged it off.

In a region that provides one-sixth of the nation’s oysters — the epicenter of the West Coast’s $111 million oyster industry — everyone knows nature can be fickle.

But then the failure was repeated in 2006, 2007 and 2008. It spread to an Oregon hatchery that supplies baby oysters to shellfish nurseries from Puget Sound to Los Angeles. Eighty percent of that hatchery’s oyster larvae died, too.

Now, as the oyster industry heads into the fifth summer of its most unnerving crisis in decades, scientists are pondering a disturbing theory. They suspect water that rises from deep in the Pacific Ocean — icy seawater that surges into Willapa Bay and gets pumped into seaside hatcheries — may be corrosive enough to kill baby oysters.

If true, that could mean shifts in ocean chemistry associated with carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil fuels may be impairing sea life faster and more dramatically than expected.

And it would vault a key Washington industry to the center of international debate over how to respond to marine changes expected to ripple through and undermine ocean food webs.

Scientists seeking to explain what’s plaguing these coastal oysters say the link to more corrosive water is strong but anecdotal. It could be just one of several factors.

But the possibility leaves some shellfish farmers uneasy about more than just their future business.

Indications that ocean acidification may already play a role in the decline of oysters are a "sign of things being out of balance, and that scares the living daylights out of me," said third-generation oysterman Brian Sheldon.

Ruffling his 8-year-old son Jebediah’s head, he added, "for this guy."

Pacific oysters aren’t native to Willapa Bay, but shellfish growers have farmed them here since the 1920s. It’s about the only place left on the West Coast where growers look to the wild to get their oysters…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:26 am

A doctor’s notes on torture

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An interesting op-ed by Dr. Andrea Meyerhoff, a member of the faculty of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a consultant in biodefense and drug development. She served as FDA Director of Counterterrorism from 2001-03 and Pentagon Director of Medical WMD Defense from 2003-04. She writes:

What is too much pain?

This is the question that Bush administration lawyers answered when they legalized now-infamous interrogation techniques.

As a former federal counterterrorism official who served through 9-11, the anthrax mailings, and the on-set of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I followed the recent release of Justice Department interrogation memos with interest.

Despite numerous readings I still can’t understand them. How could these memos guide interrogators? As a physician, I found statements that defied reason. Experiences with patients contradict statements in the memos.

As such, the memos are a violation of the public trust and warrant investigation. The public deserves a full account of their production on which to render judgment. Either a courtroom or Congress will do.

Now in the public domain are two memos from Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel dated Aug. 1, 2002, on the subject of interrogation practices, authored by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee. One was written for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, the other for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In the first, Yoo legalized harsh interrogation practices by stating that they fell short of a definition of severe pain and therefore were not torture:

"Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

This is a perplexing statement.

Specific symptoms are associated with the failure of individual organs such as heart, kidney, or lung. But pain is not prominent among any of them.

For example, someone with end-stage lung disease has the terrifying sensation that he cannot get enough air. In the final hours, the doctor sees the patient sweat. His face turns from deep red to blue. He leans forward and grasps the rails of the hospital bed so hard his knuckles turn white. He is intensely anxious and knows he is about to die. At what point in the approximation of this experience should the interrogator decide it’s time to stop?

Maybe Mr. Yoo meant to equate the physical pain of torture with the pain of an injury serious enough to result in organ failure.

What do such injuries look like?

Someone who jumps out of a four-story window sustains multiple broken bones. The fractured pelvis severs an artery that results in hemorrhage so massive that vital organs can’t get enough blood and begin to fail. As liver and kidneys shut down, the doctors race to stabilize the patient to take her to the operating room to fix the fracture. But the rate of the bleeding outstrips their best efforts. The patient dies in the emergency room.

Would it be permissible for an interrogator to deliver a blow hard enough to cause a fracture that doesn’t result in organ failure, impaired function, or death? Is it OK to break a finger? A jaw?

I’ve read Yoo’s definition many times and still don’t know what it means. I’m certain of one thing. With death, there is no pain at all.

His definition can’t account for  …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:20 am

Conrad’s health co-op proposal: not enough, won’t work

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Faiz Shakir in ThinkProgress:

Last week, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) floated a health care proposal intended to mollify conservatives who are upset over the possible creation of a public health insurance plan. Instead of offering consumers a government-run option similar to Medicare, Conrad suggests giving individuals and very small businesses the option to buy into a plan that would be run by a non-profit cooperative. The idea has gained the support of Democratic senators, including Max Baucus (D-MT).

