Later On

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

Archive for March 22nd, 2010

This is VERY encouraging—and it’s Nancy Pelosi again

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Eric Lipton reporting in the NY Times:

By most measures, it has been a rough year for Leo J. Wise, the first independent ethics cop for the House of Representatives. Lawyers are denouncing him as dangerous, lawmakers are threatening to cut his already limited powers, and a House committee has so far dismissed all but one case in which his office found evidence of wrongdoing.

And yet, in the weird world of Capitol Hill, by losing, Mr. Wise may actually be winning.

Wielding the sheer power of political shame over a Congress seemingly unwilling to police itself, he and his tiny band of lawyers in the Office of Congressional Ethics have helped spur worried party leaders to rein in abuses and make errant lawmakers pay a price.

This month, House Democratic leaders moved to ban the practice of awarding earmarks to private companies, long a source of scandals, a move that came just 12 days after the House ethics committee rejected recommendations from Mr. Wise’s office to further investigate two lawmakers for possible earmarks-related misconduct. And party leaders forced Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, to give up his gavel last month as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, even though the ethics panel only reprimanded him when Mr. Wise’s office found that he had improperly accepted a free Caribbean trip.

“I would not have bet on this outcome,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan ethics group. “Leo may feel frustrated. But what he is doing is having a lot of impact.”

As chief counsel and staff director for the Office of Congressional Ethics, Mr. Wise — a soft-spoken, 33-year-old former Justice Department prosecutor with an impressive record of convictions — prepares detailed reports for each investigation, dossiers that the House is required to make public, even if it dismisses the accusation. And that, it turns out, has proved to be his best weapon. His 295-page report on the earmarks cases, chock-full of embarrassing details, was seized on by government watchdogs, editorial writers and political partisans in television advertisements, making it difficult to ignore on Capitol Hill.

“They had some pretty serious investigating,” said Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, an opponent of earmarks who voted against creating Mr. Wise’s office but has since offered praise. “There is an impact, and it was certainly felt in this case.”

Just a month ago, Mr. Wise was telling colleagues that he was dispirited that the House ethics panel, the jury of sorts for the cases he brings, was repeatedly brushing aside or playing down his office’s findings. More recently, he has described himself as surprised but gratified by the unexpected results…

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 7:55 pm

What does the market think of healthcare reform?

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Via Paul Krugman in his blog, this pertinent post by Andrew Leonard in Salon:

Now that the totalitarian socialist freedom-haters have had their way with America, it seems like a good time to check in on the health of some corporations that will be most directly affected by healthcare reform: health insurers and drug companies.

OK, it’s early yet, but a little more than an hour after the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, the stock prices of insurers WellPoint and Humana were down, while Aetna was up. The share prices of Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithCline were all up, with gusto.

One could take this data to mean those who argued that the new law of the land is a corporate sellout to the pharmaceutical industry were correct. Lobbying organizations such as PHARMA and the American Medical Association supported the healthcare reform bill because they were confident that their businesses would not be harmed. For some Democrats, that reality leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

But an early Wall Street Journal summary this morning makes a more pertinent point. (Italics mine.)

Companies ranging from hospital operators and pharmacy-benefit managers to drug and device makers are expected to profit from the bill, which will enroll more people in insurance programs.

More people will have health insurance as a result of the bill passed by the House of Representatives Sunday night. That’s good for the health of real people, as well as for healthcare industry profits. The stock market — which so many conservative pundits have told us lives in terror of the Obama "agenda" — is reflecting this reality so far, with all the major indices trading up by mid-morning. Progressives who wanted a public option are disappointed. But how much worse must be the disappointment for the conservatives who are denouncing reform as pure evil, when they look at the news, and realize, hey, no big deal, the market isn’t all that upset at the end of freedom?

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 6:39 pm

What CO2 level would cause the Greenland ice sheet to collapse?

