Later On

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

Archive for November 7th, 2009

Why the GOP gets no respect: Lying on the House floor edition

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Steve Benen:

When House Republicans finally unveiled their health care reform proposal this week, one of the glaring problems was that it did not prohibit private insurance companies from discriminating against consumers with pre-existing conditions.

There weren’t even any ambiguities. The Wall Street Journal reported this week, "Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said Monday that the plan wouldn’t seek to prevent health-insurance companies from denying sick people insurance — a key plank of the Democrats’ legislation."

So, what did Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) have to say on the House floor last night?

"The Republican alternative makes it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition."

Seriously? That’s clearly and demonstrably wrong. I can appreciate a good spin on a bad bill as much as the next guy, but "keeps it legal" and "makes it illegal" are not the same.

It’s not even a close call: "[The] GOP alternative plan … does not prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage to people due to pre-existing medical conditions."

Congressional Republicans used to support these kinds of restrictions on private insurers, but dropped their commitment when crafting their own plan. Pretending otherwise isn’t helpful. It’s also a reminder about why bipartisan outreach hasn’t gone well — a few too many lawmakers don’t know, or don’t care about, the facts.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 12:56 pm

26-minute walk

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A block farther than yesterday, but no stopping to take photos.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Health

The aeronautical analogy to the economy

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James Fallows has an excellent post:

A man in Florida sends what may be the ideal example of reader mail, combining as it does aerodynamic theory, politics, economics, and presidential rhetoric. If only there were a China- or beer-related angle…  Seriously, his critique of how the Obama team has explained the continuing collapse of the U.S. employment base is insightful. Although it is obviously too late to adjust the rhetoric with which the Administration launched its economic recovery plans, arguments like this reader’s could help shape the ongoing discussion.

“I’m really confused by how the Obama administration has handled the narrative and voter expectations for this recession. I clearly understand that they had to carefully balance early 2009 dire warnings against economic pessimism, while making a case for the stimulus package, etc. But once the stimulus was passed, I believe that they should have boldly stated how bad things really were, how their economic policies were the correct choices (even acknowledging Krugman’s critiques of “too little”), and emphasizing that even the best possible management of the 2008 economic trainwreck would see significantly increasing unemployment as a lagging indicator.

“One analogy I’ve thought of often, aligned with your interests, is an economic analogy of an aerodynamic stall. When commercial credit froze and consumers reduced spending, the prevailing economic “lift” was gone. Stall! Conservative knee-jerk reactions for tax cuts were the equivalent of “pulling up” on the stick—intuitive but deadly. Obama’s expert advice was to gain speed by spending (diving), even at the cost of altitude (deficit/debt). High unemployment was destined from the moment the stall occurred. Only when sufficient airspeed/angle of attack (spending) had been reached could the economy begin to pull up, and the unemployment would be analogous to the altitude lost even after the decision to finally “pull up” had been made. Passenger relief (consumer confidence) would follow long after the immediate recovery (i.e., GDP), and no one would be “satisfied” until the plane came in for a (economic) “soft landing.”

“There are probably numerous logical errors with this analogy [JF note: seems pretty good to me], but the simple point is this: If “Joe six-pack” clearly understands that Obama saved his economic life, while Conservatives would have driven the plane into the ground, he’s more likely to appreciate and reward the unpalatable choices that Obama made. His appreciation would be enhanced if he understood all along that the pilot had no choice but to lose altitude, and the pilot explained that altitude (jobs) would take a long time to regain. This administration sorely needs a narrative that citizens can grasp and accept, otherwise the cynical partisan naysayers will continue to fill the void….

“I came across this, published online by Irwin M. Stelzer on 12/19/2008 in the Weekly Standard (hardly a liberal apologist):

‘Bush knows that Obama is inheriting a very difficult economic situation indeed. So does the president-elect. Economists with whom I have spoken—and these are the people listened to at the highest levels in both parties and at Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve Board—believe that the unemployment rate, now at 6.7 percent, will hit double digits sometime in 2009, and stay there well into 2010. They expect house prices to drop another 15 percent and share prices at least another 10 percent before finding a bottom.Worse still, they are predicting an extraordinarily sluggish recovery. Since unemployment is what economists call a lagging indicator—job creation doesn’t start until a recovery is well under way—the unemployment rate might remain high well into 2011.’