The idea would be to create multiple state or regional non-profit co-operatives, operating through members who choose a board of directors and a CEO. Unlike Medicare, this model “would lack the market leverage to bargain for lower prices.”

This morning on MSNBC, former Gov. Howard Dean rejected Conrad’s proposal, saying it is “not a real compromise.” “This is a fix for the Senate problem,” he said, “this doesn’t fix the American problem.” After heaping praise on Conrad, Dean explained:

He’s wrong about this. The co-ops are too small to compete with the big, private insurance companies. They will kill the co-ops completely by undercutting them, using their financial clout to do it. In the small states like mine and like Senator Conrad’s, you’re never gonna get to the 500,000 number signed up in the co-op that you need to in order for them to have any marketing [power].

This is a compromise designed to deal with problems in the Senate. But it doesn’t deal with problems in America. And I think it’s time for the Senate to stop playing politics, do what has to be done. … If the Republicans don’t want to get on board, then we can do this without the Republicans.

Watch it:

The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky also notes that Conrad’s co-op proposal will lack the inherent advantages of a new public option. “Thus, co-ops should be considered as a supplement to — not a replacement for — a public health plan,” Volsky writes.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:16 am

Obama open to reducing malpractice suits to reduce medical costs

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An uncontroversial position: there indeed should be fewer malpractice suits—but only if there are fewer instances of malpractice. Working solely on reducing the number of lawsuits without paying attention to the actual malpractice is a canonical example of "bending the needle": when the needle gets into the red on the boiler, you can fix the problem, or you can just bend the tip of the needle so it’s no longer in the red. Obama seems to be willing to bend the needle, a thoughtless and indefensible position.

First, malpractice suits are not all that common, and second, when one occurs, it generally is because there was serious malpractice.

Anesthesiologists used to get many malpractice suits, and that profession started examining carefully the errors and problems and why they occurred. They made many changes—for example, the fittings for the various gases they use are now specific to the type of gas, so that it’s not possible to accidentally attach the wrong gas to a fitting. As a result, the errors and problems went away, and with them the malpractice suits. That’s how to reduce malpractice suits: reduce malpractice. (BTW, a tiny number of doctors account for something like 80-85% of malpractice suits. That suggests barring those doctors from practice would also help a lot. How about a "three strikes and you’re out" rule. Right now the medical profession works hard to keep incompetent doctors in practice. Reminds one of those Catholic bishops protecting the pedophiles.

The story in the NY Times:

The American Medical Association has long battled Democrats who oppose protecting doctors from malpractice lawsuits. But during a private meeting at the White House last month, association officials said, they found one Democrat willing to entertain the idea: President Obama.

In closed-door talks, Mr. Obama has been making the case that reducing malpractice lawsuits — a goal of many doctors and Republicans — can help drive down health care costs, and should be considered as part of any health care overhaul, according to lawmakers of both parties, as well as A.M.A. officials.

It is a position that could hurt Mr. Obama with the left wing of his party and with trial lawyers who are major donors to Democratic campaigns. But one Democrat close to the president said Mr. Obama, who wants health legislation to have broad support, views addressing medical liability issues as a “credibility builder” — in effect, a bargaining chip that might keep doctors and, more important, Republicans, at the negotiating table.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will go to the annual medical association meeting to face a group that has come out against a central component of his broader health care proposal — his call for a new public insurance program that would compete with the private plans. The White House says he will make the case that “reform is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health,” and how important it is to have the cooperation of doctors.

But whether he can get them on board is an open question. The speech comes as the president’s ideas on health reform are facing mounting criticism — not only from the A.M.A. and Republicans, who also vehemently oppose a new public plan, but also from the hospital industry, which is up in arms over a proposal Mr. Obama announced on Saturday to pay for his health care overhaul in part by cutting certain hospital reimbursements.

Medical liability is an important component of the debate, but that, too, is controversial. White House officials said Mr. Obama was likely to refer to the issue in his speech to the medical association, but would not offer any specific proposal.