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John Cook at Skeptical Science:

A matter of concern is the potential instability of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. If the Greenland ice sheet was to completely collapse, it would contribute as much as 7 metres sea level rise. Similarly, the West Antarctic ice sheet would contribute around 6 metres sea level rise. East Antarctica would contribute 70 metres of sea level rise but is less prone to collapse. Consequently, how these ice sheets respond to warming temperatures is a crucial area of research. A new paper (Stone 2010) has been published that estimates that the CO2 level that will lead to collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is between 400 to 560 parts per million (ppm). At our current rate, we should pass 400 ppm within 10 years.

While there are uncertainties over the specifics of ice sheet behaviour, there are several lines of independent evidence that paint a consistent picture of how ice sheets will respond to global warming. Focusing on Greenland, what do observations tell us has been happening to the Greenland ice sheet? Satellites use gravity data to measure the total mass balance and have found the ice sheet is …

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 4:54 pm

Pope ‘led cover-up of child abuse by priests’

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In the London Evening Standard:

The Pope played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, according to a shocking documentary to be screened by the BBC tonight.

In 2001, while he was a cardinal, he issued a secret Vatican edict to Catholic bishops all over the world, instructing them to put the Church’s interests ahead of child safety.

The document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it. And, to keep victims quiet, it threatened that if they repeat the allegations they would be excommunicated.

The Panorama special, Sex Crimes And The Vatican, investigates the details of this little-known document for the first time. The programme also accuses the Catholic Church of knowingly harbouring paedophile clergymen. It reveals that priests accused of child abuse are generally not struck off or arrested but simply moved to another parish, often to reoffend. It gives examples of hush funds being used to silence the victims.

Before being elected as Pope Benedict XVI in April last year, the pontiff was Cardinal Thomas Ratzinger who had, for 24 years, been the head of the powerful Congregation of the Doctrine of The Faith, the department of the Roman Catholic Church charged with promoting Catholic teachings on morals and matters of faith. An arch-Conservative, he was regarded as the ‘enforcer’ of Pope John Paul II in cracking down on liberal challenges to traditional Catholic teachings.

Five years ago he sent out an updated version of the notorious 1962 Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis – Latin for The Crime of Solicitation – which laid down the Vatican’s strict instructions on covering up sexual scandal. It was regarded as so secret that it came with instructions that bishops had to keep it locked in a safe at all times.

Cardinal Ratzinger reinforced the strict cover-up policy by introducing a new principle: …

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 4:22 pm

The dollar size of the healthcare bill

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Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

We should start by putting the health-care bill into proper perspective. Opponents and supports of the bill have both profited immensely from exploiting the average person’s inability to put billions and trillions into context. So let’s begin by breaking down the numbers. The $900 billion price tag is repeated with the regularity of a rooster’s crow. That’s a shame, as the number is, somewhat impressively, misleading in both directions.

On the one hand, that $900 billion — or, more precisely, $940 billion in the final legislation — is stretched over 10 years. But people don’t think in 10-year increments. They don’t pay taxes once a decade. Put more simply, the bill will cost an average of $94 billion a year over the first 10 years.

But that’s not quite right either: The bill wouldn’t really kick in until 2014. To get a more accurate annual figure, look at a year in which the bill is fully operational. In, say, 2016, the bill’s spending will be about $160 billion (you can find these numbers on page 22 of the CBO report). According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total health-care spending that year will be about $3.7 trillion. In other words, the bill’s spending is equivalent to about 4 percent of what we’ll spend in health care in a year, and it will be covering 30 million people.

billsvstrills

So that’s really what we’re talking about here — a large health-care expansion that’s a slight fraction of overall spending. The graph above tells the tale (though the $175 billion refers to the Senate bill; the reconciliation fixes increase the 2018 spending to about $200 billion, which is no different for the purposes of the image).

Let’s go even further: It’s an expansion that most people won’t notice in 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill will change the insurance of about 40 million people by 2019, about 30 million of whom would have been otherwise uninsured. The other 10 million will come from the employer or individual markets in search of more affordable options. About 23 million people will still be uninsured, many of them illegal immigrants. About 90 percent of Americans will be exactly where they’d be if this reform had never passed.