“None of this is news to you. But if the Weekly Standard could articulate this in late 2008, why hasn’t the Obama administration made sure that average Americans understand the “pre-destination” involved with unemployment?”

As an answer to the final question, my guess is that a combined message of uplift and caution is among the most difficult for leaders to convey. Obama and his economic team had to keep sounding optimistic, since so much of a recovery is affected by “animal spirits.” But they also needed to acknowledge that for a long time ahead more people would be losing than gaining jobs. The dual message is not impossible, but it’s tricky, and as the reader suggests the proper balance has not yet come across.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 11:38 am

Another example of why it’s almost impossible to respect Republicans

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ThinkProgress:

This morning, the House began consideration of the rule for debate of the House health care bill. As the Democratic Women’s Caucus took to the microphone on the House floor to offer their arguments for how the bill would benefit women, House Republicans — led by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) — repeatedly talked over, screamed, and shouted objections. “I object, I object, I object, I object, I object,” Price interjected as Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) tried to hold the floor.

In an effort to delay and derail the proceedings, the Republicans continually talked over the Democratic women for half an hour. They sought to prevent the debate by calling for unnecessary “parliamentary inquiries” and requests for “expanding the debate” by an hour.

After being repeatedly interrupted by Republican shouts, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) observed:

Do I not have the right to be able to continue my sentence without objections that are trying to censor my remarks here on the floor that I have a right to make as a member of this House?

Watch a compilation:

The presiding chair of the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), tried to assuage the Republican raucous, without much success. The debate must be conducted with “a measure of comity and grace and decency,” Dingell urged. “There’s no advantage to be achieved by making all this fuss,” he told the Republicans.

UPDATE: On The Wonk Room, Igor Volsky has coverage of the Stupak abortion amendment.

UPDATE: Media Matters Action Network has produced its own mash-up video highlighting the GOP’s uncivilized tactics.

The GOP is simply deranged at this point.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 11:36 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

The dark side of tort "reform"

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Tort “reform” has the goal of making it difficult or impossible for private individuals to recover damages when a business damages them. Kevin Drum explains what actually happens in this article from the Jan/Feb 2007 issue Washington Monthly:

The personal is political. So let’s take a personal tour of the American legal system as it’s currently practiced in the great state of Texas, shall we?

Victim #1 on our tour is Jordan Fogal, a middle-aged Republican homemaker who bought a home in Houston four years ago. On the day the Fogals moved in, Jordan’s husband pulled the bathtub plug after he had finished taking a bath and, as Jordan later recalled to Randall Patterson of Mother Jones, “all 100 gallons of that water came down through the dining room ceiling, into the light fixtures, down the columns, onto my dining room table and Oriental rugs. And I just started screaming.”

The Fogals’s builder fixed the drain, but more problems cropped up. And then more. An inspector found serious roofing problems, widespread moisture and rot, and encroaching mold. Jordan called and called but got nowhere. Their inspector estimated repairs at $199,000. The builder eventually offered $5,000. Later, Jordan discovered that other houses in the same neighborhood had reported similar problems, and that her house had displayed water and mold problems even before they had bought it.

So did the Fogals take their builder to court? No. Like many states, Texas requires dissatisfied homeowners to settle disputes out of court in binding arbitration. But that’s not all. The Texas legislature has also abolished “workmanlike construction” standards for homes, done away with punitive damages, and created a builder-controlled commission that determines whether you’re even allowed to file for arbitration in the first place. Of the few who get there, even fewer win in arbitration, and there is no appeal. Jordan Fogal was stuck.

Victim #2 is Alvin Berry. Like many Texans, he voted Yes on Proposition 12, a 2003 initiative that limited pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice suits. “I think there are too many frivolous lawsuits,” he told Texas Monthly reporter Mimi Swartz.

But then Berry suffered some malpractice of his own: a doctor who ignored a set of plainly dangerous lab results for months. When the doctor finally ordered a biopsy, he discovered that Berry had prostate cancer that had spread to his bones in 20 places. He gave Berry five years to live.