Mr. Obama has not endorsed capping malpractice jury awards, as did his predecessor, President George W. Bush. But as a senator, he advanced legislation aimed at …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:13 am

Obama has Bush’s back

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Glenn Greenwald today:

The battle against baseless, worthless grants of anonymity by journalists is, at this point, probably futile, since even many of the nation’s best and most valuable reporters — such as The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer — seem helplessly addicted to it.  In an otherwise solid and at times enlightening article on CIA Director Leon Panetta and his resistance to investigating past CIA abuses, Mayer includes this passage at the beginning of her article to explain how Panetta was chosen only after Obama’s first choice, John Brennan, was rejected:

A friend of Brennan’s from his C.I.A. days complained to me, "After a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs voiced objections to Brennan, the Obama Administration pulled his name at the first sign of smoke, and then ruled out a whole class of people: anyone who had been at the agency during the past ten years couldn’t pass the blogger test."

What possible justification is there to grant anonymity to someone to spout these clichéd and factually false insults?  First, as I’ve documented numerous times and as Mayer herself well knows, the case against Brennan was not that he was "at the agency for the past ten years" or even that he had anything to do with the torture program, but rather that (as she herself documents later in the piece) he explicitly advocated and defended many of the worst torture techniques and other Bush abusesSecond, unlike the individual who is willing to spout these insults only while cowardly hiding behind Mayer’s shield of anonymity, the bloggers who led the opposition to Brennan (including myself and The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan) all attached their names to their views and — as Spencer Ackerman notes — are about as far away as one can be from the trite, adolescent cartoons spewed by Mayer’s anonymous insulter.  Third, one of the principal points of Mayer’s long article is that the objections to Brennan have been vindicated, because — as Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser — he has led the way in urging Obama to keep past CIA abuses suppressed and Bush crimes protected from accountability.

The anonymous name-calling Mayer passes on appears on the first page of her piece, but on page 5, she includes the facts that show how factually false is the characterization of the objections to Brennan:

Brennan’s supporters have argued that he had no operational control over the interrogation program, and point out that his tenure as Tenet’s chief of staff ended in March, 2001, before the Al Qaeda attacks. But he was subsequently named deputy executive director, and served in that position until March, 2003—the period when the most brutal detainee treatment occurred.

In addition, Brennan often briefed President Bush about daily developments in the war on terror.  Brennan has described himself as an internal critic of waterboarding—a position that friends, such as Emile Nakhleh, a former senior officer, confirm. Yet, in an interview with me two years ago, Brennan defended the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques and extraordinary renditions, in which the C.I.A. abducted terror suspects around the globe and transported them to other countries to be jailed and interrogated; many of those countries had execrable human-rights records. He also questioned some people’s definition of “torture.” “I think it’s torture when I have to ride in the car with my kids and they have loud rap music on,” he said. Asked if “enhanced” interrogation techniques were necessary to keep America safe, he replied, “Would the U.S. be handicapped if the C.I.A. was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of detention and debriefing activities? I would say yes.”

That – his comments defending "enhanced interrogation techniques," making light of torture, and justifying other Bush-era abuses (such as rendition) — was the crux of the campaign against Brennan’s being named CIA director.  So why pass on the false anonymous attack at the start that purports to define the case against Brennan in such a misleading way?

Far more important than that, Mayer documents that precisely the principal concern of Brennan objectors has already materialized — namely, he has become Obama’s most forceful advocate for shielding those Bush-era crimes from investigation and protecting the wrongdoers, at the very same time that, as Mayer notes, he has a direct personal interest in blocking accountability: …

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 10:00 am

Leon Panetta and the CIA

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Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side, has a good article in the New Yorker:

The Central Intelligence Agency typically fights distant enemies, but on May 21st its leaders were preoccupied with a local opponent. A few miles from the agency’s headquarters, which are in Langley, Virginia, former Vice-President Dick Cheney delivered an extraordinary attack on the Obama Administration’s emerging national-security policies. Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, accused the new Administration of making “the American people less safe” by banning brutal C.I.A. interrogations of terrorism suspects that had been sanctioned by the Bush Administration. Ruling out such interrogations “is unwise in the extreme,” Cheney charged. “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness.”