That accounts for the spending side of the bill. What about the cost control?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 3:05 pm

Counterfactual: A curious history of the CIA’s secret interrogation program

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Jane Mayer in the New Yorker:

On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America, another devastating terrorist plot was meant to unfold. Radical Islamists had set in motion a conspiracy to hijack seven passenger planes departing from Heathrow Airport, in London, and blow them up in midair. “Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95), by Marc A. Thiessen, a former speechwriter in the Bush Administration, begins by imagining the horror that would have resulted had the plot succeeded. He conjures fifteen hundred dead airline passengers, televised “images of debris floating in the ocean,” and gleeful jihadis issuing fresh threats: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace.”

The plot, of course, was thwarted—an outcome that has been credited to smart detective work. But Thiessen writes that there is a more important reason that his dreadful scenario never came to pass: the Central Intelligence Agency provided the United Kingdom with pivotal intelligence, using “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration. According to Thiessen, British authorities were given crucial assistance by a detainee at Guantánamo Bay who spoke of “plans for the use of liquid explosive,” which can easily be made with products bought at beauty shops. Thiessen also claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary architect of the 9/11 attacks, divulged key intelligence after being waterboarded by the C.I.A. a hundred and eighty-three times. Mohammed spoke about a 1995 plot, based in the Philippines, to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Thiessen writes that, in early 2006, “an observant C.I.A. officer” informed “skeptical” British authorities that radicals under surveillance in England appeared to be pursuing a similar scheme.

Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”

Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 2:28 pm

Other predictions about what healthcare reform will bring

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We should keep an eye on all these predictions (including my own) to see how they fare as reality unfolds. Those at the first link, reported by Zaid Jilani of ThinkProgress:

In the course of the health care debate, right-wing pundits and politicians regularly made use of inflammatory rhetoric to fearmonger about the consequences of passing reform legislation. Now, following the historic vote by the House of Representatives last night that will extend health insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans, conservative talkers have exploded with rage:

– Right-wing radio host Neal Boortz tweeted that “Nancy Pelosi will be grinning and laughing” following the health care vote, which “will do more damage than 9/11.” [3/21/10]

– Conservative blogger and and CNN contributor Erick Erickson bemoaned that “Democrats voted to put people in jail who have no insurance, raise the costs of health care, destroy the federal government’s bond rating, [and] keep unemployment high.” [3/21/10]

– Libertarian blogger Megan McArdle warned that “we wake up in a different political world” following the health care vote. She lamented, “Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?” [3/21/10]

– Fox News host Glenn Beck said on his radio show today that “Jesus Martinez” might support the health care bill, but “not the Jesus of Nazareth I know.” [3/22/10]

– Bill Kristol compared the passage of the health care bill to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Russia campaign, in which the former dictator was initially victorious but eventually beaten back. Kristol predicts that Obama’s “Waterloo will be November 6, 2012.” [3/22/10]

– Conservative talker Rush Limbaugh said on his show this morning that America is now “hanging by a thread” and that “our freedom has been assaulted.” [3/22/10]

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote on his website last night that passage of the health care bill is a “win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Healthcare

Harry Reid responds to John McCain

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The Hill reports:

Democrats shouldn’t expect much cooperation from Republicans the rest of this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday.

McCain and another Republican senator decried the effect health reform legislation has had on the Senate, a day after the House passed the upper chamber’s bill.

GOP senators emerged Monday to caution that the health debate had taken a toll on the institution, warning of little work between parties the rest of this year.

"There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year," McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate. "They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it."

The Senate is set to take up a bill under budget reconciliation rules that would make a series of changes to its larger health bill, which the House passed Sunday night and President Barack Obama expects to sign into law on Tuesday.

During the months of debate, Republicans have claimed they have been shut out of the process. Democrats, for their part, had invited some GOP participation in the debate, but said that many of the Republican ideas on the bill were meant to be dilatory, if not outright "obstructionist."…

Harry Reid responds:

“For someone who campaigned on ‘Country First’ and claims to take great pride in bipartisanship, it’s absolutely bizarre for Senator McCain to tell the American people he is going to take his ball and go home until the next election.  He must be living in some parallel universe because the fact is, with very few exceptions, we’ve gotten very little cooperation from Senate Republicans in recent years.