Unlike Jordan Fogal, Berry had the right to go to court. In theory, anyway. In practice, as his lawyer explained to him, it’s now usually an exercise in futility. Because of the new damage caps, it’s not worth it for lawyers to take anything but the most slam-dunk cases. What’s more, even if you can find a lawyer to represent you, insurance companies have very little incentive to settle since their losses are limited by law. Thus, between court costs, attorneys’ fees, and other expenses, Berry would be lucky to recover $75,000. Maybe not even that much. Given that reality, was he really willing to sign up for two years of litigation? Most people aren’t.

Victim #3 is Juan Martinez, who was killed in 1999 when a reactor exploded at a Phillips Chemical Plant in Pasadena, Texas. Dozens of workers had been killed at the plant in the previous decades, along with hundreds injured, and when his widow’s case went to trial a year later, the evidence of negligence on the part of Phillips was clear and compelling.

Jurors in the case were appalled and socked Phillips with punitive damages equal to a month’s profit for the company—a pointed warning to clean up its operations. But Phillips never paid anywhere near that amount. Thanks to a tort-reform law championed by George W. Bush in 1995, state law reduced the punitive damages by 97 percent. With no prospect of ever losing a significant amount of money for worker injuries or deaths in Texas, a simple cost-benefit analysis suggests that Phillips has little incentive to change a thing. It’s cheaper to let people die than to upgrade their plant.

That last example comes from Stephanie Mencimer, author of “False Alarm,” an award-winning 2004 article for The Washington Monthly about the myth of America’s lawsuit crisis. Mencimer has now expanded that article into a book, Blocking the Courthouse Door, that documents the relentless campaign waged over the past two decades by conservative activists and their corporate allies to limit access to the civil court system. It joins Tom Baker’s excellent The Medical Malpractice Myth, published last year, on the (still) very short shelf of books finally fighting back against the tort-reform industry.

And an industry it is. Insurance companies have been dutifully warning the public since the 1950s that “you pay for liability and damage suit verdicts whether you are insured or not.” But for  its first three decades, their lawyer-bashing campaigns were both sporadic and desultory, a subject of interest only to a few conservative wonks camped out in little-known D.C.-based think tanks. That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a succession of Republican partisans, including Dan Quayle, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist, finally realized just how powerful an issue tort reform could be.

Up until then, lawyer bashing had been mostly a pro forma applause line for Republican politicians: a reliable way to loosen the checkbooks of large corporations and generate cheers from local Chamber of Commerce audiences. But in the 1980s and 1990s, conservative activists began pursuing a series of strategies aimed not just at increasing Republican votes and campaign contributions, but also at reducing Democratic votes and campaign contributions—and doing so in a structural way that would permanently erode the Democratic Party’s ability to win elections. The result was an increased interest in gerrymandering, union busting, voter ID laws, and the K Street Project, a party-wide program aimed at persuading lobbying firms to stop hiring Democrats.

And, of course, tort reform. Tort reform was already a natural Republican Party issue thanks to its support in the business community, but it was Norquist, in his usual bald style, who pointed out in 1994 that there was more to it than just that: The big losers in tort reform are trial lawyers, and trial lawyers contribute a huge amount of money to the Democratic Party. “The political implications of defunding the trial lawyers would be staggering,” he wrote.

This observation explains a good deal about the conservative tort-reform crusade that’s otherwise inexplicable. Take damage caps. Republican politicians, George Bush chief among them, know that railing against frivolous lawsuits is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and they frequently hold up caps on punitive damages as a way of reining them in. But this makes no sense. Almost by definition, frivolous suits are the ones that are either dismissed by judges or else settled for small amounts by insurance companies that decide they aren’t worth the hassle. These cases aren’t affected by damage caps at all. In fact, the only cases affected by damage caps are the ones that have been fully litigated and in which a jury has already found serious and substantial harm. In other words, they affect the least frivolous cases in the entire civil court system.

So why the focus on damage caps? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 11:30 am

When regulators want to actually regulate

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Ames Alexander for The Charlotte Observer:

Bob Whitmore, a former federal OSHA official who contends the government has allowed companies to underreport workplace injuries, has filed a complaint alleging he was fired from his job in retaliation for speaking out about his agency’s failings.