Leon Panetta, the C.I.A.’s new director—and the man who bears much of the responsibility for keeping the country safe—learned the details of Cheney’s speech when he arrived in his office, on the seventh floor of the agency’s headquarters. An hour earlier, he had been standing at the side of President Barack Obama, who was giving a speech at the National Archives, in which he argued that America could “fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law.” In January, the Obama Administration banned the “enhanced” techniques that the Bush Administration had approved for the agency, including waterboarding and depriving prisoners of sleep for up to eleven days. Panetta, pouring a cup of coffee, responded to Cheney’s speech with surprising candor. “I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Panetta was also absorbing criticism from the left. The day before, a group of progressive human-rights advocates had been given an off-the-record briefing with Obama, where they discussed his plans for handling terrorism suspects; some of the advocates were enraged at what they saw as a tacit continuation of the Bush approach. According to a participant, Obama warned the group that such comparisons were “not helpful.” Nevertheless, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, who also attended the briefing, went on to denounce the Administration for considering “preventive detention”—incarcerating certain terror suspects indefinitely, without trial. Obama’s position, Roth said, “mimics the Bush Administration’s abusive approach.”

Since January, the C.I.A. has become the focus of almost daily struggle, as Obama attempts to restore the rule of law in America’s fight against terrorism without sacrificing safety or losing the support of conservative Democratic and independent voters. So far, he has insisted on trying to recalibrate the agency’s policies without investigating past mistakes or holding anyone responsible for them. Caught in the middle is Panetta, who is seventy years old and has virtually no experience in the intelligence field. Indeed, his credentials for running the world’s foremost spy agency are so unlikely that when John Podesta, the head of Obama’s transition team, asked him to take the job he responded, “Are you sure?” Podesta assured Panetta that his outsider status was actually an advantage: “He said, ‘You don’t carry the scars of the past eight years. Besides, the President wants somebody who will talk straight to him on these issues.’ ”

Although Panetta served briefly in the military, half a century ago, his reputation has been built almost entirely on his mastery of domestic policy. For sixteen years, he was a Democratic congressman from his home town, Monterey, California. In 1989, he became the chairman of the House Budget Committee, making him a natural choice as President Bill Clinton’s first budget director. In 1994, he became Clinton’s chief of staff.

Panetta, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up washing dishes in his parents’ restaurant. He is disarmingly forthright, with an easy laugh; he is also a stern disciplinarian and a workaholic. Colleagues say that Panetta, who attends Mass regularly, can be principled to the point of rigidity. It was partly Panetta’s rectitude that got him the C.I.A. job. During the Bush years, he decried the country’s loss of moral authority; in a blunt essay for Washington Monthly last year, he declared that Americans had been transformed “from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers.” He concluded, “We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.”

Panetta’s impassioned essay unexpectedly became an asset during the Obama transition, after John Brennan—the initial candidate for C.I.A.director—was pressured to withdraw. Critics accused Brennan, who had been a top agency official during the Bush years, of complicity with the torture program. (A friend of Brennan’s from his C.I.A. days complained to me, “After a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs voiced objections to Brennan, the Obama Administration pulled his name at the first sign of smoke, and then ruled out a whole class of people: anyone who had been at the agency during the past ten years couldn’t pass the blogger test.”) [Greenwald points out how false this is; see link below. – LG]

Panetta had one other strong qualification: …

Continue reading. But see also this column by Greenwald.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 9:30 am

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

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Sounds like an interesting and timely book:

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (Massey Lectures)
by Margaret Atwood

A review by John Gray

A perturbation arising from the American market in subprime mortgages has spread through the banking system to disrupt economic activity throughout the world. The pattern of cause and effect will be debated for many years, with historians asking when and how the global economy was set on the path that led to its current condition. Already there are some who trace the crisis to decisions of Alan Greenspan, chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, when he responded to events such as the collapse in the late 1990s of a hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management, and the subsequent bursting of the dot-com bubble by creating a climate of easy borrowing, which in turn inflated another bubble in the housing market.

Others suggest that a change in the legal system of banking brought about by the repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had aimed to limit speculation by separating commercial and investment banking, created an environment that allowed reckless lending. Yet others explain the turmoil in world markets as a symptom of an endemic instability in the type of finance capitalism that has developed in America, Britain, and some other Western countries.

These accounts are not mutually exclusive, nor are they in any way exhaustive. Like most of the narratives that offer to tell us how the world arrived at its present pass, they are primarily economic in focus. To be sure, this is an economic crisis; it might therefore seem to follow that it is best explained in economic terms. But economics may not give a satisfactory understanding of the events of the past year. The changes that have occurred are not only in the world economy. They include shifts in geopolitics, involving aspects of the rise and fall of nations that go beyond their economic performance, and an erosion of values.