“At a time when our economy is suffering and we’re fighting two wars, the American people need Senator McCain and his fellow Republicans to start working with us to confront the challenges facing our country—not reiterating their constant opposition to helping working families when they need it most.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 1:57 pm

Excellent point re: GOP heated rhetoric

with 4 comments

John Cole at Balloon Juice:

With all respect to Frank Zappa, why do Republicans hate Democracy:

Rick Moran:

In short, despite the fact that no one believes some of the basic actuarial and fiscal assumptions that under-gird this legislation — no one who isn’t besotted with partisan fervor — it was rammed down the throats of the American people with as much cynicism, trickery, deliberate obfuscation, and budgetary tomfoolery as has ever been seen for a major piece of legislation in the history of the republic.

The bill was passed with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, as required by law and Senate rules. It was then passed in the House by majority rule and in accordance with all House Rules.

It was done so by a Democratic majority elected sixteen months ago along with a Democratic President who campaigned daily on Health Care reform, and who received the most votes in the history of American elections and won by the widest margin in decades.

The bill was crafted quite openly, after a year and a half of public debate, and the exact Senate bill that was passed in the House yesterday has been available for people to read and discuss for three entire months. This was the slowest, most open, most thoroughly discussed piece of legislation in my lifetime.

Anyone who says this was “rammed down” anyone’s throats simply does not know what they are talking about. But hey- ride that wave of anger Rick. It has really served the Republicans well so far.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 12:25 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Science v. Religion

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

H.R. 4872, The Health Care & Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010

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More information here, right from the horse’s mouth. The headings/links:

Legislative Text and Summary Documents:

H.R. 4872 – Reconciliation Act of 2010

Text of the Amendment to the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute

Summary of the Amendment to the Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute

Section by Section of the Reconciliation Bill

3 Page Summary

Reconciliation Bill Makes Key Improvements to Senate-passed Bill

Regular Procedure to Pass Health Insurance Reform

Full CBO Score

CBO: Preliminary Estimate of Reconciliation Legislation Combined with H.R. 3590 as Passed by the Senate

Four Key Points You Need To Know About the CBO Score

Estimated Revenue Effects – Joint Committee on Taxation

About the Bill:

Health Care by the Numbers

Immediate Benefits

Timeline for Implementation

Employers and Health Reform

The Health Insurance Exchange

Strengthening Medicare

Improving the Medicare Part D Drug Program

Shared Responsibility

Health Insurance Reform: A Transparent Process

Addressing Health Care Disparities

Delivery System Reforms

Curbing Taxpayer Subsidies For Private Insurers in Medicare

Guaranteed Benefits

Preventing Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Cost of Inaction

Strengthening the Nation’s Health Workforce

Cost Containment Measures

Helping Americans:

What Health Reform Does For You

Making Coverage Affordable

Preventing Disease & Improving the Public’s Health

Rural America

Protecting Consumers

Small Businesses

Paying For Reform:

Summary of Revenue Provisions

Support for Health Insurance Reform

Click here for a list of more than 325 organizations, representing millions of Americans, who support H.R. 4872

I suppose you can also get some level of information/spin from the GOP side (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Kristol, O’Reilly, Gingrich, and the like), but I don’t know how reliable it will be: their track record is very bad (death panels, pulling the plug on granny, and so on).

It’s interesting that this legislation is TOTALLY Democratic: if it’s good, the Dems get all the credit; if it’s bad, they get all the blame. Let’s see how it plays out.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 12:19 pm

Fat v. Heart disease: State of the science

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Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

Despite recent publications finding no correlation between intake of saturated fat and coronary heart disease (CHD) – see, for example, the recent meta-analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – the debates over the role of saturated fat continue.

In that same issue of the Journal, another study says that reducing saturated fat only works if you replace it with something better.  If you replace saturated fat with carbohydrates, the effects on heart disease will be worse.

The fat story is not simple (in What to Eat, I explain the biochemistry of food fats in the chapter on fats and oils and in an appendix).  The main reason for the complexity is that different kinds of fats do not occur separately in foods.

Without exception, food fats are mixtures of  three kinds of fatty acids: saturated (no double bonds and solid at room temperature), monounsaturated (one double bond), and polyunsaturated (two or more double bonds and liquid at room temperature).  Food fats just differ in proportions of the three kinds.