His whistle-blower complaint is set to be heard by the federal Merit Systems Protection Board in early December.

Formerly head of OSHA’s record-keeping unit, Whitmore alleges agency officials want to silence his criticism and stop his push for a more aggressive approach with employers who underreport workplace injuries.

"When you challenge the agency’s motives and integrity, that’s heresy," Whitmore said Wednesday. "Obviously I did that. And I’ve paid the price for doing that."

Attorneys for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit that advocates for state and federal government workers, will represent Whitmore for free.

The MSPB hears complaints from federal employees who feel they have been unfairly treated or fired. In the large majority of complaints, the board rules in favor of the federal agencies. Employees who don’t prevail before the MSPB can appeal to federal court.

Observer reporters spoke with Whitmore while reporting on injuries inside poultry plants. The newspaper’s investigation, published in February 2008, found that a number of injured employees weren’t showing up on company injury logs. That made plants appear safer than they actually were.

In years past, leaders of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have pointed to declining injury rates as proof of the agency’s success. But in interviews and a congressional hearing, Whitmore alleged that OSHA has allowed employers to underreport workplace injuries…

Continue reading. Tell me again why I should trust businesses?

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 11:05 am

Next step: Foreign mercenaries?

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The US government has already made extensive use of mercenary soldiers as the US empire demands more military than the volunteer force can deliver to fight the current wars and maintain the extensive network of US military bases around the world. And now it seems that US youth are unfit for military service at record rates. So will the US turn to hiring foreign mercenaries to keep the military running?

Martha Quillan for the News Observer:

The biggest long-term threat to U.S. national security might not be terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. According to a group of military leaders, it’s homegrown obesity, ignorance and criminality, which together make seven of 10 target-age recruits ineligible to serve in the American armed forces.

"It’s not just disturbing. It’s a call to action," James A. Kelly, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, said Thursday during a telephone news conference from Washington.

Kelly is one of nearly 100 former and current military leaders who came together last year to form an organization called Mission: Readiness to draw attention to the status of potential recruits. In a study it calls "Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve," the group says Pentagon analysts have concluded that 75 percent of people ages 17 to 24 could not qualify for military service because they are obese or have some other health problem, lack a high school diploma or have a serious criminal history.

In a year when a down economy has helped the all-volunteer military meet all its recruiting and retention goals, it may seem odd to focus on who can’t get in.

But Mission: Readiness worries about the future and says this is the time to invest in programs to help improve young people’s chances at success in life, including a career in the military. At its news conference, speakers urged the U.S. House to pass an education bill that would include $8 billion for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would give states money to support preschool education programs. The bill has been approved by the Senate.

Mission: Readiness cites studies saying early childhood education, especially for poor and minority kids, improves high school graduation rates and reduces involvement in crime…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 11:01 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

Climate change for evangelicals

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Interesting story in McClatchy by Renee Schoof:

As an evangelical Christian living in Texas, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe found that many conservatives had questions about climate change based on things they’d heard on talk radio.

So Hayhoe and her husband, Andrew Farley, the pastor of a nondenominational church in Lubbock, Texas, decided to answer the questions in a new book from religious publisher FaithWords, "A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions."

"The observed increase in greenhouse gas levels, due to human production, is the only explanation we can find to account for what has happened to our world," Farley and Hayhoe wrote. "We’ve dusted for fingerprints. There’s only one likely suspect remaining. It’s us."

Although the leaders of other religious groups have been calling on the world to take action to prevent climate change from spinning out of control, evangelical Christians remain divided on it.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, for example, has taken a strong stand on protecting the climate. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, wrote in a commentary last month, "Climate change will only be overcome when all of us — scientists and politicians, theologians and economists, specialists and lay citizens — cooperate for the common good."

The National Association of Evangelicals, a group that represents millions of American evangelicals in about 45,000 churches, takes positions on other social issues but it hasn’t taken a stand on climate change because there isn’t a consensus among its members, said its director, Heather Gonzales…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 10:52 am

Coal ash causes birth defects

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"Clean" coal ash, at that. Frances Robles reports for McClatchy:

Maximiliano Calcaño is 2 and was born with no arms.