The dislocation that is being produced by the financial crisis affects political and moral beliefs that have supported capitalism in the past. Market economies are not underpinned chiefly by economic theories. They rely for their legitimacy and continued functioning on ideas about right and wrong, fairness in society, and orderliness in the world. In the boom years many of these ideas were discarded as erroneous or redundant. Now that the boom has been followed by bust it may be useful to reexamine ideas about debt, and consider how they may fare as governments use all the instruments at their disposal to avert a slide into depression.

One of the many impressive features of Margaret Atwood’s new book is its almost eerie timeliness. Consisting of five chapters that were broadcast in November 2008 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as the Massey Lectures, a series intended to provide a radio venue for the exploration of important issues, Payback appeared in print last October. The book must have been written some months earlier, but there is no sign that it was composed in haste. Atwood examines the role of ideas of debt in religion, literature, and society; she discusses the nature of sin, the structure of plot in fiction, the practice of revenge, and the ecological payback that occurs when human beings take from the planet more than they return. A celebrated novelist, poet, and critic, Atwood has combined rigorous analysis, wide-ranging erudition, and a beguilingly playful imagination to produce the most probing and thought-stirring commentary on the financial crisis to date.

Atwood’s project is to show how human thought has been deeply shaped by notions of debt. It will be objected that she is merely spinning out an extended metaphor suggesting analogies between debt and noneconomic phenomena that are only vaguely analogous. In fact she is advancing the contrary and more interesting claim that economic activities involving borrowing and lending are metaphorical extensions of an underlying human sense of indebtedness. Beliefs about debt are not shadows cast by processes of market exchange. They are presupposed throughout much of human activity. Economic life invokes a sense of order in human affairs, widely dispersed throughout society.

A sense of what one is owed does not seem to be confined to humans. Atwood cites the primatologist Frans de Waal, who found in a series of experiments that capuchin monkeys …

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 9:24 am

Krugman warns against premature abandonment of the stimulus

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Paul Krugman knows what he’s talking about:

The debate over economic policy has taken a predictable yet ominous turn: the crisis seems to be easing, and a chorus of critics is already demanding that the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration abandon their rescue efforts. For those who know their history, it’s déjà vu all over again — literally.

For this is the third time in history that a major economy has found itself in a liquidity trap, a situation in which interest-rate cuts, the conventional way to perk up the economy, have reached their limit. When this happens, unconventional measures are the only way to fight recession.

Yet such unconventional measures make the conventionally minded uncomfortable, and they keep pushing for a return to normalcy. In previous liquidity-trap episodes, policy makers gave in to these pressures far too soon, plunging the economy back into crisis. And if the critics have their way, we’ll do the same thing this time.

The first example of policy in a liquidity trap comes from the 1930s. The U.S. economy grew rapidly from 1933 to 1937, helped along by New Deal policies. America, however, remained well short of full employment.

Yet policy makers stopped worrying about depression and started worrying about inflation. The Federal Reserve tightened monetary policy, while F.D.R. tried to balance the federal budget. Sure enough, the economy slumped again, and full recovery had to wait for World War II.

The second example is Japan in the 1990s. After slumping early in the decade, Japan experienced a partial recovery, with the economy growing almost 3 percent in 1996. Policy makers responded by shifting their focus to the budget deficit, raising taxes and cutting spending. Japan proceeded to slide back into recession.

And here we go again.

On one side, the inflation worriers are harassing the Fed. The latest example: Arthur Laffer, he of the curve, warns that the Fed’s policies will cause devastating inflation. He recommends, among other things, possibly raising banks’ reserve requirements, which happens to be exactly what the Fed did in 1936 and 1937 — a move that none other than Milton Friedman condemned as helping to strangle economic recovery.

Meanwhile, there are demands from several directions that President Obama’s fiscal stimulus plan be canceled.

Some, especially in Europe, argue that stimulus isn’t needed, because the economy is already turning around.

Others claim that government borrowing is driving up interest rates, and that this will derail recovery.

And Republicans, providing a bit of comic relief, are saying that the stimulus has failed, because the enabling legislation was passed four months ago — wow, four whole months! — yet unemployment is still rising. This suggests an interesting comparison with the economic record of Ronald Reagan, whose 1981 tax cut was followed by no less than 16 months of rising unemployment.

O.K., time for some reality checks…

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2009 at 9:18 am

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