Meat, dairy, and egg fats generally are more saturated.  Plant fats and oils are generally more unsaturated.

How to make sense of the saturated fat story? An expert panel from WHO and FAO just produced a new review of the evidence.  The panel evaluated CHD morbidity and mortality data from epidemiological studies and controlled clinical trials.  It found:

  • Convincing evidence that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated decreases the risk of CHD.
  • Probable evidence that replacing saturated fat with largely refined carbohydrates (starch and sugar) has no benefit and even may increase the risk of CHD.
  • Insufficient evidence relating to the effect on the risk of CHD of replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fats or whole grain carbohydrates, but a trend suggesting that these might decrease CHD risk.
  • Possible positive relationship between saturated fat and increased risk of diabetes.
  • Insufficient evidence for establishing any relationship of saturated fat with cancer.

The panel’s recommendations:  (1) Replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) in the diet, and (2) Limit saturated fat to 10% of daily calories or less.

Translation: Eat less animal fat and replace it with vegetable fats [that have NOT been hydrogenated, and favor nut and olive oils – LG].

Historical note: These are precisely the same recommendations that have been standard in the U.S. for at least fifty years.  This was good advice in the late 1950s.  It is still good advice.

And while we’re on the subject, allow me to recommend this wonderful book by Jennifer McLagan: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

More explanations of the benefits

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Now that the bill’s passed, the media are (finally) starting to examine and explain the content instead of just reporting on the process and the horserace aspects.

NY Times:

How the Health Care Overhaul Could Affect You

How it will affect small businesses

How it will affect consumers

The more I see of it, the more I like it. And as the polishing legislation is enacted over the next few years, I expect it will get better and better, especially if the result really is a defeat for the GOP at the polls in November.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:57 am

Interesting point re: the "Louisiana Purchase"

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Matthew Yglesias:

The right had such fun making hay out of the “Cornhusker Kickback” that they decided to make up more funny-sounding names for other allegedly shady state-specific deals in the health reform bill. Thus, you might have heard about the “Louisiana Purchase,” that exempts Louisiana from a change to the formula for calculating the state-federal split of Medicaid costs. The thing about this is that, as Katie Connolly argues, the Louisiana Purchase is in fact a perfectly justifiable policy response to a weird situation. The crux of the matter is that the Medicaid formula is supposed to provide more help to poor states than to rich states, and Hurricane Katrina had the weird result of making Louisiana register as suddenly much richer than it used to be:

It’s common knowledge that Hurricane Katrina devastated the state, destroying homes, livelihoods and entire communities. But in the wake of Katrina, millions of dollars flooded into the state, in insurance payments, aid and money for new construction and repairs. Although thousands of people were, and are, still suffering from Katrina’s impact, on paper it looked like the state had gained millions of dollars. On paper, incomes went up by 40%. Yes, some people, mainly those in engineering and construction, did well out of the unfortunate building boom, but in reality, thousands had lost their jobs, their homes and their savings. That sort of thing isn’t accounted for in income calculations.

The result was that because of this perceived increase in income, the funding formula compels the federal government to cut its Medicaid funding to Louisiana. (The federal calculations are done on a three year rolling average, so there’s a lag time between the post-Katrina income spike, which continued for some time, and the changes to federal funding.) The state government, already stretched from all the other post-Katrina demands on spending – repairing roads, schools, basic infrastructure – is looking at paying far more than it’s historic share of Medicaid payments.

Better-educated fans of free market economics will recognize what happened in Louisiana as an instance of Frederic Bastiat’s parable of the broken window. If everyone in Louisiana has insurance on their property, then a giant storm destroys 20 percent of the structures in Louisiana (note, I haven’t looked up the actual numbers), the inflow of insurance payments is going to provide a huge spike in the measured income of the state’s residents. But if Louisiana was a poor state before having 20 percent of its structures destroyed, it’s still poor afterwards. Tweaking the Medicaid rules to account for that properly is a totally reasonable idea.