"When I was pregnant, I was dizzy, vomiting and could barely walk,” said Maximiliano’s mother, Anajai Calcaño, 20. “My tooth cracked and fell out. Then my baby was born like that, without arms. Nothing like that had ever happened here before.”

By "before,” Calcaño means before a U.S. power company’s coal ash arrived at a nearby port, sitting there for more than two years.

She lives in a small wooden house with no indoor plumbing in a rural village in northern Dominican Republic, not far from where coal ash generated by Virginia-based AES Corp. wound up at the edge of the sea. More than 50,000 tons of coal ash laden with heavy metals was left at a port abutting local homes for years while the company, politicians, prosecutors, environmental activists and bureaucrats argued — and residents got sick.

It has been six years since a contractor from Delray Beach, Fla., brought the black dusty residue to the province of Samaná, and three years since the ash was cleaned up. Several civil lawsuits and criminal cases later, just when everyone thought it was over, the other shoe has dropped.

A civil lawsuit filed Wednesday in Delaware charges that toxic levels of waste dumped at the Arroyo Barril port has made people nearby sick. After years of repeated miscarriages, women whose blood levels show abnormal levels of arsenic are giving birth to babies with cranial deformities, with organs outside their bodies or missing limbs.

The case highlights the debate over coal ash, an unregulated byproduct of coal energy, which when processed and recycled is used in everything from cement to the foundation for golf courses. Popular Mechanics magazine this month calls a concrete made from coal ash one of the “10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009.”

The ash, a concentrated form of naturally occurring contaminants, is what is left over from burning coal for power. It usually contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel. But as towns in Tennessee and Maryland clean up massive spills of the substance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is poised to rule on whether it should be classified as hazardous — which would be a tremendous blow to influential power companies that have long lobbied against such a classification.

Coal recycling is big business. Some 131 million tons was used in 2007, up from less than 90 million tons in 1990, The New York Times reported.

Wednesday’s suit against AES seeks unspecified compensation for seven clients and medical monitoring for the entire neighborhood.

Arroyo Barril’s stories are startling. Altagracia Maldonado keeps her grandchild’s deformed fetus in a jar for safekeeping. Her neighbor, Maribel Mercedes, gave birth to a two-headed baby who died after a few hours. Daniela Altagracia, a 5-year-old, is going bald.

“Last year in November, there were four cases of children born deformed,” said Eduard Ortíz, the town doctor. “In one month, I saw two ectopic pregnancies — when the baby is in the fallopian tubes. You see one today, another tomorrow, and start to ask yourself, `What’s happening?’ ”

Ortíz whipped out his cellphone to show his photo of a baby he delivered that afternoon. The grainy picture showed a grossly misshapen face.

The Dominican Republic’s new strict abortion law forces mothers to carry to full term, even if sonograms show the fetus has no brains, Ortíz said…

Continue reading. As you see, trusting businesses to do what is right is pointless. Generally speaking, businesses will do what is right only if forced by law.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 10:49 am

Finger-painting on the iPhone

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I just found out about this. More information here.

And see also this fascinating article on why the interface is so important.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 10:40 am

Chickens

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I realized that one reason I’m so interested in urban chicken-keeping is that the sound of chickens clucking as they go about their daily lives is very domestic and comforting. This feeling probably has it roots in lazy summer days spent reading at my grandmother’s house as her chickens wandered clucking around the yard, looking for grasshoppers and the like. Chickens are very cool, IMHO, especially if treated nicely.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 9:50 am

Posted in Daily life

New boar brush

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SOTD091107

Today another Omega boar brush gets its first use. The Omega brushes so far feel good very quickly. This one created a fine and fragrant lather from Mama Bear’s Tuscan Memories shaving soap. First pass was great, and I used my Edwin Jagger ebony-handled Chatsworth with the new head. (I’ve placed the razor so you can inspect the underside of the head.) The previously used Astra Keramik Platinum blade did a very fine job. The second pass was doable, but the quantity and quality of the lather was marginal, and for the third pass I worked up new lather—but this is the brush’s first use, and I expect that within 20 shaves or so it will do a fine job for all passes.

The finish was Floïd, a fine mentholated aftershave.

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2009 at 8:49 am

Posted in Shaving

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