UPDATE: Tim Fernolz ads some valuable historical perspective:

On a related note, did you know the original Louisiana Purchase was only approved by a two votes in the House? Just imagine if the Federalists had been able to deploy procedural tricks to prevent Thomas Jefferson from making a deal that greatly expanded the United States. With Republican leader John Boehner accusing the Democrats of disgracing Jeffersonian values, who knew that our third president was the earliest practitioner of Chicago-style thug politics?

I’m not normally a huge Jefferson fan, but history’s definitely vindicated him on this point.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:49 am

The owl chick is being fed by mum

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One owl chick ("Max", for now) has hatched, and mum is feeding him nice tasty strips of rat. Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:47 am

Posted in Daily life

The GOP has not learned a thing

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Sen. Dodd is trying to regulate financial institutions and protect consumers—people with long memories can recall the housing bubble and the financial meltdown. But the GOP is sticking with its obstructive strategy instead of trying to craft legislation. Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress:

This evening, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to begin markup of Chairman Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) financial regulatory reform legislation. A total of 473 amendments have been proposed, with Republicans accounting for the bulk of them. And many of the GOP’s amendments are seemingly aimed at running out the clock until the Senate adjourns for a two week recess on Friday. For instance, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) — the same senator who ground the senate to a halt to prevent the extension of unemployment benefits — has proposed 25 different amendments to change the effective date of the legislation’s implementation. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) have 25 and 14 different amendments, respectively, also delaying the legislation’s effective start date. Here is part of Bunning’s list of amendments:

bunnamends

Time-wasting amendments aside, Republicans are also aiming to water-down the substance of the bill, particularly that meant to rein in banks that are “too big to fail.” The Wonk Room has more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:31 am

David Frum on "Obama’s Waterloo"

with 3 comments

You’ll recall that Jim DeMint (R-SC) famously said that healthcare reform would be "Obama’s Waterloo". It seems that he was right, only Obama took the role of the Duke of Wellington, not Napoleon. David Frum in his blog:

Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:20 am

Nature by Numbers

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Via Open Culture, where Dan Colman notes:

For centuries, artists and architects have used some well-known geometrical and mathematical formulas to guide their work: The Fibonacci Series and Spiral, The Golden and Angle Ratios, The Delauney Triangulation and Voronoi Tessellations, etc. These formulas have a reality beyond the minds of mathematicians. They present themselves in nature, and that’s what a Spanish filmmaker, Cristóbal Vila, wanted to capture with this short film, Nature by Numbers. You can learn more about the movie at the filmmaker’s web site, and also find an alternate version on Vimeo. Finally, we’ve added it to our YouTube Favorites.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 11:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Nice science: URI pharmacy researcher finds beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup

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Lovely:

Before you dig in to your next stack of French toast or waffles, you might want to pour on pure maple syrup. That’s because University of Rhode Island researcher Navindra Seeram, who specializes in medicinal plant research, has found more than 20 compounds in maple syrup from Canada that have been linked to human health, 13 of which are newly discovered in maple syrup. In addition, eight of the compounds have been found in the Acer (maple) family for the first time.

The URI assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences in URI’s College of Pharmacy presented his findings Sunday, March 21 at the American Chemical Society’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The project was made possible by Conseil pour le développement de l’agriculture du Québec (CDAQ), with funding provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) program.

Several of these anti-oxidant compounds newly identified in maple syrup are also reported to have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic properties.

Prior to the study, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers already knew that its product was full of naturally occurring minerals such as zinc, thiamine and calcium. But it enlisted Seeram to research the presence of plant anti-oxidants. The Federation awarded Seeram a two-year, $115,000 grant with the help of the CDAQ and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. His research continues to determine if the compounds exist in beneficial quantities.

Serge Beaulieu, president of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, said Seeram’s lab is but one in an expanding multi-national network of research facilities dedicated to the study of maple products from Canada.

"We are proud that our producers are generously supporting this research, bringing to light a greater understanding of the gastronomic and health benefits of maple products. It is not just for Canada, but for the welfare of consumers around the world," Beaulieu said.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Chart that explains what the health bill delivers

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Very good chart in the LA Times. Click to view.

Written by Leisureguy

22 March 2010 at 10:06 am

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